NLT Study Bible Blog.
Mark 1:1-8 (Mosaic, Advent 2)
Mark's Gospel announces, "This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). What is this Good News? It is the message that the Messiah has come, the promised king of Israel, and that he, the Son of God, died and rose again to establish his reign.

At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were anticipating the coming Messiah. "Israelites increasingly looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, 'the Anointed One', a descendant of David who would be Israel's king" (NLTSB, note on Mark 1:1).

Mark begins with the promise of Isa. 40:1-11 and Mal. 3:1, where God had promised to send a messenger to announce his coming. John the Baptizer, Mark tells us, was that messenger. "John the Baptist was the voice shouting in the wilderness for people to prepare the way for the LORD's coming.... In Isaiah, this prophecy refers to the coming of the Lord, the God of Israel. Here it refers to the Lord Jesus (see 12:35-37)" (NLTSB, note on 1:3). John's role was to prepare the way for the Lord's coming by leading people to repent of their sins and cleanse their hearts for the Lord. They, having been baptized with water in repentance, would be ready to receive the presence of the Lord.

And John promised that the Lord would give his presence. "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!" (Mark 1:8). The NLTSB comments, "The baptism of Jesus brought the gift of the Holy Spirit, through whom sinful people become God's children (Rom 8:15-16; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 4:6)" (NLTSB, note on 1:8). When we trust in God through Jesus, he gives us his Holy Spirit, and his presence assures us that we are his children (Eph 1:13-14). Through this, God gives us his comfort (Isa 40:1).

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posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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2 Peter 3:8-14 (Mosaic, Advent 2)
If God has promised that Christ will rule and bring a kingdom full of peace, joy, and light, then why is it taking so long? Why do we have to suffer in a world full of grief, pain, and oppression?

Peter's answer in this passage is simple: "The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise.... No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent" (2 Pet. 3:9). In order to receive God's reign with joy and peace, we must repent of our sins and turn to God for his forgiveness and salvation. Why does the Lord Jesus seemingly delay his return? Because when he returns, he will come with judgment, and those who have not repented will be destroyed. God does not want that to happen to anyone, so he is giving everyone ample opportunity to repent.

In the coming judgment, Peter tells us, God will destroy everything except the souls who trust in him and create everything anew. Those who have repented and put their trust in God for salvation through Jesus can look forward to the new creation with joy and eager anticipation -- it will be a wonderful world in which there is no sin or pain or death, "a world filled with God's righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13).

But for those who have not repented and turned to God do not view this event with hope, but either with terror or by refusing to face it entirely. So rather than bemoaning the hardships we face, we should instead pray for opportunities to show God's love, helping people to turn to God in repentance and faith. Then they, too, can join us in "looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along" (2 Pet. 3:12).

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posted by Sean Harrison at 7:00 AM
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Psalm 85 (Mosaic, Advent 2)
Psalm 85 is a remarkable prayer of faith, especially considering the situation in which it was written. The community of God's people has experienced blessings in the past, but now is experiencing hardship. So the psalmist prays that the "God of our salvation" will "put aside your anger against us once more" and "restore us again" (Ps. 85:4). What is remarkable about the prayer is the faith that the psalmist places in the Lord to act on their behalf: "Suring his salvation is near to those who fear him, / so our land will be filled with glory" (v. 9).

Each of us is in a similar place to the psalmist of Ps 85: Each of us has experienced many blessings in the past, and we owe God thanks and praise. Each of us, too, experiences hardship in various ways, all because we live in a world that awaits the full revelation of God's presence when Jesus Christ returns. So, each of us must choose: Are we going to be despondent about the situations of our lives? Are we going to be angry at God? Those responses are common. Or are we going to trust in God to rescue, forgive, restore, and bless?

A hope-filled response of trust in God is the too-rare response, but it is the most justified response, because God's character never changes, his abilities are unhampered, and he has promised to restore his people and his land "Truth springs up from the earth, / and righteousness smiles down from heaven. / Yes, the LORD pours down his blessings. / Our land will yield its bountiful harvest." (Ps. 85:11-12).

So, with the psalmist, let us respond in hope: "I listen carefully to what God the LORD is saying, / for he speaks peace to his faithful people. / But let them not return to their foolish ways. / Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, / so our land will be filled with his glory" (vv. 8-9).

