December 30, 2011

Seventh Day of Christmas

Seventh Day of Christmas

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.147, Is. 62, 1 Jn. 2:18
Evening - Ps 90, Dt. 10:12-11:1, Heb 3

Isaiah 62 looks forward to the restoration of Jerusalem and Judea after the Jews return from their captivity in Babylon. But, like much of the prophecy of Isaiah, it uses the return from captivity to foreshadow a greater return, a greater glory of Jerusalem, and a greater Salvation than from mere human enemies. It foreshadows the grace of God given to Jew and Gentile through the Saviour Christ. Jerusalem here represents the entire people of God; the Church of Christ in all ages. The love of God is poured out upon them forever.

December 29, 2011

Sixth Day of Christmas

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 33, Is 59:1-21, 1 Jn. 2:1-17
Evening - Ps. 111, 112, Is. 60:13, Heb. 2

Commentary
Isaiah 59:1-21

The Christmas season is one of the highlights of the year, and it is made even more precious as we follow the daily Bible readings. Hebrews shows how Christ fulfills the meaning and intent of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, and how they pointed to Him as the only real sacrifice for sin, the great High Priest who intercedes for His people, and God Himself purchasing and applying salvation and forgiveness to His people. 1 John is a practical guide to living in Christ's Church, and in the fallen world around us.

Isaiah 59:2 expresses the very heart of every person's problem with God. Our problem is not that God is unable or unwilling to do good, but that our sins have separated us from Him. Fallen humanity (and many Christians) blame God for the mess of the world. They conclude that, because God does not give world peace, personal affluence, freedom from disease, and a general happiness, He either does not care, does not hear their prayers, or is unable to do anything about the problems they face. Such people impose two contradictory demands upon God. First, they demand total freedom to choose their own way and shape their own destinies. Second, they expect God to force all people to act in accordance with general principles of goodness, so they can live in peace. They refuse to see the irrationality of their demands, and they refuse to see that their own sin is the cause of their separation from God, and that they themselves have contributed greatly to the general malaise of life on planet earth.

Because of sin, judgment and wrath have come upon all people. Isaiah addresses first the people of Judea and their situation when the Babylonians came upon them in bloody and murderous conquest. But the principle is true of all nations, all peoples, and all individuals. We live in a world of sorrow because our sins have made it so. The human race is naturally reaping what it has sown, and it is important for us to see that sin has consequences for us in this world as well as in eternity. Yet there is hope. God has not deserted us, nor has He abandoned His plan to save His people. "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression" (59: 20). Throughout the Bible we see God working out His plan of salvation. He called Abraham to be the father of a new people. To them He gave His Commandments and His Word. Through them He sent the Messiah; the Saviour, not for Israel alone, but for all who will receive Him as their Saviour and their God. The descendants of Abraham were not always faithful to God. More often than not, they were like sheep straying from the protection of the Shepherd and away from the safety of the Fold. Though God allowed them to reap the bitter fruit of sin, He did not abandon them. In the fullness of time the Saviour came to purchase their forgiveness and to call both Jews and Gentiles into His Kingdom and Church. By His grace He overcame our sin, and even now He is working in the lives of His people to prepare us to be with Him in Heaven forever. The surprise is not that we suffer hardship and troubles in this world. The surprise is that God has not abandoned us to destruction and hell. The surprise is that He came in grace to redeem us.

December 28, 2011

Fifth Day of Christmas

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 27, Is. 56:1-8, 1Jn. 1
Evening – Ps. 20, Is. 57:13, Heb. 1

It is difficult to refrain from commenting on 1 John 1 and Hebrews 1. Both are important chapters of important books. But I will contain myself and concentrate on Isaiah. Chapters 56 and 57 continue the message of God’s grace and forgiveness. But His mercy is not confined to the Jews alone. His House is a house of prayer for all people. “Whosoever will may come” to Him and find mercy and hope and peace and forgiveness. This theme is carried through chapter 57 where it is well stated in verse 19. Those who are near are the Jews left in Jerusalem after the conquest by Babylon. Those who are far off are those living in captivity in Babylon. But the meaning looks beyond Babylon and Judea to the reign of the Messiah who extends His mercy both to the Jews (those who are near) and to the Gentiles (those who are far off)

December 27, 2011

Fourth Day of Christmas, Holy Innocents

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 8, 26, Jer. 31:1-16, Mt.18:1-14
Evening - Ps. 19, 126, Is. 54:1-13, Mk. 10:13-31

Commentary
Mark 10:13-31

Three different attitudes toward Christ are found in this reading from Mark. First is that of the children. They come with nothing to offer, no wealth, no power. In the home, they are completely dependent on their parents. They can not earn their keep. In the time of Christ, children were taught to help in the gardens and housework as soon as they were able, but their consumption of time and resources was generally greater than their production. Yet their parents usually fed and clothed them, and lavished love and care upon them. They would have come to Christ in the same simple faith they had in their parents. They expected to be accepted and welcomed because of the love Christ had for them, not on the basis of anything they could give to Him. They are examples of receiving the things of God by grace through faith.

The second attitude toward Jesus is found in the rich man. He is a man of power and wealth, who considers himself righteous through his devotion to the law of God. He comes to Jesus with the attitude of self worth and self righteousness. He believes he has earned the eternal life, and he expects Jesus to receive him on the basis of his own accomplishments and worth. This is a direct contrast to the children. When Jesus tells him to give away everything, He is telling him to give up all his claims to earning the love of God, and to come as the children come, humble, dependent, and ready to receive the things of God as the gift of grace.

The third attitude is in the disciples. Their attitude is actually only a little different from the rich man's, for both think they have earned God's love by their own accomplishments. The main difference is that, while the rich man turned back rather than giving up his worldly goods, the disciples have left everything to follow Christ. Therefore, in their own minds, they have earned the love of God. Surely their reward will be great, they think.

The point is obvious; those who realise they have nothing to give and everything to gain are those God accepts. Those who believe they have earned Heaven by their morality, good lives, or their sacrifices in God's service will be disappointed when they stand before God and see their lives and good works were all about them instead of God. They will see that all they have to give falls far short of the cost of eternal life. No person can pay that price. No person can be good enough to earn it. It must be received as a gift, the way a child receives his home and love from his parents. We must trust God to receive us through Christ, not through our own works.

December 26, 2011

Third Day of Christmas, Feast of St. John the Apostle

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 23, 24, Ex. 33:12, Jn. 13:20-35
Evening - Ps. 97, Is. 6:1-8, Rev. 1

Commentary

Reading Exodus 33:18 one would expect the second reading to come from John 1:1-14, especially emphasising Jn. 1:14, "and we beheld his glory." Instead, the lectionary takes us to John 13, and the common thread between the two readings seems to be the grace, or love, God had for Moses and John. In Exodus God claims the right to choose for Himself whom He will give grace and mercy, and whom He will not. This is important because it shows Moses that he was not given the leadership of Israel, or the closeness he enjoyed with God, on the basis of his own intrinsic worth. He had these things because God chose to have mercy on him and to exalt him to this position. The same is true of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. We cannot take theses words to mean Jesus did not love the others; John 13:1 makes it clear that He loved His disciples, and continues to love all of His people, and John 31:34, Jesus, speaking directly to the eleven (for Judas has already left at this point) commands the disciples to love one another as He has loved them. This statement about John, then, must mean he shared a closeness with Christ that went beyond that of the other disciples. Was it this closeness to Christ that was the foundation of John's Gospel, one of the most beloved books of all time? No, the closeness and the inspiration are the result of God's choice of John to be and Apostle and to write the Gospel.

