April 29, 2011
Psalm 145, Is. 25:1-9, Rev. 7:10
Psalm 18:1-20, Jer. 31:10-14, Jn. 21:15
Today’s commentary begins with a correction of yesterday’s, which mistakenly named Babylon as the enemy in view in this part of the book of Isaiah. The enemy was actually Assyria at this point. Assyria would later fall to Babylon, and, Isaiah does foresee the Babylonian Captivity and release in this passage, but the enemy at the gate for now is Assyria. Isaiah will address Babylon in later chapters. To put the passage in its historical setting we need to recall that Israel has divided into two kingdoms, one calling itself Israel and the other calling itself Judah. The Assyrians were the primary power in the area, and threatened to engulf both Israel and Judah. In a futile attempt to maintain her independence, Israel made an alliance with Syria, to resist Assyria. They attempted to force Judah to join them by issuing an ultimatum: become their ally or be conquered by them. But God warned Judah to make no alliance with them, and so Judah was spared when the Assyrians invaded and conquered Syria and Israel. Chapter 24 does refer in part to the Babylonian conquest of Judah, but its primary subject is Assyria.
Chapter 25 begins a hymn and prayer of thanksgiving to God for delivering Judah from the hand of her enemies. Yet, Isaiah sees there is more to this deliverance than being saved from mere human opponents. This is a mere foretaste of the miraculous deliverance God will bring to the Jews, and to those in all nations who will call upon Him.
Verses 6-9 especially convey this message. God will destroy the “face of the covering cast over all people,” and the “vail that is spread over the nations.” The covering and the vail are grave clothes. It is a tradition to cover the face of the dead, and so all nations are covered with the vail of death, for all are dead in their trespasses and sins. By their own choice they live in darkness and despair and spiritual death. But, the day is coming when the Light of God will shine forth in this world in an unmistakable manner that will call all nations into Him and His Kingdom.
He will feed them with fat things and wines on the lees well refined. This refers to the great blessings and the spiritual plenty poured out on those in God’s Kingdom. In a land of want, as Judah often was, such food and abundance was known only by the very wealthiest few. But in God’s new Kingdom such rich spiritual food is for all people. The Lord of hosts will make this feast and give freely to all his children.
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.
Isaiah and the people of his day looked forward to the “Advent” of that salvation.
If we read verse 10 also, we cannot help noticing that the salvation of which Isaiah wrote is accomplished “in this mountain.” Originally the phrase refers to Mt. Zion, site of the Temple, but, in a broader sense, it symbolizes Jerusalem and the Jewish people. It symbolizes what we often call, “the Jewish Church.” The salvation, of which Isaiah wrote, refers to God’s mighty deliverance of Jerusalem, and to His bountiful blessings upon her. But that cannot exhaust the meaning of this text. It reaches out to the work of Christ in Zion seven hundred years in Isaiah’s future. It will be “in this mountain” that the Savior comes to teach the way of life and truth. It will be “in this mountain” that He suffers and dies to defeat the enemies of His people, and delivers them from the spiritual bonds of sin and death. And it will be “in this mountain that the Savior’s work continues in the world throughout all ages. Just as Zion represents the people of God in the Old Testament, so it also represent the people of God in the New Testament, the Christian Church, the New Israel, the spiritual Mount Zion, which is the spiritual Kingdom of God. The message of hope, the message that God is with us, of a new and better life made possible by the gift of God, of hell’s fires quenched and Heaven’s Gates opened as wide as the Savior’s arms on the cross are still preached “in this mountain” as the Church fulfills her Great Commission:
Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world, (St. Matthew 28:19-20).
The promises of God to the Israel of the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the Israel of the New Testament. And yet, they are not fulfilled completely even now. We still wait for the Messiah to complete His work. We still wait for that day when finally He will swallow even physical death in victory, and will dry every tear, and there will be no more suffering, and no more sorrow, and no more sin, forever and forever and forever. We await His Second Advent as eagerly as the Old Testament Zion awaited His First Advent. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, (Rev. 22:20).
April 28, 2011
Psalm 124, 125, 126, Is. 65:17, Rev. 1:4-18
Psalm 110, 114, Zeph. 3:14, Jn. 21:1-14
This morning’s passage in Isaiah, like last night’s must be understood in light of its preceding verse, in this case, Isaiah 65:16, especially the words, “because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from my eyes.” The “former troubles” are the conquests and tribulations of the Jews, which God allowed them to suffer because of their sins. They are “forgotten” and “hid” because they are forgiven and God remembers them no more. Rather than remember their sins, God promises a time and place that will be entirely new. Enemies will not attack it, disease will not plague it, and the lifespan of God’s people will be like the lifespan of a tree. God will answer their prayers before they are even voiced, and the peace in the land will be such that former enemies, like the wolf and the lamb, shall be as friends. In other words, all the effects of the Fall and sin will be gone, and the world will be as it was in the beginning. Even people will be different. They will not make war, they will not steal or oppress one another. They will live in peace with one another and in unity with God.
