December 22, 2013

Srcripture and Commentary Fourth Sunday in Advent through Week of First Sunday after Christmas

Week of Fourth Sunday in Advent

Monday

Morning - Ps. 116, Is. 33:13, Lk.1:5-25
Evening - Ps. 104, Is. 35, Rev. 20:7

Commentary, Luke 1:5-25

            Our reading begins with the birth of John the Baptist, who comes to make straight the way of the Lord.  Zacharias and his wife, Elisabeth, were both of priestly descent, and were residing in Jerusalem while Zacharias served a term burning incense in the Temple. We don't often pay much attention to the ancestry of John, but it is worth noting that his father was a priest and his mother was descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses.
            John himself is a summation of the work of the entire line of Old Testament priests, for the task of the priesthood was to prepare (make straight) the way of the Lord.  The Temple and sacrificial system, which was given into their care, foreshadowed Christ, "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world."  Thus, their work prepared people for the coming Messiah.  In Luke 1 the Messiah is drawing near and we see the arrival of John.

Christmas Eve

Morning - Ps. 50,   Lk. 1:67
Evening - Ps. 85, Zech. 2:10, Mt. 1:18

Commentary, Luke 1:67

            Zacharias' power of speech was taken from him when, in the Temple he did not believe the angel's message.  Now, after the birth of his son, it returns to him along with the inspiration of the Spirit by which he speaks forth the great passage of Scripture which is this morning's Second Lesson.  He speaks first of the Messiah, raised up to be a "horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David" (1:69).  The One foretold by the prophets, by whom we are saved, through whom the mercy of God is performed toward us, is ready to come into the world.  Indeed, He is already here in the Virgin's womb.
            Next the priest turns to the ministry of his own son, John.  He is the prophet of the Highest.  He will go before the Messiah to prepare His ways, give the people knowledge of their sins, and give light to them that are in darkness and the shadow of death.  John prepares the way, Jesus is the way.

Christmas Day

Morning - Ps. 89:1-30, Is. 9:2-7, Lk 2:1-20
Evening - Ps. 45, Micah 4:1-5, 1 Jn. 4:7-14

Commentary, Luke 2:1-20
           
               At last the Day arrives.  Only it is not "day;" it is night.  Nor is the King of Kings born in a palace, but in an animal shed; not heralded to kings and rulers, but announced to simple shepherds.   Thanks be to God that the Good News has come to us.  "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

December 26, the Feast of St. Stephen

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 118, 2 Chron. 24:17-22, Acts 6
Evening - Ps. 30, 31, Acts 7:59-8:8

Commentary, Acts 7:59-8:8

It is notable that our cycle of prayer and Scripture moves immediately from the birth of the Saviour to the cost of following Christ, for Stephen is the first New Testament martyr for Christ.  Thus we are reminded that being a Christian is not just about going to Heaven; it is an absolute and lifelong commitment to observing all things He has commanded us.  In the murder of Stephen, the persecution of the Church began, for which the city of Jerusalem would pay so dearly in Revelation 4-11.  8:1-4 tells us the persecution was so severe, all Christians, except the Apostles, fled Jerusalem.  But persecution followed them.  Saul was probably only one of many who captured Christian Jews and returned them to Jerusalem to die (Acts 9:1).
                                                                       
If the events of this passage are true, and if the God to which they testify is real, then becoming a Christian is not something we do in search of self esteem or to enhance our quality of life.  We become Christians because we owe God obedience and love.  We become Christians because we have been made to understand that we were living in rebellion and sin against God, and because we want to turn away from sin and begin to do what is right. In short, we become Christians because it is right to do so.  All other considerations are secondary, at best.  I wonder if the Church today, including myself, spends too much time inviting people to go to Heaven and too little time calling people to obey God.  Stephen's short time as a Christian was a time of prayer, service to God's people, and obedience unto death, not about blessings for Stephen.

