June 30, 2011

Friday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 40:1-16, Num. 23:27-24:13, 25, Lk. 4:14-30
Evening - Ps. 41, 54, Zech. 8:1-13, Acts 10:24-33

Commentary

God is returned unto Zion (Zech 8:3). This refers not to His actual presence, for God is present in all places and in all times. It refers to His presence in grace. It is His presence in the way we mean when we say, "God be with you, and with thy spirit." He is present to defend, to lead, to bless, and dwell in peace with His people. The time of His wrath has ended. The conquest, the captivity, the scattering of the people of Jerusalem into the surrounding nations is over. God allowed that to happen because of sin in his people. The holy city of Jerusalem, and even the Temple itself, had become unbearable in God's eyes because of the sin of the people. The Temple had been filled with idols. The worship offered in it was vain and insincere. The morality of the people was as that of Gentiles who did not know God. All of this is recorded in the Bible from Genesis to the prophets. So God allowed His people to reap what they had sown and receive what they had sought. They wanted to be as the Gentiles, so God gave them over to the Gentiles, to be conquered and murdered and dominated by them. But all of that is over. God has brought them back to Jerusalem. God has called them to return to the Covenant, to being the people chosen by God to be His unique people among all others. God has returned to them in grace, and calls them to return to Him in faith.

The rest of the reading tells of the restoration and glory of Jerusalem after the Temple is rebuilt. The people will not be killed by invaders, they will live to ripe old age, and the streets will be filled with children. Thus, the Jews are to "Let your hands be strong" (8:9), strong for the work of rebuilding the Temple and the city, but most of all, for rebuilding their faith.

This passage has obvious application to the New Testament Church. God will bring His people into it from many nations and countries. It will be a City of Peace, for the peace that passes all understanding, which is not as the world giveth but as Christ only can give, will dwell in it. God Himself will dwell in this New Zion, and it will be blessed and a blessing. Therefore, we who dwell in this City of God must let our hands be strong. Let them be strong for the work of the Kingdom. Let them be strong in faith. Let them build spiritual things now and for generations yet to come. For we will possess all things.

June 29, 2011

Thursday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 37:26, Num. 23:13-26, Lk. 4:1-13
Evening - Ps. 39, Zech. 7:8, Acts 10:1-23

Commentary

Yesterday's reading in Ezra told us of the completion of the work of rebuilding the Temple. Tonight's reading in Zechariah takes us back to the days before the Temple was built, and a time when the construction had ceased due to military threats by the Persian government. Zechariah and Haggai began their ministries in Jerusalem in the year 520 B.C. Their prophetic message was comprised of two primary points. First, rebuild the Temple. This point came with many encouragements and promises of God, some of which we have looked at in recent commentaries. Second, be the People of God. Return to the Covenant He made with your ancestors. Return to Him. Love and honour Him as you are called to do. This point also came with promises and encouragements. We have looked at some of them already, and will do so again soon. Tonight's reading is about the second point of Zechariah's message; being the people of God. It is about returning to the Covenant relationship with God. It is about being His people and loving Him above all else. God's major concern was not for the Temple. The Temple was not for Him, it was for the Jews. It was a symbol of God's presence and providence with them. It was a symbol of the forgiveness of their sins and their acceptance by God through His grace. It was the place where they worshiped God, and where they met God in worship. In short, the Temple was the symbol of the Covenant in action. The Law specified their Covenant obligations; the Temple was a central part of how they fulfilled those obligations in everyday life.

The Law was a primary aspect of the Covenant. There were three parts of the Law; moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law. The Jews had a tendency to focus on the ceremonial law because it was the easiest to keep. The moral law, summarised in the Ten Commandments, was the hardest to keep. It still is. It is because of our failure to keep the moral law that we need the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to cover our sins and make us acceptable to God. The civil law, because it was simply the moral law codified and applied to everyday life, was also very difficult to keep. It, too, still is. Man's natural inclination toward evil causes us to tend to pervert the civil law and government for selfish gain. If a party can gain control of the government and courts, its members can do what they want without fear of human retribution. It did not take some of the Jews long to devise ways to control the government and courts, and to use them to their own advantage. David's false dealing with Uzziah over Bathsheba, and Ahab and Jezebel's dealings with Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-16) show some of this abuse, but it was not contained to the palace. The writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel frequently mention the abuse of power to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor. Crooked scales, moving property boundaries, and false accusations were well honed and heavily used tools in Judah before the Captivity. But God called the Jews to live in fellowship and respect, even to love one another. He did not create a well fare state; He did create a system of laws, which promoted freedom, justice, and well-being among His people.

Zechariah reminds the people of Jerusalem that their ancestors' abuse of the civil law was a major reason why God allowed the Babylonians to conquer and brutalise them. They were warned by the former prophets (9-10), but they did not listen. "Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law" (7:11). Because they refused to hear God's call to them through the prophets, God did not listen to their call to Him through prayer when the conquering armies came (7:12). He allowed them to be conquered in a brutal war that left vast numbers of their people dead and vast parts of their land ravaged, including Jerusalem and the Temple. Survivors of the war were forced to live in captivity in foreign lands (7:13-14).

We could draw many lessons from this short passage. Law based on the moral law of God provides a sure foundation for liberty and justice, and the nation that has and follows such laws will live in peace and freedom. The natural sin-inclinations of the human heart are one of the main reasons why we need government. It exists to protect the God-given rights and freedoms of the people. Even good government can be perverted and used for evil if people are allowed to control and distort it for personal gain and power. God desires peace and liberty for all people. Failure to live in true liberty and peace is great sin, and God is angry at such people. God is angry at those who pervert justice and use government power for their own gain and goals. On a higher lever, it is God's plan that His Covenant People live in mutual respect and love according to His moral law. There is to be a fellowship and unity among us based upon our love for God and one another. We cannot expect the world and its kingdoms to live up to this standard very well. But the Church must.

June 28, 2011

Wednesday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 37:1-24, Num. 22:41-23:12, Lk. 3:1-22
Evening - Ps. 34, Ezra 6:13-18, Acts 9:32

Commentary

At long last the Temple is completed. God has brought His people back to their homeland, and enabled them to rebuild the Temple. This means the sins which brought His anger and caused their captivity are forgiven, and they are restored to God's favour. This is all accomplished by grace. It was God alone who brought them out of Babylon, and God alone who gave them zeal to build the Temple and persevere in its construction though enemies tried to stop their work. God's wonderful mercy and unstoppable providence are clearly seen in this passage. And if God accomplished His promises to the Jews with such power and faithfulness, we can trust Him to accomplish what He has promised us in Christ. We may meet with opposition, and our faith may be as weak as that of the Jews in this passage, but God will bring His work in us to completion by His own power. He cannot fail.

The people did their work with great joy. This includes not only the rebuilding of the Temple, but also its dedication and services. We may also do our service unto God with joy. Worship, prayer, the services of the Church, and the reading of the Scriptures can be a source of great joy to us. Let them not become burdens we must force ourselves to bear. Let them be meat and drink to our souls, as streams in the desert. "Let us learn to welcome holy ordinances with joy and attend on them with pleasure. Let us serve the Lord with gladness. Whatever we dedicate to God, let it be done with joy" (Matthew Henry)

June 27, 2011

Tuesday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 32, Num. 22:15-21, 36-40, Lk. 2:41
Evening - Ps. 33, Ezra 6:1-12, Acts 9:20-31

Commentary

Ezra is a book of history. Therefore, a look at what has transpired prior to today's reading in chapter 6, will greatly help us understand its message. Chapter 1 records the decree of Cyrus releasing the Jews from captivity in Babylon. In 536 B.C. the first of several groups of Jews left Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem. Almost immediately they attempted to rebuild the Temple, which had been plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. In chapter 4, adversaries of Judah ask to be allowed to help with the Temple, but are refused. The adversaries were descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with Gentiles. They had also diluted their faith with pagan ideas and worship. On the surface their appeal to help rebuild the Temple appears good, and the rejection of their offer by the Jews (Ez. 4:2) seems cruel and arrogant. But perhaps the Jews understood that watered down, adulterated religion had to be rejected, and to allow its practitioners to help rebuild the Temple would be to invite their erroneous faith into it when completed. It was just that kind of religious compromise that brought the judgment of God upon the Jews in the first place, and they had no intention of returning to it at that time.

Rather than repenting of their sin and purging themselves of false religion, the adversaries began to make trouble for the Jews (4:4-6), even making false accusations to the king that the Jews were preparing to mount a military attack on Persia (4:8-16). Believing the accusation to be true, the Persians sent an army to Jerusalem to stop the rebuilding of the Temple by force of arms (4:23-24).

The Jews responded with an appeal to the king. By this time, Cyrus was dead and Darius the Mede ruled the empire (5:5-17). Darius searched his records and found the decree of Cyrus, which is restated in our reading for today, Ezra 6:1-12.

