Year A – Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11

Matthew 11:2–11  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Overview – This important passage tells us about John’s doubts and Jesus’ word of assurance to John, as well as the astounding word that, “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” It may be helpful to remember that in the era just before Jesus came, the Jews wanted to know if the exile was over. On the one hand, they were back “in the Land” from Babylon (at least many were). They had walls, a city, and a temple. On the other hand, they were still oppressed by foreign powers (the Herods and Rome). Had God returned to Zion in fulfillment of the prophets (e.g., Is. 40:1-10)? Now enter John.  John was preaching a “baptism” of the renewal of Israel. Theologian Colin Brown wrote, “John was organizing a symbolic exodus from Jerusalem and Judea as a preliminary to recrossing the Jordan as a penitent, consecrated Israel in order to reclaim the land in a quasi-reenactment of the return from the Babylonian exile . . .”  In addition to the “crossing,” John may have sprinkled water on people as they passed, as a ritual of cleansing. This is suggested by the words of Jesus about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matt. 11:7). This could be merely metaphorical, but throughout the Bible such branches are used to apply rites of cleansing (Lev. 14). “A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there…” (Num. 19:18). “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalms 51:7). It is unlikely that John physically immersed all the people in Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the district around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6). John’s baptism focusing on crossing the Jordan makes more sense of the theme of Israel’s renewal and the end of exile, just as God was returning to Zion in the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth.

Insight – We all experience doubt. Perhaps one of the reasons for John’s doubt, despite the work he had done and the works of Jesus which evidence Him as Messiah, is that John’s story was not working out according to plan. John the Baptist was to go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). John clearly “prepared the way” for Jesus. However, let us recall that Elijah completed his difficult prophetic ministry, but then was taken off to heaven! 2 Kings 2:11: “As they [Elisha] continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.” This is “swing low sweet chariot” situation for Elijah. But what of John? John was imprisoned by the Ahab and Jezebel of his day and ultimately was murdered by them (Matt. 14:3ff). How may we understand this? Jesus said that John was more than a prophet, John prepared Israel to receive Jesus. John’s life and death are emblem of the One for whom he prepared the way. Jesus was not only the Anointed King, but, as even John taught, the Lamb of God. So this Messiah of Israel would also be murdered as part of God’s plan of redemption for His people.

Child Catechism – Who was John the Baptist and what did he do? John the Baptist “prepared the way” for Jesus by calling Israel to repent by leading them through Jordan river in baptism.

Discussion – What does Jesus mean by saying that “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John]”?

Prayer (BCP Collect for the Baptist) – Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by the preaching of repentance: lead us to repent according to his preaching and, after his example, constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice, and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year A – Advent 3 – James 5:7-10

James 5:7–10  – Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Summary – James calls the faithful to be patient in enduring suffering until the Judge comes. This judge is “standing at the doors.” When will judgment be? This strong text condemns the wicked, greedy, and unjust rich. It refers to the “coming” (parousia) of the Lord and the judgment. There are two excellent reasons to think this is not the Last Judgment, but is judgment “coming” of Jesus on apostate Jerusalem in 70 AD: a) “Near” [eggiken] or “at hand” (5:8), when referring temporal events, means the event is near in time. For example: John referring to the imminence of Jesus’ kingdom (Mt 3:2, see also, 21:1, and 26:46) and Luke 21:20 -“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” Jesus taught clearly that Jerusalem will be judged in the “days of vengeance” before “this generation passes away” (Lk 21, Matt. 24:15). b) James refers specifically to those who “have condemned” and “murdered the Just [One] [ton dikaion]” (James 5:6). Other NT texts refer to Jesus with the very same words (Acts 7:52, 22:14, 1 Pt 3:18, 1 Jn 2:1). The Just One “does not resist you.” This is a rather clear echo of Jesus’ trial in which He was condemned (katadikazo) (Mk 14:60-64). Why will judgment be? James highlights three areas relating to this judgment. a) Corrupt living prepares one for judgment (1-3). The “rich” in Jerusalem tended to be those who robbed the poor, were traitors to Israel (tax-collectors), or the selfish who did not share with the needy. Like impurities burned away, so will the wicked. b) Fraudulent living prepares one for judgment (4-6). Injustices in labor demonstrate wickedness. So unjust payment for labor is one clear example. Murdering “the Just One” (ton dikaion) is the culmination of wickedness.
b) On the other hand, righteous living also prepares one (in the best sense) for judgment (7-9). Sowing righteousness brings the fruit of glory and vindication over enemies.

