February 26, 2012

Scriptures and Comments for Week of First Sunday in Lent

February 27, Day Five

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 36, Genesis 24:1-27, 1 Corinthians 3:1-17
Evening - Psalm 42, Psalm 43, Jeremiah 3:19, John 9:1-23

John 9:1-23
1And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
3Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
4I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
6When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
7And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
8The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?
9Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.
10Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?
11He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.
12Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.
13They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.
14And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.
15Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.
16Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
17They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.
18But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.
19And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?
20His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:
21But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.
22These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
23Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.


Commentary, John 9:1-23

John 9 records the healing of a blind man. Still in Jerusalem, our Lord has left the Temple where His rebuke of the empty religion of the Pharisees ended in their attempt to kill Him. Outside of the Temple He sees a blind man to whom He restores sight. Sight and light in this passage are spiritual words, referring to a condition of the soul more than of the body. Christ came to give sight to the spiritually blind and light to those who dwell in spiritual darkness.

Devotional Thoughts

It is important to know that we cannot heal our own blindness or give light to our darkness. Only Christ can do this, and Lent does not replace or add to His redemptive work. Lent is a concentrated attempt to gratefully practice the principles of holy living. In Christ we who were blind have been given sight, and in Lent we devote ourselves to "seeing" Christ. We divert our gaze from other things to look upon the beauty of God. In Lent we intentionally practice holiness. We set aside the time to do the things we should always be doing, but sometimes allow to be crowded out of our lives. Emphasizing these things during Lent does not excuse their neglect at other times, of course. But in Lent we make a special point of doing them.

February 28, Day Six

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 37:1-24, Genesis 24:28-67, 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:5
Evening - Psalm 46, Psalm 47, Jeremiah 4:1-9, John 9:24-41

John 9:24-41
24Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.
25He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
26Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?
27He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?
28Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.
29We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.
30The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.
31Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
32Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
33If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
34They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.
35Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
36He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
37And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
38And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
39And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
40And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
41Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.


Commentary, John 9:24-41

In John 9:35-38 we see the conclusion toward which Christ is leading the blind man. That is, the restoration of his spiritual sight. Now the man can say, "Lord, I believe." Now he can worship Christ as His Lord and God. The Pharisees, however, remained in their blindness. They refused to see their sin or their God.

Devotional Thoughts

One of the things we emphasize in Lent is repentance. We make a great point of turning away from sin and turning to God. Before we can repent of sin we must find our sin, and Lent is a time for finding the sin in our lives. It is a time to put our lives under the microscope to find the tiny flaws, and to stand back far enough to see the giant holes. Returning to our example of a journey, finding our sin is like checking the compass to determine the present course of our lives.

When we do this we will always notice a discrepancy between our professed ideals, and our practice in real life. For example, we may say that our goal in life is to live for Christ, but our actions might show that our real goal is to be a world champion sports fan. Obviously, this self examination is more than simply asking if a certain action is a sin or not. We are talking about a serious, intense, and honest look at the way we really live our lives.

February 29, Day Seven

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 26, Ezekiel 2, Matthew 9:1-13
Evening - Psalm 4, Psalm 16, Ezekiel 3:16, 2 Corinthians 4

Matthew 9:1-13
1And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.
2And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
3And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.
4And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
5For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
6But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
7And he arose, and departed to his house.
8But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.
9And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
10And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.


Commentary, Matthew 9:1-13

Matthew 9 finds our Lord again in dispute with the Pharisees. The climax of today's reading is verse 13, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." The Pharisees' values were wrong. They valued show and pomp. Jesus values real faith and obedience. His concern is that sinners (and that is all of us) are running to hell with all their strength. His concern is to save them from the awful consequences of actually and eternally reaching that goal. He not only calls sinners to repent, but also gives Himself as the ransom for their sins.

