NLT Study Bible Blog.
Isaiah 11:1-16 (Mosaic, Advent 1)
In addition to the four headline readings, Devotions for Advent, week 1, includes an additional "suggested reading," Isaiah 11:1-16. This passage brings us back around to a vision for the coming kingdom of the Lord, which we meditated on at the beginning of the week with Isaiah 2.

Isaiah 11 paints a beautiful picture of the coming kingdom of Christ. When Christ reigns as king on earth, all his decisions will be just and fair; there will be peace between nations and even among enemies in the animal kingdom; and those who worship the Lord will return from their exile in lands ruled by enemies of the Lord.

Not only is there a picture of the kingdom of Christ and its results, but there is a picture of the king himself. He will have the Spirit of the Lord, and the Spirit will give him wisdom, understanding, knowledge, strength, good counsel, and fear of the Lord. He will exemplify all that is good and right and true. Out of the beauty of his character will flow all that is good about his kingdom. This is Christ our king.

The picture fills our souls with longing, as it should.
"And as we catch glimpses of this Messiah-healed world, we long for its coming now. All of the best Advent hymns capture this spirit of groaning and longing for Messiah's better world. When we sing 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,' with its dark, unresolved melody, it cracks our hearts open with longing's wound. And yet, we know Messiah has come, even as we wait for him to come again. ... This Advent-like longing is at the heart of Christian spirituality. ... Advent is the time to acknowledge, feel, and even embrace the joyful anguist of longing for Messiah's birth and the world's rebirth" (Mathew Woodley; Devotions for Advent, p. 10).
Come, Lord Jesus, and heal your world. And heal our hearts as we long for your kingdom.

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posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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Matthew 24:32-51 (Mosaic, Advent 1)
Jesus describes the circumstances surrounding his return and then encourages his followers to keep watch as they wait for him. In the NLT Study Bible, we put most of the discussion about the circumstances surrounding Christ's return in the parallel passage at Mark 13. So, following that lead, let us here focus on Jesus' encouragement to keep watch.

The core of this encouragement is in vv. 42-44, where Jesus says, "So you, too, must keep watch! For you don't know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected" (Matt 24:42-44, NLT).

This raises a natural question: What does it mean to "keep watch" for Jesus' return? How can we "be ready all the time"? I understand what it means to keep watch during the night for a burglar, but how does this apply to spiritual wakefulness and readiness? It surely does not mean that we must physically stay awake 24/7. So what does it mean?

According to the NLT Study Bible, "To keep watch is to maintain active, energetic, single-minded obedience to the Lord (see 25:13; 26:38-41)" (NLTSB, note on Matt 24:42). According to the following note on 24:45-51, Jesus told the following four parables (24:45-51; 25:1-13, 14-30, 31-46) in order to illustrate and exemplify what it means to keep watch for him.

The first parable (24:45-51) contrasts the faithful servant with one who is unfaithful. Key differences:
  • The faithful servant seeks to do his master's will, while the unfaithful servant seeks his own pleasure.
  • The faithful servant is loving toward others, while the unfaithful servant is abusive toward others.
The second parable, of the ten bridesmaids (25:1-13), contrasts those who are prepared for Christ's return (those who have oil) with those who are not prepared (who have no oil for their lamps). "While some have speculated that the oil symbolizes something specific (such as the Holy Spirit), it probably merely supports the point that proper preparation for the second coming of Christ is needed" (NLTSB, note on Matt 25:3). This parable leaves me wondering, what would constitute "proper preparation" for the Lord's return?

The third parable, of the three servants (25:14-30), also speaks of being faithful with what the master has entrusted to you. "To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away" (25:28).

The fourth parable, of the sheep and the goats at the final judgment (25:31-46), also speaks of a difference in actions between faithful and unfaithful people. Those who do acts of love toward others are accepted, while those who refused to do what is loving toward others are rejected.

Based on these parables, I might summarize Jesus' message as this: To keep watch for Jesus' return means to be faithful to obey what you know of his instructions, which especially involves doing what is loving for others.

May the Spirit of God and the presence of Jesus give us all that we need to do as he has instructed.

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posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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1 Corinthians 1:4-9 (Mosaic, Advent 1)
As we wait for the Lord's return, God himself provides us with all that we need to endure difficulties and hardships in this life.

Paul is thanking God for the Christians in Corinth (giving thanks is a standard section in the introductions to his letters). He moves quickly from thanking God for the Christians in Corinth, to thanking God "for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus." The rest of the paragraph is an exuberant explanation of what these gifts are. Verse 7 captures the essence of it: "Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ." Now that we "belong to Christ Jesus" (v. 4), we do not wait for him alone. Instead, we have his presence with us, represented by his Spirit, whose gifts fill the body of Christ. "To prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord, ... we must learn to recognize his presence in the events of daily life" (Pope John Paul II; Devotions for Advent, p. 8). He has given us his Spirit, individually and as communities of believers, so that we will learn to recognize his presence, listen to it, and be filled with his presence as we wait for his return. We can learn to hear his voice in the events of daily life. More particularly, we can learn to hear his voice and experience his presence through the other members of the Christian community as we come together for worship (v. 5 mentions this process, which Paul describes in greater detail in ch 14).

