Bible Tuesday for Advent I, 2014
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any god besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. No consider, we are all your people.
About these verses the Jewish Study Bible says, “these verses are remarkable and rather daring for their assertion that God, too, must accept some responsibility for the Judeans’ sins. Their continuing hardships have worn away their hope. If the Lord would intervene more quickly on their behalf, they would have clear reason to abandon their misdeeds and adopt a firm belief in God’s authority. God’s response to the nation’s sins has created a cycle: Crime leads to punishment, punishment to disbelief, disbelief to more crime. “
Of course, most Jewish and Christian scholars reject the above theory but the author of this section of Isaiah is definitely griping at God for what he sees a vicious cycle.
This passage of Isaiah was written after the exiles have returned from Babylon. They returned to a ruined Jerusalem and a severely dilapidated Temple which had been desecrated. The people have been at the hard work of rebuilding for some time now and have made little progress. They feel neglected and abandoned by God.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we may be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine that we may be saved. But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
The four tribes mentioned in this psalm, Joseph, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh make up what is called The Northern Kingdom (excluding Dan) and may have originally been written for fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria.
The Hebrew which is here translated as “Let your face shine” is literally translated ‘light up your face” as in “smile with excitement, joy, pride, compassion.”
“Let your hand be upon the one at your right hand” refers to the king of Israel/Judah. The prayer is that God would rest the power of his right hand on the king who is said to be his “right hand man.”
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The books of 1 & 11 Corinthians are thought to be a series of letters from Paul to the church in Corinth. While they are divided into two “books”, that is not an indication of two letters, but rather that the compilation of the pieces of several letters have been written on scrolls, filling one whole scroll and going onto a second scroll. A careful read of these letters to the church in Corinth indicates that in many cases, Paul is trying to answer questions and issues in the congregation that have come to his attention through letter and messenger.
The above verses from the first chapter of the first letter are Paul’s salutations and immediately follow his initial greeting. Paul greets this congregation in the name of God and Jesus, but not the Holy Spirit. Paul does include in this salutation a mention of spiritual gifts, but not specifically the Holy Spirit. This is a clear indication that the “doctrine of the Trinity” was not formed or thought of in the first and second generations of the church as we think of it now. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity was formed over a couple hundred years and through many church councils starting with the Council of Nicaea in 325AD.
This salutation emphasizes the grace, enrichment, spiritual gifts, and strength that God has given this congregation. Paul will build on this foundation of God’s gifts as he encourages and chides and admonishes the congregation throughout the rest of his first letter to them.
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson; as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Trustly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!”
As we begin this year of the gospel of Mark, let me give a very brief introduction to the book. Despite its placement as second of the four gospels, Mark was most likely written first, somewhere between 60 and 70AD to a predominantly Jewish community. Scholars think that Mark was likely written at the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70AD) during which many false prophets where crying out that the end of the world was at hand. There were also several folks claiming to be the messiah and gathering folks to form an army and attack Rome. At least one goal of Mark’s gospel is to warn folks that the real Messiah already came, ascended, and has not yet returned. While the other three gospels use sources, Mark appears to use nothing other than eye witness accounts and orally relayed stories. Mark has neither birth nor post Easter stories so the year of Mark is usually sprinkled with stories from the gospel of John.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and then leaves for Bethany in chapter 11. Chapters 12 and 13 recount Jesus’ and his disciples’ return to Jerusalem the following day. They make a trip to the Temple where Jesus drives out the money changers and watches the widow as she gives her last mite. Next Jesus is challenged by various Temple authorities and he recounts many parables. Finally the disciples admire the massive stones of the outer courtyard walls and Jesus launches into a series of apocalyptic teachings. They are scary as all get out and have been used by rapturists to aid in their predictions of the last days. As Lutherans living more than 2.000 years after Jesus, it is hard to know how to interpret these teachings.
One of the things about the gospel of Mark that I really appreciate is that Jesus is very human. In the gospel of John, Jesus knows all, even before people say a word. In Mark, Jesus is the opposite. Jesus says, “about that day an hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” While it is hard to reconcile Jesus being God and Jesus not knowing something, it does give us the comfort that Jesus really was totally human.
In regard to vs. 30, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,” scholars debate the meaning. This prophecy of Jesus’ starts with the Temple being destroyed and people fleeing for their lives. That is exactly what happens in 70AD when the Jewish revolt is squashed by the Romans. The Temple in Jerusalem was utterly destroyed except for a bit of that outer wall the disciples about which the disciples commented. There were Jews crucified by the thousands: men, women, and children. Before the Romans destroyed the Temple, they desecrated the altar and worshiped their gods in that most holy place. Many of the people of to whom Jesus preached were alive to see these horrors take place.