Devotional Thoughts

One of the things we devote ourselves to in Lent is the serious examination of our values. We will honestly ask and answer probing questions about them. What do I value in life? How do I know that I value them? How are my values formed? What do I allow to shape my values? Do I value humbleness, kindness, honesty, and integrity? What personality traits do I value in others? In myself?


March 1, Day Eight

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 37, Psalm 26, Genesis 25:28, 1 Corinthians 4:6
Evening - Psalm 49, Jeremiah 4:11-22, John 10:1-10

John 10:1-10
1Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
2But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
4And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.


Commentary, John 10:1-10

We find in John 10 the contrast between the Good Shepherd and the false shepherds that abound always. The Good Shepherd is Christ, who comes for the benefit of His sheep, even at the cost of His own life. He is the door through whom His sheep go in and out, and find "pasture." The false shepherds come to fleece the flock; the Good Shepherd comes to save the flock. Following Christ's journey to the cross is a constant reminder that He died to save us. He gave His life to save His sheep. There is in this passage another issue, namely the question of whose sheep we are. Christ's sheep know His voice and follow Him. They will not follow another. Whose voice do we follow?

Devotional Thoughts

Self examination is tough, but necessary. It requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves, which is why few people actually do it. It also requires us to be thorough. We must look below the surface, meaning we examine things like attitudes as well as actions. Attitudes are mind sets and values upon which actions are based. Do I have attitudes of self-importance, looking out for number one, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, anger, grudge bearing? What must I change that I may have more of an attitude of Godliness?


March 2, Day Nine, Ember Day
The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 84, Ezekiel 34:1-16, Matthew 10:24-42
Evening - Psalm 77, Ezekiel 37:1-14, I Timothy 4

Matthew 10:24-42
24The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.
25It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?
26Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.
27What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.
28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
29Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
31Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
32Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
40He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
41He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.
42And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.


Commentary, Matthew 10:24-42

We are often surprised at the world's reaction to the Gospel. Knowing it is the way of life, of Heaven, and of God's love given to us, we are surprised that people reject it, and love darkness rather than light. More surprising, however, is the tenacity with which we who claim to love and follow Christ still cling to our sins and resist the holy influences of the Word and Spirit of God. Christ Himself, in today's reading from Matthew, calls us to a life-style of holiness and radical commitment to Him. This requires a constant effort to find and expel sin in our lives and to replace it with Godliness.

Devotional Thoughts

Self examination is the attempt to find our sins. In this we are not content to look at actions alone. From them we move to our internal thoughts and habits. Habits are just the ways we respond to life. They have become so ingrained in us that we do them without thinking. Habits can be good, or bad. We can have a habit of laziness, or a habit of industry. We may have a habit of not listening to others, of aggressive driving, or of unedifying mannerisms or speech. Take time to examine your habits of life by the light of God's word.

Today is the second of the Spring Ember Days when we pray for the ministers of Christ's Church and ask Him to call men into the ministry of the Gospel. The Collect for The Ember Days is found on page 260 of the Prayer Book:

"O Almighty God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."


March 3, Day Ten, Ember Day
The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 101, Ezekiel 34:17-31, 2 Timothy 2:1-15
Evening - Psalm 19, Psalm 23, Ezekiel 37:21, 1 Timothy 6:6

2 Timothy 2:1-15
1Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
3Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
5And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
6The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.
7Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
8Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:
9Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
10Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
11It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:
12If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:
13If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
14Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
15Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Commentary, 2 Timothy 2:1-15

"Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3). How many Christians think of themselves as soldiers of Christ called to endure hardness? Do we not think more in terms of the hardness Christ endured for our sakes than of enduring it for Him? Do we not tend to think of Christ more as a life enhancing commodity than a King leading His army into the field of battle? Perhaps this is why so little real self-examination and Christian living occurs in today's Church.