But the real point being made in the two readings is that, just as Israel was to continue in the teachings given by God through Moses, the Church is to continue in the teachings given by God through the Apostle John. Not just Moses and John, for in a sense, Moses represents all of the law and prophets, meaning the Old Testament, and John represents all of the Apostles, and, therefore, all of the New Testament. Ultimately, then, we are not just remembering John today, we are looking to the One who called and enabled him to write and teach the Church, that we may walk in the light of His truth, and "attain to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

December 25, 2011

Second Day of Christmas, Feast of St. Stephen

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 118, 2 Chron. 24:17-22, Acts 6
Evening - Ps. 30, 31, Acts 7:59-8:8

Commentary
Acts 7:59-8:8

It is notable that our cycle of prayer and Scripture moves immediately from the birth of the Saviour to the cost of following Christ, for Stephen is the first New Testament martyr for Christ. Thus we are reminded that being a Christian is not just about going to Heaven; it is an absolute and lifelong commitment to observing all things He has commanded us. In the murder of Stephen, the persecution of the Church began, for which the city of Jerusalem would pay so dearly in Revelation 4-11. 8:1-4 tells us the persecution was so severe, all Christians, except the Apostles, fled Jerusalem. But persecution followed them. Saul was probably only one of many who captured Christian Jews and returned them to Jerusalem to die (Acts 9:1).

If the events of this passage are true, and if the God to which they testify is real, then becoming a Christian is not something we do in search of self esteem or to enhance our quality of life. We become Christians because we owe God obedience and love. We become Christians because we have been made to understand that we were living in rebellion and sin against God, and because we want to turn away from sin and begin to do what is right. In short, we become Christians because it is right to do so. All other considerations are secondary, at best. I wonder if the Church today, including myself, spends too much time inviting people to go to Heaven and too little time calling people to obey God. Stephen's short time as a Christian was a time of prayer, service to God's people, and obedience unto death, not about blessings for Stephen.

December 24, 2011

Ubi Caritas by the Cambridge Singers

Christmas Day

The following hymn, "Ubi Caritas," expresses the constant hope of every Christian. The tune, which is as beautiful as the words, can be found in the link in the previous post.

Ubi Caritas

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

December 23, 2011

Saturday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Christmas Eve

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 50, Lk. 1:67-80
Evening - Ps. 85, Zech. 2:10, Mt. 1:18

Commentary
It does not surprise us to see Christ reigning in eternal peace over an adoring throng of men and angels, as we see Him in the final chapters of the book of Revelation. But tonight we turn to something entirely unexpected. Tonight we see Him as a helpless, human infant, completely dependent on people for His every need. We cannot imagine the sacrifice this was for God. If we think of ourselves stripped of everything dear to us, and of every comfort we now take for granted, homeless, hungry, cold, and sick, we have not even come close to understanding what Christ gave up to come to earth. Yet, there He is. The virgin conceived and brought forth a Son and called His name Jesus, Saviour, and this tiny child is nothing less than God with us. Among all the gifts and trimmings of Christmas, let us also be glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of God's own Son, and let us joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer.

December 22, 2011

Friday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.147, 1 Sam 2:1-10, Lk. 1:57-66
Evening - Ps.148, 150, Jer. 23:5-8, Rev. 22:10-21

Tonight's reading takes us to the end of the book of Revelation, the "final chapter" in more ways than one. It shows the completion of the great story of redemption. In Revelation we have seen the Church go from terrible persecution to unspeakable joy. We have seen her enemies judged and punished, and we have seen the complete victory of God. His purpose was not defeated in Eden. Rebellion in the house of Israel could not prevent His victory. The crucifixion of His own Son did not defeat Him. The empires of the world, though they appear to us as powerful and terrible in their relentless tribulation of the Church, are as easily brushed aside by God as a speck of dust. Jerusalem is given over to the Gentiles. Rome is crushed as though it were nothing. God has marched through history, extending His Kingdom and vanquishing His foes until all enemies are put under His feet and Christ rules the restored creation in perfect peace and righteousness. Even the devil could not prevent God from fulfilling His purpose for His creation and His people. God used Satan as it pleased Him, and destroyed him when it suited His purpose. At the end of the battle, then, God reigns supreme. His enemies are destroyed, His people are saved, and His Kingdom is established forever. This is one of the most important messages of the book of Revelation.

A second, and nearly equally important message is stated several times in Revelation, one of which is found in this chapter; "blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (Rev. 22:7). To "keep the sayings" is to remain faithful unto Christ throughout the trials and tribulations of life. It is to overcome, as Christ said to the churches in the first three chapters. We overcome our enemies and oppressors by being faithful to God at any cost. It is those who overcome in this way who will eat of the tree of life (2:7) not be hurt of the second death (2:11) and feed on Christ by faith, the hidden manna (2:17). Therefore, let us stand fast in the faith. Let us never retreat; never bow to any "beast;" never give up the faith. Then shall we reign with Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. Amen.

December 21, 2011

Thursday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 144, 2 Sam. 7:18, Lk. 1:46-56
Evening - Ps. 145, Zeph. 3:14, Rev. 22:1-9

Commentary
Revelation 22:1-9

Verses 1-3 continue the description of the New Jerusalem. The river of the water of life flows from the throne of God (22:1) and the tree of life lines its banks. Both symbolise eternal life given by God through Jesus Christ.

The curse is gone (22:3). The curse is the condition into which humanity and nature have fallen as the consequence of sin (Gen. 3:7-24). Sickness and death are part of the curse. Natural disasters are part of the curse. Wars, oppression, greed, strife, and all the social ills that plague humanity are part of it, as are the personal angst and alienation that is felt by so many people. These things are the natural results of sin, for in them we simply reap what we have sown. Thus, the curse includes all the sorrows of this life. Even worse, it includes alienation from God Himself, for we are born into a condition of sinfulness which inclines us toward evil and makes us worthy of God's wrath and damnation.

In Christ, the believer is delivered from the eternal consequences of the curse. Through Him, the renewing work of the Spirit begins to remake us into the people of holiness, love, and peace God intends us to be. In the Church we are brought into fellowship with others in whom He is working, and together we are becoming a new people in a new creation. But this is always a work in progress while we live in this world. This is why even Christians who have tried to follow Christ for decades are not perfect, and even the Church is not perfect.

But when we dwell in the completed New Jerusalem of Revelation 22, our own personal war with sin will be over, and we will dwell in a place where all the effects of the curse have been erased forever. Even the very ground will be redeemed and restored to its original goodness (Gen. 1:31). We will dwell in Paradise restored.

We will see God's face (22:4). In His presence all of the questions, fears and doubts that haunt our present life on earth will vanish. We shall know even as we are known. He will be our light and we will have no need of another (22:5). Everything symbolised in Scripture by the word, "light" will be ours completely when we are in His presence.

