Speak Your Mind

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Change! The Righteous Lord is coming.

His winnowing fork is in His hand… (Image credit http://www.stmarycanons.org/blog/category/chapter-05)

(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 overcomes.
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.

The weak and humble that the rebel majority abused (Zeph. 1:9; 3:1–2; cf. Ezek 34:21) are the very ones upon whom Yahweh’s justice would shine (Zeph. 3:5; cf. 2:3; 3:12)

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?

GOSPEL READING

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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

EPISTLE READING

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];
He has become my salvation.’

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;
make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.

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.’

Advent 2 – Be prepared

TLW49 December 9 Advent 2

Malachi 3:1-4

Luke 1:68-79

Luke 3:1-6

Philippians 1:3-11

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.

Summary

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

“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

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?

GOSPEL READING

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

EPISTLE READING

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.

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.

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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A for Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom

Image credit: https://lutheran-church-regina.com

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 2, 2018. Advent 1, Year C.

TLW48

Theme: Advent ABCD: Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom

INTRODUCTION  The Lord Himself will become righteousness for us, offering us a radical new relationship with God. Yet to come is the full and final redemption and its turmoil of end-time signs, but the anticipation for believers is not fear, but joy, living in daily expectation of Christ Jesus returning with His heavenly retinue.

PSALM READING

Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness. A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 33:14-16 — The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold. Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship

GOSPEL READING

Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil. Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust

EPISTLE READING

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return. Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.

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PSALM – PREFACE TO THEME

Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness 

A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full

1-2 In You, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

“I trust in You… shame” – honour and its opposite, shame, were emphasised in Jewish culture and the psalms make frequent mention of trust in the Lord as the way to avoid being shamed, Ps. 22:5, 31:1, 69:6, 71:1 etc.

3 No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

“Hopes in You… shame” – hope, unlike the weaker, aspirational English meaning, is a solid confidence in God’s good purpose, Ps. 33:22, 130:5. Hope, which is trusting in God’s covenant goodwill, answers the threat of shame.

4-6 Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long. Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

“Your ways… paths… truth… great mercy and love” – language recalling God’s covenant with His people. The Lord has promised to return again, at which time His Way will be fully established.

7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me, for You, Lord, are good.

8-10 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of His covenant.

“Good and upright” – because God is perfectly good and upright, He must extend mercy to humble, i.e. repentant, believers while not allowing the guilty and rebellious to escape judgment.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 33:14-16 –  The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold

Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship

14 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“The days are coming” – looking forward from Babylonian conquest to a time of restoration, but also to a future time beyond that. The discussion of sheep and shepherds becoming visible again, Jer. 33:12-13, leads naturally into the prophecy of the Shepherd and Saviour of David’s line to come, in what we know as the first coming of Jesus and we anticipate as the second coming of the Messiah king.

15 “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land.

Righteous branch ” – the language is very similar to Jer. 25:5-6.

16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.”

“Judah will be saved and Jerusalem…” – The Messiah’s coming will be transformational. Jerusalem – the holy community – will be so changed that it will be called by the same name as its Saviour, “The Lord our righteousness” (Yahweh tsidqenu). This is one of the great covenant names of God, prophetically ascribed in Jeremiah 23:6 to the Messiah. His work is to be our righteousness. The ones who will be counted righteous, are those who have given their lives to Jesus.

For further study John 10:9, 11:26, John 14:6, John 3:16; and coupled with the warning about God’s wrath, John 3:36.

“Live in safety” – this prophecy was given while the Babylonians were breaking down the walls of Jerusalem and removing people and property.

17-18 For this is what the Lord says: “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.”

“David will never fail” – meaning, the covenant with David (and other covenants), will not fail even in the judgment coming on Jerusalem.

IN PRACTICE  In the ABCD of Advent, we start with Anticipation, not of Jesus being born at Bethlehem (that happened!) but of a potentially terrifying time when Jesus as the heavenly host will come again. How will we be counted on that Day of the Lord? Righteous or unrighteous? Jeremiah was prophesying in the first instance about his own people, symbolised by Judah and Jerusalem being saved by the ‘righteous branch’ of David’s line, the Anointed One or Messiah. We know the Messiah with the Greek title Christ (anointed one) Jesus. Like many prophecies, this extends over more than one time and happening. Jesus will come again at an unknown future time – which we are to hold as an immediate prospect, not a distant one. However, the heart of the Gospel is in this Old Testament verse about the Lord who becomes our righteousness. The keeping of the Law was a hard path, but now Jeremiah foretells how the Lord will Himself become righteousness for sinful man. Our heartfelt response to Jesus, acknowledging Him as Saviour and giving Him the say-so of our lives is our release from judgment, not our good works. This is hard to grasp in a world whose values are so much about earned merit. At times in its history the Church has been muddled about this, where the priority of Scripture has been weak, but Jesus’ teaching that He is the gate for the sheep and believing in Him is the one requirement, is crystal clear through the NT.

