Christmas Day OT reading
Christmas Day Gospel reading
Christmas Day Epistle reading
Christmas Day application
Sunday, December 30 OT reading
Sunday, December 30 Gospel reading
Sunday, December 30 Epistle reading
Sunday, December 30 application
THEME 1 (DECEMBER 25):
THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD APPEAR FOR US
Readings are in Bible order, Old Testament, Gospel, Epistle, following the logic of progressive revelation. Some churches use a liturgical order with the gospel reading last.
DECEMBER 25 – OLD TESTAMENT READING
Isaiah 9:2-7 – the glory of God comes on Israel
A nation in spiritual darkness receive a peace-bringing mighty king of David’s lineage but heavenly origin
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” – prophetic vision that sees the future with the clarity of it already having happened.
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” – no longer a small remnant after five centuries of resettlement and growth.
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.
“Midian’s defeat” — the Lord using Gideon, Judges 7.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.
“Wonderful counsellor” – the titles reveal Immanuel as both human and divine: a ‘counsellor to carry out a plan or action; with divine power; bringing the Father’s compassion and protection; and exercising a style of rulership which brings wholeness and wellbeing to the whole of society.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
DECEMBER 25 – GOSPEL READING
Luke 2:1-14 – shepherds experience God’s sudden blaze of glory in terror
They are directed to seek out Mary and Joseph and their baby, visitors to Bethlehem for the census
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
“A census” – for the purposes of the Roman poll tax. Joseph was of the house of David, Mary possibly so.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
“Bethlehem” – as foretold in Micah’s prophecy, Micah 5:2.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
“Out in the fields” – so probably between March and November. The time of Jesus’ birth is not known. The midwinter tradition arose much later from Christians re-purposing the pagan midwinter festival.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
“Terrified” – by the majesty of angels in bright light suddenly appearing in the darkness.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.
12 “This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”
“Good news” – the word that gives us ‘evangelise’. “On earth peace” – Jesus is the Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, Isa. 9:6 to bring God’s peace; not to all, but all who would turn to Him and come to know God and God’s favour.
DECEMBER 25 – EPISTLE READING
Titus 2:11-14 – We’re growing in grace while awaiting Christ’s return
Christians are empowered to live above themselves while expecting Jesus to appear in glory
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
“Grace… offers salvation” – the word ‘grace’ is used generally and also specifically, as here, meaning the favour with God, unearned but made possible by Christ’s sinless self-sacrifice. It is offered to, not conferred on, all people – a response to Jesus is called for – but anyone of any state can choose to turn to Him, come to know God in a personal way and be changed by this grace.
12-13 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.
“Teaches us… to live…” – Salvation (also called justification, Titus 3:7) and holy living are “not because of anything we have done but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace, 2 Tim. 1:9. Jesus will come again, the “blessed hope” we wait for. Meanwhile, the grace of God through the Holy Spirit enables us to live by these values.
IN PRACTICE The favour of God has come to us through Jesus being revealed to us – the Bible is clear that we cannot earn it. However, there is a personal, active choice we must make to turn to Jesus and receive His lordship. Nowhere does the Bible teach that salvation is through the church; widely it teaches that salvation is a choice to invite Jesus as Saviour. Before that decision we are all walking in darkness, as Isaiah describes, not able to see the spiritual realities of good and evil. Then God’s glory visited the village of Bethlehem and God’s grace was experienced, by the most ordinary of people. A couple of generations later, believers in the early church are rejoicing in being “a people that are His very own” and knowing the grace of God helping them in their eagerness to “do what is good”.
PRAYER Lord we love the nativity scene, but help us to see beyond it to Your Lordship and Your glory. May the impact of who You are, transform how we are, in this season of remembering Your first coming and preparing for the next.
THEME FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30 – THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD GROW IN US
DECEMBER 30 – OLD TESTAMENT READING
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 – the young Samuel is an apprentice in the tabernacle
He grows in stature and God’s favour, as was said later of the boy Jesus
18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord – a boy wearing a linen ephod.