Insight – Believers must not grumble toward other brethren, but love one another. How do you treat other brethren? Even though the basic setting/fulfillment here is in the past, just as they did, we must let the realities of mercy and judgment must drive us toward love for one another. We all face a judgment before the Lord, which may take place at a time when we do not expect it. Jesus may not come soon, but you may go soon to Him.

Questions For Little Saints
1) What judgment event does James address? The judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD which demonstrated that Christ now reigns from heaven.
2) Is there any other judgment? Yes. There is a Last Judgment when each of us will give account for our lives.
3) What sins does James condemn (5:1-9)? James condemns greediness, unfairness (injustice), grumbling, and murder, especially the murder of the Just One, Jesus.
4) What must believers do to prepare for judgment? Love Jesus and be kind to others, especially believers, knowing that we have been shown mercy.

Discussion – How can we show our faithfulness to Christ in patience and endurance during this Advent season?

Prayer – (BCP on the Reign of Christ) Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year A – Advent 3 – Luke 1:46b-55

Luke 1:46b-55 (Canticle)

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Summary – This well-known passage is known as “The Magnificat,” taken from the first phrase of its Latin translation, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.”  It is Mary’s song of praise following her visit to Elizabeth soon after she found out she was pregnant with Jesus.  The character of this song echoes Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, which begins, “My heart exults the Lord.”  Prayers of this sort throughout Scripture often come with certain characteristics, beyond thanksgiving and praise.  First, a recognition of God’s Sovereignty in the events of life (cf. Luke 1:51-52 and 1 Sam 2:6); and second, a enumeration of the “first becoming last, and the last first” (cf. Luke1:52 and 1 Sam 2:4).  Mary, in praising the Lord for His favor to her, recognizes God as the author and executor of her salvation, believes in His goodwill towards those who fear God with humility, and trusts in God’s covenantal promise to father Abraham.

Insight – One of the fruits of the Spirit is “patience.”  Patience is not in that list because it’s a natural human tendency, but rather because it’s tough!  It is not easy for us to be patient.  We want God to bless us now, and we tend to get frustrated if it seems like it takes a long time.  In fact, sometimes we may think God forgot about us!  But we learn from St. Mary that the Lord exalts “those of humble estate.”  Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed teaches that the seed in the good soil is like those who receive the gospel and “bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).  St. Paul agrees, saying that those who “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Rom 2:7).  Mary was not from a wealthy family.  She had no earthly prestige that made her a good candidate to be the Mother of God.  Rather it was her faith in God’s promises that made her the “favored one” (Luke 1:28).  She discerned that after generations of those who fear Him, God shows mercy.  God’s blessing and salvation does not come to us because of anything good in ourselves–not wisdom, power, or nobility–but because of His love and His faithfulness to His promises, He graciously blesses those who walk in patient faithfulness.  Let us not lose hope, though it may seem like God is taking His time making His “kingdom come” on earth as in heaven.  But this Advent season, let us recall that God kept His promises in the past by sending Christ, and He will in no-wise forget to keep His promises present and future.

Child Catechism – Who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord”?  Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Discussion – What about Mary’s experience causes generations to cause her “blessed”?  Why did God choose to bless her?  What did Mary see as her role in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant?

Prayer – Holy Father, may your name increase in this world.  We rejoice at your salvation so graciously given to us through your Son’s historic coming to earth.  You have looked on a humble and hungry people, and sent Bread from Heaven to fill them with good things.  As you have remembered your promises to Abraham, now remember your promises to us, your children.  May your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.  In the name of your Son, Amen.