A major point of this passage is the need for truth in religion. The Jews could have welcomed the compromised faith into their midst. Their presence would have made the work easier, the city wealthier, and the congregation larger. Instead, the Jews refused to compromise. Why? The message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel told them the Babylonian Captivity was the judgment of God for compromising the faith. They did not want to endure such suffering again, so, for a while, they maintained the pure faith. The primary point of this passage is the great, irresistible power of God. God brings His work to completion in His own way and time. He does not need the wealth of people, or great numbers of them to accomplish His will. A small band of faithful believers is much more valuable to Him than great crowds who have compromised the truth. He raises up empires at His pleasure, and casts them down when He wills. Empires are no more of a hindrance to Him than Judas was to our Saviour.

June 26, 2011

Monday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 28, Num 22:2-14, Luke 2:21-40
Evening - Ps. 31, Ezra 5:1-2, 6-17, Acts 9:1-19

Commentary

As noted in the commentary for Monday after Trinity Sunday, the first seven chapters of the book of Ezra give a brief history of the Jews who returned from Babylon in 536 B.C. Forced by military action to stop work on the new Temple, the work languished, as did the zeal of the Jewish people (4:23-24). The Lord raised up prophets to call them back to their work. It is important to note here that their work was not to simply build a new Temple or re-instate the sacrificial system. Their work was to be the Covenant People of God, and to love Him above all else. The Temple was a symbol of this. It was the symbol of His presence with them. The sacrifices offered there were symbols of their devotion to Him. They also symbolised the coming of the Messiah, whose sacrifice would actually take away their sins. It was the place where God met His people, where He made them whole and clean, where He forgave their sins, and where they came to be in the presence of God. So the Temple was an important place and it served an important function in Jerusalem. It was the focal point of the Covenant, and to be forced to stop rebuilding it was a serious blow to the Jewish people.

Chapter 5 records the ministries of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, which we have been reading for the past few days. The result of their ministry was the renewed determination of the governor and the High Priest to build the Temple (5:2). Chapter 5:6-17 is a copy of the letter sent by the Jews in Jerusalem to the king of Persia explaining their loyalty to him and asking him to search his records for the decree of Cyrus allowing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

If the Temple was the focal point and primary symbol of the Covenant of God, the zeal to rebuild it was the zeal to be God's Covenant People. The objective was not simply to rebuild an object of national pride, or to build a religious building where they could do religious things. The intention, on their part was to return to their calling to be the people of God. It was this intention that God wanted to keep alive in their collective hearts. It was their departure from the Covenant that brought the wrath of God upon them in 586. It was their dilution of the faith, along with their lack of sincerity that led them into other sins and caused God to allow the Babylonians to conquer them. The Babylonian Captivity was punishment for breaking the Covenant and rebelling against God. Now that they were back in Jerusalem, God wanted them to return to the Covenant again. Thus, the Temple, as the focal point of their Covenant keeping, must be rebuilt.

Sermon for First Sunday after Trinity

The Cost of Not Following Christ
Luke 16:19
First Sunday after Trinity
June 26, 2011

Why don't people live for God? Because it costs too much. I'm not talking about money. Living for Christ costs something much more valuable than money. I'm talking about time, interest, and devotion. I'm talking about a way of life that can be described as dwelling in Christ, and most people simply aren't willing to pay the price for that kind of life. They know it means they will have to sacrifice some things, and do other things, which they also consider a sacrifice, to live the way they know they should. They are right about one thing, it costs a lot to follow Christ, but it costs a lot more not to.

This entire creation was made for one purpose to show the glory of God. It was created for His glory. It exists for His glory. It will end for His glory. It was not created for our benefit. It does not exist for our pleasure. It, and we, exist for God. The Bible tells us the purpose for which God created it, and the goal toward which He is directing it. There are many statements of this purpose in the Bible, and one that I quote often is found in Ephesians 1:9-10:

"Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself; that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him."

God created all things to bring them together in Christ. He created them to be a Kingdom for Christ. He created us to love Him with all our hearts and minds and souls and strength. That's why we exist. Our purpose is to glorify God. From the very beginning, God was moving His creation toward this goal. But something happened along the way. Something went wrong. Man lost his first love. I don't mean we have lost all feelings for God. Obviously many have great feelings for Him, but feelings are not the same as love. Just as it is possible to have great knowledge about God, yet not love Him, it is also possible to have great feelings about God and for God, and yet not love Him. I say with much sadness that many who attend worship services have great feelings for God, but no love for Him. In sin we have lost our first love, we have lost our love for God. And in His place we have loved ourselves. We have loved our own pleasures, and interests, and comforts, and lives and selves above God. God created all things to bring them together under Christ, but in sin we attempt to bring as much as we can together under ourselves.

The rich man of our reading in Luke is an example of this. In a very real way, this rich man is all of us, each one of us. He is a living picture of a person in love with himself. He is wildly self indulgent. He caters to his fleshly lusts. He knows nothing of self-discipline, or compassion, of stewardship in time or resources or life itself. He knows nothing of God. He knows about God., but he does not know God. The rich man is his own god, and, like the true God, he is a jealous god and will not share his glory with another. In a day when most people wore uncolored clothing, he wore clothing dyed with a particularly expensive purple coloring. In a day when most people wore plain woolen clothing, he wore fine linen. In a day when most people went to bed hungry he fared sumptuously and expensively every day. This man indulged himself. His life was all about himself.

The Bible tells us that in death there was a great gulf between the rich man and Abraham's bosom, which is a symbol for Heaven and the presence of God. But that gulf was there long before the man died and went to hell. That gulf was there all through the man's life, and he built it. He chose it. Every day he dug it a little deeper. Every time he refused God and chose himself he made it a little wider. Every time he ignored the fellowship of the Church, every time he rejected the testimony of Scripture, and every time he quenched the urging of the Holy Spirit, he made the gulf bigger and deeper and harder to cross.

Listen please because this is important. There is a time of opportunity when the Spirit of God knocks on your door and calls you to come to Him, and calls you to trust in Christ as your Lord and Saviour and invites you to become His sons and daughters and citizens of Heaven and live in the comfort of the presence of God forever. But there is a day when a heart can grow so calloused it cannot turn to God. We all know that hearing a sound repeatedly can reduce our ability to hear it at all. That can happen to our spiritual ears as well as our physical ears. I do not mean that God stops calling. There is a general call of God that goes out to all people and continues until the end of time. This call is a general invitation to come to Christ, to let Him wash away your sins, and to return you to your first love and purpose in life, the only one that can satisfy your heart because it is what you were made for. God won't stop calling, but you can stop listening, and eventually, you won't hear it anymore. I think the man in our reading stopped listening, and just didn't hear the call anymore. There was a time when he did hear it, but he was unwilling to heed it because he was afraid it might cost him something. And he ignored it so long he just stopped hearing it.

The Bible tells the story of another rich man, who came to Jesus and asked how he could inherit eternal life. He was not asking how to live forever, but how to live in God's plan and be a part of God's purpose now and forever. Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor, and follow Him. It is important to know Jesus is not telling us to sell everything and give the money away. The Church in Jerusalem tried that and the result was poverty. Jesus means we are to love God much more than we love things. Jesus means our hearts belong to Him, and we are to trust Him in all things, sickness, health, poverty, riches, life, or death. But this man would not do it. He loved his possession more than God, which means he loved himself and his desires more than he loved God. And he went away from Christ and never came back.

I think there are people in the same situation today. They hear the call of God, but they resist it, because they're afraid it might cost too much to heed it. It might require a different use of time, a wiser use of money, a different way of thinking about things. They may have to give up some things, and they may have to take up some other things, and they just don't want to do it. But most of all, they rightly fear, it will cost them their "deity." They are afraid that heeding the call of God will require them to stop being their own gods. They are afraid it will require them to enthrone the Living God as God of them. And they are right.

So this thing about being a Christian is not just about being forgiven and going to Heaven. It's not even just about living a religious life and doing religious things. It is about being restored to your first love. It is about being restored to God's purpose for your life. It is about living to the praise and glory of God. The rich man in our text found out it costs a lot to follow Christ, but it costs a lot more not to.

June 24, 2011

Saturday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 13, 14, Num. 20:14, Lk. 1:67
Evening - Ps. 29, 30, Zech. 2, Acts, 8:26

Commentary

Why is the man measuring Jerusalem? To show its dimensions, meaning, to show that it has dimensions. It has boundaries, breadth and length (Zech. 2:1-2). There is a point where Jerusalem begins, and a point where it ends. But the day will come when its walls will not be able to contain its people and goods (2:4). Its wall will be a wall of fire, not of stones, a living wall of God Himself (2:5). God will dwell in it (2:10), and people of many nations will be joined to it(2:11).