19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.
“Linen ephod” – an embroidered over-garment worn over the robe, by priests in the sanctuary. The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s sons, all young Levites, is that Samuel lived up to his calling.
20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.
26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.
“Grow in stature and favour” – like Luke’s description of Jesus as a boy, see Luke 2:52 below, also Luke 2:40.
DECEMBER 30 – GOSPEL READING
Luke 2:41-52 – Jesus grows in grace at the temple
Unknown to His parents, He spends time with the teachers of the temple courts who, remarkably, allow Him to debate with them.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.
“Every year” – Good observant Jews like Jesus’ family liked to keep the three commanded festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Exodus 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16. Galileans and others at a distance would try to keep Passover at least.
42 When He was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
“Twelve years old” – preparing to take adult covenant responsibilities, usually at age 13.
43 After the festival was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
“Unaware” – often entire villages and extended families travelled and socialised together.
44-45 Thinking He was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.
46-47 After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.
“After three days” – a day’s travel of about 20 miles, a day turning back, and a day finding Jesus in the city.
“Listening… asking questions… His answers” – the teachers were rabbis, scholars of Mosaic law. The style of rabbinic instruction was question and counter-question. It was highly unusual for them to entertain a boy, let alone be enthralled by His scriptural understanding. Jesus was a prodigy.
48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’
49-50 “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them.
“Your father and I…My Father’s house” – Jesus makes it clear that God is His true father. He is aware of His unique relationship, his parents less so.
51-52 Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
“Jesus grew in wisdom” – Jesus was fully God, but also fully man, having laid aside His majesty to be born as one one of us. The Expanded Bible renders this: “But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing, (lit. emptied Himself).” There is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus had all knowledge and wisdom from birth, and in this passage we see Him growing up like any other boy.
DECEMBER 30 – EPISTLE READING
Colossians 3:12-17 – God’s people are to grow in grace
God is love and Jesus demonstrated unconditional love; growing in His character of kindness and gentleness is what distinguishes the body of Christ.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
“God’s chosen people” — this phrase was used of Israel, and then of the Christian community, Deut. 4:37; 1 Peter 2:9.
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
“Bear with… forgive…” – Jesus taught that having received grace and forgiveness from God, we must extend the same grace to others. Being forgiven by God means we, too, must forgive, without condition.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.,
“Put on love”— which will look like attitudes of v.12, and like the fruit of the [redeemed, regenerate human] spirit, Gal. 5:22.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
“Peace of Christ” — where Christ rules, where Jesus is accorded His lordship, His peace will act as an umpire. Allegiance to Christ outranks differences between
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
“Psalms, hymns and songs” — the model is the book of Psalms, which includes psalms of truth from Scripture, hymns of praise and the spontaneous, prophetic songs from the Spirit.
“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” — the bottom line is a requirement to keep on growing in Christian maturity and TO show Jesus to others, by living as those who represent Jesus and His Way.
IN PRACTICE The grace and glory of God become a growing part of us when we surrender our self-rule and independence, and ask Jesus to come in. That’s the pathway towards Christian maturity. The story of young Samuel, called by God, and the young Jesus, the Son of God, speak to us about our growing up process. Words written to the church in Colossae challenge us to grow in Jesus-like attitudes and relationships. So why do we get conflicts and tensions in the church? Because we have an active enemy, always looking for unresolved tensions that have become sin, that he can use to deceive, divide or destroy. The remedy is the rule of the opposite spirit — someone attacks us angrily and we choose to respond in peace, or someone is hurtful or difficult, and we choose to love them anyway. This is grace and it disarms the enemy and brings God’s glory – never more powerfully than when we choose to forgive, Matthew 18:21-35.
QUESTION “It’s just the way I am” – but God sent His son and may not accept that limitation! What can you do this Christmas that will release His change?
