April 14, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Second Sunday after Easter


Monday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 49, Ex. 17:8, Heb. 6:1-12
Evening – Ps. 47, 48, Is. 43:8-13, 1 Pet. 3:13

Commentary, Hebrews 6:1-12

Hebrews 6 continues to warn us not to neglect the salvation purchased for us by God in Christ. The heart of this warning is terrible and frightening, for its message is that those who appear to begin to follow Christ in the life of faith, but stop following Him, will not become followers of Christ again. “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (Heb. 6:4-6).

I truly hope these verses cause you to fear. Most people don’t pay much attention to them because they immediately call up all their defensive tactics that tell them once saved always saved, and that such people were never saved in the first place. That is true, but that is not the point, because they believed they were saved, and they made a start at living the Christian life. But at some point and for some reason, they quit. They either found out that they really don’t believe, or they decided they aren’t really willing to live the Christian life. They were probably quite happy to believe Jesus died for their sins, be baptized, and do a few churchy things as long as it was convenient and easy for them, but when following Christ began to require trusting Him in difficult situations and sacrificing personal goals and desires to live for Him, they simply quit. Such people will probably continue to convince themselves that they are Christians, but in reality, they are not. So the “moral of the story” is found in verse 12, “be not slothful, but followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Tuesday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 50, Ex. 18:1-12, Heb. 6:13
Evening – Ps. 61,62, Is. 43:15-21 & 44:1-3, 1 Pet. 4:1-6

Commentary, Hebrews 6:13

Abraham is an example of a person who inherited the promises through faith and patience (6:15). He patiently endured in the faith, though it was not always easy for him. He inherited the earthly Promised Land through his descendants, but he inherited the Kingdom of Heaven as the promise of God. Canaan was but a symbol of the Heavenly Promised Land.

The promises of God are immutable. In verse 17 it says the counsel of God is immutable, but the counsel of God includes His promises. We could interpret the verse as saying the word of God is immutable, meaning the word of God is His bond and He will not break it. His word is confirmed by an oath. God swears by Himself, making it evident that His word is indeed a promise. He binds Himself to keep His promise, that those who trust in Christ in Biblical faith, will inherit the promise, and those who do not trust in Him to the end, will not.

This promise is an anchor of hope in a sea of troubles (6:19). It gives us faith to continue on, steadfast to the end. It keeps us anchored in Christ, and Christ Himself is “within the veil” the Holy of Holies, which is the right hand of God in Heaven.

Wednesday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 63, Ex. 18:13, Heb. 7:1-11
Evening – Ps. 65, Is 44:6-23, 1 Pet. 4:7-11

Commentary, Hebrews 7:1-11

Hebrews, chapter 6 closed with a quote from Psalm 110:4 and a reference to Genesis 14:18-20. Our reading in Hebrews 7 explains how Christ is a Priest of the order of Melchisidec. The identity of Melchisidec is a topic of much discussion among students of Scripture. He is noted as the King of Salem, which means King of Peace, and the inference in the book of Hebrews is that he is an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Thus, verse 2 calls Him the King of Righteousness to whom Abraham offered a tithe. He is also noted as being without parents and without descent. Christ is eternally God, so God the Father is not His parent in the same sense that our human fathers and mothers are ours. He has no “beginning of days nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (7:3).

Melchisidec is a greater priest than the Levitical priests of the Old Testament because they paid tithes to Him through Abraham (7:5). Note also that Melchisidec predates the Levitical priesthood (7:6) and that His office did not pass to another at His death. Finally, His priesthood brings His people to perfection, which the Levitical priesthood could never do.

Thursday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 66, Ex. 19:1-20, Heb 7:12
Evening – Ps. 71, Is. 44:9-20, 1 Pet. 4:12

Commentary, Hebrews 7:12

The major point being made in Hebrews 7 is that the Old Testament priesthood was a temporary institution, while the priesthood of Christ is eternal. Just as the priests themselves were not permanent, but passed their office on to another at death, so their order of priesthood was also temporary, and would be passed on to another who will continue in it forever. Melchisidec is eternally a priest, Aaron was temporary.

