March 17, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Passion Sunday


Monday after Passion Sunday, Day Twenty-nine

            Lectionary

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


John 12:1-11

Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.

            Commentary

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.

            Devotional

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

            Lectionary       

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

 John 12:12-19

On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.


            Commentary

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

            Lectionary

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

John 12:20-33

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.  And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.  If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.  Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.

            Commentary

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."

            Devotional

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

            Lectionary

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

John 12:34-43

The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.  But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.


            Commentary

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.

            Devotional

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

Lectionary

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

John 12:44

Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.


Commentary

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.

Devotional Thoughts

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

Lectionary                                                       

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 13:1-7

 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

Commentary

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.

Devotional Thoughts

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." 

Sermon, Passion Sunday


White as Snow
Psalm 51, Isaiah 1:10-20, 1 Peter 4:12
Passion Sunday
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.