PRAYER “Lord, I thank You that You came – and have come for me. I give what I have, myself, to You and I receive from You new grace and life in Jesus. Amen.”
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Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 2, 2018. Advent 1, Year C.
Theme: Advent ABCD: Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom
INTRODUCTION The Lord Himself will become righteousness for us, offering us a
Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness. A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 — The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold.
Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil. Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return. Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.
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Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness
A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full
1-2 In You, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
“I trust in You… shame” – honour and its opposite, shame, were emphasised in Jewish culture and the psalms make frequent mention of trust in the Lord as the way to avoid being shamed, Ps. 22:5, 31:1, 69:6, 71:1 etc.
3 No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.
“Hopes in You… shame” – hope, unlike the weaker, aspirational English meaning, is a solid confidence in God’s good purpose, Ps. 33:22, 130:5. Hope, which is trusting in God’s covenant goodwill, answers the threat of shame.
4-6 Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long. Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
“Your ways… paths… truth… great mercy and love” – language recalling God’s covenant with His people. The Lord has promised to return again, at which time His Way will be fully established.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me, for You, Lord, are good.
8-10 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of His covenant.
“Good and upright” – because God is perfectly good and upright, He must extend mercy to humble, i.e. repentant, believers while not allowing the guilty and rebellious to escape judgment.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 – The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold
Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship
14 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
“The days are coming” – looking forward from Babylonian conquest to a time of restoration, but also to a future time beyond that. The discussion of sheep and shepherds becoming visible again, Jer. 33:12-13, leads naturally into the prophecy of the Shepherd and Saviour of David’s line to come, in what we know as the first coming of Jesus and we anticipate as the second coming of the
15 “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land.
“Righteous branch ” – the language is very similar to Jer. 25:5-6.
16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.”
“Judah will be saved and Jerusalem…” – The Messiah’s coming will be transformational. Jerusalem – the holy community – will be so changed that it will be called by the same name as its Saviour, “The Lord our righteousness” (Yahweh
“Live in safety” – this prophecy was given while the Babylonians were breaking down the walls of Jerusalem and removing people and property.
17-18 For this is what the Lord says: “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.”
“David will never fail” – meaning, the covenant with David (and other covenants), will not fail even in the judgment coming on Jerusalem.
IN PRACTICE In the ABCD of Advent, we start with Anticipation, not of Jesus being born at Bethlehem (that happened!) but of a potentially terrifying time when Jesus as the heavenly host will come again. How will we be counted on that Day of the Lord? Righteous or unrighteous? Jeremiah was prophesying in the first instance about his own people, symbolised by Judah and Jerusalem being saved by the ‘righteous branch’ of David’s line, the Anointed One or Messiah. We know the Messiah with the Greek title Christ (anointed one) Jesus. Like many prophecies, this extends over more than one time and happening. Jesus will come again at an unknown future time – which we are to hold as an immediate prospect, not a distant one. However, the heart of the Gospel is in this Old Testament verse about the Lord who becomes our righteousness. The keeping of the Law was a hard path, but now Jeremiah foretells how the Lord will Himself become righteousness for sinful man. Our heartfelt response to Jesus, acknowledging Him as Saviour and giving Him the say-so of our lives is our release from judgment, not our good works. This is hard to grasp in a world whose values are so much about earned merit. At times in its history the Church has been muddled about this, where the priority of Scripture has been weak, but Jesus’ teaching that He is the gate for the sheep and believing in Him is the one requirement, is crystal clear through the NT.
PRAYER Lord, help me to be crystal clear about what You have done for me in a way that I could not possibly have earned or merited; and help me to be clear in sharing this saving truth with others.
Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil
Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust
25-27 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
“There will be signs” – Jesus’ focus is now on the end times, an allusion to Joel 2:30-31, also quoted by Luke (writer of Acts) in Acts 2:20. The prophets expected arresting celestial signs at the end of age, Isaiah 13:9-10; Jeremiah 4:23,28; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10.