We need "every spiritual gift" that God gives us, as we wait for the return of Christ. To say this is merely to make an application of the fact that we need Christ's presence with us by his Spirit. According to Paul, we have all that we need, thanks to God. We have his presence, we have his Spirit, and we have his gifts. And so we can be confident that he "will keep you strong to the end to that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:8-9).

Let us, then, cultivate a purposeful awareness of Christ's presence and his Spirit as we wait for him. "Our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God, not only when it is engaged in meditation; at other times also, when it is carrying out its duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God, and call him to mind" (John Chrysostom; Devotions for Advent, p. 9). "Let us then be imitators of His patience" (Polycarp; Devotions for Advent, p. 8).

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posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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Psalm 25 (Mosaic, Advent 1)
David's prayer in Psalm 25 plays a counterpoint melody to the harmony of Isaiah's vision in Isaiah 2:1-5. Whereas Isaiah saw a great vision for the future reign of God, David prays from the midst of human struggles, conflicts, enmities, temptations, and sins.

Unlike Isaiah's vision in Isa 2:1-5, David's prayer in Ps 25 bears a strong resemblance to life as we live it on earth. He mentions to the Lord his enemies, and the possibility of being disgraced, defeated, and ridiculed. He is well aware of "the rebellious sins of my youth" (25:7) and "the traps of my enemies" (25:15). He even exclaims, "My problems go from bad to worse" (25:17), as he describes his pain and the vicious hatred of his enemies.

David's prayer is, at the same time, surrounded by the harmony, not of a perfect world, but of hope and trust in the Lord to save. In Ps 25:1-3, "the psalmist expresses confidence that the godly will be vindicated and his enemies will not succeed" (NLTSB, note on 25:1-3). In 25:4-7, "the psalmist turns to the Lord for instruction in wisdom. He confesses his past failures and acknowledges that his hope lies with his merciful Savior" (NLTSB, note on 25:4-7). And in 25:15-22, "the psalmist expresses confidence in the Lord, commits to a life of integrity, and prays for rescue" (NLTSB, note on 25:15-22). These paragraphs of David's prayer are filled with hope and trust in the Lord, yet they are not polyanna wishes -- they are rooted in a life that has been filled with grief and hardship, rooted deep in the soil of human life on earth. The circumstances of David's prayer make it earthy and real. But it breathes the air and soaks in the sunshine of hope in the Lord. "Biblical hope does not mean wishing for an event to turn out favorably. Hope trusts the Lord's will and gives the courage to face disappointments" (NLTSB, note on 25:5).

David's prayer plays the melody of our own lives, but he plays that familiar tune to the harmony of hope for God's justice, mercy, and peace. Here is where David's prayer departs from our own experience of life, because we often do not go to the Lord with the same faith and hope that he has. David's prayer is thus a model for us, an exemplar of responding to hardship in the light of God's presence, God's sovereign rule, and God's love.

One thing about David's prayer, which we don't see in any English translation, supports this understanding of it: "This psalm is a Hebrew acrostic poem; each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet" (NLTSB, note on Ps 25). This means that Ps 25 was written to be memorized, meditated on, and to serve as instruction in the hearts of God's people. We would do well to take it to heart.

From the middle of life, let us long for the Lord and pray with David, "O God, ransom Israel from all its troubles" (Ps 25:22).

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posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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Isaiah 2:1-5 (Mosaic, Advent 1)
Isaiah envisions a future time when "the mountain of the LORD's house will be the highest of all" -- when people recognize God's rule and revere his name, when the nations listen to his instructions and do as he says. At that time, conflicts and wars will cease as "the LORD will mediate between nations and settle international disputes." Nations will be at peace with one another, not because their grievances have been suppressed, but because they have been resolved by the LORD.

Isaiah calls this future time "the last days." "In the NT, [this expression] is used to refer to the period that began with the coming of the Lord Jesus (Heb 1:2) and more specifically to the period immediately preceding the end of the present age (2 Pet 3:3)" (NLTSB, note on Isa 2:2). Hebrews 1:2 refers to Jesus' first advent as "these final days" -- "These final days refers to the historical era inaugurated at Christ's coming (see Isa 2:2; Acts 2:17). Whereas the revelation of the OT era came in a wide variety of forms over time, God's ultimate revelation was given through his Son, Jesus" (NLTSB, note on Heb 1:2). 2 Peter 3:3 also talks about the last days, and the note comments, "Peter was not merely predicting an event in the future; he was speaking about his readers' situation. In the NT, the last days refers to the period from Jesus' first coming to his second coming (see Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2)" (NLTSB, note on 2 Pet 3:3).

The last days are "already, and not yet" -- just like everything else about our Christian hope. Jesus has come, and he has established his kingdom over earth, and he has instructed his students to teach everyone to obey him (Matt 28:18-20). At the same time, Jesus has not yet come again, and we long to see his kingdom established. When we read Isaiah's description of that future time when God's rule has spread over all the earth, it sounds like a far cry from our own time, and every other time in human history.

And so we wait for the coming of the LORD. Come, Lord Jesus, and establish your name as the highest name on earth. Come, Lord Jesus, and teach the nations to walk in your ways. Come, Lord Jesus, mediate between the nations and settle international (and local!) disputes.

In the meantime, as Isaiah urges, "Come, descendants of Jacob" -- and all who wait for the Lord -- "let us walk in the light of the LORD!" (Isa 2:5).

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posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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