April 16, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of First Sunday after Easter

Week of the First Sunday after Easter

Monday

Lectionary

Psalm 1, 3, Ex. 13:3-16, Heb. 1
Psalm 4, 11, Is. 40:1-11, 1 Pet. 1:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 1

Hebrews has one resounding theme, the absolute supremacy of Christ. He is the Son of God, which is to say He is God, the Second Person of the Triune God who is One, yet Three. As the Son of God He is God’s final and ultimate revelation. In times past God has spoken through the prophets. To them He gave visions and visitations and signs and wonders. But Jesus is the final Message of God. The prophets wrote of Him. The visions, signs, and wonders were given to guide Israel toward the fullness of time when Christ would appear and begin to bring all things together under Himself. Therefore, Christ is superior to visions and signs. They are actually superseded by Him. They are no longer needed. God spoke to us in His Son, who gave His word to the Apostles, who recorded it in the Bible. Thus, the Bible is our authority. We should not expect more visions or prophecies or signs or feelings. We should not expect God to speak to us through such measures. We have a much surer way of knowing God; He is revealed in the Bible. To seek to know the will of God apart from the Bible is to treat the Bible as insufficient, and that is the same as saying Christ is insufficient.

This Word of God, the Son of God is brightness of His glory and the image of His person (1:3). “Image” in the Greek is the word from which we derive our English word, “character.” It means Christ is not an image of God as a portrait or statue is an image of a person. Christ is the living expression of God. He is the “character” (nature) of God in a living, human form. Therefore, He is superior to angels. Angels are great and powerful beings. They are good, they are strong, and they dwell in the immediate presence of God. They serve Him and worship Him and do His will. Yet they are nothing in comparison to Christ. He is their Lord. He is their Creator and Master. He gives their powers to them. He gives their existence to them. He can take it away in less than an instant if He wants to.

Tuesday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 5, Ex. 13:17-14:4, Heb. 2:1-8
Evening – Psalm 15, 24, Is. 40:12-17, 1 Pet. 1:13

Commentary, Hebrews 2:1-8

If an angel were to appear to you at this very moment, you would probably be filled with fear. If the angel told you to do something, you would probably obey immediately. Yet One far greater than all the angels has appeared on earth, and bids you believe in Him and keep His commandments, therefore you should give your utmost to hearing and obeying His Word. This is the point of our reading in Hebrews this morning, and it begins in the very first verse. The One who is greater than the angels is Christ Jesus, the character of God in human form, as we saw in our reading yesterday. Christ is the heir and creator of all things, who purged our sins by His own blood, and now is seated again at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:2). God has spoken to us in Him, a revelation that is complete and full and above every other communication from God. The other revelations looked forward to Him, and He is the completion of their story (Heb. 1:1).

People suffered for disobeying the word of God given through these lesser beings. This is seen in the numerous disasters suffered by Israel for their lack of obedience. If Israel was punished for disobedience to the word given through men and angels, God will surely punish those who disobey His word given through Christ Himself. If they who disobeyed angels did not escape, can anyone who disobeys the express image of God expect to escape? “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (He. 2:3). Let us give “more earnest heed” to the things God has spoken in Christ, “lest at any time we should let them slip” (2:1).

Wednesday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Psalm 22, 23, Ex.14:5-30, Heb. 2:9
Evening – Psalm 25, Is. 40: 18-31, 1 Pet. 2:1-10



Commentary, Hebrews 2:9

It may be good to recall that when the Lectionary only lists one verse in a chapter, as in Heb. 2:9, it means to read from verse 9 to the end of the chapter. Thus, our reading for this morning is Hebrews 2:9-18, and it reminds us again that God became a real, living human being. This theme begins in verse 9 and culminates in verse 16. Christ was made “lower than the angels” (2:9) and of the seed of Abraham (2:16). It is necessary to have this fact firmly in mind to understand the main point of this passage because an angel could not accomplish what Christ accomplished for us. If an angel had become human and gone to the cross his death would be as unable to atone for our sins as the blood of bulls and goats. Why? Because God must bear the cost of our sins, just as we must bear the cost of sins against us if we are going to continue in relationship with other people. So God, somehow remained God, yet also became fully human and participated fully in the human condition even to the point of death. He allowed Himself no special privileges. He had to live by faith, He had to live by the power of the Spirit, and he had to obey the Scriptures just as we all have to do. “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren” (2:17). But unlike us, He accomplished it all without sin.

