March 25, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of Passion Sunday

Monday after Passion Sunday, Day Twenty-nine

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 119:1-16, Exodus 3:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Evening - Psalm 119:17-32, Psalm 117, Jeremiah 20:7-13, John 12:1-11


John 12:1-11

Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.

Commentary

Tonight's Gospel reading returns us to the Gospel of John. It also takes us back to the Friday prior to the crucifixion. Remember Jesus had crossed the Jordan into Judea at Jericho, and stopped in Bethany to spend the Sabbath. That evening, Mary washed the Saviour's feet and anointed Him with an extravagantly expensive ointment. For this she was soundly criticised by Judas, but defended by Jesus. Our Lord's words remind us again that He knew and accepted His fate; "against the day of my burying hath she kept this." He has come to Judea to go to the cross. A week from the date of Mary's anointment, Jesus will be dead.

Devotional

What would you do if you knew you only had a week to live? Jesus spent His last Friday and Saturday keeping the Sabbath. It is certain that He joined the liturgy of Sabbath evening prayers with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and that He kept His custom (Lk. 4:16) of worshiping in the synagogue on Saturday. "Custom" as used here means far more than a convention or habit. It is a way of life, an ethos. It is something that defines who we are and directs the way we live. Worship was a way of life for Christ, which He continued to the very end.

Tuesday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 123, Psalm 127, Exodus 4:10-18, 27-31, 1 Corinthians 15:20-34
Evening - Psalms 120, 121, 122, Jeremiah 22:10-23, John 12:12-19

John 12:12-19

On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.


Commentary

This week's evening readings take us through the twelfth chapter of John's Gospel by Thursday night. Curiously, this is all John records about the events from the Sabbath in Bethany to Maundy Thursday. Though many events of the week are omitted, one very significant event is recorded. This event is often overlooked, yet its importance cannot be overstated. It is found in verse 19, "Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the whole world is gone after him."

These were the words of the Pharisees as they talked among themselves and lamented the popularity of Christ as shown in His Triumphal Entry. The verse shows the complete inability of the religious leaders to capture Jesus or reduce His influence. It was their intention to kill Him, yet He had evaded all their efforts, and now had come into Jerusalem in a great, symbolic act that was a bold announcement of His presence, and of their inability to stop Him. All their efforts had prevailed nothing.



Wednesday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-one

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 128, 129, Exodus 5:1-9, 19-6:11, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49
Evening - Psalm 132, Jeremiah 28:1-2, 10-17, John 12:20-33

John 12:20-33

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.

Commentary

Last night's reading showed the absolute inability of the Pharisees to capture Jesus, or to reduce His popularity. Tonight's reading shows Christ's absolute commitment to the cross. He has proven that the Pharisees cannot kill Him, now He shows that He goes to the cross of His own volition. "For this cause came I to this hour" (12:27). "This he said, signifying what death he should die" (12:33). These verses are a graphic demonstration of the truth of Christ's words in John 10:17-18: "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."

Devotional

One of the most important aspects of repentance is replacing ungodliness with godliness. It is good to be sorry for sins. It is good to end or reduce particular sins, but repentance is not complete until we have replaced the sins with righteousness. Grubbing weeds out of a garden merely results in bare dirt. It is not until the good seed of desirable plants are sown that the garden blossoms with flowers and fruits.



Thursday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-two

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 144, Exodus 11:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:50
Evening - Psalms 133.134.137:1-6, Jeremiah 30:12-17, 23-24, John 12:34-43

John 12:34-43

The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them. But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.


Commentary

The masses who welcomed Christ into Jerusalem were entirely confused about His nature and work. Expecting a military deliverer, they did not understand His statement about the Son of Man being lifted up (12:34). In Hebrew and Greek, as in English, to lift up can mean to elevate in altitude, or to elevate in dignity or status. The people have welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as the Messiah (12:13). But now He is talking about lifting up the Son of Man. Jesus, of course, is talking about Himself being raised up on the cross (12:33), but the people think He is talking about elevating someone else to the status of Messiah. Thus, despite all their enthusiasm and show, "they believed not on him" (12:37) because they believed in Him only as they wanted Him to be, not as He really is.

