April 29, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of the Third Sunday after Easter

Monday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.85, Ex. 25:1-22, Heb. 9:15
Evening – Ps. 77, Is. 45:20, Eph. 1:1-14


Commentary, Hebrews 9:15

Hebrews 9:1-14 brought us to understand the finality and full sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. His offering of Himself on the cross pays in full the price of our sins and restores us to God. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament could never accomplish this, but God can and did in Christ. Thus we are free from the dead works of the ceremonial law. Attempts to continue or revive them are actually insults to Christ, which is why Galatians 1:6 says such people have left Christ for another gospel. This morning's reading continues to insist that the Old Covenant, was temporary, and has been fulfilled in the work of Christ and in calling together the New Israel (Church) in the New Covenant. The point of Hebrews 9:15-28 is that Christ did not come to continue the Old Covenant but to be the mediator of the New Covenant.

This point is made first by comparing the Old Covenant to a will, which takes effect at the death of the person making the will. The point is that the promises of the Old Testament become the possession of God’s people at the death of the One making the will, God. Thus, when Christ died, the promises became ours. The Church no longer lives in anticipation of the promises, but in the reality of them.

The point is made second by showing that the people and Tabernacle of the Old Covenant were “purified” with the blood of animals, but the New Covenant and its Tabernacle, which is the true Tabernacle in Heaven, is purified with the blood of Christ Himself. The old Tabernacle was a pattern (copy) of the true Tabernacle (9:23), and Christ entered into the true Tabernacle and holy place with His own blood to bring us into God.

Tuesday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, Ex. 28:1-38, Heb. 10:1-14
Evening – Ps. 84, 117, Is. 46:3-13, Eph. 1:15

Commentary, Hebrews 10:1-14

Today’s reading continues to emphasise the finality and supremacy of the life and work of Christ in accomplishing His peoples’ redemption. The Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices were but a shadow of Him. Verse 1 makes the point that a shadow is not even a full image or replica. It is but an outline, a silhouette. Christ is much more than just an image; He is the very presence of the good things to come. They have arrived in Him. In Him we have received eternal redemption. In Him, we are in God, and God is in us. Verses 1-8 explain the temporary nature of the Old Testament ceremonial and sacrificial laws. The very fact that they needed to be constantly repeated shows their temporary status. If they had been able to accomplish redemption they would not have needed to be repeated.

Christ accomplished full and eternal redemption by His one sacrifice of Himself. Verses 9-14 are about the full salvation purchased for us by His one, full, perfect, and all sufficient sacrifice. The conclusion of this section is that “by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (10:14).

Wednesday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 89:1-19, Ex. 32:1-20, Heb. 10:15-25
Evening – Ps. 90, Is. 48:12-21, Eph. 2:1-10

Commentary, Hebrews 10:15-25

Today’s reading can be summarized under three headings. First, found in Hebrews 10:15-18, reiterates the theme of verse 14, the absolute redemption accomplished by the one sacrifice of Christ. Verse 15 refers to the words of the Old Testament Scriptures as the Holy Ghost bearing witness. The Holy Ghost inspired and directed the prophets and authors of the Old Testament, so it is perfectly natural and right to say that in them the Holy Ghost testifies to the truth of what we read in Hebrews. Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted, bringing us to the point, stated in verse 18, that there is no more offering for sin. The Bible is saying God will no longer remember our sin under the New Covenant. That means He will not hold us responsible for its penalty. How can this be? It is only possible if God bears the cost of our sin in Himself, instead of requiring it from us. In other words, God must suffer for our sins in our places. This was accomplished in Christ on the cross. In Him God made the one full and sufficient sacrifice that is able to bear the cost of our sin, forever. There is no more offering for sin because the price has been paid in full and no more offerings are needed.

