December 19, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, December 20-26


December 20

Is. 53, Acts 22
Is. 54, 2 Pet. 3

Commentary,

Isaiah 53

In this chapter we find one of the highlights of the Old Testament.  It has, naturally, received careful attention from scholars throughout the centuries.  According to the Pulpit Commentary, “The Messianic interpretation of the chapter was universally acknowledged by the Jews” until about A.D.1150.  Our Lord clearly saw the passage as a reference to His crucifixion and resurrection, as does the Church (Mt.8:17, Acts 32-33, Rom. 10:16).

The chapter describes a Person growing up before the Lord as a tender plant, without the trappings of fortune or comeliness to make Him attractive to us (2).  Instead of being attractive, He is despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, from whom we hid (turned away) our faces and esteemed Him not (3).  Yet He “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” on His cross, where “we did esteem Him smitten of God and afflicted” as He received the wrath of God for our sins.  His suffering was for us, for our transgressions.  With His stripes (the gashes and cuts left by the scourge) we are healed of our sins (5).  The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all (6).  The chapter continues to describe the Messiah’s suffering, death, and even His burial as “an offering for sin” (10), which “bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (12).

Verse 11 describes the Messiah’s willingness to bear the cross.  He is satisfied with the results of His suffering, because it has redeemed His people from their sins.  He suffered for them in our places.  He represented us on the cross, taking our sins upon Himself and bearing the punishment for them in His own body (2 Cor. 5:21, Eph. 1:5-7).  But the suffering of the cross is followed by the exaltation (12).  This goes far beyond the resurrection, with its healing and restoration of Christ’s physical body.  It refers also to His ascension into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God, and to His return in glory to judge the world and bring all things together in recognition of His deity and authority (Eph. 1:10).  

Isaiah 54

Isaiah 54 is about God’s faithfulness and mercy.  The barren (childless) woman is Judah, 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.

December 21, St. Thomas

Acts 23
1 John 1

It will be profitable to read  John 20:24-31 in addition to the regular lessons for today.  It is interesting that we remember DoubtingThomas four days before Christmas.  On this day, most people are so consumed with parties, gifts and preparations for over indulgence on Christmas Day, they do not even think about Christ, or the significance of His life and ministry.  Like Thomas, it would take a literal appearance of Christ to shake them out of their “holiday rush.”  Others are even more like Thomas.  They are consumed with doubt.  Like Pilate, they ask derisively, “what is truth?” implying that it does not exist.  They will not believe unless they see Christ with their own eyes and touch the scars from the spear and the nails.

Though Christ has ascended into Heaven, He left much evidence for the Thomases.  The empty tomb, the transformation of the Apostles from fearful deserters to faithful martyrs, and the Gospel attested to by hundreds who saw the resurrected Christ with their own eyes, all testify to the truth that Christ is truly God become flesh for us.  Today, let us pause from the Christmas preparations, to take an honest look at the Gospel of Christ.  Let us, like Thomas, leave our doubts and fears behind, bow at the feet of Christ, and proclaim, “My Lord, and my God.” 

Collect Prayer for St. Thomas Day

“Almighty and ever living God, who for the greater confirmation of the faith, didst suffer thy holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful in thy Son’s resurrection; Grant us so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ, that our faith in thy sight may never be reproved. Hear us, O Lord, through the same Jesus Christ, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and for evermore. Amen.”

December 22

Is. 55, Acts 24
Is. 56, 1 Jn. 2

Commentary,

Isaiah 55

Isaiah 55 is a wonderful offer of God’s free grace.  We are represented as being needy, as hungry and thirsty.  But our need is not for physical comforts.  Our need is for peace with God.  Our need is for fellowship with God. Our need is to be justified and cleansed of sin so we can be fit to have fellowship with Him.  But we are unable to provide for these needs.  We cannot make them by our own works, and we have no “money” to buy them.  We are spiritual beggars.  But, even as we recognise our poverty, we hear the word of God saying, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat ye, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

The clear meaning is that our spiritual food and drink are given to us freely by God.  He gives them to us without cost because He has payed the price Himself.  The Jews in Babylon have not earned the right to go back to Judah and Jerusalem.  Most of them are not even repentant about the sins that sent them there in the first place.  They have grown comfortable in Babylon, and become very Babylonian in their lifestyles and in their religion.  It is by God’s grace only that they will be restored, not by their own actions.  He will give them the water of everlasting life, the bread of life, and all His blessings, out of His grace, not their worthiness.