These promises refer to the Jews in 520 B.C. Their feeble efforts and the seemingly plain and small Temple they build seem as nothing compared to the old one. Their city, small, weak, and impoverished, seems to them as a poor imitation of the old Jerusalem. But God has great things in store for them. The Temple of God will be great in all the earth, and the city of Jerusalem will be a city that cannot be contained by any wall but the presence of God. These promises were fulfilled in part by the rebuilding of the Temple and the city, and by the return to Jerusalem of Jews who had been scattered among many peoples and many nations. But this is only a partial fulfillment. The real fulfillment is found in Christ and His Church.

Few Old Testament passages speak so clearly of the Church of Christ in the New Testament. The Church, which is the New Jerusalem, is a city encompassing multitudes of many nations. Jews and Gentiles alike are welcomed into it. Walls cannot contain its multitudes. God, by His Spirit, dwells in it.

Let all flesh be silent before the Lord; "for He is raised up out of His holy habitation."

June 23, 2011

Friday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 10, Num. 20:14, Lk. 1:67
Evening - Ps.6, 26, Zech 1:7-17, Acts 8:5-25
Commentary

Zechariah is another of those short books at the end of the Old Testament called the Minor Prophets. Though not in the scheduled reading for tonight, Zech 1:1 tells us he began his ministry in the second year of Darius. Thus, we know that Zechariah and Haggai began their work in the same year, 520 B.C. (Hag. 1:1). Looking at the first verses of both books we see their ministries began within two months of each other. Naturally, their messages compliment one another. Both were concerned to get the new Temple built. Haggai told the people it was wrong for them to work so hard to establish their own houses, yet neglect the House of God. Zechariah was determined to show why they were willing to neglect the House of God. It was because their hearts were not with God. They were starting to fall into the ways of their fathers (1:3-4). They were beginning to be content with an outward show of religion and a general intellectual assent to the being of God as revealed in Scripture. They were willing to live in general conformity with the moral and ceremonial law of God, but they lacked a sense of belonging to God, of being His people, of being loved by Him and of loving Him back with all their heart and soul and might (Dt:6:4-5). Thus, they really loved themselves above God, so they worked for their own advancement, and neglected the things of God.

We often see the same thing in professed believers today. They give mental assent to the doctrines and moral values of the Bible. They live decent lives. They believe the things Christian people are supposed to believe. But these things are held as something outside of them. They are like the scenery through which a train passes, when they ought to be the fire that drives the locomotive. Love for God ought to be the driving force of life; that one Thing that gives the direction and purpose to every other aspect of our being. Mankind lost that love for God when we fell into sin. We rejected God, and we chose to love ourselves more than we loved Him. Christ died to free us from that kind of self love, for it is destructive and deadly to everything it touches. And Christ died to return us to the spiritual condition of loving God first of all and with our all. Faith that does not move a person in that direction is not faith at all by Biblical standards. It is a form of Godliness which denies the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:4-5). Thus, God, through Zechariah, urges and beseeches the people to be not like their fathers in their sin.

Three months after the message of Zechariah 1:1-6 was given, the Lord spoke again to Zechariah (1:7). This word came in a vision of a Man among the myrtle trees receiving a report from riders who have returned from walking to and fro through the earth (1:10). The Man is Christ Jesus, and the riders report that the earth is at rest. There is peace in the Persian Empire. Persia is strong and secure, and there is none to disturb her rest (1:11). But all is not well, for the Lord Himself is displeased with the people of Persia. They are the heirs of the Babylonians who attacked and brutalised the Jews. Even now they trouble the Jews and prevent them from building the Temple of God. In this they have inflicted more sorrow upon the Jews than God intended (1:15). The Babylonian Captivity was God's will. He allowed it to chasten the Jews for their sin, to humble them, to lead them to depend upon Him again. In 520 the time of chastisement is over, yet the Gentiles will not cease their troubling of the Jews. So God assures the Jews He is with them again in mercy (1:16). Jerusalem, He promises, will prosper, along with God's people around the world (1:17). This promise has an immediate meaning to the Jews in Jerusalem. They did prosper, and the Temple of God was rebuilt. But its primary meaning is fulfilled in Christ and His Church. Through Christ the House of God was built in Jerusalem, and through His House, He has gathered people into it around the world. In Christ He has blessed the New Jerusalem with prosperity and posterity the frightened inhabitants could scarcely imagine when Zechariah spoke these words.

June 22, 2011

Thursday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 9, Num. 20:1-13, Lk. 1:57-66
Evening - Ps. 27, Haggai 2:1-9, Acts 7:54-8:4

Commentary

The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed when Babylon sacked the city in 586 B.C.
That Temple is often called Solomon's Temple because it was built while he was king of Israel, and it was largely financed by him through a system of forced labour and foreign trade that made Solomon fabulously wealthy. The Temple reflected his wealth. In Haggai's day things were different. Jerusalem was in ruins and Judah was in poverty. Even with the funds given by Cyrus, the Temple would be a poor reflection of the glory of Solomon's Temple (Hag. 2:3).

Or would it? Perhaps the real glory of the Temple cannot be found in its dimensions or ornaments. Perhaps the Temple's real glory is measured by other things, like the faith of the people, obedience to God's law, and Scriptural worship. Maybe the real glory of the Temple is something even greater than that; maybe it is something that cannot be given or removed by people. Maybe it is the glory of God dwelling in it that is its true glory. This is the point God is making through the prophet Haggai. And God intends to make His Temple more glorious than the people of Jerusalem in 520 B. C. could imagine. In a little while (2:6) God was going to shake the nations, and the Desire of Nations would come, and God would fill the Temple with His glory (2:7). The Desire of Nations is Christ. He filled the Temple with glory when He was taken there as a young child, when He later confounded the Doctors at Passover, and when He taught the people there during His ministry. He filled it with glory when He accomplished the salvation it could only foreshadow, and when He gave Himself as the Lamb of God which alone is able to take away sins. He filled it with glory when, in the true Holy of Holies in Heaven, He offered the true sacrifice. He filled it with glory when He rose from the grave and ascended into the true Temple of God. He fills it with glory now in the days of His new Temple, the Church. In the Church He brings the nations into His Kingdom, proclaims His Word, dwells by His Spirit, and gives the kind of peace a Temple built by human hands could never give.

June 21, 2011

Wedesday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 7, Num. 17:1-11, Lk. 1:39-56
Evening - Ps. 25, Haggai 1:1-8, 12-15, Acts 7:35-53

Commentary

The Prophet Haggai lived and ministered in Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonian Captivity. His work began in the second year of Darius, who ruled the Empire from 522-486 B.C. So Haggai began his ministry around the year 520. His message is that the Temple of the Lord must be rebuilt. Nearly leveled in the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem, Cyrus of Persia gave permission and funds to rebuild it, yet fourteen years after their release from Babylon, only the Temple's foundations have been laid.

Haggai asks the Jews why they work diligently on their own houses, yet let the House of God lie waste (Hag. 1:4). Applying this to the modern situation is easy. How fervently we see people, maybe even our own selves, building their own "houses" and neglecting the House of God. Our work, our amusements, our prosperity, our comfort, and our pleasure consume our energy and time, while day after day the Bible and Christian life are neglected. Sundays find us indulging our own pleasures while the House of God is ignored.

Haggai reminds all people that God is not blind to this, nor does He bless it. He tells the Jews their neglect of God is the reason they have sown much to the flesh (see Gal. 6:7-8) but have reaped little harvest for their labours. In the same way, people today who put their efforts into the things of the world, to the neglect of the things of God, will reap a bitter harvest. There is nothing in this world that can give happiness and purpose to life. Worldly things may give pleasure for the moment, but it fades quickly. Only God remains forever, and only those who find their happiness in Him will be truly happy, now, and for eternity.

The Jews heard the words of Haggai and repented. The Lord stirred up their hearts and they obeyed (1:12-15). Through much work, sacrifice, and, even danger, the Temple was completed. Those in our own age who have neglected the House of God will also expend much effort, sacrifice, and no small amount of spiritual danger as they try to re-establish Godly habits of life and worship. But the greatest danger of all is failure to obey. "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8).

P.S. My apologies for putting next Tuesday's readings in yesterday's Lectionary. Hope it caused no confusion.

