April 21, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Third Sunday after Easter


Monday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.85, Ex. 25:1-22, Heb. 9:15
Evening – Ps. 77, Is. 45:20, Eph. 1:1-14


Commentary, Hebrews 9:15

Hebrews 9:1-14 brought us to understand the finality and full sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. His offering of Himself on the cross pays in full the price of our sins and restores us to God. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament could never accomplish this, but God can and did in Christ. Thus we are free from the dead works of the ceremonial law. Attempts to continue or revive them are actually insults to Christ, which is why Galatians 1:6 says such people have left Christ for another gospel. This morning's reading continues to insist that the Old Covenant, was temporary, and has been fulfilled in the work of Christ and in calling together the New Israel (Church) in the New Covenant. The point of Hebrews 9:15-28 is that Christ did not come to continue the Old Covenant but to be the mediator of the New Covenant. 

This point is made first by comparing the Old Covenant to a will, which takes effect at the death of the person making the will. The point is that the promises of the Old Testament become the possession of God’s people at the death of the One making the will, God. Thus, when Christ died, the promises became ours. The Church no longer lives in anticipation of the promises, but in the reality of them.

The point is made second by showing that the people and Tabernacle of the Old Covenant were “purified” with the blood of animals, but the New Covenant and its Tabernacle, which is the true Tabernacle in Heaven, is purified with the blood of Christ Himself. The old Tabernacle was a pattern (copy) of the true Tabernacle (9:23), and Christ entered into the true Tabernacle and holy place with His own blood to bring us into God.

Tuesday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, Ex. 28:1-38, Heb. 10:1-14
Evening – Ps. 84, 117, Is. 46:3-13, Eph. 1:15

Commentary, Hebrews 10:1-14

Today’s reading continues to emphasise the finality and supremacy of the life and work of Christ in accomplishing His peoples’ redemption. The Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices were but a shadow of Him. Verse 1 makes the point that a shadow is not even a full image or replica. It is but an outline, a silhouette. Christ is much more than just an image; He is the very presence of the good things to come. They have arrived in Him. In Him we have received eternal redemption. In Him, we are in God, and God is in us. Verses 1-8 explain the temporary nature of the Old Testament ceremonial and sacrificial laws. The very fact that they needed to be constantly repeated shows their temporary status. If they had been able to accomplish redemption they would not have needed to be repeated.

Christ accomplished full and eternal redemption by His one sacrifice of Himself. Verses 9-14 are about the full salvation purchased for us by His one, full, perfect, and all sufficient sacrifice. The conclusion of this section is that “by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (10:14).

Wednesday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 89:1-19, Ex. 32:1-20, Heb. 10:15-25
Evening – Ps. 90, Is. 48:12-21, Eph. 2:1-10

Commentary, Hebrews 10:15-25

Today’s reading can be summarized under three headings. First, found in Hebrews 10:15-18, reiterates the theme of verse 14, the absolute redemption accomplished by the one sacrifice of Christ. Verse 15 refers to the words of the Old Testament Scriptures as the Holy Ghost bearing witness. The Holy Ghost inspired and directed the prophets and authors of the Old Testament, so it is perfectly natural and right to say that in them the Holy Ghost testifies to the truth of what we read in Hebrews. Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted, bringing us to the point, stated in verse 18, that there is no more offering for sin. The Bible is saying God will no longer remember our sin under the New Covenant. That means He will not hold us responsible for its penalty. How can this be? It is only possible if God bears the cost of our sin in Himself, instead of requiring it from us. In other words, God must suffer for our sins in our places. This was accomplished in Christ on the cross. In Him God made the one full and sufficient sacrifice that is able to bear the cost of our sin, forever. There is no more offering for sin because the price has been paid in full and no more offerings are needed.

Second, made in verses 19-21, is the point that we now have boldness to enter into the holiest (presence of God, vs. 19) because our sins are forgiven through the one full and sufficient sacrifice of the blood of Christ. Compare our boldness in coming to God with the fear and temerity of the people under the Old Covenant. They came with blood offerings lest God take their own blood. They came not into the Holy of Holies, knowing they would die if they dared enter into the direct presence of God it symbolised. Even the High Priest feared to enter the Holy of Holies, lest God may be displeased with Israel, and strike him dead. But we, confident that our sins have been forgiven completely because of the sacrifice of Christ, dare to call upon God and enter His presence with confidence and boldness. Our boldness is not irreverent or glib. Our entrance into the presence of God is reverent and respectful. It is not arrogance; it is faith. It is our confidence that Christ has washed away our sins and made us acceptable unto God that allows us come to Him as His beloved children to our Father. 