Devotional Thoughts

Self-examination requires us to honestly examine our thoughts. What do I think about most during the day? What do I think about when I have free time? Are my thoughts about getting more toys? Having more fun? Advancing my career? Chocolate? Notice, these can be good. It is good to enjoy God's blessings, to advance our careers, and to have fun. And I am certain God has nothing against chocolate. But do we also think about God, the Scriptures, holiness? Do we see ourselves as called to endure hardness for Christ? Do we ever think that some of the things to which we devote ourselves may actually impede our service as soldiers of the cross?

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent

Truth in Worship
Psalm 50, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Matthew 4:1-11
First Sunday in Lent
February 26, 2012

"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." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In spite of the winds and temperature, we see the days lengthening and the calendar telling us March is near, and Spring is not far behind it. We are now fully in the Season of Lent, and today we are looking at the important Biblical teaching of truth in worship. The Collect is another new prayer, meaning, less than five-hundred years old. It reminds us that the fasts and self-discipline we practice in Lent are not done to impress God, but to bring our desires under the control of His Spirit. 2 Corinthians 6 reminds us that St. Paul kept his physical needs in check in order to endure hardship in the service of Christ, and Matthew 4 shows Christ subduing His own flesh to resist temptation in the wilderness.

Psalm 50 is about controlling our own desires and thoughts in order that we may worship God in truth. The Psalm makes two primary points, which I want to state here at the start of the sermon. First, worship matters. Second, holiness matters.

Let's talk about the first point; worship matters. If worship matters, two things are true about it. First it must be done. We must worship God. Second, it must be done correctly. The people God addresses in this Psalm were participating in the worship of God as required of His people. Their problem was that they weren't doing it right. The Psalm begins by showing us that God pays attention when we worship Him. He comes to us. But, notice that His coming is not described in terms of gentleness, the way we generally think of Him coming to worshiping people. A consuming fire goes before Him and a tempest surrounds Him. He comes in power, like an immense wildfire combined with a hurricane His very presence destroys and consumes the earth and its people. He comes to judge His people and their worship, and He finds problems in them. He finds insincerity, false worship, false doctrine, strife, and division among them. And He has come to testify against them. "I myself will testify against thee, O Israel; for I am God," He says in verse 7.

How fearful this sounds. The One who can cast your soul into hell has come to testify against those who worship Him How can this be? These are not the pagans, the unbelievers, the sinners. These are the good people, the Church people. They offer the sacrifices and keep the feasts and fasts. Yet God is angry at them because, in spite of all their religious fervour, they haven't got it right. Here is their problem, influenced by the idolatry of Canaanites tribes, many in Israel had begun to think of God as kind of a glorified idol, and they had fallen into one of the main errors of Canaanite idolatry. They assumed the only thing God wanted was a few nice ceremonies and a few nice people. They thought everything was fine as long as they kept the ceremonies and lived fairly moral lives. They did not understand that God wants the heart as well as the sacrifice, and if you don't give your heart you may as well not give the sacrifice.

They had even begun to think their sacrifices provided food for God. The Canaanites thought their gods ate the sacrificed animals. They pictured their gods gathering around the smoke of the sacrifice and feeding on it. When the Jews adopted this view of God it changed their worship. In fact, it changed everything. They began to think of themselves as great, magnanimous people who took care of poor, hungry little God. So, even though their outward forms in the sacrificial ceremonies were done in accordance with the directives of the law of God, they were not really worshiping God; they were simply glorifying themselves and learning to feel good about themselves. It was really all about them, not God. Thus, God rejected their worship. He would not even receive their sacrifices. He says in verse 9, "I will take no bullock out of thine house, nor he-goats out of thy folds." He owns all the beasts of the forest and all the cattle on the hills. We can not "give" Him anything. If He can create them, surely He could eat them. If I were hungry, He says, I would not tell you. If I were in any kind of need I would not tell you because there wouldn't be anything you could do about it. Of course that is the point. You can't do anything to improve God's condition. You can't feed Him. You can't make Him more glorious than He is. You can't add to His honour in any real sense of it at all. You can't add to or detract from His state of blessed perfection. In the first place, God doesn't have any needs. God is complete in and of Himself. In the second place, even if He had a need you couldn't fulfill it. Even your worship doesn't add to His glory. The worship of Old Testament sacrifices didn't feed God's "body," and your worship, love and obedience doesn't feed His "ego." He needs nothing, but gives everything.

