Christmas Day OT reading
Christmas Day Gospel reading
Christmas Day Epistle reading
Christmas Day application
Sunday, December 30 OT reading
Sunday, December 30 Gospel reading
Sunday, December 30 Epistle reading
Sunday, December 30 application
THEME 1 (DECEMBER 25):
THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD APPEAR FOR US
Readings are in Bible order, Old Testament, Gospel, Epistle, following the logic of progressive revelation. Some churches use a liturgical order with the gospel reading last.
DECEMBER 25 – OLD TESTAMENT READING
Isaiah 9:2-7 – the glory of God comes on Israel
A nation in spiritual darkness receive a peace-bringing mighty king of David’s lineage but heavenly origin
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
“Have seen” – prophetic vision that sees the future with the clarity of it already having happened.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
“Enlarged” – no longer a small remnant after five centuries of resettlement and growth.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
“Midian’s defeat” — the Lord using Gideon, Judges 7.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.
“Wonderful counsellor” – the titles reveal Immanuel as both human and divine: a ‘counsellor to carry out a plan or action; with divine power; bringing the Father’s compassion and protection; and exercising a style of rulership which brings wholeness and wellbeing to the whole of society.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
DECEMBER 25 – GOSPEL READING
Luke 2:1-14 – shepherds experience God’s sudden blaze of glory in terror
They are directed to seek out Mary and Joseph and their baby, visitors to Bethlehem for the census
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
“A census” – for the purposes of the Roman poll tax. Joseph was of the house of David, Mary possibly so.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
“Bethlehem” – as foretold in Micah’s prophecy, Micah 5:2.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
“Out in the fields” – so probably between March and November. The time of Jesus’ birth is not known. The midwinter tradition arose much later from Christians re-purposing the pagan midwinter festival.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
“Terrified” – by the majesty of angels in bright light suddenly appearing in the darkness.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.
12 “This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”
“Good news” – the word that gives us ‘evangelise’. “On earth peace” – Jesus is the Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, Isa. 9:6 to bring God’s peace; not to all, but all who would turn to Him and come to know God and God’s favour.
DECEMBER 25 – EPISTLE READING
Titus 2:11-14 – We’re growing in grace while awaiting Christ’s return
Christians are empowered to live above themselves while expecting Jesus to appear in glory
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
“Grace… offers salvation” – the word ‘grace’ is used generally and also specifically, as here, meaning the favour with God, unearned but made possible by Christ’s sinless self-sacrifice. It is offered to, not conferred on, all people – a response to Jesus is called for – but anyone of any state can choose to turn to Him, come to know God in a personal way and be changed by this grace.
12-13 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.
“Teaches us… to live…” – Salvation (also called justification, Titus 3:7) and holy living are “not because of anything we have done but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace, 2 Tim. 1:9. Jesus will come again, the “blessed hope” we wait for. Meanwhile, the grace of God through the Holy Spirit enables us to live by these values.
IN PRACTICE The favour of God has come to us through Jesus being revealed to us – the Bible is clear that we cannot earn it. However, there is a personal, active choice we must make to turn to Jesus and receive His lordship. Nowhere does the Bible teach that salvation is through the church; widely it teaches that salvation is a choice to invite Jesus as Saviour. Before that decision we are all walking in darkness, as Isaiah describes, not able to see the spiritual realities of good and evil. Then God’s glory visited the village of Bethlehem and God’s grace was experienced, by the most ordinary of people. A couple of generations later, believers in the early church are rejoicing in being “a people that are His very own” and knowing the grace of God helping them in their eagerness to “do what is good”.
PRAYER Lord we love the nativity scene, but help us to see beyond it to Your Lordship and Your glory. May the impact of who You are, transform how we are, in this season of remembering Your first coming and preparing for the next.
THEME FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30 – THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD GROW IN US
DECEMBER 30 – OLD TESTAMENT READING
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 – the young Samuel is an apprentice in the tabernacle
He grows in stature and God’s favour, as was said later of the boy Jesus
18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord – a boy wearing a linen ephod.
19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.
“Linen ephod” – an embroidered over-garment worn over the robe, by priests in the sanctuary. The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s sons, all young Levites, is that Samuel lived up to his calling.
20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.
26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.
“Grow in stature and favour” – like Luke’s description of Jesus as a boy, see Luke 2:52 below, also Luke 2:40.
