March 18, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Monday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-three

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 90, Genesis 44, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Evening - Psalm91, Jeremiah 13:15, Mark 12:18-27

Mark 12:18-27

Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven. And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

Commentary

The enemies of Christ would take Him by force, but the people would defend Him. So they resort to trickery. Their questions are well thought out traps intended to trick Him into saying something that would turn the crowds against Him. Surely this complicated riddle about the resurrection would trip Him, but it did not. His refutation of them is decisive. They were in error because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. The resurrection life is of an entirely different kind from that of this physical world. In it we will be like the angels, free of the passions of earth, and devoted entirely to the glory and enjoyment of God. Our fellowship with one another also will be free of earthly passions, enabling us to love as Christ loves.

Devotional

One of the best ways to pray the Bible is to use the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book is simply the Bible in devotional form. Much of it comes right from the Bible, word-for-word. Other parts of it convey the Bible’s ideas and thoughts through indirect quotations and paraphrases. Consider the following prayer of thanksgiving from the service of “Evening Prayer.”

“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us and to all men; We bless the for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.”

It has been said that to have a God is to worship Him. We may legitimately add that to worship God is to pray. May God help us to be a people of prayer.




Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-four

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 93 & 96, Genesis 45, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Evening - Psalm 92, Jeremiah 14:1-10, Mark 12:28-37

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question. And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.

Commentary

Our Gospel reading for today is a very sad portion of Scripture. It tells of a man, a religious leader, to whom our Lord said, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." At first this seems very complimentary. "Not far" appears to mean, very close, perhaps even, on the brink, or, at the very gate. But, "not far" does not equal "inside." In life, many have perished on the brink of safety, and in spiritual things, many have perished on the brink of faith. To loose your soul at the gate of Heaven is still to loose your soul.

Devotional

Christianity is often wrongly viewed as an experience rather than a way of life. Thus, it is no surprise that prayer is often viewed the same way, and, therefore, turned into an attempt to have experiences rather than communicate with God. But in the Bible, prayer is content oriented, not experience oriented. Like Scripture, prayer is communication, not feelings. Biblical prayer has no use for pretensions or emotional manipulation. It is simply a reverent conversation with God on the basis of Biblical truth. Does the Bible say "all have sinned?" In prayer we confess, "we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep." Does the Bible say all who believe in Him have are fully forgiven? In prayer we reaffirm our faith that "He pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel." Does the Bible tell us God watches over us? In prayer we entrust our day, and our lives into His providence, saying, "Grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight." Does the Bible tell us to make prayers and intercessions for all people? In prayer "we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men." Does the Bible tell us to give thanks? In prayer we give thanks for His "goodness and loving kindness to all." In short, Biblical prayer asks God for the things the Bible tells us to seek from Him. Yet prayer is more than asking for things. Prayer is also an expression of trust.





Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-five

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 94, Genesis 47:29-31, 46:8-20, 1 Corinthian 14:1-12
Evening - Psalms 97 & 98, Jeremiah 15:1-9, Mark 12:38

And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.


Commentary

The intent of the Lenten readings in the Gospels has been to follow our Lord's journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Thus, let us put the recent readings into their chronological perspective. In Mark 10 we saw Christ cross the Jordan and enter Judea. He crossed the river near Jericho in the company of a great crowd of pilgrims going to Jerusalem for Passover. In Mark 11 He arrived in Bethany, a small village just outside of Jerusalem. It was Friday, and He spent the night and following day in Bethany observing the Jewish Sabbath. On Sunday He went into Jerusalem, boldly announcing His arrival in what has become known as the Triumphal Entry (Mk. 11:1-11). He returned to Bethany that evening. Monday morning found Him in Jerusalem again, as we read in Mark 11:12-26. He went again to Bethany for the night, returning on the following day, Tuesday (Mk. 11:20). Tuesday was an exhausting day spent in confrontation with the priests and Pharisees in the Temple. The confrontation ended with our Lord's scathing condemnation of them, found in Matthew 23. Having completed this, He took the disciples to the Mount of Olives to teach them about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. This is found in Matthew 24 and 25 and in Mark 13. From there He returned to Bethany again to spend the night. Our reading for today, starting in Mark 12:38, continues to relate the events of the Tuesday before the crucifixion. Still in the Temple, Christ contrasts the religion of the Pharisees with the faith of the widow. The Pharisees' was a religion of pretense. Their religion was all about them. The widow's faith was real and Biblical. Hers was all about God.