December 27, Feast of St. John the Apostle

Morning - Ps. 23 &24, Ex. 33:12, Jn. 13:2-26
Evening - Ps. 97, Is. 6:1-8, Rev. 1

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8

            Today we return to a passage we have looked at before, Isaiah 6:1-8.  The prophet is given a vision of God in all His terrifying holiness and power.  From the vision of God, Isaiah is moved to see his own unworthiness.  He is a man of unclean lips, meaning, a sinner.  The seraphim sing "Holy, holy, holy," unto God, but Isaiah's lips are not worthy to address the Lord.  He sees his sin as filthy rags beside the incredibly white and shining Goodness of God, and he knows that he is "undone," or, destroyed, before God.  If Isaiah is to be allowed into real fellowship with God, God Himself is going to have to find a way to cover his sins and make him holy.  The seraphim touches Isaiah's mouth with a live coal from the altar where the sacrificial animals are killed and burned.  Symbolically, the sins of the Jewish people were laid upon the sacrifice, which paid the price of sin by dying on the altar.  The coal represents all the animals killed to pay for Isaiah's sin.  The sacrificial lambs themselves represent Christ, the Lamb of God and the only Sacrifice that could truly pay for the sins of any person.  It is Christ broken, sacrificed, and applied to our "undoneness" that restores us to wholeness before God.  In sin we are undone.  In Christ we are restored to wholeness. In sin we are broken.  In Christ we are repaired.  The restoration includes an invitation.  Isaiah was being called to preach the Word of God, but more than that, he was being invited into the fellowship and love of God.
            Thus we see a threefold emphasis in these verses.  First is the vision of the greatness of God.  Second is the awareness of being undone.  Third is the cleansing of sin and the invitation to return to full fellowship with God.  The true Christian has a similar experience.  At some point we come to realise that God is far greater, far more worthy, and far more "good" than we ever imagined.  That knowledge immediately brings the knowledge that we are far smaller, far more unworthy, and far more wicked than we ever believed ourselves to be.  At this point we realise, "Woe is me! for I am undone" (vs. 5), and the only way to become whole and restored is for God to do something Himself that will cover our sins and restore us to His favour.  Christ restores us by taking our sins on Himself and paying their price with His own life. He then covers our sins with His own sinless perfection, and God counts us as righteous for His sake.  Now we are taken into the heart of God.  We have the joy of His presence and love in such abundance it can only be described as God dwelling in us, and us dwelling in God.

December 28, Feast of Holy Innocents

Morning – Ps. 8 & 26, Jer. 31:1-6, 15-16, Mt. 18:1-14
Evening – Ps. 19, & 126, Is. 54:1-13, Mk. 10:13-16, 23-31

Commentary, Isaiah 54:1-13

            Isaiah 54 is about God’s faithfulness and mercy.  The barren (childless) woman is Judea, whom God has allowed to be conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians.   God says He will not leave her in Babylon.  He will rescue her with great mercy, and gather her back to her home in Jerusalem (vs. 7).  The symbolism of this passage refers to God’s deliverance of the Jews from Babylon.  It also refers to our deliverance from the spiritual Babylon of sin that has held us captive until Christ our Redeemer set us free.  It is a beautiful and moving passage.

Week of First Sunday after Christmas
                         
Monday, December 30

Morning - Ps. 33, Is 59:1-21, 1 Jn. 2:1-17
Evening - Ps. 111, 112, Is. 60:13, Heb. 2

