April 24, 2016
Judg. 17, Jn. 7:1-31
Judg. 18, 2 Pet. 3
The people asking Christ if He will go to the feast are taunting Him. They know the “Jews” plan to kill Jesus, and they are daring Him to go, the way children dare each other to do something they are afraid to do themselves, and which they know will harm or cause trouble for the one they are daring. The taunters present the victim with the choice of taking the dare, or being called a coward. They find the victim’s’s dilemma amusing. Words like, “coward” fall derisively from their lips, though their cruelty is true cowardice.
The fact that the taunters are Galileans makes their crime all the worse. They have seen the miracles and heard the sermons of Christ. They behold the glory of the Word who was made flesh, but their spiritual blindness prevents them from seeing the Light. The “brethren” of verse 3 probably refers to the Galileans in general, and to the immediate and extended family of Joseph and Mary specifically. Their guilt and corruption are self evident. But our own guilt is no less than theirs. Living, as we do, with two thousand years of Christian influence in our culture, and with two thousand years of Christian teaching, and with two thousand years of having the full revelation of God in the Bible, we should be the most enlightened and Godly generation the earth has ever seen. We should have ended war generations ago. Our cities should be shining beacons of learning and Godliness. Oppression, divorce, abuse, crime, injustice, cruelty, and unbelief should be almost completely unknown among us. Yet, our culture is no better than Rome in its declining years, and the Church, rather than rising above heresy and sin, is worse than the Corinthian Church of Paul’s time.
Our Lord does go to Jerusalem (10). Though verse 10 says He goes “in secret,” He is soon found openly teaching in the Temple and confronting those who want to kill Him. His knowledge astounds them (15). They are the professional theologians, the Doctors, the Priests and Pharisees. He is a carpenter, uneducated, a hick from the backwoods. The “Jews” are amazed at the depth of His knowledge and wisdom, and angry because of His ability to expose their lack of it. Most of all, they are surprised at the way Jesus really believes the Scriptures. The Bible is not a mere historical document to Him. Nor is it simply a book of “sayings” to be taken out of context and “claimed” as ways to make God do our bidding. To Christ, it is the revelation of God. He understands and believes its message. And He lives it. It shapes and expresses His every thought and action. His doctrine is from the Father through the Scriptures, not from the Pharisees.
Thus, He shows the religious leaders to be hypocrites. “None of you keepeth the law,” He says to them in verse 19. He shows the foolishness of their accusation that His healing and doing good profane the Sabbath by pointing out that they circumcise children on the Sabbath. If they can do that, why can’t He do something far better?
This completely refutes their charges. But, rather than repent of their sin and turn to Him in faith, they say He has a devil. We would think they might at least attempt to refute His doctrine and show the truth of their own views. But they know they cannot do that, so they attempt to discredit Him, and prevent Him from speaking.
Note that, even though it is common knowledge that the Pharisees want to kill Jesus (25), they deny it. This is a typical tactic of those who want to accomplish their goals by deception and force. Attempting to discredit the opposition, rather than engaging in open debate (which will expose their true agenda, and the weakness of their ideas and plans), they hurl false accusations at the “enemy;” “devil,” “hater,” “misogynist.” They deny their real agenda by saying they are promoting that which they really want to destroy. Few politicians read or understand the Bible in our day, but many have mastered the tactics of the Pharisees.
The people are undecided about Him (12, 25, 26, 31). Is He the Christ, or is He a deceiver? Though the leadership attempts to take Him by force, the debate continues, and some believe on Him (31).
April 25, Saint Mark the Evangelist
1 John 1
Collect for Day
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast instructed thy holy Church with the heavenly doctrine of thy Evangelist Saint Mark; Give us grace that. being not like children carried away with every blast of vain doctrine, we may be established in the truth of thy holy Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We note in the heading for today that we are remembering Marks the evangelist. Much has been written about Mark in other places, but the most notable thing about him is that he is one of two authors of Gospels who were not Apostles. Why was Mark’s Gospel accepted by the early Church, and included in the Bible as an inspired work of God? After his shaky start with Paul, Mark ended up in Rome, when Peter was exercising Apostolic oversight of the churches in and around the city. Mark and Peter became so close, Peter actually calls Mark his son in 1 Peter 5:13. It was from Peter that Mark learned the meaning of the words and works of Christ, and it was under Peter’s direction that he recorded them in a book for the Roman people. Thus, the Gospel According to Mark is really the Gospel according to Peter. It must have taken much time and effort for the two men to gather and edit Peter’s sermons and memories into the book we now have, and Mark’s work has been a great benefit to the world.