PRAYER  Lord, help me to be crystal clear about what You have done for me in a way that I could not possibly have earned or merited; and help me to be clear in sharing this saving truth with others.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil

Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust

25-27 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

“There will be signs” – Jesus’ focus is now on the end times, an allusion to Joel 2:30-31, also quoted by Luke (writer of Acts) in Acts 2:20. The prophets expected arresting celestial signs at the end of age, Isaiah 13:9-10; Jeremiah 4:23,28; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10.

“They will see” – the second coming of the Son of Man will be a visible return accompanied by turmoil of the elements, and many people will be distressed, not knowing what is happening.

28 “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“When these things… take place” – in the turmoil, believers are to look up in joy and trust, knowing that these are signs of the deliverance of Jesus’ followers in the final redemption, 1 Cor. 15:53; Romans 8:23.

29-31 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“Look at the fig-tree” – leaves appear and change appearance, heralding the seasons. “When you see these things” – signs will show the kingdom coming fully.

32-33 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“This generation” – Jesus was not setting a time for the present age to end. He continually emphasised a time scale between His being present with His disciples, and His return, Luke 21:9,12,24.

34-36 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

“Will close on you suddenly” – but not unannounced, for those that will hear. For those who are not ready, “that day” is judgment closing against them. The point of the discourse is to be ready and alert for Christ’s return at any time.

“Suddenly… it will come on all those… on the whole earth” – the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would follow in AD 70 but Jesus teaches that the coming Day of the Lord will be a crisis encounter for everyone, not just the Jews.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus taught about the end times, and His language conveyed a sense of urgency and expectancy, even if He also set out the kind of eternal time scale that no calendar can represent. As believers, we are to live in constant expectation of His sudden return, although the teaching gives us the kind of warning we should expect – being watchful and observant, as country people are about weather and seasons and threats to their livestock. A for Anticipation gets us thinking about where we stand with the Lord, should He return – now! The “suddenly” He speaks of will show last-minute decisions to be false decisions. Our anticipation is about being real about what will happen and positioned to welcome Jesus’ return rather than fear it.

QUESTION  How would you explain in your own words to someone who doesn’t believe in God, that there’s a day of judgment coming, but they can turn to Jesus who has made a way for them.

EPISTLE READING

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return.

Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.

9-10 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

“Thank God… for you” – the church in Thessalonica had been through a testing time, which Paul had experienced himself, in strong local opposition and rough treatment in Philippi, 1 Thess. 2:2,14-16; 1 Thess. 3:7. Testing is part of Christian life and opposition experienced as persecution is to be expected as carriers of the Gospel, Paul has already made clear, 1 Thess 3:3-4. However, he is greatly concerned for this church of believers new in their faith.

“Supply what is lacking” – the mission team’s teaching was cut short when they had to leave suddenly, 1 Thess 2:17. Part of the purpose of the letter is to make good the shortfall.

11-12 Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

May our God… may the Lord… may He strengthen” – Paul’s lifestyle of prayer is such that he breaks into prayer in his letter. In this prayer he is in effect asking God, but in the manner of making a declaration in faith, in agreement with God’s purposes.

13 May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.

“When our Lord Jesus comes” – in Paul’s mind is the Second Coming which he will discuss more fully later in the letter, 1 Thess. 4:1-5:22. “With all His holy ones” – used of Christian believers, often translated ‘saints’, in many passages in the NT e.g. Romans 1:7. Could also refer to the angels who will accompany the Second Coming.

IN PRACTICE  The church calendar and its seasons was an idea that arose many centuries after Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica. However, A for Anticipation in the ABCD of Advent was something that Paul lived out and taught. “When our Lord Jesus comes” is a clear statement of anticipation, the sense of keeping the house clean and tidy for the important visitor expected to drop in at any time. To personalise it, we see the ‘house’ as our lives, so that ‘clean and tidy’ is about keeping short accounts with God in confessing sin and tidying up our wrong priorities.

