The Living Word for January 9, 2022, 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. TLW01C
Theme: The realisation – light rising in spiritual darkness is for all, not just Jews
Introduction: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Isaiah 60:1-6 — 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
• Linked article The Great Realisation
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
1 Endow the king with Your justice, O God, the royal son with Your righteousness.
2 May He judge Your people in righteousness, Your afflicted ones with justice.
3 May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.
4 May He defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.
5 May He endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.
6 May He be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth.
7 In His days may the righteous flourish and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to Him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba present Him gifts.
11 May all kings bow down to Him and all nations serve Him.
12 For He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in His sight.
Isaiah 60:1-6 – God’s glory on His faithful ones attracts others
His light in us is a sign to others of God’s love and justice being present
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 reflect that light 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; a lack of 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 evident in those who are truly His is a quality that attracts others to God’s love.
“All… come to you” — 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, in the time of the Judges and Gideon) bring wealth, as from trading centre Sheba, to the people of God. Those who previously demanded tribute, now bring it.
SUMMARY 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.
APPLICATION 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 (see also notes on Ephesians 3:6, below). A shift from exclusive religion, to the call to be part of God’s light and mission, is a challenge for every Christian and church today, as it was for Isaiah’s hearers.
QUESTION How do we feel about God in us being His way of attracting people not like us?
Matthew 2:1-12 – Light in the sky signals the light of the world
The visit of the three Persian mystics inspired to travel to find Jesus
1 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 from the east” – probably Zoroastrian sages from Persia with an awareness of the Scriptures from Daniel’s time, Daniel 5:11.
3-6 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 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. “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.’ ”
“Teachers of the law” – the professional scholars knew about the foretold Messiah, and where He was to be born. Yet they didn’t believe it, and made no move to visit Bethlehem not far beyond the southern outskirts of the city.
“Shepherd My people” – from “He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord”, Micah 5:4, which referred to the whole prophecy.
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.”
“I too may go and worship Him” – a lie: Herod wanted to kill him, not worship Him. Taking the announcement of a “king of the Jews” as a threat, he completely misunderstood who Jesus was.
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.
“The star… went ahead of them” – astronomical theories founder here as the supernatural light moved, leading them to a position only six miles away.
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.
“Gold, frankincense and myrrh” – the two aromatic commodities, like the gold, were extremely valuable, and became God’s providence for the refugee family.
SUMMARY This is a story about God directing and using people we might not think eligible. The word for ‘magi’ gives us our word magic’. It is also a story about power and control contrasted with God’s purposes. Herod maintained political control by deceit and brutality. The priests and law experts held power from religious status. Both were played out throughout the life of Jesus the Nazarene.
APPLICATION This part of the story reminds us that God’s purposes cannot be thwarted, although freewill allows man’s moves to control and minimise what God intends for good. The good news is that His death fulfilled God’s higher purpose – and bought our freedom.
QUESTION What was God showing in the worship of these three visitors?
Ephesians 3:1-12 — Jews and Gentiles share the same promise
Believers proclaim new life in Jesus to the spiritual hierarchy and share it
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” – taking the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles was central to Paul’s call.
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.
“Mystery of Christ” – he goes on to speak of the “mystery” of Christ, meaning an incomprehensible truth revealed by the Holy Spirit.
“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 ‘forth-told’, 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” – unthinkable until now, although Abraham was commissioned to be a blessing to all families on earth and the Scriptures said that Gentiles would turn to God and be saved. Reading the scriptures in the order set in the Bible, we see a progressive revelation: law and prophets unfolding up until John the Baptist; then the pre-resurrection ministry of Jesus; and then church believers empowered by the Holy Spirit.
• For further 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 is seen as the agency of that wisdom, working with it, watched by both sets of inhabitants of the heavenly realms, assisting angels and also 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.
SUMMARY It helps to read this story through from Old Testament, following on with Matthew’s story of the eastern visitors, and then hearing Paul’s explanation of why there is no superiority between Jew or Gentile, Greek or Roman or any other culture. Paul, of Jewish background and theologically trained, can see how all three facets make up the bigger picture.
APPLICATION Paul 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 focus on the here and now, without the perspective spanning from earliest times to the future yet unknown. The Holy Spirit revealing the Scriptures tells the story of how God is loving and merciful and works to save all those who will turn to Him – “to make plain to everyone”, v.9. prompting us to have the same generosity of spirit that God showed to us.
QUESTION Paul had a clear call to proclaim Jesus and the kingdom of God to Gentiles. Who are now like ‘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 to identify my mission as part of Yours.
I may not have the gifts or the learning or the fortitude 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.
PRINT EDITION You can download a PDF of the print edition from the link below. It prints on A4 paper to produce a four-page Bible-size folder. Permission given to copy for your own use, for your Bible study or home group, or for inclusion with your church bulletin.
The light of the Lord’s salvation, Jesus, came first for His own people but also to be a light to every people group on earth