June 20, 2011

Tuesday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 32, Num. 22:15-21, 36-40, Lk. 2:41
Evening - Ps. 33, Ezra 6:1-12, Acts 9:20-31

Commentary

Ezra is a book of history. Therefore, a look at what has transpired between yesterday's reading in Ezra 1, and today's reading in chapter 6, will greatly help us understand its message. Chapter 1 records the decree of Cyrus releasing the Jews from captivity in Babylon. In 536 B.C. the first of several groups of Jews left Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem. Almost immediately they attempted to rebuild the Temple, which had been plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. In chapter 4, adversaries of Judah ask to be allowed to help with the Temple, but are refused. The adversaries were descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with Gentiles. They had also diluted their faith with pagan ideas and worship. On the surface their appeal to help rebuild the Temple appears good, and the rejection of their offer by the Jews (Ez. 4:2) seems cruel and arrogant. But perhaps the Jews understood that watered down, adulterated religion had to be rejected, and to allow its practitioners to help rebuild the Temple would be to invite their erroneous faith into it when completed. It was just that kind of religious compromise that brought the judgment of God upon the Jews in the first place, and they had no intention of returning to it at that time.

Rather than repenting of their sin and purging themselves of false religion, the adversaries began to make trouble for the Jews (4:4-6), even making false accusations to the king that the Jews were preparing to mount a military attack on Persia (4:8-16). Believing the accusation to be true, the Persians sent an army to Jerusalem to stop the rebuilding of the Temple by force of arms (4:23-24).

The Jews responded with an appeal to the king. By this time, Cyrus was dead and Darius the Mede ruled the empire (5:5-17). Darius searched his records and found the decree of Cyrus, which is restated in our reading for today, Ezra 6:1-12.

A major point of this passage is the need for truth in religion. The Jews could have welcomed the compromised faith into their midst. Their presence would have made the work easier, the city wealthier, and the congregation larger. Instead, the Jews refused to compromise. Why? The message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel told them the Babylonian Captivity was the judgment of God for compromising the faith. They did not want to endure such suffering again, so, for a while, they maintained the pure faith. The primary point of this passage is the great, irresistible power of God. God brings His work to completion in His own way and time. He does not need the wealth of people, or great numbers of them to accomplish His will. A small band of faithful believers is much more valuable to Him than great crowds who have compromised the truth. He raises up empires at His pleasure, and casts them down when He wills. Empires are no more of a hindrance to Him than Judas was to our Saviour.

June 19, 2011

Monday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 3, Num. 16:1-14, Luke 1:1-25
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Ezra 1:1-8, Acts 7:1-16

Commentary

The book of Ezra is part of a section of the Old Testament that tells the
history of Israel from creation to the return to Jerusalem and rededication to
the covenant of God after the Babylonian Captivity. Genesis through Esther
comprise this history, being followed in the Bible by the books, often called,
Wisdom Literature, consisting of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song
of Solomon. The Wisdom Literature is followed by the Prophets, beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi

Like all Scripture, Ezra is organised around the ideas it intends to teach, and
the first part, consisting of chapters 1-7 gives a short history of the Jews
since the day Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home
and rebuild the Temple. You will remember that Israel divided into two nations
after the death of Solomon. One nation, made up of the ten northern tribes,
retained the name Israel. The second nation consisted of the tribes of Benjamin
and Judah, and was known as Judah. Israel suffered social and religious
decline, and, in 605 B.C., was defeated in the devastating battle of Carchemish.
The Israelites then largely adopted the ways and religions of their Gentile
conquerors, and virtually lost their identity as the people of God. In the New
Testament they are known as Samaritans. The Judeans, later known as "Jews," also
experienced decline, and were conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. They
were forced to leave their homes and live in Babylon, thus, this era is known as
the Babylonian Captivity. In 538, Cyrus of Persia, having conquered the
declining Babylonian Empire, began a goodwill campaign with those nations the
Babylonians had relocated to Babylon. He allowed them to return to their
homelands, even giving them financial and military aid. This had the desired
effect of promoting loyalty toward him, for the newly freed peoples considered
Persia their liberator rather than their conqueror. Ezra 1:1-4 records Cyrus'
degree to the Jews, and verses 5-11 records the Jews' return to Jerusalem, which
occurred in 536. Thus we see the hand of Providence guiding history and
accomplishing the purpose of God. The point of this passage is not that Cyrus
was a good ruler. It is not an object lesson in the principles of good
leadership. It is that God is still working with His people to accomplish His
purpose of Redemption. He created this world for the purpose of bringing all
things together in Christ. He is building His Kingdom, the Bride of Christ, and
nothing can stop His progress. Yes, there are other messages here. The
enduring mercy of God, His unstoppable power to save, conversion, repentance,
and faith, and leaders can certainly profit from the example of Cyrus. But the
pervading message here is the unstoppable progress of the purpose of God. He
will accomplish the purpose for which He created this world and called the Jews.
He will not fail.

June 18, 2011

Ember Saturday in Whitsunweek

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 19, Micah 3:5-8, 2 Tim 1:1-14
Evening - Ps. 111,113, Num. 6:22, 2 Cor. 13:5

Commentary

Second Timothy was written from a Roman prison, probably in the autumn of the year 68 A.D. Knowing he would soon give his life in the service of Christ, the Apostle Paul wanted to contact and encourage his friend, student, and fellow servant of Christ, Timothy. Timothy has served his Saviour well, but Paul has always been there to counsel and help him. When Paul is gone, Timothy will stand alone in a time of increasing Roman opposition and persecution. As Paul wrote this epistle, Peter was dead, having been executed by the civil authorities in Rome. John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he had written the book of Revelation about two years earlier. Many Christians had suffered imprisonment or death for the cause of Christ, while others had deserted the faith rather than face persecution. Paul mentions Phygelus and Hermogenes among many in Asia who had turned away from him, meaning, away from the Gospel he preached (2 Tim. 1:15).

It is worth noting that Phygelus, Hermogenes, and the others Paul mentions were from Asia. In Paul's time "Asia" did not refer to a continent. It referred only to the area later called Asia Minor, and known today as Turkey. This is the area in which the seven churches of Revelation 1-3 were located, and it was an area of intense persecution. So the Roman oppression of the Church was increasing at the time, and one of Paul's intentions this letter to Timothy was to encourage him not to fear the opposition (1:7) and to stand fast in the faith, even in the face of persecution and affliction (1:8).

The Church was also under another form of attack. This was an attack far more serious and dangerous than Roman persecution; this was an attack on the Gospel itself. Heresies abounded in the church of that era, most of them growing out of attempts to accommodate the doctrines and practices of the Church to the pagan culture and religions of Rome. Thus Timothy is encouraged to hold fast to the form of sound words he learned from Paul (1:13). We should not allow ourselves to think "form" refers only to a "resemblance," as though the teaching of Timothy (and ourselves) need only resemble that of Paul. Paul is telling Timothy to hold fast the substance of Paul's teaching and also to his expression of it, including the very words of Paul. This should not surprise us, for if Paul received his message from Christ, he would naturally want that message preserved word-for-word. In our day we are seeing a widespread abandonment of the tried and true ways of expressing the Christian faith, and a corresponding adoption of the idea that we must continually recast the Christian faith into today's language and cultural patterns. This view has become dear to the hearts of the majority of contemporary churches, yet it seems to be in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture as found in 2 Timothy 1:13-14. A change in the expression of the faith necessarily involves a change in the substance of the faith. How many of our errors in theology and practice might have been avoided if we had simply held fast to both the substance and the expression of the faith once delivered? On this Ember Day, let us remember that the faith is non-negotiable, and let us beseech God to enable us to hold fast the "form of sound words."

June 16, 2011

Ember Friday in Whitsunweek

Ember Friday in Whitsunweek

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 122, 125, Is. 61:1-9, 2 Cor. 3
Evening - Ps. 43, 134, Is. 52:1-10

Commentary

Ember Days are times set aside to beseech our merciful Father to call labourers to fields white with harvest. It is no disservice to the intent of the day if we also pray God to bless those already serving in the ministry, and I encourage all reading these words to do so.

Our Scripture readings were chosen for their relevance to this special time of prayer. Isaiah 61 has long been a favourite text for ordination sermons, and was used by our Lord to explain His own work and ministry. He is the Good Tidings. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the means by which our broken hearts are bound, our captivity becomes freedom, and the year of the Lord and day of vengeance are accomplished. On Pentecost the time of fulfillment has come upon us. The promises become reality, and shadows are replaced with Light.

In this "Year of the Lord" He continues His ministry through the Church, especially through men called, equipped, and sent into a unique ministry in the Word and sacraments. 2 Corinthians 3 shows that it is this calling of God and empowering of His Spirit which makes a man a true minister, and only those who continue in the truth have any right to the office.