While the New Jerusalem's final state is in the future, especially for those Christians who were suffering the persecutions of ancient Rome, yet there is a sense in which it is also present with us now. This is because God has already begun His work of redemption. The Saviour has come. People are becoming new creatures in Christ, and are living in the new "Jerusalem" by faith. So the process that will lead to the completion found in Revelation 22 has already started. The conquest of Jerusalem and Rome, are, from the perspective of the Christians of Asia Minor, "things which must shortly be done" (22:6). Therefore, they are to keep the sayings of this prophecy (22:7), which means to preserve them and to order their lives according to the commandments and promises given in the book.

From our perspective, much of what is prophesied in Revelation has already taken place. Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. and the fall of Rome is a well documented fact. Yet, in one sense, the first 19 chapters of Revelation have a present tense to them, too. For as long as we remain in this world there will always be those who oppose and suppress the truth. The battle with sin ingrained in the social and political structures of cultures will continue until the Lord's Return. And there are always plenty of "antichrists" (1 Jn. 1:22). Each generation faces its own "beast," and must look to the promises and power of God as it fights the good fight. Therefore, we too must keep the hope and faith inspired in us by the book of Revelation.

December 20, 2011

Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.132, Zech. 8:1-23, Lk. 1:39-45
Evening - Ps. 139, Haggai 2:1-9, Rev. 21:9-27

Commentary
Revelation 21:9-27

The completion of everything foretold in the Bible is symbolised in the descent of the holy city of Jerusalem. Here we see the creation restored to God's original purpose and peopled by those who love and serve Him fully. Here evil is no more; all is righteousness and peace. Here God's will is done on earth as it is in Heaven, in fact, the distinction between the new (restored) creation and Heaven itself is very indistinct in this chapter.

But the message comes through clearly, the world is good again. The world, once given over to evil, once the dominion of Satan, has been reclaimed by God. Even people, once under the rule of Satan, have been redeemed by Christ and brought into the reclaimed earth. The world, created by God for His own glory, is His alone, and His glory shines in every part.

There are many interpretations of the symbolism of the dimensions of the city, the pearly gates, and the golden streets. We will not attempt to unravel them tonight. Let us rather keep our emphasis on the main point by looking at a passage that is closely related to this passage. In fact, the passage shows God's intention to do what this chapter of Revelation predicts, the full and final triumph of God's purpose in all creation. The passage is Ephesians 1:9-10:

"Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness 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."

Read chapters 21 and 22 as the fulfillment of God's purpose expressed in these verses, and you will understand their message.

December 19, 2011

Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 130, 131, Is. 25:1-9, Lk. 1:26-38
Evening - Ps. 114, 122, Gen. 49:1-10, Rev. 21:1-8

Commentary
Revelation 21:1-8

In chapter 20 the Day of Judgment seals the fate of the wicked forever. This is a very important aspect of the book of Revelation. The wicked, led by Satan, have resisted God and persecuted His people since Cain killed Abel. Christians in Asia Minor, to whom the Revelation was first addressed (Rev. 1-3), lived under intense and deadly persecution. They longed for God to intervene and deliver them from their torment. The book of Revelation shows God moving in answer to their prayers. He begins by judging the rebellious children of the house of Israel, who rejected the Messiah and began the persecution of Christians (Rev. 4-11). Next, the Roman Empire, which had caused many to commit idolatry and had murdered countless Christians, feels His wrath (12-19). As the Gospel goes out into all the earth, many are conquered by it and brought into the Kingdom of Christ. Others reject it. They are ruled with the rod of iron, symbolising judgment and punishment of those who will not repent. Revelation moves on to show the defeat of the archenemy of the Church: the dragon, known as the serpent, which is Satan himself. He and all his followers who persecuted the Church are cast into the lake of fire forever (chapter 20). This is the end of the dominion of evil. Satan has warred against God since his fall. He has led the world astray, killed God's people, and caused immeasurable misery to men and angels. But God has won. He has vanquished Satan, delivered His people, and accomplished His purpose in history. This is a major point of the book of Revelation.

Chapter 21 turns to the eternal bliss of the Church. The days of earth are ended, and a new kind of earth is created. We could say, the cosmos is re-created and made new; the old things of sin have passed away, and all things have become new in righteousness. In this new creation, the new Jerusalem comes down from Heaven. This is the Church, the people of God from the very beginning to the very end of time. The new world is their home, and it is a place of indescribable joy. God is the Light of the new land, and the tears and pains of the old earth are gone forever.

It is those who overcome who will inherit these things, according to verse 7. It is those who remain faithful to God in Asia Minor, and through the ages, no matter the cost, who will walk these streets of gold and behold the face of God. Those who are not will have their portion in the lake of fire.

December 18, 2011

Monday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.116, Is. 33:13, Lk.1:5-25
Evening - Ps. 104, Is. 35, Rev. 20:7

Commentary
Revelation 20:7-15

Still looking into the distant future, the book of Revelation shows the defeat and punishment of the Church's most dangerous and powerful enemy, Satan. He has engineered the persecutions, murders, false doctrines, and all other attempts to destroy the Church and humanity. Even the beast and the false prophet were mere servants of Satan, the great serpent. But, powerful as he is, even the devil is no match for the power of God. There will come a time when Satan will be bound for a thousand years during which he will be unable to torment or persecute God's people. The first 6 verses of chapter 20 show this. And though verses 7-15 show him released at the end of the thousand years, this is only to allow him to gather his forces for his final defeat at the hand of Christ. The enemies of God may seem "as the sand of the sea" to the Church, but to Christ they are a speck of dust He blows away with ease. In verse 10 we see Satan defeated and cast into the lake of fire, where he joins the beast and the false prophet in suffering forever.

This passage is showing us the end of the world as we know it. We are seeing planet earth when time has ended, and Christ has returned to raise the bodies of those who have died in Him, while those alive at His Coming have met Him in the air. The unGodly have been raised to stand trial before the great white throne of God, and to be cast into the lake of fire with the beast and the false prophet. This is the end of the reign and terror of sin on earth. Evil is defeated. Satan is cast into hell. Those who followed him in life have also followed him in death, and no one is left to persecute, kill, or even tempt God's people. The battle is over. Christ has won. Now the only part of the story left to tell is that of the eternal joy of those who have remained true to Christ.

Sermon for fourth Sunday in Advent

Making Straight
John 1:19-28
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2011

At this time of year our minds turn to the preparations for Christmas. Most of us have our trees decorated, and are makings plans for guests to visit, or for our visits to family and friends, and our kitchens are filled with smells that make us wonder if we can wait till Christmas to eat the goodies. We are grateful for these things, grateful to celebrate Christmas, and, if done in the right frame of mind, the decorations, and pies, and gifts, and cookies, and visits, and cakes are good things and legitimate ways to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.

Other things also occupy our minds, things like a young couple making their way to Bethlehem, a baby in a manger, angels, and shepherds, the daily readings from Isaiah and Revelation, and the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, which we pray daily in Morning and Evening Prayer. These are enduring traditions of Advent, which have been treasured by generations of God's people.