Year A – Advent 3 -Isaiah 35:1-10

Isaiah’s Messianic Vision – Restoration and a New Exodus (Isaiah 35:1-10)
Isaiah 35:1–10 1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.   3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”   5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.   8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Overview – Believe in the Promises of Restoration (35:1-2). This passage recalls the exodus through the wilderness, but promises a restoration. It seems to forecast the coming of exiles out of captivity. The people in exile were caught, like us, in the tension between here and longing for home in true/final Zion. The imagery is that, “The wilderness and the desert will be glad,” because the desert will become like the everglades. Spring flowers and the cedars of Lebanon will line the way of a new Exodus highway to Zion. He promises us deliverance as well. God calls us to take courage in His Promises of Restoration (35:3-6). References like Lebanon and Arabah seem foreign, but the application is very relevant: if you believe God will restore His people, then “encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not’” (vv3-4). The basis of our encouraging others, whether then or now is the same: God keeps His Word. He is faithful whether to an Exodus, a temporary rescue (in Daniel’s day), a simple answer to prayer or to the complete salvation in the work of Christ, culminating in Resurrection. Trusting God relieves those with “anxious hearts” (v4) and He is able to do beyond what we expect, “For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah [wilderness]” (v6). He makes streams in our desert hearts. Therefore we should rejoice in the

Insight – God promises of restoration (35:7-10).  A “scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water” extend the image of an oasis highway to bring His people back to Zion. In this new exodus “the redeemed will walk” and “the ransomed of the LORD will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion” (vv9-10). The ending promise is like that in Revelation, “sorrow and sighing will flee away” (v10). “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). He will wipe away our tears as well.

Discussion – What are things you long for that God has promised, but have not yet happened?

Prayer – Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for Advent 3)

 

Year A – Advent 2 – Matthew 3:1-12

Matthew 3:1–12  1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Overview of Matthew’s Gospel – Matthew shows Jesus as a Priest, filled with teaching like that of faithful priests. Jesus is shown to be a greater Moses who provides a new Exodus in Himself. Thus, there are five “books”/sermons in Matthew which relate to the five books of Torah, ending with, “When Jesus had finished saying these things . . .” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; and 26:1). This first Gospel is a “priestly” foundation for the Church and thus is a recap of the history of Israel to fulfill the Law/Prophets (5:17) (outline below). Jesus is called out of Egypt, i.e., apostate Israel. Herod is like a new pharaoh. “Herod” signals that innocents die (ch. 2, 14, Ex. 1:16). The miracles and fulfillments of Matthew demonstrate that Israel is unfit to be the priestly nation, hence 12 miracles in chs. 8-9 “restore” Israel. Jesus is a new David (king) and prophet (Elijah) (12-14). Followers of Jesus are to be a true “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6) cleansing the nations. Yet, this new Torah does not end with the death of Moses (Dt. 34:10), but with the resurrection of One greater than Moses. Finally, Jesus is a greater Cyrus (the Lord’s anointed) and just like the last verse of the Hebrew Bible (2 Chr 36:23), there is a commission: Since this anointed One has all power and authority in heaven and on earth, He commands: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (28:20).

Insight – As the overview indicates, Matthew is very connected to promise and fulfillment in the Hebrew Scriptures. John the Baptist’s actions may seem bizarre until we understand the background. Throughout Matthew there is a frequent use of this kind of phrase: “so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled” (2:23). So also did John fulfill prophecy as the forerunner of Christ. Many people miss the fact that his baptism is like the previous baptisms of Israel. He was to go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). John “prepared the way” for Jesus quite literally. John was “preaching a baptism of repentance” at the Jordan river (Mk. 1:4). Literally, John was in the wilderness beyond the borders of the Land where they “went out to him” (Mk. 1:5). He called the people to follow his “path” outside of Israel and to “turn” (repent) and cross the Jordan to enter the Land in renewal. John’s baptism for Israel was a sign of passing or crossing into renewed Israel to prepare for Messiah. Deuteronomy looks to a time when they “cross the Jordan” being led by Joshua (Dt. 4:21). The rest of the New Testament draws upon various threads of this crossing into Christ, through death and into resurrection life on the other side (Rom. 6:3-4, Col. 2:11-12). Therefore, John was baptizing a renewed Israel in preparation for Jesus.

Child Catechism – Why did John baptize? John baptized to call Israel to repent and get ready to believe in Jesus.

Discussion – Do you remember who John’s father was and what he did?  . . . If Zacharias was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, then why did John lead people away from the temple to be washed?