Devotional

Prayer is not simply a list of requests. It is also an expression of our trust in God. As we take our concerns and needs to Him in prayer we also rest ourselves in the faith that He hears our prayers and answers us according to what is expedient for us. The very act of prayer implies trust in God. It assumes that He is willing to meet our needs and to care for us. Would you pray if you believed God would not listen? Would you ask Him for your daily bread if you thought He would not give what you need? Would you trust Him with your life and soul and heart if you did not believe He works all things for your good? Most people would not. But, believing He loves you and is doing better things for you than you can even imagine, you gladly take your needs and requests to Him in prayer. Thus, prayer is an affirmation of your faith in God.



Thursday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-six

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 104, Genesis 49:33-50:26, 1 Corinthians 14:13-25
Evening - Psalms 99 & 100, Jeremiah, 15:10, Mark13:1-13

Mark 13:1-13

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. 8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.


Commentary

The mission of the Temple and sacrificial system was ended and fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, they were no longer needed. If their leaders had welcomed Christ, the sacrifices might have passed happily into history, and the Temple might have become the center for preaching the Gospel of Christ. But their corruption made this impossible. The Temple was going to be destroyed, and Jerusalem sacked for the unbelief and corruption that pervaded them. The destruction would surprise the people, like a thief in the night, but the Christians, forewarned by our Lord in this passage, would be watching, and would escape the carnage.

Many mistakenly assume this passage is about the end of the world, and believe the false christs, wars, and earthquakes are signs of the return of Christ. In reality, such events are things that happen continually, and are not signs of anything except the presence and effects of sin in this world (Mk. 13:7-8). The whole passage is a clarification of Christ's words in Mark 13:2, which were prompted by the disciples' question in verses 3 and 4. For a fuller explanation of this, see He Shall Reign: the Message and Meaning of the Book of Revelation, pages 46-56.


Devotional

Christianity is not an emotional response to a religious experience. Christianity is a faith response to the revelation of God's truth, as found in the Bible. Granted, God is revealed in other ways. Nature shows that God exists, and that He is a God of order and power. Conscience reveals His moral will by telling us we should conduct ourselves in certain ways, and not in others. But nature and conscience do not tell us who God is, or how to be free of His displeasure over our moral failures. For this we need more specific and personal revelation. This revelation is found in the Bible. The Bible is nothing less than the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). It contains all you need to know about God, His will, and how to be put right with Him. This is why the Church spends so much time in the Bible. It is our desire to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Bible, that we may "embrace, and ever hold fast, the promise of everlasting life... given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent).

Every day is a day to give ourselves to the Bible. Like all matters of holy living, there is no special time or season during which it is to be studied, only to be neglected in others. But, in reality, we do not always devote ourselves to it as we should. Lent is an opportunity to re-develop or reinforce the habit of daily Bible time.

Friday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-seven

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 95 & 102, Exodus 1:8-14, 1 Corinthians 14:26
Evening - Psalm 107, Jeremiah 16:5-13, Mark 13:14-23

Mark 13:14-23

But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.



