Prepare the Way Worship Series, week 3 —DO
December 16, 2018
Small Groups: From Worship To Discipleship
Fellowship —Snacks or a Meal (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes) — In pairs or groups of three, for those who are willing, briefly share a time you had to face difficult consequences of unwise actions.
Read: Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Luke 3:7-18
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes)
- “When you approach God in prayer, do you most commonly feel…”
- Familiar, like speaking to a friend
- Fearful or scared
- The hearers of Zephaniah’s message are invited to sing and rejoice. What is the cause of their singing and rejoicing? [see especially 3:19-20] Who is the primary actor in this prophecy of deliverance?
- Who is responding to John’s message? [crowds, tax collectors, soldiers] Which group(s) would people be surprised to see responding to John’s message? What is God doing in John’s ministry and message? What are we called to do?
- In light of John’s message, how do you think he would answer the question, “How should we live?” How is this similar or dissimilar to how Jesus would answer the question?
- How is what we “do” related to what God has done and/or is doing?
- According to John the Baptist, how do we appropriately live out our baptism? [Change in the way we live. Be part of a new community.]
- (R) How does your baptism (and living a life of repentance) impact how you do life?
- (R) What is God doing around us this Advent? What is God calling us to do this Advent season?
Brood of vipers, trees about to be cut down, and sifting wheat.
John’s message of judgment would have been likely well received by many Jews who were waiting for God’s deliverance. John is, however, an equal opportunity offender. It seems there are unlikely people who have positively responded to John’s message – soldiers and even tax collectors! By warning that “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees,” John is warning the most religious in the crowd. While it might have been common to think that God’s deliverance would mean freedom for Jews and judgment for Gentiles, John’s forewarning of the tree to be struck down builds on his prior point of raising up children of Abraham from the stones. A tree was a common symbol for the people of Israel. John is warning the crowds that their biological lineage (from Abraham) does not guarantee that they will be excluded from judgment. Their genetics matter less than their “bearing fruits worthy of repentance.”
John contrasts the crowd who might think of themselves as children of Abraham with the offspring (“brood”) of snakes (“vipers”). While they want to identify as the former, John warns that they are acting as the latter. Thus, he is surprised they would desire “to flee the wrath to come.”
Not only does John’s message seem to emphasize judgment, but John also envisions Jesus’ ministry as one of judgment. He notes that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:16). Fire in this context is meant to conjure up images of judgment (not refinement). John’s example is that of a threshing floor where wheat (what’s usable and good) is filtered from the chaff (the unusable portion), which “will burn with unquenchable fire” (3:17). John emphasizes that those who live out their baptism will bear worthy fruit of righteous living.
Bearing Good Fruit
John’s message of “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3) also means to John that the baptized should “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (3:8). John then lists specific ways for the crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers to “do” the bearing of fruit. While John’s message included ways we live out our faith, like Jesus, John did not preach that our works earn our salvation. Rather, salvation is a gift of God that transforms our very nature; thus, living out our baptized nature results in our doing good works. Our doing happens as a response to what God has first done to, in, and through us.
Prayer (10 minutes). Share prayer requests and respond appropriately.
Sending Forth (2 minutes). End by praying the following or similar prayer:
Almighty God, giver of every good gift and the provider of life, we continue waiting to hear again the good news of your birth. We long for a Messiah who will guide us during chaotic times. We long for a Messiah to bring righteousness and purification. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
(Preparation: Make or purchase an Advent wreath. An Advent wreath contains four—usually purple—candles representing the four Sundays leading to Christmas. Many people place a white candle in the center of the wreath.)
Gather together with no distractions to light the candles on the Advent wreath and to share this time of spiritual fellowship.
First Reader: Today is the third Sunday in Advent. We light three purple candles (or two purple candles and a pink candle). They are symbols of hope, love, and joy. Our deep joy is a reflection of God’s gracious love. Our joy comes from the greatest gift that only God gives: our sins are forgiven.
Second Reader: Let’s listen closely to God’s word for us in our Bible passage.
Zephaniah, chapter 3, verses 14 through 20, says, “‘Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 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. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 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 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 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. 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.”
Conversation: Take turns talking about the Bible passage. What stood out for you in this passage? Why did it draw your attention? What does it mean for your life today?
Pray aloud together this Family Litany.
One: Dear God, you are present by your Spirit to defend us against our enemies, sin and fear.
All: You take away our mistakes of the past, so we will not be afraid of judgment.
One: You renew us in your love, rejoicing over each person you have made into a new creation.
All: You give us great joy! Help us share your love with our family, friends, and neighbors.
One: Through Jesus Christ, you draw together the whole human family and lead us home.
All: We look forward to the day when we will praise you with all the peoples of the earth!