The Living Word for December 13, 2020, is based on the Revised Common Lectionary readings shared by many denominations. It is a Bible study that follows the Bible order of progressive revelation from OT to NT pre-resurrection and then the early church in NT post-resurrection, and from that a theme emerges. Churches may follow a different order (or different readings) according to their particular liturgical tradition.
Theme: Anticipating Jesus by seeing what He is doing
OT: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 — Seeing Jesus coming to proclaim favour, salvation and freedom in a new covenant
NT gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28 — John comes, not as the light, but as the voice calling people to see the light of Jesus
NT letter: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 — Give space for the Spirit of Jesus in worship with rejoicing and prophetic words for all to test
And also: Psalm 126
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 — Looking ahead to Jesus proclaiming favour and freedom
The good news is of a new covenant bestowing salvation, joy and praise
1-2 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…
“Spirit… is on me” — could refer to Isaiah in a limited sense but as the prophecy unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that this refers to an anointed emissary, a Messiah, who comes to set people free from sin and condemnation (v.3) and establish justice (v.8) and righteousness (vv.10-11) in a new covenant (v.8).
“He has sent Me” — Jesus spoke these words to shocked hearers in the Nazareth synagogue, identifying Himself and His ministry with this passage, and applying it not only to Jews but also to ‘outsiders’, Luke 4:16-30.
3 …and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour.
“To bestow… beauty… joy… and… praise” — a reversal of bondage, like the 50th year jubilee in Leviticus 25 when pledges of labour or property were redeemed in freedom.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
“Rebuild… restore… renew” — this move of the Spirit will bring the spiritual and social renewal that is the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit in every age. On a practical level, first the cities destroyed by the Babylonians would be repopulated.
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In My faithfulness I will reward My people and make an everlasting covenant with them.
“Everlasting covenant” — this is looking forward to the New Covenant. Jesus established this when He poured out His blood on the Cross, His sacrificial payment for forgiveness of sins. Under the old covenant, God ordained priests as intermediaries, to bring His word to the people and represent the people’s sins to God. Under the New Covenant, all believers become priests of the Lord, 1 Peter 2:5, reading God’s word themselves, confessing their sins directly to God and ministering to others.
• For further study, see Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:7-13.
9 “Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
“Their descendants… people the Lord has blessed” — fulfilling the promises made to Abraham, Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 44:3; 65:23.
10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the young plant come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
“Righteousness and praise spring up” — God’s grace working to produce a new and fruitful pattern of behaviour as a result of the “clothed” and “arrayed” impartation of v.10.
SUMMARY This prophecy gives a clear picture of the Messiah (or Christ) to come. He will stand for release from the guilt and power of sin, and freedom from the darkness and despair of spiritual and emotional captivity. He brings the gift of right-standing with God and salvation. This gift marks those who receive it with love joy and peace. This is the fruit of the Spirit characteristic of the born-again Christian, Galatians 5:22-23.
APPLICATION This passage reveals the grace of God that is present in the OT. This is shown in all the statements, not about what we should do but what God is doing. He is freely giving, blessing, rewarding, establishing promises — and planting for a crop of righteousness and praise.
QUESTION If right-standing with God and salvation are part of God’s blessing and rewarding and giving, why do we hesitate to receive it?
John 1:6-8, 19-28 — John comes as a witness to the light
He was chosen to be the voice calling people to prepare for Jesus’ reign
6-8 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
“John… came as a witness” — John the Baptist is contrasted here with Jesus Christ. Jesus is God, v.1, while John is a man sent by God. Jesus was the light, v.4 , while John was a witness to the light. John 1:1, 4.
19-20 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
“Are you Elijah” — questioning whether he was literally the OT prophet who “went up to heaven in a whirlwind” and who Malachi said would be sent again before the day of the Lord. John ministered “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, 2 Kings 2:11; Malachi 4:5; Luke 1:17.
“The prophet” — based on the Lord saying the people should listen when He sent another prophet like Moses, Deut. 18: 15, 18.
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ “
“I am the voice” — another contrast with Jesus. Jesus is the Word; John is the voice, the fulfilment of Isaiah 40:3. The saying is based on the preparation of a good route before a king’s visit to a province of his realm.
