Expectation! Advent Sunday, December 3, 2017

Bible study on the lectionary readings for Sunday, December 3 – Advent Sunday

MONDAY, Nov 27: Isaiah 64:1–9
TUESDAY, Nov 28: Psalm 80:1–8, 18–20
WEDNESDAY, Nov 29: Mark 13:24–37
THURSDAY, Nov 30: 1 Corinthians 1:3–9
FRIDAY, Dec 1: Teaching of the week

Expectation of a new encounter with the Love of the Father, the Way of Jesus and the Life of the Spirit.

Isaiah 64:1–9

An appeal to God “to come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways”, who are like clay being shaped by the hand of the potter.

1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!

2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!

  • An appeal to God to “make His name known”. His name and His nature is the same idea in Hebrew thought. So in our secular and largely unbelieving culture, we can take this as the basis of a biblical prayer for God to make known again His love, His justice – and His holiness.

**3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.

  • Reflects Isa. 30:18: Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him.
  • Waiting for God is active, attentive and expectant, not a passive kind of waiting.

5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember Your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?

  • Prophetic in a future sense. When Israel and Judah continued to forget God’s ways and abandon the framework of the covenant, first the northern kingdom of Israel fell, followed a century and a half later by the fall of Jerusalem, the loss of the holy city and the exile to Babylonia and Egypt of a now dispersed holy nation.

6 All of us have become like one who is unclean…

  • Ceremonially unclean
    …and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
    we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you…

  • At difficult times the response the Lord looks for is urgent, fervent repentant prayer 2 Chron 7:14

…for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

  • Recalls Isaiah 29:16 and the relationship of the potter to the clay that is being formed. The clay is not to attempt to define the pot that is made Isaiah 45:9.

9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

  • There is a promise that the Lord will turn from His anger Isaiah 54:7–8.
  • The appeal to the Lord to “act on behalf of those who wait for Him” and “come to the help of those who…do right, who remember your ways” is the theme of hope, the confident expectation based on the Lord’s covenant mercy.

Application

This passage is an appeal to the Lord to presence Himself again which honestly sets out attitudes of faithlessness which have invoked the Lord’s anger. It ends with a forthright appeal based on submission – like clay in the potter’s hand.

  • They have failed to keep alive the memories of what the Lord has done among them;
  • They have continued to sin against His ways, even while seeing the Lord come to the help of righteous people;
  • Their prayer life, and their whole relationship with the Lord, has collapsed

These are common failings, for us now as well as then. They are all causes of faith malaise – and without faith we cannot please the Lord Hebrews 11:6.

Discussion starters

  1. Should we celebrate good things the Lord has done, answered prayers, delivered situations more often e.g. by sharing testimony stories as part of worship?

  2. What is Advent about? See verses 2 and 4 and 7 and comments.

Psalm 80:1–8, 18–20

A prayer for restoration and favour

1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth…

  • Three titles of God: ‘Shepherd of Israel’, ‘Guide’ or ‘Leader’, ‘You who sit enthroned’. The language emphasises God being actively involved.
  • “Shine forth” – an appeal for God’s glory to be seen again, remembering the desert journey Exodus 24:16–17; Exodus 40:34–35

2 …before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.

  • Remembering how the ark of the covenant advanced in front of the troops of these three tribes; Numbers 10:21–24;

3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

  • “Make Your face shine upon us” in favour, as in the words of the priestly blessing, Numbers 6:25. Also verses 7 and 19.

4 How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smoulder
against the prayers of your people?

  • This is a plea for restoration against a background of prayers apparently delayed and favour apparently withheld. At a time when many denominations are reporting decreasing numbers and finances, and we are seeing the breakdown of marriage and society as a whole, we might be asking whether our prayers would find a better hearing if they included repentance for known causes of God’s anger.

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.

6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours,
and our enemies mock us.

  • In increasingly secular, multifaith Britain this has a contemporary ring to it

7 Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

  • Verses 4–7 are in the form of a lament

8 You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.

  • Israel was once God’s transplanted vine but became a ravaged vine (verses 8–16).
  • Without suggesting that the Church has replaced God’s intentions for Israel, allusion to Israel as God’s people can often be taken to apply to the Church as an ‘ingrafted form’ of God’s people.

18 Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.

  • A suggestion that we will not turn away i.e. we will turn (repent) to call on God again.

