March 16, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, March 17-21

March 17, Day Eleven

Morning - Psalm 39, Genesis 27:1-29, 1 Corinthians 5  
Evening - Psalm 50, Jeremiah 4:23, John 10:11-21

            Commentary

The Good Shepherd is Jesus who gives His life for His sheep.  Jesus knows His fate and walks without hesitation toward the cross.  People have been tempted to reduce Jesus to a mere social/religious reformer who was killed for His efforts.  But Jesus makes it clear that His death was an intentional sacrifice for us.  No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of His own accord to bring His people into one fold, which is His Church.  We must not read verses16 and 18 without also reading verses 4 and 5.  Christ came to lay down His life for His sheep.  His sheep know His voice, follow Him, and will not follow another.  These aspects of God's sacrifice and human response are essential elements of the Gospel of Christ.

            Devotional Thoughts

Self examination is an honest look at the whole tenor of our lives.  We have looked at the way it includes attitudes and thoughts, now we finally look at the self examination of our actions.  Are they sinful?  Do they honor God?  Do we sin by inaction; by failing to do what we know we should?  In more Biblical language, do we hear and follow the voice of Christ? Do we flee from the hirelings, the thieves and the predators?  Or do we happily follow them to our doom?

March 18, Day Twelve

            The Lectionary                      

Morning - Psalm 41, Genesis 27:30-40, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11         
Evening - Psalm 51, Jeremiah 5:1-9, John 10:22-38

                        Commentary

John 10:22 finds Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, known to us as Hanukah.  The "Jews" of this passage are the religious leaders who live in Judea and who oppose Jesus because He is a threat to their power and money.  Two things stand out in this passage.  First, Jesus gives eternal life to His sheep (10:28).  Jesus is stating again His reason for coming to this planet.  He came to lay down His life for His sheep, so we can have eternal life in Heaven with Him.  We see His face set boldly toward the cross, never faltering, never turning aside, always moving toward it with faith and determination.  Second, we see a clear statement of His Divinity.  He calls The Father "My Father," and says, "I and the Father are one" (10:30).  The Jews understood this as what it was, a direct answer to their question, and a claim to be nothing less than God Himself (10:31).  Again it is stated that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him, while those who are not His sheep do not hear Him or believe in Him (10:26).  Let us hear His voice.


            Devotional Thoughts

We have not completed our self-examination until we have also given serious attention to our motives for doing what we do, for our motives are at least as important as the things we do.  The Pharisees spent hours in prayer and fasting, and gave extravagantly to the Temple and synagogue, yet Christ had no praise for their actions (Mt. 23:14).  Why?  Their motives were wrong.  They did it to be known for doing it, rather than for God.  James tells us one reason God refuses to give what we ask in prayer is that we ask amiss, for the wrong motives, that we may consume it upon our own lust, rather than for the glory of God (Jas.4:1-3).  Simon wanted power to bestow the Holy Ghost, but his motives were impure (Acts 8:18-21).  It is difficult to honestly examine our motives, yet we cannot really begin to confess and repent until we know what motivates us in our daily activities.

March 19, Day Thirteen

            The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 56, Genesis 27:46-28:22, 1 Corinthians 6:12
Evening - Psalm 65 and 67, Jeremiah 5:10-19, John 11:1-16

            Commentary

John 11 finds Jesus going back into Judea.  He had left the area to stay in Perea, east of the Jordan River, though He traveled widely during this time, making trips to Galilee and Judea.  Much of this time was spent teaching the Twelve, but He also took time to preach and teach the multitudes that followed Him.  In today's reading, He crosses again into Judea to raise Lazarus, showing that He has power over death.  This is an important step on Christ's journey to the cross.  He has already said that He lays His life down of His own accord and no man can take it from Him (see Jn. chapter 10).  Now He shows His power over physical death.  There is no doubt about Lazarus' death (11:14). Our Lord waited for him to die before going to him because He wanted to show His authority one more time before going to the cross. In a sense, Lazarus represents the spiritual condition of all people apart from Christ.  We are as dead toward God as Lazarus was toward this world.  And we are as unable to give life to our souls as Lazarus was to give life to his flesh.  Christ came to give us life by laying down His own for ours.  In another sense, the raising of Lazarus is proof that Jesus lays down His life of His own free will.  If He can raise Lazarus, He can keep His own flesh alive, and no human treachery or power is able to take His life from Him.  This will be important for His disciples to remember when He is dead and in the tomb.  He gave His life. He allowed this to happen to Him.  This was an intentional act on His part.  We must never read the raising of Lazarus without also remembering the tenth chapter of John's Gospel.

            Devotional Thoughts

What do we do in Lent? Lent is simply a time of seeking God.  It is simply a time of intentional holy living.  This requires that we turn away from sin and turn to God.  We generally call this process repentance.  We cannot repent of sin unless we first find the sin in our lives.  We find sin through an intense process of self examination.  We simply put our lives under the microscope of God’s word to discern where we are missing the mark.  Once we find our sin, we must admit it.  The Bible's term for this is confession, which simply and profoundly means to agree with God.  In confession we agree with God about our sin.  We agree that we are sinners.  We agree that we have sin in our lives.  We don’t cover it up.  We don’t ignore it.  We admit it is there, and we face it.  Without this, repentance is impossible, and without repentance we have no part in Christ.

March 20, Day Fourteen

            The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 62, Genesis 29:1-13, 18-20, 1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Evening - Psalm 66, Jeremiah 5:20, John 11:17-27

            Commentary

Verse 17 is the proof of Lazarus' death.  He was in the tomb four days.  We will find this proved again when they open his tomb and know the truth of Martha's words, "he stinketh."  Jesus wanted everyone to know without doubt, "Lazarus is dead."  If he is not dead, Christ's words in John 11:25 are meaningless.  What power is required to wake a man that is merely sleeping?  Cannot any mere mortal do that?  But to restore life to this stinking, rotting corpse requires power no mortal can possess.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Therefore, those who believe in Him, though they were dead in their souls as well as their flesh, will live, and those who live in their souls through His gift of eternal life, will never die.

