Jan 10: The light attracts
Knowing Jesus… and making Him known
The Living Word Bible study based on the Revised Common Lectionary set readings shared by major denominations for Sunday, January 10, 2021 (TLW01B).
Theme: The light of God’s presence attracts from afar
Isaiah 60:1–6 — God’s glory on His people is a light that attracts others
Matthew 2:1–12 — Mystics from afar are drawn to the right place to worship Jesus by the star-like light of God’s presence
Ephesians 3:1–12 — God’s desire to reconcile all people to Himself is a progressive revelation of Word and Spirit
And also read: Psalm 72:1–7, 10–14
Theme: The light of God’s presence attracts from afar
• See also this week’s linked article, ‘Knowing Jesus and making Him known’
Isaiah 60:1–6 — A vision of God’s glory on His people
The presence of God on His people attracts others to the true light
1 “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
“Let your light shine” — the glory of the Lord now becomes Jerusalem’s light and beacon for all.
2 Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
“The glory of the Lord… appears over you” — a new experience of God’s glory, a reminder of the pillar of cloud in the wilderness, but now like the theatre follow spot that moves to pick out one part of the set.
3 All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance.
“Your light” — the light of God’s presence, truth and glory on Jerusalem, v.1, the centre of worship, will draw other nations. People of the highest rank will be stirred to come and see.
4 “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home.
“Look and see” — similar words about the return from exile are now announcing a revival.
• For further study, see Isaiah 49:18, 22.
5 Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
“Merchants from around the world” — King Darius contributed to the rebuilding of the temple under Zerubbabel, Ezra 6:8–9. Later, as temple gave way to church, much of the growth was Gentile.
6 Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshipping the Lord.
“Gold and frankincense” — the most expensive commodities. Frankincense was the only aromatic permitted for altar incense.
SUMMARY Isaiah lived at the time of the first exile following the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom. It was more than a century later that Jerusalem and Judah fell to the Babylonians. But Isaiah sees prophetically a time when God’s glory will rest on His people once again and those of other nations will be drawn to His light, bringing their wealth to pay homage and worship.
APPLICATION The parallel between verse 6 with its camels and frankincense and gold, and the adoration made to Jesus by astrologer-priests from the east, stand out. However, these were customary gifts of tribute in that culture. The real point of Matthew’s story is showing the glory of the Lord to be a light that draws others. This was always God’s purpose: His chosen people were to show Him and His ways to a wider world. This was the nature of the first covenantal promise God made to Abraham, Genesis 12:2–3 “I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others… All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” The rebuilding of the Temple, the centre of worship, fits that purpose. God is about rebuilding and restoring His present day ‘temple’ — the temple of the Holy Spirit that is you and I, for us to reflect the light of His goodness and glory to show others.
QUESTION What is the main purpose of the church? To be a comfortable club house or a lighthouse that shines more brightly in the storm?
Matthew 2:1–12 — Mystics travel from afar to worship
They are guided to the right place by the star-like light of God’s presence
1–2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw His star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.”
“Wise men” — not rulers but of a priestly caste well-versed in astrology who associated a rising star with a significant birth, and a falling star (like a comet) with a ruler’s death. They may have been related to Jews of the Babylon deportation, or they knew Jews and the Jewish Scriptures which foretold the birth of a Messiah.
3–4 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“King Herod” — this is Herod the Great, who was an Idumean (Edomite), and so not familiar with the foretold Messiah. He had been appointed by the Romans to rule over the four districts of Jerusalem and Judea, Galilee in the north and Idumea (present day Jordan) in the south.
5–6 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’ ”
“Bethlehem” — as foretold by Micah, Micah 5:2. Bethlehem in Judea, half a day’s walk from Jerusalem (although climbing to 2,000 feet) and associated with the tribe of Judah. Balaam had prophesied long ago that “a star will rise from Jacob”, Numbers 24:17.
7–8 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
“Search carefully” — Herod as a non-Jew appointed by the Empire to rule over the Jews was so insecure he put to death anyone he perceived as a threat, even his own wife and family. Now he is troubled by the arrival of visitors from far away alerted by a ‘rising star’ in the sky, and his own political advisors nervously quoting their own writings.
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.
“Went ahead of them” — a planetary conjunction and a supernova may have alerted the magi to the event but this was close supernatural guidance on a journey of a few miles. God who made a pillar of luminous cloud and fire to guide the desert journey, created another kind of guiding light on this occasion.