QUESTION  In the words of v. 13, will you be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father – if Jesus comes again now? Reflecting on the Old Testament and Gospel readings and notes, how do you know assuredly that you are counted blameless?

PRAYER  Lord, show me what in me is getting in the way of the coming of the kingdom in its fullness? What is me needs to be put out of my life, put right with You, put in a better place spiritually or forgiven in my relationships with others? Amen.

= = = = = = =

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Covenant and God’s faithfulness

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 5 of 5

The emerging message

2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

Luke 1:26-38

Romans 16:25-27

Do we sometimes doubt God, or wonder if we are in the right place for Him to see our needs or grant our requests? This week’s message is about God’s faithfulness to His purpose and to His people, told over a time span of over 1,000 years that saw following but also much failure.

David’s renown and kingly influence would continue, according to the covenant promise to David that emerges through the first reading. As we now know, the story of that succession, in the books of Kings and Chronicles, was a bumpy ride for the nation of Israel; there were some good and godly leaders, and there were far too many who were the exact opposite – they were covenant breakers. How could that prophetic word be fulfilled.

The psalmist of Psalm 89 writes 400 years later, at the time of the fall of Jerusalem, about how this unconditional covenant seems to have been abandoned. Standing in the ruins of a city broken down where most had been exiled, the psalm praises God while lamenting God’s apparent unwillingness to save them – the covenant was unconditional, but like any agreement, it was not unilateral. But, as the psalm asserts, God is always faithful to what He has promised. The anointing that was on David, and on David’s line, will be fulfilled.

In the angel’s appearance to Mary we begin to see how the covenant promise will be fulfilled in a different way. He sets out her special mission and responsibility, to give birth to the Son of God, whose ministry was to be the Good News that had been announced by the prophets so much earlier – the good news which was now for all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews.

Our God combines being all majestic, all powerful and all holy – with being in all things faithful to His promises and loving with patience and longsuffering. The covenant with David and his successors was all but forgotten by the time Jerusalem, after many threats and constant appeals by the prophets, was finally sacked. Had the covenant been broken? No, but it had been abandoned by those it was supposed to protect. Nevertheless the Lord would maintain His covenant promises with His people, when there were people who regarded themselves as His. As we now know, it was worked out rather differently, as had long been foretold, in Jesus the Messiah and the Light to the Gentiles as well as Israel.

Wherever we are in life, wherever our level of faith may be, we can always come back, and there are promises for us particularly in the New Covenant in Jesus, but without losing the benefits of older covenants. He is our God and we are His people, and He desires His promises to be worked out in our lives even more than we do.

All the discussion starters

  1. What (verses 8-16) does David or his descendants have to do or to be, in order to comply with this promise? If it is not explicit, what might be implicit?
  2. Why is it important as church to begin worship with declaring God’s goodness in praise? What reminder does that embed in us?
  3. Is our heavenly or spiritual worldview separated from our everyday worldview and beliefs about how our world works, or are we able, at times, to connect them and see how God’s heavenly purpose seeks to influence our earthly lives? Quite a profound question to consider, but this is a season when we remember a profound miracle where heaven impacted the earthly order!
  4. To what extent have you received the gospel from someone else – and found that you needed to outgrow their perspective, as you grew in your own revelation of it, through your relationship with the Lord?
  5. We are made in God’s image, but do we try to relate to God as being like us? What have we learned about His way of being that is quite a lot different to ours and which challenges our understanding of His ways?

Covenant spells Good News in Jesus

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 4 of 5

Thursday, Dec 21: Romans 16:25-27

Paul exhorts hearers of the letter in Rome to be strong in the Good News, to be made known to Gentiles everywhere to the glory of God.

25 Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says.

  • “My Good News (or my Gospel) might seem to be Paul’s version versus others. Paul’s gospel is perhaps more developed, as one would expect, but no different in essence – and gained at first hand. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Galatians 1:11-12, explains that “his gospel” is not a version of someone else’s gospel but an understanding that he received directly from the Lord by revelation; see also Ephesians 3:2-6.

This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time.

  • The prophets, in stark contrast to the exclusive culture they lived in, saw in the Spirit the nature of the gospel and its universality – “a light for the Gentiles”. This truth was hidden, spoken out by the prophets but still a mystery waiting to be revealed until Jesus came and until the time Paul is writing in.

