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.

Click here for the reading: 1 John 4:7-16.

Love is the great proof of being in God, because God Himself is love. John exhorts us to love one another just as God first loved us. What does John mean by love? What is the difference between this love and the love unbelievers show to others? How ought we to deal with a loveless attitude among Christians, especially when the world seems to show love better? In what ways does the world distort the idea of love, and how does this affect us in the Church? Compare Leviticus 19:9-18 and how it describes love.

God shows His love through His actions, above all in His Son Jesus Christ. The Father sent the Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins, so that we might live with Him. If God so loved us, how much should we love one another! Why does Jesus serve as the supreme example of love for us? In what ways do we show that same love for one another? In what ways do we show love for those who do not know God? How does Paul speak about this in Romans 5:1-11?

No one has seen the Father, nor have we in the last days seen Jesus face to face. Yet that does not mean that He has left us alone. Christian love is the great proof of God living within us, and the love He showed in His Son expresses itself in this way. Why is there such a close connection between Christian love and action? In what ways do our actions help or hinder the Gospel? How should Christians respond to charges of hypocrisy? Consider how Jesus speaks to this in John 13:31-35.

The Lord gives us another proof of this love in His Holy Spirit. The Spirit who speaks to us, bearing witness to what Jesus has done, also leads us to confess the truth of God. Jesus is the Son of God, as the Spirit tells us, and whoever believes in Him also has God dwelling within. What is the relationship between knowing the truth and love, between right doctrine and love for our neighbor? In what ways do we sometimes drive a wedge between these two, intentionally or unintentionally? Why must the two be kept together? How does the Lord talk about this in a passage like Hosea 6?

John goes on after this reading to discuss what Christian love is not. Fear is not love, because fear has to do with punishment. Hatred is not love, for it is impossible to both love God and to hate a Christian brother. Disobedience is also not love, because if we love God, then we will keep His commandments. Do we see examples of these even in the Church? How should Christians deal with these problems? How does John deal with these in this letter or elsewhere in his writings? How does Moses speak to Israel about this in Deuteronomy 10:12-22?

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 7:10-14.

Ahaz feared that the outcome of the alliance between Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel spelled disaster for Judah. The Lord commanded Isaiah to bring a message of peace to Ahaz, even though the king did not follow the Lord as his father and grandfather had done. Syria and wicked Israel alike would fall quickly, never to rise again. Why does God give blessings even to those who have rejected Him? In what ways does the Lord bless the unbelieving world? What should this teach us as Christians? Compare 2 Kings 3 and Elisha’s response to the king of Israel.

Even though the Lord specifically forbids putting Him to the test, Ahaz hears a remarkable offer. Ask a sign of God so that you may know that these two nations will fall. Put Him to the test! Yet Ahaz refuses, not out of piety, but out of cold unbelief. He will not give the Lord the opportunity to prove Himself. Why does the Lord normally forbid tempting Him? In what ways do we tempt God? What signs does the Lord give us, and how would we act like Ahaz with them? What signs does God give in Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2?

Ahaz rejects the Lord’s offer, but that will not stop God. The Lord Himself will give a sign, even though Ahaz did not ask for one. A virgin will conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel. Why is it a comfort that God is faithful even when men are unfaithful? How do the Scriptures teach this truth, and what are other specific examples? Consider Paul’s statements regarding the faithfulness of God in Romans 3.

Immanuel is not a sign of mercy for Ahaz. The king rejected the Lord, and so the Lord rejected him and his house also. The boy shall eat curds and honey, the food of poverty. David’s house would fall, and the promised Son of David would not be rich like the kings of old, but poor and lowly. Why does the Lord set a limit to His patience? In what ways do we weary Him? Why does God seem to change His promise to David here? What should this teach us about watchfulness and repentance? What does the Lord mean in his answer to Moses in Exodus 33:19?

Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, the Lord’s promised sign. However, Jesus was born nearly seven hundred years later, even though the Lord used this sign to show that Syria and the northern kingdom would fall within sixty-five years. How does Jesus serve as a sign to Ahaz? How do the signs of God done in the distant past or what He promises to do in the future speak to us today? How do these signs serve as comfort or as warning? How does Paul answer this question in 1 Corinthians 10?