Prayer – Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year A – Advent 2 – Romans 15:4-13

Romans 15:4–13  – For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Overview  – Chapter 15 is the Hallelujah Chorus to the book of Romans. Handel’s libretto is taken from the “seventh trumpet,” – “The kingdoms of this world [is] become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Romans 15, like Rev. 15, brings Israel’s history to its climax. God through Jesus, has opened the way of mercy to the nations. This is a thick statement summing up whole sections of Romans (ch. 3-4, 9-11). We must strive reach out to those that not like ourselves in this congregation. Psalm 117, cited by Paul, made clear that the goal of the gospel includes all nations. As John Piper has written, “Let the nations be glad.” Shared worship with all nations and all kinds of people is central to Paul’s vision. Paul concludes with a litany of fulfillment texts. These are all precisely what he began with: the promises to the fathers are being fulfilled in the new covenant church. “Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy” (15:8-9). The promise of God is for Jews and Gentiles, all humanity, to come into Christ as a New Man (Eph. 2:15), a new Adam or humanity. The ending of chapter 15 makes clear the “missionary purpose.” The message of unity in Christ over differences of status, ethnic identity and cultural differences, when accepted, becomes the foundational message for church planting. A church that sees the promises of God coming to bear can reach out and establish more churches in different contexts. Romans 1 reads right through to chapter 15.  1:15 Thus I am eager also to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome. . .  15:20 I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, 15:22  This is the reason I was often hindered coming to you. 15:23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired  to come to you…”

Insight – What would you find if you read the book of Romans backwards? You would see how Paul has been making the argument for the salvation of all nations in a new Body, the Church as the goal of his arguments about sin (chs. 1-2), justification in Christ (chs. 3-5), life in Christ (chs. 6-8), Israel’s role (chs. 9-11), and application to the Church (chs. 12-16). What was prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah and the Psalms, for example) is coming about through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Child’s Catechism – How will God get praise from all nations? He will be praised as all nations accept the gospel that Jesus is the Savior.

Prayer – O Lord our God, thank You that in Your wonderful redemptive plan, You have destined all nations and peoples to know deliverance through Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Grant that we may continue in faithfulness to Him as we rejoice in the harvest that all nations will become worshipers of the true God. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Year A – Advent 2 – Psalm 72

Solomon’s Reign is a Type of the Universal Reign of Jesus

Give the king your judgments, O God, And your righteousness to the king’s Son.  He will judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.  The mountains will bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.  He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy, and will break in pieces the oppressor.  They shall fear you as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.  He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing, like showers that water the earth.  In His days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace, Until the moon is no more. . . . Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things!  And blessed be His glorious name forever!  And let the whole earth be filled with His glory.  Amen and Amen.

Summary – This messianic Psalm, Psalm 72,  looks to Solomon in the near future as a type of the Ultimate “King’s Son” (vs 1).  This Son will judge people righteously, and we recall the story of Solomon and the two women arguing over the child (1 Kings 3:16ff).  This Son will have dominion “from sea to sea” (vs 8), and Solomon indeed ruled all the land from the “River” to the sea (1 Kings 4:20ff), the allotted portion of Israel.  This Son would receive gifts from the “Kings of Sheba” (vs 10), and the “gold of Sheba will be given to him” (vs 15).  We remember the Queen of Sheba’s visit of course, in which she gave Solomon 120 talents of gold (1 Kings 10:10).  Solomon was however, as a typological shadow of Christ who was to come, an imperfect fulfillment of this Psalm.  Only Christ could be feared “as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations” (vs 5).  Only Christ’s Kingdom can encompass the whole earth (vs. 8) and have “all kings” bow before Him (vs 11).  Only Christ could save “souls” (vs 13).  The final refrain of the Psalm in vss. 18-19 indeed points to the Lord alone as the doer of “wondrous things.”  Solomon was the second step in the line of David’s throne and kingship.  But we see here again, like we saw in Psalm 122 last week, that David’s throne came with an inherent aspect of longevity and eternality.  Christ the true Son of David is the ultimate fulfillment of that great line.

