June 16, 2013
Monday after the Third Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 86, Judges 5:1-18, Lk. 6:39
Evening - Ps. 84, 85, Neh. 5:1-13, Acts 13:44-14:7
Commentary, Nehemiah 5:1-13
The Covenant of God includes duties to Him and to other people of the Covenant. We see this easily in the Ten Commandments, for the first four are about our relationship with God and remaining six are about our duties to one another. People are not called into an individual Covenant with God; we are, and always have been, called into the Community of the Covenant. It is within this Covenant Community that we are baptized, instructed in the faith, worship God on the Lord's Day, and celebrate the feast of Holy Communion. In fact, every aspect of our lives, as a man or woman of God, is lived within the context of the community of faith. In the New Testament era this community is called the Church, which refers to both its universal and local manifestations. In the Old Testament that community was called
Israel, or, by the time of . One of the problems with the Jews who
remained in Shushan, Nehemiah, Judah Babylon, or Egypt,
is that they were no longer functioning within the Covenant Community. Even if they formed synagogues and kept the
ritual law in these lands, they were still branches severed from the vine. The
Jewish community was not to be scattered, nor were its people to be dispersed
into groups in distant lands. They were
to be a vital, living part of the community in the land God had given to
them. Likewise, today, Christians are to
be vital members of the community of faith.
But, unlike the Jews, we are called to go into all the world. We are called to infiltrate every nation with
the Gospel. Those who respond in faith
are received into the universal community through the local part of that
community, the local church.
Received into that community, we now are under obligation to it. We are to give ourselves to its instruction, leadership, and discipline. We enter into the spiritual discipline of prayer, Scriptures, fellowship, sacraments, and worship of the Church. When we fail in this discipline, the Church, through its ministers, has authority to call us back, and to exclude those who will not return.
In the fifth chapter of Nehemiah, the Jews have neglected their Covenant obligations to one another. Rather than working together as brethren in the Lord, some have been profiteering from the scarce food supply caused by a drought. They have sold grain at exorbitant prices, taken land and homes away from their brethren in exchange for food, and even enslaved their neighbor's children as payment. Others have stolen to feed their families, while still others have sold their land for food. All of this was in direct violation of the Law of God and the Covenant duties of the Jews toward one another. Nehemiah verbally chastises them for treating each other so. He clearly sees this as a religious issue (rather than a social issue), in which the people are breaking the Covenant with God.
This is a good place to state that the laws of the Covenant Community do not always apply directly to those outside of it. The land of Israel, for example, was given to the Jews as their heritage, and could not be taken away from its owners except under very limited circumstances, and even then, only for a specified number of years. But this does not preclude buying and selling and investing in land by Gentiles, nor does the action urged by Nehemiah mean any person is necessarily owed food and support. Much harm has been done by well meaning people who have tried to apply Covenant Community obligations to people, business and nations that are not part of the Covenant. Socialism, communism, and government re-distribution of wealth are sad and costly examples of this.
Nehemiah urges the Jews to restore what rightfully belongs to others, and to deal charitably with the poor through voluntary charitable activities. He shakes dust from his robe with the prayer that God will shake out of the Covenant everyone who does not fulfill his Covenant duties.
Tuesday after the Third Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps.89:1-9, Judges 5:19, Lk. 7:1-10
Evening - Ps. 90, Neh. 8:1-12, Acts 14:8-18
Commentary, Nehemiah 8:1-12
Tonight's reading covers an event so significant in the life of the Jewish people it is worthy to be equated with Passover, crossing the
Red Sea, receiving the
Law at Sinai, and the moral/spiritual revival of Godliness in the time of
Josiah the king. The event is the mass
gathering of the Jewish people to hear the reading of the Law of God on one of
the feast days called for in the Old Testament called the Feast of the Trumpets
(Num. 29:1). The people have gathered in
the street because the Temple
could not hold them, and they have gathered to hear again the words of the
grace of God, and the life to which they are called. To this point, the revival of the Covenant in
been sporadic, and based upon general knowledge and memory, rather than direct
contact with the Scriptures. The people
knew they were to offer sacrifices, so they did. They knew they were to rebuild the Temple, so they did. They knew they were to dwell in and possess
the land, so they rebuilt the wall. All
of these efforts were aimed at returning to God and being people of the
Covenant again. They were good and
necessary things, but apart from the Word of Scripture, they lacked unity of
purpose and direction. The people worked
from memory, not daily experience with the revelation of God. All of that changed when Ezra read the Bible
to this great and solemn assembly in Jerusalem. This day is a return to Scripture.
