January 13, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of First Sunday after Trinity


Monday

Morning - Ps. 1, 3, Prov. 1:7-19, Eph.1
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Ezek. 1:1-28, Jn. 1:1-8

            Verse 16 stands out in Ephesians 1 because it is the only verse that does not mention God directly.  Look at the other verses: "an apostle of Christ Jesus," "from God our Father," "Blessed be the God," "he hath chosen," "Christ himself," "in whom we have redemption," all of them have some direct reference to God by name or pronoun. This chapter, and the entire book of Ephesians, is about God.  It is about who God is, and what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do.  It is about why He does what He does; why He created us, why He became a Man, why He died on the cross, and why He continues to work in us and in this world through His Holy Spirit. He does all of these things to achieve His ultimate goal; to "gather into one all things in Christ" (1:10).
            Most people are accustomed to thinking everything God does is about us, about saving us, loving us, and blessing us. It may be shocking to think that these things are ultimately not about us.  Our creation and salvation are all for the greater purpose of the glory of God.     Perhaps this means we have to turn some of our thinking around.  Perhaps we need to begin to see ourselves as existing for the glory of God (1:12) instead of God existing for our benefit.

Tuesday

Morning - Ps. 5, Prov. 2:1-9, Eph. 2:1-10
Evening - Ps. 11, 12, Ezek, 2, Jn. 1:19-34

            The first chapter of Ephesians ends with the subject of the Church, which chapter two continues.  Note that the reference is to the Church, not the churches.  The idea that churches exist in independence of one another without accountability, and that the Bible always mentions "churches," but never "the Church" as a whole is false.  Paul never considered any of the congregations he corresponded with independent of him, or as anything but a local manifestation of the universal Body of Christ.  1 Corinthians 3:9-17, for example, is about The Church primarily, and, secondarily, how the church in Corinth is to function within the wider Church.  The Church, collectively, is the Temple of God.  Local churches are part of the greater Church, all together form the spiritual Temple, or house of the Holy Spirit of God.  The Corinthian church had its own ministers, yet Paul, writing from Ephesus in A.D. 57, excommunicated members of that congregation, and told the ministers and remaining members to stay away from them (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
            Far from being independent congregations, the Church is God's appointed way of bringing people together in one body in Christ.  God is already working in this world to achieve His ultimate goal.  Eph. 1:10 is not just something for the end of time; God is at work now, accomplishing His purpose in the Church.  The Church is that people which has already become one Body, one Temple, one Family, one Nation, in Christ.
            Chapter two reminds us how God has brought us into the Church.  There was a time when we lived apart from God, and were under His wrath (2:3).  By His own grace (2:8 & 9) and for the purpose of showing the riches of His grace and kindness (2:7) He raised us out of the death of sin and placed us in Himself and in His Church where we are one in Christ (2:6-7, 1:10).  Thus, even while we live in this world, we sit in heavenly places and have a foretaste of the great and final goal of God which will one day be brought to its completion.  Thus, as His workmanship we are to do the things of Godliness, to which we have been called and for which we have been created (2:10).

Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 7, Prov. 3:1-7, 11-12, Eph. 2:11
Evening - Ps. 13, 14, Ezek. 3:4-14, Jn. 1:36

            The great purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ is continued by His bringing Gentiles into the Church.  The Gospel of Christ is for all who will receive it in faith.  Heaven is for all who will enter through Christ.  The Church is for all who will believe.  In Christ there are no strangers or foreigners (2:19) only one Nation and Household.  In Him all believers are being built up into one holy Temple in the Lord (2:19-21).  There was a time when most Gentiles were excluded from the House of God (2:11-12).  Having chosen to exclude Him from their own lives, God allowed them to live apart from Him, and to reap the just rewards of their sin.  But God's ultimate plan of gathering all things together in Christ was not blocked by human rebellion. He gathered Abraham and his descendants, to whom He gave His Word and Commandments, and through whom He would give His Messiah. In the New Testament era He began to bring in the Gentiles.  In His New Israel, the Church, all believers, Jews and Gentiles are made one body in Christ.  The work of gathering all things together in Christ continues, and will continue until the Last Day, when all of His people will be gathered Home to Him, all of His enemies will be cast out forever, and the heavens and earth will be made new.

