The Living Word for Sunday, December 5, 2021 (Advent 2), is a non-denominational Bible study which relies on the Bible explaining the Bible, uninfluenced by any church’s traditions or preferences, and following the Bible’s sequence of progressive revelation. Read the whole passage first and let the Holy Spirit begin speaking to you through it, then go deeper with the verse by verse commentary and reflections. The week’s readings are as set by the Revised Common Lectionary, an inter-denominational resource shared by many different churches and chapels. The Bible version, widely used in contemporary churches, is the NIV © Biblica. Ref TLW48C
OT: Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord
With OT: Luke 1:68-79 – Zechariah’s prophetic song of praise over John, who is to tell people to reach out and receive God’s salvation
NT gospel: Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to “prepare the way for the Lord” in proclaiming the need to turn lives around to His way
NT letter: Philippians 1:3-11 — Paul prays with joy as for God’s continuing work in believers as he see the finished work they will become
Theme: Be prepared! The breadth of God’s salvation is proclaimed
• See also this week’s linked article Be prepared! God’s plan of salvation is going ahead!
• And this week’s short, captioned, video, Anyone May Respond to God’s Salvation Offer
Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord
When He appears He will come to refine and purify
1 “I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
“My messenger” – a play on the name Malachi. This messenger is Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness”, Isaiah 40:3 which the NT understands as the ‘Elijah’ character of Malachi 4:3, below, the role which John the Baptist fulfilled. A king preparing for a visitation would send a messenger ahead to address opposition — thus John the Baptist urged people to repent, ready for the greater Messenger to come.
• For further study, read Matthew 3:3, 11:14, 17:10-13; John 1:14-17.
2 But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
“The day of His coming” — both purifying and judgment, like the launderer’s beating with sticks and lye soap, and the furnace temperature that melted metal and raised the dross of impurities.
3-4 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
“Purify the Levites” — the priestly class, who were to set an example in serving at the altar, would be purged of their unfaithfulness.
Luke 1:68-79 – Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation
Zechariah’s prophetic song: John is to proclaim the knowledge of salvation
- Although in the New Testament, the context of this occasion and prophecy is right at the end of the Old Covenant time. It sits well with Malachi”s message (above).
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them.
“Praise be” — Benedictus in the Latin translation.
“His people… redeemed” — Zechariah is correct about the Jewish people, but His perspective does not extend to God’s desire for inclusive salvation, Luke 3:6.
69-71 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as He said through His holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us…
“Horn” — of a powerful animal, a ‘mighty salvation’, Ps. 18:2.
72-73 …to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember His holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
“His Holy covenant… to Abraham” — although the original promise to Abraham had a focus on the land, this now emphasises the people of the land.
74-75 and to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
“Rescue us” — the people of Israel wanted freedom from physical, Gentile enemies, the Romans. God’s plan through His Son Jesus was for spiritual freedom from sin, from Satan and from death.
76-77 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins…
“My child… a prophet” — at this dedication and naming of the baby as John, Zechariah prophesies over Him. John was the last of the OT prophets and was called by Jesus the greatest, Luke 7:28
78-79 ...because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
“Rising sun” — the Messiah is described in the OT as the sun rising and dispelling darkness, Isaiah 9:2, 60:1; Mal. 4:2-5.
“Path of peace” — or the way of the Lord: God’s purpose is people finding peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus, Romans 5:1.
SUMMARY Malachi’s message here about the Lord and messenger of the covenant focuses on the refining and purifying aspect, particular for its guardians, the priests and Levites. It fits the Elijah-like prophetic ministry of John the Baptist which confronted the priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ time who were not proclaiming God’s purpose but thwarting it.
Jesus is poised to come again, and He wants His church back, teaching His values and proclaiming the kingdom message that believing and trusting in Him is the way to salvation and new life in the kingdom of God. Creating our own version of exclusive temple and priesthood is not what He had in mind, and it’s stepping back from the New Covenant that He won for us. Preparing ourselves for His return, must involve pruning back what doesn’t belong.
QUESTION What simple changes would bring your church fellowship closer to Jesus’ intention?
Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance
He is Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness”, “Prepare the way for the Lord”
1-2 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar — when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene — during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
“Herod tetrarch of Galilee… Philip tetrarch of Iturea” — When Herod the Great died in 4 BC his sons Herod Antipas (Galilee) and Philip (Iturea), with Archelaus, not mentioned, succeeded him as tetrarchs ruling quarters of his former kingdom. Luke also mentions the fourth tetrarch, Lysanias, and overseeing Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
“Preaching a baptism of repentance” — John proclaimed the coming Messiah saying that people needed to repent of their sins and prepare spiritually; the demonstration of repentance was water baptism.
4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.