DECEMBER 30 – GOSPEL READING
Luke 2:41-52 – Jesus grows in grace at the temple
Unknown to His parents, He spends time with the teachers of the temple courts who, remarkably, allow Him to debate with them.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.
“Every year” – Good observant Jews like Jesus’ family liked to keep the three commanded festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Exodus 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16. Galileans and others at a distance would try to keep Passover at least.
42 When He was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
“Twelve years old” – preparing to take adult covenant responsibilities, usually at age 13.
43 After the festival was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
“Unaware” – often entire villages and extended families travelled and socialised together.
44-45 Thinking He was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.
46-47 After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.
“After three days” – a day’s travel of about 20 miles, a day turning back, and a day finding Jesus in the city.
“Listening… asking questions… His answers” – the teachers were rabbis, scholars of Mosaic law. The style of rabbinic instruction was question and counter-question. It was highly unusual for them to entertain a boy, let alone be enthralled by His scriptural understanding. Jesus was a prodigy.
48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’
49-50 “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them.
“Your father and I…My Father’s house” – Jesus makes it clear that God is His true father. He is aware of His unique relationship, his parents less so.
51-52 Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
“Jesus grew in wisdom” – Jesus was fully God, but also fully man, having laid aside His majesty to be born as one one of us. The Expanded Bible renders this: “But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing, (lit. emptied Himself).” There is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus had all knowledge and wisdom from birth, and in this passage we see Him growing up like any other boy.
DECEMBER 30 – EPISTLE READING
Colossians 3:12-17 – God’s people are to grow in grace
God is love and Jesus demonstrated unconditional love; growing in His character of kindness and gentleness is what distinguishes the body of Christ.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
“God’s chosen people” — this phrase was used of Israel, and then of the Christian community, Deut. 4:37; 1 Peter 2:9.
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
“Bear with… forgive…” – Jesus taught that having received grace and forgiveness from God, we must extend the same grace to others. Being forgiven by God means we, too, must forgive, without condition.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.,
“Put on love”— which will look like attitudes of v.12, and like the fruit of the [redeemed, regenerate human] spirit, Gal. 5:22.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
“Peace of Christ” — where Christ rules, where Jesus is accorded His lordship, His peace will act as an umpire. Allegiance to Christ outranks differences between
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
“Psalms, hymns and songs” — the model is the book of Psalms, which includes psalms of truth from Scripture, hymns of praise and the spontaneous, prophetic songs from the Spirit.
“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” — the bottom line is a requirement to keep on growing in Christian maturity and TO show Jesus to others, by living as those who represent Jesus and His Way.
IN PRACTICE The grace and glory of God become a growing part of us when we surrender our self-rule and independence, and ask Jesus to come in. That’s the pathway towards Christian maturity. The story of young Samuel, called by God, and the young Jesus, the Son of God, speak to us about our growing up process. Words written to the church in Colossae challenge us to grow in Jesus-like attitudes and relationships. So why do we get conflicts and tensions in the church? Because we have an active enemy, always looking for unresolved tensions that have become sin, that he can use to deceive, divide or destroy. The remedy is the rule of the opposite spirit — someone attacks us angrily and we choose to respond in peace, or someone is hurtful or difficult, and we choose to love them anyway. This is grace and it disarms the enemy and brings God’s glory – never more powerfully than when we choose to forgive, Matthew 18:21-35.
QUESTION “It’s just the way I am” – but God sent His son and may not accept that limitation! What can you do this Christmas that will release His change?
PRAYER “Lord, I thank You that You came – and have come for me. I give what I have, myself, to You and I receive from You new grace and life in Jesus. Amen.”
Download TLW52 booklet Dec 25/30 to print for your church
TLW41: Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 14
Theme: How much have we caught God’s heart, and He ours?
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression. A righteous man is blamed by his
Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower. Mark’s story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love.
Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes. Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands
Also: Psalm 22:1-15
OLD TESTAMENT READING
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression
A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice
Eliphaz, in the previous speech, has treated Job as a sinner, in the darkness of sin and for whom he has a remedy. Zophar, the the speech before that, went further in aligning Job’s grave difficulties with his rebellion before God. There is some truth in both positions, but Job does not accept either of them: he humbly asserts that they do not apply. Job is an interesting exception to the general assumption, that everyone’s need can be met by preaching the gospel.