Insight – Do you ever feel like the world is ignoring God?  People try to take the meaning of Christmas away, and ignore Jesus’ coming, but King David tells us about the “king’s Son” who is expected.  This son of the King will become king and will be followed forever.  He was promised to be like rain that waters the earth, and would bring righteousness and peace.  As we look forward to Christmas, this promise about Jesus’ coming should give us great hope!  Jesus is “living water” (John 4:10) who “waters” those who have faith in Him, and the night of His birth, angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).  Though many people ignore the true King Jesus, His kingdom is everlasting and will finally submit all nations to it.

Child Catechism – How long will Jesus’ kingdom last?  Forever.

Discussion – How does Jesus “bring justice to the poor of the people”?  How does He “save the children of the needy”?

Prayer – O God of Israel, who only does wondrous things, blessed be your glorious name forever.  This Advent season we earnestly pray that the whole earth be filled with your glory.  Amen.

Year A – Advent 2 – Isaiah 11:1-10

Isaiah’s Messianic Vision – New Covenant Fulfillment (Isaiah 11:1-10)
Isaiah 11:1–10 – A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.  He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.   6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Isaiah’s Messiah will Fulfill the Davidic Covenant (vv 1-3) – In the previous verses the Lord brings judgment, “He shakes his fist at the mountain of the daughter Zion” and will “cut down the thickets of the forest with an iron axe.” Then something happens in fulfillment of God’s promise to David, “a shoot will spring” from Jesse (David’s father). God has kept his promise to put David’s heir on the throne, Messiah Jesus.

Overview – Isaiah weaves together both the judgment due to Israel and the nations as well as the promises of God’s covenant faithfulness to bring about deliverance for His people. This passage follows from an indictment in ch. 10, culminating in this image: Isaiah 10:34 – “He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall.” But “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse” (11:1). This Davidic Messiah will fulfill God’s covenant promises:  1) Isaiah’s Messiah will fulfill the Mosaic Covenant (vv 4-5) – The Messiah of Isaiah will embody the very justice of the Torah [law] of Moses. What fleshly judges and corrupt kings could not do will be done by Messiah. He will see the heart and judge righteously and with “fairness” for the afflicted. His Word is the very instrument of bringing justice. He is clothed with righteousness and faithfulness. 2) Isaiah’s Messiah will fulfill the New Covenant (vv 6-10) – The rule of this Messiah will result in universal peace as predicted in many new covenant prophecies (Is. 9:7, Ez. 34:25, 37:26). Isaiah pictures this by reference to natural predators vs their prey, wolf/lamb; leopard/goat; calf/lion; cow/bear; lion/ox. These images may refer to the aggressive nations threatening lamb-like Israel. He finishes the image with children playing with snakes. Because, “They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD . . .”

Insight  – Many people can’t see how this prophecy will be fulfilled before the coming of Christ. But it is important to see that this glorious, yet incremental fulfillment hinges upon one point, “in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse.” As soon as nations and men come to their own desolation (stumps), and resort the budding plant, the root of Jesse, then the peace shall avail. This is to be fulfilled in the gospel victory of salvation to all the nations (as is promised in Rev. 5:7-9), when all the “families of the earth shall worship Jesus” (Ps. 22).

Child Catechism – When will we get to play with poisonous snakes and not get hurt? When all the nations turn to Christ.

Discussion – When do you think “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” and how will that happen?

Prayer – Almighty Father, you have promised peace on earth through Christ, grant that we may be faithful to express the gospel in our lives and words so that the knowledge of the LORD may be full in the earth. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Year A – Advent 1 – Romans 13:11-14

Casting Away the Works of Darkness (Rom. 13)