Having made the point that Christ always was/is/will be nothing less than God who became flesh, we are now told why He did so, “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (2:17). His full experience of the human condition allows Him to know by experience what we face in life. He was tempted. He knew physical weakness, hunger, weariness, and sickness. He was constrained by time and space. He suffered these things, and having experienced them, He is able to succour us (2:18). “Succour” summarises this whole passage, for it summarises the work of Christ. It means to have empathy and to feel our sorrows and needs. But it also means to apply healing and help to our wounds. Our wound is our sin and the wrath of God. He heals that wound by bearing it in Himself on the cross, reconciling us to God. But His work does not end there. It continues, as He calls His people unto Himself, builds up His Church, leads us into God by His Word and Spirit, and, finally, places us in His immediate presence in that land where sin and sorrow will never touch us again, forever.

Thursday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 28, Ex. 15:20, Heb 3
Evening – Ps. 29, 46, Is. 42:1-9, 1 Pet. 2:11-17

Commentary, Hebrews 3

The Old Testament is filled with the works of great prophets. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Samuel, were great men and great leaders, whose works have influenced the world for thousands of years. Yet none of them can compare to the work and influence of Moses. No other human being has left a stamp upon the mind and fabric of humanity that compares to that of Moses. No philosopher, no religious leader, no political leader or empire has had the global historical influence of Moses. Yet One has come among us who is far greater than Moses. This One is Christ Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our faith (3:1). He is superior to Moses as the builder is greater than the building (3:3). He is the builder of all things (3:4), and He is the builder of the Church, which is His house (3:6). Moses was a servant in His house (3:5), but Christ is the owner, the Son to whom the house belongs (3:6). Thus, the book of Hebrews emphasizes again the Divine identity of Christ. He is not just a prophet and not just a man. He is the One who sent the prophets. Moses was His servant. He created the world and all the people, and He is the owner as well as the creator of all things.

Verses 7-19 remind us to give unto Christ the honour and obedience that is His due. The verses remind us that those who disobeyed Moses suffered death in the wilderness. They were brought out of Egypt by the power of God, yet they did not enter into the Promised Land. Their unbelief sealed their fate forever, for they did not make it to the Heavenly Promised Land ay more than they made it to Canaan (38). Verse 14 is an important verse, for it tells us only those who continue in Christ to the end will be partakers of His eternal Kingdom in Heaven. This is a conclusion based on the illustration of those who died in the wilderness. They did not continue in faith in God, therefore, they did not enter Canaan. Those who appear to begin to follow Christ, but do not continue in Him to the end, will not make it to Heaven. Therefore, “Harden not your heart as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, and saw my works forty years” (3:8&9). But exhort one another, and yourself, “lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13). Make no mistake, sin is deceitful, and can convince you that you are in Christ even when you are far away from Him. Please abide in Him, steadfast to the end (3:14).

Friday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 40:1-16, Ex. 16:1-15, Heb. 4:1-13
Evening – Ps 39, Is. 42:10-17, 1 Pet. 2:18


Commentary, Hebrews 4:1-13

Hebrews 4:1-13 continues the theme begun in verse 7 of chapter 3, namely, love and obedience to Christ. This is a pattern of the book of Hebrews. Chapter 1 tells us Christ is the Son of God who is far greater than angels. Chapter 2 tells us that since He is greater than angels, He is more worthy of our love and obedience than they. Chapter 3: 1-6 tells us Christ is greater than Moses. This is followed by an exhortation to honour and obey Him more than Moses. Today’s reading is part of that exhortation.