The people had built a pulpit, a tower for this purpose. It was tall enough for Ezra to be seen by all the people, and all were silent as he ascended the steps. All of
and the surrounding countryside were there.
People of great age who had built the new Temple stood beside children. Young families with infants stood beside
grand parents. All were quiet. All were intent on the proceedings. All who were old enough to understand
realised this was a momentous occasion.
When Ezra opened the scroll, all the people stood, for they had been kneeling in prayerful stance. Verse 6 says Ezra blessed the Lord. This is the traditional, liturgical blessing said when the books of the Law, called the Torah, are opened in the
Temple or synagogues, as
it has been said for thousands of years.
It is sung by the priest and followed by the amen of the people, also
sung in a manner very much like the amen at the end of a hymn today. The amen is the people's assent and
commitment to the prayer. In it they affirm their assent to the meaning of the
prayer, and beseech God to grant their request, or receive their thanksgiving
and worship. It is as to say, "Let
it be so, O Lord."
The gathering was so large it was impossible for Ezra to be heard by all. So, at strategic places throughout the area, other priests were stationed. Watching Ezra, they simultaneously mounted their pulpits, turned to the same passage of Scripture, read the same words, and gave the prepared instruction on the meaning of the text. So, throughout the city the people heard the Word, prayed, and worshiped as one. It has been nearly 150 years since the liturgies and readings of the day have been publicly conducted by the Jewish people as a whole in
Jerusalem., and it is a
moving experience. It is another step
deeper into the Covenant, another step back to God. And this time, it is the Scripture, not
memory, which guides them.
Wednesday after the Third Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 92, Judges 6:1-35, Lk. 7:11-17
Evening - Ps. 104, Neh. 9:5-15, Acts 14:19
Commentary, Nehemiah 9:5-15
For seven days the people gathered as one in
and each day Ezra and the priests read and expounded the Law of God to
them. It is almost impossible to
overstate the importance of this. These people were returning to God. They were returning to the Bible. For hours each day they heard the Bible read
and explained. Ezra probably started
with Genesis and read straight through the five books of Moses, called the
Torah, or Law. The significance of these
books is that in them God invites the Jews into His Covenant, promises many
great things to them, and tells them what they must do as their part of the
"bargain." Basically, their
part is to receive pardon from sin, and be led into a new and better life with
God as their God. God forgives their
sins and wraps them in His everlasting love, gives them a land in which to
dwell, and shows them how He is to be known and worshiped. They are the receivers in all parts of this
Covenant. Even their obligations to love
God above all else and serve Him in Godly worship are more like blessings than
duties. It is light and life to the soul
to know and serve God. The knowledge of Him
is eternal life; His service is perfect freedom. The Jews were re-learning this during these
days in the Scripture, and in learning them, they were re-dedicating themselves
to being God's Covenant people. It has
been many generations since something like this has happened in Jerusalem. Most of the Jews' history is the story of
their departure from the Covenant and return to idolatry and other sins. Times like this are rare, and noteworthy, and
comparable to the Reformation in their scope and significance.
