Leading up to Sunday, December 31: Part 5 out of 5
Friday, December 29: And the Good News is…
God is for us, and not against us, and He wants a new kind of world order where people relate to Him freely and willingly. He wants to show His justice to the nations of the world, so that the righteousness that is sown springs up and grows everywhere.
The response can only be praise – everything and everybody released into unfettered praise of the One who is so good. Creation cannot help but respond to this new way of living with excitement, His hills, trees, creatures of every kind – and those made in His own image especially.
The prophets announced that, after a long and troubled history of God’s entreaty and man’s independence, this new order would come. This was God’s purpose. All Jews knew this, even if they didn’t necessarily know about it in detail. Yet the first announcement of the human birth of God’s own Son, the breaking in of God’s kingdom to our world, was made to the most ordinary people imaginable. Shepherds, who lived with their sheep much of the time, were of low social standing. Yet God sent angels to make the announcement to them first. They did as they were shown and made the discovery first.
What does this say to us? In our world, we gain standing through hard work and privilege comes to certain people whose background or achievements give them particular merit.
The kingdom of God shakes all of this up. Merit is conferred by God by His grace, not earned distinction, and more grace is often given to those the world considers undeserving. So angels appear in the light of glory to shepherds, not religious leaders. Who is going to listen? Who is going to respond? Who will convey the good news simply and clearly to others? God needs people who are not proud and preoccupied and privilege-minded – so He finds some shepherds.
The Good News is good and it is for all – but our attitude of heart makes a big difference to how we receive it. That is a choice we have, and the less we have in ourselves, the easier it is to be available to God.
The Living Word for the week leading up to Sunday, December 31: Part 4 of 5
Thursday, Dec 28: Galatians 4:4-7
The teaching that explains we have the status of being God’s children and rights of adoption
4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.
- “Sent” or better “sent forth” (NASB). The verb is ‘exapesteilen’ which is related to the word for apostle, which has the meaning for sending on a mission.
- Born of a woman – probably referencing Isaiah 7:14, the verse that speaks of the young woman conceiving a child and calling Him Immanuel. Also emphasising that Jesus was born as fully man (while also remaining fully God).
- “Subject to the law” is more literally “born under Law”. The relevance of this is in the next verse and freedom from the Law.
5 God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children.
- This drills down deeply into the whole nature of the relationship with God, and how in Jesus it changes. Under the Old Covenant it was the somewhat distant legal relationship of covenant protection and provision, some unconditional but some requiring adherence to the requirements of the covenant. The new relationship in Jesus is a release from those requirements of the Law into a joyous and personal kind of belonging to the Father. It is a shift from religion to relationship; from being a follower of God to a friendship with God through Jesus. Nothing could be more different.
6 And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”
- God sent: (1) His Son, (2) freedom from slavery, (3) adoption as His children and (4) the Spirit of Jesus to reveal and remind us of this new relationship.
- “Abba” is sometimes rendered as “Daddy”, which isn’t quite right, but this is a relaxed expression of familiarity. “Abba, Father” is the expression Jesus Himself used when He was facing up to the ordeal He knew was coming Mark 14:36. To address Almighty God as “Loving Father” is quite a shift.
7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are His Child, God has made you His heir.
- NASB: “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” This brings out what inclusive language can disguise. In the first century world, and Roman law and culture especially, adopted sons were given exactly the same rights as biological sons; all the rights of inheritance were theirs. Those rights applied to sons rather than daughters in that culture. Once we have understood the point about God conferring on us the inheritance of adopted sonship, we can own this in an inclusive way.
This is the ‘status update’ to end all status updates! There is a huge difference between being a slave with duties and obligations, and a son or daughter with privileges. Who lives in a way which is more pleasing to God, a bond servant who dares not disobey, or the son or daughter of noble upbringing, who is an honoured family representative?
The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of the Son and the Father, helps us grasp how we have found ourselves by grace in this awesome relationship, and reminds us to relate, not in the way of those from below the stairs, but those who are part of the drawing room circle.
When we come to God in prayer with a particular need in mind, how does being a free, adopted, privileged son change the way we pray?