Today we come to another Advent tradition, the reading from the first chapter of the Gospel according to John, which tells us about John the Baptist. In this passage, the Baptizer was preaching and baptizing on the east side of the Jordan when the delegation from Jerusalem came to him. It was an era when hope of the Messiah's advent ran high, and the religious authorities wanted to know more about this man who was making such an impact on the people. It seems to me that they were ready to receive John as the Messiah and take him into Jerusalem in glory, for they gave him every chance to claim that position. Yet every time, he refused their honour. "I am not the Christ," not "the prophet," not even Elijah, he said. I am just a "voice... crying in the wilderness." He claimed no glory for himself and asked nothing for himself. He had one purpose, to point people to Christ. "Make straight the way of the Lord." Thus he said to the priests from Jerusalem, "there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is whose coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose."

"Make straight" is a quote from the book of the prophet Isaiah and refers to making a road by removing rocks and trees and obstacles so people can travel to their destinations. John is saying he has come to call people to build a highway on which the Messiah can come to them. This highway is, of course, a spiritual highway, a highway of the heart. Building this kind of highway consists of removing spiritual obstacles, such as the sins of the flesh and the pride of the mind, attitudes of indifference and self-sufficiency, replacing them with Godliness of mind and dependence on God. John is really calling Israel back to her original purpose in the plan of God. He is calling Israel to love God and to walk together in unity and holiness as the people of God.

The call to make straight the way of the Lord is not for Israel only. It continuously sounds forth through the centuries, and addresses us as fully as it did the Jews. How do we make straight the way of the Lord?

We make His way straight by continuing in the faith once for all delivered to the saints. This is the faith God gave through the prophets and Apostles, and through His own Son, Jesus Christ. It consists of the doctrines and ethics recorded and preserved for us in the Holy Bible. The faith tells us God created the world in righteousness, but, we, through our own sin have turned it into the seething cauldron of strife and sin it is today. And we, through our own personal sins, have become the enemies of God, fully worthy of His righteous anger. The faith tells us that to save us from the penalty of sin, God Himself became a Man and suffered death on the cross, bearing in Himself the wrath and death our sins deserved. That sinners who call upon Him and trust His sacrifice to forgive all their sin for all time will be saved from God's wrath and reconciled to Him in peace and love forever; and that one day He will end the reign of sin and evil in this world, by coming back and putting all enemies under His feet and establishing His reign of righteousness forever. This is "the Faith."

We make His way straight through a continuous, life-long act of trusting God to forgive our sins and to welcome us into His fellowship and love through what He accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This means to confess your own sin and worthiness of punishment, and also to believe God has forgiven you. This is what it means to "have faith."

We make His way straight by living life according to His will and in His love. Scripture uses many words to describe this life. Holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness express its essence, and each of them means to turn away from sins and distractions and to return to God's original purpose and calling. This call goes out to the Church as a whole, and to the individual Christian.

Once in a while I think about what it would be like if we really got serious about loving God and walking together as His people. I can see us ordering all of life under the Lordship of Christ as we joyfully serve Him in our work, and home life, in our recreation, and, of course, in our Church life as we fellowship in Christian love and hold the faith in "unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life." I can see us acting like a community, more than that, like a family, like a body, like new creatures in Christ. I can see us working together without envy or discord. Every word we speak is a word of encouragement and edification, every action is helpful, and all is done to build up the body in love. Once in a while I can imagine that. I hope you can too. I hope you see it as the goal of this parish, and as your own personal goal, and I invite you to dedicate yourself to making it more and more of a reality, as Paul wrote, excel still more, in it in the coming days and years.

There is one more thing I have to mention today; that we make straight the way of the Lord, by announcing, or, proclaiming the faith. This invites hearers to come into the faith.

As soon as we hear the command to make straight the way of the Lord, we become aware of our own weakness and inabilities, and we may be tempted to not even attempt the task to which we are called. It would be hopeless indeed if we were not promised the help of God in every aspect of it. Truly "we are sore let and hindered" by the lingering wickedness that still abides in even the most saintly of people, and which leads us into the sins we commit. But with God's help, we can do better, and better, and better, and He is willing to help. He is working within you now to form you and renew you according to His will. He promises to help you in everything to which He calls you. This is why we pray as the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent directs us, that God will come among us in His great power to speedily help and deliver us.

Let us pray.

"O Lord, raise up, we pray thee, thy power and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, world without end. Amen."

December 16, 2011

Saturday after the Third Sunday in Advent, Ember Day

Saturday after the Third Sunday in Advent, Ember Day

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 42, 43, Mal. 2:1-9, Mt. 9:35-10:15
Evening - Ps. 103, Mal. 3:1-6, Heb. 4:14-5:10

Commentary
Mt.9:38

The commentary on Mathew 9:38 is adapted from Bishop J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels.

"[T]here is a solemn duty incumbent on all Christians, who would do good to the unconverted part of the world. They are to pray for more men to be raise up to the work of conversion of souls."

"If we know anything of prayer, let us make it a point of conscience never to forget this solemn charge of our Lord's. Let us settle it in our minds, that it is one of the surest ways of doing good, and stemming evil. Personal working for souls is good. Giving money is good. But praying is best of all. By prayer we reach Him without whom work and money are alike in vain. We obtain the aid of the Holy Ghost."

"The Holy Ghost alone can make ministers of the Gospel, and raise up lay workmen in the spiritual harvest, who need not to be ashamed. Never, never may we forget that if we would do good to the world, our first duty is to pray"

December 15, 2011

Friday after the Third Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 40, Jer. 23:23-32, 2 Cor. 5:5
Evening - Ps. 51, Jer. 26:1-15, 2 Tim. 3:14-4:8

Commentary
Jeremiah 23:23-32

Today, the second of the seasonal Ember Days, leads us into a reading from Jeremiah that should arrest our attention. The passage concerns people who took it upon themselves to speak for God, but, rather than speaking the truth, they spoke their own ideas. They claimed to have the inspiration of God. "I have dreamed" they said, meaning to have received a vision from God with a message for His people. But they spoke lies (26) because their dreams were false (32). They may have truly believed what they were saying, but it was not from God. No minister in any church, no person in any church has any right to teach anything but that which is in agreement with the revelation of God in Scripture. This is so evident in the Bible that it is apparent to even the most casual reader.

But something in this passage expresses why such people have this problem. It is a single word found in Jeremiah 23:32, "lightness." They have counted the truth of God, and God Himself, as lightness. Living for Him is not something they take seriously. Understanding His revelation is not something they take seriously. Preaching and teaching and shepherding the flock are not things they take seriously. They have a casualness about the things of God.

This is just as true of people in our own time as it was in Jeremiah's day, and it is just as great a sin now as it was them. The things of God are weighty matters. There are no trivialities in God, everything about Him and His word to us is of eternal significance. Let those who minister in His name do so in the realisation that they deal in weighty matters, and the let the people attend to the words of faithful teachers as though they are hearing things of weighty importance.

December 14, 2011

Thursday after the Third Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 96, Is. 32, Mk. 6:1-6
Evening - Ps.93, 98, Is. 33:1-34:8, Rev. 20:1-6

Commentary
Revelation 20:1-6

Tonight's reading takes us from the era of the Roman Empire to the distant future of the Millennial Reign. Here the persecuted Christians are allowed to see that Rome has passed away under the judgment of God, and even the devil, their greatest enemy, will be defeated by God. The world of strife and sin, in which they dwell, will be put under the complete rule of Christ. His ways will be the dominant ones, evil will be cast to the outer fringes, and the era written of in Micah 4:1-8 and Isaiah 11:6-10 will become reality. This era begins when God, by His angel, imprisons the devil in the bottomless pit for a thousand years.