There is something very important in this, a lesson we all need to hear and take to heart; there is such a thing as a wrong way to worship God. In fact, there are many wrong ways, and God does not take wrong worship lightly. And one of the most prevalent wrong ways to worship God is to adopt the ideas and practices of the world, bring them into the Church, and use them in the worship of God.

So, worship matters. That was the first point of this Psalm, and the second point is, holiness matters. According to Psalm 50, even "right" worship is refused by God if it is not accompanied by a serious intent to live a holy life. Have you ever noticed how many times we pray for holiness in Morning and Evening Prayer? We start in the General Confession, asking "That we may ever hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life." In the Absolution we beseech God "to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy." In the Lord's Prayer we ask to be delivered from evil. In the versicles we pray that He will "make clean our hearts within us," and "take not thy Holy Spirit from us." In the Collect for grace we pray that "all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight." Even the prayer of Thanksgiving asks that we will show forth His praise, "not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days."

These prayers are in complete accord with the teachings of Scripture. I used to criticise the sermons of many ministers because they were only about being forgiven and going to Heaven. I criticised those sermons because the scope of the Gospel is far greater than being forgiven and going to Heaven. It is about being restored in our souls so we can know God the way He intends us to know Him, live the way He intends us to live, and be the people He intends us to be. You see, we don't just need to be forgiven; we need to be repaired. We are broken, so we need to have our souls, our wills, our hearts fixed so that we love God and desire His ways above all else. Holiness matters.

That's why Psalm 50 makes such a big point of the fact that God does not receive the worship of people whose lives are lived apart from Him. "Why dost thou preach my laws, and takest my covenant in the mouth; Whereas thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee?" He asks in verses 16 and 17. God is warning people who go by the name of God but not the ways of God. They call themselves Christians, but they rarely attend Church, or they attend churches that are compromised in their faith and practice. Their morals and lifestyles are patterned after the world instead of the Word, often to such a degree that they actually approve evil and think God does too. "Thou thoughtest wickedly that I am even such a one as thyself" (vs. 21). Holiness matters.

The Psalm closes with a dire warning and a gracious promise. Those who forget God will be plucked away; thrown into the trash; cast out of His presence into everlasting and unimaginable sorrow. Those who offer God true worship, true thanks and praise, and "ordereth his way aright" will see the salvation of God.

"O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdues to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

February 21, 2012

Scriptures and Commentary, Ash Wednesday through February 25

Up to Jerusalem
Devotional Thoughts for Lent

"Up to Jerusalem" is a series of devotional thoughts for the season of Lent. The forty days before Easter have been a season of prayer and fasting from the time when the early Church baptized new converts on Easter Sunday. The converts were required to complete an extended time of learning about the Christian faith and life, culminating in forty days of intense prayer and fasting just before Easter. Gradually, others adopted this as a time of seeking God through prayer and repentance. Since it was done in the spring of the year, when the days are beginning to grow longer, it was called, "Lent" meaning, to lengthen. Members and friends of Holy Trinity Anglican Orthodox Church, honour this ancient tradition as a voluntary time to set aside some of the things of the world and to devote ourselves unto seeking God. We invite you to join us, that we may seek God together.