A very important part of this time is that, as the people heard the Covenant read and explained, they realised how far they and their ancestors had fallen short of it. More accurately, they realised that they and their ancestors had simply and intentionally rejected the Covenant, and that Covenant breaking was the habitual direction of their individual and corporate life. Their confession was no blanket statement. Fully one fourth of the day was filled with hearing the Law, and one fourth spent in deep and honest confession (Neh.9:3). We notice that the first day of the reading of the Law was an occasion of great gladness. But now the Law has convicted them of their sin, and they are gathered to hear it in sackcloth and ashes, the garb of great sorrow before God. On the first day they rejoiced and celebrated. Now they confess sin and fast in their shame. I dare say the Church of our own time could benefit from such time in the Word of God, and that it would do much more good than most of the programs and "revivals" found in many churches.
Nehemiah 9:5-15 begins a sermon, probably written by Ezra and preached by the Levites who aided him in the preceding days. Having spent the morning hearing the Word read and the afternoon in prayer and fasting, the Levites return to the pulpits with this sermon, which they preach simultaneously at various places to enable all the people to hear. The sermon continues to the end of the chapter and recounts their history from the call of Abraham (Abram) to their present hour. Verses 5-15 retell the call of Abraham and the Exodus, emphasising the grace of God in choosing
and blessing them as His people.
Thursday after the Third Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 94, Judges 7:1-8, Lk. 7:18-35
Evening - Ps. 111, 114, Neh. 9:16, Acts 15:1-12
Commentary, Nehemiah 9:16
Tonight's reading continues the sermon begun in Nehemiah 9:5. The sermon is basically a short summary of the history of the Jewish people in light of the Covenant of God. The point of the sermon is found in verse 33 "Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly." This conclusion is continued in verses 34 and 35 which confess that kings and people, and even the priests of
have not kept the Covenant, "neither turned they from their wicked
works." Because of their sin the
people are servants in their own land (36).
They are not a free and independent nation, they are part of the Persian Empire and subject to its king. They are forced to pay taxes to support Persia
It is not just their ancestors who have sinned; the present generation is just as guilty (37). They have not kept the Covenant. The days of hearing the Law read and expounded to them have shown them how far they have strayed from the Covenant. So they are confessing their sin and turning back to God, turning back to the Covenant He made with them. Verse 38 is the beginning of a list of Jews who intend to keep the Covenant. These people have made a covenant to keep the Covenant.
This is a tremendous occasion. It represents a true desire to be a Jew in heart as well as ethnicity. The signers of this covenant will not be satisfied with only the outward forms of the faith. Their hearts and lives are now devoted to God, and they intend to serve Him by keeping the letter and the spirit of the Covenant.
Every Christian has made a covenant to keep the Covenant. I do not mean we have promised to offer sacrifices and move to
Jerusalem. We have become keepers of the Covenant as it
is fulfilled in Christ Jesus. We have
confessed our sins and trusted in Him as our peace offering and atoning
sacrifice to God. We have returned to
Him and now dwell in Him and live a new life in Him in which we keep His
commandments, and love His people.
Friday after the Third Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 102, Judges 7:16, Lk. 7:36
Evening - Ps. 116, Neh. 13:15-22, Acts 15:31-21
Commentary, Nehemiah 13:15-22
The Jewish people have seen a wonderful revival among them. They have seen the
go from a decaying ruin to a secure fortress with royal protection. They have seen the Faith of the people
revived, and they have seen the people return to God and to His Covenant. There has been much confession and repentance
of sin, for as they heard the Law read and expounded they became mournfully
aware that their ancestors had turned away from God, and their people had
rejected the Covenant. They found that
it was not only their ancestors who had sinned against God; they themselves
were guilty. They had forsaken God. They had rejected the Covenant. Holy City
Their repentance was not in word alone. They matched their words with their deeds, keeping both the letter and the spirit of the Law of God. They rebuilt the walls of
They offered the sacrifices in faith.
They kept the feasts and the fasts according to the Covenant God had
made with their forefathers. They
returned to the Bible and made it their rule and guide in life again. The revival is almost complete, but not
quite. The first verses of Nehemiah 13
show that some of the priests were allied with the enemies of God and were
giving the Levites' portion of the tithes to Tobiah (1-10). This was remedied by Nehemiah (11-14).