It is important to note the progression in Revelation. It begins by warning the churches of the intensifying of the persecution that has already begun. It continues by warning them to put aside all distractions and sins because only those who are fully dedicated to Christ will be able to stand firm in the faith in the face of such tribulation. Revelation then moves to the fate of those who cause the death and suffering of the Christians. They will not go unpunished. God will vanquish them with His power, and the Church will continue by His power. First to fall under the wrath of God are the unbelievers of Israel, where prophets were murdered, Christ was crucified, and the Church is persecuted. Their fate is shown in chapters 4-11, concluding with the fall of Jerusalem. Next God deals with the Roman Empire, the great whore drunk with the blood of the saints. Rome's judgment is accomplished in chapters 12-19. Yet the one who is behind the persecutions is still at large. What will happen to him whom the book of Revelation calls the dragon and the devil? Will he go on forever raising up new enemies of the Church? Will Christians always suffer under his hand?

The answer is, "no." He, too, will be struck down by the power of God. He will be cast into the pit for a thousand years, during which the world will see great advances in evangelism and Godliness, and the Church will enjoy peace and holiness. The souls of the martyrs (20:4) will rejoice in Heaven as the Church on earth rejoices here. The details are not made clear to us. We see the outlines of this event through a glass darkly. But even if we see these things vaguely (and I think God intended vagueness here) we do see them. We know that they will come about. Satan will be bound and God's Kingdom will reign upon earth. This is the meaning of the verses we read tonight. Grasp this, and you have made great progress in understanding the book of Revelation and God's plan for this world.

December 13, 2011

Wednesday after the Third Sunday in Advent, Ember Day

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 1, 15, Jeremiah 23:9-15, Luke 12:35-48
Evening - Ps. 92, Jeremiah 23:16-22, Matthew 28:16-20
Heading into the change of seasons, we come to the time of fasting and prayer known as Ember Days. Historically, Ember Days have been a time when men were ordained to the ministry, and our Scripture readings for today reflect that tradition. Matthew 28:16-20 is known across denominations as the "Great Commission," for these verses record Christ commissioning the Apostles to take the Gospel to all nations.

Looking at the Apostles, eleven men of modest means with little or no contacts or networks outside of their own tiny country, this may seem an impossible task. Yet it is clearly the intention of Christ, go, teach, and baptize all nations. Even in this time of instant news and internet, making disciples of all nations seems an impossible task, yet Christ's charge to the Apostles quite obviously continues to the ministers and churches of today.

"Teach" (28:19) means to make disciples. It is to enlist people as students in the school of Christ. He Himself is the Teacher, the Headmaster, and He is the curriculum. The subject of each course is: "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." As Christ stated it, we are to teach people to "observe all things whatsover I have commanded you." It is not our ideas of what things ought to be like, or what we would do if we were God that we teach. It is not ours to add to or detract from the message. It is not our task to make it more attractive by adapting the ideas and practices of the world. That has all been tried before, and it attracts large crowds and nets large offerings. The road to destruction is broad and well traveled, and we are not to point people to it. The means by which this commission is fulfilled is the preaching of the Word. We preach Christ, and all things He has commanded. Entertainment draws those who want entertainment. Gimmicks draw people who want gimmicks. Shows draw people who want shows. The Gospel draws people who want Christ.

The messengers, the message, and the means of accomplishing the enormous task of teaching all nations may seem impossibly small and weak, until we remember we are Christ's messengers, it is Christ's message, and they are Christ's means. The commission comes from God in flesh, who rose from the grave, and possesses all authority and power in Heaven and earth. As it is His commission, it is naturally to be accomplished by His means. And it is as His messengers carry out His commission in His way we have His promise, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

As you observe this time of fasting and prayer, please remember those charged with leading the Church in the ministry of pastors and teachers. Ask God to keep the faithful faithful, and to return the erring to the faith. Ask God to be with them in their work, that they would do God's work the way God has appointed it to be done. And ask God to make the people willing to hear and learn the word of God.

December 12, 2011

Tuesday after the Third Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 90, Is. 30:8-17, Mk. 5:21
Evening - Ps. 91, Is. 30:18-26, Rev. 19

Commentary
Revelation 19

Rev. 6:9-11 shows the souls of the martyrs crying out to God to avenge their blood and punish their oppressors. Chapter 19:1-6 shows multitudes of people, the twenty-four elders, and the four beasts worshiping God and giving thanks to Him, "for he hath judged the great whore," and has "avenged the blood of his servants at her hand" (19:2). God has answered the prayers of His people and has poured out His wrath on those who persecute them. Therefore, they praise Him, "Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (19:6). It was very important for the Christians to "see" the fall of Rome in these chapters of Revelation, for they were being asked to endure persecution and death for the Gospel of Christ. They needed to know two things. First, they needed to know God has a place for them in paradise. Second, the persecutors cannot conquer God. He is omnipotent, and He will cast His enemies down forever. Thus, whether they live through the persecution, or give up their lives for Christ, the Christians are assured of victory, for their enemies are also God's enemies, and when God wins, they win.

Verses 7-9 contrast the sins of Rome with the purity of the Church using the images of the great whore and the virgin bride. The Church is both the bride of Christ, and those who are invited to the marriage feast (19:7 and 9). It is not unusual for Revelation to give more than one meaning to a symbol, as we saw in chapter 17, where the seven heads of the beast represent seven hills and seven kings (17:9-10).

Verses 10-19 show the Church, led by Christ Himself marching victoriously across the pages of human history. Christ goes forth to war on a white horse, followed by the armies of Heaven. He smites the nations with the sharp sword that comes out of His mouth. He rules the rebellious with a rod of iron and treads them in the winepress of His wrath. This symbolises His victory over His enemies. Again in verse 16 a title of Caesar is applied to Christ the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The final stand of the beast and its prophet is shown in verses 19-21. These, who have deceived many, forced many to worship Caesar instead of God, and poured out the blood of God's people, are conquered and cast into the lake of fire, along with all who followed them.

December 11, 2011

Monday after the Third Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.84, Is. 29:1-14, Mk. 5:1-20
Evening - Ps. 75, 76, Is. 29:15, Rev. 18:11-24

Commentary
Revelation 18:11-24

Tonight let us pause to retrace the sequence of events in this portion of the book of Revelation, which began with chapter 12. The primary message is the fall of Rome and the end of its persecution of the Church. In chapter 12 the beast with seven heads and ten horns is shown persecuting the Church of God. Chapter 13 shows the beast receiving a commission from Satan (the dragon) to persecute the Church, yet chapter 14 shows the people of God still holding to the faith and singing the song of the redeemed. 14 also gives a stern warning that all who follow the beast will suffer its fate. Chapter 15 shows the wrath of God on the beast, and the saints who have come through the persecution worshiping God in Heaven. 16 continues the judgment of God on the beast, and 17 finally reveals the beast's identity. It is the city that sits on seven hills, rules over many nations, and murders the people of God. This can be none other than the empire of Rome, which was beginning an empire wide persecution of the Church that would continue for generations. Nero, the Roman emperors, the city of Rome, and the Roman Empire are all included in the symbolism of the beast.