This new era is prefigured in the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. In a sense, their return is yet a further revelation of the coming of that Day. Since the Fall God has been working in His way and at His pace to bring the world back into Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. Seth, Noah, Abraham, the Exodus, and the release of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity, are shadows and revelations of this new and restored earth. They are also steps toward its full inauguration. Each step is itself a furtherance of that Day, and, in a sense, participates in it. Each step gives a foretaste of the glory of the Day of the Lord, and in each step that Day is here, yet not here in fullness. Each step is like the dawn of a new day, growing brighter each moment, yet not here in its full glory yet. Like the morning of the day of a great event, the day is here, but we have not experienced the fullness of its promise yet.
This new Day will see a new heaven and a new earth, but it will also be the land of a new Israel. The profane and the unbelieving, though they be of the physical seed of Abraham, cannot enter. Only the renewed children of Abraham by faith will be in the new creation on that Day.
The Church is another step in the progress towards that Day. It is the new Israel, the children of Abraham by faith in Christ. The promises to Israel in the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the Church of the New Testament. And yet, that Day is not here in fullness. We also await it, as the Jews in Isaiah 65 awaited their release from Babylon. As with the old Israel, so it is in the new Israel, that the tares will one day be removed, and the faithful and fruitful “wheat” will be gathered into Christ to enjoy Him in the final and complete fullness of the new creation.
April 27, 2011
Psalm 149, 150, Ezek. 37:1-14, Phil. 3:7
Psalm 147, Is. 52:1-10, Jn. 20:24
Isaiah 52 cannot be understood apart from chapter 51, especially verses 22 and 23:
“Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again: But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.”
The Jews have been laid low by their enemies. They have been trodden down, and their enemies have walked upon them as the ground of the street. God has allowed this because of the sins of the Jews, but the other nations still had no just cause to invade Israel. Their conquests and oppression were wicked and cruel, crushing the Jews into the dust and blaspheming the Name of God, but God was neither blind to the oppressors’ sin nor unmoved by the suffering of the Jews. In tonight’s reading He is preparing to act in a mighty deliverance for them. Therefore, they are to awake (52:1), arise (52:2), and shake off the dust (52:2). They are to stop being the ground for their enemies to walk on. They are to rise up and stand upright, and shake the dust of the street and ground off themselves. They are to put on beautiful garments, their very best, the clothes thy reserve for the most festive and joyful occasions, for they are to be delivered from their enemies and returned to the holy city. The cup of trembling 51:22) will be taken from them and given to their enemies. Their enemies will fear as the Jews have had to in the past. Thus, the Jews will know God has spoken to them; they will see the revelation of His saving grace, and will know it is the work of God for them.
Verse 7 pictures messengers posted on the hills outside of Jerusalem proclaiming the good news of the coming deliverance. The tidings are so wonderful that even the feet of the messengers are beautiful to the Jews. Inside the city, watchmen echo the message, united (eye to eye) in the proclamation and the praise of the God of their salvation. Even the most devastated (waste places) of Jerusalem are overcome with joy and join the song of praise, “for the Lord hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem.”
To make bare His arm (vs. 10) is to roll up the sleeves of His robe as a man going into battle or to physical labour where the extra material will be an encumbrance. It pictures God preparing to accomplish the deliverance of the Jews.
Again we look beyond the setting of the Old Testament Jerusalem and see the mighty deliverance of God for all His people, bringing them into the Heavenly Jerusalem through our Lord Jesus Christ. He bears the good tidings, and He is the good tidings. Therefore, let His people rejoice; “Thy God reigneth.”
April 26, 2011
Psalm 97, 99, Micah 7:-20, 1 Tim. 6:11-19
Psalm 148, Is. 26:12-19, Jn. 20:19-23
Tonight’s reading in Isaiah is part of the conclusion of a theme that began in chapter 13. The theme is God’s judgment on unbelievers, leading to the day when “the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion” (Is. 24:23). This refers first to God judging the enemies of Judea and restoring the Jews to Jerusalem as His covenant people. Chapters 25-27 are a song of praise and thanksgiving, which 26:1 says will be sung in the land of Judah on the day God accomplishes their deliverance.
26:16 pictures the Jews calling upon the Lord during their captivity in Babylon. They have been scattered to the ends of the earth (15), but in their trouble they have visited (sought) God again. Verses 17 and 18 show the vanity of using human means to accomplish spiritual ends. The Jews tried to build and maintain their nation and their traditions on their own terms. They often kept the outward forms of the Old Testament faith, but their lives were not given to God. Thus, they were like a woman in childbirth, suffering all the pain of labour, but bringing forth nothing. Their labour has been in vain because they were unable to conquer their enemies or secure their land by their own hand. But the day will come, Isaiah says, when God will rescue them. They will be like people rising from the dead, and Judea will be as a body rising from the grave. They will awake and sing to God again when the earth (Babylon and pagan nations) cast out the dead (return the Jews to Jerusalem).
