Most churches will be using readings for Epiphany this Sunday, as January 6 falls on a Wednesday.
For this reason, the readings for Christmas 2 — the second Sunday after Christmas — will be used by few congregations that follow the three-year Lectionary readings from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
The Vanderbilt Divinity Library is a useful resource for Lectionary readings. I highly recommend it. Catholic readings are included.
The Gospel reading is John 1:18, used on Christmas Day, about which you can read more here:
Christmas Day — John 1:14 (with commentary from Matthew Poole)
Happy Christmas, one and all! (John 1:1-17)
This is verse 18, another to remember:
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The first reading is Jeremiah 31:7-14:
7 For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”
8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
10 Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”
11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.
Jeremiah, John MacArthur explains, prophesied during a horrible period in the history of the Jews, the Babylonian captivity and slaughter:
Jeremiah was 80 to 100 years later than Isaiah. Everything that Isaiah said was going to happen did happen at the end of Jeremiah’s time. Isaiah, you remember, had said that judgment was coming and Jeremiah says it’s here. Jeremiah says the Babylonians are going to arrive and the Babylonians are going to slaughter you. And the Babylonians are going to take you into captivity and that is exactly what happened. Jeremiah stood on the edge of the holocaust. Jeremiah was the prophet of the end of the glory days of Israel.
The late Dr. Morehead said it was Jeremiah[‘s] lot to prophe[s]y at time when all things in Judah were rushing down to the final and mournful catastrophe. When political confusion was at its height, when the worst passions swayed the people’s hearts and the most fatal counsels prevailed to see his own people whom he loved with the tenderness of a woman plunge over the presuppose into the wide weltering ruin, that was Jeremiah’s lot.
Jeremiah was the prophet of Judah’s midnight hour. Isaiah prophesied at 11 o’clock and Jeremiah prophesied at midnight. Jeremiah preached for 42 years, 42 years. During the reign of five kings Jeremiah preached.
Jeremiah might as well have been talking to a wall, because practically no one paid him the blindest bit of attention. Those few who did, loathed his warnings. In fact, MacArthur says:
tradition says Jeremiah died in Egypt killed by his own countrymen.
Despite this, during his lifetime Jeremiah had God-given hope:
God said the captivity of the people is only gonna last 70 years. It’s gonna be brief and I’m gonna bring them back. I’m gonna bring them back. And there was hope. And so Jeremiah preached with hope. There would be a remnant. There would be some who would believe. There would be a recovery in the future. God was not permanently through with Judah. God had not alienated Judah ultimately. God had not violated his covenants. He would bring them back and there would be restoration.
In Chapter 31, Jeremiah receives God’s message of the covenant to come:
The time when God writes the law in the hearts. Chapter 31. Not on stone. The coming of the new covenant in the Messiah. The Redeemer … Jeremiah didn’t know how far ahead that was. He couldn’t see into the chronology of the future. But that hope compelled his heart.
Matthew Henry makes these points:
God shall have the glory and the church both the honour and comfort of this blessed change (Jeremiah 31:7): Sing with gladness for Jacob, that is, let all her friends and well-wishers rejoice with her, Deuteronomy 32:43. Rejoice, you Gentiles with his people, Romans 15:10. The restoration of Jacob will be taken notice of by all the neighbours, it will be matter of joy to them all, and they shall all join with Jacob in his joys, and thereby pay him respect and put a reputation upon him …
… in order to a happy settlement in their own land, they shall have a joyful return out of the land of their captivity and a very comfortable passage homeward (Jeremiah 31:8,9), and this beginning of mercy shall be to them a pledge of all the other blessings here promised …
… here is a reason given why God will take all this care of his people: For I am a Father to Israel, a Father that begat him, and therefore will maintain him, that have the care and compassion of a father for him (Psalm 103:13) and Ephraim is my first-born even Ephraim, who, having gone astray from God, was no more worthy to be called a son, shall yet be owned as a first-born, particularly dear, and heir of a double portion of blessings. The same reason that was given for their release out of Egypt is given for their release out of Babylon they are free-born and therefore must not be enslaved, are born to God and therefore must not be the servants of men. Exodus 4:22,23, Israel is my son, even my first-born let my son go that he may serve me. If we take God for our Father, and join ourselves to the church of the first-born, we may be assured that we shall want [for] nothing …
He summarises the remaining verses as:
publishing to the world, as well as to the church, the purposes of God’s love concerning his people. This is a word of the Lord which the nations must hear, for it is a prophecy of a work of the Lord which the nations cannot but take notice of. Let them hear the prophecy, that they may the better understand and improve the performance and let those that hear it themselves declare it to others, declare it in the isles afar off. It will be a piece of news that will spread all the world over. It will look very great in history …
The Epistle is Ephesians 1:3-14:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight
9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,
10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;
14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
MacArthur explains (emphases mine):
I want you to look at verses 3-14 and understand here the idea of the church and what it says about us as the church. Now, remember the word church needs to be replaced in your mind by the word called. We are the called ones. And there are a series of propositions from verse 3 to 14 that define this calling … Starting in verse 3 we’re going to understand our calling and that is synonymous with being a church. We have been called by God. We’ve been summoned by God. We are a gathering of people that have been brought together by divine supernatural power through the work of God in salvation …
In verse 3 blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who’s blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. We were called before. This association of believing people was called by God initially chosen by God before the foundation of the world …
The passage literally tells us, verse 4, he chose us. He picked us out for himself. In eternity pas[t], God chose his church. Here is the first cause of our existence … The first cause of the existence of this church, the first cause of the blessing of this church, the first cause of everything that’s happened in this church is God’s sovereign, independent, unaffected choice.