Thursday

Morning - Ps. 9, Prov. 3:13-20, Eph. 3:1-13
Evening - Ps. 15, 21, Ezek. 3:16-21, Jn. 2:1-12

            The great and ultimate goal of all the work of God in this world is to gather all things together in Christ.  Everything He does, from creating us, to giving His Word and means of grace, to entering into history and dying on the cross, even His daily providential care and guidance in our lives is done primarily to achieve that goal.  Most Christians have wrongly been taught to believe God's ultimate goal is our salvation, and that everything He does is done to save us from Hell.  In reality, our salvation is a means to accomplish the end of gathering all things together in Christ.  It is primarily about Christ, not about us.
            It is for the purpose of gathering all things together in Christ (3:1) that Paul has been made an Apostle and sent to the Gentile people.  His calling is to bring Gentiles into the body of Christ and the promises of God as full participants with the Jews (3:6).
            It is for this purpose that God has brought His people together into the Church (3:10-11).  The Church is the people already brought together.  The Church Family will ultimately and fully inherit the Kingdom of God, and, indeed, is already dwelling in it.  Those not in the Church will still be gathered together in Christ, but in a much different way.  They will be gathered together to face His wrath, while the Church is gathered to receive His grace.  If we think of the Kingdom of God as a great Castle, the Church is the people who have been elevated to the status of courtiers and friends.  Those outside the Church are also gathered, but they are the enemies of God and they are gathered into the dungeon.  One day the entire land will be gathered under the authority and reign of the King.  Many people will become His friends and will be welcomed into the full fellowship of the Castle.  Others will persist in rebellion and hate.  They will be thrown into the dungeon.  Either way, the King will gather all things together and will reign over all.
            Verse 10 again uses "church" to refer to the entire body of Christ rather than a local congregation.  In the time of Paul, the Apostles were still living and considered the Church one organisation.

Friday

Morning - Ps. 10, Prov. 3:27, Eph. 3:14
Evening - Ps. 6, 26, Ezek. 7:10-27, Jn. 2:13

            Verse 14 begins a great prayer to the Father of whom the whole family is named (3:14-15).  That family is the Church, and it includes those in Heaven and those on earth.  Paul prays that the Church will be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man (3:16).  This "might" is power which enables us to know what God wants us to know, be what God wants us to be, and do what God wants us to do.  What God wants is then given in verses 17-19 culminating in the phrase, "that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."  Yes, the ultimate purpose of God is to gather a people for Himself, a people to exist in Christ and glorify Him forever.  But those blessed to be part of that People, are given the highest gift God can give to any created being, the gift of living forever in such closeness, fellowship and love with Him it can only be described as being perpetually filled with the fullness (greatness and presence) of God.  This fullness will ultimately only be realised in Heaven, but we can know some of it here and now by the indwelling Spirit of God and the means of grace.

  Note again the reason Paul prays for these things for the Church. It is not just for the benefit of people. It is "For this cause" (3:14), the very same cause Paul has been writing about throughout this Epistle; the cause of gathering all things together in Christ.

Saturday

Morning - Ps. 16, Prov. 4:7-18, Eph. 4:1-16
Evening - Ps. 27, Ezek. 11:14-20, Jn. 3:1-13

What does all of this talk about the fullness of God and His gathering a people together in Christ have to do with us in everyday life?  Everything!  If we are a part of that people, and if we are called into that people gathered into Christ, we are to live our lives in conformity with the will and nature of Christ.  As Ephesians 4:1 states the issue, ""walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.  Thus, being the people who live for and in the glory of God is every Christian's vocation. It is your life's work.  The remainder of Ephesians is about how to live worthy of your vocation.

Sermon, First Sunday after Epiphany


Grace Given Unto Us
Psalm 23, Romans 12:1-5, Luke 2:41-52
First Sunday after Epiphany
January 13, 2013

The Epistle for this First Sunday after Epiphany is the first four verse Romans 12.  In that passage, Paul wrote many astounding words, among them are those found in verse 3, "through the grace given unto me."  I want to talk about grace today.  I often speak of this building as a house of grace.  I mean there is a sense in which this place is different from others.  Here people have sought and found grace for more than a hundred and sixty years.  There is a sense of connection about this place, a sense of being connected with many others, past and present, as we read the same Bible pray the same Prayers, sing the same hymns, and receive the same grace.  We are all one in the grace of God; "one body in Christ, and every one members of one another."  In a sense this building is a symbol of God's grace, and I rejoice that a body of believers worships here, because if this building doesn't house a living, worshiping congregation, it ceases to be a house of grace and becomes a mausoleum.

