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Hark The Glad Sound
From November-December 2022

Meet the hymn-writer

The author of our hymn was Philip Doddridge, born on 26th June 1702, the last of the twenty children of Daniel and Elizabeth Doddridge. Before Philip could read, his mother introduced him to the Scriptures using the decorated Dutch chimney-tiles in their sitting room. Philip’s mother died when he was eight, and his father died just four years later. It was a Presbyterian minister Samuel Clarke, of St Albans, who eventually took the young boy on, becoming not only his carer but an enormous influence and a lifelong friend.

In 1719, Doddridge entered the Dissenting academy at Knebworth, and in 1729 accepted an invitation to be pastor to an independent congregation at Northampton. He married Mercy Maris in 1730 and they had nine children, of which four survived into adulthood. He also held an academic position in the Northampton Academy and developed friendships with influential thinkers of the day, including famous theologian and hymn writer Isaac Watts.

Doddridge was a prolific writer, with his book ‘The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul’ being translated into seven languages (Charles Spurgeon referred to it as ‘that holy book’). Besides a New Testament commentary and other theological works, he also wrote over 400 hymns, most as summaries of his sermons to help a congregation express their response to the truths they were being taught.

In 1751, Doddridge’s health, which had never been good, broke down. He sailed for Lisbon, hoping the better weather might assist his recovery, but to no avail, as he died there of tuberculosis. His grave and tombstone is in the British Cemetery in Lisbon.

The Doddridge United Reformed Church (formerly the Castle Hill URC) in Doddridge Street, Northampton was the scene of his ministry from 1729 to 1751. The interior has galleries, box pews and a memorial to Doddridge and was Grade II listed by English Heritage in 1952.

It is always difficult to understand all that the writer of a hymn was trying to get across whilst singing their words just once or twice a year. Hymn-writers have packaged most of our traditional Advent and Christmas carols with nuggets of truth from Scripture, and now and then it is good to unwrap them and see where they might lead us in our understanding of worship of Jesus.

So, each of these studies takes a verse of this hymn, adopts a theme from within it and expands it a little so that we might understand something of what was going through the mind of the writer as he wrote the words, and widen our own understanding, as we look at verses from Scripture and in the discussions that follow. There will be some familiar Advent passages alongside others which explore the nature and ministry of our Saviour and how our own lives can reflect some of Jesus’ light and love.


Come and worship!

1 Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes,
the Saviour promised long;
let every heart prepare a throne
and every voice a song. 

2 He comes the prisoners to release,
in Satan’s bondage held;
the gates of brass before him burst,
the iron fetters yield.

3 He comes the broken heart to bind,
the bleeding soul to cure,
and with the treasures of his grace,
to enrich the humble poor.

4 Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
your welcome shall proclaim,
and heaven’s eternal arches ring,
with your beloved name.


Commencing Sunday 27th november 2022

Hark The Glad SOund

Study 1 - The Saviour Promised Long

Say or sing:

Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes,
the Saviour promised long;
let every heart prepare a throne
and every voice a song.

Opening question

Is the continual retelling of the Advent and Christmas story still a vital part of what we are as individuals and as church?
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.’ (Luke 24:27)

The Promise of a Saviour

There is perhaps a natural inclination for human beings to believe that we are in control of our destiny. The Bible begins with a breakdown in the relationship between God and humanity, preferring independence and disobedience, and sin enters the vocabulary, in wrongdoing and wrong thinking in what has become an imperfect world. God wants this precious relationship to be restored, but we cannot ignore sin, and there is a cost.

The bottom line is that humanity cannot do this by itself, and although animal sacrifices by the Hebrew people made amends for a time, they were not enough.

The Bible reveals it is through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross, and true repentance, that salvation comes freely offered to all. God rescues humanity because humanity cannot rescue itself.

Back in 1874, the great preacher and theologian Charles Haddon Spurgeon said this;

 ‘In some shape or other, all natural men seek refuge in self, and fly thither again and again and again, though often driven from it. Their so doing is useless and foolish, dishonouring to God and defiling to themselves. If men would but believe the truth, they would know that they can no more save themselves than they can turn evil into good, or hell into heaven!