The ministry of the order of Melchisidec supersedes the Old Testament priests’ ministry. Their ministry has ended, but the ministry of Christ continues. Even now He “ever liveth to make intercession” (7:25). His ministry surpasses theirs because He accomplished it with a single sacrifice, while theirs required daily sacrifices (7:27). His ministry surpasses theirs because He is able to save to the uttermost (7:25). His ministry accomplished our salvation, theirs symbolized it. 

Friday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 51, Ex. 20:1-21, Heb 8
Evening – Ps. 73, Is. 44:24-45:4, 1 Pet. 5:1-7

Commentary, Hebrews 8


Chapter 8 begins to state the sum, or, conclusion, of what has been said in previous chapters, especially chapter 7. The sum is that the Old Testament office of priesthood ended when Christ, the Priest of the order of Melchisidec, appeared. Equally important, the Old Covenant ended when the New Covenant began (8:13). In future studies we will consider the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments). For now let us simply say that the Old Testament parts that have ended are those which foreshadowed the ministry of Christ. They have ended, but they are not dead. They continue in their fulfillment in Christ Jesus and in the New Israel, which is the New Testament Church. Thus, for example, we no longer call people clean or unclean because of the food they eat, for those in Christ are clean by virtue of His atoning death, and those outside of Christ are unclean in their souls, regardless of what they eat. Our spiritual cleanness in Christ fulfills the symbolic cleanness of foods in the Old Testament. So the Old Covenant is waxed old and vanishes away not because it is useless, but because it is fulfilled in Christ. Both are important to us because both chronicle the history of Redemption. 

Christ fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood and now resides at the right hand of the Heavenly Majesty (8:1). The Heavenly Majesty is God, and the meaning is that Christ has returned to the place of honour in the Divine glory of the Trinity. His true work was and is accomplished in the Heavenly Sanctuary, of which the Temple was a symbol, or shadow (8:2-5).

Christ, the substance of which the Old Testament was the shadow, has a more excellent ministry than the Old Testament priests because He is the mediator of a better covenant (8:6). The Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Verse 8 refers to Jeremiah 31:31, but the New Covenant is promised in other verses also. The New Covenant people will have the law of God in their hearts (8:10) and they will all know God (8:11). Verses 6-13 tell us much about the New Covenant, all building upon the truth stated in 7:25, that Christ’s Covenant and dying gift to His people is their complete salvation and restoration to God.

Saturday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 72, Ex 24:1-18, Heb. 9:1-14
Evening – Ps. 33, Is. 45:5-19, 1 Pet. 5:8

Commentary, Hebrews 9:1-14

Hebrews 9:1-5 describes the Tabernacle as God directed it to be built in the wilderness of Sinai. The plan of the Tabernacle was given directly to Moses, and was followed strictly in the Temple built by Solomon. The point of this passage is the temporary nature of the Tabernacle and its services. This is shown in verses 6 & 7, which tell of the repetitive nature of the services. The priests entered daily into the holy place, and the high priest entered annually into the Holy of Holies to conduct the services and worship of God. So, the temporary effects of the service illustrate the temporary nature of the entire system.

Verses 9 and 10 make another important point; access to the presence of God, symbolized by the Holy of Holies, is no longer prevented by a physical barrier. In Christ the veil, which acted as a barrier to separate the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Sanctuary, is removed and access to God is open to anyone who will come to Him. Meat and drink offerings and washings (9:10 & 13) are now irrelevant to the real worship of God. Under the Old Covenant, they had their place and function, but the sacrifice of Christ alone can purify the heart and bring a person into the true Holy of Holies. Verse 14 makes an excellent point about the Old Testament sacrifices and services. They did what God wanted them to do, and they did it effectually. They made a person symbolically clean and allowed him to participate in the covenant community of Israel. If such small sacrifices could accomplish their purpose, then the surpassing value of the sacrifice of the Son of God is also able to accomplish its purpose, the complete forgiveness of our sins and the complete restoration of our souls to God. If this has been accomplished for us in Christ, we are free from the need for meat and drink offerings (dead works) to serve the Living God through faith in Christ (9:14).