Commentary

The abomination of desolation in verse 14 refers to the Roman army sacking Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as Antiochus did in 163 B.C. (Daniel 9:26). Christ is telling the disciples that when they see the Romans approaching they are to leave Jerusalem immediately. Several verses describe the urgency of their escape. Flee to the mountains (14). Don't stop to gather belongings (15). Don't even stop to gather your coat (16). The escape will be difficult for those with child, and they are to pray that it will not be in winter (17 & 18). The devastation of the city and its ensuing suffering is shown in verses 19 & 20.

It would be natural for the Jews to look for the Messiah to appear at this time. Taught to expect a military leader to deliver them from the Romans, they would expect Him to arise when the Roman army surrounded the city. It would also be natural for false christs to come, claiming to be the Messiah (13:6), and for others to claim that the Christ is in the desert or in some other place (21-22) preparing to attack the Romans. Even Christians might be tempted to believe Jesus had returned and was preparing to lead the attack on Rome. But verse 23 shows the vanity of such claims. Jesus is saying He has foretold all of this, and the Christians are to "take heed."

Devotional

We must never allow ourselves to forget that the people who resisted and rejected Christ were religious people who considered themselves good and right with God. Yet Christ said these very people would be judged and destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem. The Corinthians were also convinced of their own righteousness, yet Paul's word to them was "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith" (2 Cor. 13:5). Do people today live under the same delusion?


Saturday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-eight
Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 108:1-6 & 112, Exodus 2:1-22, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Evening - Psalm 118, Jeremiah 17:5-14, Mark 13:24

Mark 13:24

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.


Commentary

This passage continues our Lord's discourse regarding the coming tribulation of Jerusalem. To understand the meaning of the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, we must look back to the Old Testament. In Genesis 37:9 the sun, moon, and eleven stars represent Joseph and his family. In Ezekiel 32:7 the celestial bodies go dark at the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. This is symbolic language, equivalent to saying the sun smiles or the clouds weep. The point in Mark 13 is not that the stars literally fall from the sky or that the sun and moon will literally go dark. As in Genesis they represent people, but here they are not bowing, they are going dark and falling; they are dying. As in Ezekiel they represent death and destruction in Jerusalem.

Devotional

As we read the New Testament's words against the religious leaders of Christ's time, we may forget that we also deserve to suffer the consequences of our sins. The collect for the Fourth Sunday of Lent forcefully reminds us that we are sinners whose only hope is the grace of God in Christ.

"Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."

Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Lent

The God Who Makes Us New Again
Psalm 147, Galatians 4:21-31, John 6:1-14
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


Our liturgical calendar leads us to spend the first half of the year emphasising what we are to believe about God, nature, and ourselves. So we have been looking at what the Bible says about God as the God of Grace, God our Saviour, God the Law Giver, and God who is Faithful. Today we are looking at "The God Who Makes Us New Again." In the Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Lent we ask God to relieve us by His comfort and grace through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Collect is an ancient prayer which has carried this petition to the throne of grace for at least 1,700, and, probably for more than 1,900 years. The earliest copies I know of are in the collection of prayers and liturgies known as the Gregorian Sacrametary and are written in Latin. Our English version of it uses the word, "relieve," which means to free, help, and release from an obligation. Its strongest meaning is to raise a person up and out of troubles and sorrows, to elevate him to a new level of life. The Latin word used is respiremus, from which we draw our English word, "respire." And guess what "respire" really means; it means to re-inspire, to breathe life into again, or to make alive again. Picture an ancient caravan traversing a hot, dry desert. After many weary days of travel it finally reaches an oasis rich with palm trees, grass and water. Man and beast rest themselves in the cool shade and drink their fill of the water. They remain at the oasis for several days, and when they leave they are relieved of their weariness and re-inspired for the journey ahead. Or picture a military troop that has been on the front line for many long months of hard battle. The soldiers are weak and tired, but, finally the orders come for them to move to the rear. There, away from the battle, they rest, eat hot meals, take hot showers, and sleep in beds. After a while they begin to regain their strength and courage. They are freed and released from the obligations of the war, and they are helped and elevated to a new level of life and health. It is as though they are re-made and become new people.

