March 10, 2013
Scripture and Comments, week of Fourth Sunday in Lent
Monday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-three
Morning - Psalm 90, Genesis 44, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Evening - Psalm 91, Jeremiah 13:15, Mark 12:18-27
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.
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
Morning - Psalms 93 & 96, Genesis 45, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Evening - Psalm 92, Jeremiah 14:1-10, Mark 12:28-37
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.
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
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
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.
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
Morning - Psalm 104, Genesis 49:33-50:26, 1 Corinthians 14:13-25
Evening - Psalms 99 & 100, Jeremiah, 15:10, Mark13:1-13
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.
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
Morning - Psalms 95 & 102, Exodus 1:8-14, 1 Corinthians 14:26
Evening - Psalm 107, Jeremiah 16:5-13, Mark 13:14-23
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."
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
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
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.
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."