Devotional

The Bible requires us to believe in Jesus as He really is, not as we would like Him to be. Likewise we are to live as He wants us to live, and worship as He wants to be worshiped. These things are not left our own imaginations. God clearly reveals His will in Scripture, demanding us to conform to Him. One of the great problems of the contemporary Church is the continuing attempt to re-create Christ and remake the Church according to our own desires rather than conforming to the Bible.

Friday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-three

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 141:1-4, Psalm 146, Exodus 12:21-28, 1 Corinthians 16:1-14
Evening - Psalm 139, Jeremiah 32:36-42, John 12:44

John 12:44

Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.


Commentary

Verse 44 says, "Jesus cried and said." It means He spoke out loudly and suddenly, not in anger or fear, but in a way that demands to be heard. One theme runs through His words, as though He wanted to state it once again as clearly as possible so the disciples would have it burned into their memories. The theme is simple; Christ's words are God's words, hear them well.

Devotional Thoughts

Many people are so busy with themselves they have shut themselves up to God. They may go to church and do a few religious things in a mechanical way, but they are not really open to God. To be open to God is to reject unbiblical actions or doctrines. It is to seek God, rather than ecstatic experiences and feelings. To be open to God is to be receptive to His word and Spirit through which He speaks to you and leads you into Himself. To be closed to God is to shut Him out of life, or to limit Him to "safe areas" where He can't "bother you." To be open to Him is to invite Him into all of your life.

Saturday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-four

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 147, Exodus 12:29-39, 42, 1 Corinthians 16:15.
Evening Psalm 145, Jeremiah 33:1-9, 14-16, John 13:1-7

John 13:1-7

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

Commentary

John barely mentions the "Last Supper" (13:2 & 4) but devotes much of His Gospel to the actions and words of Christ after the supper. Again our reading shows the Lord's progress toward the cross by recording Judas' intent to betray Him (13:2). It is important to see that, while it was the devil who put the intent into Judas' heart, it was Christ who allowed the betrayal for the purpose of bringing Himself to the cross. Through Judas, Christ gave Himself over to be crucified.

Devotional Thoughts

While our Gospel readings have followed Christ to Jerusalem, our first readings for the mornings of the week have been from Exodus, bringing us to this morning's reading of the Passover. The devastation of Egypt presented in Exodus is like that of a war zone. The stench of death and the sound of mourning covered the land. Among the Hebrews things were different. They were spared from the ruinous effects of the plagues, and delivered from the plague of death. The Egyptians even paid them to leave. They were free. They were going to a new land, to establish their own homes and govern their own lives. We can only imagine their joy. What marked the Hebrews so they were saved from the plague and set free of their bondage? It was the blood of the Lamb. It was no accident that Christ took the cup after the after the Passover meal and made it represent His blood as the Lamb of God. Christ is our Passover Lamb. His blood delivers us from our bondage of the soul and delivers us into the Heavenly "Promised Land."

Sermon, Passion Sunday

The God Who Suffers for Us
Psalm 51, Hebrews 9:11-15, John 8:46-59
Passion Sunday
March 25, 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.

Most people would define "passion" as strong feelings or intense desires. But in earlier times, such as the time the King James Version was translated, passion was understood in more accordance with its Greek roots. For, like so many of our English words, passion came into English from the Greek language, and the Greek word means to suffer, to experience intense and painful suffering. It is the word used in Acts 1:3, which says Jesus "shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs.

Today, Passion Sunday, we recall the suffering of Christ through the phony trial, the crown of thorns, the beating, the rejection, the death on the cross, and, worst of all, bearing the wrath of God for our sins. The Collect asks God to govern and preserve His people, meaning those who are forgiven and cleansed by the Passion of Christ. Hebrews 9 reminds us that Christ suffered voluntarily, offering up Himself as the only offering that can effectively cover our sin. John 8 recalls the Jewish leaders rejecting Christ, which led to their turning Christ over to the Romans to suffer crucifixion. Psalm 51 applies the Passion of Christ to the very personal needs each of us has before God. It is about the reason why Christ had to offer Himself up as our sacrifice. It is about our need for Christ's Passion.