It would be a grand thing done if they could be made to understand that they have abundant power to destroy themselves, but that all their help for salvation lies wholly in Jesus Christ; when they are convinced of this, they will cast themselves upon the Redeemer, and peace and joy would fill their spirits.’

Some questions

  1. What do you think of Spurgeon’s words, and how relevant are they today, so long after being written?
  2. Is a yearning to be in control of our lives a natural inclination for humans, and does that sit well with your understanding of the relationship between God and human beings in the Old Testament?

The Voices of Old Testament Prophets
Read Jeremiah 23:5-6; Isaiah 9:6-7; Malachi 3:1

The Assyrian Empire is weak, the Babylonians gaining power. Josiah, the young king of Judah, has come of age and is looking to lead the people back into the covenant relationship with God that they have sadly broken. Jeremiah brings God’s Word into this window of opportunity, warning the people of hard times and impending exile.

It’s not an easy message, but the people must face God’s judgement before restoration will come. Then, out of sorrow will come joy, as God reveals his new covenant.

At the beginning of chapter 23, Jeremiah is chastising the leaders of Judah during Zedekiah’s time for destroying the unity of the nation and scattering its people like sheep. But God will bring them back, placing shepherds over them before the coming of the ‘righteous Branch’, The Lord, who will reign as a true king, and bring salvation to his people.

Isaiah paints a similar picture. Despite Israel’s rejection of God’s word through the prophet, God plans to bring light into their current darkness, and Isaiah brings us the image of a child and more titles for this new king – Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah’s excitement at this revelation spills over into his words as he says the guarantee of this blessing is ’the zeal of the LORD!’

Malachi brings us familiar words that the New Testament writers saw fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist, quoting Jesus using these very words as a testament to how central he was in the bigger picture of God’s salvation. 

Some questions

  1. How do you view the use of Old Testament prophecy to point toward Jesus?
  2. Take another look at Isaiah’s prophesy and the names that this child is to be known by. What do they say to you?

The voice of New Testament Writers
Read John 1:1-4, Hebrews 1:1-5, Matthew 1:18-23

Powerful words from John introduce his Gospel message, and his first words link to Genesis 1. Here is Jesus as ‘the Word’, and just as Genesis 2 talks of God breathing life into humankind, so John tells us that ‘In (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind’. He continues in his gospel to show that the words and actions of Jesus are indeed those of God.

The book of Hebrews carries this theme of Jesus not only as Word, but as creator working in creation and addressing the problem of human sin at Calvary. But we also have a division of time, between the past and present, the sharing of God’s word by prophets and teachers of old, and more recently through his Son.

In the last verse, the writer emphasises the relationship between Father and Son. Matthew brings us familiar Advent words, and Mary and Joseph’s stories (it was important for Jews to see the Davidic link through Joseph), along with a precis of the situation Joseph found himself in, emphasising that this child is to be called Jesus (the Greek form of Joshua, which means ‘the Lord saves’) and fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah, ‘ Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (God is with us)’ (Isaiah 7:1:14).

Some questions

  1. What do the verses from John’s Gospel tell you about the writer’s understanding of Jesus and his relationship with God?
  2. Hebrews talks about God speaking through the prophets at many times and in various ways. How do you hear God speaking in your everyday life?

Jesus’ Words and Actions
Read John 5:16-21,24; Luke 5:20-24; Philippians 2:5-11

John gives an insight into how Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a dangerous person. First, in their eyes was his habit of breaking the laws and traditions of the Sabbath, which certainly merited punishment.

The Jews fully understood that God didn’t take a day off each week, so Jesus’ answer to the first complaint was, ‘My Father is still working, and therefore so am I’. However, claiming equality with God was something they could not tolerate. And calling God his own father effectively made him equal to God, which was plainly blasphemous.