            Devotional Thoughts

We are experts at justifying our actions.  If we are disrespectful to someone, we convince ourselves he deserved it. If we fail to seek God in prayer and Bible study we convince ourselves we just don’t have time.  If we fail to worship God, we say Sunday is my only time to rest, or play, or _____ (fill in the blank).  If we fail to keep the spirit or the letter of God's commandments we tell ourselves we have some special excuse, or convince ourselves it is the commandments, rather than ourselves, that are wrong. 

In stark contrast, true confession admits that sin is sin.  Confession agrees with God that my sin is disobedience to God.  My sin causes hurt to others.  My sin wrecks my relationship to God and prevents me from experiencing the full joy of Christ.  My sin embarrasses the cause of Christ on earth.  My sin brings shame on the name of Christ’s Church.  My sin is a stumbling block to others.  My sin contributes to the general malaise of this sin-sick world, and because of my sin I am as much a cause of the problem as any other person, and apart from the grace of God in Christ, there is in me no good thing.

March 21, Day Fifteen

            The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Genesis 32:22-31, 1 Corinthians 8
Evening - Psalm 69, Jeremiah 6:1-8, John 11:28-44

            Commentary
                      
John 11:37 voices the question that was on everyone's mind as they gathered at the grave of Lazarus.  "Could not this man [Jesus] ... have caused that even this man [Lazarus] should not have died?"  Jesus had healed the sick, caused the blind to see and made the lame to walk, why didn't He keep Lazarus alive?  This reminds us of the question, if God is so good, why does He allow suffering and death?  The answer is that the only way to prevent suffering and death is to create unthinking robots following a given program.  Freedom requires the ability to make wrong choices, and do wrong things, and to suffer the consequences of them.

But Jesus allowed Lazarus to die for a much greater reason. Lazarus died so Jesus could show that His power is much greater than simply the ability to heal the living.  He can actually raise the dead.  He can give life to a decaying corpse as easily as He can multiply bread and fish, or still the storm, or heal the blind.  He is the Lord of Life, and if He can raise the dead, He can surely keep Himself alive.  Thus His crucifixion is an intentional act of self sacrifice.  He lays down His life; no man takes it from Him.  He lays it down for us.
 
            Devotional Thoughts

Confession means to agree with God that our sin makes us worthy of the wrath of God.  We acknowledge that we deserve to be punished, and that God is righteous when He judges us guilty.  King David was told a story about a thief who stole the single lamb of a poor man.  David became livid with righteous indignation.  He wanted to execute justice on the thief.  Then the prophet said to the King, “Thou art the man.”

David saw that the sins of the thief deserved punishment, and was willing to be the hand of God to deliver the thief unto death.  When he learned that he was the thief he had to admit that his guilt made him worthy of death, and of the wrath of man and God.  All of us, when we are honest, agree that certain acts require restitution and retribution. If this is true of our sins against other people, should our crimes against the Righteous and Holy King of Heaven go unpunished?  Confession admits that we are sinners, and that our sins alone have justly placed us under the wrath of God.


March 21, Day Sixteen
            The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 63, Genesis 35:1-7, 16-20, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14
Evening - Psalm 72, Jeremiah 6:9-21, John 11:45

            Commentary
                             
Will Jesus come to the feast?  This question is on the lips of all in Jerusalem as they prepare for the Feast of the Passover (Jn. 11:56).  The chief priests and Pharisees are there, along with the devout Jews from Israel and the all Roman Empire. The conflict of the priests and Pharisees with Jesus, and their intent to take Him is well known (Jn. 11:57).  It is also known that Jesus has been staying in Perea on the east side of the Jordan, and that He has made trips into Israel, as He did to raise Lazarus.  Caiaphas' words show the deadly intent of the religious leaders (Jn. 11:50). John 11:53 shows their unanimity of purpose.  Thus, for Jesus to come to the Feast is to face certain death.  It is to accept the cross, or, more correctly, to embrace it.  The moment He crosses the Jordan His fate is sealed, and He knows it.

            Devotional Thoughts

One of our great problems is our ability to look at ourselves and say, “I’m not so bad. My sins aren’t so bad. I’m really O.K.”  You may be familiar with the parody of that great Gospel song, “Love Lifted Me.”  You recall that the song begins with the words, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.”  The parody says, “I was sinking deep in sin, yipeeee!”  This makes sin something to be joked about and winked at.  It carries the assumption that it really isn’t sin.  Today many reject the idea of sin.  Even clergy and denominations say sin isn’t sin.  It sometimes seems that the only “sin” left is to call sin “sin.”


By contrast, confession agrees that sin is sin.  Confession agrees that God hates sin, I hate sin, and I hate my sin.  If sin is as wicked as the Bible portrays it, we should not be surprised to learn that the One who is of purer eyes than to look upon it hates sin.  He hates it for all the suffering and death it has caused.  He hates it for putting children to bed at night in fear and hunger.  He hates it for making the streets of our cities crime-filled death traps.  He hates it for the abuse it causes, and for the way it causes us to use and discard people like paper plates.  He hates it for the wars and oppression, and crime, and hate, and grief and loss it has caused through the blood stained millennia of human history.  Do we not hate this sin?  And do we hate, not just sin in general, but our own sins in particular?  Can we not say with tears the General Confession of our Communion Service, “the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable?”  Repentance is not complete until we confess, and confession is not complete until we learn to hate our sin as God hates it.  God help us to confess our sin.