1-3 Then Job replied: “Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
3 If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!
“If only I knew where…” – Job, true to his name (‘iyyob, Where is the heavenly Father?), is trying to find God from his sense of abandonment. Eliphaz had instructed Job “Return to the Almighty” but Job (vv. 8-9 below) cannot find God to encounter Him anywhere.
4 I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me.
6 Would He vigorously oppose me? No, He would not press charges against me.
7 There the upright can establish their innocence before Him, and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.
“I would be delivered” – Job is confident, as a God-fearing worshipper, of a fair hearing, leading to acquittal. The gospel is here in this passage, which looks forward to the justification to be found, not in the tally of our good deeds, but through the relationship we have with Jesus Christ alone, Romans 4:25-5:1; 8:1.
8 “But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.
9 When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.
= = = = = =
16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.
17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.
“Made my heart
IN PRACTICE Despite physical illness and mental torture, Job’s heart is proving to be true. Far from blaming God for his misfortune, the devil’s scheme, He is trusting God for his deliverance. He feels sure that if he could have that conversation, that hearing, that He would find that God was for him. God is for us. It will always be the devil’s strategy to sow thoughts in our minds that God is for others, but not us; that we have done (or not done) something that exposes us to judgment and keeps us out of favour. This is the folly of the religious mind. The spiritual person, who knows God personally through Jesus, will know that it is our heart, and the relationship with God that guards our heart, that gives us assurance – and ultimately deliverance.
QUESTION Why would God allow such a good person as Job to go through this trial of sickness and a feeling of “thick darkness”? How does Job’s faith, even while questioning, help us?
Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower
Mark’s version of the story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“A man ran up” – previously in Mark’s story Jesus encountered small children who had no standing and were completely dependent. By
“What must I do” – the question of a religious, but not spiritual, person. He showed respect to Jesus (“fell on his knees”) but simply didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching of how the kingdom of God is entered, Mark 10:13-16.
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone.
19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’”
“Why do you call Me good” – Jesus is not denying His goodness, but making the man think about his question and focus on God. Will he recognise the goodness of God incarnated in Jesus? Will he recognise that only God Himself is intrinsically good?
“You know the commandments” – Jesus mentions the six that address wrong actions and attitudes to others including “fraud” for covetousness.
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
“All these I have kept” – this doesn’t read well to us. But the man is sincere. For him, the law is about conforming to the doing, the externals (like the six commandments Jesus quoted). Jesus makes him think: what is missing? The requirement to have a good heart, to love God and, by extension, have God’s love for others, Mark 12:29-30; Exodus 20:3; Deut. 6:5. Entering the kingdom of God is always a step of repentance, Mark 1:5; 6:12.
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
“Sell everything… give to the poor” – not a general command, but addressing the stronghold of self-sufficiency that was holding this man back from salvation.
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24-25 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
“Camel…through the eye of a needle” – the largest animal and the smallest opening. The idea of a laden pack animal shedding its baggage to be led through a narrow postern gate is a great illustration that may (or may not) have been in Jesus’ mind.
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
“Amazed…Who then can be…” – Jesus has overturned the generally accepted idea that riches are a sign of favour from God.
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
“Who then… with man this is impossible” — this man, they would have thought, was an outstanding candidate. Jesus explains that there is nothing we can achieve of ourselves to gain salvation. It comes only by relationship with God and receiving His gift.
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29-30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.
31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
“Left… for me… will receive…” — followers of Jesus share a family generosity that transcends social and geographical borders. In this context, the hospitality if a hundred homes and families sharing the same values.
“First… last and… last first” — the kingdom order up-ends the accepted order of wealth, privilege and the merit of having kept the externals. The kingdom is experienced by disciples with no other claim than looking to Jesus and accepting the challenges of His humble way.
IN PRACTICE This favourite story, also told by Matthew and Luke, goes right to the heart of our walk with God. Here was a man who had done all the right things that the law said were to be done, but how he felt about God was still a bridge to be crossed. Throughout history, man has put the first commandment – to love God with all our heart – on a shelf while working at all the others. The intention was to be so captivated by God and broken by His love, that everything else follows as a consequence. The rich young man had a theology of ‘doing’ – we might call it religiosity – but who had his heart?
QUESTION Jesus asks us the same question from time to time: where is our heart? Can we do no other but to follow Him wholeheartedly, or is our human desire for self-sufficiency holding us?
Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes
Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
“The word of God penetrates” – a warning to those living a sham that faithless disobedience will be exposed by the living power of the word of God which acts like an all-seeing eye.