Psalm 147 is about God freeing and helping His people by raising us up to a new level of life. Verse 6 tells us the Lord "setteth up" the meek. He elevates them; He raises them up to a new level of life. The Psalm uses the ancient city of Jerusalem as an object lesson, and verses 2 and 3 form a key passage to those who wish to understand the Psalm's meaning and application; "The Lord doth build up Jerusalem, and gather together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth those that are broken in heart, and giveth medicine to heal their sickness."

From the very beginning enemies have besieged and scattered the Israel of God. From the death of Abel to persecutions on this very day we have been attacked and scattered like sheep. In Biblical times, Babylon, Greece, and Rome each attacked and destroyed Jerusalem, and forced the Jews to flee to the ends of the earth. In Psalm 147 God is rebuilding Jerusalem as He did under the leadership of Nehemiah. He is regathering the outcasts of Israel as He did when He brought them back from captivity in Babylon in 536 B.C. It is as though Israel had died like the soldiers in the valley of dry bones. And, just as God raised up and renewed the dry bones, He is raising up and renewing Israel. He is making Israel new again and alive again.

We need to remember that the real emphasis of this Psalm is not what God does for the physical city of Jerusalem. It was nice that God brought the Jews back to Jerusalem, and that He made the gates of the city fast so enemies could not break in, and that He gave them flour and wheat so that, in a land where people often did not have enough to eat, His people had food. Yet these physical blessings were not the heart of what it meant for God to relieve His people. It is the spiritual Jerusalem, the Jerusalem which is from above, which is the mother of us all, as we read a few minutes ago in Galatians 4:26, which is the real focus of this Psalm. This heavenly Jerusalem is the Church, which is the company of all faithful people, the company of those who have trusted in Jesus Christ to forgive their sins and make them fit for the fellowship and love of God. This makes the Church as an institution very important. It is ordained of God. It is He who sent Apostles and pastors to it, and calls ministers to preach and teach the word and calls people to come into His community of faith and worship Him. Yes, the Church as an organisation has its problems, but we are not allowed by God to give up on the organisation. Rather than giving up we are to seek out a church that is a real Church, founded on the Bible and striving to live by the faith and practice revealed in Scripture.

How does God refresh and relieve His people? He does it primarily through the everyday things of prayer, Scripture reading, public and private worship, and the Lord's Supper. Most of the TV and radio preachers teach that God works miracles, according to the measure of your faith, and it is through these miracles that He refreshes and relieves you. But the truth is that such miracles are extremely rare. For example, God seldom comforts and relieves us apart from His teaching and promises revealed in the Scriptures. And He seldom gives great understanding of Scripture's comfort and promises unless we spend time reading and studying them. It is the Scriptures that teach us the things we need to know about God and enable us to grow in grace. In other words, God uses the Scriptures to relieve and refresh us. He also uses the other things I mentioned, prayer, worship, the Lord's Supper, Christian fellowship, and baptism. Through these things God strengthens you and enables you to face the trials and stand fast against the enemies that attempt to scatter and destroy you. Through these things He encourages you, comforts, and relieves you. That's why I am always pestering you about daily prayer and daily Scripture reading, and coming to Church. These things help you, that's why I want you to do them.

But we cannot forget our primary means of relief from God, which is the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ for our sins. If God were to miraculously end war, crime, poverty and sickness, yet allow us to die in our sins He would do us no good. Our sins make us unfit to be in God's presence. Our sins make us fit only to be cast out of His presence forever. And if Jesus had not gone to the cross to pay the price for our sins, we would have to pay that price ourselves. We would have to be cast into that place of outer darkness forever.

But God in mercy sent His Son into the world to save sinners. He came to release you from the power and penalty of sin. He came to raise you up, to elevate you to a new life, a different life, and a better life. And this life is only possible for those who come to Him in faith through Christ.

"Grant, we beseech thee Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."