Almighty God,
give us such a vision of your purpose
and such an assurance of your love and power,
that we may ever hold fast the hope
which is in Jesus Christ our Lord
who is alive with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
Amen.
(Bosco Peters; Devotions for Advent, p. 17)

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posted by Sean Harrison at 9:17 AM
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Isaiah 40:1-11 (Mosaic, Advent 2)
Advent, week 2 has hope as its theme. Our hope as Christians is for the living presence of Christ himself, and all that he means.

Isaiah 40:1-11 speaks to a people who have known God's favor, but have now experienced exile and apparent abandonment. The previous chapters of Isaiah, written in the era of Hezekiah king of Judah around 700 BC, warn the people of Judah against coming judgment for their sins against the Lord. Now judgment has come, and the people face a time of exile. "Throughout chs 40-66, Isaiah prophesied from the vantage point of the Exile having already become a reality. Therefore, the Babylonian exile provides the background for understanding these chapters" (NLTSB, note on 40:1--66:24). The violent exile of the Jews from Judah to Babylon not only brought death to thousands and misery to the ten thousands, it uprooted them from their land -- from the place where God had promised to be with them and bless them. Their hopes were crushed.

To these people, the Lord speaks words of hope. Isaiah 40:1-11 promises that God has forgiven their sins, and that he is coming to reveal his glory to them. When he comes, he "will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes" (Isa 40:10). "The Lord's rule is not like that of the unjust ... rulers whom he will judge. It is compassionate, just, righteous..." (NLTSB, note on Isa. 40:10). What God's people needed to hear was exactly this: that God will rule them once again, and that his rule will be pleasant and just, that he will care for his people tenderly. "He will feed his flock like a shepherd. / He will carry the lambs in his arms, / holding them close to his heart. / He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young" (Isa. 40:11). With this passage, God begins to assure his people that he has not abandoned them, but that he continues to watch over them and care for them, and that in due time he would come to them with power and rescue them from foreign rule, leading them gently into his kingdom. Throughout the rest of chs 40-66, the Lord says, "Comfort, comfort my people" through his prophet, who speaks words of comfort and hope for the future.

Isa. 40:1-11 is the background for the ministry of John the Baptizer, for he is identified in the Gospels as "the voice of someone shouting, 'Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD!'" (Isa. 40:3; see Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). John announced the coming of Christ, urged people to repent of their sins, and baptized with water all who were willing. In this way John prepared the way for the Lord's coming -- those who underwent John's baptism had hearts that were ready to receive the Lord (see, e.g., Luke 7:29-30).

Now Jesus has returned to heaven, and we await his coming again, while we live in a world governed by powers foreign to God's kingdom. What is our hope? It is the same as Israel's in exile: That the Lord will come, establish his rule with justice and peace, and lead us gently as his people.

How can we prepare, and what is the basis of hope? John the Baptizer teaches us that we must repent of our sins and turn to God. Then we will experience his forgiveness, and have hearts that are ready to receive his kingdom. God's coming and his rule are not a source of hope for those who will not repent. But for those who repent, God's coming and his rule are cool water flowing over a thirsty soul.

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posted by Sean Harrison at 11:12 AM
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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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Advent Mosaic
This fall saw the launch of Holy Bible: Mosaic, an innovative new devotional Bible. The weekly Scripture readings are based on the Revised Common Lectionary, and are accompanied by devotional reflections and artwork from every century of the Christian church, every continent, and every major Christian tradition. It is a feast for the eyes and the spirit.

Earlier this week I returned from a week at the Evangelical Theological Society and Society for Biblical Literature annual meetings in New Orleans. While there, we handed out several hundred Mosaic Devotions for Advent (along with several hundred cards advertising NLTinterlinear.com). The response to Mosaic was very strong and very favorable.

During the four weeks of the Advent season, I plan to post five posts per week based on the Scripture readings and meditative focus of each week in Holy Bible: Mosaic and Devotions for Advent. The focus of the first week is "Longing," and the first post on Isa. 2:1-5 will be published this coming Monday morning.

I invite you to read through Devotions for Advent with me and join me in discussing these Scripture readings and the devotional reflections from Mosaic.

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posted by Sean Harrison at 12:06 PM
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