Sunday, March 1, 2020 TLW08A
Theme: God presents us with choices, whether or not to rely on Him
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
Read Romans 5:12-19
Also WISDOM READING: Psalm 32
Breaking trust with God in the Garden of Eden introduces sin into the world
15-17 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
“To work it and take care of it” – humanity’s dignifying occupation, responsibilities later applied to the tabernacle.
• For further study, read Leviticus 8:35; Numbers 3:5-8, 8:26.
“The LORD God commanded the man” – the first covenant decree in the Bible. God bound Himself to provide freely from the park-like garden; the man’s acceptance bound him to the one condition, trusting God’s judgment and provision by not eating the fruit of one particular tree.
“You are free… but…” – Typical words of a covenant in the Bible, where Adam is given a choice leading to a benefit. There is also a condition, a test of obedience.
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
“The serpent” – part of God’s creation, the talking snake appears without introduction. Its motives are unclear but “crafty”, presenting an alternative source of ‘wisdom’ from dependence on God, Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is Satan manifesting as a snake, as Paul and the apostle John later taught.
• For further study, read 2 Cor. 11:3; Revelation 12:9, 20:2.
2-3 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
“Not… the tree… in the middle” – by not naming the tree, the woman skirts round the reason for the ban.
4-5 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“You will not… die” – with this lie the snake denies God’s clear pronouncement. The lie deceived both Eve and Adam into separation from God and hence spiritual death. Jesus called Satan a liar and murderer from the beginning, John 8:44.
6-7 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
“The fruit was… desirable” – the snake appeals to the woman’s human independence, deceiving her into disobedience. Innocence lost, they now “know” or have experience of evil, and sin is born.
Here in the Garden of Eden — a place and an event which Scripture treats very seriously — mankind’s ancestor, Adam, faces a test. God has given him the freedom of the garden except for one particular tree and its fruit. Will he stay true to what God has told him, or will the suggestion that nothing is stopping him from doing his own thing prove too attractive? Adam gives in to Satan, loses the life he had, and opens the way for every subsequent generation to experience temptation to sin. We face exactly the same choice – whether to entertain the enemy’s latest lie, or to hold on to the truth from God.
How does Satan’s lying, deceiving nature affect us today?
Matthew 4:1-11 — Test: Satan fails to tempt Jesus into sin
Jesus, unlike Israel in the desert, overcomes by declaring God’s word
1-3 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
“Led by the Spirit… to be tempted by the devil” – “Tempted (tested and tried)” (Amp). “Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it” (Msg). God’s servants frequently face tests of resolve and character as they enter ministry, allowed by God but carried out by the devil.
“Into the wilderness to be tempted” – Adam and Eve gave in to temptation; their failing the test allowed sin to enter the world. Moses recalls how the Lord led the Israelites in the desert for 40 years “to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Jesus, in the desert, is provoked to sin but instead shows Himself the true, or real, Israelite who holds to what God has said to do (below).
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
“It is written” – Jesus’ testing experience teaches us how to declare Scripture truth to deflect the enemy’s evil attentions. He quotes Deut. 8:3 to assert that what God has said, has a powerful spiritual dynamic.
5-6 Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
“If You are…” – following the temptation of material things, the devil tries the temptation of fame, conveniently omitting the promise “to keep you in all your ways” from Psalm 91:11-12, twisting its meaning to suggest that Jesus could test God in a spectacular way.
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
“Jesus answered” – from Deut 6:16, with a principle even higher than trusting God, that of honouring Him. Satan implies God can be called upon to rescue, but Jesus knew that God is trustworthy even when we are suffering. Mocking bystanders observing Jesus on the Cross used Ps. 22:8 to suggest that if God really loved Him He would be rescuing Him. Jesus knew better.
8-9 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give You,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
“All this I will give you” – Satan, called the prince or ruler of this world, John 12:31, offers Jesus a shortcut to future kingdom reign without the Cross. But this is the worst of the three demands: exchanging the love of God for the worship of Satan.
“I will give” – Satan can exercise a measure of authority over the present sin-damaged world, but the kingdoms of the world belong to God and are promised to His Son.
• For further study, read Psalm 2:8; Luke 4:6; John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4.
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”
“Away from Me” – Jesus affirms wholehearted worship of the one true God, showing that true worship, expressing love and total submission to God, is a knockout blow in spiritual warfare. As the devil craves our attention, to respond by extolling the goodness of God reverses this strategy.
