Study on the Revised Common Lectionary (inter-denominational) lectionary readings for Sunday, January 26, 2020. TLW03A-2020
Theme: In Jesus we find God’s grace and renewal of life
Isaiah 49:1-7 — The servant of God will bring the light of salvation, not just to Jews but to every kind of people.
John 1:29-42 — John recognises how Jesus brings the Holy Spirit to renew and restore as well as being the sacrificial Lamb of God.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 —The Corinth church is rich in the new life of Jesus, but all grace comes through fellowship with Jesus.
And also: Psalm 40:1-12
Isaiah 9:1-4 — Once-shamed Galilee is where God’s light will appear
The place that fell under a shadow is where God reveals Himself
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan –
“In the past… in the future” – the historic northern tribal settlements of Zebulun and Naphtali (including Galilee and the Way of the Sea trade route) fell to the Assyrians in 734-732 BC. But this shame would be reversed by the honour of being the exact place where Christ’s ministry would begin, Matt. 4:12-16 below.
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” – an event which has not yet happened described prophetically as though it has. This verse is used in Matt. 4:15-16 to explain the start of Jesus’ ministry.
“Land of deep darkness” – literally “a land where death casts its shadow”, describes what follows after repeated refusal to trust God. Yet, in God’s mercy, “a light has dawned”, the presence of God comes to bring revelation and blessing. Fulfilled in Jesus coming in the flesh.
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 the nation” – the “darkness” threatened the annihilation of the nation, but God confirms the joyful fulfilment of the original covenant with Abraham to greatly multiply his descendants, Gen. 22:17.
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.
“As… Midian’s defeat” – the ‘impossible’ victory by Gideon and just a few hundred men trusting God against a large Midianite army, Judges 6-7.
The tribes in the northern settlements were stubborn, refusing to trust God to deliver them when oppressors threatened. The warnings they had not heeded became reality as in three successive waves, the Assyrians seized their lands and carried away their people.
Yet God shows His merciful nature in choosing to reveal Himself in those very territories. Judah and what we might now call the ‘Jerusalem bubble’ couldn’t believe that multicultural. provincial Galilee could become a place of God’s visitation – even when stories of miracles, deliverances and crowds associated with one Jesus of Nazareth began to circulate. The prophet Isaiah had seen this in the Spirit hundreds of years before, how God would bring His light in a place known for its darkness.
The teaching for us here, is about God’s kingdom order coming with this special grace, shown first to the least deserving. God doesn’t work the way we work. He works on the basis of grace – showing His unconditional love by giving what is not deserved.
Today, those who have found new life in Christ out of bad situations of their own making are the living story that the more you have been forgiven, the more the grace and glory of God is seen by all.
What is your story of God’s undeserved mercy when you were facing difficulties – or simply, finding out that God loves you?
Matthew 4:12-23 — Jesus’ call is to turn and receive the kingdom of God
People of Galilee are the first to hear the good news
12-14 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, He went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“John had been put in prison” – and put to death, after challenging the local ruler Herod Antipas about taking his brother’s wife, Matt. 14:1-12.
“Leaving Nazareth” – Matthew simply indicates Capernaum, a town on the lake and the trade route, as Jesus’s new base without mentioning how the people of his home town attempted to murder Him after He brought the message of good news in the synagogue there.
15-16 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
“Galilee of the Gentiles” – following the Assyrian deportation and later resettlement, Galilee had more Gentiles in the population than Judea. Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2, above.
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
“From that time on” – signals a turning point, the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
“Repent” – the opening word of this first sermon headlines the whole of Jesus’ earthly ministry, calling people to turn from independence, to trust God’s rule and order, the kingdom of God. Matthew’s gospel for mainly Jewish readers, avoids naming God by speaking of the kingdom of heaven.
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
“Two brothers” – Simon Peter and Andrew, already followers of Jesus, had returned to their normal work, perhaps while Jesus was in Capernaum, John 1:35-42.
“Casting a net” – a 25 ft circular net, weighted all around to envelop fish as it sank.
19-20 “Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.
“Follow Me” – Jesus alludes to Jeremiah 16:16, calling them to leave fishing and learn His way of life as disciples.
21-22 Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.
“In a boat” – in 1986 the remains of a 27 ft boat, able to hold about 15 men including helmsman and four rowers, was discovered in this part of the lake. Leaving their father and their investment was a considerable cost.
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
“Throughout Galilee” – initially the Jewish population of the 200 towns and villages of the region, later including Gentiles there and further afield.
“Teaching… proclaiming… and healing” – three main aspects of Jesus’ ministry, teaching in his discourses and parables, proclaiming the arrival of the just rule of God, as v.17, and miracles of healing and demonic deliverance.
