1 Thess 5:16-24
by Rev Dr AR Tucker, Emeritus minister of United Presbyterian Church of South Africa and Research Fellow at University of Free State
Four message outlines for 13 December
Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11 The inbreaking of the kingdom into history
Harrison1 concludes that the book Isaiah is a compilation of Isaiah’s prophecies, recorded, included and arranged by different authors, with one or two historical textual glosses. Webb2 proposes that Isaiah 61 was a prophecy intended to encourage those Judeans coming back to Judea from exile in Babylon, from 535BC onwards. They were experiencing despair, disappointments and immense difficulties. Yahweh comforts them by affirming their forgiveness and importance because in their rebuilding of Jerusalem they were playing a crucial role in a grand universal drama culminating in the coming down of the heavenly Zion (the kingdom of God) to earth (see Isaiah 60). In the New Testament3, 4 we learn that this coming down is in two stages. The first, a time of partial fulfilment of Isaiah 61’s promises, inaugurated with the Advent of the Spirit-anointed one. The second, at the end of history, a time of complete and total fulfilment. Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-4, in Luke 4:17-19, as his ministry manifesto for the first stage. Wonderful as this has been over the last 2000 years, it does not compare to the total healing, renewal and transformation when the second stage breaks into our time/space continuum at the Second Advent when Romans 8:19-22 will be fulfilled.
In Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 the anointed Messiah begins by announcing, with seven Hebrew infinitives6, what the good news means for his people. Because he is the living, creative Word his proclaiming creates:
- Encouragement for the afflicted and social justice for the oppressed (see v8). Our God “can disrupt circumstance of social bondage and exploitation… and authorize new circumstances of dancing freedom, dignity and justice7.”
- Healing for those whose lives have been so shattered that they have lost the courage to go on. He puts the broken pieces together and then tightly wraps them up in his saving power.
- Freedom for those imprisoned by bitterness, oppression, and sin’s power (Romans 6:7, 8:1-2)
- Release from the power of the evil forces of darkness that rule this present age (Eph. 2:1-3).
- A time of opportunity to receive salvation between the first Advent and the last.
- Comfort for mourners because of the promise of salvation, transformation, joy and hope, both now and for the future.
- A gift of beauty, joy, and praise giving the strength to rebuild broken lives to form a new missional community, which will proclaim the good news and which also seeks to protect and restore the environment by cooperating with Spirit is his work of creation and renewal (Psalm 104:30).
Where the gospel is proclaimed this is still happening. The local congregation in which I worship recently converted the existing place of worship into a safe haven for six homeless women, during the recent Covid lockdown. This led to the kingdom breaking into the lives of two of these women. One grew up as an orphan on the streets of Muizenberg. She always felt alone and abandoned. The leader of the safe haven writes, “Tonight she got to meet her aunt and uncle who she hasn’t seen for year’s and realised how much she is loved… Her uncle said to her, “We searched for you… We did not forget you… I have prayed for this day when you come home.”” Of another women he writes, “For the first time in 20 YEARS, one of the ladies we work with got to see her mother. They were both homeless and life’s difficulties tore them apart for year’s. And when they saw each other, it was all LOVE, no bitterness or resentment, just pure love. It took me back to the prodigal son story in the Bible…”
1Harrison, R., Introduction to the Old Testament, William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapides, Michigan, USA. p795
2Webb B., 1996, The Message of Isaiah, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, UK. p219ff
3Bosch, D., 1991, 2011, Transforming Mission, Orbis Books, New York. pp. 45ff.
4Ladd G., 1993, The Presence of the Future, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.
5Powell S., 2019, An Environmental Ethic for the End of the World: An Ecological Midrash on Romans 8:19-22, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK.
6Ortlund, R., 2005, Isaiah, God saves sinners, Crossway Books, Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. pp 407- 413.
7 Brueggemann, W., Theology of the Old Testament, Fortress Press, Minneapolis. p 208
Psalm 126 Faith like Potatoes
According to many scholars Psalm 126 celebrates the nation’s joy for Yahweh’s miraculous “dream-like” past deliverances from dangers. The nation then asks for a fresh display of his power (called sowing the seed of faith).
The Near East is normally dry in summer and wet in winter. Farmers sowed in late autumn “in tears”; imploring God for a good harvest because they never knew if the winter rains would come. The climate was also subject to periodic long periods of drought, some of which are recorded in the bible, similar to those in South Africa. Angus Buchan, a South African farmer, in his book, “Faith Like Potatoes” records that he sowed potatoes with faith and prayer, at a time of a dry El Nina drought. When he came to dig the potatoes up they were large and perfectly formed.
We might not be farmers, but like them a harvest will come if we sow (toil) in dependence upon God to produce the dreamed for harvest. Sometimes we will go through prolonged periods of drought, as many are perhaps experiencing during the Covid epidemic. The message of Psalm 126 is that droughts end and dreamed for desires realised for those who belong to the Christ of the first Advent because, “No matter how many promises God has made they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
1 Thess 5: 20, 21 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything;
I have experienced many true Spirit-inspired prophecies either speaking into a current situation or being predictive in a worship service or as even brought them as I shared the good news. Yet we live in a time when, perhaps, because of existential anxiety, many seem to be clinging onto any prediction without testing it. Sometimes it seems that they attribute the status of prophecy to scientific statements or fake news on a social media platform, without testing its source or reliability.
Even scientific theories are not always correct. The history of science is replete with scientific theories that have had to be discarded or modified because of new discoveries, such as the Bohr theory of the atom and the Newtonian theory of light. God has commanded us to care for our planet. I want a clean planet, with energy produced by renewables, a clean sea abounding with life, clean air to breath etc. But we must be careful of confusing ‘causation with correlation’. There is indeed a correlation between the increasing amounts of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global warming. But is this the only cause? Perhaps there are additional causes. It would be so simple if there were simple solutions but the world God created is far more complex than any human being can ever imagine (Psalm 139:17,18).
John 1:6-8, 19-28 The voice of one calling in the wilderness
At advent we remember that God kept his promise by sending Jesus into the world to be our Saviour. John the Baptist’s mission was to witness as a voice proclaiming the appearance of the promised Messiah. In a court of law a witness is someone who gives testimony about what he or she has seen, heard or experienced. Maybe he came to believe Jesus was the promised Lamb of God because he had related to him as a cousin. Even if this was the case, his knowledge did not come by unaided human reason or intuition, but by way of divine Holy Spirit inspired revelation (see John 1:32,33). This applies much more to the post incarnation age in which we live. We cannot see the physical body of Jesus as john did but our understanding of Jesus and relationship with him comes through inner revelation (John 20:29, Gal 1:16 Amplified). A Christian witness may therefore be described as someone who takes a good look at Jesus and then becomes a voice, along with the Christian community, by crying out through word and deed into the wilderness of unbelief, dryness and loneliness, telling others what he or she is seeing about his living presence in their lives, in order to prepare wilderness dwellers for the Second Advent.
by Rev “Roger” Tucker, South Africa