April 8, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Easter Week

Easter Monday

Lectionary

Psalm 2, Is. 61:1-11, Lk. 24:1-12
Psalm 103, Ex. 15:1-13, Jn. 20:1-10

Commentary, Is. 61:1-11

We left the book of the Prophet Isaiah during the season of Epiphany. We return to it now, reading different passages this week before taking it up in its regular order of chapter and verse next Monday. We will continue in it until the week of the Sunday after Ascension, by which time we will have read the entirety of this important Old Testament book. Today’s reading includes the same read by our Lord in the synagogue in Nazareth, which caused such a stir among the people when He said. “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Lk. 4:16-30)

The passage obviously looks ahead to a new day in Jerusalem when the captivity in Babylon will be over and the Jews are allowed to return to their homes in Judea. Isaiah is the one upon whom the Spirit of the Lord is come in the passage. He was called to the sorrowful task of proclaiming the wrath and judgment of God upon the Jews. But his message was allowed to give some comfort, and several passages, like today’s, tell of forgiveness and restoration for the people. He is allowed to proclaim good tidings, bind up the broken hearted, and preach liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound (61:1). The setting of the Babylonian Captivity, in which the Jews were conquered and carried away from Jerusalem by the Babylonians, is evident in the words. It is the release from Babylon that the prophet proclaims. Yet their release from human captors cannot exhaust the meaning of this passage. Our Lord was quite correct to say that it was fulfilled in Him, who came to release us from a conqueror far more cruel than Nebuchadnezzar, and a bondage far more bitter than the ancient city of Babylon. Christ came to release us from our bondage of sin and our captor Satan. These are the ultimate good tidings of Isaiah 66.

Easter Tuesday

Lectionary

Psalm 30, Dan.12: 1-4, 13, 1 Thes. 4:13
Psalm 115, Is. 30:18-21, Jn. 20:11-18

Commentary, Is. 30:18-21

“The Lord is a God of judgment.” These words from Isaiah 30:18 remind us that sin has consequences, and God is willing to let us suffer them. In this passage, the Jews have disobeyed and disregarded God for generations. He has been patient, and has sent many prophets to call them back to Him, but they continued to drift away from Him, and even convinced themselves they were doing what God wanted. Finally, God raised up the Babylonians against Judea. They swarmed over the Jews like a horde of locusts, and when they were finished the land was a blackened ruin, Jerusalem and the Temple were demolished, and most of the people still alive were taken to Babylon as prisoners. Will God leave Israel in this condition? No, He will have mercy, but He will wait. In Isaiah, mercy comes after judgment.

In Christ mercy replaces judgment. When Christ told the disciples their sorrow would be turned to joy, He meant first that, though “crucified, dead, and buried” He would live again. But His primary meaning was the joy they would have in the redemption He was purchasing for them on the cross. He bore the wrath of God for them. Therefore, all who are in Christ are in grace, not judgment.

Easter Wednesday

Lectionary

Psalm 97, 99, Micah 7:-20, 1 Tim. 6:11-19
Psalm 148, Is. 26:12-19, Jn. 20:19-23

Commentary, Is. 26:12-19

Tonight’s reading in Isaiah is part of the conclusion of a theme that began in chapter 13. The theme is God’s judgment on unbelievers, leading to the day when “the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion” (Is. 24:23). This refers first to God judging the enemies of Judea and restoring the Jews to Jerusalem as His covenant people. Chapters 25-27 are a song of praise and thanksgiving, which 26:1 says will be sung in the land of Judah on the day God accomplishes their deliverance.

26:16 pictures the Jews calling upon the Lord during their captivity in Babylon. They have been scattered to the ends of the earth (15), but in their trouble they have visited (sought) God again. Verses 17 and 18 show the vanity of using human inventions to accomplish spiritual ends. The Jews tried to build and maintain their nation and their traditions on their own terms. They often kept the outward forms of the Old Testament faith, but their lives were not given to God. Thus, they were like a woman in childbirth, suffering all the pain of labour, but bringing forth nothing. Their labour has been in vain because they were unable to conquer their enemies or secure their land by their own hand. But the day will come, Isaiah says, when God will rescue them. They will be like people rising from the dead, and Judea will be as a body rising from the grave. They will awake and sing to God again when the earth (Babylon and pagan nations) cast out the dead (return the Jews to Jerusalem).