The application of this to the situation of all people is easy to see.  All have sinned, and all are in a spiritual Babylon, in which we think we are happy and content.  But, in reality, we hunger and thirst for God, though most of don’t realise it most of the time.  If we are going to be released from Babylon, and placed in Jerusalem, the city of God, we will have to be placed there by God.  He will first have to build in us the desire to go to Jerusalem.  He will then have to enable us to turn from sin and trust Him.  He will then have to take us to Jerusalem and feed us with the blessings of God.  All of this must be done for us, and without expectation of payment of any kind, for we have no money to buy what we need and He has.

We know that the One who purchased these things for us is Christ Jesus.  We know this promise extends beyond the Jews to all people (5) who, hearing the word, seek the Lord (6).

The everlasting covenant (3) is the Covenant of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  The grace of God will accomplish the salvation of His people as surely as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven (10).  God’s word will accomplish it, and not return unto Him void, or without accomplishing His will (11).  The word of God refers to the word which came to the prophet Isaiah.  All that God has said about the captivity and release from Babylon will happen as God has foretold.  In a broader sense, the word includes all of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16).  In its fullest sense, the word is Jesus Christ.  He is the full revelation of God because He is God.  He is the word become flesh.

The only proper response to the grace of God is shown in verse 7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord.”  Sacrifices and ceremonies without true faith and obedience are meaningless to God.  He demands the whole person.

Isaiah 56

Isaiah. 56 continues the message of God’s grace and forgiveness.  But His mercy is not confined to the Jews alone.  His House is a house of prayer for all people.  “Whosoever will may come” to Him and find mercy and hope and peace and forgiveness. 

Verses 9-12 turn from the future hope to the sins of the past.  The contrast serves to emphasise the fallenness of man and the holiness of God.  This contrast also emphasises man’s need and God’s provision.  Man hungers, but has no money to buy bread (55:1).  God gives bread as a gift of His grace.

The Jews were like a person being eaten by wild beasts (9).  Their leaders were unable to see the dangers into which they were taking the Jews.  They were like blind men charged with the task of watching for enemies (10), or watchdogs that cannot bark to warn of intruders.

Even worse, they were like greedy dogs fighting over food, and the Jews were the food (11).  Each dog wanted the most and best parts of the carcass.  Thus, Judah’s rulers saw the people only as something to be consumed to satisfy their greed and lusts, not people whose rights and liberties they were duty bound to defend.  The shepherds who do not understand are leaders who do not know where they are going.  They don’t know the way to green pastures and still waters.  Therefore, their actions and policies harm the sheep, and fleece the flock for personal gain.  They are like men whose habitual condition is drunkenness.  Therefore, they are unfit and unable to fulfill their duties.  Surely most of the shepherds of most of the nations in most of the eras of human history can be described this way.

December 23

Is. 57, Acts 25
Is. 58, 1 Jn. 3

Commentary,

Isaiah 57

Verse 1 opens the chapter with some of the most profound words in the Old Testament.  It talks about the death of the righteous and merciful person, which is ignored by those who cause his death.  They do not know that the righteous dead are at peace in God (2), and are spared from the “the evil to come,” which the wicked will be see and by which they will be afflicted.  God’s grace will abound to the righteous, but the wicked are troubled like the sea.  “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”

Isaiah is allowed to see a dim shadow of the state of God’s people after life on earth is over.  He does not see death as the ironic end of life in an upside down world where the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.  He sees it as rest for the righteous, but trouble for the wicked.  The righteous will be at peace, but there is no peace for the wicked, even in death.

Isaiah 58

One of ancient Israel’s worst sins is more of an idea than an action.  It is the idea that God is completely satisfied with the outward motions of sacrifices and fasts, and cares nothing about they way a person lives, or the thoughts and values of the inner being.  Therefore, while they appear to seek God daily through the outward forms of religion, such as fasting (2, 3) and keeping minute rules about the Sabbath (13, 14) they are not really seeking God at all.  They are like many hypocrites today, who go to church religiously, but mistreat and oppress others habitually through the week, and whose worship is all about themselves instead of God (4).  God has no pleasure in such people (5).  Instead, He encourages His people to do good, rather than harm, to others (7).  Such people will be blessed by God, and will see the waste places and foundations rebuilt (12).

The waste places are the areas of Judah and Jerusalem leveled and depopulated by Babylon.  In another sense they are the lives of people under the destructive power of sin; and they are the world, now, under the power of the evil one.  One day they will see the Lord return in power.  On that day sin and evil will be broken forever, and the New Heaven and New Earth will be given by Christ to His faithful people.