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended Him.
“Angels… attended Him” – showing Christ’s status as all heaven recognises the significance of His initial victory. The verse Satan had twisted, Ps. 91:11-12 is now fulfilled in God’s way.
The second account of testing also involves the devil appearing and speaking suggestively. Just as deception led Adam and Eve to act independently of God, so the devil uses the same tactic on Jesus to try to get Him to compromise His demanding mission. If Jesus can be persuaded to go outside what God had decreed, He would no longer be the sinless Son of God uniquely equipped to break the hold of sin in the rest of us. The good news is that when we are tested we can find the power of declaring the word of God, as Jesus did.
How do we declare the word of God in common ways we worship?
Romans 5:12-19 — Choice: Receive the gift of God in Jesus
Paul teaches original sin and its remedy, grace that comes from accepting Jesus
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –
“Sin entered the world” – Paul teaches the need for the gospel, because of man’s fall through Adam.
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.
“Before the law” – the period from Adam to Moses, when human independence from God was widespread but not in the sense of individual violations. The rules for righteous and unrighteous behaviour would follow.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
“Death reigned” – Paul continues from his incomplete sentence of v.12, that the original man’s quest for independence was the root of sin, resulting in human mortality.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
“How much more” – a phrase Paul repeats. The reach and extent of God’s grace is immensely greater than even the disaster of Adam’s sin.
16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
“One man’s sin” – through the “one man”, Adam, sin entered the world and with it the condemnation, or punishment due, for that sin. That is the human state we all inherit, regardless of the kind of life we lead.
+ GOOD NEWS FOCUS: God has offered a way out, “the gift” of God, which we “receive”, v.17, by choosing to belong to Jesus.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
“Trespass” – Adam’s offence was an act of trespass, a deliberate going astray. What Jesus Christ did for us was an act of undeserved grace, v.15, allowing us to be counted righteous if we have given our lives to Him.
18-19 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
“One righteous act… justification… for all people” – condemnation “for all people” represented by Adam – the whole human race. The second “all people” is all who are represented by Christ: not everyone, but all who would believe in Him. The Bible is clear and consistent that salvation comes to those who make their choice to exercise faith in Jesus Christ – not everyone.
• For further study, see Matthew 7:13-14, 23; 25:46; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22, 28, 4:5, 13.
The story of the talking serpent appearing in the Garden of Eden, and the continuing curse resulting from Adam’s mistake, does not fit with our human ideas of what is believable and logical – spiritual discernment is needed. Yet other Bible writers, including Paul who makes it a mainstay of his doctrinal teaching, treat this encounter with all seriousness. A bit easier for us to believe, Jesus had His own testing encounter with the devil. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus proved Himself sinless by responding with what God had said and refusing to entertain any alternative.
Taken together, these passages teach us that:
- Life is full of tests and choices. The battleground is in our thoughts, rather than played out in a garden or desert, but the enemy of our souls is constantly trying to deceive us and trip us up, to lure us off the path God has marked out.
- The good choice is always obedience – believing God and honouring Him in our actions.
- Obedience is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’. Paul, teaching the early church, only requires us to ‘do’ one thing, which is to believe in Jesus – to receive the gift of grace that is in the one man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Jesus in the desert was held by His relationship with His Father. Paul urges us to be living in the gift of righteousness, which comes to us undeserved but as those who are in Christ Jesus – those who have asked Jesus to be Lord of their lives.
We are equipped to recognise the tests and have the confidence to make good choices if we have asked Jesus to be our Lord and invited His Holy Spirit to help us – an obedience not coming from our good deeds or ‘ holy actions’ but the simple consequence of loving the Lord and wanting what He wants.
What strategy of the devil, often repeated, comes out from these passages?
Paul contrasts two states, being under condemnation or being counted righteous as one who is in Jesus Christ. How does it help to counter the devil’s suggestions, if we know we are accepted by heaven rather than guilty?
Father, this harsh and selfish world can make us feel like helpless aliens – but we are reminded again of Jesus’ victory and how by grace we are allowed to participate in it. In ourselves we have few answers to the wiles of the enemy and His tests, but in Christ Jesus he has little with which to answer us back. We praise You again, Lord God, and thank You for Jesus and His victory. And we join with Him in saying: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ”. Amen.
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.”