These events have a meaning far beyond the mere return of the Jews from Babylon. Like God’s rescue of Israel from Egyptian bondage, the rescue from Babylonian Captivity is a picture of God rescuing all of His people from their spiritual captivity and bringing them into the Heavenly Jerusalem through Christ Jesus. In a very real sense, the song of praise, of which tonight’s reading is a part, cannot really be sung in its fullest meaning until God gathers His whole Church home with Him forever. On that great Day, all of the redeemed will sing, “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Is. 25:1).
April 25, 2011
Psalm 30, Dan.12: 1-4, 13, 1 Thes. 4:13
Psalm 115, Is. 30:18-21, Jn. 20:11-18
“The Lord is a God of judgment.” These words from Isaiah 30:18 remind us that sin has consequences, and God is willing to let us suffer them. In this passage, the Jews have disobeyed and disregarded God for generations. He has been patient, and has sent many prophets to call them back to Him, but they continued to drift away from Him, and even convinced themselves they were doing what God wanted. Finally, God raised up the Babylonians against Judea. They swarmed over the Jews like a horde of locusts, and when they were finished the land was a blackened ruin, Jerusalem and the Temple were demolished, and most of the people still alive were taken to Babylon as prisoners. Will God leave Israel in this condition? No, He will have mercy, but He will wait. In Isaiah, mercy comes after judgment.
In Christ mercy replaces judgment. When Christ told the disciples their sorrow would be turned to joy, He meant first that, though “crucified, dead, and buried” He would live again. But His primary meaning was the joy they would have in the redemption He was purchasing for them on the cross. He bore the wrath of God for them. Therefore, all who are in Christ are in grace, not judgment.
April 24, 2011
Psalm 2, Is. 61:1-3, 10-11, Lk. 24:1-12
Psalm 103, Ex. 15:1-13, Jn. 20:1-10
We left the book of the Prophet Isaiah during the season of Epiphany. We return to it now, reading different passages this week before taking it up in its regular order of chapter and verse next Monday. It continues as a reading for morning or evening until the week of the Sunday after Ascension, by which time we will have read the entirety of this important Old Testament book.
Today’s reading includes the verses read by our Lord in the synagogue in Nazareth, which caused such a stir among the people when He said. “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Lk. 4:16-30). The passage obviously looks ahead to a new day in Jerusalem when the captivity in Babylon will be over and the Jews are allowed to return to their homes in Judea. Isaiah is the one upon whom the Spirit of the Lord is come in the passage. He was primarily called to the sorrowful task of proclaiming the wrath and judgment of God upon the Jews. But his message was also allowed to give some comfort, and several passages, like today’s, tell of forgiveness and restoration for the people. He was allowed to proclaim good tidings, bind up the broken hearted, and preach liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound (61:1). The Babylonian Captivity, in which the Jews were conquered and carried away from Jerusalem by the Babylonians, is the obvious setting of this passage. It is the release from Babylon that the prophet proclaims. Yet the Jews' release from human captors cannot exhaust the meaning of this passage. Our Lord was quite correct to say that it was fulfilled in Him, who came to release us from a conqueror far more cruel than Nebuchadnezzar, and a bondage far more bitter than the ancient city of Babylon. Christ came to release us from our bondage of sin and our captor Satan. These are the ultimate good tidings of Isaiah 61.
April 23, 2011
The Bible begins and ends with God. The very first verse says, “In the beginning God” (Gen 1:1). The very last verse says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (Rev.22:21). God dwells in eternity, without fault or sin, in perfect being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. God is complete in and of Himself. He does not need others to complete Him like people do. Therefore, God did not create angels or humans because He needed their company or love. He created them so they could know and enjoy His company and love. This means He had to give them some semblance of the attributes He has in Himself, though on a much smaller scale, and all dependent upon His sustaining power. He gave them existence, personality, creativity, and will, among other things. He created Man, male and female, and placed them on earth to have dominion over it, and to use their creativity and intelligence to rule the world under God. He gave them free will, and created them morally and spiritually good, so they were able to live in perfect harmony and fellowship with Him and with each other. Man was able to live in perfect union with God, as long as they lived in perfect obedience to God’s perfect will (Gen. 2:15-25). But at some point, Man turned away from God (Gen. 3:1-8). Choosing to live by their own rules instead of by the will of God, Man fell from their fellowship with God, and became criminals against the righteous King of Creation. The Fall of Man changed not only their relationship with God, but also their own nature and essence. No longer were they free and good. Their minds became darkened and their wills became warped so that they are inclined towards evil instead of good (Rom. 1:21-25). The history of Man is the story of the Fall in action. It is the story of greed, hate, oppression, and violence and ungodliness (Jas. 4:1-3). In other words, it is the history of Sin.
The study of Bible history is the study of the unfolding of God’s grace extended to fallen Man. As we study the history of the Bible we see first the progressive self revelation of God, culminating in Jesus Christ. Second, we see the unfolding of God’s purpose of grace, which we may call the Plan of Redemption. All of the studies we have done in Old and New Testament history have been done to bring us to this point, the point of recognizing afresh that, in the Bible, we are witnessing the story of God’s self revelation and the story of God’s redeeming grace. Today it is my hope to trace some of the more important events in this story, and to show that the flow of events is the unfolding of God’s plan.
