This is The Living Word Bible study for Christmas Day and Sunday Dec 27, 2020, taken from the Revised Common Lectionary readings (Year B) followed by many churches of various denominations. We’re about letting the Bible tell its story in the natural order of OT – gospel – early church settings. All Scripture is inspired, so there’s not more emphasis on one part than another. There’s a print edition you can download and keep in your Bible or share in your church. God bless and enjoy!
OT: Isaiah 61:10-62:12 — New name and identity for God’s people
NT gospel: Luke 2:1-20 — Shepherds first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth
NT letter: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Hebrews 1:1-4 — Jesus is the kindness of God
And also: Psalms 96, 97, 98, 148
Theme: The new order has come — new covenant, new identity
• See linked article ‘Explaining Christmas…’The Call to worship’
Isaiah 61:10-62:12 — New name and identity for God’s people
The new holy community will be very different to the one Isaiah knew
61:10 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.
“I delight” — the speaker is Zion (v.12), the nation of Israel, who Yahweh will clothe with His righteousness. When we turn to God for forgiveness, and receive Jesus into our hearts, in His grace and mercy the Lord puts on us His own righteousness.
• For further study, see Romans 3:19-22; 2 Cor. 5:21; Philippians 3:8-9.
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” — new behaviour, resulting from the new definition, v.10.
62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.
“I will not keep silent” — now Isaiah speaks as one of the prophetic intercessors of v.6 who will “never be silent”.
2 The nations will see Your vindication, and all kings Your glory;
you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
“Your vindication” — also v.1, the Hebrew word is also rendered “righteousness” e.g. Isaiah 46:13, which emphasises the new status brought by God’s salvation.
3 You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.
“Will be called” — in Scripture, name and identity are closely related, so a change of name means a change of identity. In the exile the Lord abandoned the people, Isaiah 54:7. Now they become God’s Delight and God’s Bride.
5 As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
6-7 I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.
“Watchmen… who call on the Lord” — for prophets, speaking out God’s truth and interceding go together..
8-9 The Lord has sworn by His right hand and by His mighty arm: ‘Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.’
“The Lord has sworn” — the covenant blessings will outlast the curses Moses warned against, Lev. 26:16; Deut. 28:33.
10-11 Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations.The Lord has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your Saviour comes! See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.”’
“Prepare the way… remove the stones” — like preparing a road and removing the wheel-blocking stones. It’s a call is to worship free of obstacles in a contrite humble attitude, Isaiah 57:14-15.
12 They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.
SUMMARY Isaiah sees in the Spirit the nation renewed by God’s gracious salvation, like a bride being dressed in splendid garments and precious stones. But he also knows that this heavenly intention has to be prayed down to earth. So he calls the prophetic intercessors to redouble their efforts.
APPLICATION In Scripture, to be re-named is to gain a new identity. The people of Jerusalem (Zion) are to be ‘relaunched’ as “The Holy People” and “The People Redeemed by the LORD.” Believers today acquire new names and identities — known as Christians, and described as God’s “holy priests”, 1 Peter 2:5. It is the task of every believer to exercising their God-given priesthood, in praying heaven’s intention down to earth: “Thy kingdom come”.
QUESTION What name or description might Jesus use to introduce you to others?
NT gospel: Luke 2:1-20 — Shepherds hear the good news of Jesus’ birth
God overturns social conventions in choosing who first sees His Messiah
1-3 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
“A census… while Quirinius was governor” — There is evidence of more than one Quirinius as provincial governor around that time. The census was called from time to time in a particular Roman-governed area, to determine the poll tax.
4-5 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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
“Nazareth… to Bethlehem” — a good three days on foot. On that region, women were also called to register.
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 manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
“No guest room” — Bethlehem didn’t have an inn and respectable travellers usually stayed with a relative or friend, but none was available during the census.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
“Living out in the fields” — probably some time between March and November.
9-12 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
“Angel… appeared to them” — a terrifying appearance but also honouring to these socially low-class peasants.