Second, made in verses 19-21, is the point that we now have boldness to enter into the holiest (presence of God, vs. 19) because our sins are forgiven through the one full and sufficient sacrifice of the blood of Christ. Compare our boldness in coming to God with the fear and temerity of the people under the Old Covenant. They came with blood offerings lest God take their own blood. They came not into the Holy of Holies, knowing they would die if they dared enter into the direct presence of God it symbolised. Even the High Priest feared to enter the Holy of Holies, lest God may be displeased with Israel, and strike him dead. But we, confident that our sins have been forgiven completely because of the sacrifice of Christ, dare to call upon God and enter His presence with confidence and boldness. Our boldness is not irreverent or glib. Our entrance into the presence of God is reverent and respectful. It is not arrogance; it is faith. It is our confidence that Christ has washed away our sins and made us acceptable unto God that allows us come to Him as His beloved children to our Father.

Third, verses 21-25 encourage us to “draw near” to God through Christ. He is our assurance of acceptance (10:22). We are also encouraged to hold our faith securely without wavering. That is, we are to be faithful to the end as Christ Himself was faithful to us (23). We are to encourage one another to remain in the faith and to let our lives show our faith through love and good works. Finally, we are to attend the worship and fellowship opportunities of the Church (25). Hebrews 10:25 does not get much “press” these days because our view of following Christ is often considered only in terms of our personal salvation and relationship with Christ. But we have over emphasized the individual aspect and almost abandoned the corporate aspect of following Christ. We often think the Church is optional, and that its only function is to bring others to Christ, which we can do on our own (so it is said). But Christ is calling us to be a part of His new people, new family, new nation, new body, and we are members of one another as much as we are members of Him. Thus we are not to be absent when the Church assembles. We are to be present and active, for the Day of Judgment is coming.

Thursday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 91, Ex. 32:21-34, Heb. 10:26
Evening – Ps. 97, 98, Is. 49:1-12, Eph. 2:11

Commentary, Hebrews 10:26

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the book of Hebrews turns again to an exhortation to faithfully trust and obey Him fully and forever. The exhortation begins with a dire warning, found in Hebrews 10:26-31. Commenting on Hebrews 6:4-8, I wrote that I hope these verses cause you to fear. I have the same hope for this passage. I say this because these verses teach the terrible consequences of falling away from Christ. Sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (10:26) does not refer to the constant failures and sins we commit in our daily battle to conquer sin and live for Christ. The sin of verse 26 is willfully deserting the faith. It is turning away from Christ and returning to the life of self-indulgence and self-direction. It is to remove Christ from the throne of your life, and to re-enthrone yourself as king and god of yourself. It is to live in unrepentant rebellion against God. It is, to draw back from Christ and return to perdition (10:39). What happens to a person who has professed Christ, but now has turned away from Him? Is that person “saved?” No. Hebrews 10:26 says such a person now has no sacrifice for sin. That person has rejected the only sufficient sacrifice, the only one that can cleanse the soul and make him acceptable unto God. That person, therefore, has no way to atone for his sins. He will stand before God in his sins, and for his sins he will be lost. Thus verse 27 says he has only a certain, fearful expectation of judgment. “Certain,” in this verse, means absolute. There is no question about it. It will happen as surely as God exists. Verses 28 & 29 prove this by the Old Testament, which records that people perished for disobeying the law that was given through Moses. If disobeying that law was a grievous crime, surely the rejection of Christ, Immanuel, God with us, is more heinous and more worthy of wrath. Such a person has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant (the blood Christ shed on the cross) as unholy. He counts the blood of Christ as not the blood of the Most High given for our sins, but as common and defiled and without value. Verse 30 quotes the words of Deuteronomy 32:35 and applies them to the one who has treated the Son of God so despicably. Verse 31 concludes the warning; it is a fearful thing for such people to fall into the hands of the living God.

Now the passage moves into a word of encouragement. It is based on the confidence of 10:39, “we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” The heart of this passage is verse 35, “cast not away therefore your confidence.” We could restate this verse as, hold fast to Christ in faith. The original recipients of this epistle had faced serious opposition and persecution when they became Christians (32-34). This opposition came from family and friends as well as the larger community. Yet they did not desert Christ. Nor did they desert the Apostle Paul, who was often in chains and prison for his faith in Christ (Heb 10: 34). Just as they stood firm in the faith then, they are encouraged to stand firm now, that they may receive their reward.