Third, verses 21-25 encourage us to “draw near” to God through Christ. He is our assurance of acceptance (10:22). We are also encouraged to hold our faith securely without wavering. That is, we are to be faithful to the end as Christ Himself was faithful to us (23). We are to encourage one another to remain in the faith and to let our lives show our faith through love and good works. Finally, we are to attend the worship and fellowship opportunities of the Church (25). Hebrews 10:25 does not get much “press” these days because our view of following Christ is often considered only in terms of our personal salvation and relationship with Christ. But we have over emphasized the individual aspect and almost abandoned the corporate aspect of following Christ. We often think the Church is optional, and that its only function is to bring others to Christ, which we can do on our own (so it is said). But Christ is calling us to be a part of His new people, new family, new nation, new body, and we are members of one another as much as we are members of Him. Thus we are not to be absent when the Church assembles. We are to be present and active, for the Day of Judgment is coming.

Thursday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 91, Ex. 32:21-34, Heb. 10:26
Evening – Ps. 97, 98, Is. 49:1-12, Eph. 2:11

Commentary, Hebrews 10:26

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the book of Hebrews turns again to an exhortation to faithfully trust and obey Him fully and forever. The exhortation begins with a dire warning, found in Hebrews 10:26-31. Commenting on Hebrews 6:4-8, I wrote that I hope these verses cause you to fear. I have the same hope for this passage. I say this because these verses teach the terrible consequences of falling away from Christ. Sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (10:26) does not refer to the constant failures and sins we commit in our daily battle to conquer sin and live for Christ. The sin of verse 26 is willfully deserting the faith. It is turning away from Christ and returning to the life of self-indulgence and self-direction. It is to remove Christ from the throne of your life, and to re-enthrone yourself as king and god of yourself. It is to live in unrepentant rebellion against God. It is, to draw back from Christ and return to perdition (10:39). What happens to a person who has professed Christ, but now has turned away from Him? Is that person “saved?” No. Hebrews 10:26 says such a person now has no sacrifice for sin. That person has rejected the only sufficient sacrifice, the only one that can cleanse the soul and make him acceptable unto God. That person, therefore, has no way to atone for his sins. He will stand before God in his sins, and for his sins he will be lost. Thus verse 27 says he has only a certain, fearful expectation of judgment. “Certain,” in this verse, means absolute. There is no question about it. It will happen as surely as God exists. Verses 28 & 29 prove this by the Old Testament, which records that people perished for disobeying the law that was given through Moses. If disobeying that law was a grievous crime, surely the rejection of Christ, Immanuel, God with us, is more heinous and more worthy of wrath. Such a person has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant (the blood Christ shed on the cross) as unholy. He counts the blood of Christ as not the blood of the Most High given for our sins, but as common and defiled and without value. Verse 30 quotes the words of Deuteronomy 32:35 and applies them to the one who has treated the Son of God so despicably. Verse 31 concludes the warning; it is a fearful thing for such people to fall into the hands of the living God.

Now the passage moves into a word of encouragement. It is based on the confidence of 10:39, “we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” The heart of this passage is verse 35, “cast not away therefore your confidence.” We could restate this verse as, hold fast to Christ in faith. The original recipients of this epistle had faced serious opposition and persecution when they became Christians (32-34). This opposition came from family and friends as well as the larger community. Yet they did not desert Christ. Nor did they desert the Apostle Paul, who was often in chains and prison for his faith in Christ (Heb 10: 34). Just as they stood firm in the faith then, they are encouraged to stand firm now, that they may receive their reward.

Friday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.94, Ex. 33:7, Heb. 11:1-16
Evening – Ps. 103, Is. 49:13-23, Eph. 3:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 11:1-16

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, warned us against apostasy, and encouraged us to trust in Christ to the very end, St. Paul now shows several examples of faith in the Old Testament. Their example is given to encourage us to be faithful as they were, but they are also given to show that their salvation was the gift of God received by faith, not something they earned through good deeds or keeping Old Testament ceremonial laws. Many of these people actually antedated the ceremonial laws, but were received by God because they trust in Him. In other words, they were saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest they boast of their accomplishment (see Eph. 2:2-9). One commentator has captured the essence of the meaning of this passage, especially verse 1. He wrote:

“In Old Testament times…there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and in directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye. It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 277).