This has several implications. First, it is not man, but God who makes a man a minister (2 Cor. 3:3-6). I say this because we live in a time when many take up holy orders who are clearly unqualified and not called to the ministry. Many don't even want to be ministers in the Biblical sense. They want to be social workers, activities directors, CEOs, life coaches, philosophers, and agents of change who cast away what Bishop Ryle called "The Old Paths" and usher in their own view of what God ought to do and want and receive. Second, Biblical fidelity is the true test of a minister. A big congregation is no proof of God's calling or blessing. Sadly, more people love to have their ears tickled than hear the Word and worship God Biblically. University and seminary degrees are no proof of calling. Many with walls papered with diplomas, lack even the most basic knowledge of God. "Ordination" is no proof of calling. Many have been ordained by a church who have never been ordained by God. Apostolic Succession is no proof of calling. I rejoice that, as a bishop in the Anglican Orthodox Church, my orders can be traced back to Peter and James. But that same claim can be made by many others, who, based on Biblical standards, should leave the pulpit and take up other work. Presiding Bishop Ogles is fond of reminding his clergy that our true Apostolic Succession is doctrinal, and without doctrinal succession our ministry is invalid. Third, the church must evaluate her ministers by their faithfulness, not their personalities. There is a sense in which many congregations are really personality cults. Remove the personality and charisma of the central figure (the "preacher") and the congregation has nothing to hold it together.

If these things are true, we should be devoting much time to prayer for the Church and her ministers. God grant that we may so do.

June 15, 2011

Thursday in Whitsunweek

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 48, Is. 44:1-8, 21-23, Gal. 5:16-25
Evening - Ps. 18:1-20, Rev. 6, Acts 5:29

Commentary

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are familiar themes in literature, and have received much attention from Bible commentators. Recent commentators have interpreted them as the bearers of the time of wrath after the rapture of the Church, but a much older view sees them as symbols of the Roman army's siege and conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The white horse symbolises the pomp and pride of the Romans gloating over their conquest. The red horse is war unleashed upon Jews throughout the Empire, especially Jerusalem. The black horse is the famine that would grip Jerusalem during the Roman siege. The pale horse is death. More than 1.3 million Jews died under Roman hands in this war, which, tragically, could have easily been averted. It was fought for two reasons. First, the Jews refused to live peacefully under Roman rule. The Romans would have gladly allowed the Jews to live in peace. But the Jews wanted the Romans out and Israel free. Much of their desire was political, and some of it was pure bigotry, but many truly wanted the Roman idolatry out of the Holy City. Rebellions were frequent and costly until the Romans finally tired of them and set out to crush the Jews forever. Second, the Romans were the avenging hand of God for the persecution of the Church. It was the Jews who began and encouraged the persecution and murder of Christians. We need only remember the exploits of Saul of Tarsus to understand this. In Revelation chapters 4-11 God brings the rebellious Jews to their knees in tragic and costly conquest and in fulfillment of the words of Christ in Matthew 24.

June 14, 2011

Ember Day in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 132, Rev. 4:1-6, 1 Cor. 2
Evening - Ps. 84, Rev. 4:6-11, Acts 5:12-28

Commentary

From the tribulations of the Church on earth the book of Revelation takes us to the throne of Heaven. The difference is tremendous. Here we see God calm and in control of all things. His enemies on earth plan to destroy His Church and establish their own kingdom. But their rants are completely ineffectual. God is not moved. He knows their plots are doomed to failure and He is able to deliver His people.

Why does the book of Revelation show this? Because the persecuted Christians need to see that the attacks of the wicked cannot hurt God or destroy His ability to accomplish His purpose and redeem His people.

This is a message the world desperately needs to hear. Instead of searching this chapter for the "Rapture" let us hear its real message that God is in complete control. He will bring His will into reality, and no earthly or supernatural power can stop Him. He even uses them as it suits His purpose, and easily disposes of them when it suits His purpose. Our God is strong to save. He is unassailable Therefore, let us keep the faith.

June 13, 2011

Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 148, Ezek. 36:22-28, 1 Cor. 12:1-13
Evening - Ps. 145, Num. 11:6-17, 24-30, Acts 4:23

Commentary

The Corinthian Church was a troubled church. It was divided and contentious (1:11), carnal, which means the people were still primarily oriented toward the world and their own desires (3:1), proud (4:10 & 18), tolerant of unrepentant sin (5:1), heretical (11:19) and so disunited to God and each other the members went to civil court to settle their disputes (6:1).

In addition, their worship services were horrendous displays of hypocrisy and self-aggrandisement (11:18-34). It is their worship, or, rather, their lack of it, that Paul addresses in our reading for this morning. Heretical worship is the natural result of heretical doctrine, and heretical doctrine abounded in Corinth. The Corinthians were the early leaders in the movement to adapt Christian faith and worship to the surrounding culture. Whether this was done as an intentional attempt to make Christianity more attractive to the pagans, or it was simply that the Corinthian Christians had not fully repented of their pagan past is not known, nor does it really matter. The end result is the same either way, and serves as an important reminder to us today. We cannot cling to our pre-Christain views and practices, and still remain faithful to Christ. We cannot incorporate the practices and values of the world into the Church, and still have pure doctrine and practice. Any attempt to do so makes us just like so many others who have lefy the Church of Jesus Christ to join The Church of the Accommodation. 1 and 2 Corinthians are not commendations of practices to be emulated, but chastisements of mistakes and sins to be avoided. Corinthians 12 addresses the unifying and edifying purpose of spiritual gifts, making the point that things which do not unify and edify are not spiritual gifts, but manifestations of the carnal spirit which pervaded the Church in Corinth. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to come back together in Christ, and work for the glory of God and the edification of the Church as God calls and enables them.

Today people read this passage and become side-tracked by questions about tongues and spiritual gifts. But these are not the message of this chapter. The message is that no single gift is superior to another, nor do all have the same gifts (12:4 & 10). Tongues, therefore, whatever their nature may have been, were never for every Christian. I believe true tongues were known languages the speaker did not understand, but was supernaturally enabled to speak. Thus, the Corinthian tongues were slightly different from the tongues in Acts, but had the same purpose. I do not believe they were ecstatic utterances. I also believe the Corinthians did not know this, thus they were trying to induce themselves, and others, to have ecstatic experiences in which they babbled meaningless sounds, calling them the work of the Spirit. Such experiences were common among the pagans in Corinth, and the Christians wanted them too. Corinthian "Christians" who had such experiences considered themselves superior to those who did not. This is further proof that their "tongues" were bogus. One of the reasons Paul wrote 1 Corinthians was to correct their false view of tongues and gifts, thereby restoring Biblical worship in the Church.

June 12, 2011

Monday in Whitsun Week

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.139, Rev. 1:17-20, 1 Cor. 3:9-17
Evening - Ps. 105, Jer. 31:31-34, Acts 4:13-22

Commentary

Those having the 1928 Book of Common Prayer have probably noticed the difference between its Lectionary and the one at the top of this page. The Prayer Book Lectionary calls for a reading from the Apocryphal book of Wisdom, while this one replaces it with a reading from Revelation. Why is this? The AOC does not place the Apocrypha on equal standing with Holy Scripture. Scripture is given by the inspiration of God while the Apocrypha consists of works by devout people who were not inspired. Thus the Apocryphal books may be read as commentaries and devotionals, but not as the Word of God. It has long been my practice to read only Scripture in the daily lessons, so I have taken it upon myself to change the non-Scriptural reading in Wisdom to the Scriptural reading in Revelation.

Today's passage shows the risen Christ in the midst of the seven churches. These are not symbols of seven ages of the Church, or the Church in different eras of time. They are seven specific and real churches located in the area known as Asia Minor in the time frame of the middle of the first century A.D. These churches, with others throughout the Roman Empire, were in the beginning of a time which the Bible calls the tribulation (Rev. 1:9). It was a time of blood. Many would leave the faith, and many more would consider leaving it. Revelation was written to these churches in their time to prepare them for what was coming and to encourage them to stand firm in the faith at all costs.

In the coming chapters our Lord addresses each church with a message that affirms their faith, and also admonishes them for their shortcomings. Obviously our Lord is trying to prepare them for that great Day when they stand before God to give an account of their lives and their works. But there is also a more immediate application of His words. The tribulation is upon them and it is going to grow stronger and more devastating before it gets better. Any church, or Christian, that does not have an undivided, single minded faith will not be able to endure it, and only those who endure to the end will be saved. Thus, they need to get their houses in order. They need to decide here and now where their loyalties lie, and who their God is.

This is the essential message of the book of Revelation. The pictures of the fall of God's enemies are included only to encourage the Church in faith. Empires may rise and fall, attacking the Church like ravenous beasts. They will pass away, and God's true people will abide. One day, they will be cast into an eternity of living death, but the Church will be with God in unimaginable joy forever.

June 11, 2011

Sermon for Pentecost

The Beginning of the End
Acts 2:1-11
Pentecost
June 12, 2011

What would a perfect world look like? That question can bring forth many different answers, depending on the views and values of the people answering it. For some the perfect world is a teeming city; for others it's a quiet countryside. For some it is a life of idleness; for others it is the freedom to put their creative talents into meaningful work. Obviously Man's natural inclination toward sin colours our view of the perfect world, and the more we are influenced by it, the less perfect our imagined world becomes. It is because of sinful people putting their sinful plans into action that our word is so utterly imperfect right now. But in our better moments, maybe we can agree on some things that a real perfect world would have.

