Dec. 4: John, last of the OT prophets, points to the kingdom
by IAN GREIG writing in THE LIVING WORD
This is The Living Word Bible Study for groups and individuals based on the set Bible readings for Sunday, December 4, 2022, in the Revised Common lectionary.
* See also this week’s article and this week’s video both entitled When Jesus Comes Near It Changes Everything
Isaiah 11:1–10 — The coming Messiah will attract all the nations
Matthew 3:1–12 — The Lord and His new kingdom order is announced
Romans 15:4–13 — Equality is a kingdom value for us to live by
Theme: John, last of the OT prophets, points to the kingdom
Psalm 72:1–7, 18–19
1 Endow the king with Your justice, O God, the royal son with Your righteousness.
2-3 May He judge Your people in righteousness, Your afflicted ones with justice. May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.
4-5 May He defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. May He endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.
6-7 May He be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In His days may the righteous flourish and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.
18-19 Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvellous deeds. Praise be to His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.
Isaiah 11:1–10 — The coming Messiah will attract all the nations
- The Lord’s anointed will return to a new conflict-free kind of world order
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
“A shoot … from the stump” — in the context of Isaiah 9-10 a remnant will see their Messiah appearing like a shoot from David’s broken dynasty, burned out in a ‘forest fire’ of the Lord’s anger towards Judah and her oppressors .
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD…
“The Spirit… will rest” — the Messiah will be characterised by the Holy Spirit’s empowering.
3 …and He will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears;
“Delight in the fear of the Lord” — reverent, and therefore wise, Proverbs 1:7.
4 …but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
“The rod of His mouth” — literally the sceptre of anointed words.
5 Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.
“Righteousness… His belt” — prepared by righteousness and faithfulness and ready for action.
6-8 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
“Wolf… leopard… lion… bear” — Isaiah’s imagery hints at predatory powers that would be transformed by the Messiah’s rule of peace.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
“Neither harm nor destroy” — nature itself redeemed, and violence displaced by “the knowledge of the LORD”.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.
“Root of Jesse” — another messianic title, as v.1.
“The nations will rally to Him” — in this verse Paul, a Jew, saw the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18–20 and his personal call to bring the Good News to non-Jewish people and quotes it, Romans 15:9–12
SUMMARY Isaiah’s colourful, figurative language portrays the majesty of the Messiah of the Jews, born of David’s lineage. It looks forward to a time when knowing God in His glory and justice will be as widespread a connection as the oceans.
APPLICATION We know the Messiah foretold by Isaiah and others, as Jesus Christ. It is through believing and trusting in Him that the nations of the earth are coming to know God — a growing third of the world’s population. The new life of the kingdom of God, imparted by Jesus, is something we can experience in part now.
QUESTION Jesus was born as a descendant of Jesse — why is this significant?
Matthew 3:1–12 — The Lord and His new kingdom order is announced
- John, a latter-day Elijah, calls for changed hearts at the Lord’s coming
1-2 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
“John the Baptist came” — John, born to older parents of priestly lineage, inhabited a 20-mile wild stretch near the Jordan River and Dead Sea.
3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”
“He who was spoken of… a voice… calling… prepare” — Matthew’s story, as direct as John’s message, speaks of levelling a road for a king by removing obstacles — like proud and stubborn attitudes.
• For further study, read the background in Isaiah 40:1-11.
4-6 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River.
“Camel’s hair and… a leather belt” — a return of Elijah’s ministry had been expected (v.3 above), and John shared this call and dressed like Elijah.
• For further study, read 2 Kings 1:8; Malachi 5:5-6.
7-8 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
“Vipers… warned… to flee” — as snakes escape a bush fire. Pharisees emphasised religious practice over the meaning and ethic of the law; Sadducees used religion for power and position, rejecting Scripture apart from Moses’ writings. John saw both groups as deadly snakes.
9 “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
“Abraham as our father” — arguing bitterly with Jesus that salvation was their birthright, John 8:39.