“Soul and spirit” – the human spirit together with the thinking, feeling, wilful soul. Taken together to mean the whole inner person.
13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
“Everything… laid bare” – The word of God (v.12) is speaking and acting as the judgment of God Himself. All our thoughts and intentions are exposed, and accountable to the living, written Word, John 6:63, 68, Acts 7:38 as to the living God who is the author.
14-15 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.
“Great high priest” – for Jewish Christians, coming out of the Old Covenant priest and sacrifice tradition, knowing Jesus as the Great High Priest of the complete, final sacrifice was an important faith connection.
16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
“Confident… that we… receive mercy and grace” — because this high priest has the unique qualification of having been tested through suffering and death for us, Hebrews 2:9-10.
IN PRACTICE The ‘quiet time’ of starting the day with God and the Bible, letting Him speak through His word, has deep roots in Christian tradition. Fashions change in discipleship,
QUESTION The devil will always find ways to try to prevent you having a quiet time in the word. How resolved are you not to be put off meeting with God in this way?
TLW41/October 14 to print in A5 booklet form
TLW 27. Readings set for Sunday, July 8 (Revised Common Lectionary).
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 – After years of dishonour, David is crowned
Mark 6:1-13 – Jesus faces dishonour in his hometown
2 Corinthians 12:2-10 – Paul says public dishonour helps to reveal Christ’s power
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 » After dishonouring delay, David is anointed king
The northern tribes seek unity under one monarch
1-2 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ ”
“Your own flesh and blood” – Despite a separation between Judah and the northern tribes, they still had a strong sense of kinship. Under David, they came together.
3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.
David had been made king over Judah by his tribe, and over Jerusalem by conquest. His kingship over the northern tribes came by covenant, or treaty. This was the third time David was anointed.
4-5 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.
“When he became king” – David had been anointed by the prophet Samuel as a youngster, 15-20 years earlier. His God-fearing leadership had been seen by all. The tribal elders had been very slow to recognise the working out of the Lord’s ‘shepherd of Israel’ word, when the crowning actually took place.
9-10 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
David has gone north to Jebus which was a terraced area south-east of the modern city and below the rock, or stronghold that became the rebuilt City of David, Jerusalem. It was a strategic move: central, naturally fortified and between Judah and the northern territories.
In practice David was anointed for high office as a teenager – and then had to live with that call on his life, being faithful to God in the face of much public dishonour, even being treated as an outlaw. It was about 20 years many years before even his own tribe recognised his leadership in Judah, and then another wait before he could bring the northern tribes on board. Later he was to write, Psalm 18:25, “To the faithful you show yourself faithful…” Was he faithful? He made mistakes, even serious mistakes like sending Uriah to his death, but he recognised his faults and learned from them, and was revered as a good and godly king who established just rule, the way God wanted. The lesson for us is that our loyalty and trust of God will be tested, and He allows this testing to be like a blacksmith’s heating and hammering, to forge strength and relience.
Question When you feel you are being dishonoured, where are you between blaming God for not standing by you, or accepting the test that strengthens, knowing that God is faithful?
Mark 6:1-13 » Jesus faces dishonour in his hometown
The Twelve are empowered and sent out in twos to minister in the villages.
1-3 Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed.
Probably the same event as Luke 4:16-30 where Jesus reads the beginning of Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (etc).
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing?
“Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us?” And they took offence at Him.
“Isn’t this the carpenter?” – people had known Jesus in His ‘ordinary life’ prior to His baptism. To them, He is ‘just a carpenter’ and, implied in “Mary’s son”, of illegitimate birth, unlike his brothers and sisters.
“Took offence” – in Luke’s account, serious offence, as the crowd hustled him to the brow of the town hill and tried to push him over the edge.
4-6 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.
“Without honour” – this rejection in Nazareth (the last time in the Gospel where Jesus is associated with a synagogue) is a small version of the much greater rejection to come in Jerusalem. The dishonour shown to him results in a lack of fruit there.
7 Calling the Twelve to him, He began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
“Two by two” — the OT requirement for ‘authority’ was two witnesses, Numbers 35:30, Deut. 17:6, 19:15, Matt. 18:16. Spiritual authority over spiritual iniquity or “impure spirits” would be needed on the mission.
“Authority over impure spirits” – the proclamation of God’s kingdom comes in actions and deliverance, including healing, not just words (vv.12-13).