“They will see” – the second coming of the Son of Man will be a visible return accompanied by turmoil of the elements, and many people will be distressed, not knowing what is happening.
28 “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your
“When these things… take place” – in the turmoil, believers are to look up in joy and trust, knowing that these are signs of the deliverance of Jesus’ followers in the final redemption, 1 Cor. 15:53; Romans 8:23.
29-31 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
“Look at the fig-tree” – leaves appear and change appearance, heralding the seasons. “When you see these things” – signs will show the kingdom coming fully.
32-33 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“This generation” – Jesus was not setting a time for the present age to end. He continually emphasised a time scale between His being present with His disciples, and His return, Luke 21:9,12,24.
34-36 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to
“Will close on you suddenly” – but not unannounced, for those that will hear. For those who are not ready, “that day” is judgment closing against them. The point of the discourse is to be ready and alert for Christ’s return at any time.
“Suddenly… it will come on all those… on the whole earth” – the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would follow in AD 70 but Jesus teaches that the coming Day of the Lord will be a crisis encounter for everyone, not just the Jews.
IN PRACTICE Jesus taught about the end times, and His language conveyed a sense of urgency and expectancy, even if He also set out the kind of eternal time scale that no calendar can represent. As believers, we are to live in constant expectation of His sudden return, although the teaching gives us the kind of warning we should expect – being watchful and observant, as country people are about weather and seasons and threats to their livestock. A for Anticipation gets us thinking about where we stand with the Lord, should He return – now! The “suddenly” He speaks of will show last-minute decisions to be false decisions. Our anticipation is about being real about what will happen and positioned to welcome Jesus’ return rather than fear it.
QUESTION How would you explain in your own words to someone who doesn’t believe in God, that there’s a day of judgment coming, but they can turn to Jesus who has made a way for them.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return.
Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.
9-10 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
“Thank God… for you” – the church in Thessalonica had been through a testing time, which Paul had experienced himself, in strong local opposition and rough treatment in Philippi, 1 Thess. 2:2,14-16; 1 Thess. 3:7. Testing is part of Christian life and opposition experienced as persecution is to be expected as carriers of the Gospel, Paul has already made clear, 1 Thess 3:3-4. However, he is greatly concerned for this church of believers new in their faith.
“Supply what is lacking” – the mission team’s teaching was cut short when they had to leave suddenly, 1 Thess 2:17. Part of the purpose of the letter is to make good the shortfall.
11-12 Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
“May our God… may the Lord… may He strengthen” – Paul’s lifestyle of prayer is such that he breaks into prayer in his letter. In this prayer he is in effect asking God, but in the manner of making a declaration in faith, in agreement with God’s purposes.
13 May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.
“When our Lord Jesus comes” – in Paul’s mind is the Second Coming which he will discuss more fully later in the letter, 1 Thess. 4:1-5:22. “With all His holy ones” – used of Christian believers, often translated ‘saints’, in many passages in the NT e.g. Romans 1:7. Could also refer to the angels who will accompany the Second Coming.
IN PRACTICE The church calendar and its seasons was an idea that arose many centuries after Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica. However, A for Anticipation in the ABCD of Advent was something that Paul lived out and taught. “When our Lord Jesus comes” is a clear statement of anticipation, the sense of keeping the house clean and tidy for the important visitor expected to drop in at any time. To personalise it, we see the ‘house’ as our lives, so that ‘clean and tidy’ is about keeping short accounts with God in confessing sin and tidying up our wrong priorities.
QUESTION In the words of v. 13, will you be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father – if Jesus comes again now? Reflecting on the Old Testament and Gospel readings and notes, how do you know assuredly that you are counted blameless?
PRAYER Lord, show me what in me is getting in the way of the coming of the kingdom in its fullness? What is me needs to be put out of my life, put right with You, put in a better place spiritually or forgiven in my relationships with others? Amen.
