This is The Living Word Bible Study for Sunday, January 22
Theme: Light in a dark place — the kingdom of God revealed
Isaiah 9:1-4 — Once-shamed Galilee is where God’s light will appear
Matthew 4:12-23 — Jesus calls, turn and receive the kingdom of God
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 — The horrific truth that is our Good News
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?
4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.
5 For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
6 Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at His sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.
7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.
8 My heart says of You, “Seek His face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.
9 Do not hide Your face from me, do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Saviour.
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
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 —
“Nevertheless” — answers the thought of Isaiah 8:22: “They will… see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom”.
“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. The shame would be reversed by being the 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” — a future event is described prophetically as though present. It’s an important verse, quoted 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” as 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” — instead of “darkness” threatening to wipe out the nation, God confirms His intention to multiply, as He promised Abraham, 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.
SUMMARY The northern region of first-century Israel around Galilee had a lot of non-Jewish inhabitants and the mixed influence of a major trade route — and a rebellious history that had led to the first Assyrian conquest and deportation a century and a half before Jerusalem. No one would have seen this as the place chosen for revival.
APPLICATION As this opens our story of the kingdom of God being announced and revealed by Jesus, we are reminded that God often chooses the place, and the people, that others are inclined to dismiss.
QUESTION Who, in our world, are the people walking in darkness? What might God be doing to bring His light?
Matthew 4:12-23 — Jesus’ call: Turn and receive the kingdom of God
People of Galilee are first to hear Jesus announce the new way of life He brings
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 indicates Capernaum, a town on the lake and the trade route, as Jesus’s new base without mentioning the attempt on His life in His home town.
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 resettlement after the deportation, Galilee had a greater proportion of Gentiles 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” — a turning point; Jesus’ earthly ministry begins.
“Repent” — this ‘first word’ 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.
• For further study: Echoing John the Baptist, Matthew 3:1-2; Mark 1:14-15.
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” — in calling them to leave fishing and learn His way of life as disciples, Jesus alludes to Jeremiah 16:16.
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 the family business and investment was a significant 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 Jews in the region’s 200 towns and villages; later including Gentiles there and further afield.
“Teaching… proclaiming… and healing” — three main aspects of Jesus’ ministry: teaching by discourses and parables, proclaiming the arrival of the just rule of God, as v.17, and ministry of healing and demonic deliverance.
“Good news of the kingdom” — also called the gospel, giving substance to John the Baptist’s message: that the anointed One, the Christ, had now come to establish God’s reign and justice on earth. 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.
SUMMARY It is significant that Jesus began His ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” and Matthew emphasises this by quoting Isaiah’s prophetic word about this spiritually-needy region.
APPLICATION This speaks to us about the desire we have to gather as ‘birds of a feather’ and the desire God has to get us looking outside ourselves to the diversity and spiritual need of those around us. Do we follow our preferences or God’s missional priority?
QUESTION How would we answer someone who ask us what the Bible means by the kingdom of God?
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 — The horrific truth that is our good news
The Cross is both offensive and uniquely powerful to transform lives
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 as “brothers and sisters”, belonging to one another as a spiritually-related family in Christ.
“Perfectly united” — from the word used for setting broken bones, dislocated joints or mending damaged nets.
• For further study on avoiding the harm of divisive attitudes, 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” — by family members or bond-servants who belonged to the household of Chloe, a woman who lived in Corinth, who had appealed to Paul in Ephesus.
“Paul… Apollos… Cephas” — Peter (Cephas) was one of the most important teachers 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.
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” — baptism in the Bible follows believing, an act of commitment to the gospel, not a means of conveying salvation. Paul emphasises his God-given priority of proclaiming the Good News. Jesus and Peter had other people baptise for them, John 4:2, Acts 10:48.
“Not with wisdom and eloquence” — in Corinth, presentation was valued over substance but Paul refused to adorn with eloquence the unpalatable reality of the shame of Jesus’ brutal death by crucifixion. He knew this hard 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 reason and logic, until faith is kindled. The profound truth of the divine exchange, Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins, is what convicts a human heart that doesn’t want to depend on anyone for anything.
SUMMARY There is no direct mention of the kingdom of God, yet this passage is all about it — God’s order for God’s people. All share the same experience of new life in Christ — and the cost of that redemption was the same agonising shameful price for each of them.
APPLICATION Receiving Christ as Saviour opens our eyes to the reality of His kingdom and His order of things. It changes our perspective and all our relationships. The Saviour who became the symbol of wrongdoing and shame — utterly foolish to human logic — becomes the evidence of the supreme power of God in resurrection.
QUESTION How does a focus on the Cross and Christ’s redemptive work help overcome factions and competitive jealousies?
PRAYER Lord, we are so grateful that You are our light and our salvation. When we were living in spiritual darkness and self-centred independence, you convicted us of our folly and gave us opportunity to change our perspective, and put our trust in You and catch sight of Your kingdom.
May we be Your light on Your mission to others, agents for loving unity in a divided world, ministers of reconciliation for those separated from You.
May Your light in us be an encouragement and guide in the dark places where we would rather not go, to share a little of the great gift You freely gave us by going where You did not want to go. Thank You for the Cross. Amen.