January 6, 2019 TLW01
Theme: The realisation – light rising in spiritual darkness is for all, not just Jews
Isaiah 60:1-16 — God’s glory on those that are His attracts others to worship Him
Matthew 2:1-12 — The first Gentile worshippers, the Magi, come to Jesus
Ephesians 3:1-12 — Jews and Gentiles share the same promise as one body
Also: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Isaiah 60:1-6 – God’s glory on His faithful ones attracts others
1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
“Arise” — a dramatic change of tone from Isaiah 57:9-59:15a where God has been condemning the arrogance of the wicked. Now the remaining righteous ones are affirmed.
“Shine” — when we catch God’s light, we show something of that to others. See “your light” note, v.3
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.
“Darkness” — where God is not known, or the joy of knowing Him and living in His love has been forgotten, the consequence is darkness of lacking spiritual vision and understanding.
“Over the peoples” — growing oppression with a lack of joy and freedom, Isaiah 8:22; 9:2; 59:9.
3-4 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
“Your light” — God’s presence and loving favour being evident among those who are truly His, a quality that attracts others.
“All… come to you” — other nations, i.e. unbelieving Gentiles, finding themselves strangely drawn to submit to God and worship Him.
5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
“Herds of camels” – a sign of prosperity. “Riches of the nations” — former oppressors (Midian, the time of the Judges and Gideon) bring wealth, as from tr ading centre Sheba, to the people of God. Those formerly demanding tribute, now bring it.
IN PRACTICE Isaiah sees a picture of what had long been prophesied, of other (Gentile) nations coming to the light of the glory of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is best not to make too close a connection with details which seem to allude to the Magi. This is a wider, bigger and more eternal picture of God’s purposes, of which the visit by representatives bearing “the riches of the nations” is a part.
This becomes more clear in the progressive revelation given by the gospel reading in Matthew 2, then taken further by the epistle reading in Ephesians 3. The note and link in Ephesians 3:6, below, is helpful here. A shift from exclusive religion, to being part of the light and the mission, was a huge challenge to Isaiah’s hearers. It is a challenge for every Christian and church today.
QUESTION This is about us, and God in us, being attractive to people not like us. How do we feel about that?
Matthew 2:1-12 The first Gentiles become worshippers of Jesus
A party of Magi, Zoroastrian philosopher-magicians from eastern countries, are drawn to Bethlehem in an extraordinary way
1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”
Magi were an established class who mixed Zoroastrian beliefs with astrology and magic, not worshippers of God. Paul denounced a Magus he encountered, Acts 13:6-10. Matthew’s story shows that people of other nations and beliefs found themselves worshipping Jesus as Lord.
“Time of King Herod” — from Idumea (Edom), Herod was made a ‘client king’ of Judea. He financed splendid buildings in the Roman Empire, ruled with a heavy hand and murdered people freely, including his own family.
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
“Disturbed” – reports of the birth of a real King of the Jews, reinforced by a visit from foreign dignitaries, was threatening to Herod..
4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
5-6 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
“Bethlehem in… Judah” – the chief priests and scribes knew from Scripture, John 7:42, that the southern Bethlehem was the Messiah’s birthplace. Nonetheless, they did not join the Magi on their visit, and they opposed Jesus’ teaching later.
“Will come a ruler” – Matthew quotes the Micah prophecy as “ruler who will shepherd Israel” from Micah 5:4 rather than simply “ruler” in Micah 5:2. He sets the context in the whole of Micah 5, emphasising that Jesus is eternal and with influence far beyond the Jewish nation.
7-8 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
“Time the star… appeared” – assuming that the star appeared at the time of birth, Herod formed a plan to execute children aged two and under, v.18. This implies that the wise men took a similar time to journey to Jerusalem.
9-10 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Star…went ahead of them” – the moving source of guidance was quite close and specific, not a planetary conjunction or comet but supernatural guidance.
11-12 On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
“On coming to the house” – they came to a house, and found a child, clearly a year or two after the birth.
“They bowed down and worshipped” – the Magi worshipping Jesus expands the meaning of Immanuel, “God is with us” (Matt. 1:23)
“Gifts” – gold with the two aromatic resins, frankincense and myrrh, were the most costly commodities to offer as gifts. Rather than symbolic offerings, these were gifts of value – and providential, Matt. 2:13-15.