“Good news of the kingdom” – also called the gospel, the same message as John the Baptist’s: that the anointed One, the Christ, had now come to establish God’s reign and justice on earth. It was good news then, and is good news today, because it is a life-giving message about God’s care and desire to rescue any who would receive it, from the deadly consequences of sin of spiritual and physical sickness. It is good news of hope, freedom, peace of heart and the promise of a new start and everlasting life with God, which comes through turning (repenting) of human self-sufficiency and independence, to humbly receive the message and the Lordship of the One bringing it, Jesus. By contrast with keeping religious rules and observances, the Good News offers new life on the basis of faith in Jesus and what He has already done for us, with the empowering of the Holy Spirit to live for Him.
So, what is the Christian message? Sometimes it seems like one of those weather forecasts that is so full of air movements and conflicting systems we fail to hear what the actual weather is.
Jesus didn’t bury His message in detail. He cut to the chase with a clear challenge: Repent! Turn around! God has knocked on your door with His just rule – now will you open up and let Him it in? What He didn’t say in so many words – but people soon worked out – was that He Himself was that good and just rule.
Where the devil had robbed ordinary people of peace through every kind of sickness and confusion and misfortune, Jesus was giving their lives back. This holds good today. In a world awash with bad news, Jesus is the good news. Anyone can choose to turn around, to recognise the folly of their self-management and review it in the light of Jesus.
He calls us to follow Him, and there is a cost to that – letting go of our precious independence and willingly calling someone else “Lord”. But the good news is that it is not so much a cost, as an investment – the most secure and highest-return investment any of us can ever make – and the offer is to everyone, without condition.
It could be said that Jesus had just one message – the good news of the kingdom of God (v.23). How would you explain the heart of that in a sentence or two?
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 — Paul explains the horrific truth that is our good news
The Cross is offensive but it must not be robbed of its power
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
“I appeal to you” – this gathered assembly had rivalries instead of a shared allegiance to Jesus.
“Brothers and sisters” – belonging to one another as a spiritually-related family in Christ.
“Perfectly united” – an expression commonly used of setting broken bones, dislocated joints or mending damaged nets.
• For further study on avoiding the harm of divisive attitudes, read Romans 16:17, Phil. 1:27.
11-12 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
“Informed” – family members or bond-servants who belonged to the household of Chloe, a woman who lived in Corinth, had appealed to Paul in Ephesus.
“Paul… Apollos… Cephas” – Peter (Cephas) was t he leading original teacher of the church. Paul had first brought the Good News to Corinth and Apollos, a polished speaker, subsequently taught there. Paul knew Apollos well and made many positive statements about him – there is no hint of rivalry between Paul and Apollos. This is about followers who were looking to men rather than Christ.
13-16 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptised in my name. (Yes, I also baptised the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptised anyone else.)
“I did not baptise” – After the very first converts, Paul did not baptise, to avoid the kind of attachment difficulties he is now addressing.
17 For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
“Not… to baptise, but to preach the gospel” – Paul is not down on baptism but emphasising his God-given task to proclaim the Good News. Baptism in the Bible follows believing, an act of commitment to the gospel, not a means of conveying salvation. Jesus and Peter had other people baptise for them, John 4:2, Acts 10:48.
“Not with wisdom and eloquence” – Paul did not pander to Corinth’s tendency to elevate presentation over substance. He refused to dress up with eloquence the unpalatable message about the brutality and shame of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. He knew this hard, difficult truth was central to the power of God leading people to faith in Him, v.18 (below) and 1 Cor 2:4-5.
18 For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
“The message of the Cross is foolishness” – the idea that God would save the world through the execution of a convicted criminal defies all reason and logic, until faith is kindled: then it has the unique ring of truth that can convict a human heart that doesn’t want to depend on anyone for anything. The rational and presentation-conscious Corinthians, looking for philosophical satisfaction, tended to miss the profound truth of the divine exchange, Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins.
Paul was single-minded about His mission and his message. He would not be diverted from proclaiming the gospel, the good news of Jesus and His rule and reign which the Bible calls the kingdom of God.
But like the story of any rule or reign being established, there is also a battle involved, and this battle to the death with an unusual twist, does not make easy hearing. The Roman way of enforcing the law against errant slaves and criminals was not familiar in Corinth and it was so distasteful that it was not talked about. But as Paul asserted, this hardest of stories to tell and to hear explains how God’s fair and unconditionally loving rule has come about, and its pain and horror brings home the reality of what Jesus carried for us.
The essential heart of the Good News is what God has done for us, as against ideas of what we might think we do for God. We don’t need to strive to please God – He will find His joy in our responding like children to what He has already done for us, allowing Him to be our Father, and us to know Him as those chosen and adopted in love.
If the Good News is so good, why is the Christian message not a popular one?
Father, thank You fork the Cross and for the Good News that comes to us freely from Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the Cross. We struggle to grasp the enormity of this action, His death for our life, and we find it hard to receive such an undeserved gift. We hear Your word to simply repent, and believe, and to be freshly aware of the Power of the Cross to break the hold of sin, and to cancel the effects of sin’s curse. With Your Spirit’s help, we believe, and receive with deep gratitude. Thank You for Your far-reaching love, in Jesus’ name. Amen.