As we seek God we will devote ourselves to reading the Bible, especially the Gospels, which follow our Lord in His life and ministry as He makes His way up to Jerusalem to give His life as the ransom for our sins. Each devotional begins with a listing of the Scripture Readings for the day as found in the Lectionary in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The Scriptures are followed by a commentary, usually on the Gospel reading for the Evening, attempting to trace Christ's intentional journey to Jerusalem and the cross. The commentary is followed by a few devotional thoughts about various elements of daily Christian living, especially turning from sin to embrace a quiet and holy life. The elements are given in terms that speak about Lent, but they are the principles of holy living we should be practicing every day of every year. Thus, they are applicable to any day or time of year. These Lenten devotionals are offered with the prayer that they may be helpful to you in your daily life of faith. They are not copyrighted, and you are encouraged to share them.



February 22, Day One; Ash Wednesday

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 32, Psalm 143, Isaiah 58:1-12, Hebrews 12:1-14
Evening - Psalm 102, Psalm 130, Jonah 3 & 4, Luke 15:10-32

Luke 15:10-32
10Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
11And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
13And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
14And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
17And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
22But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
25Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
26And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
28And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
29And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
30But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
31And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
32It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.


Commentary, Luke 15:10-32

The Gospel readings for Lent will follow the life and ministry of Christ as He makes His unrelenting progress toward Jerusalem and the cross. We begin with a reminder of the reason Christ has come to earth, and why He is going to the cross. He has come to save sinners. The story of the Prodigal Son expresses the joy of God over every person who repents of sin and returns to God. The parable is an illustration of the truth of Luke 15:10, "Likewise, I say unto to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."

Devotional Thoughts

The Scripture readings for today appropriately begin with the words of Psalm 32 "Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven, and whose sin is covered." The reading from Isaiah reminds us that the true fast is a fast from sins, "to loose the bands of wickedness." Hebrews continues this theme saying, "let us lay aside... the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." What wonderful words these are to begin the season of Lent, a season of seeking God and intentional rooting sin out of our lives. Lent is a season of repentance.

February 23, Day Two

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 27, Genesis 19:1-28, 1 Cor. 1:1-17
Evening - Psalm 29, Psalm 30, Jeremiah 1:4-19, John 8:1-11

John 8:1-11
1Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
2And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.


Commentary, John 8:1-11

The woman taken in adultery shows the great mercy of God. He rejoices over every sinner that repents. He forgives every sin. He wants only life and good things for His people. We would expect Him to cast the first stone. It was His Law that required death for the crime. He is the One who cannot look upon sin. Yet His words, like His actions, are those of grace and forgiveness. "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more." The reading encourages us to seek this God of Grace. If this woman can be forgiven, will He not also forgive us?

Devotional Thoughts

Perhaps you are new to the practice of Lent. If so, you may wonder, why Lent? It is true that the Bible says nothing of Lent, but it does in many places encourage the things we do in Lent. The Christian's goal is to spend every day in the closest devotion and fellowship with God. In practice, other things often crowd out this goal. It is important, therefore, to set aside time for the specific purpose of reconnecting to God. Some traditions do this through “Revival Meetings.” Some use religious “retreats” and "conferences." We in the Anglican Orthodox Church do this in the forty days prior to Easter, the time called Lent. The Collect for Ash Wednesday sets forth our goal in a beautiful and Biblical prayer, which we pray every day during the Lenten Season:

"Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."


There is logic in the flow of the Church Calendar, as there is logic in the Scripture readings for each season. Advent begins a time of serious study of the life and ministry of Christ. Advent leads to Christmas. Christmas leads to Epiphany. Epiphany leads to Lent. Lent leads to Good Friday and Easter. All of these follow major events in the ministry of Christ. Lent itself follows Christ as He sets His face toward Jerusalem and the cross.


February 24, Day Three

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 40:1-16, Genesis 21:9-21, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Evening - Psalm 31, Jeremiah 2:1-13, John 8:12-36
John 8:12-36
12Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
13The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true.
14Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go.
15Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man.
16And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.
17It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. 18I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.
19Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.
20These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.
21Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.
22Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.
23And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.
24I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
25Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.
26I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.
27They understood not that he spake to them of the Father.
28Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
29And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.
30As he spake these words, many believed on him.
31Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
32And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
33They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
34Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
35And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
36If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.