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Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, September 16 (Pentecost 18)
Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s voice?
Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples
James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?
Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 19
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The theme for this Sunday is about who we listen to, and what is in our hearts as we speak.
Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?
The voice of wisdom is like a woman whose advice (in that culture) could be ignored and even mocked, revealing arrogant obstinacy. Do we respond as learners or mockers?
Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples
Peter and the disciples were put on the spot about who people thought Jesus was and who they said He was, but Peter’s declaration sealed their belief in Jesus as Messiah.
James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?
This teaching from the apostle James stresses power of words for good or harm, and the importance of speech which comes from a heart submitted to God, not human opinions.
The message this week is a reminder that the words we speak are like fruit, showing whether we are a thorny briar or a sweet variety. As disciples of
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Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?
The voice of wisdom gives sound guidance for living, for all who will hear
Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:
“Wisdom calls aloud” – personified as a woman (the Hebrew word is feminine) who cries out, for all to hear in the marketplace, and at the place of business and debate, the city gate.
22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?
“Simple… mockers… fools” – Proverbs addresses three sets of people who need God’s wisdom and are progressively less receptive. Those who are simple or inexperienced,
For further study on
23 Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.
“Repent… then…” – the consequence of heeding the warning is a blessing, where wisdom is like a fountain of constant refreshment and, “I will make known”, though revelation.
24-25 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my
“Stretch out my hand” – in appeal, like Isaiah 65:2 where God holds out His hands all day to “an obstinate people”
26-27 …I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
“Laugh” – not heartlessly but at the predictability of those who spurn wisdom’s guidance and find themselves in difficulty as a consequence.
28-29 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.
“Call to me” – sounds like 1 Samuel 8:18, but this is probably not about prayer; wisdom is a personification, not God. The sense is that mockers and scoffers will frantically seek wisdom when they get into trouble, but ‘too little, too late’.
30-31 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
“Eat the fruit… be filled with the fruit” – like the NT phrase “A man reaps what he sows”, Gal. 6:7. Evil people suffer the punishment of living out the consequences of their own
32-33 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
“Waywardness” – a play on the Hebrew word for turning which can mean positively “repent” or negatively “turn wayward”. Not heeding wisdom (being wayward) causes destruction; the remedy would have been to turn in repentance.
“Whoever listens to me” – those who listen to wisdom’s voice experience security.
IN PRACTICE The voice of wisdom is not the same as the voice of God, but closely aligned. It is more the sense of how we live out what we hear as the voice and truth of God.
Wisdom is evident, or lacking, in all our attitudes of heart – and our heart determines what we say. Here we meet those who come across as uninstructed, or a stage worse, just stubbornly foolish and wrong-intentioned. But worst of all is the arrogant mocker, the opinionated “I know best” person who is proud that they have no need to listen and learn. This is the root of dissention, and derogatory slander, that is the devil’s strategy to impede the kingdom of God. To the extent that we allow it.
QUESTION How proactive are you in seeking God’s wisdom to live by, day by day?
Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples
Speaking as disciples of Jesus – who do we say He is?
Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way He asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
“Caesarea Philippi” – named after Herod the Great’s son Philip the Tetrarch, the recently-built town was on the slopes of Mount Hermon, a prominent landmark 25 miles to the north of Galilee.
“He asked them” – for the first time, Jesus raises the question of His identity. He must clarify the nature of the Messiah as God’s servant who will suffer and be shamed for His people, a difficult concept (Peter’s response v.32 below) against the popular idea that the Messiah would be a military deliverer like King David.
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“Some say” – the disciples list some the most popular misconceptions.
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
“But what about you?” – more emphatic in the Greek. Jesus compels a deeper response.
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
“The Messiah” – or Christ. Both mean ‘anointed one’. A climax and the first time this is stated in Mark’s story apart from his introduction, Mark 1:1. Peter speaks out the conclusion of all the disciples.
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.
