Based on the set readings for December 6, 2020 (Year B):
OT: Isaiah 40:1-11
NT gospel: Mark 1:1-8
NT letter: 2 Peter 3:8-15
Bible study on December 6 post
Hundreds of years before Christ, the anointed prophets who were God’s spokesmen caught a glimpse of something to come in God’s plan. This would be so significant it would change the course of mankind — for any who would listen.
Isaiah was the one who saw this in most detail, and he did his best to communicate in words what had been revealed to him through spiritual insight:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”, v.3.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed”, v3..
This was going to be a royal visitation, with the splendour and glory that showed the visitor to be of very high rank indeed. This visit would be to establish a new rule:
“See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm”, v.10.
But this would bring not only the security of might and authority, but it would also be a new kind of rule, uniquely caring and compassionate:
“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young”, v.11
Rulers in the Near East at this time in history generally treated people and their lives as cheap. To be a ruler and to be kind was a contradiction, although Kind David was a notable exception. The Messiah foretold by Isaiah was to be another ‘David’, in character at least.
The first reason — it’s promise of hope
This first aspect of the Good News being good, is that is is a promise of hope and encouragement — good news in every way.
- Here in Isaiah 40 it was about God’s grace shown to the nation of Israel whose sin had been their downfall:
“…Her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”, v.4.
- This was good news, not just for the nation of Israel, redeemed from exile and given a new start under this new rule. It’s good news for any of us coming from inherited sinfulness, added to by our own failures.
The second reason — it’s for anyone
The second aspect of being good, is that it comes without any exclusivity or religious conditions.
“… all people will see it together”, v.5.
It’s not just for those who feel they belong, or who can show an impressive record of church attendance. It is good news for all people.This leads into the next part of the story in the beginning of Mark’s gospel. This focuses on John, who was in Isaiah’s words:
“…My messenger… a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.”
John preached that baptism, a symbolic washing in the River Jordan, was evidence of repentance and a way of receiving God’s forgiveness for sin, as a result of that repentance.But as Isaiah had foretold, it was not an invitation for certain people only, as many of the Jews expected.
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.
So there were educated people of substance coming out from the city. And there were also the ordinary people of the countryside. There were good, observant Jews and people with messed up lives. They lined up together, rich and poor. They shared the same invitation.
The third reason — it is life-changing
One thing they heard was extraordinary: a drenching in water to symbolically show sin being washed away was one thing. Being drenched in Holy Spirit was something else. But this is exactly what John’s preaching put in front of them, v.8:
“After me comes the One more powerful than I…. I baptise you with water, but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
This is important, because living above sin is not easy. Here were people who had publicly repented of their old life-style, and were pledging to adopt a new and more God-honouring one. But how? Their question is also our question.Jesus doesn’t leave us to struggle on and feel condemned when we so easily slip back into the old ways. He gives us the power to change, and the power to be changed from within.
The fourth reason — it is empowering
Awareness of the Holy Spirit and His ministry changes how we view Scripture, from the difficulty of “you ought” or “you must” to the facility of “you can”. The Holy Spirit also keeps us aware of the love and grace of God when we don’t get it right, helping us to come back to God often, keeping short accounts with Him and receiving fresh guidance and encouragement..This is the fourth aspect of why the Good News is good! God asks us to live for Him — and then pledges to help us do it.This is living in salvation, and salvation is what is closest to God’s heart.
The fifth reason — it fulfills God’s own heart desire
The next amazing dimension of this Good News being good, is discovering that it is God’s heart to save us from ourselves, even if He has to wait to see it.
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:15 and 9
This doesn’t mean that everyone will end up being saved without making any kind of choice! The whole thrust of Scripture, and the gospel reading makes this clear, is to repent (make an intentional turning of attitude) and believe. When Jesus appears and makes His own announcement of the Good News He says:
“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. REPENT AND BELIEVE the good news!” Mark 1:15
God genuinely desires everyone to come to know Him and receive fresh life. And His Son Jesus is the way for anyone to do this. But it is a choice we have to make. No one can do it for us, the church cannot do it for us and sacraments cannot do it for us. There’s a tension here between what the church has often traditionally taught — which is church-centric — and what the Bible record teaches, which is Christ-centric. This good news of salvation, the kingdom of God in us only comes through us turning to Jesus and trusting Him — acknowledging what He has done on the Cross, recognising who He is, knowing Him as Saviour and Lord. You really don’t have to be piously religious! You don’t have to know the Bible well. The first is a common, but wrong turning that leads nowhere. The second is an exciting journey of discovery which unfolds as we go on in this new life.
Becoming a Christian is not about giving up everything that is pleasurable in order to live a strict, separated and joyless life. In many ways it is the opposite. It about how to discover the real joy, having a lot of fun and a lot of friends, and finding we are empowered to make a difference for others. It is about being involved in this regular life, but with some insights and guidance that really help us to be fulfilled in it. And knowing that life for us extends to eternity.