Click here for the reading: John 1:1-14.

Instead of beginning at Bethlehem, John opens his Gospel in eternity. He emphasizes Christ’s divinity, though not at the expense of His humanity. Jesus the Word is God, because He was in the beginning with Him, created all things, and is life and light. Why is Jesus called the Word of God? Why is it important to talk about His divine nature, even if we can’t fully comprehend it? Why does John begin here, and do we see a similar need in our own day? What is the Old Testament background for the Word of God, such as Jeremiah 1?

John the Baptist also came from God, but in a different way. God sent Jesus into the world in order to be the light of the world. John was a witness to the light, so that all would hear and believe. How does Jesus serve as the revealer or witness of God? How does John serve as the witness of the light? Why do we need both in order to believe in the light? What does Romans 10 teach us about the relationship between preaching and the revelation of God?

Jesus the Light came into the world, but the world did not know Him. This seems like an odd thing to say, since Paul makes it clear in Romans that all men know that God exists. However, the world does not know the Lord, because to know Him is to believe in Him. When we know the Lord, we call on His mighty name. When we do not know Him, we turn away from Him. Why is the knowledge that God exists insufficient for salvation? What does it mean for Jesus to give light to everyone? How does Jeremiah 31:31-40 help us understand this passage?

The Jews rejected their Lord, even though He came to them just as He promised. What they did not understand was that being a son of God is not a matter of flesh and blood, but a matter of faith and the Spirit. Therefore, when Jesus came in Spirit and truth, they crucified the Lord of glory. How does this rejection of Christ by His own people shape much of the New Testament? How do we fall into a similar temptation? How do Jesus’ words about the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24 show that salvation comes by faith and not by blood?

Christmas celebrates the Word becoming flesh, God dwelling among us. John points to the glory of the Son, the glory which is full of grace and truth, the glory which leads us to life and light. What is the glory of God? How do we see it? Where do we see it in our own day? Why does this glory lead us to repentance and faith as well as transform us into a new creation? What do we learn about God’s glory in Jesus’ prayer in John 17?

Click here for the reading: Titus 3:4-7.

Paul urges Titus to teach those under his charge to walk in good works. After all, we were once fools and slaves to our passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice, envy, and hatred. Now, however, we belong to Christ. What reasons do people give for doing good works? Do those reasons lead to misunderstanding the Gospel? What reasons do they give for not doing good works or for deemphasizing them? What reasons does Psalm 119 give for walking in good works?

The goodness and kindness of God appeared while we were still in our former lives. Jesus Christ is God’s supreme example of philanthropy, which is the word used in the Greek text. Just as the natives showed kindness to Paul in Acts 28 by lighting a fire for him, the Lord showed us kindness by sending us His Son, welcoming us into the Church. Since we normally associate philanthropy with secular virtue, how does Jesus serve as the supreme example of virtues found in the world? How does the Father sending the Son teach us to walk in kindness toward others? Compare how Paul speaks of God’s kindness in Ephesians 2:1-10.

Salvation, as Paul notes here and elsewhere, is not a matter of our works, but a matter of what God has done for us. Paul emphasizes this point so often in the epistles that it’s easy to overlook it. As Paul noted above, we formerly walked in sin, not in righteousness. Why then does he speak of works and righteousness here? Who is he speaking against? Why does that matter? How do we fall into a similar trap when thinking about righteousness and salvation? After talking about the sins of the world, who is Paul addressing in Romans 2?

God’s mercy expresses itself in a concrete way. Through Jesus Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit regenerates and transforms us, so that we are no longer what we once were. Thus, the Holy Spirit, possessed by few in the time of the Old Testament, becomes the common gift of all Christians through God’s rich mercy. Why should we emphasize the Holy Spirit in connection with Baptism? What is the relationship of each Trinitarian Person to Baptism? How does the gift of the Holy Spirit show God’s mercy toward us? How does the promise of the Spirit in John 14 illuminate this passage in Titus?

Having been washed and renewed through the Holy Spirit, we are justified before God and made heirs of eternal life. Our salvation thus looks forward to the promise of something far greater. God transforms us now to prepare us for what He will do in the age to come. In what ways do some people emphasize either the present or the future reality of salvation over the other? What are the dangers of this one-sided emphasis? How does the birth of Christ, celebrated today, emphasize both? Consider what Paul says about being heirs with Christ in Romans 8.

Click here for the reading: Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38.