We will never write a Gospel to go along side the others in Scripture. There are no more testaments of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as there are no more Apostles or prophets. The Bible and the means of grace are the medium through which God’s Holy Spirit guides His Church today, under the direction of duly called and ordained ministers. Yet, there is much in Mark that we can take as examples of faithful Christian living. For example, he grew in the faith. Yes he turned back from accompanying Paul, but he also went on other, equally dangerous missions with Barnabas. He became a friend and helper to Peter, who was well acquainted with danger and suffering in the service of Christ. Historians differ about other details of Mark’s life. Some believe he went to Africa and founded several thriving churches there. Whether that is so or not, his friendship and service to Peter, and his willingness to face danger and hardship in the service of Christ, make him a worthy example to all Christians in all ages.
The pinnacle of the Feast of Tabernacles (2) happens when the priest pours water from the Pool of Siloam on the Altar in the Temple. The water represents God’s Spirit being poured out on His people. It is a very solemn moment, preceded and followed by much prayer and singing of the Psalms. There is a time of silence while the water is poured on the Altar, a silence that lasts for some time. It is during this time of silence that a voice is heard, “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (38).
The speaker is our Lord Jesus. His point is that the Feast’s symbolism of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled and accomplished by Christ, the Word of God, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:33). Movies about the life and ministry of Christ sometimes portray Him as shouting angrily when He teaches in the Temple. But, though our Lord speaks loudly enough to be heard, He is not shouting, nor is His voice expressing anger or contempt. It is compassion that fills His voice as He gives the announcement that He is the One who sends the Holy Spirit, and lovingly invites anyone who thirsts to come to Him for the living water of the Holy Spirit.
“Thirst,” refers to a spiritual need. The people in the Temple are praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They are asking God to fulfill His promises and send the Spirit to them. They have expressed their spiritual thirst for the Living Water. Now they hear a solemn and compassionate voice announcing that their prayers are being answered. Jesus is the answer to their prayers. If you truly do thirst for the Holy Spirit, and true union with God, come to Him, believe in Him, and your thirst will be quenched.
Naturally, some believe Him, some reject Him, and some are undecided (40-43). But the rulers and Pharisees are almost unanimous in their rejection (48). They are among those who would have taken Him (44), and sent armed men to capture Him (45). If they had known He was in Jerusalem, they would have tried to capture Him before He got to the Temple. But it was not yet time for Him to be delivered to them, so no one was able to capture, or, lay hands on Him (44).
Nicodemus stands alone in requiring that the intent and letter of the law be followed in dealing with Christ. The others are willing to break the law in order to crush this One they consider a trouble maker and a threat to their power and security in Israel. Thus, they answer not with evidence, but with personal attacks on Nicodemus, “Art thou also of Galilee?” This question means something like, are you, also one of the ignorant hicks from the backwoods of Galilee? Are you one of the illiterate fools who do not know the law? Their question shows their own deep misunderstanding of the Scriptures, but they do not care about that, for their concern is not really about truth or about God. They are concerned about their own social and economic power. To keep that power secure, they will suppress opposition by all means at their disposal.
Judg. 19:1-21, Jn. 8:1-20
Judg. 19:22-, 1 Jn. 2
The Feast of Tabernacles has ended, and the people have gone home (8:53). Jesus and His disciples leave Jerusalem to spend the night on the Mount of Olives, a short distance outside the city. But the next day, “early in the morning He came again into the Temple, and all the people came unto Him: and He sat down and taught them” (2). The outer court of the Temple is a place where people gather to hear teachers discuss the Scriptures and their application. Usually, the teachers are Priests and Pharisees, but the people naturally gather around Jesus this morning. They want to learn more about this Man who claims to be the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, and to be able to fill them with the Living Water of the Holy Spirit.
The scribes and Pharisees are prepared for His appearance. They have lured a woman into the sin of adultery, just so they can take her to Jesus and force Him to call for her execution. Verse 6 specifically states they are “tempting Him, that they might have something to accuse Him.”
They have craftily placed Christ in what they believe is a no win situation. If He does not call for the woman’s execution, He breaks the law of God. If He demands her death, He loses the confidence of the people by appearing to side with the Pharisees.