When I say this is a house of grace I mean something wonderful and mysterious happens when we meet here.  God touches us here.  He makes us to lie down in green pastures and leadeth us beside still waters.  He restores our souls and leads us in the paths of righteousness.  He prepares a table before us and anoints us with oil.  He fills our souls with such abundance we are like cups running over with grace.

There is grace in the things we do here.  God draws us into Himself by them, and God imparts Himself to us in them.  There is grace in the Prayers.  The more we understand the Bible, the more the Prayers express our hearts to God, and the more they lead us into Him.  In the Prayers we lie down in the green pastures of God and drink His still waters.  There is grace in reading, hearing, and preaching the Bible.  Let us call them the ministry of the Word, and let us know that it is different from other readings and hearings.  To read the Bible is to enter the presence of God; to "hear" it is to let God's presence enter us.  To read the Bible is to let God lead us to the green pastures and still waters.  To "hear" it, that is, to receive it into our hearts with faith, is to feed on the green pasture and drink the still waters of God.  The sermon serves the feast God has prepared for us.  It points us to the pastures and waters of God.  The preacher, by God's authority and command, invites us to eat and drink of God's grace.  Thus, the Prayers and the ministry of the Word  are means by which the Living God imparts His grace to us.

I know these are rather vague statements.  They contain much imagery and very little concrete definitions.  But even the Bible uses more imagery than definitions here, and I think it is because these things are too big to be reduced to concrete terms.  Someone said, "in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, everything else is math."  Everything else may be math, but God is not, nor are the workings of His Spirit imparting grace to His people.  He, and His ways, are, in a very real sense, beyond comprehension and unexplainable.  He Himself is a great mystery, not because He hides from us or keeps secrets from us, but because He is beyond our ability to comprehend.  And so, we must be content with the little that we can understand, and be content to know Him as Mystery.  Thanks be to God, we can understand something about Him, and the Bible tells us who He is, and what we owe to Him as our God, and how to find and continue in peace with God through the cross of Christ.  The Bible draws us into Him and imparts Him to us in a spiritual transaction that is as inexplicable and mysterious as God Himself.

There is grace in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  It is truly a Table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies, for we come to it in the midst of a great spiritual war against spiritual wickedness in high places, and against our own weaknesses and temptations.  Even the most valiant soldiers need rest sometimes, and our presence in this house of grace and at this feast of grace is our respite from the battle.  Here, for a while, we are in green pastures and beside still waters.

There is a sense in which the grace given to us in the Sacrament is even more mysterious than that given in the Prayers, worship, and ministry of the Word.  We can understand  that reading and hearing the Bible shapes our thoughts and attitudes, for we see that we are shaped by the music, movies, and books we allow into our lives.  What child has not wanted to be like his cartoon or movie hero?  We can understand how the Prayers can shape our lives.  We see that saying and meaning them with understanding gives form to our faith and our petitions.  But how does eating a communion wafer dipped in wine put God in us and us in God?  No wonder that, after receiving the bread and wine, we thank God for these "holy mysteries."

And yet, there is something we do know about this Sacrament.  We know the bread portrays the body of Christ dying on the cross.  The bread our Lord broke when He instituted this Sacrament was something like a dense, wheat cracker, large enough to be broken into twelve pieces.  "This is My body," He said as He broke it and gave the pieces to the disciples.  "This is My blood,' He said as He poured the wine out of its container and gave it to them.  Thus, the Communion graphically portrays the crucifixion of our Lord.

Eating the bread and drinking the wine are expressions of our faith.  In these acts we state that we believe in Christ in Biblical faith.  We remember Christ's death. We intentionally open ourselves to Him to receive all the benefits of His death. We signify our belief that, somehow God is bringing us more fully into Himself, and imparting Himself more fully to us in this Sacrament.  We are receiving grace.

Grace is in this place, because God is in us and in the things we do in this place.  In them we come to God's throne of grace.  In them God calms our fears and teaches us to trust Him.  In them He heals the wounds caused by sin, and strengthens us in holiness and faith. He imparts His healing presence to us, and He draws us into Himself.

Father of all mercies, whose nature is love and whose throne is grace.  We beseech Thee, and believe that Thou wilt, impart Thy grace unto us, through Christ our Lord, Amen.