Commentary, John 8:12-36

The reading from John 8 shows the intent of Christ to go to Jerusalem. He knew He was "the way the truth and the life," who had come into the world to liberate His people from our bondage to sin (verse 34). "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." He also knew the only way He could free us was by giving Himself to bear our sins and die for them on the cross. This is the reason He came to this earth, to be lifted up on the cross (Jn. 8:28). In Lent we follow Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem to be lifted up for our sins. But we do not follow as spectators. We follow as His disciples. He has purchased our freedom with His own blood, now live in His freedom. Like the ancient Hebrews, liberated from their bondage at Passover, we intentionally leave the land of our bondage. We intentionally stop serving sin and start serving Christ. This is called, "repentance."

Devotional Thoughts

There are two aspects of repentance. The first is turning away from sin. Perhaps “turning away” is not a strong enough word. Renouncing may describe it more accurately. In contemporary lingo we might say, “Trash it.” Throw it into the garbage can. The word really means to turn around. It means to change the direction of life. If we think of this in terms of a journey, we can imagine being side tracked, getting off course, getting lost. When that happens, a change of direction is necessary to get us to our destination. Likewise in the Christian life, we often get off course. We follow the devices and desires of our own hearts, which often lead us away from God, and we need to change our direction, and turn back to God. Lent is a time to change direction.


February 25, Day Four

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 28, Genesis 22:1-19, 1 Corinthians 2
Evening - Psalm 34, Jeremiah 3:11-18, John 8:45-59

John 8:45-59
45And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. 46Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?
47He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.
48Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?
49Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me.
50And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.
51Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
52Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.
53Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?
54Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God:
55Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying.
56Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
57Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
59Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.


Commentary, John 8:45-59

In John 8 Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. During this time He faces direct opposition from the priests and Pharisees, even an attempt to murder Him (Jn. 8:59). He will leave Jerusalem soon, to return again in chapter 12. The irony of this passage is that the people who claimed to know God most completely could not recognise Him when He stood before them. When He told them who He was (verse 58), they refused Him. They were going in the wrong spiritual direction, and were determined to continue in it.

Devotional Thoughts

We turn now to the second part of true repentance, which is also a major emphasis of Lent; turning to God. Our goal is single-minded devotion to God. If we are going in the wrong direction, it is not enough to simply change to another course. If we are in a boat heading due north, but need to go due south to reach our harbour, it is not good enough to turn to a south easterly heading. We must get on the correct course to reach our port. Likewise, it will not do to turn away from one sin only to embrace another, or to turn from a life of open wickedness to one of outward piety with no redirection of the heart and affections. To do so is to simply change our clothes while God requires us to change our hearts. If we imagine our lives as castles, and our hearts as thrones, we may legitimately ask, who rules the castle? Who sits on the throne of our lives? In sin we rule. We make the decisions. We choose the life orientation. In true repentance, we dethrone ourselves and enthrone God. He becomes our King, our Sovereign, our ruler. Lent is a special time spent intentionally enthroning God.

February 19, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Monday and Tuesday of Quinquagesima

Monday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 18:1-20, Gen. 18:1-16, Mk. 9:38
Evening - Ps. 20, 21:1-6. Hos. 5:10-6:6, Gal. 6:1-10

Commentary, Gal 6:1-10

Verses 7 and 8 express the essence of the entire letter of Galatians. If we sow ungodliness (flesh) we reap death in the soul. If we sow godliness we reap life in the presence of God forever. The Galatians have been sowing to the flesh by trying to make themselves acceptable to God through rules and rituals. But rules and rituals cannot make a person fit for the presence of the absolute and consuming holiness of God. Only God can make anyone acceptable, as a gift from Him received by faith. Faith, trusting God to make us acceptable through Christ, is sowing to the Spirit, which produces the fruit of everlasting life.