Commentary, Isaiah 59:1-21

            The Christmas season is one of the highlights of the year, and it is made even more precious as we follow the daily Bible readings.  Hebrews shows how Christ fulfills the meaning and intent of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, and how they pointed to Him as the only real sacrifice for sin, the great High Priest who intercedes for His people, and God Himself purchasing and applying salvation and forgiveness to His people.  1 John is a practical guide to living in Christ's Church, and in the fallen world around us.
            Isaiah 59:2 expresses the very heart of every person's problem with God.  Our problem is not that God is unable or unwilling to do good, but that our sins have separated us from Him.  Fallen humanity, and, often, Christians also, blame God for the mess of the world.  They conclude that, because God does not give world peace, personal affluence, freedom from disease, and a general happiness, He either does not care, does not hear their prayers, or is unable to do anything about the problems they face.  Such people impose two contradictory demands upon God. First, they demand total freedom to choose their own way and shape their own destinies.  Second, they expect God to force all people to act in accordance with general principles of goodness, so they can live in peace.  They refuse to see that their own sin is the cause of their separation from God, and that they themselves have contributed greatly to the general malaise of life on planet earth.
            Because of sin, judgment and wrath have come upon all people.  Isaiah addresses first the people of Judea and their situation when the Babylonians come upon them in bloody and murderous conquest.  But the principle is true of all nations, all peoples, and all individuals.  We live in a world of sorrows because our sins have made it so.  The human race is naturally reaping what we have sown, and it is important that we see that sin has consequences for us in this world as well as in eternity.  Yet there is hope.  God has not deserted us, nor has He abandoned His plan to save His people.  "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression" (59: 20).  Throughout the Bible we see God working out His plan of salvation.  He called Abraham to be the father of a new people.  To them He gave His Commandments and His Word.  Through them He sent the Messiah; the Saviour, not for Israel alone, but for all who will receive Him as their Saviour and their God.  The descendants of Abraham were not always faithful to God.  More often than not, they were like sheep straying from the protection of the Shepherd and away from the safety of the Fold.  Though God allowed them to reap the bitter fruit of sin, He did not abandon them.  In the fullness of time the Saviour came to purchase their forgiveness and to call both Jews and Gentiles into His Kingdom and Church.  By His grace He overcame our sin, and even now He is working in the lives of His people to prepare us to be with Him in Heaven forever.  The surprise is not that we suffer hardship and troubles in this world.  The surprise is that God has not abandoned us to destruction and hell.  The surprise is that He came in grace to redeem us.

Tuesday, December 31

Morning - Ps.147, Is. 62, 1 Jn. 2:18
Evening - Ps 90, Dt. 10:12-11:1, Heb 3

Isaiah 62 looks forward to the restoration of Jerusalem and Judea after the Jews return from their captivity in Babylon.  But, like much of the prophecy of Isaiah, it uses the return from captivity to foreshadow a greater return, a greater glory of Jerusalem, and a greater Salvation than from mere human enemies.  It foreshadows the grace of God given to Jew and Gentile through the Saviour Christ.  Jerusalem here represents the entire the people of God; the Church of Christ in all ages.  The love of God is poured out upon them forever.

               
Wednesday, January 1, Circumcision of Christ

Morning – Ps. 103, Dt. 30:1-10, Eph. 2:11
Evening – Ps. 148, Dt. 30:11, Rev. 19:11-16

Christ was circumcised eight days after birth, receiving the sign of the Covenant with God made to His people through Abraham.  He received the sign of the Old Covenant because He obeyed all the commandments of God.  Only one who is perfectly righteous in His being and in His obedience to God can be the perfect sacrifice for sin.  It is noteworthy that the sign of the Old Covenant has passed away with the inauguration of the New Covenant.  Baptism, the sign of the New Covenant, has replaced circumcision.
The real message here is the surpassing and absolute righteousness of Christ.  He kept every part of the will and commandments of God.  He kept both the letter and the spirit of the law, which is the only way to actually obey God.
Because Christ kept the law perfectly, He was able to be the unblemished Lamb of God; able to offer Himself for our sins and suffer for our transgressions.  Another sinner could not accomplish our forgiveness, even by dying for us.  Another sinner could only die for his own sins.  But Jesus Christ the Righteous was able to live without sin, and, thus to suffer for ours.