These events have a meaning far beyond the mere return of the Jews from Babylon. Like God’s rescue of Israel from Egyptian bondage, the rescue from Babylonian Captivity is a picture of God rescuing all of His people from their spiritual captivity and bringing them into the Heavenly Jerusalem through Christ Jesus. In a very real sense, the song of praise, of which tonight’s reading is a part, cannot really be sung in its fullest meaning until God gathers His whole Church home with Him forever. “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Is. 25:1).


Easter Thursday

Lectionary

Psalm 149, 150, Ezek. 37:1-14, Phil. 3:7
Psalm 147, Is. 52:1-10, Jn. 20:24

Commentary, Is 52:1-10

Isaiah 52 cannot be understood apart from chapter 51, especially verses 22 and 23:

“Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again: But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.”

The Jews have been laid low by their enemies. They have been trodden down, and their enemies have walked upon them as the ground of the street. God has allowed this because of the sins of the Jews, but the other nations still had no just cause to invade Israel. Their conquests and oppression were wicked and cruel, crushing the Jews into the dust and blaspheming the Name of God, but God was neither blind to their sin nor unmoved by the suffering of the Jews. In tonight’s reading He is preparing to act in a mighty deliverance for them. Therefore, they are to awake (52:1), arise (52:2), and shake off the dust (52:2). They are to stop being the ground for their enemies to walk on. They are to rise up and stand upright, and shake the dust of the street and ground off themselves. They are to put on beautiful garments, their very best, the clothes thy reserve for the most festive and joyful occasions, for they are to be delivered from their enemies and returned to the holy city. The cup of trembling 51:22) will be taken from them and given to their enemies. Their enemies will fear as the Jews have had to in the past. Thus, the Jews will know God has spoken to them; they will see the revelation of His saving grace, and will know it is the work of God for them.

Verse 7 pictures messengers posted on the hills outside of Jerusalem proclaiming the good news of the coming deliverance. The tidings are so wonderful that even the feet of the messengers are beautiful to the Jews. Inside the city, watchmen echo the message, united (eye to eye) in the proclamation and the praise of the God of their salvation. Even the most devastated (waste places) of Jerusalem are overcome with joy and join the song of praise, “for the Lord hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem.”

To make bare His arm (vs. 10) is to roll up the sleeves of His robe as a man going into battle or to physical labour where the extra material will be an encumbrance. It pictures God preparing to accomplish the deliverance of the Jews.

Again we look beyond the setting of the Old Testament Jerusalem and see the mighty deliverance of God for all His people, bringing them into the Heavenly Jerusalem through our Lord Jesus Christ. He bears the good tidings, and He is the good tidings. Therefore, let His people rejoice; “Thy God reigneth.”

Easter Friday

Lectionary

Psalm 124, 125, 126, Is. 65:17, Rev. 1:4-18
Psalm 110, 114, Zeph. 3:14, Jn. 21:1-14

Commentary, Is.65:17

This morning’s passage in Isaiah, like last night’s must be understood in light of its preceding verse, in this case, Isaiah 65:16, especially the words, “because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from my eyes.” The “former troubles” are the conquests and tribulations of the Jews, which God allowed them to suffer because of their sins. They are “forgotten” and “hid” because they are forgiven and God remembers them no more. Rather than remember their sins, God promises a time and place that will be entirely new. Enemies will not attack it, disease will not plague it, and the lifespan of God’s people will be like the lifespan of a tree. God will answer their prayers before they are even voiced, and the peace in the land will be such that former enemies, like the wolf and the lamb, shall be as friends. In other words, all the effects of the Fall and sin will be gone, and the world will be as it was in the beginning. Even people will be different. They will not make war, they will not steal or oppress one another. They will live in peace with one another and in unity with God.

This new era is prefigured in the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. In a sense, this deliverance is yet a further revelation of the coming of that Day. Since the Fall God has been working, in His way and at His pace, to bring the world back into Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. Seth, Noah, Abraham, the Exodus, and the release of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity, are shadows and revelations of this new and restored earth. They are also steps toward its full inauguration. Each step is itself a furtherance of that Day, and, in a sense, participates in it. Each step gives a foretaste of the glory of the Day of the Lord, and in each step that Day is here, yet not here in fullness. Each step is like the dawn of a new day, growing brighter each moment, yet not here in its full glory. Like the morning of the day of a great event, the day is here, but we have not experienced the fullness of its promise.

This new Day will see a new heaven and a new earth, but it will also see a new Israel. The profane and the unbelieving, though they be of the physical seed of Abraham, cannot enter. Only the renewed children of Abraham by faith will be in the new creation on that Day.

