Here are three studies for Advent from the Old Testament to help us understand the expectations the Jews had of the coming Messiah, and consequently how surprised they inevitably were when Jesus actually came. Warning – these are not necessarily comfortable passages!
The Refiner’s Fire Malachi 3:1-12
1. As we come towards Christmas and anticipate celebrating the blessings which Christ’s incarnation brings to us, try to list the blessings which the Jews were expecting their Messiah to bring to them. (Familiar Christmas passages like Isaiah 9:2-7 and Isaiah 11:1-10 might jog your memories.)
2. However there is a strand of promises relating to the Messiah which make less comfortable reading. Read Malachi 3:1-12. What does this tell us about the work of God’s Messiah?
3. In case you don’t think Malachi fits with the coming of Christ, read John the Baptist’s description of the One who would come after him in Luke 3:-9, 15-17. What does John understand the ministry of Jesus will include?
4. Read again Malachi 3:2-5. In what ways were those prophecies actually fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus? Are some of the promises yet to be fulfilled when Christ returns?
5. Read Ezekiel 22:18-22. How should we expect to experience God’s refining in our own lives? What is the connection between this refining and our human actions of confession and repentance, and on the other hand the purifying work of the Holy Spirit?
6. Invite the group to share ways in which they have experienced God’s refining fire in their own lives, events or experiences which have taken them further on the road to holiness. (You may like to do this in your usual pairs, or around the group altogether.)
7. Read again Malachi 3:8-10. Even to the Israelites, the “tithes and offerings” God demanded were metaphorical as well as literal. In what ways could it be said that we “rob God”? What might it mean for us to “bring the whole tithe” to God, as individuals, as a Home Group and as a church?
8. God makes an amazing challenge and promise in verse 10!
‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’
Silently meditate on this promise, responding individually in your hearts. Then pray aloud and respond together to this wonderful invitation to blessing!
Psalm 72 – God’s chosen King
1. We all (think we) know that the nation of Israel had been waiting for centuries for their Messiah to come. But ask the Group again, “What kind of Messiah were the Jews waiting for? What were the Jews expecting their Messiah to be like? What would he do?”
2. Read Psalm 72:1-19. This Psalm talks about the earthly King of Israel, but it also looks forward to an even greater King, who the Jews in time would identify as their Messiah. What are the responsibilities God gives to his chosen King? (See vv 2,4,12-14) Why do you think it was that no King of Israel ever lived up to these standards?
3. What will be the extent of the King’s power? (See vv 8-11 15). How long will His reign last? (See vv 5, 17) Are there other clues in the language here that this Psalm is looking beyond any earthly kings to a far greater king, “Great David’s greater Son”? (See e.g. v 6)
4. Psalm 72 and others led the Israelites to expect God to send a Messiah who would be “a king like David”. Read Isaiah 11:1-10. What similarities do you see there to Psalm 72?
5. Read Luke 1:30-35, and Luke 1:46-55. When Jesus the Messiah came, in what ways did He fulfil the prophecies in Psalm 72? On the other hand, in what ways would the Incarnation and Ministry of Christ have been a surprise or a disappointment to the Jews?
6. The Messiah in Psalm 72 comes to bring justice and deliverance for the poor and needy. What are the practical implications of this for us, especially at Christmas time?
Psalm 8 – The Son of Man: Made a little lower, then crowned!
1. Read Psalm 8:1-9. Ask the Group what connection this Psalm might have with Christmas? As we will see, Psalm 8 talks about “man” i.e. “human beings in general”. But at different places the New Testament applies verses specifically to one man, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
2. Read Matthew 21:14-16. Psalm 8:2 talks about children praising God. Jesus quotes it to talk about children praising HIM! What does that tell us about Jesus’s understanding of His own identity? Jesus Himself makes a direct link between worship of God and praise of Him!
3. Read Hebrews 2:5-10. Verses 6-7 and 9 apply Psalm 8 to Christ’s Incarnation: “made a little lower than the angels. Read Philippians 2:5-11 and 2 Corinthians 8:9. What do these passages teach us about the miracle of Christ’s Incarnation: “the Word became flesh”? How do we see these mystical truths unfolding in the historical events of the Nativity?
4. Hebrews 2:7-9 then applies Psalm 8 to Christ’s exaltation: “crowned with glory and honour”. Read Philippians 2:9-11 again. See also Psalm 110:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:24-27, Ephesians 1:20-22. How were these Scriptures fulfilled in the Christmas story? (Answer: they weren’t!) When were they, or will they be, fulfilled then?
5. Spend some time responding to these glorious truths in worship, maybe using carols?