26 But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him.

  • God has commanded that the message to be made known to all people everywhere, for them to respond and believe. In among His final instructions to the disciples, in a very well-known passage, Jesus told them to go and make disciples “of all nations” or as we would say, all kinds of people – not just people like us.

27 All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.

Application

The passage begins and ends with Paul giving all glory to God. For what? The message of good news which the prophets heard and spoke of first, not just for the Jews but for all mankind. Paul is seeing this unfolding, and he has had a good deal to do with this. However he is quick to point out that it was good news for him first, he was giving what he had been given, and it was God’s message and promise, not his.

He is showing us that when we see God do great things, and we may, by His grace, have had some involvement in that, hold it lightly and give the glory to God as it is due. It all goes wrong when we start to think it is our achievement, not God’s.

Discussion starter

  1. To what extent have you received the gospel from someone else – and found that you needed to outgrow their perspective, as you grew in your own revelation of it, through your relationship with the Lord?

Covenant promise: the miraculous conception

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 3 of 5

Wednesday, Dec 20: Luke 1:26-38

Mary hears from the angel Gabriel that the Holy Spirit will cause her to conceive and bear a child who will be called the Son of God, and her older relative Elizabeth, who was thought barren, has also conceived.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”

  • Gabriel seems to have appeared to Mary in her own home, but only a divine messenger would start a conversation with such an exalted greeting.

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God!

  • She found favour (lit. “you did find favour”), a reminder that grace is found and received, never earned.

31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

  • These verses recall the “kingdom that will endure for ever” and the well-remembered words “great” and “throne” and “Son” that were part of the language of the prophecy over David in 1 Samuel 7:8-16.

34  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God.

  • “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” recalls the words of Isaiah 32:15 which is a restoration promise.
  • The Second Person of the Trinity, by conception of the Holy Spirit, remained God but “became flesh or “became human”, NLT, John 1:14. – fully God and fully man.

36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”

  • She could have been a cousin, or an aunt, or another relative. Cousin (King James) as popularly used in a loose sense, is not incorrect. Mary was of the house of David, and Elizabeth of the house of Aaron, but they might be related by their mothers. It was common for those of the families of David and Levi to intermarry.

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

  • This passage doesn’t support a religious view that wants to deify Mary. She is clearly here “a vessel to receive, not a fountain to dispense” (Lenski).
  • Later we are told that Mary headed to the hill country of Judah, from Nazareth in Galilee where she lived – a north to south journey of some distance.

Application

Why did Mary find such favour with God?

  • She was the right person in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we could be that right person, the only right person, in the right place for God to use. He is not a ‘respecter of persons’ like someone who looks for track record or the best CV.
  • She was the right person in terms of character. We embody a mixture of experience and passion and spirituality and gift, all vital to who we are. But none of this can be used by God unless we have the qualities of character that He seeks: submitted to Him, teachable by Him, loving and forebearing like Him. Mary, at her young age, had this kind of maturity of character. God looks to us to see if we are submitted and teachable, and whether we uphold His ways or are swayed by the ways of men.
  • She was the right person in terms of her worldview and beliefs. She had a foundation in the Scriptures, and if she was surprised by an angel manifesting as visible and speaking to her – who wouldn’t be – she was not surprised by the angel’s recollection of the promise of the Son of God linked to the Throne of David. We can’t avoid having a worldview that is from the world we live in, but do we also hold a heavenly worldview?

Discussion starter

  1. Is our heavenly or spiritual worldview separated from our everyday worldview and beliefs about how our world works, or are we able, at times, to connect them and see how God’s heavenly purpose seeks to influence our earthly lives? Quite a profound question to consider, but this is a season when we remember a profound miracle where heaven impacted the earthly order!

Has God renounced the covenant?

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 2 of 5

Tuesday, Dec 19: Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

The ‘headline’ to this late psalm of around 586 BC is in verses 38-40: walls broken, strongholds made ruins – and the covenant supporting the rule apparently renounced. In a lament it appeals to God for restoration.

1-2 I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever! Young and old will hear of Your faithfulness. Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.

  • Love connects with faithfulness, as one expression. Each of these words is repeated seven times, to make a point: It appears that God’s love and faithfulness is what has failed in His rejection of the king of Davidic line, and therefore covenant, 2 Sam. 7:16.