Verses 1-6 use a word we don’t hear much anymore, “fear.” “Let us therefore fear.” And what does it tell us to fear? Coming short of entering into His rest. The Bible is using the experience of the Hebrew people who were freed from Egyptian slavery, yet did not make it into the Promised Land. We remember that they came to its borders, but failed to enter out of fear of the Canaanites. According to Hebrews, their fear was the sin of unbelief. They simply did not trust God enough to put their lives in His hand. Therefore, they died in the wilderness rather than obey God. The point being made is that many people will appear to start the journey of faith in Christ, but will not make it to Heaven because they will not really trust God with their lives and their souls. They will go astray. They will love the things of the world more than they love God. They will pursue the things of the world, to the exclusion of God, because they will not trust God to provide for them in this life. And if they cannot trust God with their lives, they cannot trust Him with their souls. Therefore, they will be lost. They will not make it to Heaven. These people may be very religious. They may keep the outward forms of the faith carefully. They may pray and worship and read the Bible, and give money, but their hearts belong to them, not God. You can see it in them that they are afraid to trust God. They are afraid to give up their pleasures and amusements to serve Him. They find their life’s meaning in toys and recreations rather than God, and when they face challenges in life, they turn to their amusements rather than God, to see them through. At one time they “tried Jesus.” At one time they started the journey of faith in Him. But at some point they stopped trusting Him. They couldn’t face the giants, so they entered not into the Promised Land, and if they do not return to God they will not enter Heaven.

Thus, verse 7 exhorts us to follow Christ “today.” It is not to be put off. The longer we wallow in sin the harder it becomes to get up and walk in faith. The longer we put our trust in money, or things, or amusements, the harder it gets to put our trust in God. The more we love these things, the more we fear losing them, and the less we trust God to be worth more to us than they are. What if God takes them away from us? What if I have to give up my Saturday night out or my Sunday morning golf to go to Church? What means more to me, these things, or God? Today is the day to choose. In fact you will choose today. You are choosing now. Today, harden not your hearts as the Hebrews did in the wilderness. Do not turn away from God. Today trust Him with all your heart, and enter into His rest.

Verse 12 is often quoted but little understood. It means that the word of God sees into your soul and makes it plain whether you are following God or not. It cuts through your defenses and the make-believe world you create to insulate yourself from God. They are coverings of fig leaves, but to God your soul is naked, for He discerns your thoughts. He knows whether you are following Him or turning back away from Him.

Saturday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 42, 43, Ex. 17:1-7, Heb 4:14-5:14
Evening – Ps.93, 111, Is. 43:1-7, 1 Pet. 3:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 4:14-5:14

The rabbi was a highly honoured man in the Jewish community. Known for learning and wisdom, he was often asked to settle disputes and give counsel on a wide range of issues. And his word was usually followed gladly. Yet beloved and respected as he was, the High Priest was much more so. He lived in palatial grandeur, oversaw the services of Jerusalem’s the Temple, and was the spiritual leader and symbol of the entire Jewish religion and nation. The book of Hebrews has already told us Christ is greater than angels and Moses, now it tells us He is greater than the High Priest.

He is greater because He has passed into the heavens and because He is the Son of God. Yet He is also aware of our human trials because He experienced them Himself. He is touched by our infirmities and was in all points tried and tempted as we are, though without sin (4:15). Therefore He is merciful and welcoming to those who continue with Him, steadfast to the end (3:14). We may come to Him boldly, not arrogantly nor flippantly, but in reverence tempered with confidence in His grace, knowing that in Him we will find mercy, grace, and help (4:16).

He is greater than the human High Priest because He Himself is without sin, therefore, every aspect of His work is for His people, not Himself. The human High Priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins, and to spend time in prayer and confession for himself (5:3), but Christ is without sin, and His ministry was given entirely for our sake.

He is greater that the High Priest because His Priestly Order is great than the Human High Priest’s. He is of the Order of Melchisedec (5:10). We will see more about Melchisedec later. The point of today’ reading is that Melchisedec was the Priest of God long before the institution of the Temple, the sacrificial system, and the order of priests that conducted the services, including the High Priest.

Therefore, let us go on with Christ into mature faith. That means there must be more to our faith than simply repeating “Christ died for my sins, so I am saved.” We must move into fully trusting Christ with our lives and souls. We must move into finding in Him our life’s meaning, our joy, our pleasure, our hope, and our comfort. In other words, our belief that Christ died for our sins must transform and direct every other aspect of our life, else it is not real faith.

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