Justice might be one of those things. Justice means all people would get what they deserve. Those who work hard and choose wisely would be allowed to reap the just rewards of their labours. People would be free to attempt to achieve their dreams, not being held back by race or class or artificial barriers. Courts would truly rule according to the principles of truth and justice. Government would be free of corruption, and apply itself to its true function of securing our rights and freedom.

Peace would be an important part of a perfect world. Nation would not lift up sword against nation, nor would there be violence or oppression inside the nation, the community, or the home. People would be able to walk the streets of the cities again, to sleep in safety at night, to sit on the park bench, or walk a country road without fear of crime or violence. Every person would be free to enjoy life, with none to make him afraid.

A perfect world would be characterised by a healthy dose of good old fashioned human kindness and respect, what the hippies used to call, "love." Instead of looking for ways to gain an advantage over others, which could be exploited for personal and economic advantage, people would look for ways to be helpful and to build up one another.

A perfect world would also be characterised by a strong sense of self-reliance, the good kind that takes responsibility for one's own life and achievements, rather than expecting others to do it for them. This self-reliance is the kind that makes person say, "I am going to achieve something in life. I am going to contribute to the physical, financial, and spiritual well-being of life on this planet."

Of course a perfect world is a world of people at peace with God. It is a world of people who live by His laws and love Him in their hearts. This is foundational. Without this, the rest is impossible.

Even a casual look at the Bible shows that a "perfect world" is promised and expected by its human authors. One of my favorite passages is Isaiah 2:2-4. I think God must like it too for He repeats it almost word for word in Micah 4:2-4. Let me read it as it is found in the book of Micah.

"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it."

Micah 4:1-4

These words are not about what mankind might accomplish, if we get our act together. These words are about what God will accomplish for us by His power and through His grace. These words are the promise of God. They describe the reason why God created the world, and why He works in grace with fallen people, and why Christ came into this world, and why He gave His life on the cross. God did all of these things to accomplish what He promised in these words. He did all of this to establish a Kingdom for Himself, where His people can live in a perfect world, in perfect peace with Him, forever.

I'm going to say something rather shocking; the Church is that perfect world. The Church is that perfect Kingdom of God, created in Christ Jesus, to love Him above all things and to enjoy His blessings and presence forever. The reason my statement is shocking is that we are all aware of the deplorable state of the visible Church. We could talk about her faults for hours, but let's just say for now that she is still a bit shy of perfection. Christ, talking about this very issue said the visible Church is like a wheat field having both wheat and tares. But the day will come when the tares are weeded out, and the wheat is gathered home to God forever. The day will come when all of the promises of the Bible will be fulfilled. They will be accomplished in their absolute fullest possible sense. We will dwell in the immediate glory and light of God (Rev.21:11, 22:4). We will eat of the Tree of Life every day (Rev. 22:2). We will drink of the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17), and we will live in a world of real perfection for we will dwell in Christ and He will dwell in us.

Obviously that day has not arrived in its fullness yet. But it is dawning. We can see its beginning. We can see the darkness beginning to fade, and the first hint of light in the Eastern Sky. The prophets foresaw it. The Temple and sacrifices foreshadowed it. The ministry of Christ on earth made it possible. And the coming of the Holy Spirit began it. We miss the point of Pentecost when we focus on tongues. They were simply a temporary sign that the long awaited day had arrived. The era of fulfillment is upon us. We live in it here and now. The law is going forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem through Christ and His Church. He is bringing the nations into it, and in it we have a foretaste of our final fellowship with Him and each other. It is only a foretaste now because we still carry within us the inclination toward sin, because our understanding is sketchy and incomplete, and because tares exist even in the Church. But, though we have only the foretaste, we do have the foretaste. I like the way God expresses this through the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:14. He calls the Holy Spirit the "earnest of our inheritance." "Earnest" means the down payment. It is the beginning of something greater that is promised. So the Holy Spirit is just the beginning of what God has in store for His Church. And we have the promise of God that He who has begun this good work will bring it to completion. This is the meaning of the Day of Pentecost.

June 10, 2011

Saturday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 81, Zech 8:1-8, 20-23, Rev. 22:1-17
Evening - Ps. 46, 133, Deut. 16:9-12, Rom. 8:12-18

Commentary

The 22nd chapter of Revelation shows the conclusion of God's work of redemption. In this chapter, the world has ended, the enemies of God have been defeated, and the Bride of Christ has been presented to Him in whom she dwells in everlasting joy. The sorrows of earth are passed away to trouble her no more. Sickness, death, and persecution, all aspects of the curse are but as a shadow that has passed and is no more. Fears, doubts, and questions, have passed also. In that New Jerusalem we know even as we are known.

How this vision must have comforted the churches of Asia Minor. How it must have strengthened them for the tribulation they endured. But, as important as this picture of their future bliss must have been, it was also important for them to know God was already at work, already bringing this great redemption into being. "Behold, I come quickly" (21:7) does not refer to the Second Coming, but to Christ coming to His people to answer their prayers and to begin the work of their deliverance. They are not told to wait until the end of time; they are told their Saviour is even now at work to deliver them and accomplish His purpose for them. And this work, now begun in them, which seems so small compared to worldly powers, will bring them, and all of God's Church, to the glorious fulfillment shown in this chapter.

This completes the great work of redemption. We have seen the end, the goal, the complete fulfillment. We have seen the Church go from a small band of persecuted outcasts to the very pinnacle of honour and joy. We have seen her enemies judged and punished, but, more importantly, we have seen the great victory of our God. His purpose was not defeated in Eden. Rebellion in the house of Israel did not prevent His victory. The rejection and crucifixion of Christ Himself did not defeat our God, for it was His own plan that Christ should die, and it was by His obedience unto death that He overcame the world. The empires of the world, great and mighty in their own eyes, appearing to the Church as powerful and terrible in their relentless tribulation of the Church, cannot stand before the power of God. He sweeps them away with ease. Jerusalem has fallen. Mighty Rome is crushed. God has marched through history, extending His Kingdom and vanquishing His foes until all enemies are put under His feet and He alone is known to be King of kings and Lord of lords who reigns forever and ever. Not even the devil is able to resist His power. God uses Satan as it pleases Him, and, when the time comes, destroys him with ease. Thanks be to God, many of His enemies are conquered by grace. They have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and they will live in Him forever.

Even in this vision of the end, the Bible thrusts us back to our own time with the invitation to come and drink the water of life (salvation) freely. This is an encouragement to those already in Christ. It tells us to abide in Him, to remain faithful to the very end, no matter what the cost. It tells us to seek and love God with all our heart, to go and make disciples of all nations, and to contend for the faith once delivered. Stand fast in the evil day. Never retreat. Never bow to any "beast," for your cause is Christ's cause, and "He shall reign forever and ever."

This is also an encouragement to those who are yet in rebellion and sin. The Day of Judgment is coming. Christ's enemies will not enter into His Kingdom. The joys of the New Jerusalem are not for them unless they repent. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

June 9, 2011

Friday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 115, Is. 35, Rev. 21:19
Evening - Ps. 116, 117, 2 Sam. 22:32-34, 44-51, Acts 4:1-12

Commentary

"It is done." These words in Revelation 21:6 are at the very heart of the Biblical message. Everything that comes before them, from Genesis to this very verse is about God working to bring His people and His creation to this point of fulfillment and accomplishment. Everything that comes after them expounds and elucidates them. David Clark called chapter 21 the "watershed that divides time and eternity," and verse 6 the consummation and climax of the long process of redemption. Writing of this passage, Jonathan Edwards said, "God created the world to provide a spouse and a kingdom for His Son: and the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, and the spiritual marriage of the spouse to Him, is what the whole creation labours and travails in pain to bring to pass."

In Ephesians 1:10 we learn the purpose of God in creation. Why did He create the world and put up with sinners, and even come to earth and die to save them? He did so for one purpose, "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather into one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him." In Revelation 21:6, "It is done." God's purpose is accomplished fully and perfectly.

Verses 9-27 show the wondrous happiness of God's Church in that era of "the fullness of times." It is the bride of Christ, the Church that is described in these verses. She is the New Jerusalem, the great and holy city descending out of heaven from God, "having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious" (21:10-11). References to jeweled walls and streets of gold symbolise the glory and joy of the Church in Heaven. Chief among her joys is the absolute presence of God. In the age of fulfillment the Church literally dwells in Christ and He in her. There is no need for Temple or church buildings, which are symbols of the presence of God. Our communion with Him will be full and complete forever when, "It is done."