We might struggle to understand the concept of Trinity (God as Father, Son, and Spirit) but to Jesus, his relationship with God was one of sonship, which covers many aspects, as seen in verses 19-21.

Luke brings us a similar theme, with Jewish leaders accusing Jesus of blasphemy for forgiving the sins of someone – who can forgive sins but God alone, they ask? In his answer, Jesus asserts his authority to do this, as Son of Man, which can mean an ordinary man, or as in Daniel 7:13-14 a heavenly figure who, in the end times, brings God’s kingdom to the oppressed.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, talks of the nature of Jesus, who refused to use his equality with God to his own advantage, and chose servanthood and humility instead, which, says Paul, is an example to us all.

Some questions

  1. How difficult do you think it might have been for the Jewish leaders to accept Jesus for who he said he was?
  2. So, was Jesus really as dangerous to the status quo as the authorities believed?
  3. How easy is it for people today to see through the tinsel, busyness, and anticipation of Christmas, and acknowledge Jesus as their Saviour?

Pause for prayer

Pray for those who feel that they have no need of a Saviour, or who have had unpleasant experiences of organised religion, and want no part in it.

Some quotes

‘God never gives someone a gift they are not capable of receiving. If he gives us the gift of Christmas, it is because we all have the ability to understand and receive it.’
Pope Francis

‘God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you?’’
William Arthur Ward

Study 2 - Prisoners to Release

Say or sing

He comes the prisoners to release,
in Satan’s bondage held;
the gates of brass before him burst,
the iron fetters yield.

Opening question

Where, or when, in your life would you say you have experienced real freedom, either physically or spiritually?
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5:1)

In Satan’s bondage held

The word ‘bondage’ has changed, or expanded its meaning over the centuries, with English usage in the Middle Ages (c476- 1440 A.D.) relating to those such as the tenant farmer, or villein, entirely subject to a lord or master to whom he paid dues and services in return for land. Most European peasants in the Middle Ages lived like this.

In Genesis, we find the Israelites travelling from Canaan to Egypt, with God telling Jacob that the experience would build them into a great nation. Several generations later, they found themselves under real bondage to an Egyptian Pharaoh, concerned their increasing presence would lead to trouble.

They endured forced labour under Egyptian slave masters, but even this had no effect on population size, so the Pharaoh ordered all first-born male Israelite babies to be slaughtered. The story, told in Exodus, continues with the woes of the Israelites, and introduces Moses, who, with God’s help, will lead these oppressed people out of bondage and into a promised land.

 In recent translations of the Bible, we don’t find many examples of ‘bondage’, but we read about being burdened by ‘a yoke of slavery’ (Galatians 5:1) and becoming ‘slaves of sin’ (Romans 6:6-7) and this is the image behind the hymn-writer’s words.

Some questions

  1. What kinds of things we encounter in life can become burdens that are difficult to shed?
  2. Sin is not a word that is used much outside of a religious context. How would you explain it to a non-churchgoer?

From slavery to so much
Read John 8:31-36; Hebrews 2:14-15; Titus 2:11-14

To Jesus, being ‘in bondage’ came in many forms, not just related to sinful behaviour (which can have a firm grip on so many), and in John’s Gospel he’s talking to Jews who were very much in bondage to the vast number of rules, laws, and even superstitions that governed everyday life, along with a teaching which left them blinded to the appearance of the Messiah.

So, Jesus acknowledges that there are Jews who are listening to him as disciples might with a teacher or rabbi, but to be real disciples they need to loosen the old shackles that bind them and embrace the life that he speaks of, letting that divine truth set them free.

Many today would express an interest in Jesus and his life, example, and teaching, but be unwilling to accept the deeper truths about him and take the important step of faith to find that same freedom that Jesus talks about here.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus shared our humanity, walked the paths that others trod and from that place of love and empathy can bring freedom from sin and even fear of death.

In his letter to Titus, Paul expands on this theme of release from bondage, and how through the grace of God we have the wisdom and knowledge of how to live out this freedom.