3-4 The Lord said, “I have made a covenant with David, my chosen servant.

  • This the point of the psalm. That covenant was established through the prophetic word spoken by Nathan to David. Unlike the covenant with Moses and people (Exodus 19-24) which was two-way and therefore conditional, this was essentially one-way and unconditional – provided that the Davidic dynasty remained loyal to God the covenant giver. The covenant held good – the Messiah was of David’s line – but the most severe curse implicit in the Moses covenant was also operating, Leviticus 26:27-39, Deut., 28:36-37, 45-48. Reference: NIV Study Bible page 21 table.
  • For further study: Five of the seven ancient covenants were of the Royal Grant or unconditional type: with Noah, Genesis 9:8-17; grant of land to Abraham, Gen. 15:9-21; with Phinehas the priest, Numbers 25:10-31; this covenant with David, 2 Samuel 7:5-16; and the New Covenant, below.
    The two conditional covenants were the second part of the covenant with Abraham as patriarch, and his descendants, Gen. 17 – conditional on consecration to the Lord; and the ‘Mosaic’ covenant with descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all redeemed from bondage, Exodus 19-24, conditional on consecration to the Lord as His people, His rule and His purposes.
    The New Covenant, promised at the very time that Israel is about to be expelled from the Promised Land for breaking covenant, is an unconditional covenant of pure grace in which the law would be “written on hearts”. The only condition is accepting and receiving this covenant, in other words, entering into it.

I have sworn this oath to him: ‘I will establish your descendants as kings forever; they will sit on Your throne from now until eternity.’” Interlude

  • In an unconditional covenant, even if the party entering into it breaks covenant, God is committed to fulfil it. That is not to ignore the consequences of reneging on the covenant, which this psalm seems not to take into account.
    In the classic form of ancient Royal Grant covenant, a king would make a grant to a servant, whose heirs would continue to benefit from it as long as they maintained the same loyalty and service to the king. So it was unconditional, except in the sense that the essential condition of the covenant had to be maintained.
  • The classic suzerain-vassal conditional form of covenant was made between a great king and a subject king and it demanded total and exclusive loyalty and service, in return for the suzerain’s (great king’s) protection. Kings and Chronicles detail times when Israel worshipped other gods and sought the protection of other powers – both serious transgressions, the consequences of which the prophets spelled out.

19 Long ago You spoke in a vision to Your faithful people.

  • Or ‘Your godly ones”. People like the prophet Nathan, who God used to speak His words of covenant over David (2 Sam. 7:4ff above)

You said, “I have raised up a warrior. I have selected him from the common people to be king.

20 I have found My servant David. I have anointed him with My holy oil.

21-23 I will steady him with my hand; with my powerful arm I will make him strong. His enemies will not defeat him, nor will the wicked overpower him. I will beat down his adversaries before him and destroy those who hate him.

  • This was David’s experience, even when it seemed inevitable that he would be overpowered by the greater army and force of public opinion in Absalom’s uprising, 2 Sam. 14:28-18:33.

24 My faithfulness and unfailing love will be with him, and by my authority he will grow in power.

25-26 I will extend his rule over the sea, his dominion over the rivers. And he will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

  • References the promise of Exodus 23:31, that the Lord would give Israel the land between the River Euphrates and the Red Sea.

Application

God said that His faithfulness and unfailing love would be with David and his descendants. Not all the kings that succeeded him had this experience, but there were reasons, which the prophets were not shy of pointing out.

David was not of perfect character, or conduct. He was a warrior, and had been responsible for the deaths of many enemies. Yet he knew God’s extraordinary favour, summarised in 2 Sam 7:4-16 and recalled in this psalm.

How much more can we look to God for mercy and grace and favour, because of who we are in Jesus Christ, the position of adopted sonship we have gained through accepting the Lordship of God’s Son.

Discussion starter

  1. Why is it important as church to begin worship with declaring God’s goodness in praise? What reminder does that embed in us?

A covenant that God will not break

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 1 of 5

The story of God’s faithfulness in maintaining covenant, from King David’s successors to the Good News of King Jesus.

Monday, December 18: 2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Tuesday, December 19: Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

Wednesday, December 20: Luke 1:26-38

Thursday, December 21: Romans 16:25-27

Friday: The emerging message and discussion starters

Monday, Dec 18: 2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Nathan the prophet’s word to King David about the house, or dynasty, of David which would follow him.