Download TLW52 booklet Dec 25/30 to print for your church
TLW49 December 9 Advent 2
19 + 10vv
Theme: Advent ABCD. Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return
Luke 1:68-79 — Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation. Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John.
Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord. When He appears He will come to refine and purify.
Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance. He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’
Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us. Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.
ABCD of Advent: Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return
The messenger of the Lord will prepare the way and then suddenly the Lord, the Refiner, will come to His temple. The word comes to John son of Zechariah, to call people to repentance and prepare the way for the One to come. Christians in the Early Church are reminded that God’s work in us is always a ‘work in progress’, with its completion date the day of Christ Jesus.
CANTICLE – INTRODUCTION TO ‘BE PREPARED’ THEME
Luke 1:68-79 – Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation
Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them.
“Praise be” — Benedictus in the Latin translation.
“His people… redeemed” — Zechariah is correct about the Jewish people, but His perspective does not extend to God’s desire for inclusive salvation, Luke 3:6.
69-71 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us
“Horn” — of a powerful animal, a ‘mighty salvation’, Ps. 18:2.
72-73 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
“His Holy covenant… to Abraham” — although the original promise to Abraham had a focus on the land, this now emphasises the people of the land.
74-75 and to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
“Rescue us” — the people of Israel wanted freedom from physical, Gentile enemies, the Romans. God’s plan through His Son Jesus was for spiritual freedom from sin, from Satan and from death.
76-77 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
“My child… a prophet” — at this dedication and naming of the baby as John, Zechariah prophesies over Him. John was the last of the OT prophets and was called by Jesus the greatest, Luke 7:28.
78-79 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
“Rising sun” — the Messiah is described in the OT as the sun rising and dispelling darkness, Isaiah 9:2, 60:1; Mal. 4:2-5.
“Path of peace” — or the way of the Lord: God’s purpose is people finding peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus, Romans 5:1.
OLD TESTAMENT READING
Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord
When He appears He will come to refine and purify
1 “I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
“My messenger” – a play on the name Malachi. This messenger is Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness”, Isa. 40:3 which the NT understands as the ‘Elijah’ of Malachi 4:3, the role which John the Baptist fulfilled, at least at the first coming of Christ. It was the custom in that culture for a king to send a messenger ahead to address obstacles to their visit – one way of seeing John the Baptist urging people to repent and prepare for the greater Messenger to come.
For further study, read Matt. 3:3, 11:14, 17:10-13; John 1:14-17
2 But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
“The day of His coming” – a picture of judgment and also purifying. The launderer’s work with lye soap and beating with sticks was not gentle; neither was the heat needed to raise the dross of impurities from molten metal.
3-4 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
“Purify the Levites” – the term messenger was usually applied to prophets and priests – and the priestly class of the Levites, who were supposed to be an example in serving at the altar, will be purged of their unfaithfulness.
IN PRACTICE Malachi’s message here about the Lord and messenger of the covenant focuses on the refining and purifying aspect, particular for its guardians, the priests and Levites. Bring that into today and the NT reminds us, James 3:1, that teachers will be judged more harshly. For those given privilege and responsibility, more is expected, Luke 12:38. The priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ time were not proclaiming God’s purpose but thwarting it.
Jesus is poised to come again, and the more that reality becomes clear, the more it is plain that He simply wants His Church back. He wants it to be His church, holding His values and proclaiming the unashamed message to the various empires of man, that He is the way to salvation into the kingdom of God.
Creating our own version of temple and priesthood may be more accessible for us – but it’s not what He had in mind. It’s not the New Covenant way of knowing God that the Early Church began to work out.
Our honouring His first coming, and preparing ourselves for His return, must involve pruning back what doesn’t belong, to reveal a church that Jesus will recognise.
QUESTION What simple changes would bring your church closer to Jesus’ intention?
Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance
He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’
1-2 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
“Herod tetrarch of Galilee… Philip tetrarch of Iturea. When Herod the Great died in 4 BC his sons Antipas (Galilee) and Philip (Iturea), also Archelaus, not mentioned, succeeded him as tetrarchs ruling quarters of his former kingdom. Also mentioned by Luke, Lysanias, the fourth tetrarch and the overseeing Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
“Preaching a baptism of repentance” – John heralded the coming Messiah saying that people needed to repent of their sins and prepare spiritually; the response and demonstration of repentant intention was water baptism.