“I bring you good news” — literally “I evangelise”.
“All the people” — Israel’s salvation would extend to all nations.
13-14 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”
“Peace to those on whom His favour rests” — not to all humanity, to those who exercise faith in Christ, Romans 5:1. The traditional “peace, goodwill to men” arises from less reliable manuscripts.
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16-18 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
“Found… the baby… in the manger” — not many caves and feeding stalls to search in Bethlehem.
19-20 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
“Just as they had been told” — extraordinary but true in every detail, a sign to the shepherds of God at work.
SUMMARY It is a matter of historical fact as well as world-changing significance. Almighty, awesome, holy God, who could not be seen by man, came down to earth, born to a Galilean girl and artisan husband-to-be. The lowest members of society who knew little of God’s favour, were the first to discovered that God had come close to them.
APPLICATION Joseph could have done without a difficult three-day journey south with a heavily-pregnant fiancee, to pay tax. But he did what was right and God was in it. The shepherds, inclined to independence, also did exactly right, believing what they had been told, finding the newly-arrived couple and their baby and praising God for what had been revealed to them. God looks for simple trust and sometimes chooses the last and the least, to show it.
QUESTION If God was about to choose you for an important task, what qualities would He be looking for?
NT letter: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Hebrews 1:1-4 — Jesus is the kindness of God
How by God’s mercy alone we can be reborn and renewed to live godly lives
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 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, 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.
“For” — previous verses Titus 2:1-10 have urged integrity and reverence, and this explains why.
“Offers salvation to all people” — the clue is in the word “offers”. Twisting this to all people being saved, is to contradict the clear general teaching of the Bible.
“Teaches us” — or “instructs” with coaching and encouragement.
3:4-7 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
“Because of His mercy” — God’s grace working in us, rather than our effort alone.
“Washing of rebirth and renewal” — changing our hearts and empowering us, cf. John 3:3, 5-8, 16-17. It cannot refer to baptism as a means of regeneration. The NT plainly teaches that regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit following our choice, John 3:5-6, and baptism is a declaration of that new life and allegiance following regeneration, Acts 8:32-38.
Renewal by the Holy Spirit — the new birth and its transformation through receiving the Holy Spirit are at the heart of the gospel message, Luke 3:16, Romans 8:1-2. This is how Christians show others Jesus.
Hebrews 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe.
“In the past… in these last days” — introducing the way God revealed Himself progressively, through the OT writers, all called prophets because they laid the preparation for Christ’s coming, to Jesus’ teaching and then following Pentecost, through His Spirit.
3-4 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So He became as much superior to the angels as the Name He has inherited is superior to theirs.
“The exact representation” — identical in substance to God, exactly like the Father in attributes and abilities. To put it simply, we come to know God through Jesus.
SUMMARY These passages tell us that being saved and being renewed are closely related, and it comes through relationship with Jesus, the expression of God’s true and radiant nature. When we first turned to Jesus, we saw something of that bright glory, and faith rose. As we drew near to Him, He drew near to us and saved us by grace, not as a result of any good deeds or religious actions on our part. God delights in doing for us what we cannot deserve because He is God.
APPLICATION This is the new birth that Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3 (see above) , here called rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Through it we inherit all the good things of eternal life with God, starting now. The Bible standard of relating and behaving can seem beyond us — until we remember that they are the fruit of rebirth and Holy Spirit renewal. God’s grace working in us, changes us and empowers us.
QUESTION How do you describe Jesus to someone with no knowledge of Him? How does this passage help?
PRAYER At this special time of year we thank You, God, for Your extraordinary grace in sending Your Son Jesus to be the exact image of You — but in human form, like us.
You are majestic and holy, separate from us and our world.
Yet in Jesus You drew close, and gave us a way to know You in the close relationship You desire.
Renew us more and more by Your Holy Spirit that we might lead others to the ultimate gift of new life in Jesus. Amen.
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