The Church is another step in the progress towards that Day. It is the new Israel, the children of Abraham by faith in Christ. The promises to Israel in the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the Church of the New Testament. And yet, that Day is not here in fullness. We also await it, as the Jews in Isaiah 65 awaited their deliverance from Assyria. As with the old Israel, so it is in the new Israel, that the tares will one day be removed, and the faithful and fruitful “wheat” will be gathered into Christ to enjoy Him in the final and complete fullness of the new creation.

Easter Saturday

Lectionary

Psalm 145, Is. 25:1-9, Rev. 7:10
Psalm 18:1-20, Jer. 31:10-14, Jn. 21:15

Commentary, Is. 25:1-9

Assyria will fall to Babylon, and, Isaiah does foresee the Babylonian Captivity and release in this passage, but the enemy at the gate for now is Assyria. Isaiah will address Babylon in later chapters. To put the passage in its historical setting we need to recall that Israel has divided into two kingdoms, one calling itself Israel and the other calling itself Judah. The Assyrians were the primary power in the area, and threatened to engulf both Israel and Judah. In a futile attempt to maintain her independence, Israel made an alliance with Syria, to resist Assyria. They attempted to force Judah to join them by issuing an ultimatum: become their ally or be conquered by them. But God warned Judah to make no alliance with them, and so Judah was spared when the Assyrians invaded and conquered Syria and Israel. Chapter 24 does refer in part to the Babylonian conquest of Judah, but its primary subject is Assyria.
Chapter 25 begins a hymn and prayer of thanksgiving to God for delivering Judah from the hand of her enemies. Yet, Isaiah sees there is more to this deliverance than being saved from mere human opponents. This is a mere foretaste of the miraculous deliverance God will bring to the Jews, and to those in all nations who will call upon Him.

Verses 6-9 especially convey this message. God will destroy the “face of the covering cast over all people,” and the “vail that is spread over the nations.” The covering and the vail are grave clothes. It is a tradition to cover the face of the dead, and so all nations are covered with the vail of death, for all are dead in their trespasses and sins. By their own choice they live in darkness and despair and spiritual death. But, the day is coming when the Light of God will shine forth in this world in an unmistakable manner that will call all nations into Him and His Kingdom.

He will feed them with fat things and wines on the lees well refined. This refers to the great blessings and the spiritual plenty poured out on those in God’s Kingdom. In a land of want, as Judah often was, such food and abundance was known only by the very wealthiest few. But in God’s new Kingdom such rich spiritual food is for all people. The Lord of hosts will make this feast and give freely to all his children.

And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Isaiah and the people of his day looked forward to the “Advent” of that salvation.

If we read verse 10 also, we cannot help noticing that the salvation of which Isaiah wrote is accomplished “in this mountain.” Originally the phrase refers to Mt. Zion, site of the Temple, but, in a broader sense, it symbolizes Jerusalem and the Jewish people. It symbolizes what we often call, “the Jewish Church.” The salvation, of which Isaiah wrote, refers to God’s mighty deliverance of Jerusalem, and to His bountiful blessings upon her. But that cannot exhaust the meaning of this text. It reaches out to the work of Christ in Zion seven hundred years in Isaiah’s future. It will be “in this mountain” that the Savior comes to teach the way of life and truth. It will be “in this mountain” that He suffers and dies to defeat the enemies of His people, and delivers them from the spiritual bonds of sin and death. And it will be “in this mountain that the Savior’s work continues in the world throughout all ages. Just as Zion represents the people of God in the Old Testament, so it also represent the people of God in the New Testament, the Christian Church, the New Israel, the spiritual Mount Zion, which is the spiritual Kingdom of God. The message of hope, the message that God is with us, of a new and better life made possible by the gift of God, of hell’s fires quenched and Heaven’s Gates opened as wide as the Savior’s arms on the cross are still preached “in this mountain” as the Church fulfills her Great Commission:
Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world, (St. Matthew 28:19-20).

The promises of God to the Israel of the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the Israel of the New Testament. And yet, they are not fulfilled completely even now. We still wait for the Messiah to complete His work. We still wait for that day when finally He will swallow even physical death in victory, and will dry every tear, and there will be no more suffering, and no more sorrow, and no more sin, forever and forever and forever. We await His Second Advent as eagerly as the Old Testament Zion awaited His First Advent. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, (Rev. 22:20).