But, our Lord is far too wise to fall into their trap. He turns it into a trap for them, and they fall into it quickly and completely. He does this with the simple words, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (7).
Now the jaws of the trap are turned toward the scribes and Pharisees. If they stone the woman to death, they are claiming to be without sin. But they know they are not sinless, and so do the people gathered around them. So stoning the woman would reveal their hypocrisy and evil motives. But, if they release the woman, they are breaking the law and showing themselves to be liars and heretics, which is what they are trying to accuse Jesus of. Thus, they are caught in their own trap. Realising this, they slink out of the Temple, becoming lawbreakers as they leave.
Christ’s words in verse 11 do not condone adultery, which is a serious crime against God and other people. It hurts spouses, parents, children, and many others, and God takes it very seriously. He also has mercy on this woman. His words are a pardon from God. They are grace and mercy which heal a terrible wound in her soul. They express the eternal grace of God in Christ. At the Feast He said, “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (7:38). His words mean something like, if you thirst for God, for grace and forgiveness, come to Christ and He will give it. This day, in the very Temple where He claimed to be the fulfillment of the feast, He freely gives that grace and forgiveness to a very thirsty sinner.
Our Lord now turns to the people and begins to teach them again (12-20). Some commentators have raised the question of whether this happens on the same day as the events in 1-11, or on a different day. It appears that it is the same day, and that our Lord is using the event to teach more fully about Himself as the personification of the grace of God. But that is a small detail that should not detract us from the message, which is quietly stated in verse 12: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Notice how closely these words resemble the words of John 1:4 and 1:9. It is as though Jesus is re-stating the point of these verses as He teaches in the Temple. He is giving emphasis to the words because the eternal destiny of every person depends on the truth or falsehood of them. The Apostle John has intentionally included these words of Christ here. It is as though he is asking the readers a question: do Christ’s actions and words support John 1:4 and John 1:9? If so, come to Him in Biblical faith and receive the rivers of Living water, receive the grace and light and truth He gives. If not, reject Him as a liar and a devil.
Some of the Pharisees have not left the Temple. Perhaps they were not part of the plot of verses 1-11. Perhaps this conversation does happen on another day. We do not know. We do know they continue to challenge Christ, saying His words about Himself cannot be believed because He speaks them. They are saying Christ is like an author proclaiming his own book to be the greatest novel of His time. The statement has little meaning, since it comes from the author. If the people and other writers praise it, their words have more value.
Christ says His words are true, even when He speaks of Himself (14). But there is another, who is The Authority in such matters, who says the same things Christ says of Himself. That Authority is the Father (18). The Father made the statements through John the Baptist, and by sending the Holy Spirit to Christ (Jn. 1:28-34). He also affirms the truth of Christ’s words through the miracles and signs performed by Christ. They are His affirmation and testimony of the truth of Christ’s words about Himself.
The Pharisees refuse to believe the Father’s testimony for a very important reason, they do not know the Father (19). These learned Doctors, whose lives are supposedly dedicated to studying and keeping God’s law, do not know God. It is important to know that, while it is not possible to know God without also living a Godly and holy life that centres around the Bible, the Church, and the Commandments, it is possible to be deeply involved in such things, yet still be a stranger to God. These Pharisees are very religious and spiritual, down to the smallest detail, yet they do not know God. Read and tremble at our Lord’s words.
How do the Pharisees respond? Do they fall to their knees in repentance and faith? No, they attempt to take Christ by force and complete their plans to kill Him. But He is easily able to elude them, for it is not yet time for the Good Shepherd to lay down His life for the sheep (20).
