Lesson: Zephaniah 3:14-20
14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17 The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing
18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.
Zephaniah is one of the 12 “Minor” Prophets, so-called because their works form a single scroll in the Hebrew Bible, as compared to the longer works of the “Major” Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
Zephaniah was a prophet to Judea during the reign of the good King Josiah (640-609 BCE) who instituted most of the Deuteronomic reforms, particularly centralizing worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. His father’s name was Cushi (1:1) and Zephaniah may have been a Cushite (a person from Ethiopia). At the time of his prophesying, he was a Jerusalemite (1:10-12).
Because Zephaniah prophesied against many practices prohibited by Deuteronomy (particularly worship of gods other than YHWH), his prophesy is generally dated to 630-620 BCE, just before Josiah’s reforms began in 621 BCE. The Book is only three chapters, and most of the Book concerns the Day of the LORD in which YHWH will pour out his anger on the people for worshiping other gods. For the most part, he describes the Day of the LORD as a global catastrophe (1:2-6).
Today’s reading is from the last half of Chapter 3, where the message shifted to oracles of salvation. Just before today’s reading, the prophet said the “proudly exultant ones” (3:11) will be removed and only the humble and lowly will be left (v.12).
The people were urged to rejoice (v.14) because YHWH is in their midst, will overcome Judea’s oppressors, gather the exiles together, be their king (v.15) and make the Judeans renowned (v.20).
Scholars suggest that the last two verses of the reading are a later addition because they reflect eschatological themes that are post-Exilic. The Exile ended in 539 BCE when the Judeans returned to Jerusalem.
Epistle: Philippians 4:4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Paul wrote this letter from prison. For this reason, many think the letter was written from Rome around 62 CE. Other scholars note that Paul was also imprisoned earlier in Ephesus and made a number of trips to Philippi from Ephesus, including one in 50 or 51 CE, according to Acts 16. Paul offered himself and Jesus the Christ as examples of courage and self-surrender in the face of suffering and death.
Paul had a deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18).
At the end of Chapter 3, he told them that “we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20) who will “transform our humble body that it may be conformed to the body of his glory” (3:21). In the beginning of Chapter 4, he urged two of the women leaders of the community in Philippi to overcome their differences and become unified (4:2).
In today’s reading, Paul urged the Philippians to rejoice and let their gentleness be known by all for the Lord is near (v.5). They should not worry but should pray, and the peace of God which passes all understanding would guard their hearts and minds (v.7).
Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” 15 He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 50% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
Luke is the only Gospel that contains an account of John’s unusual conception. His mother, Elizabeth, was barren and she and her husband were “getting on in years” (1:7). Moreover, when an angel told John’s father, Zechariah (a mid-level Levite priest serving in the Temple), that Elizabeth would conceive, the angel said the son must be a Nazirite and “the spirit and power of Elijah would go before him [the son]” (1:13-17). When Mary visited her “relative” Elizabeth (who was a descendant of Aaron), the child “leaped in her womb” and Elizabeth (filled with the Holy
Today’s reading picked up from last week’s reading and continued to describe the ministry of John the Baptist. In calling “the crowds” a “brood of vipers,” Luke used a phrase used by Matthew only for the Sadducees and the Pharisees (Matt. 3:7).
In telling the crowds that they should not rely on the fact that Abraham was their ancestor (v.8), John was disabusing them of the idea that the merits of their fathers — and being Jewish by natural birth — gave them a privileged status. The emphasis on “bearing good fruit” is one that is found in all the Gospels. John’s exhortations to exercise generosity, fairness and virtue are all Jewish values.
All the Gospels contain a description of Jesus’ Baptism by John and statements by John that he was not the Messiah and that one to come after him was more powerful (vv. 16-17).
In the First Century, there was a tradition that Jesus had been a disciple of John before he (Jesus) began his public ministry. In addition, a baptizer was seen as superior to the person being baptized. For these reasons, all the Gospels emphasized that John was not the Messiah and that Jesus was more powerful than John and “superior” to him.
The “baptism by the Holy Spirit” (v.16) that John said Jesus would bring was accomplished at Pentecost in tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).