Thursday, January 2

Morning - Ps. 37:26, Is. 63:1-14, 1 John 3:1-11
Evening - Ps. 2, 110, Is. 63:15-64:1, Heb. 4:1-13

Commentary, Isaiah 63

Chapters 60 through 62 of Isaiah describe the blessings of Israel after her conquest and captivity by the Babylonians is over.  Chapter 63:1-6 inserts a short note about God’s judgment on Edom and its capital city, Bozrah.  Located between the Gulf of Aqaba and Moab, just south of the Dead Sea, Edom had a long history of aggression against Israel.   But its aggression did not go unnoticed by God, nor will it go unpunished.  “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save” (vs. 1) is shown coming from Edom with blood on His garments because He has trodden down the Edomites like grapes in a winepress (vs. 3).  These verses are very similar to Revelation 19:13-16, where Christ goes forth to judge the nations who resist His will and Gospel.  Those who remain in their sin will be trodden out in the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Verses 7-19 are a prayer offered to God by Isaiah, who is speaking as the representative of Israel.  There is deep thanksgiving in the prayer, for the “great goodness toward the house of Israel” (vs. 7).  There is also contrition and confession because, though having been blessed by God, Israel rebelled against Him and vexed His Holy Spirit (vs. 2).  Therefore God became their enemy and fought against them in the form of the conquering Babylonian army (vs. 11).  The prayer asks where is God now when they need Him?  Where is He that brought Israel up from Egypt and led them through His servant Moses (11-13)?  Israel asks God to look upon her from Heaven and return to her in mercy (vs. 17).  The chapter closes with the statement that Israel is God’s elect.  The people who now oppress Israel were never subject to His rule or called by His name (vs.19).

Friday, January 3

Morning – Ps. 66, Is. 64:4, 1 Jn. 3:13
Evening – Ps. 34, Is. 65:8-16, Heb. 4:14-5:14

Commentary, Isaiah 64:4

Isaiah 64 follows a deep and moving prayer for redemption of the people of Judea.  Isaiah did not live to see Judea invaded and conquered by Babylon.  But, by the Spirit of God, he saw by faith both the conquest and restoration of the land.  Chapter 63 asked God to remember that He is the “Father” and God of the Jews, and to remember mercy even in His very just anger.  The Jews in Babylon would read these words, and, by the grace of God, some of them would understand that their captivity was God’s just response to their sin, meant to correct them and to call them back to God’s gracious blessings.  God does cleanse and chastise His people.
This morning’s reading begins in 64:4, where the prophet tells of God’s merciful answer to their prayers.  He will do more for them than simply return them to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  He will send the Messiah, who will ultimately deliver them into a Kingdom that is far greater than the physical/political realm of Israel (vs. 4).  The most earnest prayers for relief are worthless without real sorrow for and turning away from sin, and in verse 6 the prophet is moved to a prayer of humble confession and repentance for all of Judea.  The prayer will be read by the captives in Babylon, many of who will be moved to confess their own sins, and to really and truly seek God.
The evenings reading shows God’s merciful response to those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel.  There will be blessings for them (65:8).  They will inherit the holy mountain, meaning Jerusalem and the Temple mount, and, ultimately, the Kingdom of the Messiah (65:9).  Places now barren wasteland will blossom with abundance (65:10).
The blessings will not come before repentance, and repentance will not come before chastisement.  Thus God says again that the sword will come to Jerusalem.  Verses 11-16 tell of both wrath and grace.  Some will be saved from the sword and will repent and return to God.  How sad that they would not repent before the sword came to them.