We have already looked at the Fall. Soon we must look at the first promise of redemption, but first let us see that the Plan of Redemption actually precedes the Fall. It even precedes creation. Christ said His people will inherit a kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Mt. 25:34). Ephesians 1:4 says we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. I Peter 1:18-20 says we are redeemed not with corruptible things like silver and gold, but by the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or spot, “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” Finally, Revelation 13:8 speaks of Christ as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
How does this plan of Redemption unfold in history? It begins even in the Garden. There God had mercy on the guilty sinners. To be sure, there were consequences to their sin, but there was also mercy, and a great promise that has been called the Protoevangelium. It is found in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” From the start this verse was understood to foretell the work of the Messiah. Paul refers to it in Romans 16. Justin Martyr (110-165) interpreted it as such also. It could be said that the rest of the Bible is the explanation of how God works this verse out in history. The cross of Christ is the most obvious example of this, but in reality, all of history can be summarized as the story of Redemption as Christ, the seed of the woman bruises the head of the serpent (Satan) to deliver His people, until the day He finally comes in the full revelation of His glory to restore creation and to fully establish His Kingdom of righteousness forever.
From the Fall, Redemption moves forward in the birth of Seth. Abel has been killed, and Cain, his murderer, has been driven out of the covenant people. So the line through which God will bring the Saviour into the world continues in Seth (Gen 4:25). From Seth, the Bible traces the line to Noah (Gen.5:1-32), and from Noah, through Shem, to Abraham (Gen. 11:10-32). Throughout this time God was revealing His righteousness and holiness. It was shown that the murder of Abel was a sin against God. The wickedness of Man caused God to bring judgment in the Flood. The arrogance of humanistic endeavor was judged at Babel. Abraham was called to leave Ur, to separate from the cultures of the world and their wickedness. Through him God was going to build a nation to be His own special and holy people. All of this reveals the nature and purpose of God.
Israel was that special and holy people. Descendants of Abraham, the Israelites dwelt in Canaan until a famine drove them to seek shelter in Egypt, where God had already established Joseph as the pharaoh’s chief official. Miraculously, God delivered the Israelites after the Egyptians enslaved them. He took them to Mount Sinai, where He gave them His Law, the fullest revelation of His will to date. The moral law, as well as the ceremonial and civil law was given at Sinai, and the Hebrews were invited to assent personally to the Covenant God made with their forefathers.
The Covenant can be summarized as follows. First, God will be their God. He will bless them, give them his Law that they may know the ways of goodness and peace, and establish them in the land of Canaan. He will also provide a way to forgive their sins, which will be symbolized in the Temple and the sacrificial system. Second, they will be His people. They will love Him with all their heart, keep His commandments joyfully, forsake all idols, and live for Him in righteousness in the land He would give them (see Deuteronomy 30 for a summary of the Covenant). With the Covenant ratified by the people, God sent them toward Canaan. After the forty years in the wilderness, the people entered the Promised Land.
Things did not go well for the Israelites. They turned from God to easier and more attractive religions. They engaged in the sensuality and lust of the Canaanites. But in grace the story of Redemption continued as God sent the judges and the prophets to them. The prophets proclaimed that God wanted not just the outward forms and rituals of the ceremonial law, but also the inward holiness of the moral law. They expounded more fully the holy nature of God, and the demand that His people be holy also. Sometimes the Hebrews got the message and turned to God. In those times God forgave their sin and blessed them. The reign of David was one of those times, and can be understood as a foretaste of the Kingdom of the Messiah. Often the Israelites rejected God’s message and killed the prophets. In those times they paid the price for their sin, for God allowed them to be harassed and dominated by several foreign powers, beginning with the Canaanites and continuing to the Romans. But during this time God revealed to them that a Deliverer was coming who would bring forgiveness and restoration, and would establish a Kingdom that would transcend political, ethnic, and cultural barriers. The message of the prophet Isaiah was one of the clearest expressions of this in the Old Testament. Through him it was revealed that the Saviour would suffer for the sins of His people, and that He would open the Kingdom of God to all believers. The history of Israel is the history of God providentially working in the life of a nation that is often stubborn and rebellious. But God is faithful, and even sin and rebellion in His own chosen people did not stay the progress of the plan of Redemption. In grace He continued to work in His people and to bring the world to the point of the fullness of time, when He sent forth His Son, our Saviour, to redeem us (Gal 4:4-5).
Before proceeding further into the New Testament, let us emphasize a few very important points of the Old Testament. First, God requires righteousness. We can define righteousness negatively as the absence of moral fault, and positively as the active possession of absolute moral perfection. The whole point of the Law is the requirement of perfection. God is perfect, and requires perfection of us. There is no sliding scale, no allowance for circumstances, no excuse for failure to measure up. We must embrace and do righteousness perfectly if we are going to live up to the demands of the Law. This requires an inward attitude as well as outward performance.