  • Although not called a covenant here, in other places it is i.e Psalm 89:3,28,34,39; Psalm 132:11; and 2 Samuel 23:5 “If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant…(NIV)”. This promise to make David’s family the representative of His people for ever is a key passage in the history of salvation.

1-2 When King David was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all the surrounding enemies, the king summoned Nathan the prophet. “Look,” David said, “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God is out there in a tent!”

  • David wanted to build the Lord a ‘house’ or suitable, permanent place for the Ark to remain – but contrast this with v.11 below, The Lord… will make a house for you…”
  • The Ark of God is covered by (literally) ‘curtains’.

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you have in mind, for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that same night the Lord said to Nathan…

  • An example of a project that has started to form without the Lord being consulted, except in the sense of his prophet being part of a prayerful conversation. Nathan was hasty in his “Go ahead…” response because he hadn’t heard at that point. When we start with our plan and seek the Lord’s approval, He may substitute His own plan!

5-7 “…Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord has declared:

  • “The Lord is with you” v.3 but “This is what the Lord says…”

Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day. I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling. Yet no matter where I have gone with the Israelites, I have never once complained to Israel’s tribal leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel. I have never asked them, “Why haven’t you built me a beautiful cedar house?”’

  • See 1 Chron. 22:8 for the reason why David was not permitted to build the temple. He had waged too many wars and shed too much blood.
  • Israel’s leaders, or judges. The word as it stands can mean ‘sceptres’, a figure of speech for rulers.

8-11 “Now go and say to my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel.

  • “My people…” is an important emphasis. It is the Lord who called David from shepherding to kingship, prevailed over enemies and who had made the original promise of enduring renown, Genesis 12:2.

I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes.

  • The events in the following chapter probably preceded this chapter – but the material has not been arranged chronologically, as we assume, but in topics.

Now I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth! And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.

  • It is the Lord acting on His promise, rather than David’s acts of military achievement, who will establish His people in a land of their own.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that He will make a house for you – a dynasty of kings!

16 Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’”

  • “The house” now takes on the meaning of dynasty.
  • This is a double prophecy with covenantal implications: the first outworking of this is in Solomon, who (unlike David) is permitted to build the Temple (v.13); the second “eternal throne… established forever” is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

Application

Our faith has deep roots and this event, 1000 years before Christ’s appearance, has big implications.

It describes God, speaking through the mouthpiece of an attested and righteous prophet, about a one-way promise, or covenant, He is making with David which will extend beyond his lifetime or present influence, indefinitely. This is number six of seven major covenants recorded in Scripture and its form is essentially unconditional – it is a description of what God undertakes to do for David, not of what David has to do for God. There is, however, a presumption of continuing loyalty to God on the part of David’s descendants which is in the nature of any covenant agreement: that the parties actually enter into it.

It promises David:

  • Enduring renown
  • Israel to have their own land to remain in
  • Security and rest from enemies
  • A dynasty and influence that endures

David knew God as the Faithful One, Psalm 145:13,17 “ The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does.”

In the ups and downs of life, in a world where agreements are seen as situational and easily broken, God is there for us upholding the commitment of His covenant.

We have a better covenant than Abraham, Moses or David in Jesus Christ, with better provisions, and based on God’s grace – we turn to Him and He turns to us. God who has made and maintained promises for those who were after His heart in the past, makes and maintains promises to those who belong to Him in Christ Jesus. That’s something to have ready for when the enemy comes knocking on the door of your mind with his doubts and fears.

Discussion starter

  1. What (verses 8-16) does David or his descendants have to do or to be, in order to comply with this promise? If it is not explicit, what might be implicit?

Friday, December 15: The emerging message

All on a mission to restore God’s values

All the scriptures for Sunday, December 17

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

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

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

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

This week the Word has taken us from Isaiah’s prophecy about One sent to renew and restore and rebuild, through God’s promise to bless again where there had been judgment, and to bring a Messiah to be a light to Gentiles as well as His own people. The promise unfolds with Mary’s humility in her response and John the Baptist’s challenge to the crowds, and leaves us with an exhortation to always be attentive to what God is highlighting for our attention, through words of revelation.

All around us we may see social breakdown, political uncertainty, economic challenges and pressing needs — but God has set out His purposes clearly, and is still speaking to us about them.