Friday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.94, Ex. 33:7, Heb. 11:1-16
Evening – Ps. 103, Is. 49:13-23, Eph. 3:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 11:1-16

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, warned us against apostasy, and encouraged us to trust in Christ to the very end, St. Paul now shows several examples of faith in the Old Testament. Their example is given to encourage us to be faithful as they were, but they are also given to show that their salvation was the gift of God received by faith, not something they earned through good deeds or keeping Old Testament ceremonial laws. Many of these people actually antedated the ceremonial laws, but were received by God because they trust in Him. In other words, they were saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest they boast of their accomplishment (see Eph. 2:2-9). One commentator has captured the essence of the meaning of this passage, especially verse 1. He wrote:

“In Old Testament times…there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and in directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye. It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 277).

The people named in Hebrews 4-12 are often called heroes of faith, but they would probably rather be known as people who were saved by grace. And salvation by grace is the point of this passage. By grace, God promised them an inheritance. That inheritance was symbolized in things like children and land, but it was far more than these things. It was God Himself. Thus, even though Abraham did not technically own the Promised Land, He did inherit a better country, which is the country, or city, of God (vs. 16).

By faith they believed God and directed their lives as if what God had promised was already theirs. This is just what we are called to do as New Testament believers. By grace God has promised full forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. By faith we act like forgiven people. By grace God has given Christ to be the propitiation for our sins. By faith we trust Christ to remove all our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. By grace God has promised to take us to a land where the troubles of earth, the temptations of sin, and the barriers between ourselves and God will be only dim memories, and we will enjoy His glory forever. By faith we conduct and order our lives in the light of that promise.

Saturday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.99, 100, Ex. 34:1-35, Heb. 11:17-31
Evening – Ps. 23, 30, Is. 50:4-10, Eph. 3:13

Commentary, Hebrews 11:17-31

Looking at Abraham, let us be clear that God is not telling anyone to sacrifice someone as a test of faith today. It may seem odd to see such an obvious statement in today’s commentary, but it is here for the same reason hand lotion containers have to have warnings; “Not for internal use.” So, “Don’t try this at home.”

Now let us look at our reading for this morning, Hebrews 11:17-31. This passage continues to show how people in the Old Testament trusted the promise of God. Abraham is the primary example. Promised an inheritance of land and descendants, He believed God and ordered his life according to the promise. He trusted God even when it looked like the promise could not be kept. Thus, Abraham knew God would somehow be true, and he would return with Isaac alive and well (Gen. 22:5). This is the meaning of Hebrews 11:19. The point is that Abraham trusted God and acted accordingly.

Trusting God applies as much to us as to Abraham. Though not called to literally sacrifice children or people to God, we are called to trust God’s promise and providence when it comes to the people and things we love most in this world. Do we love God enough to trust Him with these things? Do we trust Him with our children, grand children, parents, and siblings? Do we trust Him with life as well as eternity? Will we live our lives with faith in the Promise of God in Christ, as Abraham lived with faith in the promise of Genesis 21:12 and Hebrews 11:18, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”?

Sermon, Third Sunday after Easter

God before the gods
Psalm 138, 1 Peter 2:11-17, John 16:16-22
Third Sunday after Easter
April 29, 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.


The message of the third Sunday after Easter is perseverance in Godliness. The Collect, based on First Peter 2, leads us to seek God's help for those who go astray and to pray that all who are admitted into Christ will avoid that which is contrary to our faith, and follow, as the direction and orientation of life, all that is agreeable to it. First Peter 2 makes this point by beseeching us to "abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." John 16 reminds us that the sorrows of this life are but for a little while, and even they will be turned to joy when we see Jesus. Psalm 138 is about remaining faithful to Christ in a world that is unfaithful and hostile to faith.