Second, nobody measures up. The Law reveals God’s standards, but it also reveals God’s nature. Righteousness is God and God is righteousness. There is no fault or variation in Him. But we fall short in every way. We fail to achieve perfection in our works because we fail to achieve perfection in our beings. In fact, as we saw in our look at the Fall, we are imperfect in our beings, and this inward imperfection inclines us to imperfect actions. Actually, I have stated this too softly. To get the real sense of the Bible’s teaching on this I have to say that we are evil in our inward beings. There is in us a selfishness and pride that causes us to place our own comfort and pleasures above the good we know we should be doing. This “fallenness” even leads us to exalt ourselves and wills above that of God Himself. It is this fallenness in our being that causes the sinful actions, which the Prayer Book rightly reminds, are sins of omission as well as sins of commission (see the General Confession, page 6, 1928 edition).
Third, the Law, though it shows the way of life and peace, is actually our enemy, because by it we see our lack of righteousness. We see that the Law does not justify us in the eyes of God, it condemns us. This is one of the major points of the Bible. This is why Paul, in Romans 3:20, speaking about the Jewish people who had the law, says,
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his [God’s] sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
Fourth, the Law, then, becomes our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Seeing that we are actually condemned by our failure to meet God’s standards, we are forced to despair of escaping His holy wrath upon us for our sins, unless, God has mercy on us, and somehow makes a way for us to be forgiven.
Now we can return to the Old Testament and see again the many promises of God to make a way of salvation for us. We will not attempt to show every reference to Christ, but will look at some of the more obvious. In Genesis 3:15 He is the seed of woman that bruises the serpent’s head. He is also the one whose heel is bruised by the serpent. In Exodus He is the Passover Lamb who saves His people by His blood. In the Day of Atonement He is the Scapegoat that bears the sins of His people. In the Temple He is the High Priest who offers the sacrifices for sin. His also the Sacrifice, just as the altar is the cross on which He is offered. In Isaiah He 7:14 He is Immanuel, God with us. In Isaiah 53 He is the Man of Sorrows who heals our souls by His stripes (crucifixion). In Micah 2:5 He is the Ruler who comes out of Bethlehem. In Micah 4:1-3 He is the One who brings in the Kingdom of Peace and Righteousness in which people can at last beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. The Old Testament is about Him from beginning to end. He said if we believe Moses we would believe in Him, for Moses wrote of Him (Jn. 5:46).
In the New Testament the promises of God to fallen Man are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The promise to make Abraham a great nation is fulfilled in Christ. The promise through Micah that many peoples will come into the house of the God of Israel is fulfilled in Christ. The old Israel, which was confined to one nation, is, in Christ, fulfilled into a world-wide fellowship that transcends all national ethnic, and cultural barriers. This New Israel is called the Church. The salvation of those who are condemned by the Law is accomplished by God Himself, who became flesh and went to the cross and bore in Himself the price of our redemption. He suffered the wrath of God in our place. He was punished for our sins. The full revelation of God is accomplished in Christ, who said if we have seen Him we have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9-11).
Church history, as recorded in the New Testament, is the continuing story of Redemption as the message of the Gospel goes into the world. The Gospels record the life and ministry of Christ, by whom the work of Redemption is accomplished. The Book of Acts records the spread of the Gospel into the Mediterranean world. By the end of Acts there are Christians in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The Epistles explain the faith. They explain the Gospel. In them we find the meaning and purpose of the ministry of Christ explained so that it can always be understood through the successive generations around the world.
We have seen that Jesus is the full revelation of God, yet that revelation is veiled in the sense that it is not fully recognized. He came to earth within the limitations of time and space. He came in humility to be rejected and crucified. But He will come again in power. In that day every eye will see Him. In that day He will bring the story of Redemption to its close. In that day His enemies will be forever crushed under His heel. Satan, sin, the ungodly, death and hell will be cast out of His presence forever. He will gather His people to be with Him in a place where all suffering and sin will be ended forever. In that Land we will see Him with our own eyes as Adam and Eve saw Him walking with them in the Garden. In that day all our questions will be answered and our joy will be complete. Even the physical creation will be renewed and restored (see Rev. 21). All things will be brought together under Christ, who will rule in grace and peace forever.
Thus ends the story of Redemption. The purpose of God in His creation has been accomplished. Fallen people have been called into fellowship with God and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Evil has been conquered forever, and the people of God live in peace and righteousness. This is what the history of the Bible is all about.
April 22, 2011
Morning - Psalms 14, 16, Job 14:1-14, John 19:38
Evening - Psalm 27, Job 19:21-27, Romans 6:3-11
"It is finished." We have come to the end of Christ's journey to the cross. We have followed Him from the outer reaches of Galilee to the courts of the Temple, to the hill of Golgotha. In every place and every time He resolutely followed the road to the cross. Nothing could turn Him aside from that great and terrible transaction by which He offered Himself for the sins of His people. When He had suffered our punishment and died our death, He cried with a loud voice, "It is finished." Let us remember it was for us that He died. It was for our sake that He was placed in the tomb. It was for our sin that He "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified dead and buried." His entire journey to the cross has been for you.