In tonight's reading we see that the Jews still had problems with the Sabbath. The Sabbath is about much more than going to "church" or refraining from work and worldly amusements. It was about honouring God, trusting Him to provide for physical needs, and finding joy in Him.
It honours God by devoting a full day to His service. Everything else is set aside to seek and honour God on the Sabbath. It recognises Him as God, as Lord, and Master and Owner of all things, especially the lives and property of the Jewish people.
It trusts God by putting their prosperity into His hands. Instead of spending the day working on their homes and earning a living, they spend the day with God. This means they are trusting Him to provide for them. Instead of working the farms and crops, they trust them into the care of God for the Sabbath. This also means they are seeking God instead of following an endless pursuit of the world's goods. Working seven days a week would enable them to cultivate more land, raise more crops and flocks, make more money, and become more prosperous. Devoting the Sabbath to God meant they had to be satisfied with less money, and a simpler life. It also showed them that some things are more valuable than more money, and the Sabbath Day was reserved for those things; for God, worship fellowship, and family.
Keeping the Sabbath instead of spending it as "a day off" for personal pursuits and worldly amusements is also an act of faith which finds its joy in God instead of worldly things. It is not a day to play; it is a day for God. The joy of the Sabbath was the worship and service of God. These are lessons the Church of today desperately needs to learn and practice.
Nehemiah could force the Gentiles to stay away from
on the Sabbath, but he could not make the Jews honour the Sabbath in their
hearts. That had to come from within
them by the grace of God.
Saturday after the Third Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps.107:1-16, Judges 10:17, 11:29-40, Lk. 8:1-15
Evening - Nehemiah 13:23-31, Acts 15:22-35
Commentary, Nehemiah 13:23-31
We learn from Nehemiah that faith is much more than external rituals; it is a Covenant life with God that includes an inward disposition of the heart. The Covenant life is expressed in the Covenant forms. In the Old Testament those forms consisted of being part of the nation of
Israel, worshiping God in
the prayers and via the Temple
sacrifices, and rituals, and the much deeper sense of love of God above all,
and living in peace and active good will with the Covenant people. In the New Testament the forms are prayer,
Scripture, public and private worship, and the other things by which God draws
us into Himself. In both Testaments, the
outward forms without the inward disposition are meaningless. Going forward in a crusade, Confirmation,
church attendance, and Holy Communion are not the end of faith, whole hearted
Covenant life is. Whole hearted covenant
life is fed and accomplished through the outward forms of prayer, worship, and
the other means of grace, so the heart and the forms feed and strengthen each
other, and both are essential parts of the Covenant life.
We close our study in Nehemiah with the lesson that we cannot truthfully live the covenant life without honouring God in our home life. No matter what our station in the home, we are to devote ourselves to it without reservation. The Jews had not done this. They had intermarried with people who worshiped other gods and followed other values. This weakened the Jewish home. It made an essential part of the Covenant community a non-covenanting part. It robbed the Jews of the blessings of a Godly home. It robbed the children of the blessings of being raised in the Covenant. It undermined their faith, and led them into the sin of idolatry. In a similar way, marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever robs the Christian of a Christian home, robs the children of the strong foundation a Christian home provides, and robs God of another Covenant family.
The Jews saw this in their own city. Children of the mixed marriages were a combination of Jew and pagan. They had pagan ways and values that opposed and negated those of the community of faith. Through them, the pagan ways were infiltrating the Covenant community. They were a major impediment to the return to the Covenant. They even threatened to lead the Jews back into compromise and idolatry as Solomon's wives had done. Their presence in
Jerusalem shows that compromise was already
Psalm 145, Jeremiah 31:1-14. Matthew 9:9-13
Third Sunday after Trinity
June 16, 2013
What do Christians do? That has been the subject of the sermons for the past two weeks, and we could summarise them by saying, “Christians Love,” and “Christians Believe.” Today we continue to look at what Christians do, and today’s sermon is, “Christians Pray.”