The people named in Hebrews 4-12 are often called heroes of faith, but they would probably rather be known as people who were saved by grace. And salvation by grace is the point of this passage. By grace, God promised them an inheritance. That inheritance was symbolized in things like children and land, but it was far more than these things. It was God Himself. Thus, even though Abraham did not technically own the Promised Land, He did inherit a better country, which is the country, or city, of God (vs. 16).

By faith they believed God and directed their lives as if what God had promised was already theirs. This is just what we are called to do as New Testament believers. By grace God has promised full forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. By faith we act like forgiven people. By grace God has given Christ to be the propitiation for our sins. By faith we trust Christ to remove all our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. By grace God has promised to take us to a land where the troubles of earth, the temptations of sin, and the barriers between ourselves and God will be only dim memories, and we will enjoy His glory forever. By faith we conduct and order our lives in the light of that promise.

Saturday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.99, 100, Ex. 34:1-35, Heb. 11:17-31
Evening – Ps. 23, 30, Is. 50:4-10, Eph. 3:13

Commentary, Hebrews 11:17-31

Looking at Abraham, let us be clear that God is not telling anyone to sacrifice someone as a test of faith today. It may seem odd to see such an obvious statement in today’s commentary, but it is here for the same reason hand lotion containers have to have warnings; “Not for internal use.” So, “Don’t try this at home.”

Now let us look at our reading for this morning, Hebrews 11:17-31. This passage continues to show how people in the Old Testament trusted the promise of God. Abraham is the primary example. Promised an inheritance of land and descendants, He believed God and ordered his life according to the promise. He trusted God even when it looked like the promise could not be kept. Thus, Abraham knew God would somehow be true, and he would return with Isaac alive and well (Gen. 22:5). This is the meaning of Hebrews 11:19. The point is that Abraham trusted God and acted accordingly.

Trusting God applies as much to us as to Abraham. Though not called to literally sacrifice children or people to God, we are called to trust God’s promise and providence when it comes to the people and things we love most in this world. Do we love God enough to trust Him with these things? Do we trust Him with our children, grand children, parents, and siblings? Do we trust Him with life as well as eternity? Will we live our lives with faith in the Promise of God in Christ, as Abraham lived with faith in the promise of Genesis 21:12 and Hebrews 11:18, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”?

Sermon, Third Sunday after Easter


                                                       Perseverance and Preservation
John 10:22-30
Third Sunday after Easter
April 21, 2013

By now you know about the connection our annual cycle of worship and prayer gives to the Scripture readings and sermons.  We don't just wander through the Bible in our daily readings, and we aren't dependent on what ever strikes the minister's interest on Sundays.  We follow a plan that takes us through the Bible in an orderly and sensible way every year.  The result of this plan is that there is a connection between the daily Bible readings and the Sunday Bible readings.  And there is a connection between the sermons, Sunday to Sunday, throughout the year.  Last Sunday's sermon was about conversion.  The main point of the sermon was to say that conversion means to be turned from a lifestyle of going astray from God, to a lifestyle of following God.  As Jesus Himself said, "My sheep hear my voice... and they follow me" (Jn. 10:27).  So we have become followers of Christ.  I know we do not follow perfectly, we do stray sometimes.  We still sin.  But we repent and return to Christ because we have a lifestyle of following our Shepherd.

Converted people naturally have a question at this point; "how can I know I will continue the lifestyle of following?"  This is an important question, and the heart of it is this, how do I know I will not become unconverted?  How do I know I will actually make it to Heaven?  Can a person who is saved ever become unsaved?

This is not a silly question.  We who love Christ and trust Him as our Saviour are very much aware of the weakness of our faith and the strength of the temptations and enticements of the world the flesh and the devil.  We know that the will to sin still lives in us, and we wonder if it will ever cause us to completely and finally stray away from Christ and back into eternal damnation.  Therefore, today, looking at the words of Christ in John 10:27-30, I intend to talk about the eternal security of those who are in Christ.

Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice... and they follow me."  From this I want to say, you know you are one of Christ's sheep if you hear His voice and follow Him.  I am not talking about hearing an audible voice.  I am not even talking about hearing a voice in your head.  I am not talking about receiving signs or seeing visions or having miracles. I know of a TV preacher who thinks that, while he is praying, God tells him, someone is being healed of disease, someone in financial distress is going to receive money, or someone's marriage is being healed, or some other miracle is happening.  I doubt it.  I don't think God is telling him these things, I think he is imagining God telling him these things.   So, how do we hear the voice of God?  We hear the voice of God when we read the Bible.  That's where you should go if you want to know what God is saying to you.  And Christ's sheep read the Bible.