Sowing to the Spirit goes beyond simply trusting God for Heaven. Important and essential as that is, sowing to the Spirit also includes walking by the Spirit day by day and moment by moment (Gal. 5:25). It naturally includes the things we often call "religious," such as prayer, the Bible, and public worship. But it also includes the mundane things of daily living, such as home and family life and work. It especially includes putting our own comforts and desires under the control of the Spirit so we may live for the will of God (Gal 5:24). Living for fleshly desires is sowing to the flesh. Crucifying our affections and lusts to live for Christ, is sowing to the Spirit.

We are to help one another sow to the Spirit. This is an essential part of the fellowship of the Church. We seek to help our fellow Christians when they are overtaken in a fault (6:1). We seek to help others bear their burdens as they also help us bear ours (6:2). We are like a team, a family, a body, working together for the glory of God and the good of all. If we stand one stick on end, it will fall, but if we put several together and let them lean on each other they will stand. Likewise, a heavy load may break one stick, but several together can bear it easily. This is the picture Paul is trying to give us of the Church bearing one another's burdens. This requires us to be willing to give and receive support with meekness.

Verse 6 refers to the other side of pastoral care; not the care of the pastor for the Church, but the care of the Church for the pastor. The pastor visits and prays and teaches and studies; the congregation "communicates unto him... all good things." Love, respect, reception of his teaching and council, and financial support, are ways we communicate to him all good things.

Finally, we are to continue to sow to the Spirit. It is to be the habitual work of our lives, even when we think we do not see any fruit of our labours. We are not to allow discouragement to dissuade us. We are not to give up because things are not going the way we think they should, or the way we would like. We will not grow weary in well doing, especially in our service to our fellow believers, for we know we will reap in God's own time (6:9).

Tuesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 18:21-36, Gen. 18:20, Mk. 10:1-16
Evening - Ps. 25, Hos. 11:1-4, 13:5-16, Gal. 6:11

Commentary, Gal.6:11

The heart of this passage is Galatians 6:14. If it were possible to earn Heaven by our own efforts it would be the same as earning fellowship with God, and that would be making ourselves His equal. We would be able to "boast" of our achievement and our status. But no mere ritual can accomplish this. Not even circumcision can atone for sins or change the sinful inclination of our hearts. Only God can make us acceptable to Him, and He has done so through the cross of Christ. So Paul will not boast of his own efforts, though they surely outshine those of the Galatians. He will boast of Christ, the Saviour who by His own suffering and death accomplished what Paul could never accomplish for himself, eternal peace with God.

Grace, not works, has been the theme of Galatians. Thus Paul closes with the very appropriate words, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."

Sermon, Quinquagesima Sunday

God's Law Is Love
Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 18:31-43
Quinquagesima Sunday
February 19, 2012

"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 the, 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." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Quinquagesima Sunday is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and marks the passing of the fiftieth day before Easter. The Collect is fairly new by Anglican standards. Less than 500 years old, it was composed for the 1549 Prayer Book by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, who was so influential in bringing Biblical Christianity back to Britannia. The Epistle for the day is that great and inspiring passage which defines Christian love, and the Gospel foretells God's supreme act of love in the suffering of Christ. The Psalm for this morning shows us that the love of God is revealed in creation and in the Law of God. These Passages remind me of the words of Christ in two other passages of Scripture; "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," and, "Greater love hath no man than this."

We are accustomed to hearing that creation reveals the existence of God. "The firmament showeth His handy-work," according to Psalm 19:1 and, Romans 1 tells us God is clearly "seen" in the things He has made. But how does creation show the love of God? Think of something you have made. Why did you create it? Did not some part of you create it for the sheer love of creating? And doesn't some part of you enjoy what you make just because you made it? If we can experience such love for our creations, surely God can too, for we are created in His image. But we don't have to rely on speculation to learn this. In Genesis we see God lovingly engaged in the work of creation, bringing the world to its crowning glory, which is the man and woman who were created in His image, given dominion over the earth, and given the ability to know and love Him. Yes, God also had other reasons for creating us, but among all His reasons, love was one of the most primary among them. Recognising this, we thank God daily for all His "goodness and loving kindness," and "for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life."

