Bible Study 12-4-11

Light on the Lessons

 

Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

Second Sunday in Advent; Cycle B; December 4, 2011

I Getting Started

1. What comfort from God do you prize the most?

2. To what degree do you seek to be “at peace,” with yourself and your situation in life?

3. When does the appearance or manner of someone get in the way of listening to what the individual is saying?

II Check the Texts

1. Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah addresses the exiles who now have permission to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem.

A. The scene for these verses is a heavenly council. The prophet is listening in on God and his angels. Who then might be the “voices”? In what verse does God call the prophet? Compare this passage with an earlier call: Isaiah 6:1-13. What similarities do you find?

B. What would verses 1-2 tell the Exiles? Why is that comforting? What about the announcement might not be so comforting?

C. To what concerns of the returning exiles do think verses 3-4 might address? What do you think the imagery would mean to them? (Clue: Recall that they were returning to a nation and city in ruins.) What would reveal the glory of the LORD, in verse 5? Why do you think it important that “all people” see this glory? (Clue: The expectation was that a god should protect his or her people.)

D. In verse 6, the speaker shifts. Who is the “I”? Of whom does “I” ask, “What shall I cry?” Is that all he said, or does his message continue in 6b-8? If he doesn’t say verses 6b-8, who does?

E. What is the basic contrast set up in verses 6b-8? How does the passage relate to verse 5? How does 1 Peter us this quotation, in 1 Peter 1:22-26? How does the meaning 1 Peter gives this passage compare with the meaning in Isaiah offers? How would you tell the point of this passage in your own words?

F. Who speaks in verses 9-11? “Good tidings” in the Greek translations of the Old Testament appears as the same word used for “gospel” in the New Testament. What is the “good news” they are to proclaim? In verse 10, who will rule in Judah? In verse 11, how will he rule? Read John 10:11-15; how does that passage connect with this passage?

G. In verse 9, replace Zion and Jerusalem with the name of your congregation, and Judah with the name of your county or city. Now say it together. What message comes to you?

2. 2 Peter 3:8-15a

A. Check Amos 5:18-20, Psalm 90:4, and Luke 12:39-40; how do each of those passages connect to elements in verses 8-10? What reason is given for God’s delay?

B. The intense and disturbing imagery in verses 10 and 12 is typical of the way apocalyptic literature describes the end; compare Mark 13:24-25. What in our experience gives this imagery a sense of real possibility that earlier generations would not appreciate? In verse 13, what is the outcome of the events described in such vivid language? The “little apocalypse” in Mark 13 has a word in verse 8 that describes the nature of these hard times; what do you think is that word? Why is it appropriate?

C. Read Joel 2:28-32, another look at the “day of the LORD.” Two contrasting thoughts are here; what are they? On what occasion did Peter quote verses 28-29 in a major sermon? What does that suggest that Peter thought was about to happen?

D. What does Joel 2:32 promise? How does that connect with verse 9? What did that verse mean to Paul, in Romans 10:12-13? What message or challenge would this passage have for its first readers? For us, nearly two millennia later?

E. In verses 13-14, what are Christians doing? How are they doing this? What is the word of hope in these verses?

3. Mark 1:1-8

John the Baptist had collected disciples. His movement continued into the apostolic age; see Acts 19:1-7.

A. Why do you think the First Lesson and this Gospel were paired?

B. What is the role of the Baptist vis-à-vis Jesus? What was his message and the purpose of his baptism? How did it differ from baptism in Jesus, according to Acts 19:1-7? What verse in our Gospel makes that same point?

C. From the way John is pictured in verse 6, how would you describe him? Why do you think he attracted so many people? (Clue: Recall the Second Lesson) How would a message such as John’s play in the modern world? What does John’s success say about the general condition of society at that time?

III What Does It All Mean?

1. How have you experienced God’s activity in your life this week?

2. When God deals with us, he brings both comfort and challenge. Consider your experience with God as 10 points. How would you divide them between comfort and challenge? (The relative weight should express your personal experience with God.) Talk about the kind of challenges you experience and the way you experience comfort. Why are both of these aspects important?

3. John 1:19-23 also describes the Baptist. Read that passage. Discuss the ways in which our mission resembles that of the Baptist.

4. Generally, Christians in North America take their clues for dress and behavior from middle-class traditions of decency and appropriateness. To what degree do you think that connection is cultural? Is it spiritually valid? What are some spiritual manifestations which some Christians find offensive while other delight in them??

5. “I look forward to the Last Day’s. Sure, the times will be terrible, but I and my family are safe because we’re Christians. Besides, when it’s over, the world will be great for us.” What’s good and what’s bad about that statement?

6. We are living in anxious times right now, facing plenty of uncertainty. How are the times affecting you? Where are you finding peace?

7. How can we come to gain more confidence in proclaiming the Gospel to those we know? What could we do within our family circles to make it easier to reflect on and speak about our Christian experience?

IV Into the Week

1. You go home and someone asks, “What did you learn today?” How do you reply?

2. How will you share the Good News with someone this week?

3. Remember in prayer those who are unemployed or in economic distress. Consider making a special gift of food to your local food bank.

 

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