Since the end of Eden, this world has never been a friend of the Church. There have been times of renewal. There have been times of righteousness, when people turned to God and began to live for Him and put the teachings of the Bible into practice in personal life, business, and even government. But these eras have been brief, though, thanks be to God, their influence has been persistent. This was as true in David's time as it is today. David ruled the Old Testament Church, Israel, when it was surrounded by nations steeped in paganism, superstition, and open wickedness. And there was a tendency for the Israelites to drift into the ideas and practices of their pagan neighbors. Often, their adoption of pagan ways was so complete they almost completely lost their identity as the people of God. The surrounding nations were not passive in this. They waged an active and aggressive military and ideological war against Israel, and it often appeared that the pagans were winning.

I am sure the parallels between then and now are evident to the thinking Christian, for the world continues to aggressively oppose God and His Church. Sometimes the opposition comes in formal actions and policies of governments and agencies charged by God to defend the rights and freedoms of their people. Often it comes in formal actions and policies of Churches and religious leaders claiming to be doing the will of God, like those who burned dissenters and crucified Christ. But, mostly it comes in a general attitude of hostility toward the ways of God, and an equally general hostility toward those who attempt to follow God in Biblical faith.

David, king of Israel, king of this tiny, weak nation of shepherds, surrounded by stronger nations, dwelling on land wanted by the super powers of the era, and called by God to lead a people who were themselves often unfaithful and rebellious toward God, made a profound statement in this Psalm; "before the gods will I sing praise unto thee." This is the theme of this Psalm. It is a bold statement of steadfast faith when the whole world appears to have gone faithless. It is a statement of the intention to stand fast in the Biblical faith, even while the world chases after idols and false gods, and even while his own countrymen waffle and vacillate between God and the gods.

But there is even more in these words. David is saying he will stand for God in the face of a hostile world. Even before the gods, the very symbols of those who seek to eliminate the Church and her faith, David will stand with God.

One of the ways he will stand for God is by worshiping God in the Temple. This is one of the primary points of this Psalm, for it is in the Temple and the public worship of God that David gives thanks unto God and sings praises unto Him before the gods. It is as though David is saying, let the world and its idols look upon this scene, for in their very presence and in their plain sight I will worship the Living God. Every Sunday you pass cars filled with people on their way to worship. Most of them aren't going to Church. They are going to worship the god of the horse, the god of the lake and beach, or the god of materialism whose temple is the mall. Many are so dedicated to their gods they don't have to travel to worship them. Their houses and lands are their gods, and they live where their gods are. They literally dwell in the house of their gods.

I cannot help wondering how many of those at the horse trails, lakes, beaches, malls, and watering their azaleas claim to be Christians, yet habitually forsake the assembly of the Church for worship. And why? Not because there is not ample encouragement in the Scriptures. The Bible everywhere proceeds on the principle, the assumption that Christians are active members of the local church. The Bible was written to the Church. Romans was not written to individual Christians who happened to live in Rome. It was written to the Church in Rome. Revelation 3:14-22 was not written to individual Christians in Laodocea; it was written to the Church in Laodicea. We err when we think we don't need to be a part of the Church. We err if we think we have done all that God requires if we spend a few minutes alone with the Bible and prayer. The Church is His body and we are members of it. Thus, when Paul wrote in Hebrews 10:25 that we are not to forsake the worship assemblies of the Church, he meant the visible, local body of believers, not an intangible feeling of togetherness. It does not work to attempt to excuse forsaking the local church by saying you worship as part of the invisible Church which is that mystical body of all believers. It doesn't work because the invisible Church is manifested in the world, and participated in by the believer, through the local, visible church. My beloved in Christ, we need more than a Bible and a "quiet time." We need the worship and fellowship of the visible, organised Church.

If this world were a Christian world, we would still need the Church, and we would still need to be a part of the worship and services of it. But the world is not Christian, and that means we need the Church even more. And we need the discipline of standing firm for God in a faithless world. I beg and encourage you to sing God's praises and forsake the false gods and idols of this world. Stand fast for God, even before the gods sing your praise unto Him and worship toward His holy Temple.

"Almighty God, who showest to them that are in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness; Grant unto all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion, that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."