But saying, “Christians Pray,” leads us to another important question, why do Christians pray? We pray because the Bible tells us to. “Pray for the peace of
says Psalm 122:6. “Pray for them which despitefully use you,” said our Lord in
the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:44). “Watch and pray” said Christ to the
disciples in Gethsemane (Mk. 14:38). “Pray for us” wrote the Apostle Paul in1 Thessalonians.
3:1. Again in that same Epistle he wrote, “pray without ceasing” (5:17). And then we remember the well-beloved words of
1 Timothy 2:1-3, and 2:8;
“I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.”
“I will therefore that all men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”
But we don’t just pray because God tells us to. In fact, we would pray if God did not tell us to. For prayer is as natural to us as breathing. When we consider our blessings, we naturally say, “Thanks be to God.” When we consider our sins, we naturally cry out, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” When we face the troubles and trials of life, we naturally plead, “Lord, help us.” This is so much a part of us that we almost do it automatically, and what a blessing it is to be so oriented toward God that we turn to Him automatically in these situations. So we pray because we want to pray. We are like David, who wrote, “early in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee,” and, “Evening, and morning, and at noon will I pray, and cry aloud.” (Ps. 5:3, Ps. 55:18). For, “Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2). “How amiable are thy dwellings, thou Lord of hosts! My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God” (Ps. 84:1-2). We pray, because we long for God.
But prayer would be meaningless if God did not care about us. So, prayer is based upon the character and nature of God, who is revealed in the Bible as the One who loves us and gave Himself for us “to be the propitiation for our sins.” In a sense, these words from 1 John 4:10 summarise all that we have been looking at since Advent. They summarise all that we believe about God. They express the heart of the Christian faith. God loves us and gave His Son on the cross to be the bearer of and payment for our sins. Everything we do as Christians is based on this one supreme act of God’s self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Everything we do is, or should be, our response of loving faith, trust, and obedience to this One who loved us so much “He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
If we look back into this morning’s reading from Jeremiah 31, we see this was as true in the Old Testament as it is in the New; that the entire life of faith has always been based on the loving acts of God, who forgives sin and seeks fellowship with His people. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love,” God says in Jeremiah 31:3. “I will build thee, and thou shalt be built” He says in verse 4. These words were given to the Jews in the context of their wars with the Babylonians, which resulted in the destruction of
Israel, the sack of Jerusalem, and the Jews being forcefully moved to Babylon where they lived
in captivity for fifty years. The Bible
makes it very clear that God allowed this to happen because Israel had
forsaken Him. But that was not the end
nor of the love of God for the Jews. He promised to restore them to their home,
to rebuild their land and city. He says
He will “bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of
the earth…, and “a great company shall return.”
“There is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall
come again to their own border.”
Why will God bring them back to
Jerusalem? Why will He bless them with joy and peace? Not because they deserve it. Not because they have been holy and righteous. If they had been righteous they would never
have suffered defeat by the Babylonians. But the Bible says time after time that they
were sinners against God, and failed to keep the covenant He had made with
them. And they were no more righteous
after their captivity than before. There
was no great revival of Biblical faith among the Jews in Babylon.
There was no great turning to holiness and Godliness of life. The Jews continued on as they always
had. God saved them out of Babylon for the same reason He saved them out of Egypt, because
He chose to love them in spite of their unlovableness. In other words, they were saved by the grace
of God, not by their own works of righteousness.
It was because God saved them by His grace that they were to turn to Him. It was because He loved them that they were to love Him. Their life of faith, their keeping of His commandments, their turning to and keeping His covenant with them was all to be based on His grace. It was to be their response of love to His act of love.
So here is the point I am trying to make today. Christians pray because we are responding to God’s love. Christians pray because we believe God cares enough about us to act on our behalf. And we believe He cares about us because we see that He sent Christ to the cross to bear and pay for our sins. Once a person really believes his sins have separated him from God and made him worthy of the eternal wrath of God in hell, he cannot help praying to God for mercy. Once a person truly believes Christ suffered the wrath of God for his sins, and gives him Heaven as a free gift of grace, he cannot help praying to God in loving faith. That is why Christians pray.X