He is seeking to bring people back into relationship with Himself; we know that. Are we aware that he also seeks to bring institutions and every kind of governance back to Himself — back to His way of doing things, His values, His spiritual domain? We have learned that this is the meaning of the kingdom of God which Jesus continually presented as the headline over His ministry.

Who will do this? His church, as individuals and together, carries on the ministry of the One who Isaiah spoke of, who read the verses in the synagogue and said that it was fulfilled. But it was fulfilled with continuation. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that a new spiritual birth was the only way to see (perceive) the kingdom of God. Those who have given themselves to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord of their lives find themselves starting to do what He did, empowered by the same Holy Spirit who empowered Him. This is the new dimension of life – a dimension marked by joy, praise and spiritual authority – that has the capacity to renew and restore and transform.

Mary found herself going beyond anything she could have imagined, beyond her capability and revered for all time as the Saviour’s mother. Praise and joy, not shame, was her expression. John came into his call, a difficult one that would inevitably involve some confrontation and risk. Both lives were essential for the transformation and renewal or trhe Saviour.

We do it the other way round. The transforming, renewing Saviour has changed our lives, and the Holy Spirit draws us to join in His mission to bring righteous, loving change to others.

Go out and change the world? A tough call, but we do it one person at a time, one situation at a time; and the same anointing that empowered Jesus is the anointing that has us proclaiming good news to the poor and poor in spirit.

All the discussion starters together

  1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?
  2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?
  1. What attitudes are contrasted in the Psalm 126/ Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat) passages?

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

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

The emerging message – all on a mission to restore God’s values

All the scriptures for Sunday, December 17

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

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

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

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

This week the Word has taken us from Isaiah’s prophecy about One sent to renew and restore and rebuild, through God’s promise to bless again where there had been judgment, and to bring a Messiah to be a light to Gentiles as well as His own people. The promise unfolds with Mary’s humility in her response and John the Baptist’s challenge to the crowds, and leaves us with an exhortation to always be attentive to what God is highlighting for our attention, through words of revelation.

All around us we may see social breakdown, political uncertainty, economic challenges and pressing needs — but God has set out His purposes clearly, and is still speaking to us about them.

He is seeking to bring people back into relationship with Himself; we know that. Are we aware that He also seeks to bring institutions and every kind of governance back to Himself — back to His way of doing things, His values, His spiritual domain? We have learned that this is the meaning of the kingdom of God which Jesus continually presented as the headline over His ministry.

Who will do this? His church, as individuals and together, carries on the ministry of the One who Isaiah spoke of, who read the verses in the synagogue and said that it was fulfilled. But it was fulfilled with continuation. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that a new spiritual birth was the only way to see (perceive) the kingdom of God. Those who have given themselves to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord of their lives find themselves starting to do what He did, empowered by the same Holy Spirit who empowered Him. This is the new dimension of life – a dimension marked by joy, praise and spiritual authority – that has the capacity to renew and restore and transform.

Mary found herself going beyond anything she could have imagined, beyond her capability and revered for all time as the Saviour’s mother. Praise and joy, not shame, was her expression. John came into his call, a difficult one that would inevitably involve some confrontation and risk. Both lives were essential for the transformation and renewal of the Saviour.

We do it the other way round. The transforming, renewing Saviour has changed our lives, and the Holy Spirit draws us to join in His mission to bring righteous, loving change to others.

Go out and change the world? A tough call, but we do it one person at a time, one situation at a time; and the same anointing that empowered Jesus is the anointing that has us proclaiming good news to the poor and poor in spirit.

All the discussion starters together

  1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?
  2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?

  3. What attitudes are contrasted in the Psalm 126/ Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat) passages?

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

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

  6. Are we more ready to criticise, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way for the Lord?

  7. Does the call to repent lead us to a sense of condemnation, or to a sense of what God might be preparing us for?

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

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

. Are we more ready to criticise, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way for the Lord?

  1. Does the call to repent lead us to a sense of condemnation, or to a sense of what God might be preparing us for?

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

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

Thur, Dec 14: Hear and test the prophetic word

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, Dec 15: The emerging message

1 Thess. 5:16-24

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

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

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

19 Do not quench the Spirit.

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

20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt…

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

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

22 reject every kind of evil.

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

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

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

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

Application

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

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

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

Discussion starters

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

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