Large portions of the second half of Exodus describe the tabernacle and its construction in meticulous detail. As we learn from the book of Hebrews, especially Hebrews 9, this detail serves an important purpose. It is meant to teach us something about what is to come. Why does the Lord use types and symbols instead of “speaking plainly”? What do those types and symbols mean for those to whom they were given? Why should we not simply “jump forward” to their fulfillment when explaining their meaning? What does Paul mean by the former things being a shadow of things to come in Colossians 2:17?

Moses listens to the Lord and sets up the tabernacle just as God tells him to do. Placing the tablets of the Law into the ark, he sets the lid in place and brings it into the tabernacle. What is the purpose of the ark of the testimony? Why does it need to be screened? What is the entrance of the ark meant to teach Israel? How does the Lord express the same idea to the Church? Why does the Lord say that the ark will be forgotten in Jeremiah 3:15-18? How does that help us interpret this passage in Exodus?

Once the final preparations were made, the cloud of the Lord covered the tent. God’s glory filled the whole tabernacle, so that not even Moses could enter. Israel who had been enslaved, to whom God seemed so far off, now has her Lord dwelling in her midst. Why is this a fitting conclusion to the book of Exodus? How is God dwelling among us a comfort in the midst of distress? How do we know that He dwells among us? Why does John compare Jesus to the tabernacle in John 1? How is the glory seen in the tabernacle a type of the glory seen in Christ?

The cloud and the fire show that God is present among His people. Whenever they move in the wilderness, Israel is meant to follow. Thus, the Lord teaches Israel to not only follow the visible signs, but also to follow Him wherever He goes. What other signs did God use to teach Israel to follow Him? How does the Lord teach us? How does He not teach us to follow Him? Compare Deuteronomy 8:1-6 with this passage and the purpose of God’s signs in the wilderness.

The canonical order of the Bible, while important for learning all of the books, frequently exists simply by tradition. However, it is not accidental that the laws and regulations of Leviticus immediately follows. Now that Israel sees God’s glory in her midst, the Lord shows her the meaning of holiness, without which no one will see Him. What is the purpose of holiness? Why is it important to define it, especially with the presence of God in mind? Why does Christ’s appearance in the flesh call for us to be holy? How does John answer this question in 1 John 3:1-10?

Click here for the reading: Luke 2:15-20.

Having heard the message of the angels, the shepherds waste no time deliberating what they should do. “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened!” They listened to the Lord and went to see the child with their own eyes. In what ways are we sometimes just as eager as the shepherds to listen to the Lord? In what ways are we sometimes not so eager? Are there parts of our lives where we are less willing to listen? Why? Contrast the eagerness of the shepherds with the reluctance of the women in Mark 16.

Leaving behind their flocks, the shepherds run to find the child in Bethlehem. While we are not told how long they searched, they found the child just as the angel told them. The sign itself was nothing extraordinary. It seemed to be an ordinary child wrapped in ordinary cloth. Even Zechariah was mute for several months as a sign which showed the extraordinary character of his son John. Why does the Lord sometimes use extraordinary signs and sometimes very ordinary ones? Is there a specific reason for a specific sign? What signs, ordinary or not, does the Lord give to us? Compare the ordinary signs of Jesus in Luke 22:7-13 with an extraordinary one, like the ten steps of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:8-11.

Now that they have seen the Christ child, the shepherds open their mouths to declare all that they had heard and seen. This was not gossip or boasting. They had an amazing message to proclaim about this child! Why does this kind of testimony flow naturally from those who have seen God act? Why do we struggle to tell others about what God has done for us? How do the Psalms serve as examples of this, especially ones like Psalm 145?

Most of those who hear the shepherds’ message marvel at the message. It seems so unbelievable, the kind of thing that seems too good to be true. Very likely, many of them forgot all about it not long after. In what ways are we tempted to simply marvel at what God has done rather than believe it? What leads us to act this way? How do we avoid such a temptation? Why does Nicodemus marvel at the words of Christ in John 3, and how does Jesus deal with it?

Though the others did not believe, Mary treasured all these things in her heart. Long after the birth of Christ, she remembered the message she had heard and pondered what it meant for her and for the world. What is Christian meditation? How is it different from worldly ideas? What are its benefits? How does Mary serve as an example for us of this practice? How does Isaac meditating in the field in Genesis 24:63 or Psalm 1 also help us understand it? What are some practical suggestions for those who struggle with doing it?

Click here for the reading: Titus 3:4-7.