• How salvation comes through faith in Jesus: Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 3:7,9,29.
10 “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
“The axe” — judgment poised, John 15:2.
11 “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes One who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
“Baptise… with the Holy Spirit” — by contrast with water drenching for repentance, John reminds hearers about the spiritual saturation that God had promised: “I will place My Spirit within you,” Ezekiel 36:27, see also Jer. 31:31-34.
12 “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
“Burning the chaff” — a binary choice: accept the Messiah and be empowered to live well, or refuse (or procrastinate) and face the judgment.
SUMMARY John was an abrasive character who looked, lived and sounded like his renowned predecessor, Elijah with an uncompromising message of urgency. He announced the world-changing event of Jesus coming, and our choice to change orientation and receive Him as our Lord and source of spiritual empowerment — or else continue in a lifeless religious tradition and suffer the consequences.
APPLICATION John stood at the crossroads between the old ‘doing’ religion and presumed entitlement of those descended from Abraham, and the ‘being’ faith of new life and spiritual impartation that came through a believing, trusting, personal relationship with Jesus, Son of God. He leaves no room for spiritual passivity or controlling attitudes that produce the wrong kind of fruit. The outcome of the final judgment will depend on whether or not we have chosen to trust Jesus for our salvation.
QUESTION Do we welcome or shy away from the word “repent”? How would we explain it?
Romans 15:4-13 — Equality is a kingdom value for us to live by
- Diverse people sharing the same hope can now worship with one heart and voice
3-4 For even Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on Me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope.
“As it is written” — Paul quotes Psalm 69:9 as a prophetic word about Christ’s endurance of the slights and actions of wicked men, to introduce a lesson about living differently empowered by Word and Spirit.
5-6 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Same attitude of mind” — or “grant you to live in such harmony with each other”, ESV. An enabling (not commanding) of the Spirit who encourages and sustains. Knowing we are loved and affirmed by God gives us generous and harmonious attitudes to others.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
“Accept… as Christ accepted you” — continues the line of argument. Knowing who we are in Christ is a freedom which enables us to accept others.
8-9 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of Your name.”
“That the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy” — Jews, with their historical exclusivity, are having to learn to value non-Jewish believers as their equals in the Lord.
10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.”
11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol Him.”
12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in Him the Gentiles will hope.”
“Again it says” — more that was written in the past to teach us (v.4). Paul links texts by a key word, “Gentiles” drawn from the three main sections of the OT, showing that God has always sought Gentile worshippers.
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” — more than general aspiration, Holy Spirit hope, the filling of all joy and peace by the God of hope, is a confidence and sense of security in God and His faithful character, which also empowers us to be peace and unity bringers.
SUMMARY Word and Spirit living enables diverse people to enjoy a spiritual unity that surpasses human tolerance. Sharing the same confidence of being secure in God and loved by Him is the most powerful unifier. Spirit-filled believers should glorify God together with one mind and voice — because they are spiritually enabled to.
APPLICATION Unity of mind, spirit and expression is spiritually powerful, leaving the enemy little room for his spoiling actions. This is what creates a strong witness for Christ, attracts others and grows churches, as the story of Acts reveals. Northern Ireland, for many years divided by a civil war with roots in a religious divide, is now a place where where former Catholics and Protestants worship together in the flow of the Holy Spirit and are peacemakers of faith, having renounced their former religious judgments.
QUESTION Church should be socially levelling and mixed — it is what the gospel does. How free are we to share with others from different backgrounds but who share the same spiritual values?
PRAYER O God our Father, in these verses I hear the promise of a fair, peaceful world which knows Jesus. I also hear the call to turn and to change, and to see afresh with spiritual eyes what Your righteous rule looks like.
By Your Spirit, Lord, strengthen my resolve to turn from darkness and division, and choose the light of Your way, Jesus, living for You and Your kingdom. Amen.
Originally published at https://thelivingword.uk on December 3, 2022.
Also published (with all past weeks and years) at https://thelivingword.uk