The Living Word for the week leading up to Sunday, December 31: Part 3 of 5
Wednesday, December 27: Luke 2:15-21
Shepherds, following an encounter with angels, leave their sheep and head for Bethlehem where they find a stable with a newborn baby and tell everyone what it is they have been told
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
- There is a sense of “Come on!” urgency here which is difficult to translate.
- The angels had communicated the message, but the shepherds correctly saw the Lord as the source of the revelation.
- 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
- The shepherds would have known where all the animal stables were, to check them until they found one with a newborn baby. Bethlehem was quite compact.
17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.
- The shepherds told everyone “about the thing spoken” (or word – rhema) by the angel.
18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.
- “All who heard it wondered”, NASB. A thread running through Luke’s gospel is wondering at the mysteries of what Jesus said and did. A faith built on fundamental certainties is healthy, but much cannot be simply understood but is revealed with faith playing a part – in Bible terms, a mystery.
- “Mary… Thought about them often” – no mention of what Joseph thought, but Matthew tells Joseph’s side of the story. Luke is concerned to tell Mary’s story, most probably a story he had heard from Mary herself.
20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
- One translation captures the moment with “full of praise for the news they had heard and the sight that had confirmed it.”
- Glorifying and praising God is a theme of Luke’s gospel in particular.
It was just as the angel had told them.
21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.
- The name Jesus (Greek Iesous) is the equivalent of Yeshua or Yehoshua which means “Yahweh (or the Lord) saves”.
Why did the message of Christ’s birth first come to such unlikely people as shepherds, when there were others well versed in the Scriptures concerning the Messiah? And why was he born in the unlikely place of Bethlehem?
The two are connected. Christ’s birth in Bethlehem – also known by the old name of Ephrathah – was foretold by Micah, Micah 5:2-5. “One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” was to arise from “Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah”. It was where Ruth met Boaz, and the place where David was born and grew up. The prophecy seems clear enough to us; it does not, however, make mention of the Messiah specifically. Micah, like Amos, was from a Judean village and not of the perceived stature of one from a priestly family like Jeremiah or Ezekiel or familiar with the royal court like Isaiah. Bethlehem was in the hill country of Judea, 10 miles south from Jerusalem and a greater distance in terms of the culture gap between Jerusalem and a provincial, unsophisticated village.
The people of the time who were expecting a Messiah were, perhaps proudly, not looking outside Jerusalem. God does ‘unlikely’ things in unlikely places, with unlikely people, and His choices frequently challenge the choices of men, as in His unlikely choice of David, when He sent Samuel to Bethlehem hundreds of years beforehand, 1 Sam. 16:8-13.
3. Why was the angel’s proclamation made to ordinary shepherds? (Think about how Jesus’ proclamations and teaching were received later by the more educated and supposedly knowledgeable groups.)
The Living Word for the week leading up to Sunday, December 31: Part 2 of 5
Tuesday, December 26: Psalm 148
A psalm which invites praise from a wide category of land, weather, trees and creatures. This is put in parallel with people of different stations in life and ages.
1-2 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens! Praise Him from the skies! Praise Him, all His angels! Praise him, all the armies of heaven!
- Angel armies of heaven perhaps giving a lead to the praise party
3-4 Praise Him, sun and moon! Praise him, all you twinkling stars! Praise Him, skies above! Praise Him, vapours high above the clouds!
- Waters above the heavens, Genesis 1:7
5-6 Let every created thing give praise to the Lord, for He issued His command, and they came into being. He set them in place forever and ever. His decree will never be revoked.
The Lord commanded, and they were made.
- Sun, moon and stars – Genesis 1:14-19. The sense of this psalm is that He set them in place, for His praise.
- The created order is a stable order because of the Lord’s word, or decree: “For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.” Psalm 33:9
7-8 Praise the Lord from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths, fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather that obey him,
9-10 mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all livestock, small scurrying animals and birds,
- Creeping things and flying birds, Genesis 1:20-25
11-12 kings of the earth and all people, rulers and judges of the earth, young men and young women, old men and children.