Chapter 18 pronounces the fall of Rome, calling it "Babylon" as Peter also called it in 1 Peter 5:13. In verses 9-19 the wicked lament her fall, but in verses 20-24 the Church rejoices. Her joy is not that people will suffer and die in the calamities that will befall Rome. It is that the persecution will end and the faith and perseverance of the Christians will be vindicated. The blood of prophets and saints will no longer run in the streets of Rome.

December 9, 2011

Saturday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 80, Is. 28:1-13, Mk. 4:21-29
Evening - Ps. 65, Is. 28:14-22, Rev. 17 & 18
Commentary
Revelation 17 & 18

Chapter 17 is one of the most important chapters in Revelation because it identifies the beast, thus helping us understand the symbolism of chapters 12-20. The chapter is given to show the judgment of God on the "great whore that sitteth upon many waters" 17:1). Water again represents fallen humanity, and to sit on many waters is to rule many nations (17:15). To be drunk with the wine of fornication is to revel in spiritual adultery, which is a symbol of unfaithfulness to God by serving false gods (Is. 1:21). Thus, the great whore sells herself to false gods, and has led the kings of earth (nations under Rome's domination) to commit idolatry with her. This refers to the blatant idolatry of emperor worship forced on people throughout the Empire by the Roman authorities.

In verse 3 John sees the beast with seven heads and ten horns again. We met this beast in 13:1 and several times in the following chapters. But in 17 its identity is more fully revealed. In fact, verses 7-18 give positive identification of both the beast and the great whore. The beast has seven heads, symbols of seven mountains on which the woman sits (17:3 & 9). Rome was known far and wide as the city on seven hills, and there can be no doubt that it is the place symbolised in this vision. The seven heads also represent seven kings, which are emperors in the dynasty of Caesar (17:10). Of these, five are fallen (dead), one (Nero) "is, "and the other (Galba) is yet to come (17:10). But what does 13:3 mean when it says one of the heads was wounded to death, yet the wound was healed? 17:11 refers to the same incident. The head wounded is Julius Caesar, killed by a coup. But the beast did not die with him. It lives on in the other six emperors.

The ten horns are the kings (17:12) of countries or peoples under Roman rule. Thus, they have not received a kingdom as yet. They give their strength (tribute money, men for soldiers, children as slaves) to the beast. They also join the beast in its idolatry and in making war upon the Lamb (Christ). But "the Lamb shall overcome them; for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings" (17:14), a title often claimed by the Roman emperors. But the ten horns "shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire" (17:16). This is the rebellion against Rome that would occur among the nations held under Roman domination This will be the way God's judgment is poured out upon Rome (17:17).

Verse 18 is the verse that really solidifies the symbolism of the beast and the whore. It obviously refers to the woman of verses 1-6, and it is the angel's revelation of the woman's identity. She is a city and that city "reigneth over the kings of the earth." No one in the churches John wrote to would fail to recognise this woman as the city of Rome. So the beast is Nero, but includes the full line of recent and future emperors, the city of Rome, and the Roman Empire. The symbolism of the beast and the great whore include all of these entities.

Chapter 18 announces the fall of Babylon. Again the reference is to Rome, for the angel is still talking about "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth (17:5). The habitation of devils and foul and unclean things shows the depths of depravity into which Rome has plunged (18:-3). Her sins, like the tower of Babel, have reached heaven (18:5). Her downfall will come upon her swiftly, as in a "day" (18:8). Her chastisement will be complete (18:8) and those who followed her in her sins will mourn her ruin (18:9-19). But others will rejoice for God has avenged her for them, and her reign of death has ended (18:20). Verses 21-24 show the utter ruin of Rome, for, "in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints" (18:24).

The Church is commanded to come out of her and be not partakers of her sins that it may be spared her punishment (18:4). This "Exodus" is spiritual rather than literal. It means to have different values and life-styles as well as different beliefs. It means to be not conformed to the values and ideals of Rome, but to be given the values and ideals of God (Rom. 12:2).

December 8, 2011

Friday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps 73, Is. 24:16, Mk. 4:21-29
Evening - Ps. 77, Is. 26:1-19, Rev. 15 and 16

Commentary
Revelation 15 and 16

Chapter 15 shows more of the plagues to be unleashed on the persecuting Romans, and the everlasting blessings of those who overcome the beast through faith in Christ. There is an intentional contrast drawn between the persecutors and the persecuted. The persecutors suffer immeasurable sorrow in time and eternity; the persecuted suffer for a while on earth, but live in blessed joy in eternity. The persecuted may have died rather than receive the mark of the beast by bowing to Caesar, and the persecutors may appear to be the winners in this battle. But, in reality, it is those who refused the beast and bore their afflictions who are the victors (15:2). They are the ones who dwell in Heaven and sing the song of Moses (Ex. 15:1-21).

Chapter 16 shows the angels of chapter 15 pouring out seven vials of wrath upon those who have the mark of the beast (16:2). Not only did these people worship the beast, they also participated with Rome in the persecution of the Church. They have "shed the blood of saints and prophets" (16:6). As in Rev. 13:1, the sea and rivers represent lost and rebellious humanity (16:3 & 4). Specifically they represent Rome, which rules the unGodly, and actually leads the nations into unGodliness. Turning the sea to blood represents the judgment of Rome and the death of the Roman Empire. It represents famine and destruction and war, but also the second death of eternal condemnation. It is noteworthy that the symbolic drying of the Euphrates prepares the way for invasion (16:12). As John wrote Revelation, Rome controlled the west, but other empires and peoples held the east. As Rome began to weaken, eastern tribes often raided the Roman boundaries.

The battle of Armageddon (16:16) symbolises the battles of Rome with the invading barbarians. The kings of verse 14 are those nations, then under the heel of Roman occupation, which, seeing Rome's weakened state, invade and harass the frontiers, and even penetrate to the heart of the city of Rome. Thus, verse 19 pronounces that Babylon (Rome) "came in remembrance before God" who gave unto her "the cup of the fierceness of His wrath" (16:19).

December 7, 2011

Thursday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 62, 63, Is 13:1-5, 16-22, Mk. 4:1-20
Evening - Ps. 66, Is. 13:6-15, Rev. 14

Commentary
Revelation 14

Chapter 13 ended with the Church under the severe affliction of Roman persecution. Chapter 14 opens with a picture of the Church in victory. The 144,000, delivered from the judgment of Jerusalem, are joined by a great multitude of the redeemed praising God with a new song to God in Heaven. Verse 4 refers to spiritual chastity as opposed to spiritual adultery. The Church does not profane itself with the adultery of Caesar worship. It remains chaste for God alone.

The second angel (14:8) tells of the fall of Babylon for making the nations follow her in fornication. Babylon is Rome. Just as John symbolically called Jerusalem "Sodom and Egypt" (11:8), he symbolically calls Rome "Babylon" because it persecutes the Church as Babylon once persecuted Israel. But Rome also forced idolatry on her people. This was done through the official pageants and ceremonies of the Empire, and also through the cult of emperor worship which required all subjects of Rome to offer a sacrifice and prayer to the Emperor. The second angel pronounces the doom of Rome for this idolatry.