Some questions

  1. Jesus sees differences among those who truly follow, and those who simply listen to his words. How might this be relevant today and what can the Church do to address the issue?
  2. Humility is a quality that writers of our scriptures saw and highlighted in Jesus’ life. Within society, where do you see or not see humility, and how does that affect your own attitudes?

The means of release
Read John 13:1-9; 1 Peter 1:18-21; Hebrews 9:11-14

John brings us to where Jesus recognised his time on earth was ending, and at this Passover Festival, he focused on what must shortly happen, with betrayal, trial, and sacrificial death. There is symbolism here, as this is a Jewish holiday that celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and the saving of the first-born from death. A Passover Lamb would be sacrificed and eaten.

Jesus chooses this moment to take the place of a servant and wash the disciples’ feet, a lesson in humility and service that would become an example for the apostles to imitate in their subsequent ministry. Peter objects, but to Jesus, this is symbolic of the spiritual cleansing that all need.

The apostle Peter became a leader in the church, latterly in Rome, and when he heard churches were experiencing persecution in other Roman provinces he wrote to them, encouraging faithfulness to Jesus. In this passage, he asks them to remember all they’ve been taught, for they know well that it was by ‘the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’, that they found the new life that God promised. The NIV version uses the word ‘redeemed’ and this refers to slavery in ancient Rome, where freedom could only come after a period of service or by paying a price, either by the slave or someone else.

Hebrews brings us a theological explanation of the price that Jesus Christ paid for our freedom through the shedding of his blood, offered, says the writer, as a sacrifice to God for sin.

Some questions

  1. We are in Advent, and yet it is difficult to ignore the journey that Jesus will make from a stable to the Cross, ‘that he had come from God and was returning to God’ (John 13:3). How can it help our understanding of Advent to consider the bigger picture?
  2. The Passover meal is full of significance for those eating it, the traditional Christmas meal perhaps more about overindulgence for those who can afford. Are there elements of our own Christmas celebrations can relate to our faith stories?

The purpose of release
Read Matthew 26:26-28; Ephesians 1:3-11; 2 Corinthians 5:13-21

The Bible gives us the story of the Israelites’ freedom from bondage in Egypt, and the continual love that God has shown to an often-disobedient people. The Passover meal speaks into that. Now Jesus introduces additional elements with the words ‘this is my body’ as he breaks bread, and ‘this is my blood of the covenant’ as he pours out the wine. The inference is of a sacrificial offering. As bread is broken, so will Jesus’ body, and his blood will flow, just as with a Passover sacrifice.

Jesus’ use of ‘covenant’ alludes to the Servant Song of Isaiah, where the chosen one becomes ‘a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.’ (Isaiah 42:6b-7). Jesus’s sacrifice opened the gates so that we might welcome all into God’s kingdom, experience his love and grace, and enter this covenant relationship.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians builds on this theme as he states that this was always God’s plan, that through Jesus Christ all of creation might find unity and purpose, as sons and daughters of God’s family on earth. Paul expands on this to the Corinthians as he tells his readers that because of all that Jesus Christ has done for us, we are now ‘Christ’s ambassadors’ with a ministry of reconciliation in the world.

Some questions

  1. So, what are we to do with this knowledge of our own release from bondage?
  2. How would you explain the Church’s ministry of reconciliation, in terms of the community in which your own fellowship meets for worship?

Pause for prayer

Pray for those heavily burdened with the load they carry daily, though anxiety, illness, abuse, overwork, or poverty, for example.

Some quotes

‘Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.’
Dr. Seuss

‘He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.’
Roy L. Smith

Study 3 - Broken hearts to bind

Say or sing

He comes the broken heart to bind,
the bleeding soul to cure,
and with the treasures of his grace,
to enrich the humble poor.

Opening question

Is it possible to enjoy the Advent and Christmas season without the associated expense, particularly if you have children or grandchildren and limited resources?