December 24

Is. 59, Acts 26
Is. 60, 1 Jn. 4

Commentary,

Isaiah 59

The Christmas season is one of the highlights of the year, and is made even more precious as we follow the daily Bible readings.  Today we read again about why we need the Saviour.  Verse 2  goes right to the heart of our need by telling us we all have a problem with God.  Our problem is not that God is unable or unwilling to do good to us, but that our sins have separated us from Him.  Fallen humanity, and some Christians also, blame God for the mess of the world.  Because God does not give world peace, personal affluence, freedom from disease, and a general happiness, they conclude He either does not care, does not hear their prayers, or is unable to do anything about their problems or desires.  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 others 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 Judah 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" (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.  He came 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.

Isaiah 60

When Isaiah speaks of God coming to the Gentiles, he sometimes means in wrath, or a combination of wrath and mercy, as in Isaiah 66.  But Isaiah 60 is about God’s pure grace given to Gentiles as well as Jews.  The passage is addressed first to the Jews, naturally.  It tells of a great darkness that is upon the whole earth.  The darkness represents the moral and spiritual condition of people who do not “see” their sins or their ignorance.  This is true of both Jew and Gentile.

Yet God says, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” The prophet has foretold many sad tidings to his people.  He has told them of their continuing refusal to hear the Word of God and turn from their sins.  He has told them that even now they  reject the word of God and remain in their rebellion and rejection of God.  He has told them that, in faithfulness to His Word, God is going to bring the Covenant curses upon them.  (We must always remember that the Covenant with Israel contained both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.  God will faithfully uphold both parts of it (Dt. 11:27 & 28)).  He has told them of the coming destruction of their land and of the suffering of their people in military conquest and captivity.  This is also part of the darkness referred to in 60:2.  But God will arise upon them in Light.  He is rising already, even before the dark days of conquest and captivity, for He has sent Isaiah to give them a chance to repent.  He has also sent good tidings through the prophet, for a major part of Isaiah’s message is that God will not be angry with the Jews forever.  He will forgive them and bring them back to Jerusalem, and give them another chance to love Him and to live in His blessing.

The Light of the Messiah is rising upon the Jews.  The plan laid before the foundation of the world, by which the Saviour will come into the world to save His people from their sins and to establish His Kingdom as the fulfillment of all the promises made to humankind through the nation of Israel, is rising even in the time of Isaiah, who gives a clearer picture of it than was yet seen in Old Testament times.  Christ is the Light, the Lord rising on Israel, whose glory “shall be seen upon thee” (60:2).  Even the Gentiles “shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (3).

December 25, Christmas Day

John 1:1-14
Luke 2:1-14

At last the Day arrives.  Only, its not “day,”  it is “night.”  Nor is the King of Kings born in a palace, but in an animal shed.  The Good News of His birth is not announced to Caesar, or even to Herod. It is announced  to shepherds and Gentiles.  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.”

Collect Prayer for Christmas Morning

“Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon Him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.”
~ 1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 96  

Collect Prayer for Christmas Evening

“O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.”
~1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 98



December 26, St. Stephen

Our attention is immediately drawn from the birth of the Saviour to the cost of following Him.  Stephen is the first Christian martyr, whose death reminds us that being a Christian is not just about going to Heaven or having a wonderful life.  It is an absolute and life-long commitment to observing all the commandments of God, and being faithful unto death.  The murder of Stephen begins the persecution of the Church, which continues unto this day.  Acts 8:1-4 tells us the persecution in Jerusalem became so severe that all Christians, except the Apostles, fled from the city.  But the persecution followed them, with governmental blessings.  Saul was probably only one of many sent to capture Christians and bring them to Jerusalem to die (Acts 9:1).

From the martyrdom of Stephen, and countless other Christians, we see that becoming a Christian is not something we do to improve our self esteem, or to enhance our quality of life.  We become Christians because we owe God absolute love and obedience.  We become Christians because Christianity is true.  We become Christians because we have been made to understand 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.  We become Christians because it is the right thing to do.  All other considerations are secondary, at best.

Stephen’s martyrdom makes us think we spend too much time and energy today inviting people to become Christians so they can go to Heaven, or to come to church to have a good time and make new friends, or telling people God is going to bless them with the comforts and luxuries of the world.  Perhaps we talk about these things because we don’t like to think about the cost of following Christ, and people don’t want to hear about persecution, and service, and being faithful unto death.  Stephen’s short time as a Christian was spent in prayer, worship, and service to God’s people.  He was faithful in these things, even as his enemies murdered him.  Perhaps the Church should talk, and think, more about Stephen and less about feeling good about ourselves.

Collect Prayer for St. Stephen’s Day

“Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to Heaven, and by faith behold thy glory that shall be revealed; and being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

~1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 99