March 17, 2013
Monday after Passion Sunday, Day Twenty-nine
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
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.
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
Morning - Psalm 123, Psalm 127, Exodus 4:10-31, 1 Corinthians 15:20-34
Evening - Psalms 120, 121, 122, Jeremiah 22:10-23, John 12:12-19
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
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
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."
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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."
White as Snow
Psalm 51, Isaiah 1:10-20, 1 Peter 4:12
March 17, 2013
Isaiah 1:18 contains some of the most famous words in the world, "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow." When I hear these words I think of Nathaniel Hawthorn's story, The Scarlet Letter. He probably got the idea for the scarlet colour of the letter from Isaiah, for, in the story, Hester Prynne was forced to wear a red letter "A" for committing the sin of adultery. Of course, in reality, we are all adulteresses, all branded with a scarlet letter.
We understand this when we look at the people outside of Christ. We see their carousing, chasing pleasure, reveling in drunkenness, debauchery, and fornication. We see them giving themselves to power, position, material possessions, physical pleasures, and self-indulgence. We understand that they have made these things their gods. They are their first loves. They receive the devotion and love God deserves. They covet these things, and "covetousness," as Paul wrote in Colossians 3:5, "is idolatry." What is idolatry but adultery of the soul? They have left their true Husband to commit adultery with things that are not even gods.
But, I have noticed something that is very important; when the Bible talks about spiritual adultery, it almost always refers to those who claim to be the people of God. I don't know of a single place where the word is used of those outside of the visible Church. There may be, but I don't remember any. The reason it is used of the Church is because it is we who have taken vows to love and serve God as our God, and to keep ourselves for Him alone. Thus, the Bible calls the Church the "bride of Christ" (Rev. 21:9).
We seldom think of ourselves as spiritual adulterers, but I wonder, when we are honest with ourselves, if we do not see that our sins are as scarlet as Hester Prynne's? Who has not become aware that our very best efforts fall far, far short of God's perfection? Who is not aware that pride, greed, jealousy, lust, and a general spiritual laziness still live in us, even after years and decades of trying to follow Christ? What parent reprimanding a child does not remember committing the same offense? What minister preaching the word is not aware of the sin still dwelling in him? I read once of a young minister leading a catechism class and being stricken with the awful truth that he had not carried the burden he was now asking others to bear. St. Augustine is reported to have prayed for purity and chastity, but not today. Even St Paul admitted his own continuing battle with sin. "I am carnal, sold under sin," he wrote in Romans 7:14. "[T]o perform that which is good I find not" says Romans 7:18. Then there are those famous words in Romans 7:19, "The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."
But it is not just what we do that is sin, it is what we are. If it were possible for us to peel back the layer of God's grace that hides our sinfulness from us, we would shudder at the writhing mass of evil that is in us. Once in a while it breaks out. Then we act in the most unGodly ways. That is the real you coming out. You are able, by God's grace, to keep it under some control most of the time, but sometimes it breaks out. Truly our sins are as scarlet. How shall they be white as snow? White of course means pure and clean. In spiritual terms, red symbolises wickedness, white stands for good. Red is ungodly, white is Godly. How can we go from red to white? It can only come to us as the gift of God. And that happens in three ways.
First it happens when God forgives our sins. By that I mean God simply stops holding our sins against us and starts treating us as though we were not sinners. This happens only because Christ paid the price of our sins for us. He suffered the wrath of God for our sins on the cross. There was nothing we could have done to make up for our sins. But God forgives our sins. Our sins were scarlet, now they are white as snow.
I know I say this often, but that is because it is the primary message of the Bible. The Bible addresses many things, good government, marriage, home, family, child rearing, work, economics, war, and peace. I hope to talk about some of these things this summer. From the Bible we learn that kings and presidents are not supreme any more than bishops or churches. God is supreme, and all rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, rule properly only when they rule under God and according to His will. From the Bible we learn that people have rights. Thou shalt not kill means you have the right to life, and you have the right to defend your life. Thou shalt not steal means you have the right to own property and to enjoy the fruits of your labours. Thou shalt not commit adultery means other people are not your sexual toys. All of these things are addressed in the Bible, but they are not the theme of the Bible. Redemption is its theme. God is Redeeming for Himself a nation which will inherit a new Kingdom that is Godly and righteous. In it we will serve and glorify God perfectly and forever. Those who enter into this Kingdom are only allowed in because God has forgiven their sins through the cross of Christ.
Second our sins become white as snow when, in the grace of God He accounts us as righteous. This is due to the righteousness of Christ accounted to us; credited to us, credited to our account. Christ has taken our unrighteousness upon Himself and suffered for it on the cross. He has given His righteousness to us, so that God now sees us as righteous and good and holy.
We need to remember here that righteousness is credited to us, not achieved by us. The old sinful ways of thinking and responding to life still remain strong in us, and have to be denied and crucified moment by moment and day by day every day of our lives. Progress is slow and painful, but does happen, so keep at it. Remember that doing the will of God goes against your natural impulses and desires, and the more you give in to evil and spiritual laziness, the easier it becomes. "Thou shalt find," wrote Anglican Bishop Joseph Hall in the 1600s, "that deffering [spiritual things] breeds an indisposition to [them]; so that what was before pleasant to thee, being omitted, to-morrow grows harsh, the next day unneccessary, afterward odious. To-day thou canst but wilt not; to-morrow thou couldst, but listeth not; the next day thou neither wilt nor canst."
But this is what I want to emphasise today. Your sins are white as snow in God's eyes because He sees you covered with the righteousness of Christ. Do not fear that you are not going to Heaven because you battle sins and temptation. Do not fear that God does not accept you because you still sin. God accepts you because He has placed the righteousness of Christ in your spiritual account. Because of that, you are righteous in His eyes.
Third, your sins will be white as snow because one day you will be fully purified. The day will come when the tendency to sin, that is now so much a part of you, will be gone forever. The day will come when your will, emotions, mind, and every aspect of your being will be completely righteous. The process of fighting against your sinfulness will be over because your sinfulness will be gone. You will be pure.
O God, who has made our sins as white as snow through the redeeming work of Christ; grant that we may live in holiness and peace through Thy grace. Amen.