19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

Application

The psalmist reminds us that God is actively involved with His people, but their prayer and prosperity have been compromised by actions (not specified) which led to God’s anger. This lack of favour with God is spelt out, but also contrasted with the favour God’s people knew in being “transplanted” like a fruit-bearing vine taken from Egypt and replanted in a different land. There is an allusion (v.2) to the day by day obedience of the people in following the pillar of fire and cloud on the desert journey, and their trust of His provision where there was no natural provision. Three times (vv. 3, 7 and 19) there is an appeal for a renewal of God’s mercy, favour and salvation. This speaks to our need for that renewal, and also to recall past revivals. What needs to change in us?

Discussion starters

  1. God’s mercy is based on an unconditional covenant with His people and the prayer “Restore us… make Your face shine on us” contains the “us” of being His people. What distinguishes God’s people?

  2. What kind of prayer (implied, not spelt out) might need to go alongside this prayer to “Restore us…”?

Mark 13:24–37

Keep watch, as those who expect Christ’s return at any time.

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

  • “In those days” was a common expression by the prophets of the end times, or a time of judgment. “That distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now” is also an expression used by Matthew Matt. 24:21, and also the description used by Roman historian Josephus who witnessed the brutal destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 after a long siege. Many scholars consider that this also points to a future time in history – see Daniel 12:1 and vv. 26–27 below.

‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;

25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

27 And He will send his angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.

  • We learn to recognise the signs of the different seasons. Similarly we should be able to read the signs of changing spiritual ‘seasons’.

29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.

30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

  • The siege and destruction of Jerusalem occurred less than 40 years later – within a literal generation and perhaps shortly after Mark’s gospel began to circulate.
  • This still leaves us with a problem. The Early Church had a bigger picture than Jerusalem, and exhorted members to live with an expectation of the imminent return of the Lord, and there was concern when some members died before His return, 2 Pet. 3:4.
  • For a Bible study on Christ’s imminent return, see 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18;James 5:8–9 (also Rom 13:12; 1 Cor 7:29; Philippians 4:5; Heb 10:25; Rev 22:20).
  • However “generation” could have a different meaning. In the Qumran writings the term ‘last generation’ apparently included several lifetimes. According to this interpretation, “this generation” is the final period before the End, however long it may be.

31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

  • “Only the Father” – while on earth Jesus lived by faith

33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

  • For a Bible study on the expectation of Jesus’ imminent return in the Early Church, see 1 Peter 4:7; [1 John 2:18] (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+2%3A18&version=NIVUKhttps://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+2%3A18&version=NIVUK);James 5:8–9 (also Rom 13:12; 1 Cor 7:29; Philippians 4:5; Heb 10:25; Rev 22:20).

34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

  • Living in the expectation that the return of Jesus (parousia) is at hand is difficult in a science-aware age which values what is evidence-based. But this was not a mistake on the part of Jesus, or a misunderstanding by the Early Church. Ever since Jesus was born in Bethlehem, we have been living in the Last Days. The challenge is to live with the urgency and reality of that when history pushes for a more reasonable explanation.

36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.

37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”

Application

The return of the Messiah has been promised, and we are to live in daily expectation of that, even nearly 2,000 years later. There is a clear teaching to remember Jesus as if He has only just gone, and to be aware of His coming again at any time. Without diminishing that at all, there are frequent encounters with the Lord through history. Some are big and matters of historical record — the First Great Awakening of the 1700s that brought to prominence Whitfield and Wesley and Charles Simeon, and a century later the Second Great Awakening, the time of the great Victorian pastors and preachers and a move of church attendance and church building in both affluent areas and slums. Then the Welsh Revival of 1904-5 and the Pentecostal Revival that come out it in 1907, the Hebrides Revival of the early 1950s and we might mention the charismatic renewal that started in the 1960s. In among them, innumerable more personal or more local renewal and encounter experiences where the Lord has taken His church and given it new direction and energy in response to the prayer and praise of His faithful people. How is He poised for a new encounter, of local or global scale, and are we prayerfully watchful?

Discussion starters

  1. What does keeping watch involve, for us personally or as a group or congregation?

  2. We cannot know the day or time, and many attempts to do so through history have shown themselves to misdirected. However, will the Lord alert his watching, faithful, expectant people to what He is doing?

1 Corinthians 1:3–9

Live in expectation of Jesus, making full use of the gifts of Jesus in pursuing His mission

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I always thank my God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus.

  • Paul honours the church, not as his but as the Lord’s. Paul also gives thanks for the church in Rome, honouring them in a similar way Romans 1:8

5 For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge…

  • Referring to spiritual gifts of speech and revelation. Later, Paul cites the word of knowledge, a revelatory gift, in a list of spiritual gifts 1 Cor. 12:8

6 …God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.