4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
“Prepare the way” – before a royal visit, workers would clear and level the road. The quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 was associated with the Jews’ return from exile, Ezra 1-2, and end-times salvation. The picture for Jewish hearers was of another deliverance like the Exodus from Egypt.
5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.
“Every valley… filled in” – a poetic way of saying the Lord’s purpose will not be thwarted. There are also moral overtones. The humble and lowly are to be built up, the crooked changed, and the proud and arrogant, particular obstacles to God’s purposes, will be humbled.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”
“All people” – Luke’s gospel was written with Gentile believers being added to the church in mind. All four gospel accounts quote Isaiah 40:3 but only Luke takes the quotation further: “…the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” Luke, a Gentile, asserts, from Scripture, that all people – not just those included in the original covenants – would see God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. It would be 20 years after the Resurrection, at the Council of Jerusalem, that this was recognised, a huge and controversial shift of attitude, see Acts 15, Galatians 2.
“All… will see God’s salvation” – God’s intention, that His covenant people would act as a light and model of righteousness to the nations around them, was clearly set out by Isaiah, Isa. 42:6 and 49:6: “The Servant… is called… to be **a light for the Gentiles**…” “…He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a **light to the Gentiles**, and you will **bring My salvation to the ends of the earth**.’ ” Luke also reports the aged, godly Simeon’s prophetic blessing at the dedication of Jesus, Luke 2:28-32 “…My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The purifying of the Levites, Mal. 3:3, addresses their negligence of this important widening of the mission of God.
IN PRACTICE Luke’s picture of John, the prophetic voice in the wilderness of Isaiah 40 is a call for us to be prepared for the expected order to be upset.
The Jews expected their Messiah to come to them and deliver them, as their entitlement.
We think of our church attendance and charitable actions, and feel we should be the ones lining the way for the royal visit.
God often does things differently from our expectations. In recent years there have been increasing testimonies of how God shocks people that don’t really know Him with His love. We have been challenged by His perplexing grace to those we consider, in our judgment, rather undeserving as we hear stories of prisoners in jail receiving Jesus and Muslims of harsh views having visions of the Lord.
This gospel passage emphasises our being prepared for His return in expecting – and praying for – people who are not like us, to begin to see His salvation.
QUESTION Who, in our world and culture, are to us like the ‘Gentiles’ that Jews of Jesus’ time struggled to accept as a focus of His salvation?
Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us
Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.
1 I thank my God every time I remember you.
“I thank my God” – Paul is writing from closely-guarded imprisonment, but his tone is thanks and joy for what God is doing among others.
4-6 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.
“Day of Christ Jesus” – His return. God (the Holy Spirit) initiates salvation, works the ongoing salvation in us needed beyond the change of heart of initial salvation, and will bring salvation for all to its conclusion on this future day. Paul writes with this longer, eternal timescale in view.
For further study, read Phil 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8)
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
“In chains or… confirming the gospel” – the Philippians stood with Paul and supported him practically and financially, despite the stigma of imprisonment in their culture. The partnership remained strong although Paul’s ability to “defend and confirm the gospel” seemed to have been removed by imprisonment. His perspective is that God is always “carrying on” the “good work” that He began through good times and hard. God always completes what he starts.
8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,
“Love may abound… in knowledge and… insight” – in knowledge of God’s Will and so able to move from the immediate picture and the judgments we make, to seeing the bigger picture of what God, in His unconditional love, is doing in others.
10-11 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.
“Pure and blameless” – questioning what will be found in us on the day of Christ’s return. Harbouring wrong attitudes, especially the judgmental or resentful kind, will bring the Lord’s censure — we are commanded to forgive, to show grace, to treat people better than they deserve and above all, to love. It’s only treating others as God treats us.
“The fruit of righteousness” — not something we can achieve by any amount of effort or discipline. Rather, it is being yielded to the Holy Spirit, such that He can grow righteousness in us, from the inside out.
IN PRACTICE God’s timescales can be difficult for us in a world where up-to-the-minute news is on the ‘phone in our pocket, ‘instant’ drinks and food offer to save us time and we can be in another country for a meeting and back again the same day. Having to wait is challenging for us, and the waiting for Jesus’ return that the Early Church seemed to measure in years is counted for us in millennia. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the good work begun by the Lord is taking a long time to bring to anything like completion: the world has got bigger and vastly more complex. The message of this epistle is to have faith in God for all the loose ends that we see. He will bring to completion the good work that He has started, whether that is in us personally or the mission of the church we are involved in or the bringing about of a just world order.