For further study see Matthew 10:1, 5-15; Luke 9:1-6
8-11 These were His instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
Nazareth had proved to be hard-hearted and scornful with only a “few sick people” healed. This was a lesson to the disciples, to discern which people were open to God by seeing who would welcome them and by receiving their hospitality.
12-13 They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
“That people should repent” – not so much a ‘hard message’ as God working through the disciples. Proclaiming and showing the goodness and grace of God results in willing change of hearts and lives – repentance – among those who receive the Good News.
In practice With the revelatory insights that Jesus possessed, the “wisdom that had been given Him”, it is hard to imagine Jesus being amazed at the rejection and lack of faith he experienced in his hometown. He both demonstrated and explained who He was – the signs of the kingdom in His ministry left little doubt of that – but those who had known him as a carpenter/builder were scornful, asking him who He, just a regular working man like them, thought He was.
Often it is those near and dear to us, and those who we would naturally expect to be affirming us, who can present the most difficult opposition. Becoming a Christian by asking Jesus into our lives does change us and does make us seem different – progressively more like Him! And that can be threatening to others. But if Jesus was so dishonoured and rejected, should we be upset if we experience a little of the same?
Question If Jesus gave His first disciples authority over evil spirits, how are we to view a life made miserable with a spiritual dimension to it?
2 Corinthians 12:2-10 « Paul says public dishonour simply reveals Christ’s power more
His testimony of a heavenly encounter which God initiated has made him especially aware of his reliance on God
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows.
“Third heaven” – not the atmosphere where birds fly, and not the higher ‘heaven’ of sun, moon and stars, but the unseen realm of God’s uncontested presence, the place of blessedness where God dwells, referred to in the NT as paradise, Luke 23:43, Rev. 2:7. Jesus is “exalted above the heavens”, Hebrews 7:26.
3-4 And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
Paul had a vision or visions of such unusual intensity he was reluctant to talk about his experience, using the third person as a way of avoiding appearing boastful about something that was God’s initiative.
5-7a I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations.
87b-9a Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
“Thorn in the flesh” – the meaning of this is disputed. Many commentators explain this by a physical affliction like malaria or migraine attacks. However, the phrase is used in the OT of a personal enemy, Numbers 33:55, Ezek. 28:24 and Paul had persistent opponents – and often quoted the Hebrew Scriptures (or OT to us).
“Three times” – like Jesus’ threefold prayer, Mark 14:32-41, a way of saying that he has prayed to completion and received his answer.
9b-10 Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The Corinth church had a problem with self-appointed and self-congratulatory leaders, who considered themselves more polished speakers than the small, bald Jewish man who had introduced them to Christ. Paul, by contrast, wouldn’t let anything, any ‘success’ of man, get in the way of his utter focus on Jesus as Lord. Divine power only finds its expression in our human weakness and recognition of the need of the Lord’s empowerment — Paul is forthright about his need of help.
In practice This passage can present difficulties in reading it, because Paul uses an elaborate language and style to try to insulate the person, Paul, from being defined by an astounding and life-changing spiritual experience. As if the blinding vision on the Damascus road wasn’t enough… Paul’s point is that it is all about God and not about him, all about what God does, not what he does, and all the dishonour and difficulties simply serve to beat down any sense of human pride and self-sufficiency. Boasting about our weaknesses doesn’t seem so counter-intuitive in the context of God needing a clear and therefore humble channel for His grace to flow. And God’s way of clearing the channel seems a little less unreasonable!
Question Could you give an example of God’s strength being able to work, as a result of your own obvious absence of strength?
p class=”p6″>Prayer Lord, I hate being mocked and dishonoured, not to mention all the other kinds of spiritual opposition. But I want to learn to pray with authority, to minister to others You may send me to and to bless others with a growing sense of Your kingdom order and peace in their lives. Help me to trust You more, and become more resilient and Jesus-like, as I learn to see the tests of life from Your perspective. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
The readings according to the lectionary for Sunday, July 1
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 – God’s grace in David lamenting his former persecutor
Mark 5:21-43 – God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – God’s grace in Gentiles’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 » God’s grace seen in David lamenting his former persecutor
No rejoicing after tyrannical Saul is killed
1 After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.
“After the death of Saul” – the battle of Mount Gilboa did not go well for the Israelites. Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua were killed during the Philistine pursuit, and Saul was critically wounded and fell on his own sword, 1 Samuel 31:1-4.