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.  Romans 13:11–14

Overview – In ch. 12, Paul explains how the body “faces” inward. We are “living sacrifices” and are part of the “body” (new man/’adam). A body member is “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (12:3). We are prone to exalt certain gifts and to be a “respecter of persons” in the worst sense and to think much more highly of our kinds of Christians than others, we demean serving gifts and exalt knowledge/leadership gifts. The body example refutes this. Which part of your body would you like chopped off? Jesus said “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:44).  In ch. 13, Paul explains how the body “faces” outward toward Roman society. Paul is a Roman citizen and knows history of Israel relating to pagan society. Remember Joseph (in Egypt), Daniel (Babylon), and Nehemiah (Persia). They submitted themselves to pagan rulers under God and served their world emperor (like the eagle face of the cherubim). Paul is able to say “submit” with straight face to those in even Caesar Nero’s household (Phil. 4:22).  Submit to the exousia – “powers that be” in general and trust in God’s sovereign power (1 Tim. 2). Thus Christians should be better citizens than most pagans. The “powers” exercise the sword (mache) to punish evil doers – not to rehabilitate them, but to deter them with death if need be. Christians should not be trouble makers nor seek methodological revolution to bring about change which was exactly why the Jews were banished from Rome under Claudius (49 A.D. cf Acts 18:2). Rom. 13 does not contemplate righteous and necessary occasions for civil disobedience (such as in the case of Shadrack et al, 3:12), it only shows one bowing gesture of the outward facing body. There are exceptions and desperate times call for desperate self-sacrificial measures (“for such a time is this” Esther). Thus, Romans 13 should not be used to prop up Nazi-ism or Stalinism or a future totalitarianism instituted by an American President or U.N. Czar. We can do our duties by rendering what is due (tax, custom, fear or honor). Love is right motivation in fulfilling law. And in acting out of love, we remember the “the time.” There is a temporal aspect of this. In the original setting judgment was near (70 AD) and the upheavals of the Roman world are coming (68 AD). “We know the time, that it is already the hour…” (13:11). Therefore don’t “eat, drink and be merry” but get ready and be alert. Make no provision for the flesh. Keeping with the theme of Advent 1: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

Discussion and Insight – What are some ways in your life to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts”? Are there temptations you could overcome if you did not “provide” for those opportunities?

Prayer – [As you pray this the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, be mindful of the connections to Romans 13 in this prayer written by Thomas Cranmer in the 1500s.] Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year A – Advent 1 – Psalm 122

A Song of Ascents.  Of David.  I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”  Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!  Jerusalem–built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.  There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!  “May they be secure who love you!  Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!”  For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!”  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.

Summary – The Songs of Ascent (Pss. 120-134) were festal songs used by Israel as they “ascended” to Jerusalem for holidays, sacrifices, etc.  As the third in this set, Ps 122 follows sort of a “local progression.”  In Ps 120, the speaker/singer speaks of sojourning “in Meshech” (a warring tribe) and dwelling among “Kedar” (a pagan Ishmaelite tribe), “among those who hate peace.”  The singer begins singing the Songs of Ascent among warlike peoples, and heads towards Jerusalem (Heb. “Foundation of Peace).  In Ps 121, the singer “lifts up his eyes to the hills.”  Jerusalem is among the hills (Ps 125:2), and so the singer is looking towards his destination.  In our Psalm, 122, the singer has arrived in Jerusalem.  He was “glad” at the prospect of going up (vs 1), and is now standing within the walls (vs 2).  Prayer for the peace of that central city is a large part of the Psalm as well, with the purpose being maintaining the glorious state of the “house of the LORD” (vs 9) which resided in Jerusalem.

Insight – If you have read the Lord of the Rings, you know that Minas Tirith expected the return of their true King, the heir of Isildur.  Their kings were all descendants of their first king in Middle Earth, Elendil, though their power was less by the time of their last king, Earnur.  Finally, Aragorn, the heir arrived and began his kingdom.  As Advent season begins, our sights are set on the coming of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.  In this Psalm, we read about the capitol of His Kingdom, Jerusalem, where “thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David” (vs 5).  Though there was a great span of time between the last King of Israel and Christ, Christ is the Heir of David who arrived and began His kingdom by disarming the previous rulers.  This week, be thankful for Christ’s throne, from which He shall reign forever and ever.

Child Catechism – Which king was Jesus descended from?  King David.

Discussion – What does the peace of Jerusalem mean in the New Covenant?  How can you seek the peace of Jerusalem?

Prayer – Our Lord and King, we give thanks to your name for bringing us within your gates and adopting us as your children.  We pray for peace among your people as we consider the coming of the Prince of Peace, for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ and also for the sake of the whole house of the Lord.  Help us to strive for the peace of our heavenly city, that the nations would see its light and come to it.  Through Christ, Amen.