June 8, 2011

Thursday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 66, 1 Kings 2:1-15, Rev. 21:1-8
Evening - Ps. 72, Is. 9:2-7, Acts 3:11

Commentary

Revelation chapters 1-19 have shown the conquest of Jerusalem and the fall of the Roman Empire. Though history to us, these events were far in the future when John wrote the Revelation. But chapters 20-22 leap into events that are future to us also. Chapter 20 shows the Millennial Age and the fate of the wicked on Judgment Day. They have followed Satan, the great deceiver, they have resisted God, and they have persecuted His people since Cain killed Abel. Now their end is come upon them and they follow the deceiver to his doom, and theirs. Chapter 21 shows the future happiness of the Church. Here we see God bring the days of earth to an end and bring His people to their eternal bliss in a new heaven and earth (21:1). "New" means a new and different kind of heaven and earth, for the old is passed away. In verse 2 we see the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of peace. She comes as a bride adorned for her husband. This city is a symbol of the Church (Rev. 19:7-9), but it is also a symbol of God. In it God and His people dwell together in perfect unity and joy. All the suffering of earth, the persecutions, the disease, the sorrows and tears are wiped away by God Himself. They passed away with the old earth. There is no place for them in the new.

Thus God says, "It is done" (21:6). Not done in the sense of being ended, God is telling us His great work is now fully accomplished. All enemies have been put under His feet. The corruption and decay of the physical creation has been ended. The Church has been gathered unto Him and lives in Him literally, face to face. All of the promises and hopes of His people have been fulfilled, and all of the plans and purpose of God have been brought into their fullest possible state of being. The story, the work of redemption is completed, but the state, the condition of redemption is a present reality forever and forever. Everything the Bible tells us about exists in absolute fullest perfection in Rev. 21:6. It is hard to put this into words, for we use superlatives to describe things that are meaningless in comparison to what God is doing in this verse, but it may not be too much to say "It is done" are some of the most important words in all of Scripture.

Verses 7 and 8 take us back to the first century Christians to whom Revelation was first addressed. But the words apply to all Christians of all times. Who will dwell in the New Jerusalem? Who will see the fulfillment of everything he has prayed for and longed for since the day he first knelt at the foot of the cross and gave his heart to Christ? "He that overcometh." He shall inherit these things. They are for those who overcome the world through faith. They are for those who overcome their enemies by remaining faithful to Christ. They are for those who live for Christ at all times and at all costs. They are not for those who turn back. They are not for those who call themselves Christians but live like the devil. They not for the unfaithful. They are for those who are faithful to the end.

June 7, 2011

Wednesday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 21:1-6, & 23, Is. 4:2, Rev. 19:11-16
Evening - Ps. 33, Is. 25:1-9, Acts 3:1-10

Commentary

Revelation 19 is the conclusion of a section that began with chapter 13 and shows the destruction and defeat of the great beast of Revelation. This is the same beast found in Daniel 7:7-8, and it represents the Roman Empire, which at the time John wrote the book of Revelation, was beginning a 200 year persecution of the Church. The Roman Empire is also signified in the double image of the beast and the harlot in Revelation 17, where it is pictured as drunk with fornication (idolatry) and drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs of Jesus (Rev. 17:2 & 6). Rome is called "Babylon" in Rev. 17:5, as it is also in 1 Peter 5:13.

The Empire is defeated by the beginning of chapter 18. "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen," calls the other angel coming down from heaven (Rev. 18:1-2), and her fall is lamented by many who shared her sin and reveled in her evil (18:11-19). But those who suffered under her wickedness rejoice (18:20). Chapter 19 portrays the rejoicing of the righteous over the Lord's conquest of Rome (19:1-6), and the contrast between the great whore and the pure Bride of Christ (19:7-8). The Bride's exaltation is so great and her deliverance from her enemies is wonderful, John is moved to fall at the feet of the person showing these things to him (19:10). But the person forbids this, and John is shown heaven opened and Christ, who is called Faithful and True, riding a white horse and followed by His armies going forth into the earth. Here the Lord smites the nations with the sword of His mouth, which is the Word of God (19:15). He rules the nations with a rod of iron and treads them in the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. The "nations" are not just political entities; they are the masses of unbelievers who continue in rebellion against God and in persecution of His Church. They shall fall as surely as Rome.

But, thanks be to God, some will be saved. The Word of God is a fearful Word of Judgment to those who refuse Him, but a welcome Word of Grace to those who receive Him in faith. Thus, we see in Revelation 19, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords advancing through the earth, establishing His Kingdom and bringing all things under His rule. Many will be defeated by His wrath, but many will be won by His grace.

June 6, 2011

Tuesday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, 2 Sam 7:18, Rev. 11:15
Evening - Ps. 57, Is. 26:1-7, Acts 2:37

Commentary

The readings from Revelation this week were chosen because they show the Lord Jesus Christ risen, ascended into Heaven, and reigning as King of His Church. In these chapters we see Christ ruling His people, and also defending them as any good king would do. He is engaged in a deadly war with the forces of evil which want to destroy His people. So we, the Church, are not merely spectators in this battle, we are combatants following our King into the fray.

Revelation 11 is the conclusion of one battle in this war. Chapter 4 shows the beginning of this battle, and the first 14 verses of chapter 11 reveal the enemy. It is that city "which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified" (Rev. 11:8). "Spiritually" means symbolically or figuratively. So the city is not literally Sodom and Egypt. Obviously Sodom and Egypt are not the same physical place, and Egypt is a nation, not a city. The city is the one in which Christ was crucified, Jerusalem. The city is demolished in 11:13. Like the name of the city, the earthquake is also symbolic It refers to an invading army that is so powerful and destructive it is like an earthquake. It symbolises a conquest so complete and devastating it is as if a powerful earthquake has struck. This city has been in a great tribulation throughout this section of Revelation. In chapter 11 it finally falls. The city is Jerusalem and the earthquake is the Roman army. Chapters 4-11 tell of the Roman siege and conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Today's reading shows those persecuted by the city rejoicing that their enemy has been defeated. This is a bitter-sweet victory, for the holy city has been destroyed, including the Temple and countless people. The oppression of the Church by this city has been ended, but at tremendous cost. But the true Israel, not Israel in name only, but in true faith, remains. It has become the Kingdom of our Lord who is shown in His glory as the conquering hero. This is but the first of many conquests as His army and Kingdom advances through history. Thanks be to God many will be conquered by grace instead of judgment.

June 5, 2011

Monday after the Sunday after Ascension

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 1 Sam. 2:1-10, Rev. 5
Evening - Ps. 147 - Is. 66:1-2, 10-13, Acts 2:22-36

Commentary

The fifth chapter of Revelation is part of a larger section dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It deals with the same issues found in the 24th and 25th chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. In this chapter God arises in answer to the prayers of persecuted Christians and begins to accomplish those things "which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). God sits on His throne holding a scroll bound with 7 seals. No one is found worthy to open the seals, and John begins to weep. Why? Because he longs to see God act on behalf of the persecuted churches of Asia Minor. John is imprisoned on Patmos during the beginning of a long and terrible persecution of the Church. He has held Apostolic oversight of the churches named in chapters 2 and 3, and he is concerned about them. How are they faring? Are they holding fast to the faith, or are they deserting Christ to save themselves? It was a difficult time for Christians, and it was going to get much worse. All Christians living at the time John wrote Revelation would be dead long before this period of tribulation ended. The seals of the scroll represent God's judgment poured out on those persecuting the Church.

But someone is worthy to open the seals. The Lion of the tribe of Jesse has overcome the world by giving His life as a Lamb slain, and is worthy, by virtue of His absolute righteousness, to open the scrolls and let the judgment begin. He is worshiped as God, and there is no doubt that He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He has overcome once by submission to death on the cross. Now He overcomes by conquering and judging His enemies.

Sermon for Sunday after Ascension

The End of All Things
1 Peter 4:7
First Sunday after Ascension
June 5, 2011

"The end of all things is at hand." There have been so many predictions and discussions and expectations of the return of Christ recently that I could not pass up the opportunity to preach on our reading in First Peter this morning. It is not helpful to make predictions about the date of Christ's return for two reasons. First, they make Christians look like fools. Every time some person or group declares that they absolutely know Christ is going to return on some specific date, they expose the Church to ridicule, and bring shame on the name of our Saviour. Skeptics and atheists held "Rapture Parties" on May 21, the date Harold Camping declared would see the Christians raptured and the judgment of the ungodly begin. These parties were often arrogant and derisive repudiations of the Christian faith. The world finds many reasons to scorn us, let us not give them more by our own foolishness. The second reason why speculation and declarations of the date of Christ's return are not helpful is that they place the emphasis on something we can never know, and ignore what we can know. They place major importance on interpreting "signs" and events, which they misinterpret and misrepresent, and they forget about what God is really trying to tell us. As the saying goes, they "major on the minors and minor on the majors." So let me say this as plainly as I know how; first, the Bible does not give us the date of the Lord's return. Second, many passages of Scripture, such as Matthew 24, in which people think they find the "signs" of Christ's imminent return or "rapture" of the Church, are not about the Second Coming; they are about the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman army, which occurred in 70 A.D.