17-18 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):
“Book of Jashar” – mentioned in Joshua 10:13, an early commemoration of Israel’s exploits, now lost. Probably in verse form like the “lament of the bow”, sung during drill with the bow, Israel’s weapon of choice.
19-20 “A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel. How the mighty have fallen! “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.
“Gazelle” – figurative language symbolising a special person, here used for Jonathan.
“Proclaim it not” – Gath to Ashkelon was the expanse of Philistine territory. For them to celebrate Israel’s defeat brought reproach, not just to Israel, but to the name of the Lord.
21-22 “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul – no longer rubbed with oil. “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
“May no showers fall” – a curse on the place where Saul and Jonathan perished expressing David’s grief. “No longer rubbed with oil” – the shield no longer maintained, no longer needed.
23 “Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
“Not parted” – Jonathan opposed his father, especially in the way he treated David, but fought to defend Israel and gave his life beside his father.
24 “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.
“Scarlet” – associated with luxury.
25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
26 “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.
“Your love for me was wonderful” – No sexual connotation here: Jonathan’s commitment to David, at personal risk, seeing him as God’s choice to succeed his own father, was a truly remarkable bond.
27 “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”
In practice If someone had spent years cursing you, making life very difficult for you and had attempted to kill you more than once, how would you feel when they themselves have come to a sticky end? Who among us would not gloat, for a while, anyway?
When David hears the news that King Saul and his close companion and friend Jonathan have both been killed while retreating from the Philistines, he does the opposite. He composes a song of lament to honour them in every way he can think of. Human emotions have been overridden – God’s grace is flowing. David had kept his heart clean from resentment for many years; his practice had paid off.
We can do the same and choose not to recount injustice and betrayal, but to love our enemies because we have the Holy Spirit to cause a flow of grace in our hearts.
Question Why did Jesus say it was so important for us to forgive without condition? Think of the Lord’s Prayer…
Mark 5:21-43 » God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded
- Two different people publicly put faith in Jesus
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the lake.
“The other side” – He had been on the eastern Gadara and Decapolis side of the lake, and now crossed back to the Capernaum and Galilee side.
22-24 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet He pleaded earnestly with Him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around Him.
“Synagogue leaders” – laymen, mostly Pharisees, who organised services.
25-26 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.
“A woman was there” – but ceremonially unclean owing to her condition, and not allowed in the temple court reserved for women.
27-29 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
By the law, Leviticus 15:19-23, she renders Jesus ceremonially unclean. However, He demonstrates that He is greater than purity laws by healing her, and therefore making her clean.
30 At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” His disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched Me?’ ”
“Who touched Me?” – He senses something, a spiritual transaction, more than just touch because He would have felt the nudges of many in the crowd.
32-34 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
She had rendered many in the crowd unclean, a shameful thing to have done from the perspective of the Law. Mark depicts how her fear turned to faith.
“Daughter” – from shunned outsider she has become part of the family of God.
“Healed” – the word ‘sozo’ has a broader meaning encompassing healed, delivered, saved. Faith in Jesus which brought her physical healing was the faith that conferred salvation from sin.
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
“Don’t be afraid” – ‘Do not fear…’ as Jesus says to us in many circumstances, ‘but believe’. Fear and faith are opposites, more than unbelief and faith. Once we decide to turn from the grip of fear to regard Jesus, faith dispels fear. We need the willpower to kick-start this change. A big test for Jairus with a dead child.
37-40 He did not let anyone follow Him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him.
After He put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with Him, and went in where the child was.
“People wailing loudly” – assisted by community mourners who upheld the noisy custom.
“Peter, James and John” – early days of the ministry and a small room, so a call to the ‘senior apprentices’ only.
“They laughed at Him” – the unbelieving crowd created an unbelieving spirituality.
41-43 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
“Talitha koum” – Only Mark’s fast-paced gospel includes references to the vernacular that Jesus and the disciples customarily used – giving immediacy to the story.
“Not to let anyone know” – Jesus was never self-promoting. In Galilee he faced two problems: He was a Galilean with fast-growing popularity in his own region, and this was attracting growing hostility from religious leaders which was pointing to premature crisis, before His work was anywhere near complete.
In practice In Mark’s telling, a story of one extraordinary healing, a raising from the dead, becomes an envelope for another healing and crowd scene.
