Reading Ramblings – December 16, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Advent – December 16, 2018

Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 85; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 7:18-28

Context: More and more our focus turns away from the messenger and to the promised one. More the focus is one of joy to come rather than judgment. Those in Christ are apt to worry that his return will not be joyous because of the number of people who refuse his grace and mercy. As such, it is easy to lose track of the Bible’s unambiguous assertions that this will be a joyful day. We are not the first to worry about friends and loved ones who either apparently or certainly reject the notion of God completely, or the Christian God. But we must also trust the supreme righteousness and justice of God the Father. As such, nobody on that Day of Judgment will be able to say to God this wasn’t right. While we may not be able to imagine it, we should trust that on that day God’s people will rejoice that He has done all things marvelously!

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – Zephaniah ministers in the late 600’s BC, contemporaneous with Jeremiah, in the reign of King Josias of Judah (641-611 BC). These words are written to comfort God’s people. Although God will judge his people He will preserve a remnant to give him thanksgiving and praise. The judgments rendered will not stand forever but will be removed (v. 15). While in the near term this could easily be interpreted as the restoration of Jerusalem 100 years later, in the longer term this verse is fulfilled as Jesus utters It is finished from the cross. It is his death that is the final sacrifice for sin, so that no judgments remain outstanding against God’s people. Likewise, this points further still to the time of Jesus’ return, when the LORD (the Hebrew name for God) is in the midst of his people once again and as their king (v.15). When God is perfectly present with his people once again, what cause can their be for fear? There will be no fear of God because we do not stand under the judgment of the Law any longer. And there certainly can be no fear from any adversary, as God will defend his righteous people himself. The return of Jesus will be a glad and glorious day for God’s people and we should never forget this!

Psalm 85 – This corporate prayer asks God to restore his favor to his people. This begins first off with a reference to God’s forgiveness to his people in the past. The language in the first three verses is sufficiently vague soas to be referenced to any number of Old Testament events. Perhaps a simple reference might be the book of Judges, which details a cycle of God withdrawing his protection and then extending it again. Verses 4-7 ask God to apply the same pattern of forgiveness and restoration to themselves. Surely God cannot be angry forever? Surely there is a limit to his wrath, a point at which it is spent? Surely wrath is not God’s natural attitude or disposition, and therefore He should return to his default disposition of love. Verses 8-9 express confidence that the Lord has spoken, is speaking, and will speak. He speaks in light of his Word, Scripture, which should be studiously obeyed by his people. The final verses of the psalm further express the confidence that God has heard this prayer and will respond to it appropriately – in faithful love and peace. God’s wrath will be turned away from his people – not because He wearies of punishing evil, but because ultimately evil has been defeated through his incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ.

Philippians 4:4-7 – Once again the major emphasis is on rejoicing. Our Lord will return – therefore how can we be worried or anxious about things? Are we in need? We lift up our needs to our heavenly Father who has already given us the greatest gift of all in his forgiveness. Are we elated? We give thanks to God from whom all good things come. This overarching understanding – that we are immortal creatures, forgiven for our rebelliousness and looking forward to the start of an eternity of joy and fellowship with God and one another – should anchor in us a peace. Not that we are stoic or unemotional, not that we don’t feel pain still as well as joy. But we do not allow ourselves to despair. There is hope! There is much to look forward to yet! God is coming! This peace is a gift from God, possible only through his forgiveness and grace, but it is also a peace that we must teach ourselves to focus on and interpret everything else in our lives through this reality of peace with God.

Luke 7:18-28 – Jesus’ answer to John’s questions is to demonstrate the blessings associated with the Servant of the Lord’s arrival and work from the prophet Isaiah. John’s disciples return to him to report that Jesus does the things the prophets said He would do. With one notable exception – He hasn’t released any prisoners, including John the Baptist himself. John no doubt is wondering why he sits in prison if he is indeed the promised messenger from Malachi. But Jesus’ demonstration is not simply for John’s benefit. It should be for the benefit of John’s disciples. The Apostle John reports in the Gospel of John that John the Baptist was actively directing his disciples towards Jesus (John 1:29-37) and fully expected that his disciples should do so (John 3:25-30). Yet these two – among others – had not left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. Jesus’ final words in verse 23 are somewhat enigmatic.  Certainly they can apply to John the Baptist himself, a direct address from Jesus not to give up hope just because John himself won’t personally experience directly the specific messianic blessing of being set free from prison.   But perhaps we should also take into consideration the situation the Apostle John paints in the third chapter of his Gospel. There, this is exactly what is happening – some of John the Baptist’s remaining disciples are jealous of Jesus, offended that his ministry is eclipsing John the Baptist’s. Jesus’ words as reported by Luke make more sense if they are directed towards these two people who have come from John the Baptist and will return to him with their report. Having done this, they should come to the same conclusion that John the Baptist should – that Jesus is indeed the one they have been waiting for, in which case they should all be following him instead of John the Baptist!

All are called to look to Jesus of Nazareth and determine whether indeed He is the one or not. Nobody can make this decision for us, nor can we provide faith to someone else. Each one who is confronted with the Gospel accounts must decide for themselves, and not take offense at the idea that Jesus is the promised Savior, or that they indeed need saving! The season of Advent calls all to come and see for themselves, and place their faith in the right person – the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

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