Judg. 20:1-25, Jn. 8:21-59
Judg. 20:26-, 1 Jn. 3
Having captured the Pharisees in their own trap (vss. 1-20), our Lord continues to teach in the Temple. He has a dual theme in this discourse. First is His nature and being, which is stated well in verse 23, “I am from above.” He is saying He is God, from God. He is “Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning” (25). He refers here to His words in the Temple regarding Himself as the fulfillment of the meaning and promises of the Feast of Tabernacles. He also refers to other statements about Himself as being one with the Father. He continues, boldly and calmly saying He speaks only what the Father teaches Him (28), that the Father is with Him (29), and, “I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but He sent me” (42). Perhaps His most telling statement is found in verse 58. The “Jews” (priests, scribes, Pharisees) have asked Him if He is greater than Abraham and the prophets (53). The way the question is formed in the Greek text assumes a negative answer. Thus, the “Jews” believe they have won the debate and showed Jesus to be a false teacher. They have asked the ultimate question, to which He must answer, “no.” “You don’t think you are greater than Abraham and the prophets, do you?” That is the sense of their question, which is asked in a sarcastic and arrogant tone. They expect Jesus to say, “no,” and slink away in defeat. But Jesus’ answer shows that He is not only greater than Abraham and the prophets, He is the destiny toward which Abraham and the prophets moved and directed all of Israel. He is the summation of everything they sought, and prayed for, and looked for, and were promised and foretold in the prophets and in the law and in the entire body of holy Scripture. He is, in fact, God. He is the Word become flesh. He is the great “I AM” of Exodus 3:14. “Before Abraham was, I AM.”
Our Lord’s second point is that the religious and political leaders, those men John usually refers to as the “Jews,” have missed the entire meaning and message of the Bible. He is from above, they are from beneath. He is not of this world, they are of this world, meaning, their ideas and values, and religion are formed by the fallen ideas of sinful humanity, not by the pure revelation of God (23). They will die in their sins (24) means they are so far removed from God they are not even going to Heaven. They are in sin now. They will die in their sin. They will remain in and suffer for their sin, forever. They don’t understand Christ’s message (27), and they don’t believe it (24).
Jesus makes the point that they are prisoner-slaves of sin. In contrast to their own idea that they are holy and Godly and highly favoured of God, and are His chosen vessels by whom God blesses and leads His people; they are actually bound in chains of slavery to sin. They live in the deepest, darkest, and most hopeless bondage. They are totally and completely owned by sin, and they serve sin every moment of every day. “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (34). They are so completely controlled by sin that they have no ability to understand the words of Christ (43). They are of their father, the devil (44).
It is important that we understand that the “Jews” are as lost and without God as the Gentiles who have never heard of God. It is also important to understand that the condition of the “Jews” is exactly the same as all who do not know and believe Christ. All who sin are slaves of sin, and unable to free themselves from their eternal bondage. That is why they cannot understand or believe the Gospel. They belong to Satan and they believe the lies of Satan, the father of lies. But there is hope. No mere human is able to free himself from Satan’s service, but God can. Jesus is saying that He came from Heaven to free people. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (36).
It is equally important that we understand that those who are free are those who continue in His word (31, 32). Those freed from the bondage of sin become disciples (learners and followers) of Christ. They do not continue to serve Satan and sin. They are freed from that service. They are expected to come out of their dungeons and chains into freedom in Christ; and in Christ they are to learn how to live as free people, how to be “free indeed” (36).
One final point needs to be understood before we leave this chapter. It is stated in verse 47, “He that is of God heareth God’s words.” This is almost a repeat of verses 31 and 32, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It’s emphasis is only slightly different. It is that those who are really of God hear God’s words. They hear with understanding and with intention of being doers of the word ( James 1:22). The person who claims to be a Christian, yet has no time for Christ’s Church, no time for prayer, no time to read the Bible and allow it to shape his ideas and actions and values, is fooling himself. He is as far from God as the Pharisees confronting and plotting against Christ in this passage. Therefore, we must honestly confront ourselves with the question, do we truly hear God’s word, Bible? If we cannot confidently say we listen, try to understand, and try to do what the Bible teaches, we must conclude that we are not of God.
Judg. 21:1-15, Jn. 9
Judg. 21:16-, 1 Jn. 4
The Life and Light of men has come into the world in human form. The Word who was and always is God, was made flesh and dwelt among us. He is the source of all life and all goodness. He is light shining in the darkness. He is life and healing in a world of death and disease. That is the point made in this passage, and in all the miracles Jesus did. They are signs that God is with us. In Him we can walk in the Light and leave the darkness behind.
Light is useless to those who cannot see. To them a sunny day and the darkest night are the same, for their ability to discern light from darkness does not exist. This is as true in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical one. As our Lord gives sight to the physically blind, He symbolically shows that He can also give sight to the spiritually blind.