Jesus’ relationship with synagogues and synagogue leaders was patchy, to say the least. He talked about the kingdom of God and demonstrated the kingdom of God with apparent disregard for the conventions about the Sabbath, but here a synagogue officer faces personal tragedy in the death of his small daughter and appeals to Jesus, who turfs out the wailing mourners and speaks life into her dead form.
Before that, and no less extraordinary, was the covert encounter a chronically ill woman had with him in the crowd, forcing through to touch His robe in a desperate gesture of faith.
Both were held captive by fear and hopelessness but broke free of their feelings to express faith in Jesus: His ‘sozo’ – deliverance, healing and salvation – was the result. The lesson for us is plain – defy your feelings and even facts and conventions, and turn to Jesus. Your prayer might be desperate, but maybe this is what he is listening for.
Question Have you witnessed any extraordinary answers to prayer? What was spoken out in faith as part of that prayer effort?
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 » God’s grace in Gentile believers’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church
Corinthians who excelled in gifts exhorted to be earnest in their giving
7 But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
The Corinthians – hardly lacking in self-esteem, proud of their public debating heritage and encouraged by Paul in chapters 1-7 – are challenged to lead in financial generosity also.
8-9 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
“Not commanding” – this was not a command to give – telling people to give more often has the opposite effect – but inviting them to test the sincerity of their love. The Macedonian churches in northern Greece like Philippi and Thessalonica, not far distant, had shown their love as they “gave themselves first to the Lord” by giving beyond their means at a time of severe trial and poverty. Would Corinth have the same heart?
“You know the grace of our Lord” – here meaning God’s love shown in saving action for undeserving mankind.
10-12 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
“Eager willingness… is there” – the point is that God looks for faith and joy in giving which is part of our worship of Him. Giving out of duty (by the same logic) is not acceptable. We can encourage each other to give more freely, willingly and joyfully, but to expect people to give more because they ought is the wrong message.
13-15 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
“Too much… too little” – quoting from Exodus 16:18 which refers to the Israelites gathering manna in the desert, illustrating the kind of equality he has in mind. Like giving out of duty, giving as a kind of religious penance is not the willingness and Spirit-led enthusiasm that God is seeking.
In practice The Corinthians have taken hold of new life in Christ with enthusiasm – sometimes a little too much enthusiasm, it seems. But they were also early to respond and raise money when news of the need in Jerusalem reached them across the Mediterranean in Greece. But Paul instructs them, it is not dutiful giving that God smiles on, but the joyful kind that relies on His provision and shares it willingly and joyfully. “God loves a cheerful giver” because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or rather, worship.
Question In what ways can you worship God in your freedom to give and meet needs for others?
FRIDAY, MARCH 9
The emerging message
Raising our faith viewpoints reveals the grace God had for us in every situation
These passages describe four common ‘heart conditions’ or attitudes of the heart that are not acceptable to the Lord. They are also explicit about His grace and mercy in such situations which always provides a way back to Him.
Perhaps it is not surprising the Israelites in the desert, short of food and water, should start to grumble. We are inclined to do it if the traffic is bad and this was life-threatening. But when grumbling turns to speaking against the leader, or the Lord, there were going to be bad consequences, and a plague of carpet vipers appeared.
The psalm reading highlights rebellious ways as a second heart attitude to be addressed, and talks about affliction and wasting disease that results from it.
The gospel reading includes one of the best-known verses in John 3 and the heart issue is unbelief. In a multi-cultural, diverse and tolerant society it does not sit well with us to hear that whoever does not believe, stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Then Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, paints a picture of extreme contrast between living selfishly according to the old nature, and the grace of God which saves us and gives us a new identity as those in Christ and with a passport issued in heaven.
It is apparent how God’s faithful love is prominent in all of this, as though waiting for hearts that show signs of changing, if not exactly changed. The keys are repentant prayer and belief in Christ Jesus. The lessons are how we raise our viewpoint – looking up to an image is a symbol of looking up spiritually to gain heaven’s perspective. The first recorded words of Jesus following baptism and the desert testing were the proclamation of the kingdom with the words “repent and believe”.
The selfish nature, or flesh nature, which is our inheritance from Adam, the prototype of humanness, is part of us we have to keep putting to death, because it keeps on kicking. So we should be as ready to repent as we are to take a shower, and for similar reasons. Repentance always opens the way for us to repair or deepen our relationship with God, to hear. Apart from our pride, what is there to hold us back from getting closer to God and raising our perspective to align with His?