24-25 Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“Why then do you baptise” — the Pharisees were a ritualistic sect much concerned with attaining righteousness, and keeping to correct form. If John was merely a voice, why was he treating Jewish people like Gentiles making a conversion ?
26-27 “I baptise with water,” John replied, “but among you stands One you do not know. He is the One who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
“I baptise with water” — another contrast, where John could administer the sign, but only the Messiah could bestow the cleansing and empowering Holy Spirit, Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16.
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
SUMMARY John was a confusing figure to people of his time. The legalistic Pharisees, especially, needed everything to be in the right boxes. John had an arresting manner and distinctive ministry. Yet he focused attention, not on himself, but on to Jesus. Jesus, he said, was of such a different order of greatness, he wasn’t fit to do a slave’s menial job for Him. The last of the OT prophets, like Habakkuk and Zechariah and Malachi, ministered hundreds of years before. Then came John. In style he belonged to that earlier era before Christ. But the message he brought was about how the new era of Jesus and His kingdom was already beginning.
APPLICATION Our world is full of advertising and self-promotion. We hear about campaigning for votes, and counting the number of followers on social media. But John was like someone who opens the door for another and then stands well back. He said he was the voice, just the announcer and not the subject of the announcement. In everything he said and did, he showed how it should point to Jesus.
QUESTION In our lives and church gatherings, how much does everything we say and do point to Jesus — and not ourselves?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 — We must learn to leave space for the Spirit of Jesus
Worship with rejoicing and thanksgiving and testing of prophetic words
16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
“Rejoice always” — the same teaching as Philippians 4:4.
19 Do not quench the Spirit.
“Quench the Spirit” — do not put out the fire of the Spirit by discouraging the expression of spiritual gifts. A fundamental rule is not saying ‘no’ to the Spirit of God.
20-22 Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
“Prophecies… test them all” — this can be sharing a word of insight or preaching with a prophetic leaning under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This valuable encouragement was not to be dismissed but evaluated, with the character of the giver, by those with gifts of discernment.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Spirit, soul and body” — the whole person.
24 The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.
“Faithful” — Paul’s confidence is in the character of God.
• For further study, God’s faithfulness: 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Thess. 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:13; 1 John 1:9. The call of God: 1 Thess. 1:4, 2:12, 3:3, 4:7, 5:9.
SUMMARY Paul sets out here what looks like a typical order for charismatic worship. He lists rejoicing and praise of God, open prayer, testimony and thanksgiving. And there are spiritual gifts shared, especially prophetic encouragement around the word of God. For Paul, this is his regular expectation of Christians coming together as a fellowship.
APPLICATION Spiritual gifts are given to build up the faith of the church as it gathers. In this Greek-Roman city, those who disregarded the traditional gods were routinely persecuted. They needed to be built up by prophetic words — and so do we. Not any old words — there are tests of discernment to apply. THis is both for the content of the prophecy and for the character of the giver. If a prophetic word is the true word of Jesus speaking to His people now, it will have his hallmarks. It will be in line with His teaching and Scripture generally. It will be upbuilding and of value for edification. But we can’t arrange for Him to speak, or not! It is a temptation for us to plan our worship at the ‘safe’ level of a repeatable format. But that’s how this vital God-given source of encouragement is given up for our convenience. God is involved with our lives and desires to build us up by speaking His ‘now’ word to us as we honour Him in worship. But we have to give Him the freedom to shake up our tidy order or service, and do what He wants to do. That requires us to let go of our need to control everything.
QUESTION How could we give God, through His Spirit, more freedom to bring his ‘now’ word, within our particular worship tradition?
PRAYER Father God, thank You for Your Son Jesus. Thank You for the lessons that come from that time of announcing His coming and preparing for His realm to be known.
And we thank You for His giving His life, to make a way for us to be reconciled with You.
Where we have allowed our traditions to assume pride of place, we humbly turn to You again and embrace this season of preparation.
We are intentional in making Jesus the centre of our lives and worship, our Saviour and Lord in whom we pray this. Amen.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
TLW PRINT EDITION Use the link below to download a PDF which you can print on A4 paper to make a 4pp A5 Bible-size folder. Permission given to reproduce for your own use, or for inclusion in a church bulletin.