The Psalm was written by David shortly after his sin with Bathsheba. We all know that David desired Bathsheba, and that he arranged for her husband to be placed on the front line of a fierce battle where he would almost certainly be killed. David did this to try to cover up his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, which had resulted in her pregnancy. It didn't work. His sin was found out, and many were forced to reap its bitter fruits. Psalm 51 is a song of great sorrow and penance. Finally, probably as he waited and prayed that the very sickly baby born of his sin, would live, David began to realise the depth and wickedness of his sin, the lives he had ruined and the lives he had cost. He finally began to realise the odiousness of his sin in the eyes of God. The first four verse of the Psalm express David's broken-hearted and shame-filled confession of his sin. "I acknowledge my faults," my transgressions, the many times I have intentionally broken the holy Law of God. "My sin," my rebellion, my evil, "is ever before me." David says, I can't stop thinking about it. I can't get it out of my mind. It haunts me like the gates of hell chasing after me day and night.

Our sins may be different from David's, but every honest person can see himself in Psalm 51. We recognise that we have done things that have affected the lives of many other people. We have caused unnecessary pain, worry, and sorrow as we manipulated circumstances and used, or ignored, people to get what we want instead of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor (mother, father, daughter, son, fellow Christian) as our selves according to the pure and righteous Law of God. Maybe you have never physically committed adultery, but you have committed it in your heart. Maybe you never physically killed another person, but you have acted hatefully and wickedly toward people. You have assassinated people's character, or you have made their lives a living death by your failure to live out your God-given responsibilities. And you know the words of Romans 3:23 express the truth about you when they say, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

One of the verses we often read in Lent is Joel 2:13, "Rend your heart and not your garments." In Biblical times people expressed intense sorrow or repentance by tearing the bodice of their robes. As you can imagine, some people tore their robes without really feeling the sorrow and without repenting. The forms have changed, but the practice continues today, for many church people continue in their old, sinful habits and patterns of life while outwardly preserving the appearance of a Godly, Christian life. In so doing they are rending their "garments" while their hearts decay within them. It is so easy to go through the outward forms of worship and prayer and say the right words of confession and repentance and faith in Christ, yet never really mean them, never really do what we say with our lips. That is rending the garment instead of the heart. It is an outward show of repentance that is not meant in the heart. God detests such shows. God tells us to rend our hearts. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. God wants hearts that are broken over sin. God wants hearts that ache over the evil that is in us. God wants hearts that are ready to be made new, whose deepest and most intense prayers are not, Lord, give me more of the toys of earth, but, Lord create in me a clean heart.

I truly hope this day, your heart is broken over your own sin. I hope it weighs you down like an elephant standing on your soul. Because when it weighs you down like that, then you are ready to let God do something about it. Then you are willing to let, even, beg God to create in you a clean heart.

I'm not just talking about forgiveness. Most people only want forgiveness from God. They only want to be released from the penalty of sin; they don't want to become new creatures. They don't want to "live a godly, righteous and sober life." They have no intention of giving up themselves to God's service or living before Him in holiness and righteousness all their days. But again, that is rending their garments instead of their hearts.

The good news is, God is the God of all grace and the Father of all mercies. He is more than willing to forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Christ "came into the world to save sinners." "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." His very dying words were, "Father, forgive them." That's why He went to the cross. He suffered the wrath of God for you, in your place. Instead of justly punishing your for your sins, He bore His wrath in Himself on the cross. He became your sacrificial Lamb, and He forgives the sins of all who call upon Him in Biblical faith.

But He does not merely forgive our sins and leave us to follow the same old self-destructive habits and patterns. He changes us. This is one of the most important teachings in all of the Bible. God changes us. We don't have to repeat the same old sins. We can be different. Life can be different. God intends it to be. David prays in verse 10, "Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. This same concept is taught throughout the Bible, and one of its clearest expressions is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ," meaning to trust in Christ to forgive your sins in Biblical faith, "he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." God is about making new creatures out of us. He is about changing our values, our hope, our desires, our thoughts, and our actions. He is about changing our entire view of life. He is about making us new in the likeness of the love and peace and joy of Christ.