  • Paul and companions had preached the Gospel to Corinth and they had accepted it. Moreover, their changed lives and growing in spiritual gifts (v.5, v.7) gave evidence to this. The word used for “confirming” was used in legal documents in the sense of guaranteeing.

7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

  • “As you eagerly wait…” An active, expectant kind of waiting.
  • “To be revealed” – similar language is used in 1 Thess. 1:7

8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • “Keep you firm” is the same word as “confirm” in v.6. “The day” is the Day of the Lord and “the end” is the end of the age. The expectation set out in this letter is that the prospect is fairly immediate.

9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • This waiting with anticipation is faith-stretching exercise – at which God meets us as the Faithful One.

Application

The church in Corinth is waiting for the Lord Jesus to be revealed, in His visible return. Meanwhile they were celebrating their changed lives with a growing experience of the Gifts of the Spirit. Together this was creating an experience of the Lord’s presence and a sense of anticipation which was attracting others. What is the Holy Spirit saying to us and our present day church situations through this account? Is He calling us to raise our expectation of the return of the Lord, and while we are waiting, expectation of some real encounters with the Lord?

Discussion starters

  1. Having asked (Q.6), whether the Lord will alert His people to His moves, HOW might He do this, and what assumption does this letter make of its readers or hearers (verses 5 and 7)?

  2. To what extent is today’s church ‘enriched’ and ‘not lacking in any spiritual gift’ – or needing to be?

  3. When we meet together, how do we expect the Lord to presence Himself, visibly or otherwise?

Top

Teaching of the week

Be ready! Working with God’s gifts for His mission, and cleaning up the house ready for His return.

Advent remembers when God visited earth, incarnate, as Jesus the Christ, born in Bethlehem; together with the promise that He will come again, unannounced and expecting us to be prepared, ready and following His Way. Every encounter with a holy God, whether the longed for end-times visitation or the strong presence of the Holy Spirit among us, throws into relief our pattern of independence and selfishness and unbelief.

Isaiah asks, who can be saved when we continue to sin against God and to allow actions and attitudes which are bound to anger Him? But there is a promise here that God is looking for a reason to turn from His anger. Those who “remember His ways” and uphold His values, who wait for Him prayerfully, can intercede in such a situation. God is looking for those righteous people.

Asking for His gracious restoration against a backdrop of His righteous anger is the psalmist’s theme in Psalm 80. “We will not turn away from you” is a way of saying that we will turn to Him – the turning of repentance prayer for a season of preparation and reflection.

Jesus’ own words in Mark’s Gospel exhorts us to be watchful as those who cannot know when He will return but are charged with the responsibility to be faithful – going about our assigned tasks as if He was visibly present – and ready for His return. The illustration Jesus uses, of the master leaving the house in the charge of servants to keep in order, is one we can relate to. Of course everything would have to be freshly cleaned and polished for the master’s return. Given the unpredictability of that return, it is an instruction to keep our lives, relationships, church life and mission clean of any polluting influences and in tip-top spiritual condition, just as if notice of the arrival had just been received.

The 1 Corinthians passage reinforces the way the Early Church lived in day by day expectation that Jesus, whose ascension into heaven some had witnessed, would shortly come back in much the same way. Their reminder is our reminder also: they have been given the close support of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, which are all to a greater or lesser extent, revelatory. Being “kept firm till the end” is an exercise in faith and partnership, however soon or distant the end of the Age turns out to be. We have a mission, and an empowering “enriched in every way’ to carry it out – and be found carrying out when the Master returns. This is a season to reflect on that priority.

All the discussion starters

  1. Should we celebrate good things the Lord has done, answered prayers, delivered situations more often e.g. by sharing testimony stories as part of worship?

  2. What is Advent about? See verses 2 and 4 and 7 and comments.

  3. God’s mercy is based on an unconditional covenant with His people and the prayer “Restore us… make Your face shine on us” contains the “us” of being His people. What distinguishes God’s people?

  4. What kind of prayer (implied, not spelt out) might need to go alongside this prayer to “Restore us…”?

  5. What does keeping watch involve, for us personally or as a group or congregation?

  6. We cannot know the day or time, and many attempts to do so through history have shown themselves to misdirected. However, will the Lord alert his watching, faithful, expectant people to what He is doing?

  7. Having asked (Q.6), whether the Lord will alert His people to His moves, HOW might He do this, and what assumption does this letter make of its readers or hearers (verses 5 and 7)?

  8. To what extent is today’s church ‘enriched’ and ‘not lacking in any spiritual gift’ – or needing to be?

  9. When we meet together, how do we expect the Lord to presence Himself, visibly or otherwise?