“Warned… not to tell” – the mission of Jesus as Messiah could not be understood apart from the ordeal of the Cross, which the disciples were not yet prepared for. To announce Jesus as
31-32 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
“Peter… began to rebuke Him” – to Peter, what Jesus was teaching was not only unthinkable but just plain wrong. In this section, Mark 8:31-10:52 Jesus prepares the disciples for His inevitably, divinely-ordained death as they travel to Jerusalem.
“Suffer… be rejected… be killed and…rise again”. The Messiah had to suffer, as predicted, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and see Luke 24:44, and be rejected, which echoes Psalm 118:22, and die before being raised to life again, promised in Hosea 6:2. The Jews knew these scriptures but misunderstood them. Following the Suffering Servant passage, Isaiah sets out how God’s ways are higher than our ways, Isaiah 55:8-9.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter. “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
“He rebuked Peter” – with a seemingly harsh word, but Jesus recognised Peter coming under the same attempted deception that He had experienced in the desert confrontation with Satan, Matthew 4:8-10.
34 Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.
“Take up their cross” – not a medieval-style religion of self-abasement which misses the point made in the sentences around this phrase. The disciple call is to die to the right to determine one’s own life path and success; as in being born anew, willingness to let go of the old life admits new life in Jesus – which will embrace the costs of shame and pain at times.
35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it.
36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
“Save their life” – self-preservation is a strong human instinct. We want to hold on to what we know and we believe represents security. To lose life in the flesh is to gain the spiritual life of the soul.
37-38 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Standing up for Jesus, His values and His words, requires courage in the face of ridicule – but it’s a non-negotiable position for those who choose to walk the Way of Jesus.
IN PRACTICE Everyone wants to be known as a fan of a popular hero. Even if we have no local affiliation, we support a particular Premier football club ‘because it is the best’. People are intrigued
Jesus is more of a problem. In our church, He would be an outsider, a disrupter, someone bringing change. In our community, He doesn’t look like a figurehead as a servant of incomparable kindness. In a post-modern inclusive world, some want every spiritual insight to be a path to the truth. The question for us, as well as Peter, is who do WE say Jesus is? And that draws out from us where we really stand in relation to His Lordship of us.
QUESTION How ready are we to stand up, be counted and speak for Jesus and His values in our sceptical world?
James 3:1-12 | Listening to God before speaking – does He have our tongue?
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
“Become teachers” – the rabbi or teacher was honoured in Jewish and by extension, Christian society, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:7, 1 Cor 12:28, while Christians generally were regarded as social outsiders, James 2:6-7. James points out that few should aspire to a role which could influence for good or harm, and which therefore carried greater penalties in accountability, Matt. 5:19, Acts 20:26-27.
2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
“Fault in what they say” – the argument moves from the specific role of those called to
3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
“Bits…rudder… spark” – the three images of small things that cause big effects were common in literature of the time. The tongue’s power to influence is way out of proportion to its size in relation to the rest of the body.
6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
“A world of evil” – like a little microcosm of the fallen world within us. “Set on fire by hell” – the cause of so many sins when taken over by the devil’s destructive influence. The tongue reveals the worldliness lurking in our hearts, Matt. 15:18.
7-8 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
“All kinds of animals” – probably referring to Genesis 1:26. “No human being” – emphatic: the tongue often has a life of its own and can be like a deadly snake, Psalm 58:3-6, Psalm 14:3, which cannot be tamed except by God’s power working in us.
9-12 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with
“We praise…and… we curse” – words have power, either to bless (bringing life and encouragement) or to curse (bringing harm and what is life-sapping). “God’s likeness” – all hearers have the worth of being created in God’s image.
“Can both… flow from the same…” – it is incongruous for a Christian, reborn with a transformed heart, to utter demeaning words, like a tree producing the wrong fruit or a spring that runs brackish. Only a heart being continually renewed by the Holy Spirit can produce pure and life-giving speech.