In verse 5, he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself according to the kind intention or good pleasure of his will. He proorizod us[,] in the Greek. He predetermined. He predestined us. This obviously speaks of the great doctrine of election. The doctrine of predestination. We were called before the foundation of the world in the purposes of God …
In verse 7 in him we have redemption. Through his blood the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace … Called out[,] that’s redemption. We have been called out of darkness. We have been called out of sin. We have been called out of death. We’ve been called out of hell. We’ve are the regenerate church …
Verse 8 talks about the riches of his grace in verse 7, which he lavished on us and then he says in verse 8 in all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will according to his kind intention, which he purposed in him. Now let me ask you a question. You tell me, where has God made known the mystery of his will? Where? Scripture. Scripture. Our relationship to God is a relationship of authority. We are not the authority. We are under authority. We have been called under. All wisdom and all insight has been known to God and revealed to us according to his kind intention and of course it has been revealed to us in scripture. That is the only source of that revelation …
Henry also has excellent insights, citing the King James Version:
Another privilege which the apostle here blesses God for is divine revelation–that God hath made known to us the mystery of his will (Ephesians 1:9), that is, so much of his good-will to men, which had been concealed for a long time, and is still concealed from so great a part of the world: this we owe to Christ, who, having lain in the bosom of the Father from eternity, came to declare his will to the children of men …
Union in and with Christ is a great privilege, a spiritual blessing, and the foundation of many others. He gathers together in one all things in Christ, Ephesians 1:10. All the lines of divine revelation meet in Christ all religion centres in him. Jews and Gentiles were united to each other by being both united to Christ. Things in heaven and things on earth are gathered together in him peace made, correspondence settled, between heaven and earth, through him …
… In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, Ephesians 1:11. Heaven is the inheritance, the happiness of which is a sufficient portion for a soul: it is conveyed in the way of an inheritance, being the gift of a Father to his children. If children, then heirs. All the blessings that we have in hand are but small if compared with the inheritance. What is laid out upon an heir in his minority is nothing to what is reserved for him when he comes to age. Christians are said to have obtained this inheritance, as they have a present right to it, and even actual possession of it, in Christ their head and representative …
… In this revelation, and in his making known unto us the mystery of his will, the wisdom and the prudence of God do abundantly shine forth. It is described (Ephesians 1:13) as the word of truth, and the gospel of our salvation. Every word of it is true … It is the gospel of our salvation: it publishes the glad tidings of salvation, and contains the offer of it: it points out the way that leads to it and the blessed Spirit renders the reading and the ministration of it effectual to the salvation of souls. O, how ought we to prize this glorious gospel and to bless God for it! … The seal and earnest of the Spirit are of the number of these blessings. We are said to be sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, Ephesians 1:13. The blessed Spirit is holy himself, and he makes us holy. He is called the Spirit of promise, as he is the promised Spirit. By him believers are sealed that is, separated and set apart for God, and distinguished and marked as belonging to him.
The Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, Ephesians 1:14. The earnest is part of payment, and it secures the full sum: so is the gift of the Holy Ghost all his influences and operations, both as a sanctifier and a comforter, are heaven begun, glory in the seed and bud. The Spirit’s illumination is an earnest of everlasting light sanctification is an earnest of perfect holiness and his comforts are earnests of everlasting joys. He is said to be the earnest, until the redemption of the purchased possession. It may be called here the possession, because this earnest makes it as sure to the heirs as though they were already possessed of it and it is purchased for them by the blood of Christ. The redemption of it is mentioned because it was mortgaged and forfeited by sin and Christ restores it to us, and so is said to redeem it, in allusion to the law of redemption. Observe, from all this, what a gracious promise that is which secures the gift of the Holy Ghost to those who ask him.
These readings really do resonate and make the meaning of Christmas come alive. May we remember this message throughout the year and reflect on it often.
I realise not everyone has the inclination to read the Bible. However, I hope that John MacArthur’s and Matthew Henry’s explanations give us a better idea of what Christianity and our life in Christ really mean.
As Christmastide closes, I pray that more Christians will read the Bible and use good commentaries in their private study. May the Holy Spirit bless them with wisdom and discernment.
Forbidden Bible Verses will return next week.