It is difficult for us to imagine how the disciples felt that first Saturday after Christ died. They had given up everything to follow Him, and when He died all their hopes died with Him. They were in fear for their lives, lest they too should be tortured to death. But more devastating than fear was their absolute despair. God, they thought, had abandoned them. Their entire faith and meaning in life died with Christ. Today let us try to imagine their fear and despair. Try to feel what they felt when they placed His body in the grave, never, as they thought, to live again. But let us remember that their despair is only a hint of what we would feel if Christ were still in the grave. Their emotional emptiness would be the natural condition of our lives, if Christ were still in the grave today. Our existence would be as if someone had punched us in the stomach, and we were writhing on the floor, unable to breathe, unable to make ourselves do anything because of the uncontrollable pain and spasms. Only it would not be our stomachs or diaphragms that were hit, it would be our souls. But, more horrible than life without meaning is eternity without hope. Eternity spent in forced exile from the Author of all goodness and happiness is eternity spent in abject sorrow and absolute misery, so deep it makes the fires of Hell seem almost insignificant by comparison. As we imagine a world with Christ in the grave, let us see Hell yawning before us, pulling us in without mercy. Let us imagine unfathomable physical suffering that can only be matched by the anguish of the soul. And let us remember, that would be our fate forever, if Christ be not raised.
April 21, 2011
Morning - Psalms 22, 40:1-16, 54, Genesis 22:1-18, John 18
Evening - Psalm 69:1-22, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, 1 Peter 2:11
In addition to the daily readings from the Lectionary, the Prayer Book includes a reading from John 19:1-37, which records the crucifixion of Jesus. The reading from 1 Peter 2 is a fitting commentary on the reading from John. Verses 21-25 especially remind us why Christ suffered. He "bare our sins in His own body."
Both the inward attitude, call it "faith," and the outward actions, call them "faithfulness" are required if a person is going to be truly holy. But we cannot let ourselves assume that the only outward actions required of us are those we would normally call "religious." Religious activities are required, and one who will not take them up willingly needs to seriously look at his heart, for he will likely not find biblical faith there. But holiness also requires certain actions and attitudes toward other people, call them, "neighbors." As Jesus so clearly pointed out, our duty to God means we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and loving our neighbors generally means treating others the way we would like to be treated. No one wants to be mistreated in any way, yet, how often our actions and words offend and hurt is something we cannot know in this life. But God knows. Nor are we talking only about negative things, for love consist not only of "thou shalt nots," but of plenteous "thou shalts." There are enough of these in the Bible to keep us busy reading and learning them for some time, but some of them are compassion, empathy, encouragement, and emotional support. During Lent we have intentionally devoted ourselves to growing in holiness, both inwardly, in the heart, and outwardly, in our actions. Have our efforts included both love for God, and love for our "neighbors?"
April 20, 2011
Morning - Psalm 116, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 13:18
Evening - Psalms 142, 143, Lamentations 3:40-58, John 17
Thursday before Easter Sunday recalls the institution of Holy Communion. Passover began that evening at sunset, and Christ gathered His disciples into the upper room to keep the feast. After the meal Jesus took the bread and cup, saying, "This is My body. This is My blood." Afterwards they went to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, where Jesus was "captured" and led away for His "trials." The trials lasted through the night and into the next morning. Friday took Him to the cross, and by Friday evening He was dead. Thus, we see the awful finality in Jesus' words in 17:1, "the hour is come." The time has come for Him to go to the cross. The hour has come for Him to accomplish that for which He came into the world. His journey to the cross is almost complete.
Many people think growing in holiness means increasing religious activities. It is true that a genuinely holy person will participate in Bible study, prayer, public worship, and other religious things. But these things alone do not make one holy. The people who put Christ to death were religious people. They were leaders in the "Church," but they were far from holy. They honoured God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. Holiness, then, begins with an attitude of Godliness in the heart. This attitude expresses itself in prayer, worship, and the other outward activities of holiness. To have the activities without the inward attitude is like having a body without a soul. Such a body is dead. To have the inward attitude without the outward actions is to have a phony faith. For real faith always moves us to outward actions.
April 19, 2011
Morning - Psalm 94, Zechariah 12:9,10, 13:1,7-9, John 16:1-15
Evening - Psalm 74 Lamentations 3:1, 14-33, John 16:16
Today's readings in the Gospel of John take us through the 16th chapter. Jesus and His disciples are still in the upper room where they have eaten the Passover meal and the Last Supper. Judas has gone (Jn. 13:30), and Christ is using the few precious hours left to teach the disciples. Christ speaks of many things, from the way the world will treat the disciples to the coming of the Holy Spirit, called here, the "Comforter" (17:7). The disciples understand nothing of what He is saying. His crucifixion will almost crush them emotionally and spiritually. Their faith in Christ will die with Him on the cross because they do not understand that He came to die for their sins and to bring them into a Kingdom of the Spirit. But their sorrow will be turned to joy (vs. 20) when they see the resurrected Christ. And they will understand when the Holy Spirit comes.