Saturday, January 4

Morning – Ps. 92, Is 65:17, 1 Jn. 4
Tuesday – Ps. 91, Is 66:1-13, Heb. 6:1-12

Commentary, Isaiah 66:1-13

The Jews returning to Jerusalem will be under the special protection of God.  They will be delivered from war, and life will not be cut short or hampered by battle.  The Lord will answer their prayers before they pray, and the land will enjoy a time of peace and rest.  But the language of this passage obviously looks for more than just the restoration of Jerusalem.  Isaiah is supernaturally enabled to see far into the future to the new heavens and new earth, which God will bring into existence in the Kingdom of the Messiah. Like us, the prophet sees this dimly, as through a smoked glass. He describes it in terms of earthly blessings, using things we understand to describe things we cannot really understand while we live in this world.   So, as wonderful as the Messiah’s reign sounds in Isaiah’s words, its reality will be immeasurably greater in every detail.  His Kingdom will not be completed until the end of time, but it has begun already.  We in the Church have begun to reap the fruit of it.  One day we will see it fully.  We will walk in its streets and know its joy more fully than we now know the present world.  We now call that Kingdom “Heaven.”  One day we will call it “Home.”

Isaiah 66 takes up a different subject.  There are those, in both Israel and the Church who attempt to mix the pure Gospel with the unbiblical views and practices of the people around them.  In the time of Isaiah and the Jews, they mixed Biblical teaching with pagan religion.  Today it is more likely to be mixed with pop psychology and humanistic ideas of self-fulfillment and personal happiness.  Either way, God is dethroned and man becomes the center of his own religion.  In Isaiah’s time, pagan people believed their deities lived in houses built for them by people, and ate as food the sacrifices offered to them.  Many Jews applied the same ideas to God, the Temple, and the Sacrifices.  God explicitly denies any dependence on people (66:1-2).  He owns all things, so, people can really offer Him nothing.  Furthermore, anything offered unto God under such false understandings or motives is absolutely rejected by God.  An ox sacrificed to God in such a way (even with the greatest sincerity and best intentions) is as bad as murdering a man and offering him up on the altar of God  (66:3).   A lamb offered in this way is no better than a dog.  This passage is a clear and desperate call to true repentance and to Biblical faith and practice.  Those who truly repent will be welcomed to God as a loving mother welcomes her beloved child.  Even Gentiles are welcomed into the love of God.  “As one whom his mother comforteth, so I will comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66:13).

Fourth Sunday in Advent Sermon

There Standeth One Among You
Philippians 4:4-7, John 1:19-29
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 22, 2013