Paul urges Titus to teach those under his charge to walk in good works. After all, we were once fools and slaves to our passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice, envy, and hatred. Now, however, we belong to Christ. What reasons do people give for doing good works? Do those reasons lead to misunderstanding the Gospel? What reasons do they give for not doing good works or for deemphasizing them? What reasons does Psalm 119 give for walking in good works?

The goodness and kindness of God appeared while we were still in our former lives. Jesus Christ is God’s supreme example of philanthropy, which is the word used in the Greek text. Just as the natives showed kindness to Paul in Acts 28 by lighting a fire for him, the Lord showed us kindness by sending us His Son, welcoming us into the Church. Since we normally associate philanthropy with secular virtue, how does Jesus serve as the supreme example of virtues found in the world? How does the Father sending the Son teach us to walk in kindness toward others? Compare how Paul speaks of God’s kindness in Ephesians 2:1-10.

Salvation, as Paul notes here and elsewhere, is not a matter of our works, but a matter of what God has done for us. Paul emphasizes this point so often in the epistles that it’s easy to overlook it. As Paul noted above, we formerly walked in sin, not in righteousness. Why then does he speak of works and righteousness here? Who is he speaking against? Why does that matter? How do we fall into a similar trap when thinking about righteousness and salvation? After talking about the sins of the world, who is Paul addressing in Romans 2?

God’s mercy expresses itself in a concrete way. Through Jesus Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit regenerates and transforms us, so that we are no longer what we once were. Thus, the Holy Spirit, possessed by few in the time of the Old Testament, becomes the common gift of all Christians through God’s rich mercy. Why should we emphasize the Holy Spirit in connection with Baptism? What is the relationship of each Trinitarian Person to Baptism? How does the gift of the Holy Spirit show God’s mercy toward us? How does the promise of the Spirit in John 14 illuminate this passage in Titus?

Having been washed and renewed through the Holy Spirit, we are justified before God and made heirs of eternal life. Our salvation thus looks forward to the promise of something far greater. God transforms us now to prepare us for what He will do in the age to come. In what ways do some people emphasize either the present or the future reality of salvation over the other? What are the dangers of this one-sided emphasis? How does the birth of Christ, celebrated today, emphasize both? Consider what Paul says about being heirs with Christ in Romans 8.

Click here for the reading: Micah 5:2-5.

Micah prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and the threat of a coming siege places this prophecy in the days of Hezekiah. In his fourteenth year, around the year 701 B.C., Sennacherib laid siege to the cities of Judah and even Jerusalem itself. This was indeed a slap on the cheek of the king, a deep insult as the example of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22:24 shows. He seemed powerless to stand before Assyria. What are some examples of this complete powerlessness in the lives of your hearers? How do they approach those situations? How do the Psalms deal with such a situation, such as Psalm 28?

Yet the Lord would provide help for His people in the face of certain defeat. From Bethlehem in the region of Ephrathah would come deliverance. How odd this seemed, since Bethlehem was tiny and insignificant! It was too small to be counted among Joshua’s conquests. It was too small to even be considered a good levy of troops. Yet from the middle of nowhere would come a king over all Israel, just like David. Does God send help from unexpected places in our lives? Why do we tend to look toward the “obvious” places even when looking for help from God? Consider Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2 and how it talks about God’s help in trouble.

God promised to send a ruler, one whose coming forth was from old. This made him like David, since it had been a long time since David’s time and David himself came from Bethlehem. Even though Hezekiah was better than most, there had been no king like David. The Lord thus promised not only deliverance, but restoration. The formerly good days would return and be better than ever. Why does God exceed our expectations when giving us help? Why do we tend to set our expectations so low? Why does God say that David will rule over Israel in Ezekiel 34:11-24?

When Israel returned from her exile, this ruler would shepherd God’s people. They would find the security and peace they sought. Even though they feared that Sennacherib would take everything from them, this ruler like David would restore everything in abundance. How does Jesus fulfill these promises, especially the promises of a worldly peace? How does Jesus give us comfort even in very worldly concerns? How does Paul speak about worldly concerns in Romans 8?

By the time Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in Matthew 2, the Assyrian empire had crumbled into dust. No less than three other empires had risen and fallen within that time period. Yet this prophecy gave Israel hope in the days of Assyria, for God promised here that Sennacherib would fall. Little Bethlehem stood against mighty Assyria. How do God’s future promises comfort us in present troubles? Why should we not spiritualize or generalize these promises? What does Jesus mean in Matthew 13:17?