The Christian's goal is to grow in Christ every day. We have looked at Christian growth during Lent, now we need to ask ourselves how we are doing. Am I really seeking to grow in Christ? Do I see myself making honest attempts to seek and grow in Him? What positive steps am I taking to try to grow in Him? What am I really doing to conquer sin and reform my thoughts and attitudes and habits? These are not easy questions, but they are necessary. Be brave, ask them. Be heroic, answer them.
Due to computer problems I was unable to post today's devotions until now. I hope this has cause no inconvenience. D.C.
Morning - Psalms 6 & 12, Hosea 14, John 15:1-16
Evening - Psalm51, Lamentations 2:10, 13-19, John 15:17
John 15 tells us those who abide in Jesus are like branches growing from a luxuriant vine. Those who do not abide in Him are like dead branches, and are removed and cast into the fire. To abide in Christ means many things, one of the obvious is to draw life from Him. Our physical existence comes from Christ. Remove His sustaining power from us and we cease to exist. But our spiritual existence comes from Christ also. Just as a branch that does not draw its life from the vine gradually withers and dies, a soul that does not draw its life from Christ dies.
A Christian's goal is to live a quiet and holy life every moment of every day. During Lent we have looked at what a holy life is, so as we come to the close of Lent it is natural that we ask ourselves a question; am I really serious about holiness? This is a difficult question to answer because we have a tendency to fool ourselves, and to convince ourselves that we are really doing better than we are. So we need to be brutally honest with ourselves, and we need to base our answers on evidence, rather than illusions. Are you serious about holiness? What in your life shows that you are?
April 17, 2011
Morning - Psalm 71, Isaiah 42:1-7, John 14:1-14
Evening - Psalms 42 & 43, Lamentations 1:7-12, John 14:15-31
Judas has the same problem as Philip (Jn. 14:9). Both knew much about Jesus. They knew Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead, for they had seen that with their own eyes. They knew Jesus was the Messiah, the One of whom Moses and the prophets wrote (Jn. 1:45). They had heard His sermons and seen His miracles. They had walked with Jesus for three years, sharing hardship, ridicule, and danger with Him. Yet They did not know Jesus. They did not know Jesus was God in human form (Jn. 1:1-14). They did not know Jesus was the revelation of the Father (Jn. 1:18). They did not know that if they have "seen" Jesus they have seen the Father, and they did not know that the cross was the manifestation of Christ to the world.
To "see" Jesus is more than to simply view Him with our eyes. It is to see Him with understanding and faith. If we see Jesus in this way, we have seen God. But it is possible to see Him with neither understanding nor faith. To see Him as a good man, a prophet, a saint, but not Immanuel, God with us is to see Him without understanding, for it is to miss the real Jesus. To see Him as God, yet remain unaffected and unchanged by this knowledge is to see Him without faith. Let us not be as Philip and Judas. Let us understand and believe.
Our Ransom and Example
April 17, 2011
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “Mercifully grant that we may…follow the example of His patience.” Both our Epistle and our collect for Palm Sunday remind us that our Lord is both our ransom and our example. We are accustomed to thinking about Christ as our ransom, but not so comfortable talking about Him as our example. Perhaps this is because many today spend so much time talking about Him as our example, they forget, or deny, that He is also our ransom. To them Christ is merely an example of generosity and self-sacrifice, who teaches us to give to the poor, care for the sick, and be kind and generous to people. I am sure you remember the lapel pins that said WWJD? What would Jesus Do? It is important to remember that these are things Christ refused to allow to define Him during His earthly ministry. He refused be defined as a healer, as one who feeds the hungry, or as a social reformer. The miracles by which He fed the hungry and healed the sick were signs and wonders which revealed His deeper and more primary purpose, which was to heal and feed our souls with the Balm of Heaven and the Bread of Everlasting Life. So, they err who say the Church is a social service organization whose primary service is to offer soup kitchens and free clinics and clothes closets.
It seems that a minister of the Gospel of Christ would not need to say such things, but in fact it is necessary to repeat them often, for the “Social Gospel” has become a dominant theme in much of the contemporary church. It seems to me that most of the contemporary church has fallen into two schools of thought, both of which are deviations from Biblical Christian faith. First, found chiefly among the more conservative groups and based upon the trends and ideas of the revivalist movement, is the idea that excitement and experience is the primary focus of Christianity, therefore, the primary mission of the Church is to provide excitement and experiences for people. To such people, the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith is used as a tool to give people experiences, and worship is reduced to psychological/emotional manipulation designed to work people into a mental state of euphoria, which, they are told, is the Spirit of God working in them. The second school of thought, usually found among the more liberal groups, is the “Social Gospel” view that the Church exists primarily to feed the hungry and work for social peace and justice. Recent years has seen a curious blending of these two views into a nebulous kind of “spirituality” loosely combining Christian terminology, with social liberalism or self-help/self-improvement. These churches span the theological spectrum. Some, generally found in the “mainline denominations,” are very liberal and have renounced most of the central doctrines of the Christian faith. Thus, they are left only with a sentimental religious feeling. Others claim to embrace the foundational Christian doctrines, but spend their time and efforts on pop psychology and emotionalism. Neither of these movements really follows Christ as their example. I say that with sorrow, and I prefer not to disparage other people’s religion, but a pastor must show error as well as truth if he is to faithfully serve the people of God.