IN PRACTICE The school playground chant “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is good to help children refute name-calling but a poor representation of truth. Words that curse can have an enduringly hurtful effect. Who has carried the words of a parent or authority figure for whom we were never good enough? Prayer ministry later in life often reveals such barriers, words spoken over us that have had the effect of a curse, the word meaning the opposite of a blessing. On the other hand
QUESTION What words have stayed with me as an enduring encouragement? And what words do I need to lift off my heart, to be free of their restriction?
PRAYER From Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me…” And help me to speak with the tone and truth and compassion of Jesus, whatever is going on around me, and to be quick to forgive those who, like Peter in the Gospel reading, have spoken from the selfish nature and momentarily become a voice for the enemy of our souls.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 21
Peter’s concern comes from the wrong kingdom
|31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again.||31 Now that the disciples had heard and accepted what Peter had exclaimed: “You are the Messiah!”, Mark 8:29, Jesus gives the first of three teachings about what He would go through to fulfill God’s plan.
31 “Son of Man” is used more than 80 times in the gospels. It was a term Jesus used about Himself because it was not loaded with expectations and preconceptions. In the OT it often just means “human being” eg Psalm 8:4, Psalm 80:17 but it has the sense of a title in the way God often address Ezekiel in this way. But Jesus hearers would also have been familiar with Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man at the end time brings the kingdom to the oppressed people on earth. The Son of Man sayings in Matthew, Mark and Luke generally combine suffering and death with glory at the end-time.
31 For further study: these sayings in Mark particular seem to refer to Daniel’s Son of Man, Mark 8:38, 13:26, 14:62.
|32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him.||32 John Wesley’s notes, “And Peter taking hold of him – perhaps by the arms or clothes”. The Message: “But Peter grabbed him in protest”.
32 Peter understood that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter understood what Jesus meant by “suffer many things” and “be killed”, v.31. But for Him, the Messiah was about strength, not weakness. A suffering Messiah was unthinkable. He would not at that point have associated Isaiah 53, and Isa. 53:3 especially, with Messiah.
|33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”||33 A sharp rebuke – which was intended for all of them. Peter was voicing an opinion of the flesh – not the Mind of God revealed by the Holy Spirit (and the Holy Spirit had not yet been generally given). Peter loved Jesus and did not want Him to be taken – so he expressed a fear, an anxiety. The devil uses thoughts he tries to plant in our minds as one of his most common strategies – our thoughts don’t all come from us and they certainly don’t all come from the Spirit and it takes practice to sift out the ‘junk mail’. Peter was taking the rap for all the disciples making the commonest of mistakes, which we all make, especially at first.|
|34 Then he called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.||34 “Take up their cross” or literally, shoulder their stake, which perhaps better gets across the meaning of shameful death.
34 The starting point of being a disciple of Jesus is to be able to deny self. Ego and Jesus do not occupy the same space.
34 The follow-on point is that there is a cost to following Jesus, and in a world that is very rational and merit-orientated, the values of the servant King can bring plenty of misunderstanding, ridicule – and persecution. The last burning at the stake for presumed heresy, of Edward Wightman, a Baptist in Burton on Trent, was only four centuries ago, in 1612.
|35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the Gospel will save it.||35 Reneging on faith when under trial is not an option. The trials we experience in the western world today are not life and death as they were for our forebears; but our faith is on trial when we either do or do not stand up for Jesus’ values in a world of often opposing values. Do we want to remain popular or do we want to remain and abide in Jesus? Are we sensitive to criticism or secure enough in who we are to be ready for some criticism?|
|36-37 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?||
36-37 The only way we gain salvation is by losing the right to attain it ourselves. Our world is so permeated with the idea of performance and merit, it is hard for us to embrace what leads to spiritual life now, and life eternal, because it cannot be earned. Something that good that we don’t earn is difficult to trust. And earning seems more secure to us than trusting.