Click here for the reading: Luke 2:1-14.

Caesar Augustus, seeking to further stabilize the Roman Empire out of the ashes of the Republic, ordered a tax registration. Since Herod the Great was a client king of Rome, his lands also fell under that decree. What are other Biblical examples of God using world events to carry out His will? Where do we see God at work in the world today? How does He use those events to aid the proclamation of the Gospel? What parallels exist between Augustus and Cyrus in Isaiah 45?

Joseph, since he is a descendent of David, travels southward from Galilee to the city of David. Instead of going to Jerusalem, the city of David in the Old Testament, he goes to David’s birthplace, the village Bethlehem. Augustus’ decree required that he travel, so he made the journey with a heavily pregnant Mary, all in fulfillment of a single prophecy. How many things had to fall in place to fulfill the words of Micah 5? How did those things come to be? What does this say about the sovereignty of God? In what ways do we see God at work even for a single event in our own lives? How does Jesus teach this truth in Matthew 10:26-33?

After what was likely a little while in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to her firstborn. There was no space in the crowded house (since the word for “inn” is the same as “guest room” in Luke 22:11), so they laid the infant Christ in a manger, since poor Israelites lived with their animals in the same building. While this does not change the meaning of the story, what are other examples of Biblical passages which are frequently misunderstood? Why should we strive for a clear understanding, especially when dealing with cultural issues?

Shepherds occupied a low place in society. They did not own large amounts of land, as seen here in the group watching over their flocks together instead of on their own. Many hired themselves out to watch the sheep of others, which Jesus uses to make a point in John 10. They were sometimes even held in contempt, as the Egyptians did in the days of Jacob in Genesis 46. Yet they received the angelic message, not Augustus or any of the great ones of the world. How should this reality of God raising up the lowly encourage us? How should it humble us? How do the shepherds serve as an example of Mary’s song in Luke 1?

Angels sing God’s praises at all times. In Job 38:4-7, we learn that they praised God at the creation of all things. The seraphim declare His holiness in Isaiah 6. In Revelation 4, John hears the same song of praise among the cherubim. Why do the angels praise God in this moment? What makes this song of praise different from the others? Why should this difference comfort us? Compare the new song of Revelation 5 with the message here. Why is the song “new”?

Click here for the reading: Titus 2:11-14.

Paul exhorts Titus to teach true doctrine and also all Christians to do what is godly. He calls for us to be sober-minded and self-controlled, because this is fitting for those who are in Christ. Godliness thus adorns true doctrine and glorifies God in everything. Why is orthodoxy insufficient if not paired with good works? In what ways are we tempted to exalt one over the other? How should pastors teach what accords with sound doctrine? Why does James warn teachers about the necessity of self-control in James 3?

Godliness is rooted in the reality of Christ coming into the world. The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation, and this salvation expresses itself in good works. Jesus redeems us from all lawlessness, as Paul says, and purifies us for Himself. If salvation is by the grace of God, why does Paul exhort us so fervently to good works? How do we avoid the temptation of exalting one over the other? How does Paul address this question in Romans 3:21-31?

God’s revealed grace in Christ trains us to renounce evil and to live according to what is good. Faith transforms the heart, renewing our minds and causing us to walk in a new way. What are examples of ungodliness and worldly passions in our time? Why are they such a danger for us, especially if we consider the first part of Titus 2? What are examples of self-control, uprightness, and godliness? What do these things mean, especially in contrast to the present lawlessness in the nation and the world? Compare what Paul says to Titus with the Proverbs, especially the first several chapters.

Training is never an end in itself, but it looks forward to what is to come. God’s grace trains us to watch and wait for our hope, the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. When He appears, we will see the purpose of this discipline, especially when it is difficult or unpleasant. Why should we emphasize that good works are a preparation and not an end in themselves? How do they train us for the Second Coming of Jesus? How do ungodliness and lawlessness work against such training? Consider Paul’s athletic metaphors, especially passages like 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, and how they help us understand the purpose of good works.

Christmas has become a deeply secularized holiday, so that it can be difficult to separate the day from everything that surrounds it. Consumerism grows with each passing year and makes us have to remind ourselves of the “reason for the season.” Yet Paul’s words to Titus help us to teach what it means to be a Christian even in the midst of Christmas. Why should we emphasize Christian virtues during Christmas? How do we avoid treating going to church on Christmas as a side thing or an obligation to fulfill and see it rather as the point of the day? How does Paul address these issues, especially consumerism, in 1 Timothy 6?