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28)

Broken hearts and bleeding souls

Physically, the heart is a vital organ in the body, but when the Scriptures were being written it was also a term used to describe the inner life and feelings, as when Jesus tells his followers, ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’ (John 15:11). And in describing the heart this way, as a centre of our feelings, emotions, compassion, and wisdom, it is perhaps easier to appreciate that sadness, loss, or tragedy might break a heart. We see this as Jesus meets Mary and friends, totally overwhelmed by the loss of her brother Lazarus, and John pictures this moment with two words: ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:36).

The Bible references body, spirit, and soul. It is easy to understand the body as a physical thing, but distinguishing between soul and spirit can be problematical, and theological opinions abound. One of the simplest explanations describes spirit as our life force, the part of us that connects with the divine in word and worship, and the soul as that which makes us unique, our accumulated experiences of life (both physical and spiritual) that make us who we are, our uniqueness. However, Bible translations are not clear-cut, with soul and spirit often intertwined.

And Jesus’ mother Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed…’ (Luke 1:46-48)

Some questions

  1. Is the heart still a good image to use regarding our feelings toward others, despite scientists telling us it’s all about pumping blood?
  2. Can you think of any other ways of describing the ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’, that Mary refers to in her poem?

The broken-hearted
Read Psalm 147:1-3; Isaiah 61:1-3; Psalm 34:17-18

The world today has its share of warfare, with the loss of loved ones, refugees fleeing, and those captured and taken prisoner. The heartache and trauma suffered can be immense. Whilst the Psalmist was writing, many might have been mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. Others were in exile in foreign lands. Records dating back to c700 B.C. talk of forced deportations of anything between 13- 200k captives from Judah.

When any of these people finally made it back home, it was a time for rejoicing for the restoration of their lives, expressed in the words of Psalm 147.

Isaiah tells us about ‘the year of the LORD’s favour’, and there would be many who were suffering at this time – captives and broken[1]hearted – but we also see in these words the person of Jesus. He was happy to quote from this passage to describe his own ministry (in Luke 4) ending with the words ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’. He is the anointed one who will proclaim in word and deed the good news of God’s blessing, fix what sin had broken and bring healing and restoration to broken lives.

There is a threefold blessing in verse 3, where the ashes symbolise a deep sorrow, and the crown, oil, and garment point to preparations for a time of joy and worship.

Psalm 34 reminds us that God is always near to us, hearing our voices when we cry to him in our distress.

Some questions

  1. Jesus talks about ancient Scripture as being ‘fulfilled’. How do you understand the use of that term, and is this something we should look for today as we read our Bibles?
  2. If Christians are called to follow the example of Jesus, are there ways in which the Church can engage with those who we would call the broken-hearted, based upon the words of Isaiah?

Body, heart, and soul
Read Psalm 31:5-8; Matthew 11:28-30; James 5:13-16

Psalm 31 is a plea by the psalmist for deliverance from a trap set by his enemies, but also a recognition that God is his rock and refuge in such times of anguish, and however helpless he might feel, he can trust in the power of God to overcome and in time bring him release.

This is a psalm of lament, which acknowledges that suffering can afflict all people, even the righteous, and although there might not be a ‘quick-fix’ outcome, ultimately God’s love and power will triumph.

Jesus speaks into this theme in with these lovely words from Matthew, where those whose lives are downtrodden, over-burdened and over-tired can find in Jesus the peace that they so desperately seek. For the ordinary Jew, it might be the heavy burden placed on their shoulders by the Pharisees with endless regulations governing daily life.

There are echoes in Jesus’ words of a prophesy of Jeremiah containing these words of God: ‘I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.’ (Jeremiah 31:25)

James’ words are a reminder that bringing the troubles of body and soul to God in prayer is important, something the psalmist knew well. He also reminds us that when times are good, then that is also a time for prayer and praise, and emphasises the importance of sharing in our prayer life, within the safety of our fellowship groups.

Some questions

  1. How important is regular prayer and worship to your wellbeing, and how is that affected by changes in circumstance, stress, and weariness?

2.Jesus asks that we shed the burdens that we carry and take up instead his yoke, which ‘is easy’ and the ‘burden is light’. How do you understand those words in relation to your faith?