Sermon, Second Sunday after Easter


Conversion
Psalm 23,  1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:11-16
Second Sunday after Easter
April 14, 2013

I love the ancient creeds of the Church, because they summarise the primary and essential doctrines of the faith once delivered unto the saints.  The Nicene Creed for example, summarises what the Bible teaches about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It also ventures into such things as Church, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.  These are the foundational doctrines of the Bible.  To deny them is to deny the faith, to deny Christ Himself.  To deny them is to declare yourself an unbeliever.

It is no accident that the Creed begins with the doctrine of God as He is revealed in Scripture, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  The vast majority of the Creed focuses on these teachings, because without them we have no right understanding of God, and right understanding of God is the foundation of all right belief.  It is certainly the foundation of the Biblical, Christian faith.

Yet the knowledge of God profits us nothing unless we act on it in faith.  As James 2:19 tells us, even devils know about God, but are lost for eternity.  Devils "believe and tremble."  So the Bible does not just teach an intellectual assent to doctrine; it teaches right doctrine accompanied by the response of faith.  Today I want to look at the response of faith, and I want to address this vast, and many faceted subject under the heading of conversion, because it doesn't matter what you believe about God if your lifestyle and life orientation is still one of going astray from God.

For some, the word, "conversion" recalls images of tent meetings and evangelistic crusades, and going forward at an invitation to accept Christ.  Many even think the act act of going forward is conversion.  But it is possible to go forward at a thousand such meetings, yet not really be converted, for to convert is to change, not just go forward.  Of course, some have been truly converted in such meetings, in a dramatic and seemingly sudden event.  For others, conversion was a much slower process.  This is especially true of people raised in the Church and Godly homes.  Such people may kind of grow into Christ in such a way that they cannot  name a date and time and place in which they were converted, yet they are converted.  For conversion means to have a change of life based upon the revelation of God in Scripture.  The Apostle Peter, in the Epistle for today calls it being returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your soul, which is God.  Peter uses the familiar image of sheep going astray. We can imagine an ancient shepherd leading his flock; some sheep following him closely, but many are going their own way, and running away until they are finally lost and die in the wilderness. 

To be converted is to be returned to the Shepherd.  It means to change the direction of life, and it especially refers to a change in the direction of our relationships.  Take for example our human relationships. We are sinners who regularly rupture our human relationships, especially those that are most important, such as those with family and church members, and we need a conversion in these relationships so that we begin to to do the things that build them up, rather than tear them down.  Luke 1:17 is part of the angel's words about John the Baptist, and it says he will go before the Messiah and "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children."  In this verse Luke used the same Greek. word Peter used in 1 Peter 2:25, and we easily see the relational meaning of the word. 

Conversion especially refers to our relationship with God.  Returning to Luke 1 again, verse 16 says,  "many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God."  Again Luke and Peter use the same word, "turn," and, again, the word is relational. It is a conversion of relationships meaning to adopt a lifestyle of continually restructuring the relationship with with God.

It is important to stress here that those who are converted have, at some point in their lives, come to realise that they are trusting God to forgive their sins and receive them into Heaven because, and only because, Jesus Christ, "bare [their] sins in his own body of the tree," as Peter wrote in our Epistle.  That verse is 1 Peter 2:24, and I humbly ask you to look it up and ponder it this afternoon.  And then I ask you to humbly look at yourself and answer this question, "Am I trusting Jesus, and only Jesus to forgive my sin and receive me into Heaven?  And, if you are not, or are not sure, call me and I will explain this more fully.

There is something else that must be stressed today, and it goes back to that change in relationship I was talking about a few minutes ago.  Conversion means to have a changed relationship with God through Christ.  It means you stop going astray and return to the Great Shepherd. and Bishop of your soul, Jesus Christ.  It means you now intend to stop living the lifestyle of straying, and begin living the lifestyle of returning.  We could say, you decide to stop living apart from God as though you are divorced from Him, and start living in love and fidelity with Him as though you are part of the Church and the Bride of Christ.  Again I invite you to ask yourself if this describes your relationship with God, and if the answer is "no," or, "I'm not sure," talk to me, for your soul is in danger. 

All true Christians have made the decision to be a returner, not a strayer.  Peter portrays this change in very graphic terms.  He tells us "that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness."  This is what we prayed for in the Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter.  Asking that we might receive the inestimable benefit of the sacrifice of Christ, and that we might follow His example of a holy life, we prayed:

"Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life; Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.