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