“Prepare the way” — before a royal visit, workers would clear and level the road. The quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 was associated with the Jews’ return from exile, Ezra 1-2, and end-times salvation. For Jewish hearers this was like the Exodus from Egypt.
• For further study, read Isaiah 40:3-5; Ezra chapters 1-2.
5 “‘Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.
“Every valley… filled in” — a poetic way of saying that the Lord’s purpose will not be thwarted. There are moral overtones: the humble and lowly built up, the crooked changed, the proud and arrogant humbled.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’ “
“All people” — Luke has in mind the Gentile believers being added to the church. All four gospel accounts quote Isaiah 40:3. Luke takes the quotation further: “…the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” Gentile Luke uses Scripture to assert that all people, not just the Jews of the original covenants, would see God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. At the Council of Jerusalem, 20 years later, this huge and , controversial shift of attitude was recognised.
• For further study, read Acts 15, Galatians 2.
“All… will see God’s salvation” — God’s intention, that His covenant people would act as a light and model of righteousness to the nations around them, was clearly set out by Isaiah, Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6: “The Servant… is called… to be a light for the Gentiles…” “…He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.'” Luke also reports the aged, godly Simeon’s prophetic blessing at the dedication of Jesus, Luke 2:28-32 “…My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The purifying of the Levites, Malachi. 3:3, addresses their negligence of this important widening of the mission of God.
SUMMARY The Jews expected their Messiah to come to them and deliver them, as their entitlement. But God often does things differently from our expectations.
APPLICATION Luke’s picture of John, the prophetic voice in the wilderness of Isaiah 40, is a call for us to be prepared for the expected order to be upset. In recent years there have been many testimonies of how God startles those who don’t know Him with His love. We hear of many prisoners in jail receiving Jesus, while Muslims of harsh views receive visions of the Lord they recognise as ‘Isa’. This passage emphasises preparing for His return by praying for, and expecting people not like us, to see His salvation.
QUESTION Jews of Jesus’ time struggled to accept Gentiles as a focus of His salvation. Who, to us today, are the ‘Gentiles’?
Philippians 1:3-11 — Look to the day of God’s work completed in us
Paul prays with joy for Philippi believers as he sees God working in them
1 I thank my God every time I remember you.
“I thank my God” — Paul is writing from closely-guarded imprisonment, but his tone is thanks and joy for what God is doing among others.
4-6 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.
“”Day of Christ Jesus” — His return at the End Time. God (the Holy Spirit) initiates salvation, and will bring the conclusion of that salvation for those who have accepted Christ, on this future day. The Holy Spirit is also active in a progressive work of growing us in freedom, making us more Christlike. Paul writes with this longer, eternal timescale in view.
• For further study, read Philippians 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Peter 3:10–13; Revelation 20:11–21:8
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
“In chains or… confirming the gospel” – the Philippians stood with Paul and supported him practically and financially, despite the stigma of imprisonment in their culture. The partnership remained strong although Paul’s ability to “defend and confirm the gospel” seemed to have been removed by imprisonment. His perspective is that God is always “carrying on” the “good work” that He began through good times and hard. God always completes what He starts.
8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…
“Love may abound… in knowledge and… insight” — aware of God’s will, so able to move from our immediate picture and judgments, to see the big picture of what God, in His unconditional love, is doing in others.
10-11 …so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.
“Pure and blameless” — questioning what will be found in us on the day of Christ’s return. Harbouring wrong attitudes, especially the judgmental or resentful kind, will bring the Lord’s censure. We are commanded to forgive, to show grace, to treat people better than they deserve and above all, to love. That’s treating others as God treats us.
“The fruit of righteousness” — being yielded to the Holy Spirit rather than anything we can achieve by our own effort or discipline. He can grow righteousness in us, from the inside out.
SUMMARY Having to wait is challenging for us. The waiting for Jesus’ return that the Early Church seemed to measure in years, is counted for us in millennia. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the good work begun by the Lord is taking a long time to bring to anything like completion: the world has got bigger and vastly more complex. God’s love continuing to grow in us, sharing the experience of God’s love through knowing Him to all parts of the world, and our own relationships growing more loving and Christlike is our active preparation for Christ’s return.
APPLICATION The message of this apostolic letter is to have faith in God for all the loose ends that we see. He will bring to completion the good work that He has started, whether that is in us personally or the mission of the church we are involved in, or the bringing about of a just world order. The Advent season takes that long view and brings it into the present.
QUESTION What does it look like, to be filled with the fruit of righteousness?
PRAYER Lord, we want Your glorious return but we feel so unprepared.
Teach us to wait, actively, and be willingly putting right with You those traits which have no place in Your presence.
May Your Holy Spirit so work in hearts, that our friends and neighbours will want to know about Jesu
And give us confidence to talk about Him with them. Amen.
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