December 28, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, December 27-31
December 27, Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist
1 John 1:1-10
John was one of the inner circle of disciples, and is thought to be the one whom Jesus loved in John 20:2. He was with Christ in many of His most important moments, including the crucifixion, where he was given the charge of caring for Mary. The stoning of Stephen began a deadly persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, causing most to flee to safer places, but John, and the other Apostles remained in Jerusalem. As the Church grew, the Apostles realised they needed to move out of Jerusalem and oversee the churches in specific areas. John moved to Ephesus to aid the Church in Asia (modern Turkey). He wrote the book of Revelation to warn the churches of the growing persecution, and to encourage them to be faithful to Christ during it. He also wrote the Gospel of John, and the books of First, Second, and Third John.
His influence extended far beyond Asia, through men mentored and ordained to the ministry by him. He taught Polycarp, the influential Bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp mentored and ordained Irenaeus, who traveled to Gaul (modern France), where he became the area’s most influential bishop. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome, and who left several epistles which describe the situation and organisation of the Church during the time of the Apostles, was also taught and ordained by John.
“Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it, being illuminated by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ 1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 101
December 28, Holy Innocents
1 John 5
This day remembers the children who died in the world’s first attempt to end the life and Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Herod, moved by fear that the “King of the Jews” would attempt to free Israel from Roman rule, and establish Himself as a worldly king in Jerusalem, attempted to kill the Messiah by killing all the children in and around Bethlehem under the age of two. The horror of this event must have been terrible, and is an example of not only the world’s opposition to Christ and Christianity, but also governmental abuse.
Many wonder why God allowed the death of so many children. Why didn’t He let Herod die? Why didn’t the soldiers refuse to carry out their orders? The answer is, we don’t know. But let us not forget that, while there is no peace for the wicked (Is. 57:21), the death of the righteous brings peace (Is. 57:1, 2).
Is. 61, Acts 27:21-44
Is. 62, 2 John 5
These words, so familiar to even the novice student of the New Testament, are said by Christ to be fulfilled in Him (Lk. 4:21). The Servant of the Lord, described in previous chapters, steps into the mind of the prophet and describes His ministry with such force and clarity that no doubt can be left about His identity. The establishment and final glory of His Church is foreshadowed in the deliverance and care of the Jews after their return from Babylon. Its devisions and heresies are healed, the Gentiles are brought into it, and it is rich with the souls of the redeemed, the truth of the Scriptures, the means of grace, and the fullness of God’s Spirit. All of this is accomplished through the ministry of the Servant of God, who gives Himself for the sins of his people, and who's Gospel is published throughout the earth.
We have obviously not yet reached the pinnacle of glory described in this passage. It begins to be fulfilled in the life and ministry of Christ in His first advent. Its completion awaits His second advent. But we have begun the ascent. We do live in the hope of it, and in the hope and expectation that, even now, the Gospel of Christ is going forth binding up the souls of believers, delivering them from the prison of sin, and calling them into the hope of the Day of the Lord.
Our Lord was anointed with the Spirit at His baptism. He delivers His people from the prison of sin as He delivered the Jews from the prison of Babylon. He binds (bandages) the wounds of our hearts as He bound the wounds of Israel, making us whole and well in our souls. Even our Lord applied these words to Himself. After reading them in the synagogue in Nazareth, He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Lk. 4:21).
Isaiah 62 continues to look toward the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah 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 people of God; the Church of Christ in all ages. The love of God is poured out upon them forever.
Is. 64, 3 John
Chapters 60 through 62 of Isaiah describe the blessings of Israel after the time of the Babylonian Captivity is over. Chapter 63:1-6 inserts a short note about God’s judgment on Edom and its capital city, Bozrah. Located just south of the Dead Sea, Edom had a long history of aggression against Israel. But its aggression does 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 God is 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).
Isaiah 64 follows a deep and moving prayer for the 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 in prophesy 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 is 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.
In verse 4, 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 one they imagine (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 Judah. 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.
Isaiah 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.
Is. 66, Jude
This is another chapter of contrasts. Gentiles, who have not sought God or been called by His Name are finding Him (1). Israel, to whom God has spread out His hands (sought to embrace) turn from Him in rebellion (2). They provoke Him to anger continually (3) by their idolatry and immorality (3-12). Yet, as the keeper of the vineyard saves some of the grapes because he sees their usefulness for good wine (8), God will spare some of the Jews, and bring them into the new heavens and earth described in verses 17-25. Death and age (20) in the new heavens and earth, which is the Kingdom of the Messiah, show that the meaning of this passage applies to the Church Age, not the full restoration of the physical universe, where death and physical disintegration are unknown forever. The elect of God, though they die in the physical sense, during the Church Age, will never die spiritually. Thus, we who are in the Church, are spiritually in the new heaven and new earth already. We dwell by faith in that land where God’s reign is universally known, and where the curse and consequences of sin are gone forever.
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 (65:17), which God will bring into existence in the Kingdom of the Messiah. Like us, the prophet sees this dimly, as through a smokey 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. Today we will walk in its streets and know its joy by faith. But the day will come when we walk its streets in person, and know its joys 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, 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 the sacrifices offered to them. Many Jews applied the same ideas to God, the Temple, and the Sacrifices. God explicitly denies any dependency on people (1-2). He owns all things, therefore, 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 (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” (13).
Verse 15 begins to reveal how grace toward Israel and indignation against the wicked will be executed. God will come with fire, chariots, and whirlwind, meaning destruction and death by military conquest (16).
First to feel God’s wrath are Jews who have departed from the faith. Verse 17 pictures them participating in pagan rites and worshiping idols. Most Jews did not leave their religion behind to join pagan cults. Instead they imported elements of paganism into their own faith. At times, even the Temple of God was filled with pagan idols. It halls rang with their prayers and ran with the blood of their sacrifices. Those who have done these things will be consumed as by a consuming fire (17). Verse 18 refers back to 17 as justification for God’s wrath. He knows the works and thoughts of idolatrous Jews. He has seen them give His glory to idols and attribute His providence to inanimate objects. He knows they have followed “gods” that blessed their sins, rather than live the pure and holy life He demands of them. They have even persecuted Jews who would not join their sin (5). They and their gods will be consumed.
Second to feel God’s wrath are Gentiles who come to make war on Israel. They lift up their sword against God’s anointed people, and that is the same as lifting up their sword against God Himself (Ps. 2:2). In the same manner, the Church is the Body of Christ, and he who persecutes it persecutes Christ (Acts 9:4, 5). As the Gentile empires come to make war on Israel, they find themselves also falling to the sword. We see in the history of the Jewish people a parade of conquerors taking the land, each conquered by another, which is also conquered by another. From Egypt to Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and even mighty Rome, empires have come and gone while Israel, both old and new, remains.
Not all Gentiles are destroyed, for the grace of God extends to them as well. Many survive the judgment of God and are brought into His Kingdom of Grace. The Jewish people often enjoyed a steady stream of Gentiles coming to God and becoming members of the Covenant People. Converts often took their new faith back to their own countries and people (19).
Seeing the application of this chapter to the Jews of the Babylonian era and beyond, we again come face to face with an important aspect of the book of Isaiah, namely its Christological meaning. The events of these verses cannot possibly be fulfilled by a simple return of the Jews to Jerusalem and Judah. They can only find their ultimate meaning in the Kingdom of the Messiah and the establishment of His Kingdom in the hearts and minds of people of every race and nation, and in their elevation into the New Heaven and earth, which is the glorious fulfillment of all the promises of God in Heaven forever.