An attitude of humility
Read Philippians 2:1-8; Luke 1:46-53; Acts 20:17-21

Paul is keen to encourage the Philippian believers, and there’s love in his words as he acknowledges the way this church has grown. These are people who have found such encouragement from their newly found faith, and within their shared experiences discovered the spiritual gifts needed to build up a church. Now he looks to a unity that can advance the gospel, and a willingness to put the interests and needs of others above their own, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, showing within lives an absence of selfishness and an abundance of humility and service.

If we need an example, then Luke points us toward Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her wonderful song. Mary is speaking for herself, but also for her community and people of God throughout history. She praises the ‘Mighty One’ who has done so much for her and acknowledges the high standing of the humble and hungry in the eyes of God. Mary herself is a lovely example of a humble, faithful disciple in a culture that did not recognise equality as we might today.

We might think of Paul as a forceful character, never afraid to stand up for what he believed. But in his address to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20, we find him on the defensive against a mainly Jewish opposition, and he admits to being reduced to tears by some of their criticism and plotting. However, Paul is clear, that in humility he has simply shared the good news of Jesus Christ, be it in public or going from house to house, and to both Jews and Gentiles, his focus being on repentance and faith – the pathway to salvation. 

Some questions

  1. Are there examples of humility and service within your own community that are worthy of praise?

2.Looking back at Mary’s song in Luke, which words or thoughts really stand out?

Pause for prayer

Pray for those who, for whatever reason, find this season a difficult one to journey through. 

Some quotes

‘Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the love of God and family and to create memories that will last forever. Jesus is God’s perfect, indescribable gift. The amazing thing is that not only are we able to receive this gift, but we are able to share it with others on Christmas and every other day of the year.’
Joel Osteen

 ‘At Christmas, I am always struck by how the spirit of togetherness lies also at the heart of the Christmas story. A young mother and a dutiful father with their baby were joined by poor shepherds and visitors from afar. They came with their gifts to worship the Christ child.’
Queen Elizabeth II

Study 4 - The Prince of Peace

Say or sing

Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
your welcome shall proclaim,
and heaven’s eternal arches ring,
with your beloved name.

Opening question

What is the most important part of the Christmas celebrations for you as an individual or within your close family?

‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ (Isaiah 9:6)

Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:6 is a familiar verse in Advent, with Isaiah’s prophecy seen as fulfilled in the birth, life, and mission of Jesus. A verse containing several names, or titles by which this child will become known. There are many others within Scripture, including Son of God, Son of David, Son of Man, Man of Sorrows, Immanuel, Messiah (or Christ). As the Christ, Christians see Jesus fulfilling the words and expectations of many of the Old Testament prophets found within the regular Advent readings. Jesus later acknowledged this name whilst talking to the woman at the well.

‘The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”’ (John 4:25,26)

Jesus preferred to be known as the Son of Man, which points to his servanthood and humanity, as well as reflecting Daniel’s vision where, ‘I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.’ (Daniel 7:13-14)

 As Prince of Peace, Jesus directs thoughts and actions toward a restoration of relationships between God and humanity, and between individuals, through his teaching and the supreme example of a life focussed on love, forgiveness, humility, and compassion.

Some questions

1 Why might Jesus have been reluctant to assume the name of Messiah early in his ministry?

2 Why does Jesus need so many titles, and which one means the most to you?

Peace through the coming of Jesus Christ
Read Zechariah 9:9-10; Luke 2:10-14; Ephesians 2:17-18

Zechariah’s words might be familiar to us, but they follow a prophesy of warfare, of destruction and death, which may align with the campaigns of Alexander the Great and ends with the words ‘Never again will an oppressor overrun my people…’.

Now his thoughts turn to promise, blessing and rejoicing for the coming of the messianic, Davidic King, whose qualities he describes. The King will be righteous, saving, humble, and peaceful (the image of him riding into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey, rather than a war-horse).