IN PRACTICE The church calendar name for this Sunday is Epiphany, meaning ‘realisation’. We love the story of the visitors from afar, number unknown and certainly not kings, but we easily miss the point: this was a turning point, where for the first time non-Jewish people offer worship to the newborn Lord of Lords for every living person who would turn to Him. The Good News was always intended to break out of its religious confines; that would happen a generation later. The challenge for us, as church, is to resist the urge to put it back into a setting we think of as our own – and like to control. Archbishop William Temple famously said that the church was the only institution that existed for others. This is the realisation!
QUESTION Sometimes people of little or no faith will allow us to pray for them at a time of need. Would God hear that prayer and if so, why?
Ephesians 3:1-12 — Jews and Gentiles share the same promise as one body
New life in Jesus is proclaimed by the Church to the spiritual hierarchy, both good and evil, and thereby released to all people, everywhere
1-3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles… surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.
“For this reason” – then what follows is as if in brackets until the same thought is continued in verse 14, Eph. 3:13-15.
“For the sake of you Gentiles” – Paul goes on to speak of the mystery of Christ revealed to apostles and prophets. His call was to take the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles
“Mystery” – a word often used by Paul, who defines it here as something unknown or incomprehensible which is revealed by the Holy Spirit.
4-5 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
“Holy apostles” – set-apart spiritual envoys. An apostolos in other literature was someone charged with bringing the culture and practices of the kingdom or empire. This would also be ‘forthtold’, rather than just foretold, by the prophetic proclaimer. Paul and company acted in this way, making known the mystery – the difficult-to-understand part of Christ and His spiritual kingdom rule – and sharing the new life that comes with it.
6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
“Mystery… Gentiles are heirs together” — there were two dimensions of this shift: (1) Jesus teaching “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” in which Jews saw the dry orthodoxy of their law made real in Jesus, and (2) the later giving of the Holy Spirit which resulted in close-knit relationships but an inclusive and missional church, in contrast to Jewish exclusivity.
“One body” – for Gentiles and Jews to share organic unity and mutuality was unthought of until this point – although it had been prophesied that Gentiles would turn to God and be saved, and Abraham’s commission was to be a blessing to all families on earth. Reading the scriptures in the order set in the Bible, we see a progressive revelation through the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and now the church empowered by the Holy Spirit.
For additional study: read Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 15:9-12
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.
8-9 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
“Preach to the Gentiles” – Paul had a distinct call as an apostolic pioneer to the Gentiles, to proclaim and teach how this mystery, now revealed, works in practice, see vv. 4-5 and note above.
10-11 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Made known… in the heavenly realms” – the wisdom of God is portrayed like a multifaceted diamond, and the church as the agency of that wisdom, working with it watched by the inhabitants of the heavenly realms, both assisting angels the opposition of Satan’s forces.
• For further study, see 1 Cor. 1:26-29, Daniel 10:13,20, 1 Peter 1:12.
12 In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
“Freedom and confidence” – in His eternal purpose, v.11. The church is a divine fellowship and divine agent, with a divine purpose.
IN PRACTICE It helps to read this story through from Old Testament, through Matthew’s story of the eastern visitors, to Paul’s explanation of why there is no superiority between Jew or Gentile, Greek or Roman or any other culture. Paul, theologically trained and of Jewish background, is charged with a mission to people unlike himself. Many things that God does are a mystery to us. We wouldn’t do it that way. We don’t understand His way. We look at the here and now, without the perspective spanning from earliest times to the future yet unknown. The Holy Spirit revealing the Scriptures tell the story of how God is loving and merciful and works to save all those who will turn to Him – “all those” prompting us to have the same generosity of spirit that, presumably, God showed to us.
QUESTION Paul had a clear call to proclaim Jesus and the kingdom of God to Gentiles. Who arenow ‘Gentiles’ to us?
PRAYER Lord, at the beginning of this new year, help me to look beyond myself and my circle, to see my call and my mission. I may not have the gifts or the learning or the courage of Paul and his companions, but I can start small – where I am. May Your light shine through me to others, in Jesus name. Amen.