Having said that, let us look again at the first phrase in 1 Peter 4:7, "the end of all things is at hand." Doesn't that seem to contradict what I have just said? Doesn't that seem to emphasise the end of the world, and Christ's return? Why would Peter put that in his book if we were not to know about dates and be concerned about the end of the world? The answer is that he put it there to teach us one lesson; live for Christ now. It truly is that simple. In First Peter 4 we find the Apostle continuing the theme which dominates his book, which is, living for Christ in all situations and at all costs. Peter is not saying, "Just hang on a little longer, endure a little longer, persevere a little longer because at any moment Christ is coming to take us out of this world and end all our troubles." He is saying, live for Christ at all time and at all costs. The word, "end" as it is used here carries a double meaning. First, it means "the end result." Second, it means "goal." Looking at a similar passage, 1 Peter 1:8-9, we find the same word, with the same double meaning applied to faith; "though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." We are already enjoying the end result of our faith, Peter is telling us. We are already enjoying the goal of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls. By the way, 1 Pt. 1:9 and 1 Pt. 4:7, in the original Greek, both use the same Greek word for "end," telos. The two meanings of "final result" and "goal" are intrinsic to understanding both verses. Just as 1:9 means the goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls, and that we are already enjoying that goal and final result now, so 4:7 means the goal of all things is at hand (within our grasp) and the final result and condition is also at hand and is a present reality. We are enjoying it now. We are not enjoying it in its fullest sense. We are enjoying it only in a limited sense right here and now, but we are enjoying it, nevertheless.

Now I have just told you not to major on the minors, and I have majored on the minors all of this time, haven't I?" Well, I have done so to demonstrate the meaning of the phrase, "the end of all things is at hand." Because what Peter is telling us is that we live in the last days. We live in the era of fulfillment. We live in the era when the promises of God given in the Old Testament, are being fulfilled in the New Covenant and Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We live in the days when the end, the goal, the purpose of God for His people and His creation are being fulfilled, and are moving out of the realm of promise into the realm of reality. Yes, we are also living in the last era of time as we know it before God brings it all to a close. But the primary meaning of 1 Peter 4:7 is that the deepening fulfillment of the purpose of God for all things is taking place right before our eyes in this very time and place.

I need to remind us again, that the "end" is not the primary emphasis of this passage, or of the book of First Peter. The primary emphasis is living for Christ in every situation, and at all costs. The fact that the world will end one day, and that we already live in the era of fulfillment and the last days, is simply stated as a motivation to live for Christ now. Peter is saying that, because we live in the age of fulfillment, and, because the end and goal of all things is being accomplished right before our eyes as Christ calls His people and builds His Church, we must live the Christian life fully and faithfully in all times and at all costs.

So Peter, after briefly referencing what I have taken so long to say, quickly moves on to tell us how to live for Christ now. He tells us to soberly watch unto prayer, to love one another, to be hospitable to one another, and to study the Scriptures (speak the oracles of God). This is the point peter is trying to make. I have read that Harold Camping has revised his prediction to say the Lord is coming back on October 21. I personally believe October 21 will come and go the same way May 21 came and went, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that we live for Christ now. That's what Peter is saying.

Holy Father, help us not to major on the minors, not to get distracted trying to figure out dates and times and signs, but to live for Thee in the here and now. We beseech Thee to grant this prayer, in the name of Christ. Amen.

June 3, 2011

Saturday after Rogation Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.45, Gen. 49:1-2, 8-10, 2 Thes. 2:13
Evening - Ps. 8, 98, Jer. 23:5-8, Acts 2:1-21

Commentary

The second chapter of Acts records an event of monumental importance, which most people miss when reading it. They miss it because they focus on the signs instead of the event. They become bogged down in questions of whether the tongues were known languages or ecstatic tongues of angels. They become concerned about whether they should speak in tongues or not. We should know, for our own peace of mind, that the tongues in Acts 2 were the languages of the people visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost, and that tongues, as a gift of the Spirit, have ceased in the Church today, for they have been superseded by the New Testament. Too many people today are trying to recreate the experiences of the people on the day of Pentecost, and too few are trying to see and understand the event signified by them.

The event is so momentous it is difficult to put into words. Let us begin by saying it is the event toward which the entire Old Testament looked. It is the event for which the Old Testament people waited and prayed. It is the event for which Christ came to earth and died on the cross. It is the event toward which all of Scripture points. That event is the inauguration of the New Covenant in Christ's blood. It is the beginning of the New Age of the Messiah's Kingdom. It is the dawning of the day of the reign of Heaven on Earth. It is nothing less than the beginning of the Kingdom of Christ. In this New Age, God is bringing all things together to ultimately place them under the rule of Christ. You remember from Ephesians that this is God's goal and purpose for this universe. It was created, as we were created, "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth" (Eph. 1:10). This has been God's purpose from the beginning of our universe. It will one day be fully accomplished. On that Day His enemies will be cast out, and His Church will be gathered home to Him forever. The future element of this reality does not reduce its presence in the here and now. For even now that Day is breaking into the darkness and sorrow of this sin-sick world. Even now God is gathering things together under Christ.

So, it is the advent of the Kingdom of the Messiah that we are to see in tonight's reading. The passage from Joel is quoted by Peter for one purpose. That purpose is not to say visions and prophetic dreams are now the norm. That purpose is to say that the thing signified by those signs is now here among us in its wonderful and dreadful reality. The visions and dreams and tongues were but signs that the Day of the Lord is dawning. Therefore, our goal is not to have visions or speak in tongues, it is to enter and dwell in the reality of the presence of God.

June 2, 2011

Friday after Rogation Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 15, 108:1-5, Rom. 8:31
Evening - Ps. 20, 29, Is. 12, Acts 1:12

Commentary

The book of Acts rarely receives the attention it deserves, and what attention it does receive is often limited to passages referring to speaking in tongues. This is unfortunate because the book of Acts is really about what happens after the promised Redeemer accomplishes the salvation so long awaited by a dark and broken world. It is about the advent of the era of fulfillment, when the promises of a new world and a new community and new people dwelling in a new Covenant relationship with God become reality. In Acts we see the new order inaugurated on the earth. We see the era foretold by Micah begin to take visible form (Micah 4:1-7). We see the Kingdom of God reach into the world, bringing people into it and into God.

The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, and the founders of the Church were the Apostles. It was they who walked with Christ during the days of His flesh. They were taught by Him, and from Him they received the doctrines and practices of the Church. Christ taught the Christian faith to them, they, in turn, taught it to the Church and recorded it in the Scriptures under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we see in tonight's reading the calling of the twelfth Apostle. Judas, having betrayed our Lord and fallen away from Him, was never an Apostle. That calling, by Divine appointment, went to Matthias (1:26).

Now the stage is set. The Messiah has accomplished His redeeming work, the Apostles have been taught, and the people are waiting in one accord and in prayer (1:14). Everything is ready for the revelation of the new era, which the Bible often calls, "the last days."

Having noted the Apostles as the founders of the Church, let us remember that this in only true of them from the perspective of human agency. They were simply agents through whom God worked. "Instruments" or "tools" might be better words to describe their position, for the real founder of the New Israel is God, and the book of Acts is not really about the Acts of the Apostles; it is about the continuation of what Christ began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). What Jesus began in His earthly ministry is now continued by the Holy Spirit through the Church. The book of Acts records His continuing work.

June 1, 2011

Ascensiontide, Thursday after Rogation Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 96, Dan. 7:9-14, Eph. 4:1-6
Evening - Ps. 24, 47, Is. 33:5-6, 17, 20-22, Heb. 4:14-5:10

Commentary

This morning's reading records a vision of Daniel, which parallels a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. The vision foresees four world empires, followed by the advent of the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days. The empires are represented by beasts, and they rise from the sea, which represents the Gentile nations. Each empire gains control over the Middle East, but each is in turn dominated or conquered by the following empire as they rise to power, fall into decay, and are overcome by a new power. Babylon, Mede, Persia, Greece, and Rome are the empires represented. Babylon is represented by the lion, Media by the bear, Persia by the leopard, and the Greco-Roman Empire by the fourth beast. We will meet the fourth beast again in Revelation 13-18, where it still represents the Greco-Roman Empire and culture.

The important point in Daniel 7, and Revelation 13-18, is the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days. Seemingly small and weak compared to empires with symbols like bears and leopards, His Kingdom remains as the others rise and fall. It will conquer the fourth beast. Its citizens will come from all over the world. His Kingdom will never end.