10–11 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
“God, frankincense and myrrh” — gifts of considerable value and providential in view of the 100-mile+ journey of escape to Egypt (outside Herod’s jurisdiction) that the visit prompted.
“Entered the house” — not a stable but a home, so this happened later in the story. If this was the light that summoned the wise men from 800 miles away in Babylon, their journey would have taken well over a month. It was the first instance of non-Jewish nations worshipping Jesus that was to come
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
SUMMARY Herod the Great was given that title by the Roman Senate in 40 BC and he ruled the region from Galilee to Idumea until 4 BC. Later in the gospels we encounter his younger son Herod Antipas the tetrarch, and in Acts the grandson, Herod Agrippa. The conjunction we saw on Dec 21, 2020, occurred in 7 BC and Chinese astronomers reported an evanescent star in 4 BC.
APPLICATION Our ‘led by the science’ worldview can overlook how God is not restricted by what we can explain. In this short account of 12 verses, He has given men in a distant land and culture a desire to bring costly gifts of devotion, and by a guiding light led them hundreds of miles to a precise location in a remote village. They were warned in a dream to return by a different route. God does what He has purposed to do — and also tells His servants what He is doing, Amos 3:7.
QUESTION In seeking an explanation, how much weight do we give to fitting narrative to our knowledge and experience?
Ephesians 3:1–12 — God desires to reconcile all people to Himself
This mystery or progressive revelation unfolds through Word and Spirit
1–2 When I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles… assuming, by the way, that you know God gave me the special responsibility of extending His grace to you Gentiles.
“To you Gentiles” — in another version: “assuming that you have heard”. Many knew Paul’s teaching from his three years in Ephesus. The NT church was extending its reach all the time, drawing in new people to hear Paul’s letter.
3–5 As I briefly wrote earlier, God Himself revealed His mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit He has revealed it to His holy apostles and prophets.
“Mysterious plan” — becoming more clear. Paul wrote much about mystery and revelation. The Bible represents God’s progressive revelation of His purposes. First He gave the rules of the Law. Later the prophets interpreted and developed the understanding e.g. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, Hosea 6:6. Then Jesus, the fulfilment of the law, taught about the kingdom of God but much would not make sense until after the coming the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
6–7 And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.
“Gentiles and Jews… share equally” — Paul was an apostolos or ‘sent’ envoy of the kingdom of God. Understanding God’s purpose in uniting Jews and Gentiles, men and women, bond-servants and free, was hard for Jews to grasp before Pentecost.
8–9 Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, He graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.
“Least deserving” — not false humility but Paul being forthright about how his former persecuting actions should have disqualified him for his present privilege and responsibility.
10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.
“To use the church to display His wisdom” — every time believers who are united gather as church they make a powerful statement to the heavenlies. The real prayer warfare is the agreement with God and each other expressed our worship and our relationships. What plays out on earth is closely connected to what is happening unseen in the heavenlies.
12 Because of Christ and our faith in Him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
In the OT, they knew that anyone who saw God would perish from such a holy confrontation. Under the New Covenant of belonging to Jesus, with His unearned righteousness put on us, we have confidence to draw near to God and talk to Him, humbly mindful of what Jesus has done for us.
• For further study, read James 4:6–10 “Come close to God, and God will come close to you”.
SUMMARY This is about the mystery of God’s eternal plan. What God has always purposed, from the beginning of time, has always been ahead of where people were, in their understanding. As the salvation history unfolded over the centuries, the plan became more clear. Abraham saw it at one level. David, writing prophetic psalms, saw something in the Spirit. The prophets over the following centuries had glimpses of God’s purpose.
APPLICATION Jesus came to demonstrate and to explain the kingdom of God. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church and the experience of the Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered life became the norm for the early church, everyone could grow in revelation of God’s plan and purpose. We’ll always be tempted to substitute our own plan and purpose; as we begin to see God at work it’s dangerously easy to think we’re something we are not. That’s why it is important to stay humble before God as we grow as seekers of His revelation.
QUESTION What are good ways calling attention to God’s plan and purpose, and seeing it in our church and community?
PRAYER Lord God, at a time that we particularly remember in this season, You sent Your divine Son to be born of Mary in humble circumstances, and the light of His presence caught the attention of others who were far off and drew them to come and worship.
May the light of Your presence and the love of Your Spirit be strong in us and in the church congregations we represent — and draw many others to come and know You, and find the joy of new life and worship for themselves. Amen.