36-37 Jesus is saying that we try to hold on to life, to build a better life, to secure hope for a future life by doing the best we can in this life – and all of that causes us to miss the one thing that secures our souls. Giving up our rights to a self-determining life, so that Jesus can guide our determining by the truth about Him and His values, is losing ‘our’ life in exchange for His. This recognises what this passage looks forward to – Jesus exchanging His life, for us to be able to look to Him for eternal life.
|38 If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”|
The difficulty for people of Jesus’ generation is that He didn’t look like a Messiah. Perhaps we would say He doesn’t look like a celebrity. Christ the humble suffering servant is proud humanity’s greatest stumbling block; God in Him is not seen, except with the eyes of faith.
The Anointed One, Messiah, has been linked up to ‘Son of Man’ for Peter and the disciples, but the anticipation of a conquering king so eagerly awaited by Jews who turns out to be the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:1-12 but also the One who would come again in judgment, Daniel 7:13, presented the disciples with difficulty at every level of intellectual, emotional and spiritual understanding. Mark follows this with the story of the Transfiguration, Mark 9:1-10, where those who have recognised Jesus in his lowliness as the Christ are rewarded and affirmed by being momentarily blinded by His glory.
In regarding Jesus, and for that matter in regarding anything that relates to His way, then or now, the challenge for us is seeing with faith beyond seeing what we want to see.
For reflection and discussion
God’s plan is not readily understandable, defies logic and conflicts with our worldview! So what approaches will you explore, to make the Good News of Jesus accessible to others?
Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, January 28 (Epiphany 4)
Mark 1: 21-28
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
C of E alternative epistle reading Rev. 12: 1-5a
MONDAY, JANUARY 22
One day, God says, He will raise up another prophet who will speak truths from the heart – His heart.
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.
- “Like me” – Moses clearly speaking of the ultimate prophet who was to come. The timeline is similar to someone in early Saxon times speaking of something happening in our time.
16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die.”
17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good.
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.
- Philip alluded to this verse in calling Nathanael over to Jesus, John 1:45
- Both the OT and the NT view this passage as referring to the coming Messiah who would (with similarities to Moses) proclaim revelation from God and offer extraordinary leadership to His people.
For further study: There are a number of parallels between Moses and Jesus: being spared as a baby, Exod. 2, Matt. 2:13-23; Jesus renouncing a royal court, Phil. 2:5-8, Heb. 11:24-27; remarkable compassion for their people, Numbers 27:17, Matt. 9:36 and making intercession for their people, Deut 9:18, Heb. 7:25; speaking to God face to face, Exod 34:29-30, 2 Cor. 3:7. Both were involved in mediating a covenant, Deut 29:1, Heb. 8:6-7.
19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.
20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
- A prophet, at one level, is what we call a preacher – someone who seeks to speak publicly on behalf of God, speaking God’s truth. OT prophecy was often delivered with a “foretelling” emphasis while NT prophecy, a particularly spiritual gift and ministry, is more about “forthtelling”. Anyone can claim to speak for God; however in the OT such presumption was to be tested, and if necessary punished.
- There is a test in view here – will people follow the prophet, or be careful to follow only the Lord and his true prophets? See Deut 13:1-5, Jer. 28:15-17.
- Compare with v. 18 which refers to a very particular prophet, and this verse which heralds a series of prophetic voices. Both were fulfilled as we know.
The Lord is always speaking to His people. Whether His people are hearing, or even disposed to hear (v.16) is another matter, which is why the Lord has raised up those who will speak and get people’s attention, on His behalf.
It is a serious matter to dismiss what the Lord is saying. Similarly, it is a serious matter to put the Lord’s name to something He is not saying, or to seek to speak authoritatively using an alternative and ungodly source of reference.
The ultimate truth speaker is Jesus, especially in his earthly role where He showed what God was like, alongside God’s self-revelation of Himself in his recorded and enduring word.
What principles guide us in discerning whether what someone is speaking, is truth from God, or their own presumption – or a mixture?