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 9:2-7.

King Ahaz sought all kinds of worldly helps in his war against Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel, including making an alliance with Assyria. Yet as seen in Isaiah 7, Ahaz never sought the help of the Lord. Thus, Isaiah declares to Ahaz that the Lord will raise up a true King, one who will rule His people in the way that Ahaz never did. How do we seek worldly help when facing life’s problems? Why do people often turn to those things? What does it mean to seek God’s help? How does Psalm 50 help us understand how to call on God?

The land of Zebulun and Naphtali was not a good one. Hiram called it Cabul in 1 Kings 9:13, meaning “like nothing.” In the time of Christ, the Jews held Galilee in contempt, as Nathanael remarks in John 1:46. Not only does it dwell in the darkness of war, it is also a backwater, the kind of place from which no prophet arose. Yet this people will see a great light. What things are we tempted to overlook? What can we learn from God repeatedly using them to carry out His mission? How ought we to deal with those who are “like nothing” in the world? How is Galilee like the word of the cross in 1 Corinthians 1?

Ahaz sought help from the world, turning to Assyria for military aid. He sought peace at any cost, even paying Assyria with gold and silver from the temple itself. Yet it accomplished nothing in the end. However, God promises that His people will rejoice when He brings a true peace. The oppressor shall be overthrown, as when Gideon routed Midian with 300 men, and all the spoils of war shall be burned. Why does the Bible point to past acts of God when dealing with present fears? Why are we so apt to forget the past when facing these fears? Why does God refer to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Exodus 3?

Isaiah prophesies that a Child will be born, one who will reign on the throne of David. He will be the King of Israel, the one that Ahaz tried to be. His reign will not be characterized by warfare and worldly alliances, but by peace and righteousness. This Child is the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of David. What do each of Jesus’ titles here teach us about His kingdom? Why is the promise of peace under the reign of Christ important for Israel and for us? How do we reconcile the promise of peace under Christ’s reign with the continued wars and problems we see in the world, even among Christians? Compare the words of Jesus in John 18:36. How should we understand the promises of an earthly kingdom in Isaiah in the light of what Jesus says there?

Click here for the reading: Matthew 1:18-25.

Matthew opens his Gospel with a list from Abraham to Jesus, but it includes a notable problem. Biblical descent is reckoned by the father, and Joseph is not the father of Jesus. Yet before we have an opportunity to protest, Matthew resolves this issue in the second half of this chapter. Why should the question of whose son Jesus is matter to us? How should Christians approach things which appear problematic in the Bible? How does Peter approach difficult passages in Paul’s writings at the end of 2 Peter 3?

Joseph assumes, quite naturally, that Mary is pregnant by adultery. According to the Law, he would be perfectly within his rights to not only divorce Mary, but also to have her put to death. Yet Joseph is a just man and chooses to simply divorce her quietly, so as not to shame her. What does Joseph teach us about mercy? What does Joseph teach us about the purpose of God’s Law, especially since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law? What does Jesus teach us about mercy in John 8:1-11?

In the crucial moment, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him to not be afraid, because the child is from the Holy Spirit. In fulfillment of Isaiah, the angel commands him to take Mary as his wife and to name the child Jesus. Where else do divine dreams appear in Scripture? How significant are they in the history of God’s salvation? How do Joseph’s struggles with Mary’s pregnancy mirror our own occasional doubts about God’s work and promises? Where can we find answers to these doubts? Contrast Joseph’s doubt regarding Mary with Abraham’s faith regarding Isaac in Genesis 22.

As Matthew emphasizes over and over again in his Gospel, all of these things happened in fulfillment of Scripture. The prophecy of Isaiah 7 given to Ahaz points toward this moment, because she who knew no man has become the mother of God. Why does Matthew tell us repeatedly that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament? In what way is that important for us Gentiles, since these promises were not first made to us? How should we approach the fulfillment of prophecy in our dismissive age? What does Paul mean that Jesus is the “Yes” and “Amen” of God’s promises in 2 Corinthians 1?

Few passages of Scripture are as well known or beloved as this one. From hearing it read aloud to listening to it proclaimed at Christmas programs, we often assume that we have learned everything we need to know about it. What other passages suffer similar misuse? How should Christians approach these passages which they know very well so that they do not miss its message? What portions of this passage would you highlight in order to make it seem less familiar so that we can hear it rightly? Compare seeing the familiar in a new light with Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 and the veil of 2 Corinthians 3.