The result of the healing is a confrontation between the blind man and the Pharisees. These learned Doctors of the Law are faced with a disturbing question. Jesus, obviously heals people. They have spoken to the blind man’s parents, hoping to disprove the miracle, but the parents confirm it, the man was born blind (19, 20). They question the man about Jesus (17). Is He of God, or is He a deceiver? The blind man’s logic crushes the unbelief of the Doctors. The miracle is real (25), and, if Jesus were not of God, He could not have healed him (33). Now the Pharisees face a difficult choice, they must believe in Jesus, or reject Him. They choose rejection. They excommunicate the blind man (34), and call their own spiritual blindness sight (40). They intentionally choose darkness (Jn. 1:5) because they love darkness rather than light (Jn. 3:19). Because they choose the darkness, and call their blindness sight (41), they remain in their guilt before God.
The love of darkness is the obvious problem of the world. We love sin. We know right from wrong, but we choose wrong because we love what doing wrong does for us. We choose not to see the eternal cost of our sin to us, or its immediate cost to others. We choose only to see its immediate and very temporary pleasure.
Ruth 1, Jn. 10:1-21
Ruth 2, 1 Jn. 5
Our Lord paints a vivid word picture in which He contrasts the Good Shepherd with the thieves and hirelings; and contrasts the Good Shepherd’s sheep with those who stray and refuse to hear His voice. The picture presupposes that the sheep live in a wilderness where thieves and wolves intend to kill and destroy them (10-12). He also speaks of hirelings, who appear to be shepherds, but are concerned about profiting from the sheep, rather than caring for about them.
The wilderness is the opposite of the sheepfold. It is a place of danger, temptation, and death. It represents the ideas and values of those who love darkness rather than light. In many places, the New Testament calls it the “world” (Rom.12:2). Wolves are people, and evil spirits, who prey upon the sheep (people), and intend to fleece them in this life, and burn them in the next.
Our Lord makes the point that He puts Himself between the wolves and the sheep. The hirelings flee from the wolves to save their own lives, but the Good Shepherd stands between the sheep and the wolves, and actually allows the wolves to kill Him in order to save the sheep. The wolves take Him to the cross and kill Him, but He allows this to save the sheep.
The sheepfold has a double meaning. It refers first to Christ, the wall that protects the sheep from the wolves. It is the place where sheep are protected and nourished, and live in peace and freedom. It refers, also, to Christ’s Church both as a spiritual fellowship of all believers, and as a visible, organised entity. True Christians belong to both.
Ruth 3, Jn. 10:22-42
Ruth 4, 2 and 3 John
Verses 26-28 conclude the contrast between the Good Shepherd’s sheep and the lost and stray sheep. The picture of the Good Shepherd’s sheep begins in verse 3. Our Lord says His sheep follow Him, know His voice, and will not follow a stranger.
In Victorian times, it was popular for tourists in Israel to attempt to lead a shepherd’s sheep astray. They would pay the shepherd to lend them his cloak, then, imitating the shepherd’s voice, they would call the sheep to follow them. They never succeeded. The sheep ran away from the imitation shepherds and ran to the real shepherd. They knew his voice and they followed him. Jesus is using this fact to illustrate the fact that real Christians know His voice and do not listen to others.
The Bible is the voice of the Good Shepherd. New revelations and prophecies have ceased. Those who claim to have them either misunderstand the way God speaks to His people, or, they are thieves and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Therefore, the Good Shepherd’s sheep know the Bible. Their understanding of life, reality, truth, man, self, and God, comes from the Bible. They refuse to listen to the thieves, wolves, and other denizens of the wilderness.
The Pharisees confronting Jesus (24) are not the Lord’s sheep (26). They prove this by not knowing His voice, and by not believing and following Him. Instead of following Him, they intend to kill Him, showing themselves wolves rather than sheep (31). Christ points them to His works, saying, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (37, 38).
The “works” are the miracles. Christ is saying they are the works of God, meaning, He does what God does and God does what He does because He and God are one. In Christ, God is with us; the Word has become flesh. In Christ, the power and grace of God has come into the world to give us things so wonderful they can be described as life that is lived in the realm of the Eternal. The miracles, especially the healings, are signs of this. The miracles are God calling us to believe and let Him take us into the Eternal realm. Sadly, the Pharisees do not hear the Good Shepherd’s voice in these works. They do not comprehend the Light. They love darkness rather than Light. They prefer to preserve their temporary social positions and the trinkets of earth, rather than become citizens of Heaven and gain the true treasure of eternal life there. They reject the Good Shepherd so completely they attempt to kill Him.
The chapter ends with our Lord crossing to the eastern side of the Jordan. He will remain there for most of the time left before His crucifixion.