The third angel (14:9-11) proclaims the doom of those who worship the beast (emperor). This message is to Christians hoping to avoid persecution by making offerings and prayers to Caesar. To some it appeared very harmless. They didn't have to believe Caesar was a god, or really worship him; they could just go through the motions, and Rome would let them live in peace. But to God it was a betrayal of all that He is and stands for. It was placing a man in God's place and obeying a man rather than God. Above all else, it was placing their own selves and desires above obedience to God, and that is the worst kind of idolatry, for which the punishment is torment with fire and brimstone forever (14:10-11).

In contrast to those who worship the beast, those who die in the Lord, meaning to remain faithful to God, even at the cost of their own lives, are blessed because they rest from their labours and their works follow them (14:12-13). They will be like the 144,000 and the myriads of martyrs worshiping God in the opening verses of the chapter. They will reside in blessings and peace forever.

Verses 14-20 return to the wrath of God upon Rome for her persecution of the Church. In a graphic image of suffering and death His angels are compared to reapers who harvest grapes and crush them in a press to extract the juice. The press is the wrath of God, and the meaning is clear, the blood of the Romans will flow as they have made the blood of the Church flow (14:20).

December 6, 2011

Wednesday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 50, Is. 11:1-10, Mk 3:20
Evening - Ps. 49, Is. 12, Rev. 13

Commentary
Revelation 13

If the beast if 13:1 sounds familiar it is because we have already met him in 12:3. The difference is that in 12:3 he is the devil, and in 13:1 he is a personification of the devil sent to do the devil's work (13:4). The sea (13:1) represents lost humanity, restless and tossed about by every wind of doctrine. We will look at this beast more fully in coming chapters. For now four things are important. He gets his power from the devil (13:4), he speaks blasphemies (13:5), he makes war on the Church (13:7) and the majority of people follow him (13:7 & 8).

Who is this beast? He is Rome persecuting the Church and killing the Christians. When the city of Rome burned in 64 A.D. Nero blamed the Christians and began a three hundred year policy of persecuting Christians. This is the era of the catacombs, the Coliseum, and the fire. No one knows how many Christians lost their lives during this time. Shortly after John wrote Revelation, Peter was killed in Rome. Paul soon followed him in martyrdom, along with countless others.

He is also identified as Nero and the dynasty of Caesar, who forced the Romans to worship them as gods and killed those who would not (13:15). The mark of the beast (13:16) was a certificate that allowed those who had worshiped Caesar to travel and buy and sell merchandise (13:17). To be caught without a certificate was to risk death at the hands of the Romans. Nero's name in Hebrew, John's native language, has the numerical value of 666 (13:18). The second beast (13:11-17) is the religion of emperor worship enforced throughout the empire.

December 5, 2011

Tuesday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 48, Is. 9:18-10:4, Mk. 3:7-19
Evening - Ps. 46, 47, Is. 10:5-21, Rev. 12

Commentary
Revelation 12

Chapters 4-11 have shown the judgment of God on the first persecutors of God's Church. Chapter 12 turns to a second source of persecution, the Roman Empire. This section of the book of Revelation shows the calamities God will bring upon Rome for its part in the suffering of His people.

The Child (12:5) is quite obviously Jesus, but the woman giving birth is not Mary. This woman is a sign in Heaven (12:1) and represents the Old Testament Israel, for it was through Israel that God brought the Saviour into the world. She also represents the New Testament Church. Thus she represents the unity and continuity of God's people.

The dragon is obviously Satan, but he also represents Rome, as will be made clear in future commentaries, especially when we come to chapter 17. The war in Heaven represents Satan's attempts to destroy God's people, and the stars he casts to the earth are Christians killed by the Romans in the growing persecution. Yet God has not abandoned His church. She flees to the wilderness and the brethren overcome the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (12:11). This means that the Gospel of Christ will overcome and defeat the Roman persecutors. Rome, like all enemies of God's people, will come and go, but the Church will remain. It may persecute the Church for a while (12:13, 17), but its end is sure and God's victory is assured; "Faith of our fathers, living still." Therefore, the Church is to hold fast to the faith.

December 4, 2011

Monday after the Second Sunday of Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.33, Is. 8, Mk. 2:23-3:6
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Is9:1-17, Rev. 11

Commentary
Revelation 11

Chapters 4-10 have shown God punishing the persecutor of the Church. The comments have attempted to show that the chapters have pointed to and described the conquest of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 A.D. Chapter 11 concludes the prophecy about Jerusalem. It begins with a command to measure the Temple, which is a prelude to its destruction predicted by Christ in Matthew 24:2 (see also Amos 7:7-9).

There are two witnesses killed in the city, which are identified as two candlesticks standing before God (11:3-4). This image comes from Zechariah 4, where the two lights are supernaturally enabled to accomplish their work in Jerusalem. They represent, both in Zechariah and Revelation, the civil and religious authorities in Israel, each serving God in their respective fields. As John writes this prophecy, corruption has ruined the Jerusalem Temple and government, and, instead of being enabled by God to accomplish their work, their corruption becomes so complete they cease to perform their tasks. Thus, the two pillars of Jerusalem wither and "die," and their corpses lie in the streets unmourned and unburied. In their places, anarchy and apostasy reign, and the people of the "holy city" (11:2) are plunged into deadly chaos and internal strife.

Verse 8 is important because it identifies the city in which the two witnesses die. Some people are confused because the city is called Sodom and Egypt, but this confusion is easily dispelled when we see that these names describe the spiritual condition of the city by comparing it to Sodom and Egypt in Old Testament times when these places opposed God and persecuted His people. The city is identified as the place where our Lord was crucified, Jerusalem
Rather than mourning over the corruption and death of Biblical religion and government, the people celebrate. Verse 10 says they "rejoice and make merry." Why? Because when the Church and state functioned properly they testified that the deeds of the people were evil. Now that they are "dead" the wicked think there is no more restraint on their sin. They are free to plunge to the depths of wickedness with no one to reprove them and no law to restrain them. Meanwhile, the prophets are raised from the dead and taken into Heaven, symbolic of God's blessing on true religion and good government. The earthquake is the chaos that ensued after the fall of faith and government in Jerusalem, but at least some turn to God in the crisis (11:13).

The chapter closes with a hymn of praise from voices in Heaven, probably the martyrs (11:15). Their song gives thanks to God because He has taken Jerusalem, which had become another one of the kingdoms of the world, and subjugated it under Him. It is not a city of Biblical faith by any means, but it is under God by being under His judgment. In this way all kingdoms and people will come under the rule of Christ; some as redeemed to glory, others to judgment. Either way, He will rule all, and the destruction of Jerusalem shows that He has already begun to reign.

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

For Our Learning
Romans 15:4
Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2011


"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope."
Romans 15:4


What do we learn from the Scriptures? We learn about ourselves. We learn who we are. We learn our place and purpose in this world and cosmos. We were created for great things. We were created to rule the earth. God Himself gave us dominion over it, including the animals; not to consume it upon our own lusts, but to honour Him in the way we keep it and enjoy it. We learn that we are created to know Him and to enjoy and bask in His love forever. We learn that we were created for goodness, for righteousness, and that it is only as we follow Him in the paths of righteousness that we find happiness in this life.

