Bible Tuesday for Advent 1, 2017
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— to 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. (This is a reference to God’s descent onto Mount Sinai when God gave to Moses the Law and the Ten Commandments.) 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. Now consider, we are all your people.
Israel is mired in the tribulation of captivity. Israel calls out, pleading with God to shatter the barrier between earth and heaven, and manifest Himself in rescue and vengeance. The writer of Isaiah calls upon God to act as God did in the days of old: Genesis 2 when God walked in the Garden and spoke to Adam and Eve, Genesis 12 when God spoke directly to Abram/Abraham, Exodus when God spoke to Moses through the burning bush and to all Israel through a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The prophet, Isaiah, states that God is partly to blame for Israel’s betrayal of it’s covenant with God. Israel strays so God gets angry and punishes Israel, which makes Israel doubt God’s love so it strays some more. The writer asks God to forgive Israel and remold it so that it doesn’t sin and God is pleased with Israel again.
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 on your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
We had this psalm in our texts six weeks ago. This psalm cries to God with the same complaints as the above Isaiah text. Israel cries to God for mercy, saying the punishment for their sins is too great.
“But let your right hand be upon…” – This is a claim on the covenant that God made with Israel. The psalmist is reminding God that God made Israel his chosen race, the people at God’s right hand. As such, the psalmist asks that God lay the hand of blessing and benevolence on Israel.
“Give us life, and we will call on your name.” – The psalmist states that Israel feels so hurt and betrayed, through God’s punishment of them, that it has lost hope in God. God must revive the people in order to instill hope in them again, inspiring renewed worship and love.
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.
This text, which speaks of the righteousness given by Jesus to the faithful, is in direct contrast with the above Isaiah text and the Psalm. Here Paul is grateful for those who are faithful, as opposed to the psalmist and the prophet, who are distraught by the unfaithful and the punishment they receive.
Paul states that God has granted to the congregation in Corinth every spiritual gift, including faith filled speech, and knowledge. Paul affirms these gifts, in part because he is going to scold this congregation for not using these gifts faithfully, rather like Jesus’ parable of the Talents that we had two weeks ago.
“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.
Prior to this passage in Mark, Jesus has been warning the disciples of the persecution they, and all the faithful, will endure. Here, Jesus states that he will deploy his messengers to gather the “elect” from all over earth and heaven. There is no further description of what this “gathering” will look like, with the exception of the book of Revelation.
Jesus is describing the end time, the final judgment, with images that reflect great cataclysm. The Bible does not give a clear accounting of how or when the end of the world will come about, but this passage relay awe/fear inspiring imagery.
“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. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Two “fig trees” are being referenced in this passage. First of all, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel is referred to as a fig tree. Second, in the gospel of Mark, when Jesus walks into Jerusalem with his disciples during Holy Week, Jesus sees a fig tree and looks for fruit on it. However, it is spring and the tree only has leaves, but no fruit. Jesus, finding no fruit, curses the fig tree and it withers and dies right there, like the Wicked Witch of the West, shriveling under the bucket of water. Since the fig tree is a metaphor for Israel, this symbolizes Jesus, the Son of Man/Son of God/Messiah, coming to Jerusalem, Israel’s capitol city, looking for the fruit of faith in God, but finding none. The disciples did not understand the metaphor but only saw Jesus look for fruit at the wrong time of year and then curse the tree for not having fruit.
In the above passage, Jesus draws on the symbolism of the fig tree once again to predict the end times. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, it was not the end time, the time of fruit, but only the beginning, spring when tree buds open into leaves. So also, the end time will come when not all seem ready for it.
The juxtaposition of Jesus’ seeming promise that the end will come before his disciples “pass away”, and that though heaven and earth pass away, Jesus’ promises will not, is not comprehendible. Of course, the first generation of believers did die before the last days. Here we are 2,000 years later and still the last days do not seem to be upon us. Yet, Jesus’ promise to collect the faithful from all over earth and heaven stands.
“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.”
Here Jesus warns his disciples to be ready for his appearance at all times. The one sentence parable Jesus gives states that the slaves are in charge and each have their own tasks to accomplish. The slaves would be found faithful if, in their master’s absence, they did the work he set before them.
While in Matthew’s gospel in the parable of the Ten Bride’s Maids, they were allowed to sleep while waiting for the bride groom, here in Mark there is to be no sleeping. Disciples are to keep vigilant watch for Jesus.