- All creatures should praise God according to their natures, as they were created to do – which makes the point that mankind, all people in their diversity, are made for the praise of the Creator, Psalm 103:22.
13 Let them all praise the name of the Lord. For His name is very great; His glory towers over the earth and heaven!
- The praise that comes from everything listed should result in the praise of all mankind – that is God’s intention and the way creation is designed to work.
14 He has made His people strong, honouring His faithful ones – the people of Israel who are close to Him. Praise the Lord!
- “Made His people strong” – literally, “He has raised up a horn for His people, praise for all His saints” See Psalm 75:4 “I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast’, and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn…” The horn is a symbol of power or a king Daniel 7:24; 8:20; to lift it up (or exalt it) is to make a statement about power, and attitudes that accompany a power play; on the other hand, God promises to lift up the horn of the faithful, as here, or to be our horn of salvation Psalm 18:2.
With the birth of Jesus a new world order begins to break in. It is an event of such magnitude that spontaneous praise is the only response – and it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see everything formed or created joining in tjhe praise.
The psalm works its way towards the people made in God’s image. Their praise of Him is classless and levelling of generational and other social boundaries – all are submitted to Him in exalting Him. And so He, in turn, lifts up and empowers those who are close to Him, those who are faithful through the tests of life. It is a season where Mary comes into close focus. God has raised up a horn for her and for Joseph and for ordinary but faithful people everywhere as all eyes are on the young family in the poverty of the stable, receiving unkempt visitors from the sheep fields around who were the very first to be told of the Messiah’s arrival.
How vital it is not to slip into raising our own horn of power or control or self-promotion, because it raises a barrier to what may do in our lives. How vital it is to be able to wait for God to raise our horn in His time and according to His purpose
2. Where do we see the place of praise, in our lives and in our church life?
The Living Word for the week up to Sunday, December 31: Part 1 of 5
Monday, Dec 25: Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3
The Lord desires to show His justice and salvation to the world and we are His demonstration of that.
10 I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
- Who is the speaker? Probably Zion, at this point.
For He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels.
- The language of being clothed or wrapped around with a garment is widely used not just in Psalms and Proverbs but also Job and the prophets, and in the N.T. An opposite use is in Psalm 109:29
11 The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world. Everyone will praise him! His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, with plants springing up everywhere.
- Now back to the prophet speaking.
- Stories of revivals e.g. the Welsh Revival spreading from valley to valley in 1904-05, have often included accounts of crime dropping dramatically, spontaneous prayer meetings – and salvations with changed lives. When righteousness springs up, it is visible to all.
62:1 Because I love Zion, I will not keep still. Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem, I cannot remain silent. I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.
- “Her righteousness” sometimes translated as “her vindication”. Similarly in the verse following.
2 The nations will see your righteousness. World leaders will be blinded by your glory. And you will be given a new name by the Lord’s own mouth.
- New name reflects new status, e.g. Hephzibah “My delight is in her” and Beulah “married” which come up a couple of verses further on in Isaiah 62:4. The significance of “married” is that marriage was considered a blessing – especially to people who had previously been described as childless widows: Isaiah 54:1 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.
3 The Lord will hold you in his hand for all to see – a splendid crown in the hand of God.
- Isaiah 28:5 speaks of the Lord Almighty being a glorious crown and a beautiful wreath for those of His people who remain faithful.
- This is a picture of the Lord holding up His people before a watching world, as a beautiful demonstration that He, ultimately, is the king and that His good purposes prevail. He will show His justice to the world (61:11 above).
The Lord is always seeking faithful people of beautiful attitude, to show His ways to a watching and often cynical world. This community – which has nothing to do with denominations or buildings, but everything to do with faith and prayer and submission to the Lord’s purposes – is for us, in our time, the “Zion” that the Lord loves and wishes to use as a shining picture of what righteousness looks like.
There are many overtones of revival in this passage, with righteousness springing up, people seeing God in it and turning to praise Him.
If this is God’s desire and purpose, what holds it back? Surely only our reluctance to engage in the prayer and listening and willingness to move to repentance that God is always seeking.
1. The prophet says “I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn.” What is God’s desire for revival, and what does He need us to do to usher it in?