So let’s talk about Christ as our example. What does the Bible mean when it speaks of this? It means first that Christ is our moral example. Christ lived an absolutely sinless life. Imagine that. He never had an unkind thought. He never acted out of revenge. He never lost His love for people. He even prayed for the Roman soldiers and the religious leaders who tortured and executed Him. He is our perfect example of life lived according to the law of God. I do not say He is merely an example of keeping the letter of the law. He kept the letter perfectly, of course, but He also kept the spirit of the law, and it is that example that I want to emphasise. Think with me about the well known words of 1 Corinthians 13, if I “have not charity, I am nothing.” Charity, love, is the spirit of the law. Not the emotion, but certainly a sense of good will and compassion toward others, a sense born out of the realization of God’s good will and compassion toward you. Christ personifies this sense. He personifies love, and it is because He loves that He kept the letter of the law. Because of His love He did not lie, steal, fornicate, or covet. Because of love He did things that were positive and good. Because He loved, He acted lovingly. So it is not enough to simply refrain from theft, for example, and say that is love. We refrain from theft because we love, and Christ is our great example of love.
Second, Christ is our spiritual example. He teaches us how to walk with God. In the Bible we see Christ as a Man of prayer. He was known to rise early for prayer, and to gently chastise the disciples for their shortcoming in prayer. Christ was faithful in public worship. We are told that attendance in the services of the synagogue was his habit. It was a disposition of His life, and He ordered His life and duties in such as way as to make time for the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day. We find that Christ was a student of the Scriptures. I use the word “student” cautiously here, for Christ is the Word of God. Yet, when He became a Man He willingly laid aside His Divine knowledge so He could live as a real man. So He had to learn to walk and talk, and read, and learn the Bible just as any other person has to do. And He applied Himself to the Scriptures diligently. His knowledge of them was impressive. He could quote them in time of need, as His responses to Satan in His temptation show. But He also knew their meaning. He knew when Satan misused them and twisted them, and He could quote them back to Satan or to the Doctors of Theology in their right context and correct meaning. Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart.” Psalm 1 says the righteous man meditates on the law of God day and night. Jesus is our perfect example of this.
Third, Christ is our example of God’s unbounded love for us. His sacrifice on the cross is the example, or, more properly, the demonstration and revelation of God’s love for you. You will recall the words of Paul in Romans 5:8, “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Recall the words of John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And remember the words of Christ Himself; “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). I think the words of our reading for last night, from John 13, express very well the great love of our great Example.
“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (Jn. 13:1).
There are many in this world whose lives and thoughts make them worthy of our admiration, and even our emulation. Some of them are famous men and women of history. Others are unknown outside of a small circle of friends and family. They are the ones who worked faithfully to provide a home, sat up with sick children night after night, and poured their lives and souls into the welfare of others. They are fathers and mothers and husbands and wives, and sons and daughters, and friends, and, maybe even a minister or two, to whom we owe more than we can ever know. But, wonderful as these are, and thank God for them, there is One who is greater than all of them. His love is greater, His life is more worthy, and He Himself is greater as the artist is greater than the art. He is the one who came from Heaven and went to the cross. He is our great example. May His mind, His nature be in us, and may we follow Him as our great example.
“Almighty and everlasting God, who of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon Him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
~ Collect for Palm Sunday
April 15, 2011
Morning - Psalm 147, Exodus 12:29-39, 42, 1 Corinthians 16:15.
Evening Psalm 145, Jeremiah 33:1-9, 14-16, John 13:1-7
John barely mentions the "Last Supper" (13:2 & 4) but devotes much of His Gospel to the actions and words of Christ after the supper. Again our reading shows the Lord's progress toward the cross by recording Judas' intent to betray Him (13:2). It is important to see that, while it was the devil who put the intent into Judas' heart, it was Christ who allowed the betrayal for the purpose of bringing Himself to the cross. Through Judas, Christ gave Himself over to be crucified.
While our Gospel readings have followed Christ to Jerusalem, our first readings for the mornings of the week have been from Exodus, bringing us to this morning's reading of the Passover. The devastation of Egypt presented in Exodus is like that of a war zone. The stench of death and the sound of mourning covered the land. Among the Hebrews things were different. They were spared from the ruinous effects of the plagues, and delivered from the plague of death. The Egyptians even paid them to leave. They were free. They were going to a new land, to establish their own homes and govern their own lives. We can only imagine their joy. What marked the Hebrews so they were saved from the plague and set free of their bondage? It was the blood of the Lamb. It was no accident that Christ took the cup after the after the Passover meal and made it represent His blood as the Lamb of God. Christ is our Passover Lamb. His blood delivers us from our bondage of the soul and delivers us into the Heavenly "Promised Land."