QUESTION What does it look like, to be filled with the fruit of righteousness?
PRAYER Lord, we want Your glorious return but we are so unprepared. Teach us to wait actively but also to willingly put right with You those traits which have no place in Your presence. Amen.
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TUESDAY, MAY 11
Praise for the Lord’s purpose which is to bring joy to His world
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvellous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.
“Sing to the Lord” – This is a song of praise from start to finish, unlike many psalms that begin and end with praise.
“Marvellous things” – Used elsewhere for miraculous encounters such as the picture of salvation which is in the Exodus, Psalm 106:7
2 The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered His love and His faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
“Made His salvation known” – Praise for His victory in bringing His order. God in His faithfulness has remembered His covenant of steadfast love.
4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music;
“Shout for joy… all the earth” – this psalm was the inspiration behind Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Joy to the World’.
5 make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
The psalmist invites the whole earth to join in making music to praise God, see also Psalm 96:1. This psalm parallels Psalm 96 in many places.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
“Judge the world in righteousness” – is expressed here as an eager anticipation of the coming of the righteous Judge, Psalm 96:11-13. God’s judgment, which is always righteous, and His vindication of those who have suffered injustice, often share the same original words, because they are the same idea.
“Judge the earth” – salvation in Christ Jesus (vv.2-3) and the righteous rule of the Messiah brings with it (unlike religions generally) the possibility of renewal and blessing for everyone on earth. All can turn to a personal God.
It’s too easy for us to view our glass as half-empty, when perhaps we should be more ready to praise God for being on standby to fill everybody’s glass.
That’s not always easy – in fact, it might call for an intentional and quite courageous stance, to praise God for His goodness, when our situation seems to be at odds with that. We don’t find ot easy to go against our feelings.
But praise is powerful, especially the praise of Our God for who He is over and above what He has done. When everything is going pear-shaped, it’s time to praise God and remind him and all the heavenlies of who He is. There could hardly be a better place to start than reading out the words of truth in this psalm. It’s telling God that you know His goodness and mercy are following you, even in what seems like the valley of the shadow of death. Try it and see how quickly the oppression and hopelessness lifts!
For reflection and discussion
How ready are you to tell God how good He is, even if events around you seem to be preaching the opposite?
Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise
Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival
God’s great plan of redemption through Jesus is a stretch of faith for His disciples
Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’
The emerging message – ‘It’s all about faith, stupid’
God’s desire is to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. But there’s a problem – God is Spirit, and in our unregenerate state we are not. Even when we have come to know God personally through turning to Jesus and inviting him to be our Lord, there is still a gulf to be bridged. That bridge is what we call faith. It is choosing to believe beyond what we see, what we know, what we understand, what is logical or feasible to us. To see with the “eyes of the heart”.
Abraham is the father of faith, not just to Jews, but to all who look to God in faith. God appeared to him on a number of occasions and made promises that didn’t stack up and didn’t happen – or so it seemed. Abraham hung in there. God had said it – that settled it. This was a 25-year test; Abraham believed, and kept on believing, and “it was credited to Him as righteousness”.
We face trials, and seek what God is saying – and we may hear clearly. And we hang on to that word and it seems to us that nothing happens. What was all that about? The way God grew Abraham through a test of faith, is the way He grows us.
David, in Psalm 22, writes (probably prophetically) about desperate anguish and pain and the questioning of where God is in that. Where we pick up the reading the tone changes to praise, based on God’s character, never mind what it feels like. And the result of that barefaced, impudent faith to praise God in the face of the enemy is a knock-on effect of people turning to God. We call it revival.
Jesus explains to His disciples, now that they have recognised that He is the Messiah, that God’s plan for mankind will be fulfilled in His capture, mock trial and torture to death. No one wants that – but this most difficult-to-grasp purpose has to be seen with eyes of faith.
We have tried to turn faith into religious practice, as the Jews did with their complicated system to achieve righteousness. Peter teaches us that it doesn’t work that way. Look back to Abraham, He says, and you can see that salvation by faith alone began with Him. We want something more complicated, something to work at rather than – simply believing.
Sometimes the straightforward way, looks way too simple – but the straightforward response of faith is what God desires from us more than anything else.