So what does the Bible say to those who are truly followers of Christ? It says, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish."  Eternal life means to live in fellowship and peace with God now and forever.  We have looked at this often in the past, so I will not take the time to discuss it today.  Today I only want to look at the origin of eternal life.  Where does it come from?  How do we obtain it?  It comes to us from God.  It is given to us as His gift.  Jesus said, "I give unto them eternal life."  Romans 6:23 confirms this, as though to make sure there is no confusion about it; "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  So you didn't earn it.  You didn't make yourself so good you earned Heaven.  God gives eternal life to His sheep.  And notice the tense of that word "give."  It is present tense and it describes continuing action in the present.  So Christ is saying, "I give, and forever keep on giving, unto them eternal life."  I stress the continuing action because if Christ keeps on giving eternal life to us, we possess it, and we keep on possessing it.  He doesn't give us eternal life for a day or a millennium or a million trillion zillion millennia, He gives it forever and we possess it forever.  Thanks be to God.

Therefore, as Jesus says, "they shall never perish."  To perish means to die unforgiven, and suffer for your sins forever.  "The wages of sin is death" says Romans 6:23.  Revelation 21:8 describes that death as the lake of fire and brimstone, "which is the second death."  But I want to emphasise what Jesus says of those who are His sheep, those who are truly converted, "they shall never perish."  They will never see the lake of fire, never see the second death, never be separated from the love and salvation given to them by God.  He will never take that gift back.

Next, Jesus says nothing is able to pluck us out of God's hand.  He is intentionally using a word picture here.  He gives the image of  God holding us, firmly and gently in His almighty hand.  The world, the flesh and the devil are trying to pluck us out, but God is too strong for them.  They can't pluck us out of His hand.  Even we sometimes kick and squirm and try to break out, but again, God's hand is too strong for us, and we remain in His grasp.  He keeps on giving the gift of eternal life.

Two words are often used in discussions about eternal security.  The first is perseverance.  Bishop J. C. Ryle gave a good definition of the theological meaning of this word in his book, Old Paths.  I heartily recommend this book as an essential read for every Christian.  He wrote;

"the Bible teaches that true believers, real genuine Christians, shall persevere in their religion to the end of their lives.  They shall never perish.  They shall never be lost.  They shall never be cast away.  Once in Christ they shall always be in Christ.  Once made children of God by adoption and grace, they shall never cease to be His children and become children of the devil.  Once endued with the grace of the Spirit, that grace shall never be taken from them.  Once pardoned and forgiven, they shall never be deprived of their pardon.  Once joined to Christ by living faith, their union shall never be broken off.  Once called by God into the narrow way that leads to life, they shall never be allowed to fall into hell.  In a word, every man, woman, and child on earth that receives saving grace, shall sooner or later receive eternal glory. Every soul that is once justified and washed in Christ's blood, shall at length be found safe at Christ's right hand in the day of judgement."

I do not say you will not sin, or doubt, or fear, or experience times when it feels like you are falling away from God.  But you will never fall away completely.  If you have truly been converted you will stay converted until you finally reach your home in Heaven.  You will persevere in the faith.

The second word, and I actually like it better than the word perseverance, is "preservation."  I like it better because some people make perseverance seem like it all depends on us, but preservation shows that it actually all depends on God.  I return to  John 10 to recall to your mind the continuing act of God in giving eternal life.  He gives it now and continues to give it for all eternity.  I recall again to your mind Christ's words in John 10 29, "no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand."  Christ is saying that our continuance in the faith and safe arrival in Heaven does not depend on our ability, to hang on to God; it depends on God's ability and willingness to hang on to us.  In other words, we will continue in the faith and make it to Heaven because God preserves us.  He holds us in His hand, and nothing can pluck us out of it.

Some people think God saves us something like this, He looks at the mass of lost sinners, and reaches His hand down to us, and says, "Come to My hand grab a finger and hold on, and if you can hold on until I bring My hand back to Heaven, you will be saved.  That is not the Biblical teaching.  According to the Bible, God looks upon the mass of sinful people, and reaches out His hand, and picks us up and holds us in His hand until He carries us safely to Heaven.  We can only persevere because God preserves.

Merciful Father, preserve us.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.