Click here for the reading: John 1:19-28.

Jesus came in a time of high expectations, since the Jews are actively wondering when the Christ will appear. They even wonder if John, whose baptism is clearly a sign of the coming Christ, is the one they have been waiting for. Do we live in a similar spirit of expectation? What things are we waiting for in these days? What examples do we see of Christians misunderstanding what is happening? On the other hand, why do we sometimes lack this spirit of expectation? Why is waiting the vast majority of our experience as Christians, as seen in Psalm 62?

John’s confession of the truth is both positive and negative. While he denies that he is the Christ, he affirms at the same time that he is preparing the way of the Lord, as Isaiah said. What does it mean to confess rightly? What is the relationship between confession of the truth and our life? In what ways are we tempted to separate the two of them, and what are the consequences? Consider the example of Peter in Matthew 16, both in his confession and how he fails to fully understand who Jesus is.

Isaiah prophesied the coming of John, because he is the voice crying in the wilderness by his own confession. His message is equally clear: make the way of the Lord straight, because He is near! Why is confession of the truth not only a private matter? Why should confession of the truth result in a clear proclamation? How do we help or hinder this proclamation by how we live out that confession? How does the Lord speak of this relationship in passages like Amos 5?

This group sent to question John are not satisfied with his answers. Some of them were Pharisees, deeply interested in the reason why John was baptizing indiscriminately. Who are the Pharisees, and what distinguishes them from other groups like the Sadducees? Why would the Pharisees be interested in questions of authority in light of their history? How does this attitude fight against rightly confessing the truth, and in what ways do we run the risk of falling into it ourselves? Compare the seven woes of Jesus toward the Pharisees in Matthew 23 with the confession of John here.

Advent is a season of expectation, and it points as John did to the coming Christ. As this season comes to an end, John reminds us of the importance of looking to Christ. Jesus once appeared suddenly in His temple, and He will come again just as suddenly at the end of all things. Why is a right confession so important in these last days? In what ways do we struggle with indifference in our time, even among well meaning Christians? How can we be prepared for the coming of Christ? How does the situation of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22 relate to our own time?

Click here for the reading: Philippians 4:4-7.

Paul, writing while suffering in prison, commands the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord! Nor is this meant as a passing remark, because he repeats the command again in the same sentence. Being a Christian brings with it joy in the Lord, so that the two are always together. What things do Christians face that threaten to steal their joy from them? How should a Christian approach the trials of life that distinguishes them from worldly attempts at joy? What can we learn about joy from the Psalms, especially ones like Psalm 96?

Reasonableness, or gentleness, is set in contrast to violence in 1 Timothy 3:3, quarreling and speaking evil in Titus 3:2, and injustice in 1 Peter 2:18. It describes the Christian who is peaceable, kind, and fair to all those around him. Why is Christian virtue a public matter and not a private affair? Why is this virtue especially important in how a Christian interacts with the world? In what specific ways does reasonableness or gentleness show itself in the life of a Christian? How do we see this at work in Christ Himself, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:1?

Anxiety regarding the future is a constant danger, because no one knows what will be except God Himself. Yet constant fear about what could be is deadly to faith, because it loses sight of God. What does anxiety make us forget with regard to the Lord? What are some examples of things in the world which cause anxiety even in Christians, especially in our present situation? How does God specifically calm those fears? Why is the nearness of the Lord’s return a reason to not be afraid? Compare what Christ has to say regarding anxiety in Matthew 6:25-34.

Prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving, not gloom or fear, should fill a Christian’s days. The Lord commands us to pray and to call on His name, because He is our help and our shield. Why do Christians forget to pray? How does prayer speak to the trials of life? What sort of practical advice would you give to Christians regarding prayer, especially if they do not have a habit of prayer? What is the difference between thanksgiving and making requests? Why should both be a part of prayer? How does Jesus describe the practice of prayer in Matthew 6, and how does He teach us by His own example?

Above all, being a Christian means possessing a peace beyond all understanding, a peace which lives even in the worst of circumstances. It is the joy of the martyrs, the calmness of the suffering saints, looking for something far better than this world has to offer. How does a Christian find such peace, especially when dealing with terrible situations? How should a Christian approach pain and suffering? What is the difference between Stoic indifference and Christian peace? What is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the peace of God, as seen in John 14?