It recalls the moment that Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the people acknowledging him as Messiah, although soon afterwards rejecting him, and calling for his crucifixion. In verse 10, we see the establishment of God’s kingdom, bearing little resemblance to that of Alexander, which was founded on bloodshed. The messianic King will establish a universal kingdom of peace.

Humility and peace are at the heart of the angel’s message to the shepherds in Luke, regarding the impending birth of Jesus. Here is indeed good news, but wrapped in cloths, and in a manger, vulnerable, his future left to the angels to share in songs of praise. Here, in this baby, is the Saviour, the Messiah, and Prince of Peace.

Zechariah talked of Zion’s King bringing peace to the nations, the angels sang of a blessing of peace, and Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians tell them, and us, that Jesus is our peace, for he has broken down the barriers that divide us. ‘He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ (Ephesians 2:17,18)

Some questions

1 How do you understand the word ‘peace’ in a Christian life and fellowship?

  1. Paul talks of the Gentiles feeling like they were foreigners regarding acceptance by God and the Jews. Are there people today who might feel the same way about God and the Church?

Peace through Jesus’ ministry and teaching
Read John 14:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Acts 10:34-38

Jesus had several conversations with his disciples, explaining that his time with them was short, and this no doubt was a stressful time for them all, as the disciples realised Jesus was expecting great things from them, and ultimately all believers.

However, Jesus was not abandoning them, as the Holy Spirit would become their guide and source of wisdom, and Jesus promises them a peace about all this, which in this context is a real confidence in God and their place in his plans, far more than the world can offer with that same word.

With a similar theme of confidence in God, Mark includes what appears to be an eyewitness account of Jesus calming the storm (so many little details included). He was writing to believers in Rome, and a story like this would offer that same peace that Jesus talked in John’s message, and a confidence that God would be with them even if they also sailed into the storms of persecution and trial.

In Acts we read a part of Peter’s sermon to Cornelius’s house, as he realises finally that God has no favourites, and his love and grace is for the entire world, which is ‘the good news of peace through Jesus Christ’ demonstrated through his words and actions.

Some questions

  1. Confidence in God. Is that a natural feeling with you, even when times are tough, and are there Bible verses or previous experiences you cling to which help?
  2. What differences do you perceive between the value of someone in God’s kingdom, and in the part of the world you live in?

Peace through Jesus’ death and resurrection
Read John 20:19-23; Ephesians 2:11-16; Romans 1:1-7

There was seemingly very little peace with the group of disciples, and others, huddled together behind closed doors after the crucifixion. Even when Jesus appeared, they may have feared his anger and frustration at the way they abandoned him at the time of his arrest. But no, they get the normal Hebrew greeting of ‘Peace be with you!’, which here is more than just saying ‘Hi!’ because to these disciples, Jesus sums up what is at the heart of his ministry.

Jesus’ gift to the world is Peace. He calms their fears as he proves that this is no ghost standing before them, and empowers them with the Spirit to continue his work of forgiveness of sins, and the restoration and renewal of lives both physically and spiritually.

Paul reminds his readers of the enormous change there has been in their lives through their response to Jesus Christ, the sacrificial offering of his blood on the cross, the breaking down of barriers, loosening of chains, and restoring relationships between people of all nations with their God and each other. One people. One ‘new humanity’ as he calls it.

Holding on to an awareness of what they were and what they have become will enrich their faith, obedience, and worship. Christ is our peace, Paul tells them, not only in what he said, but in the life he led.

Some questions

1.We have used a ‘traditional’ Advent hymn to lead us through these studies, but do you have a favourite hymn or worship song with Advent or Christmas as its theme, and what makes it special for you?

  1. Where or when do you sense peace within the Advent/Christmas story?
  2. How might your church share this peace more openly within the community in which you meet?

Pause for prayer

Pray for those areas of the world where peace is desperately needed at this time. 

Some quotes

‘To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.’
E. B. White

‘Faith is salted and peppered through everything at Christmas. And I love at least one night by the Christmas tree to sing and feel the quiet holiness of that time that’s set apart to celebrate love, friendship, and God’s gift of the Christ child.’
Amy Grant