“There standeth one among you.”  Theologians and preachers often make much ado about the transcendence of God.  And we should.  Transcendence is an important attribute of the greatness and glory of God.  He transcends the physical universe.  He transcends time and space. Christina Rossetti, who, by the way was an Anglican, wrote the beloved Christmas carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter” in 1872.  We will sing it tonight at our Christmas service, and I will completely obliterate the timing of the words in the second verse, like I do every year.  You know the words, “Our God, heav’n cannot hold Him, nor earth contain.”  I will get the timing of those words wrong tonight, but I have their meaning correct in my heart.  I know God is bigger, and greater, and far more glorious than the stars and galaxies I see in the night sky.  I know the heavens cannot hold Him. He transcends all things.
 But the Bible makes a great deal about another attribute of God.  The Bible goes to great lengths to show that He is as immanent as He is transcendent.  In other words, He is down here as much as He is out there.  This point is made throughout the Bible.  In the very first verse, God created the heavens and the earth.  In the second verse, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. In Genesis 2 “God took the man and put him in Eden.  In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve heard the voice of God walking in the garden, and in Genesis 3:9, “the Lord God called unto Adam.  In other parts of the Old Testament the Lord speaks to Noah.  God speaks to Abraham. God speaks to Moses.  God speaks Joshua.  The Lord calls Samuel.  He speaks to the prophets, whose writings echo the refrain, “The word of the Lord came to me.”  He appears to Isaiah “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”  To Jeremiah He says, “Am I a God at hand… and not a God afar off?”  He is telling Jeremiah  He is here with us.  He is “at hand.”
The immanence of God is also one of the primary messages of the New Testament.  Matthew 1 tells us Christ is God with us. John 1 tells us the word, who always was, always is, and always will be God, “was made flesh and dwelt among us.” “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” Christ said to the Apostles. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Christ promised His Church.  According to the Bible Christ dwells in us.  We are His Temple.  He has put His Spirit in us, the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of Christ. This brings me to the words of the Gospel reading this morning, John 1:26, “there standeth one among you.”  The words were spoken by John the Baptist regarding Christ Jesus.  John did not know exactly which man in the crowds he spoke to was the Christ.  That had not been revealed to him yet.  But he knew one thing about Christ; he knew He was here.  He knew Christ was among them.  He still is.  Christ is among us.  The point of all of this is to say we are never alone.  God is with us, an ever present help and friend.  “There standeth one among you” and that One is God with us.  That is the first point of today’s sermon.
For the second point we turn to the Epistle and read in Philippians 4:5, “the Lord is at hand.”  While it is certain that “at hand” refers, in part, to the return of Christ, the words also apply to Christ’s continuing presence with His people.  He is, as He said through Jeremiah, a God at hand and not a God afar off.  But the point I want to emphasise here is found in verse 7; “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.”  This is the result of Christ being among us.  This is the result of Christ dwelling in us.  This is the result of us being in Christ.
There is no peace in this world.  There is, at times, the appearance of peace, but it is always an illusion, for in such times the next big problem is advancing upon us.  It may be war.  It may be poverty.  It may be illness.  It may be family problems.  It may be disillusionment.  It may be disappointment.  But something is coming at us, and it will shatter our illusion peace.  That’s why Jesus said the peace He gives is not like the peace the world gives.  The peace Christ gives is as eternal and unbreakable as God Himself.
The peace of God is based upon His atoning sacrifice on the cross.  It is based on the knowledge that Jesus died for our sin, and that all who believe in Him in Biblical faith are completely and eternally forgiven.  His blood has washed away our sins.  He has removed them from us as far as the east is from the west.  That means that when we stand before God on the other side of the grave, we will not tremble in the consuming wrath of God, we will give thanks in His consuming love.
The peace of God is based on the removal of the fear of death.  Why do people fear death?  Isn’t it because we instinctively know we will face God?  And don’t we fear that meeting because we know we have sinned?  In short, don’t we fear death because we fear hell?  But in Christ that fear is gone.  The sting, the pain of death is gone.  The grave is no victory for hell, it is the entrance to eternal life, and we can face it with assurance.  That is peace.
The peace of God is based upon the knowledge that earthly troubles will pass, but Heaven is forever.  We often hear the words, ‘life is short.”  They are often followed by an exhortation, like, “use the good china,” or “hug your wife and children.”  They are usually said with a smile, yet there is a sense of urgency in them.  If life is short we should make every minute count.  We should do what is important.  I agree, and I add, seek God.  Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind.
The peace of God is not based upon getting the most out of life here and now.  It is based on the  knowledge that when earth is over, and all the treasures we have worked so hard to get, and all the pleasures we thought were so important, and all the troubles we thought were so huge and debilitating, will end soon.  And one day, God’s people will look back on them and wonder how we could have been so dominated by them because they will be absolutely insignificant in Heaven.
The peace of God is based upon the knowledge that God loves us and is working all things to our good, here and now.  Life on earth, for the Christian, is like a preparatory school.  It not the end or the goal; the be all end all.  It is only a classroom to get us ready for Heaven.  Knowing this we can trust God with life.  We can put it all in His hands and accept what comes to us.  We know that the troubles of life cannot separate us from God, and that all things work together for our good.
All of these things put a peace in our hearts the world can’t take away.  We can lose our homes.  We can lose our cars.  We can lose our health and our lives.  But we can never lose God or the benefits of His love.  That knowledge gives peace.  Philippians 4:7 says it will keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.  Keep means to protect.  The word projects the image of a strong and heavily armed guard standing watch over your soul.  Who is this Guard?  He is no mere man; nor even an angel. He is no less than Christ Jesus.  He is the guardian of your soul.  It is He who keeps you by His peace.  May His peace be with you.
                                                                                                           
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.X