Click here for the reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

No issue in the book of Deuteronomy is more prominent than regulations regarding worship. Israel, now on the cusp of entering the promised land, must guard themselves carefully, lest they be led astray. With Moses nearing death, the people must learn to distinguish between true and false prophets of the Lord. Why does the Lord speak through men, when it seems so easy to say anything about God? How should a Christian answer those who say that even the Bible is simply the word of men and not of God? Compare 2 Peter 1:16-21 in regard to the question of inspiration.

Moses declares to Israel that the Lord will raise up a prophet like him from among them. It is the Lord who does this, not the prophet himself. Where a false prophet comes on his own authority, the true prophet comes on God’s authority, and in many cases in the Old Testament, comes reluctantly at God’s command. Why is order important within the Church, especially regarding her messengers? What is the relationship between a desire to be an overseer and the order of the church? On the other hand, what are the limits of this human order when a man is clearly not speaking for God? Consider the call of the prophets, like Isaiah 6, and their response to God.

Part of the need for Moses acting as prophet was the fear the people expressed at hearing the voice of God at Horeb. Seeing the glory of God descended upon the mountain and hearing the voice like a trumpet was too much for them to bear. What about the Lord makes them so fearful, even when He had come to save? Why does God give such careful detail about His worship to a people who cannot bear to hear His voice? How does God deal with this issue in our own time? Why did the Lord cover Moses in the rock in Exodus 33?

Moses warns those who refuse to listen to the Lord that they will have to answer for it in the great judgment day. It is not a small thing to ignore the true messengers of God! What are specific reasons why people might refuse to listen to God’s messengers, also in our day? Why is it crucial for pastors to be certain of God’s will when declaring the Word to His people? How does Paul address these questions in 1 Timothy 4?

As Peter clearly declares in Acts 3, Jesus is the prophet like Moses in a way unlike any other prophet. We are called to listen to Him, as the Father declared at His Transfiguration. How does the destruction of Jerusalem prove the truth of this passage? Why is it a danger for us to ignore or explain away the clear word of the Lord? According to Romans 11, why is the partial hardening of Israel a warning for us who have been grafted into the tree of salvation?

Click here for the reading: Matthew 11:2-10.

John the Baptist, even while in prison, hears people talking about the miracles of Jesus. Though Jesus taught with authority and not like the scribes, yet it is what he does that attracts the most attention. Jesus even answers John’s question sent through his disciples with miracles rather than simply words. Why are miracles so important to the message of the Gospel? What is their purpose, even for us who only hear about them thousands of years later? Since Revelation 13 shows us that false miracles are possible, how do we know which are genuine? Compare the words of Jesus in John 10:37-38 regarding the purpose of true miracles.

Jesus finishes his answer to John by saying, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” In what ways are people offended by Jesus? Do we try to soften Jesus’ words and actions in order to make him more palatable? What are some common examples of this? How does Jesus respond to grumbling in John 6? How should that inform our own response to those offended by Him?

After the disciples leave, Jesus questions those following Him about John. Who is he? What was his purpose? John, after all, is in prison now, and his time has come to an end. What does Jesus mean by “a reed shaken by the wind”? Do we see examples of this in our lives? How do we avoid that behavior? What does he mean by “a man dressed in soft clothing”? How do we avoid that problem as well? Why do these not describe John the Baptist, and why is that important when considering his message? Consider the example of the sons of Josiah in Jeremiah 22 and what it means to be righteous in God’s eyes.

John is a prophet, and indeed he is more than a prophet. He exceeds the prophets of old, because he prepares the way of the Lord directly. The other prophets only spoke of His coming and longed for His day, but John pointed to Him with his own hand. Why is it important to understand who John is? Why is it important to rightly understand the mission of any of the prophets, apostles, or even pastors of the Church? What is at risk if it is misunderstood? How does Ephesians 4:1-16 help us understand the work of those whom God has sent?

Among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John, but the least in the kingdom is greater than he. The old has given way to the new, and the new is greater by far. In what ways do we who live in the time of the New Testament exceed those who lived in the time of the Old? What does that mean for how we approach the Old Testament? How does Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 clarify the greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit?