November 30, 2011

Thursday after the First Sunday in Advent


Morning - Ps. 10, Is.4:2, Mk. 1:40
Evening - Ps. 24, 30, Is. 5:1-7, Rev. 6:1-11

Revelation 6:1-11

In chapter 6 we see the beginning of those "things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). As Christ releases the seals of the book, He also unleashes incredible catastrophes upon the persecutors of His Church. The book itself is the book of God's wrath upon the unGodly, and the deliverance of His people. Verses 1-8 reveal what has become known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The white horse (6:1-2) symbolises the pomp and power of the Roman Empire going forth "conquering and to conquer." In His providence, God used Rome for His own purposes several times. It was Rome that stabilised the world enough to allow the Gospel to be proclaimed throughout the Empire. It was Rome that gave the Empire a common language by which the Gospel could be communicated, which is why the New Testament was written in the official language of the Roman Empire, Greek. In the book of Revelation, Rome is being used by God to bring to fulfillment the prophecies of Christ in Matthew 23:38 and 24:2. From chapter 6 to the 11th chapter, the Book of Revelation is about the fulfillment of Christ's words in Mt 23 and 24, which is the desolation of the house of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. This occurred in 70 A.D when the Roman army sacked Jerusalem. Flavius Josephus' Wars of the Jews chronicles the fall of Jerusalem in detail.

The second beast speaks, and the second seal releases a red horse whose rider is given a great sword and power to take peace from the earth (3 & 4). The Romans destroyed many Jewish settlements. The battles were so fierce the Jews even turned upon one another in ways that sickened even the battle hardened Roman soldiers.

Verses 5 and 6 release the black horse of famine, which was so severe during the siege of Jerusalem cannibalism became common. "A measure of wheat for a penny" (6:6) shows the impossibly exorbitant cost of even a tiny bit of grain in a city that once had great stores of food. According to Josephus, 11,000 Jews of Jerusalem died of starvation before the Romans even breeched the walls.

The fourth seal (7-8) sends forth death and Hell on a pale horse. Before the Roman destruction ended nearly one and a half million Jews were killed throughout the Empire. What a tragic loss of life and wanton waste. How sad it is to think of the city of peace filled with death. Yet, "God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7), even Jerusalem (Mt. 23:38).
The fifth seal (9-11) does not release more trials on the persecutors of the Church. Instead it presents a vision of Christians who have been murdered in the persecution (6:9). Their cry to God is "How long?" How long will God wait before He completes judgment on their oppressors? How long before He ends the persecution? These concerns are clearly stated in verse 10. Truly the Church continuously sends this cry up to God. Yet the answer from God is "rest yet for a little season" (6:11). When God's purpose, and He has a purpose, even in the persecution of the Church, is fulfilled, He will bring His enemies to judgment. That is an important message. It is the task of the Church to be faithful. When God is ready He will bring the world to its conclusion and bring His Kingdom into its complete fullness, but until then, we are to remain faithful, period.

November 29, 2011

Wednesday after the First Sunday in Advent


Morning - Ps. 9, Is. 2:6-19, Mk. 1:29-39
Evening - Ps. 15, 19, Is. 3:1-15, Rev. 5

Revelation 5

Tonight's reading shows the Divinity of Christ. He is worshiped by the four beasts, just as the Father is worshiped (5:8). He is worshiped by the elders, just as the Father is worshiped. Prayers are offered to Him as unto God. Comparing 4:11 and 5:9, we see that the same honour and praise offered to God is also offered to Christ, "Thou art worthy." The Divinity of Christ is the conclusion verses 1-7 lead to. No one is found worthy to open the book until Christ, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the Lamb that was slain, by whom the Holy Spirit is "sent forth into all the earth" (5:5-6) steps forward. The beasts, the elders, and the angels are not worthy to open the book because they are created beings. They are servants of God. Christ is worthy because He is God.

Verses 9 and 10 recall what Christ has done for His Church through His sacrificial life, death, and resurrection. Verses 11-14 show Christ worshiped and adored in Heaven equally with the Father. But He is also worshiped because He has prevailed (5:5). He kept the faith, even unto death on the cross, thus He prevailed over evil. He died and rose again, thus He prevailed over death. He has already endured what the churches of Asia Minor are enduring as John writes Revelation. And He is worthy of all honour and praise. As the One who is fully man, and has prevailed and overcome; and as the One who is fully and equally God, He alone is worthy to open the book.

November 28, 2011

Tuesday after the First Sunday in Advent


Morning - Ps. 7, Is. 1:21-28, Mark 1:14-28
Evening - Ps. 11, 12, Is, 2:1-5, Rev. 4

Revelation 4

The theme of Revelation 4 is the absolute glory of God. He sits enthroned in glory (4:2-3). He is surrounded by elders wearing golden crowns and sparkling white robes, and seated on thrones (4:4). Thunder and lightning and voices come from the throne, as do seven immense, burning lamps of fire that symbolise the perfection of the Holy Spirit (4:5). He is worshiped and obeyed by great and powerful beings (4:6-8). And when they give thanks and worship to God the elders fall down before Him in worship, saying, "Thou art worthy, O Lord" (4:10).

Everything about this chapter is intended to show the immeasurable power and glory of God. Earthly empires wax and wane. Kings and rulers "take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed" (Ps. 2:2). But God is so far above them He rules Heaven in perfect peace, as though the rebellious and unGodly on earth do not even exist.

The elders also exist in peace. Probably representing Christians who have died in the persecution, they dwell under the "defense of the Most High," and abide "under the shadow of the Almighty" in the rich security of the presence of God, where none of their earthly tormentors can reach them. "He shall call upon me, and I will hear him; yea, I am with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and bring him to honour, with long [eternal] life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation" (Ps. 91:15 and 16). White robes were promised to those who overcome persecution by remaining faithful unto Christ (Rev. 2:10).

Verse 11 conveys an important message to those who remain in danger on earth. This wonderful Being, adored by the creatures and enthroned in glory, is the Creator of all that is. Everything exists by and for Him, including those who persecute His Church on earth. Let not those who oppose His Church and kill His people think they are immune to His justice or able to deliver themselves from His wrath. Nothing can hide them from His all-seeing eyes, or save them from His hand. The persecutors will fall, but He abides forever.

November 27, 2011

Monday after the First Sunday in Advent


Morning - Ps. 1, 3, Isaiah 1:1-9, Mark 1:1-13
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Is. 1:10-20, Rev. 3:14-22

Revelation 3:14-22

Laodicea is the seventh church addressed in Revelation, and it is best known for being lukewarm (3:16). Many modern readers believe this refers to a lack of devotion, as though the church is neither possessed of a burning devotion to Christ, nor totally devoid of devotion, but this raises the question of why Christ would rather them be hot or cold than lukewarm. Surely He is not saying no devotion is better than lukewarm devotion? Instead of this very popular view, our Lord probably compares the church to the hot and cold springs for which the area was known. Believed to have medicinal benefits, water from them was drinkable very hot or very cold, but nauseating when lukewarm, causing people seeking cures to spit them out. So the meaning of "lukewarm" is that the church of Laodicea is like the run off from the hot and cold springs after it has lost its heat or cold. In contemporary language, they are completely lost. Therefore the Lord will spit them out.

The cause of their lukewarmness is their attachment to the things of the world, which causes them to neglect Christ. They are "increased with goods" and believe they "have need of nothing" (3:17). In reality they are spiritually poor and in desperate need of the true wealth that can only be received by grace through faith (3:18). They need the eyes of their souls to be anointed with medicine so they can see Christ and be saved. Thus, our Lord urges them to repent (3:19).

We are now brought to the well known words of verse 20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." It must be noted that the words are addressed to the Church rather than the world, and that their call is to those who consider themselves Christians. The call is to examine their lives and hearts to see if they are truly Christians as defined in Scripture rather than as defined by their own ideas of what a Christian is. This kind of self examination is critical to the Church, for we must always compare what we believe and teach to Scripture, lest we, too, become lukewarm.

Verses 20-22 tell of the blessings of those who "open the door" to Christ, and remain faithful to Him through temptation and tribulation. Like each previous letter, the one to Laodicea ends with the invitation to hear what the Lord is saying to the churches. It is important to remember that the persecution which has put John in prison on Patmos and taken Antipas to a martyr's death is going to increase in scope and severity. The churches will not be able to persevere through it if they are preoccupied with wealth, heresy, or division. These things will entice the heart away from Christ, and, if faced with the choice of giving up their faith in Christ or their lives, they will give up Christ. So Christ is calling them to a single minded faith that will see them through the trial and bring them safely to heaven. This is the purpose and meaning of the letters to the seven churches.

Sermon for First Sunday in Advent

Getting ready for Christmas
Romans 14:8-14
First Sunday in Advent
November 27, 2011

I have called today's sermon, "Getting Ready for Christmas." Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, but, unlike shopping and decorations, Advent emphasises the spiritual aspect of Christmas. If we are going to celebrate Christmas instead of just a winter holiday, then it is good to consider what we are doing, and why. Advent helps us do this. Even the name of the season, "Advent," tells us we are thinking about the arrival of the Saviour, the Light of the World, who came to save His people from their sins.

Advent does not simply look back to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem more than two-thousand years ago. It also looks ahead to the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, it reminds us that we live in anticipation of the Lord's Return, and to the completion of the Kingdom He began when He came in humility to sacrifice Himself for us. It is the aspect of looking ahead to the Return of Christ that I want to dwell on today, and I want to begin with what watching for His Return does not mean.

Watching for Christ's Return does not mean attempting to make current events fit Matthew 24 as signs that His Return is near. In the first place, that is not what Matthew 24 is about. In the second place, there is vagueness in the Bible about when and how the Lord is coming back. I think that vagueness is intentional. I think the Lord wants to keep us on the alert, and if He were to tell us the year and the hour of His return, His people might become lax and complacent about being His people. My parents used to give my sister and me tasks to do if they were going out. They would not tell us when they were coming back, but they expected the tasks to be done, or to find us busy doing them when they arrived. I think the Lord has the same kind of thing in mind about His Coming; He expects to find us busy about the task of being His people, not sleeping on the job. I think it is clear that watching for Christ's Return does not mean trying to guess when He will return, or who the antichrist is. All of these things are favourite pass times of people waiting for Christ's Return, but I think they are misguided.

So what exactly does it mean to be watching for Christ's Return? It is living in such a way that if the Lord were to return now He would find us living for Him. It means living the kind of life He died to give to us. It means we are busy about the task of being the Church and Kingdom of God. In more Biblical terms, it means we are continuing in the faith once delivered to the saints. This faith has two components; doctrine and practice.

Doctrine of course means the truths taught in the Bible, for it is in the Bible that we learn what we are to believe about God and what duties God requires of us. So, when St. Paul wrote that the Scripture is profitable for doctrine, he did not mean it is one of several profitable sources. He meant the Bible is the source of profitable doctrine. If you use the word, "authoritative" in place of "profitable" you begin to see what Paul is trying to teach us in II Timothy 3.

There is a movement within the "Church" to do away with doctrine. People, believing they are being led by the Holy Spirit, want to replace doctrine with sentiment and religious experiences. They don't seem to realise that if other doctrines can be expelled from the faith, their doctrine of the Holy Spirit can also be expelled. Nor do they seem to realise that expelling their doctrine of the Holy Spirit is inevitable once we start excising doctrines, or doing so also reveals the foundation of their beliefs, which is their own imaginations, not the Holy Spirit's leadership. Watching for Christ's Return necessarily means continuing in the Apostles' doctrine; the doctrine Christ gave to the Apostles, which they committed to writing, and which God preserves for us in the Bible.

The second part of the faith in which we are to continue, if we are truly watching for the Return of Christ, is what we often call, "Christian living." By this I mean the obvious things of worship, fellowship, Christian love, and all the things we generally summarise in the term, "good works." But there is more to Christian living than good works. There is this thing of being transformed in our inner being so we become more like Christ and less like Satan. It is the continuing process of becoming Godly in our essence. I have a hard time putting this into words. I think this is because the concept is bigger than our words can describe; which is why the Bible uses word pictures to communicate it to us, like new creature and following Christ. I am trying to say that being a Christian is not just doing good; it is actually becoming good through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in your inner being. Though I have a hard time expressing this in concrete words, I think the concept is readily understood by any true Christian as an essential part of watching for Christ's Return, and of the Gospel message. I think this is an important part of what Paul meant in Romans 13:14 by the words "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."

But something very important might happen before the Lord Returns to end the world. He might return for you or me. He might come to take us out of this world through death. That might be the way the world ends for us. And we need to be living life in such a way that we are always ready for His appearing, whether it is at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives. Advent reminds us to live in readiness. Thus we pray;

"Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen."

November 25, 2011

Saturday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 146, 149, Joel 3:9-17, 2 Pet. 3:11
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Rev. 3:7-13

Revelation 3:7-13
The "city of brotherly love," is not living up to its name. Like the rest of Asia Minor, the people have adopted a general attitude of open opposition to Christ and His people. The Church of Philadelphia is apparently very small and composed of people with little or no power or influence in the city. Yet they have kept the word of God faithfully in the face of persecution, and Our Lord commends them, as He does Smyrna, without any word of condemnation.

As with each of the other Churches, the Lord opens with a description of Himself intended to strengthen and comfort His people. He holds the key of David, and He alone opens and shuts the door to the Kingdom of Heaven. The key of Davis is especially significant because the "synagogue of Satan" (3:9) is especially troubling to the Church. Such people may be a mixture of Gentiles and Jews who insist that faith in Christ must be combined with a conversion to Judaism and the complete ceremonial law and sacrificial system. Or they may simply be Jews who persecute the Christians as some persecuted Paul in other places. Either way, the Lord shows that He holds the key of David. This means the Old Testament was about Him, and He is the fulfillment of all that the law and prophets taught. He is the key to the Old Testament. It also means His intentions and promises given in the Old Testament, are fulfilled in the Church of the New Testament. Those who believed Gentile Christians needed to become Jews were absolutely correct if the Church is not the fulfillment of the Old Testament, for the point of the Gospel and the work of Christ would have been to continue the Old Testament Israel and bring the Gentiles into it. But the point of the work of Christ was to bring to fulfillment all that was symbolised by the old Israel, and to create a new people living in the faith of the New Covenant in Christ. For this reason, it is not necessary that Gentiles become Jews or adopt Jewish ceremonies or customs. Instead, both Jews and Gentiles are to join together into one new people, in which there are neither Jews nor Gentiles, only Christians saved by grace through faith. Christ, not Judaism, opens and closes the door to this new people of God.

The truth of the Gospel to which the Philadelphians hold will become evident to all when their persecutors are forced to publicly acknowledge them. In that day they will know God loves the Church (2:9).

Verse 10 is a favourite verse of those who believe in a "rapture" of the Church prior to 7 years of tribulation, but this idea is nullified by verses 11 and 12. The protection promised is spiritual rather than physical, and the spiritual protection will be with them as the trials of persecution increase. It is because they have trusted in Christ and not given up the faith, that He will be faithful to them and keep them in His faith, no matter what trials the future may bring to them. He will not let the persecution tempt, or, "test," them to the point where they give up their faith in Christ. This is good news to all who truly believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour. He holds us in His hand and will not allow anything to pluck us out. We have trusted His promise to deliver us safely to Heaven and He will keep His promise (Jn. 10:28 & 29).

November 22, 2011

Wednesday through Friday, Sunday next before Advent

Wednesday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 136, Joel 2:12-19, 2 Pet. 2:1-10

Evening - Ps. 139, Rev. 2:1-11

Revelation 2:1-11

Tonight's reading brings us to paragraphs addressed specifically to the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna. Ephesus was the major city in the area, and it was the Apostle John's home base from which he made episcopal tours to the surrounding cities. It was known for its large number of Christians, for its love of the Apostle Paul, and for the ministry of Timothy. Due to the large number of Christians and churches in this area of Asia, it was natural for John to move into it after Paul went west to take the Gospel into new territory. As archbishop of the area, Timothy had served well under Paul, and now serves equally well under the Apostolic oversight of John.

How blessed the church in Ephesus is to have been under the teaching of Paul, John, and Timothy. And it seems to be thriving, even in this time of persecution, for even our Lord says it has rejected false apostles, and has not fainted in the face of persecution (2:2 and 3). Yet, our Lord says to them, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (2:4).

This may seem trivial to our self-centered generation, yet our Lord speaks of it as though it means the Ephesians have almost left the faith entirely, and will be completely cast away if they do not repent (2:5). Note again that this church has had the greatest of human ministers, is fiercely orthodox, and has endured persecution for their faith in Christ, yet are in danger of falling away from Christ entirely. There is a terrifying warning to all churches in all ages in the failure at Ephesus.

What is the failure at Ephesus? It is something very similar to what the Old Testament Church experienced at various times, a faith reduced to doctrines and stubborn tenacity, but with very little concern for God or His people. It was a faith that went through the motions of orthodox faith and worship, without engaging the heart or mind of the people. Consequently, they were indifferent towards Christ and one another. The sense of oneness in Christ was gone. The sense of identity as one body was gone. They no longer thought of themselves as walking together in the way of truth together, holding "the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace." Rather than being characterised by that active sense of identity and belonging, each one went his own way, wrapped up in his own thoughts and activities, and this attitude continued even when they came together in worship. They had lost the sense of worshiping God as one, and had become simply individuals worshiping God individually. Their worship was private worship performed in public, and this extended to their entire life of faith, including their attitude toward unbelievers. Yet the promise of grace remains, "to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God."

To the angel, and thus to the Church, of Smyrna, our Lord has no words of reproach. He commends it for its faithfulness (2:9) and perseverance in the face of persecution. Yet He wants the people to know the worst is ahead of them (2:10), and they are to be prepared to suffer and die for Christ. In our time Christ is often presented as a way to self-fulfillment and happiness, and even to health and prosperity. Many have become Christians in the hope that they will be "raptured" out of the world so they won't have to face old age, illness, death, or the "tribulation." But in John's day, joining the Church marked a person for persecution and death. It is highly doubtful that many of the people thronging to church today would have even considered becoming a Christian if they had lived in John's time. Yet the Church grew by leaps and bounds during this time.

The real promises of Christ are not that His Church will escape tribulation, but that those who overcome the world by remaining faithful unto death will not be hurt by the second death, the fires of hell. Instead, they will receive the crown of life (2:10).

Thursday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 137, 138, Joel 2:21, 2 Pet. 2:10
Evening - Ps. 140, 141, Revelation 2:12-17

Revelation 2:12-29

Pergamos, often referred to by its Latin name, Pergamum, is praised by the Lord for holding fast to faith in Christ, even though some, like Antipas, have been executed for their Christian faith (2:13). But, where persecution and death could not shake their faith, a compromising spirit had. They are accused of holding the doctrine of Balaam. Often remembered for refusing to curse Israel (Num. 24:12-13), Balaam also taught the Hebrews to compromise with the faith and sins of the Moabites (Num.31:16). Like him, there are some in the church of Pergamos who advocate compromise with the pagan religions. These people are willing to adopt pagan practices and beliefs, and to incorporate them into Christianity. Such people cast stumbling blocks in the path of Christians, causing them to depart from the faith. This is especially enticing to those who want to save their lives in the face of persecution. By joining with the pagans in their feasts and orgies, they may hope to escape suffering. But Christ destroys their hope. If they do not repent He will fight against them (2:16). He will be unto them not a Saviour and refuge, but an enemy, for they have become His enemy. His weapon will be the sword of His mouth (2:16, see also 1:16, 19:15, and Heb. 4:12) which is the word of God, or, the Scriptures. By the Scriptures their sins will be shown and their condemnation pronounced. But, to those who repent He will give hidden manna. Instead of the feasts of idolatry that lead to eternal condemnation, He will give them the true Manna from Heaven, which leads to eternal life. A white stone and a new name signify adoption into the family of God.

Thyatira is a church that is growing in holiness, for their last works are greater than their first (2:19). They also have a problem; a woman, claiming to be a prophet from God, is teaching them to compromise the faith. She is called, "Jezebel" because, like the famous wife of Ahab (1 Kings 16:31), she is not of the people of God, and introduces idolatry and sin into the fellowship of Christ (Rev. 2:20). God has given her time to repent of her fornication (idolatry), but she has not. She and her followers will be cast into great tribulation and death (2:21-23). In other words, they will die in their sins and suffer the eternal tribulation of hell, the second death unless they repent.

To those who have remained faithful to Christ, no burden is placed upon them but to "hold fast till I come" (2:25). They are to continue in the faith, growing in holiness, even in the face of persecution and death until the Lord returns (the end of the world). And they shall judge the nations.

Friday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 142, 143, Joel 3:1-8, 2 Pet. 3:1-10
Evening - Ps. 144, Rev. 3:1-6

Revelation 3:1-6

Sardis is the next church addressed, and the message to it is terrifying. This church has the reputation of being a vital and healthy church. It probably has a large congregation, the respect of the people in the city, and people probably "enjoy" its services and activities. Yet, in reality, it is dead. The people are just going through the motions of church, while their hearts are for the world and its acclaim. This church has been tamed by the world. It has become a pet. Our Lord counsels it to strengthen what little is left of the true faith. Otherwise He will come to it unexpectedly, like a thief in the night, and the people will die in their sins. They need to repent (3:3). Those who do will receive white raiment, symbol of the purity of those whose sins have been forgiven, and their names will not be removed from the book of life (3:5). To have Christ confess them before the Father and His angels is to be claimed as one belonging to Christ by faith, and to be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven.

November 21, 2011

Tuesday after the Sunday next before Advent

Morning - Ps. 129, 130, Joel 2:1-11, 2 Pet. 1:12
Evening - Ps.132, Rev. 1:9-20

Revelation 1:9-20

The historical setting of the book of Revelation is made clear in two verses from chapter 1. In 1:4, the first recipients of the Revelation are identified as the "seven churches which are in Asia." Note that the churches are not merely identified; they are greeted in the standard form used in letter writing by the Apostles; "Grace be unto you, and peace...." These churches are facing a growing persecution by the Roman government, and, in 1:9 John identifies himself as their companion and brother in that tribulation. Tribulation, here, means the tribulation of the Church under the Roman persecution. So John is saying to the seven churches that he is suffering with them. John was not sitting in a comfortable home as he wrote Revelation. He was in a squalid prison, a place of horrible suffering and torture. Peter had already been tortured to death in Rome, Antipas had been executed in Pergamos (2:13), and John knew the same fate could be his at any moment. So cast away the idea that these churches are mere symbols. They are people of flesh and blood facing the issues of life and death because of their faith in Christ (1:9).

The power of Christ is described in verses 10-17. His voice is strong and powerful, like a trumpet blast. He is dressed in garments of spun gold. His appearance is fearful, with eyes like fire and feet like brass. His voice is like the sound of many waters (we might say, like the roar of a thousand stormy seas). A sharp, two-edged sword comes out of His mouth and His face is as bright as the sun. This is not gentle Jesus meek and mild. This is the God of all creation, terrifying in His power and fearful in His holiness. No wonder John, close as He was to the Lord, fell to the ground in a dead faint (1:17).

The Great and Majestic Lord revives John, and describes Himself as the One who died and lives again, has the keys of Heaven and hell and death, and holds the seven stars and candlesticks in His hand (1:18-20). This is One to be feared above all fears. And yet, if He is for you, who can stand against you? Certainly Rome is no menace to the power of this Jesus. Rome had already killed Him once, done its very worst against Him, yet He lives and holds power that can destroy all of Rome in an instant, or throw it into the fires of hell forever. Surely the Church can trust this One, in life and in death.

He tells us the meaning of the stars and candlesticks. The book of Revelation often interprets its own symbols, and it is important that its readers pay attention to its interpretation. The stars are the angels of the seven churches. Heavenly bodies usually represent human beings in Revelation, and here they represent the clergy, probably the bishops of the churches in the seven cities and their surrounding areas. The candles are the churches. The point made is that they are held in the right hand of Christ. He holds them in his strong hand, and He is far stronger than any persecutor on the face of this planet.

The picture given by this passage is very similar to that in the Twenty-third Psalm. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Why? "Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." As the Psalm presents, Christ's ability to keep His sheep safe, even as they pass through the shadow of death, Revelation 1 shows He is able to see His Church through the persecution of Rome.

November 20, 2011

Monday after the Sunday next before Advent


Morning - Ps. 124, 128, Joel 1:13, 2 Peter 1:1-11
Evening - Ps. 131, 132, 134, Rev.1:1-8

Revelation 1:1-8

Our commentary turns to the book of Revelation, where we will remain until the evening of December 23rd. This is a most fortunate time to look at Revelation, due to the wide spread interest in the book caused by predictions about the "rapture." Most current views are based on the interpretation devised in the British Isles in the early 1800s known as Dispensationalism. According to this view, the New Testament Church was inaugurated by God as a stop gap measure made necessary because the Jews rejected the Messiah. The Church is an interruption of God's plan for Israel, and will be removed in the "rapture." The rapture will be followed by seven years of tribulation, during which Israel will return to God. At the end of the seven years, Christ will return and rule in Jerusalem for a thousand years, after which He will take all of His people to Heaven. This view leads people to make predictions about the time of the "rapture," and to see in current events "signs" that it is near. Rather than making more predictions, allow me to suggest another, and much older view of the book of Revelation.

It is important to understand that the Dispensational view is a new view. Historically, the promises of God in the Old Testament have been understood as being fulfilled in the Church. The Church is the New Israel and the Kingdom of God on earth. It is not an interruption of God's plan for Israel; it is the fulfillment of God's plan for Israel.

Rather than giving a map of events separated by millennia from those to whom the book was first written, the book of Revelation was first of all a message to first century Christians enduring deadly persecution by the Roman Empire. The message refers to the coming fall of Jerusalem and Rome, and encourages Christians to remain faithful even unto death. Their persecutors will fall, but God's Church will remain, and those who suffer and die in the persecution can look forward to a home in Heaven, with all the blessings of the Heavenly realm.

In this respect, Revelation is similar to Romans and First Timothy, each of which is written to a specific congregation or person with a message for them. In the message for them we find a message for all Christians of all time. So, when the Apostle Paul charges Timothy to preach the word, we understand that the same charge applies to all ministers and all churches. Like wise, when John tells the people of Asia Minor that the smoke of the torment of those who worship the beast which persecuted the Church in the first century will ascend up forever (Rev. 14:11) we can rest assured that those who worship whatever beasts arise in our own time will also perish with the unbelievers. The message here is not given to amuse us with guessing games about the identity of the Anti-Christ, but to teach us that the price of deserting Christ is the fires of hell.

Tonight's reading shows that the book of Revelation is a revelation/message from Jesus Christ regarding "things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1). It is written to the "seven churches which are in Asia" (1:4). These are actual churches with real people, not symbols of the ages of the church. The revelation comes through John the Apostle, who is imprisoned on Patmos. He has held Apostolic oversight of the churches of the area for many years, and he writes to prepare the Christians for the persecution that has begun and will increase in scope and ferocity in the near future. Thus he calls Christ the faithful witness. The Greek word used here is the word from which we get our English word, "martyr." It is used intentionally to show that Christ gave up His life for the people in these churches. He counted them more valuable to Him than His glory in Heaven and His life on earth. So, if they are called upon to choose between Him and their own lives, they must choose Him as He chose them.

November 18, 2011

Saturday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 21, 23, 2 Kings 11, 1-16, 2 Tim. 4:9-22
Evening - Ps. 18, Eccles. 12, Mt. 24:1-14

2 Timothy 4:9-

The charge to Timothy is ended. What remains in the epistle are personal remarks. Yet, even they say much to those who have ears to hear. Demas, for example, was a close friend and fellow labourer with Paul in Colossians 4:14. But in 2 Tim. 4:9 he has deserted Paul. What has caused his defection, which is not only from Paul, but also from Christ Himself? He "loved this present world." He loved his life and was unwilling to risk it by helping Paul in his imprisonment. Our Lord said the greatest and most important commandment of all is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. But Demas, after years of seemingly following Christ, has now decided he loves himself more than Christ.

Many have followed Demas' path. Appearing to faithfully serve Christ, they really only follow as long as He allows them to have their own way. The moment following Christ begins to require them to get out of their comfort zone, and to do a little giving instead of taking, they run away.

Crescens and Titus have been sent to Galatia and Dalmatia by Paul, and Tychicus has been sent to Ephesus, probably carrying the letter of Timothy with him (4:12). Unlike Demas they have not deserted Paul, and Christ; they continue to serve. Timothy also remains true, and will come to Paul, though being in Rome at that time will endanger his life. With autumn and winter approaching, Paul wants his coat. He also wants his books and papers (4:13).

Verses 14 and 15 are about Alexander, probably one of the Ephesian craftsmen who persecuted Paul. Timothy is to beware of him.

The "first answer" (4:16) may refer to a hearing after which Paul was put into the Mammertine prison. He faced that alone. This man who gave so much of himself, who suffered so much to take the Gospel to people, had to face the Roman authorities alone. The sadness of this is palpable.

But the Lord was with him (4:17), and delivered him from the lion's den for a while, that he might be allowed to continue to preach the Gospel, even if from prison. Yet, Paul knows the time of his death is near, and trusts Christ to "preserve" (save and deliver) him "unto His heavenly kingdom" (4:18).

Paul closes with a few words to those who have worked and prayed and suffered with him in the service of Christ. "The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit" is a prayer for Timothy himself. "Grace be with you" is for all the people, and clergy of Ephesus. Neither Timothy nor the Ephesians ever saw Paul again in this life.

November 17, 2011

Friday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 22, 2 Kings 9:30, 2 Tim. 4:1-8
Evening - Ps. 6, 26, Eccles. 11, Mt. 23:25

2 Tim 4:1-8

The Scriptures are the word of God, as though they came from the very mouth of God. They are, then, the authority of faith and life. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 begin by telling us the Scriptures are the source of profitable doctrine, and end by telling us the Scriptures furnish God's people unto holy living, "good works." "Profitable" implies first, that the Scriptures are the source of true knowledge of God, and true knowledge of how to love and serve Him. It also implies that other sources of doctrine, instruction, and furnishing people for the task of knowing God and living life, are unprofitable. They are defective, whether they come from the wisest of men, or our own inner thoughts. Only the Bible is inspired by God.

It is for this reason that Timothy, and all clergy, are to "preach the word" (4:2). Yes, there are some very wise people whose thoughts and lives have benefited humanity down through the ages. But they were simply human, and their words and views are filled with human defects. Their views of God and their directions for living a good life are flawed, including Timothy's. This is why ministers are to preach the word, rather than their own views. This is why ministers are to stay with the tried and true Biblical faith rather than blaze their own trails through the Bible. The current demand for new ideas, practical sermons in place of "tired" and "boring" doctrines, and creative and culturally informed worship are not new. Timothy faced them in Ephesus in the first century A.D. Paul writes to remind Timothy, and all who read this epistle, that those things cannot furnish the man of God. The Word, the Bible, is God's appointed means to accomplish these things. Preach the word... reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (4:2).

When God commands ministers to preach the word, He necessarily commands the Church to hear the word preached. But verses 3 and 4 warn that some people will not endure sound doctrine. They will want sermons that entertain them, and tell them how to get ahead in life and feel good about themselves. Paul says such people turn their ears from the truth, and turn them to fables (4:4). Again, such a warning to the preachers is also a warning to hearers not to be among those who reject the word for fables. Ministers may not offer trivialities to God's people, even if the people demand them. Ministers are to preach the word, they must "watch in all things."

To watch is to be on guard. Those who give themselves to fables and heap up teachers who preach what they want to hear rather than the Word of God, are like people who allow alcohol and drugs to cloud their judgment, making themselves easy prey for those who would rob and harm them. By contrast, God's true ministers are to be sober and on guard. They are to do only that which furnishes God's people for Godliness. Paul is especially concerned about this because he knows his time on earth is short. "The time of my departure is at hand" (4:6-8). He is not afraid. He looks forward to Heaven. But he wants to do his best to ensure that those coming after him in the Church know the truth, and have every opportunity to live according to it.

November 16, 2011

Thursday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 10, 2 Kings 9:17-28, 2 Tim. 3
Evening - Ps. 16, 17, Eccles 9:11, Mt. 23:13-23

2 Timothy 3

In the last days, Paul warns, people will be lovers of self, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4). This is a sad state of affairs, but it is not the timing that makes it so sad, for Paul's description fits people of all times and eras. It is not even the wickedness that makes it so sad, though such wickedness breaks the heart of all who love God and love people. The thing that makes this so sad is that it describes the Church, not the world. It describes people who call themselves Christians, who have a form of godliness (3:5). These people may be well schooled in the doctrines of the faith. They may know the basic teachings of the Bible, and may even read the Bible regularly. They may be regular attenders of public worship, but their hearts are not about God. In their hearts they are as far away from God as the devil himself.

Paul says such people are like Jannes and Jambres who rebelled against Moses (3:8). How are they like these Old Testament people? In their resistance to the truth. In their resistance to the Gospel. In their idea that they can go on living in opposition to God while buying Him off with a few dollars and ceremonies.

Let none try to comfort himself with delusions that such people only exist in the Church right before the Lord's Return. The "last days" are those days from Pentecost to the Return of Christ, and such people have been, and will continue in the Church throughout this era. Paul's point is that we must not be those people. Like Timothy, we know the doctrine and life of Paul (3:10-12). Timothy knew them by knowing Paul personally; we know them through the pages of Scripture. But knowing them is not enough. It is "continuing" in them (3:14) that matters. The beautiful words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, make no difference to a person unless he continues in the Bible's teachings. To "continue" is to live in, to dwell in, to abide in the Bible in such a way that it shapes our thoughts and actions. It molds us. It changes who and what we are, right down to our very essence.

"Given by the inspiration of God" (3:16), means "God breathed," or from the mouth of God. It is a picture of speech. Our words come out in our breath. So Paul is saying Scripture is the very word of God as truly as if it came out of His own mouth. If this is so, how can we claim to love God, yet not continue in it?

November 15, 2011

Wednesday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 9, 2 Kings 9:1-16, 2 Tim. 2:14-26
Evening - Ps. 13, 14, Eccles. 8:12-9:1, Mt. 23:1-12

2 Timothy 2:14-26

Both of Paul's letters to Timothy are about Timothy's charge as a minister and bishop in the Church of Christ. Timothy is charged to do two things. First, he is to keep himself pure in faith and life. Second, he is to preach and teach the pure faith and life to others. This means he will commit this charge to the ministers, who will then commit it to the churches. It also means he will carry this charge directly to the churches in his capacity as their bishop.

We see both aspects of this in our reading for today. Verse 14 continues the charge Timothy is to give to the ministers and laity over whom the Lord had made him a shepherd and an overseer. Look back at 2:2, and you will see that our reading is a continuation of Paul's instruction to commit the Apostle's teachings to the ministers and churches. Part of this ministry is to instruct them to walk together in peace. Verse 14 requires them to refrain from striving about words that do not profit. The key words here are, "strive not," which means don't fight about things that are unimportant. Such babblings are profane and vain, increasing ungodliness in the people and the church like canker (2:17). Instead of fighting over trivialities, Christians must pursue and actively work for faith, charity, and peace with one another (2:22). Timothy himself is charged to be a man of peace.

He is to study the Scriptures (2:15). Again Paul emphasises that learning comes before teaching. The implication is that divisive babblings come from those who are either immature in the faith and the ways of Christ, or are complete strangers to them. Hymenaeus and Philetus are examples of this (2:17). Wanting to become teachers before they have been learners, they have spread error and dissent throughout the Church in Ephesus. By contrast, Timothy, who has studied with Paul and has been ordained and sent to Ephesus to teach, is not to be aggressive and divisive as Hymenaeus and Philetus are. He is to be gentle and meek (2:24-25). This does not mean he cannot take a firm stand for truth. He has been encouraged to do so throughout this epistle. It means his methods must be as kind and helpful as his motives. The goal and hope is always that people may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil (2:26). Paul intertwines his charge to Timothy, with the charge Timothy is to give to the clergy and the charge the clergy are to give to the Church. This is because the same things apply to all. The same faith, the same faithfulness, the same pursuit of peace, the same abhorrence of strife, the same meek and cooperative attitude, the same teachable attitude, and the same character traits are for both clergy and laity. Our functions in the Church may differ, but our calling to holiness of life is the same; "Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2:19).

November 14, 2011

Tuesday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.5, 2 Kings 6:15-23, 2 Timothy 1:15-2:13
Evening - Ps. 11, 12, Eccles. 6:1-12, Mt. 22:34

2 Timothy 1:15-1:13

How sad the words of verse 15 are. They present the personal hurt Paul felt by the rejection of Phygelus and Hermogenes. Having devoted himself to these very people, having brought the Gospel to them, nourished them in its teachings, suffered beatings, stonings, and prisons for their sakes, and having established a church in which they can worship God and hear the truth, he now sees them forsake him. Surely he must feel here what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:15, "And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved." But Paul's words also express a deeper sorrow, for these people are deserting God to follow their own desires and ideas. So Paul's pain is more for them than for himself. In their heresy and rebellion, they have sealed their fates as enemies of God. Contrast verse 15 with verses 16-18. Onesiphorus, because of his love for God and God's truth, also loved Paul, and showed his love in his actions as well as in his words. As Paul suffered and sacrificed to share the word of life with Onesiphorus, Onisiphorus shared good things with Paul. This, naturally caused Paul to rejoice much, but he rejoiced even more to know that Onesiphorus walked in Biblical faith rather than following vain babblings (2 Tim. 2:16:-17).

In chapter 2, the epistle turns to the ministry again. Timothy is to be strong in grace (2:1), and to commit what he has learned from Paul to "faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." We err when we ask our ministers to spend their time planning social gatherings and recreational activities for us. We err when we ask our clergy to organise soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Their calling is to teach the Scriptures to us; to "commit" the Apostolic teachings to us. Our responsibility, just as Timothy's, is, first, to receive their teaching. Timothy had to be a learner before he could become a teacher. We, also, must be willing learners of the word of God. We are, as Peter wrote, to "desire the sincere milk of the word" that we "may grow thereby" (1Pet. 2:1-2). Primary among God's appointed means for this is the ministry of men called and consecrated to teaching us. Clergy, there is a legitimate sense in which your people may and should become followers of you, and in following you, become followers of the Lord (1 Thes. 1:6). Laity, there is such a things as a legitimate and good attachment to those who serve you in the name of Christ. Often laymen become sermon critics and develop an attitude of consumerism and entitlement toward the Church and her ministers. This is as great an offense to God as a minister preaching false doctrine.

Second, we are to transmit the Christian faith to others. Having it committed to us, it becomes our task to commit it to others, who will commit it to others, on down through the generations. The Christian faith is not an individualistic faith. It unites us to the whole company of faithful people. We are part of a Family, a Temple, a River flowing into God. We are like runners in a relay race. Others have gone before us; others will come after us. We have received the torch from those who have gone before. We now run our course with perseverance and faithfulness, and pass the torch to others to carry on till the Lord Returns. While it is true that we are part of the fellowship of all faithful people, we can never allow ourselves to believe we can be a part of that broader fellowship without also being faithful in the local fellowship, which is the local church. And it is in the local congregation that our worship, fellowship, learning, and service primarily take place.

Paul illustrates our work with examples from military service, athletic competition, and agricultural labour (2:3-6). All three require learning complex skills, self-discipline, and self exertion. A soldier ignorant of the use of weapons will soon be dead. An athlete not dedicated to his sport will soon be a spectator. A farmer too lazy to plow the fields and gather the harvest, will soon have no harvest to gather. Like wise, a minister who does not apply himself to teaching the Bible will soon have a congregation of heathens, and the layman who will not hear and learn the word will soon be one of them.

In 2:8, the epistle turns to the historical reality on which our hope is based; "Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead." We do not hope in feelings or experiences. We hope in a historical fact; that God came to earth, died for our sins, and rose from the dead. Paul would not suffer and die for a feeling or an emotional experience. He would not die for a theory, or even a religion, and neither should we. We live for, hope in, and serve a real, living God who has made Himself known in history and in flesh and blood. For Him alone we will suffer, knowing that if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us" (2:12).

November 13, 2011

Monday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.2, 3, 2 Kings 6:8-14, 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Eccles. 5:8, Mt. 22:15-33

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Today we begin reading Paul's final letter to Timothy. Written from the Mammertine prison in Rome, Second Timothy shows the courage and faith of Paul in the face of death, and his concern for the continuing ministry of Timothy. By this time, early in the year 69 A.D., Timothy is in Ephesus, where he has probably served since Paul sent him to that city in 61 or 62 A.D. Meanwhile, Paul has travelled westward, possibly as far as Spain and Britannia, and the Apostle John has assumed Apostolic oversight of Ephesus and the area known as Asia Minor. We do not know how Paul came to be imprisoned in Rome a second time, though we know that Rome's general hostility to Christianity became a full-fledged persecution after Nero blamed Christians for burning Rome in A.D. 64. By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he was in prison facing execution, John was imprisoned on Patmos, and Peter has been executed in Rome.

Yet Paul's letter begins with encouragement to Timothy. His words are those of deep friendship and love; words like, "my dearly beloved son," "I have remembrance of thee in my prayers day and night," and "greatly desiring to see thee." He reminds Timothy of his ordination (1:6), and asks him to stir up the gift of God, meaning the calling and ability to perform the ministry of the Gospel of Christ, in spite of opposition and persecution (1:7-11). As Paul has suffered for the Gospel (1:12), he encourages Timothy to be willing to partake of the afflictions of the Gospel (1:8), having the same faith Paul has, that Christ is "able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (1:12). What has Paul committed unto Christ? His life here and now, and his soul forever. "That day" is the Day of the Lord when all will be judged and those in Christ will be taken into Heaven forever. Paul's faith that Christ will take him in on that day sustains him now in trials and death on earth. Our reading ends with another exhortation to hold to sound words (doctrine) received from Paul, and to remain true to his calling, the "good thing committed unto him by the Holy Ghost.

The words of this epistle were written to Timothy, but their application to all Christians is evident. All are called to the service of Christ, to endure hardship, and to remain true to their calling in Christ even unto death. This charge is not just for those in the offices of ordained ministry, it is for all Christians.

Sermon, Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Faith, the Foundation of Pardon and Peace
John 4:46-54
Twenty First Sunday after Trinity
November 13, 2011

I think Jesus was not chastising the man when He said, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." I think He was proving a point to others. He had recently returned from Jerusalem, and many of the people around Him when He spoke these words had been in Jerusalem and witnessed His words and deeds there. That's why they still followed Him in Galilee, and many wondered if He was the Messiah, and if He was, how would they know? Many decided they would know if He could convince them by signs and wonders. If He would just do a miracle, they could believe. But after each miracle, they demanded another. They wanted more proof. He turned the water into wine. "Yes, but I need more proof; can He heal the sick?" He healed the sick. "Yes, but I need more proof; can He raise the dead?" He raised the dead. "Yes, but I need more proof; can He die and rise again?" He died and rose again. And still they say, "Yes, but I need more proof." That is the line of reasoning adopted by the people in today's Gospel reading. After all, they knew Him. He was from Nazareth, the carpenter's son, "You know, He always was a little odd."

Those people were no different from people today. They wanted signs, so do we. They wanted proof, so do we. They wanted miracles, so do we. So much of what people do in worship and in life is aimed at making God prove Himself to them by signs and wonders. We feel we must have an ecstatic experience to reaffirm to us that we are following the true God. We must get some emotional feeling from worship to prove to ourselves that we are actually worshiping God or that we are in the Spirit. We must get that miracle of healing, or wealth, or relationships, to prove that God is with us. It is exactly this line of thinking that Jesus chastises here. He wants people to believe because they see in Him the goodness of God. He wants them to believe because they hear the voice of God in His words, and the message of God in His teachings. But, then, as now, people gloss over the message, and seek signs and wonders.

But this nobleman is not asking for a sign. He is asking Jesus to use His Divine power, not to prove who He is, but to bless his son, to do good for His people. So this man had faith. He already believed. He didn't know everything about Jesus. He didn't know yet that He was going to the cross and came to save Israel from her sins. But he believed what he knew about Jesus, that He was the Messiah of God and that He had come to save His people. So he asked Jesus, just as we ask Him today, to heal his son. He is not saying, "Heal my son and I will believe in You." He is not saying, "Heal my son and I will be a good person from now on." He is asking in faith, for God to have mercy on him and his son, just the way we ask Him in prayer to have mercy on us and our loved ones.

In this case, Jesus healed the child. He doesn't always heal, at least not the way we want. Sometimes He does raise up the sick, returning them to us to live on in this world. But, sometimes He raises them up to a new world, the Heavenly world, where they won't have to be sick or die ever again. From our perspective, He has let them die. From His perspective, He has healed them forever.

This brings us to a major point of this passage of Scripture, that faith trusts the word of God. The nobleman trusted the word of Christ, "go thy way; thy son "liveth." Yes, his faith became stronger when he heard that his son was well, and I am sure he believed even more strongly when he arrived at his home and was greeted by his healthy and happy son. The Bible tells us he believed, "and his whole house." But the words of Christ were the foundation of his hope. He believed the word.

It is the same way today. It is the word which secures our faith. We do not put our hope in miracles. We see in the pages of Scripture that evil people have worked miracles. The sorcerers of Egypt are but one example. We do not trust in experiences or emotions. They can be conjured up in us by skillful speakers and entertaining shows. The Corinthians of the New Testament are relevant examples of this. But the word of God is solid and sure and endureth forever. "My words shall not pass away." "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," Jesus said (Mt 24:35, Jn. 8:31-32). The Scriptures are the foundation of our faith. We believe because we have met Christ in the Bible. We believe because His word has convinced us. We believe because in Christ we have met God.

Now, we come to the point. All that I have said so far has been leading up to this; this same Jesus, who kept His word to the Jewish nobleman, is able and willing to keep His word to us. He is faithful and true. So, when He says "no man cometh unto the Father but by me," we can believe it. And when He says, whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life," we can count on Him for it. J. C. Ryle, commenting on this passage wrote;

"The fact before us is singularly full of comfort. It gives enormous value to every promise of mercy, grace, and peace, which ever fell from Christ's lips. He that by faith has laid hold on some word of Christ has got his feet upon a rock. What Christ has said, He is able to do; and what He has undertaken, He will never fail to make good. The sinner who has really reposed his soul on the word of the Lord Jesus, is safe to all eternity. He could not be safer if he saw the book of life, and his own name written in it. If Christ has said, "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out," and our hearts can testify, "I have come," we need not doubt that we are saved. In the things of this world we say that seeing is believing. But in the things of the Gospel, believing is as good as seeing. Christ's word is as good as man's deed. He of whom Jesus says in the Gospel, "He liveth," is alive for evermore, and shall never die." (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, vol. 3, p. 254).

We are almost to the end of Trinity Season. Next Sunday is the last Sunday in this season. After it we move into Advent. As Trinity is about the meaning of the Gospel to us in everyday life, it is meet and right that today we should emphasise the pardon and peace that is ours in Christ. It is also meet and right that we should remember that pardon and peace are for those who believe.

Let us pray.
"Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

November 11, 2011

Saturday after the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 149, 2 Kings 5:20, 1 Tim. 6:12
Evening - Ps. 19, 46, Eccles. 5:1-7, Mt. 21:33

1Timothy 6:12-21

Paul has reminded and encouraged Timothy to flee the things of unGodliness and follow after the things of God (6:11). These words convey a picture of running away from unGodliness, and running after Godliness. It is important to note that the things to be run from, and the things to be pursued are not just actions, they are character traits. Thus, Timothy, and we through him, is reminded that a major part of the Christian life is the reformation of personal character. It is being changed in who and what we are. To pursue the things of Godliness means to cultivate them and to work at making them a part of us. This is not easy. Paul compares it to a fight, a battle (6:12, see also 1 Tim. 1:8). And the enemy is within us. The enemy is our own desire to please ourselves at the expense of others and to the neglect of God. John Chrysostom, in his Homilies on Timothy, XVIII, calls our desires, "passions," and says power and wealth in this world, even to the extent of ruling over nations, is nothing if we do not have rule over our own passions.
"For of what advantage, tell me, is it to reign over nations of our fellow-men, and to be the slaves of our own passions? Or what are we the worse for having no one under our rule if we are superior to the tyranny of the passions? That indeed is Freedom, that is Rule, that is Royalty and Sovereignty. The contrary is slavery, though a man be invested with countless diadems. For when a multitude of masters sway him from within, the love of money, the love of pleasure, and anger and other passions, what avails his diadem? The tyranny of those passions is more severe, when not even his crown has power to deliver him from their subjection."
The good fight also includes contending for the faith, standing firm for Christ against the darkness. The entire Christian life is a battle against the forces of evil, both outside of and within our own hearts. Thus, Paul urges Timothy to "lay hold on eternal life" (6:12). He is to hold fast to Christ and the salvation given to him by the sacrifice of the Lord. This is not a once for all thing, it is a lifelong process and it is part of fighting the good fight. Timothy has professed Christ. He has made the decision to trust Christ as Lord and Saviour. Now he must continue to lay hold of Christ throughout his life, for it is those who persevere to the end who are truly saved. Paul refers here to what he calls walking in newness of life (Rom. 6:4), and what John calls walking in the light (1 Jn. 1:7). Each of these verses refers to a continuous action. Walk and continue to walk. Keep on laying hold of the eternal life you laid hold of in your profession of Christ.
Christ Himself is the ground of our faith, and the hope of His appearing, both in His word and Spirit, and in His Second Coming, is what keeps us laying hold of Him. It is also the ground of Timothy's charge, and his reason for continuously keeping it. Verses 14-16 show the glory of Christ.
Paul gives a final exhortation about the rich ((6:17-19), and ends with a heartfelt plea that Timothy will "keep that which is committed to thy trust." What has been committed to his trust? The Gospel and the ministry of reconciliation, the care of souls and churches, the shepherding of the shepherds, the responsibility to pass on the faith pure and undiluted, and to continue to fight the good fight. It is everything Paul has placed into Timothy's care in this epistle.

November 10, 2011

Friday after the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 143, 2 Kings 5:9-19, 1 Tim. 6:1-11
Evening - Ps. 139, Eccles. 3:16, Mt. 21:17-32


1Timothy 6:1-11

Servants are to count their masters as worthy of all honour. Here again, "honour" carries the double meaning of respect and payment. So the servant is to consider the master worthy of respect and worthy of his share of the servant's production. This has tremendous meaning for Christians in the work force today. It means we are to honour those who create our jobs and pay our wages. Likewise, masters are to pay wages that are fair and just, and Christian charity and equality is to bring masters and servants into mutual love. Thus Paul urged Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother (Phil. 16). This principle is so important Paul says anyone who teaches otherwise does not consent to the words of Christ or the doctrine that is in accordance with Godliness (6:3). Instead he is proud, ignorant, and destitute of the truth (6:3-5).

Then, as now, some confused Godliness (faith in Christ) with financial gain. It is true that hard work and frugal living generally produce prosperity, but there are no guarantees in the Bible about this. A Christian's business may fail. His job may be eliminated. And office politics may deny him promotions, or, even get him fired. We live in a fallen world where sinners sin and evil things happen, so this should not surprise us. God makes no promises to make us rich. Especially does He not promise to reward holy living or giving money to the Church with financial success.

There is gain in Godliness, but it is spiritual, not financial (6:7) and we should content ourselves with food and raiment (6:8) knowing that the rich fall into many temptations that can drown them in destruction and perdition (6:9-10). In contrast to those who seek primarily wealth, Christians are to seek contentment, and follow after Godliness (6:11).

November 9, 2011

Thursday after the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.141, 142, 2 Kings 4:38-5:8, 1 Tim. 5:17-25
Evening - Ps. 137, 138, Eccles. 3:1-15, Mt. 21:1-6

1Timothy 5:17-25

Paul turns from the financial support of widows within the congregation to the financial support of clergy (5:17-18). The double honour owed to the elder (presbyter/clergy) while carrying the meaning of respect and cooperation, also means financial support. It is the honouraria given to a person whose services are valued. It is the same word used in 1 Tim. 5:3, which leads into the instructions about providing for destitute widows. Verse 18 refers to the Old Testament principle of not muzzling the ox who treads the grain, for to do so is deprive him of his due compensation. If it is wrong to deprive the ox of his compensation, it is also wrong to deprive the clergy of his.

Having broached the treatment of ministers again, Paul says accusations against them are not to be lightly received. This refers to accusations of serious sin or heresy, which require disciplinary action. Two or three witnesses are required to verify the charge (5:19), and the guilty are to be rebuked before all (5:20) without partiality (5:21). "Justice is blind." The same principles apply to all members of the Church. We neither speak nor hear idle gossip, complaints, or accusations against our fellow servants of Christ.

Because the authority and responsibility placed upon the clergy is so great, Timothy is to take great care that he ordains (lays hands on) only those who have proven themselves faithful (5:22). They are to have faced a time of testing and examination so that their views and practices are well known. To ordain someone without this is to be a partaker of his sins, if he later proves to be of heretical views and unorthodox practices which he has spread to the people.

November 8, 2011

Wednesday after the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.127, 130, 2 Kings 4:25-37, 1 Tim. 5:1-16
Evening - Ps. 135, Eccles. 2:18, Mt. 20:17

1Timothy 5:1-16

Kindness and deference are to mark Timothy's treatment of others. Timothy is an important leader in the Church. He has authority to consecrate bishops and ordain clergy. He has authority to teach and command both clergy and congregations (4:11). Without doubt Timothy organised the churches in and around Ephesus into cohesive dioceses, consecrating bishops to oversee each. Thus, Timothy served not only as a representative of Paul, but as a kind of archbishop and a ruler of those who had rule of the Church. This is a position of great authority, worthy of great respect. Yet, he is not to be arrogant or puffed up. Instead he is to be humble, to remember that callings may differ, but people are equal. So he is to treat older men and women with the same loving respect he would show to his own father and mother. He is to treat younger Christians with the same love and respect he would give to his own sisters and brothers (see also 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

In Timothy's time, the Church provided for widows and orphans within the congregation. Naturally, some women joined the church just to get a handout, and Paul instructs Timothy that even widows are to provide as much for themselves as possible. Especially young widows should remarry and be provided for as a wife rather than as a ward of the Church (5:14). Those with families should be provided for by them (5:4, 16). But a true widow (destitute) of proven Christian faith, who has long been a member of the Church and demonstrated her faith in her life, was to be aided by the Church (5:16).

November 7, 2011

Tuesday after the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.125, 126, 2 Kings 4:18-25, 1 Tim. 4:6
Evening - Ps. 132, Eccles. 2:1-11, Mt. 20:1-16

1Timothy 4:6-16

This passage has two primary points. First, put the people "in remembrance of these things." Second, "exercise thyself unto godliness."

"These things" (4:6) refers to the things written and referred to in this letter. They are the true doctrines of the Gospel of Christ, which have been entrusted to Paul (1:11), which he has entrusted to Timothy, and which Timothy was to entrust to the ministers of Ephesus (1:3-5). One of Timothy's tasks in Ephesus was to consecrate one of the elders to oversee the churches as bishop of Ephesus. Another task was to ordain men to the deaconate (3:1-13, 5:22). He was to instruct clergy in the patterns of worship, daily prayer, and Christian love (1:5), so they could instruct the laity in them (4:11, 1:3). He was also to teach them to actively avoid falsehood and vain speculation about Scriptures and Heavenly things (4:7).

To "exercise thyself unto godliness" (4:7) is to practice the discipline of living for God daily. It includes habituating ourselves in the patterns of public worship, daily prayer, the Scriptures, and conduct and conversation that develop faith and faithfulness in us. Our goal is to "Draw nigh unto God" (Jas. 4:8-10) and to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom.12:2). It is to be continually in the process of becoming more a person God wants you to be, and less a person of self and sin. Thus, Timothy was to meditate in and give himself wholly to them.

Timothy was to give attendance (devote himself to) reading the Scriptures, exhortation to Biblical thinking and living, and doctrine, which is teaching and applying what the Bible says (4:13). He would have naturally spent much of his time teaching the clergy of Ephesus and the surrounding area. But the reading, exhortation, and doctrine would have been part of his public duties in worship, and in private meetings as well. Timothy was to be a man of prayer, diligent in the means of grace. He was then to teach the clergy to do the same, and they were to lead the people into the same pattern.

So diligence in exercising unto godliness is the calling of all. It is not just for Apostles, or bishops, or clergy; it is the way of life for all Christians. I wonder how different our own lives would be, and what a difference we might make in the Church and the world if we would simply apply ourselves unto Godliness.

The gift and laying on hands of verse 14 refers to Timothy's ordination to the ministry of the Gospel, and the gifts of the Spirit that enabled him to accomplish his task. It especially refers to the ability to teach the Scriptures, called here "prophecy."

November 6, 2011

Monday after the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.124, 128, 2 Kings 4:8-17, 1 Tim 3:14-4:5
Evening - Ps. 131, 133, 134, Eccles. 1:2-11, Mt. 19:16

1Timothy 3:14-4:5

It was Paul's intention to go Ephesus as soon as he could possibly get there (3:14). But, in case he was detained, Timothy was to carry on the work in Ephesus. So Paul took time to pen a few words of encouragement and instruction for him. He has already reminded Timothy of what he should look for in candidates for the offices of bishop and deacon (3:1-13), and now he turns to Timothy's personal character and work. Timothy, of course, was already well aware of these things. Paul put them in this letter so Timothy could show it to the Ephesians, so they would know that he was acting in accordance with the instructions of Paul. Having this in writing from Paul, Timothy could show it to presbyters wanting to become bishops, and laymen wanting to become deacons. This would give them something to evaluate themselves by, and give the Church the standard of what to look for in the men holding these offices.

It is important to note that Paul calls the Church "the house of God" (3:15). This is a significant change, for prior to Pentecost the Temple was called the house of God. Paul realises that no building is actually God's dwelling. His real house is His people. It includes both the whole body of believers, and the local congregation, and it is assumed throughout the New Testament that Christians will be active members of the local church (Heb. 10:25). It should also be noted that the Church is the Church of the Living God. It does not belong to us, we belong to it, and it belongs to God. It is, therefore, to be conformed to His will as taught in the Bible, not run according to our whims and creativity, or by our own views of what it "ought" to be. This is very important, because people have a tendency to become confused on this point.

In fact, Paul warns Timothy that people will depart from the faith and fall under the spell of seducing spirits (5:1-5). They will follow the temptation to re-invent the Church, and the faith to make it more comfortable to themselves and to the world. 5:2 should frighten everyone who reads it, for it teaches that those who follow false teachings and engage in wrong practices can become so entrenched in them they can no longer see their error. In one sense we easily see this in sinful attitudes and actions we have allowed to become habits in our lives. But Paul is talking about taking this even further, to the point where a person has left the faith, and doesn't even know it.

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

The Great Invitation
Matthew 22:1-14
Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
November 6, 2011

Most people would love to receive an invitation to mingle with the rich and famous at an important event. The numerous magazines and news stories about so called, "celebrities" shows the public infatuation with these people, and, while most of us here are not "star struck," if the right famous person invited us to the right event, we would probably go. Yet our reading from Matthew tells the story of people who refuse the invitation of a king.

It is obvious that the king in the parable represents God and the wedding is a symbol of Christ and Heaven. But, strange as it may seem, most people refuse the king's invitation. In the parable, they made light of it and went about their lives as usual. Some even mistreated the king's servants. The first recipients of the invitation were the king's friends. They were the important people of the kingdom. They were those who seemed to support the king and like the king, and honour the king. But their friendship was proven false when they received the invitation, because they refused it. They didn't really want to be with the king. They didn't want to share his joy and celebrate with him at the wedding. They went to their farms and merchandise instead. They went to the things they valued. They went to their own possessions.

These people represent the many who refuse God's invitation of forgiveness and Heaven. Maybe they don't believe He has really invited them. Maybe they don't believe Jesus is really the only way, truth, and life. Maybe they don't believe Jesus is the only way to God. Maybe they think they don't need God. Maybe they are satisfied with their worldly possessions. Maybe they think they will live forever. Whatever their reason, they refuse the invitation, just as so many do today. It is hard for me to imagine that anyone would refuse Christ. It is hard for me to imagine that anyone would not run to Him and beg Him to forgive their manifold sins and wickedness. How can any person look at his or her own life and think he is prepared to stand before God without some kind of miracle that will forgive his sins?

The answer is that they believe they are righteous in their own right. The original targets of this parable were the priests and Pharisees of Israel. As Matthew 21:45 says, "when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them." These people thought they had earned every good thing God could give them because they were good and deserving people. When they prayed to God it was not to confess sin and seek mercy. They prayed to impress God with their goodness. "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are," said the Pharisee in Luke 18:11. He was saying, God, I am so glad I am not a sinner. I'm so happy I only do holy things. And, God, You must be very happy to have me on Your side.

But look at the end of these refusers. They are destroyed and their city is burned. Everything they valued is reduced to ashes, and their own lives are given up. The fire represents the fires of hell, the eternal sorrows of those who die and stand before God in the arrogance of their own righteousness. They will be cast into the lake of fire forever.

Now look at what happens; the king invites the average people, the ones who have nothing that would make them worthy to come to a wedding in the palace. They could not bring rich gifts; they could not dress up the wedding by their appearance. No one knew them or admired them, and no one would want to have their picture taken with them. They had nothing to offer the king, and he had nothing to gain by inviting them.

In the original parable, these people are the publicans and sinners of Israel. They are the ones the Pharisees hated because they were not very faithful in their performance of the religious ceremonies. In short, they were sinners. They were not just sinners in the eyes of the Pharisees, they were sinners in the eyes of God. The fact that the Pharisees distorted the meaning of the ceremonial law of Israel, does not excuse the rest of the Jews for not keeping it. So these people who neglected the law were committing a serious sin against God. But that was not their only sin. They were as guilty of breaking the moral law of God as the Pharisees were. "All have sinned," God tells us in Romans 3:23, and that includes the people in the highways as well as those in the Temple.

So we come to an important point of this story, and it is a critical point in the Bible; the only way we can get into the wedding, the only way we can get into Heaven, the only way we can become acceptable to God, is by Him doing something miraculous to take away our sin and guilt. In the parable, the people are dressed in wedding garments. Their old, street clothes, have been discarded, and new, glorious garments have been given to them. This represents that they have received the forgiveness of their sins through faith in Jesus Christ. Through Him, they have been invited to the feast and made acceptable to enter in and partake of it. But one man tries to get in without a wedding garment. He is trying to get into Heaven without Christ. But he is not received. He is cast into outer darkness

So the great invitation is for you and me. It is for all who are unworthy of God, all who realise that they have nothing to give, no way to earn their admission to Heaven. It is for those who will accept it as the free gift of God by trusting in Jesus Christ.

November 4, 2011

Saturday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 120, 122, 123, 2 Kings 2:1-15, 1Timothy 3:1-13
Evening - Ps. 144, Job 42:1-9, Mt. 19:1-15

November 3, 2011

Friday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 119:145-160, 2 Kings 1:2-17, 1 Tim. 2:1-10
Evening - Ps. 119:161-176, Job 39:19, My. 18:15

1Timothy 2:1-10

Though chapter 2 begins a new section, it is still part of Paul's instruction to Timothy about the charge he is to give to the people and clergy of Ephesus. Instead of false teachings (1:3) and fruitless speculation about the law (1:4), Timothy is to charge them to devote themselves to prayer and Godliness. The prayers of verses 1 and 2 follow the ancient liturgies, and Paul probably had them in mind as he wrote these verses. Note the similarity between verse 2 and the Liturgy of St. Mark as quoted in the Pulpit Commentary;

"Preserve our king in peace, in virtue, and righteousness... incline him to peace towards us and towards thy Holy Name, that in the serenity of his reign we too may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all piety and honesty."

Rather than their own speculations, the ministers are to remind the people of the Gospel, of the only Mediator between God and man, "who gave himself a ransom for all" (2:3-6). It is to proclaim this Gospel that Paul was ordained a preacher and Apostle (2:7). The implication is that if Paul was ordained to preach the Gospel, then the clergy of Ephesus, ordained by Paul and Timothy, were ordained to preach that same Gospel.

Verse 8 refers to the public prayers in the churches of Ephesus. "Everywhere," means, in all the congregations. "Lifting up holy hands" was the common position for prayer. Meeting in the homes of the church members, which often had only a few stools or chairs, the Christians stood for hymns, Scripture reading, and sermons, and knelt for prayer. Rather than folding their hands in front of them, they held them at their sides, chest high and palms up during prayer. They did not wave their hands or sway their bodies.

Verses 9 and 10 complete today's reading with instructions to the women to dress modestly. This, of course, includes the need to dress in ways that cover, rather than in ways intended to allure. But it also means to dress in ways that do not call attention to the cost and beauty of the apparel. "Modesty" in this sense is used the way we use it when we say, "modest means." The apparel should be adequate and comfortable, not shabby or poor. The intent of the woman is not to have people admire her, but to worship God.

November 2, 2011

Thursday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 100, 110, 1 Kings 22:29-40, 1Timothy 1:12-20
Evening - Ps. 116, Job 38:31-38, Mt. 18:1-14

1Timothy 1:12-20

In 1:5-11 Paul refutes the use of the law as a source of futile speculation. It is not given so men can spin it into fables and genealogies as some of the Jews did (1:3 & 4). It is given to show God's standard of righteousness, and how far we have departed from it. In short, it is given to lead us to Christ. Paul's own life is an example of this. He rejoices that he has been called to the service of the Gospel (1:12), but recalls that he was previously a blasphemer of God and a persecutor of His Church (1:13). It was the grace of God in Christ that forgave His sins and called him into Christ's service (1:14), for Christ came into the world to save sinners (1:15). For Paul to call himself chief of sinners is to recognise that he had departed far from the standard of God in the law. But because he learned of his sin, he was moved to repent and seek God. And God had a dual purpose for Paul when He saved him. First, through Paul's conversion the world would see the longsuffering (patient love) of God (1:15). Second, Paul's conversion was to be a pattern, or, example, to all who believe in Christ to everlasting life (1:16). Future believers, including Timothy, those to whom he ministers, and us, can see in Paul's conversion the pattern by which God calls others to faith in Christ. Paul's example ends in a doxology (1:17), thanking and praising God who has saved him and the Church through Christ.

Finished with his example, Paul continues to delineate Timothy's task in Ephesus (1:18-19). We remember that Paul is committing to Timothy the task of charging the ministers in Ephesus to preach the Gospel of Chris instead of their own views and speculations (1:3-4). Thus, Paul says in verse 18, "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy." "Prophecies" (1:18) probably are not things foretold about Timothy, but the revelation of God taught to Timothy through Paul and others, and to which Timothy has devoted his life. It is by the Apostolic teaching, which is really Christ's teaching, that Timothy is to "war a good warfare." It is the Gospel of Christ that will cast down Satan, free the spiritual captives, and deliver them safely into Heaven, and it is Apostolic teaching which Timothy is urged to teach the ministers in Ephesus.

He is to teach in "good conscience" (1:19). This means he is to first believe the Gospel, then teach it. He cannot teach what he does not believe without being a phony and a liar. Some have turned away from the Gospel, and suffered shipwreck on the rocks and storms of false teachings. Hymenaeus and Alexander stand out in Paul's mind, and they have been excommunicated, which is to be turned over to Satan as unbelievers until they show signs of repentance and true faith.

November 1, 2011

Wednesday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 94, 1 Kings 22:13-28, 1Timothy 1:1-11
Evening - Ps. 113, 114, Job 38:19-30, Mt. 17:14

1Timothy 1:1-11

This morning's reading begins the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy. As Paul wrote this letter he was in Macedonia, having been released from house arrest in Rome. Timothy was in Ephesus overseeing the Church in that city and the surrounding area, especially the ministers, some of whom had begun to teach things contrary to the Gospel (1:3-4, 7). Their attempts to teach the law, whether by intention or merely ignorance, had led some of the ministers into error. So Timothy's task is to charge them to teach no other doctrine but the Gospel (1:3 & 4). The "commandment" of verse 5 is not the Old Testament law. It is the charge Timothy is to give to the ministers. The end (goal) of this charge is love from a pure heart and good conscience. This means it is real Christian charity, not phony or of mixed motives. A good conscience means to be able to say or do something without their consciences convicting them. The Christian minister should be able to say, without his conscience convicting him otherwise, that he loves God and His Church. Not just "The Church" but his own congregation and every member of it. The same is true of every member of the congregation. All should be able to say they love each other. A minister who loves his church will preach the truth to them. He will lead them into the means of grace and the life of Godliness. A congregation that loves its minister will gladly receive his ministry to them and will ensure that they are present for his sermons and other ministries (1 Thess. 5:12 & 13). If someone is unable to say he is doing this, without his conscience convicting him otherwise, it is his duty to change his own attitude and heart.

The Ephesian ministers attempting to teach the Old Testament law do not understand what they are saying. Their teaching does not lead people to Christ; it binds them with burdens. So Paul gives some instruction about the law. Obviously Timothy already knew this, and Paul probably put it in the letter so the ministers could see it and know that the things Timothy was saying were from Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment (authority and decree) of God (1:1). The point of these verses is that the law of God was not given for theologians to debate and discuss how far a person can walk on the Sabbath. It was given to direct people into the way of God and to show us the things we ought to be doing. In this sense, it is for the disobedient and ungodly (1:9 & 10). It is for those who are doing anything that is contrary to sound doctrine in accordance with the Gospel, which was committed to Paul by God (1:11). To such people the law is a warning that they are not living according to the will of God. Thus the law gives sinners (all have sinned, Rom. 3:23) an opportunity to repent and seek God's forgiveness in Christ. The point of the law is to lead us to Christ.