But we also learn what we have always known, that we have fallen far short of the purpose for which we were created. We learn that we have erred and strayed from His ways like lost sheep. We learn that we have offended against His holy laws, done what we should not have done, and left undone what we ought to have done. In short, we learn that we are sinners.

I fear that we usually take this knowledge far too lightly. We think of it only in terms of finding forgiveness in Christ. And it is true that such knowledge should drive us to our knees before the God of holiness in fear and trembling to beg forgiveness. Yet there is more, for such knowledge should also drive us to change. It should cause us to seek to be different; not just in what we do, but in who we are. It is this part of the Gospel, the transformed and holy person, that we seem to forget, or just overlook.

In the Bible we learn about God. It tells us of One who holds the universe in His hand, yet knows the hairs on each of our heads. And it tells of One who is good. His nature is goodness in perfection. There is no variation in His goodness. He is light without darkness. As bright as the sun appears to us, there are dark spots on it, and whatever chemical reactions are taking place on it are not happening with equal intensity in all areas of it. But the righteousness of God is brighter than an infinite number of suns, and there is no variation in His righteousness, ever.

In the Bible we learn that this Great Righteous Being loved sinners so much He came to earth as a Man to reconcile us to Himself by way of the cross. And in the Bible we learn the way home. More than simply showing us, more than simply pointing the way, in the Scriptures our Lord Christ Himself comes to us as the Great Shepherd, and carries us back to the fold, carries us back to God.

This is the message of the Bible. There is more, of course, for I have only looked at the message from man's perspective, which makes it appear that God has done all of this for us. In reality He has created us, endured our sin, and even saved us for His own purpose, His own glory, to bring together all things under Christ. That is the ultimate goal of God. As St. Paul states in Ephesians 1:12, we are to exist, or, to "be to the praise of His glory."

This is the teaching of Scripture. This is what the things written aforetime tell us. This is what we learn from them. But this knowledge is given for a purpose. It is not given to add to our store of facts; it is given to make us wise unto salvation. It is given that we might have hope, hope that we can be better, can overcome at least some of our sin, can be more humble, more holy, more forgiving, more forbearing. And, most of all hope that we can be forgiven by God, hope that we will one day dwell in a place where there is no more sin, or doubt, or fear, or suffering or death. Hope that we will dwell forever in perfect peace and harmony with man and God, and all the petty little things we let divide us will be behind us forever.

And this is the way we gain this hope; embrace and ever hold fast to the promises of God declared unto mankind in Jesus Christ our Lord. I'm not talking about walking an aisle and making an intellectual decision to believe in Jesus. I'm not talking about having an emotional experience and calling it "conversion." I'm talking about coming to Him in such a way that He becomes the foundation of who you are. I'm talking about embracing Him in such a way that He dwells in you, and you dwell in Him. I am talking about the very thing expressed so well in the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent;

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen."

December 2, 2011

Saturday after the First Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 28, 29, Is. 7:1-89, Mk. 2:13-22
Evening - Ps. 27, Is. 7:10-20, Rev. 10

Commentary
Revelation 10

In chapter 8 God responds to the prayers of His people with the trumpet blasts of the angels, bringing even more sorrows to the wicked. Reading the chapter we need to keep in mind that the sea represents lost humanity and the blood represents lives lost. The falling star is a person of great influence in Jerusalem, probably the high priest or the civil ruler. The celestial bodies represent people, being darkened probably represents death.

Chapter 9 shows the approaching army of Rome. It is symbolised in the image of Babylon, which sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The meaning is that, just as the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, so Rome will destroy it again, and for the same reason; as God's judgment for the sins of Israel.

In chapter 10 we see our Lord (the mighty angel) coming down from Heaven. This is not the Second Coming. This is a spiritual coming in wrath to Jerusalem. He still holds the book, only now it is very small since most of the seals have been opened. His voice is like a lion's roar, for He is the Lion of Judah. John is not allowed to write what the seven peals of thunder reveal but the Lord tells him the time of judgment is about to begin (remember, all of this is in the future for John).

In verses 8-10 John is commanded to eat the book, which tastes sweet as honey but makes his belly bitter. The book, which contained the prophecies of wrath on the persecuting Jews seems sweet at first. But then we consider that this is Jerusalem, the holy city, the site of the Temple, the place where God has been worshiped for more than a thousand years. How can one ponder this and not weep and pray for the Jewish people? How can this book fail to make the belly bitter?

Chapter 10 ends with a call to keep prophesying. The judgment of God does not end at the gate of Jerusalem. Many people will fall under His displeasure, and John is to proclaim the coming wrath to those people too. This will comfort the Church, and it will give the others a warning and an opportunity to repent.

December 1, 2011

Friday after the First Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 22, Is.5:8-30, Mk. 2:1-12
Evening - Ps.6, 13, Is. 6:1-11, Rev. 6:12-7:17

The sixth seal reduces the social structure of Jerusalem to ruble. The earthquake symbolises the destruction of the foundation of the culture, while the celestial bodies going dark, turning to blood, or falling represent people (see Gen. 37:9-11 and Mat. 24:29-30), the officers and leaders of religion and government, having their authority and power removed and plunging the city into moral and social chaos. The official powers actually did stop performing their functions during the siege of Jerusalem, and .rival gangs of criminals fought each other for control of the dying city. Thus, Revelation 6:15-17 show the leaders of the people falling from their positions of power and attempting to flee for their lives. They even prefer death to facing the judgment of God.

Chapter 7 brings a lull in the action while the angels mark 144,000 people as the servants of God (7:3). The mark is not literally in their foreheads. It is the inward mark of the renewed mind of a person saved by grace through faith. This mark saves the people from the destruction and suffering God brings upon the other dwellers in Jerusalem. It is similar to the mark of Jews God spared in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (Ez. 9:1-7). So the 144,000 are Christians, mostly Jewish Christians of the various tribes of Israel (7:4-8) who would not be allowed to perish with the others in Jerusalem. Christ had warned that when the Christians saw the abomination of desolation in the holy place they were to flee to the mountains (Mt. 24:15-22). The abomination of desolation refers to the sack of Jerusalem by Antiochus in 167 B.C. (Dan. 9:26-27), and likens the Romans to the Greeks. The point is that when the Christians see the Romans preparing to attack Jerusalem, they are to get out. The Christians followed this warning, and left the city before the attack began, thus, they were saved from that destruction.

The peace of the Church in Heaven is the subject of verses 9-17. John sees a great multitude from every nation wearing white robes and worshiping God. The fact that they are from "all nations" means they were mostly Gentiles who had died in the persecution of the Church. They are now safe in Heaven where they can worship God without fear in a place where there is no sorrow or pain (16-17) and where they enjoy the full presence of God forever (7:15). This is a picture of the peace enjoyed by the martyrs in the tribulation that is spreading across the Roman Empire. It is a picture that inspires faith instead of fear. It shows that the sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be given to them in Heaven (Rom. 8:18), where they will enjoy untold blessings, and God will wipe away all tears (Rev. 7:17).