God's love is also revealed in the Law. Love is the meaning of the Law, and giving the Law was an act of love. God's Law is love because it shows what we have to do if we want to live in a world of peace and good will. Most people, even in today's self-worshiping and materialistic culture, still agree that the world would be a far better place if everyone obeyed the Ten Commandments. Many of these people have never read 1 Corinthians 13, but if it were shown to them, I think they would agree that a world in which people live by that kind of love would be a wonderful place. But what is the foundation of 1 Corinthians 13? It is Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, which our Lord Himself summarised saying, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," and, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." God's Law shows us the way to love one another. Psalm 19 makes a statement some people will find surprising because they consider the Bible outdated and its rules oppressive. But Psalm 19 says of the Laws of God, "In keeping of them there is great reward." There are benefits to knowing and/or living by the Law of God. I know many people who are miserable because they are reaping what they have sown. They have lived in sin. They have wasted their lives in wantonness and selfishness. They have given themselves to things that destroy people, and they have found that they have destroyed themselves. Truly there is "a way that seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." By contrast, living by the Law of God gives joy. It rejoices the heart. God's Law shows us the way of peace and unity and harmony. People often want to know the secret to good relationships or a happy marriage. There is no secret. It is all right here in the Bible. The more closely we follow its teachings the better and happier life is. The further we go from it the more misery we pile upon our own heads. Our problem is not that we don't know what to do; it's that we don't do what we know.

God's Law is love because it points us to the Saviour. We are so used to hearing Law and Grace used as antonyms that we sometimes forget they are both part of the same love of God freely given to us in Christ. They are only opposites when used to describe the way we are made acceptable, unto God. Law then becomes our attempt to cancel out our sins by being "good" while grace means being made acceptable by the free gift of God. In this sense, the two are completely opposite. But, in every other way Law and grace are both expressions of God's unfailing love for us. In fact, Law is an essential part of Grace, for God's Law shows our need of forgiveness as a gift from God. The Law is our "schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" as we read in Galatians 3 last Monday night. Seeing ourselves in the light of God's Law makes us realise we can never atone for our failure to live according to the moral and spiritual way of life it reveals. We realise, then, that we are entirely out of fellowship with God, and that our only hope of regaining that fellowship is Him. He must do something to forgive our sins and restore us to Himself. Learning that He has done this in the life, sacrifice, resurrection and ascension of Christ, we run to Him in faith.


No wonder the Psalm says God's Law is more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey. Apart from God Himself, there is only one thing more valuable than the Law of God, and that is the forgiveness of our trespasses against it through Jesus Christ.

February 12, 2012

Scriptures and Commentary for Week of Sexagesima Sunday

Monday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 3, Gen 7:1-23, Mk. 7:24
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Amos 5:14-24, Gal. 3:19-29

Commentary, Galatians 3:19-29

Galatians 3:19 opens with an important question; what is the purpose of the law of God? Of course God's law has many purposes. The moral law, summarised in the Ten Commandments and the teaching of Christ, reveals the absolute perfection of God. It reveals the will of God for all mankind in everyday life. It shows mankind how to live in harmony with God and each other, thus it shows the way of peace and happiness (Ps. 19:7-14). The ceremonial law reveals that those who break the moral law are unacceptable to God unless something is done, apart from the moral law, to make them acceptable. The law shows, then, that, by our own actions, we are unclean and unfit for any kind of fellowship with God, and that we need to be made clean by something outside of the moral law, or we will remain forever unacceptable to God.

This is brought out in several verses in our reading. Regarding our failure to keep the moral law, we are told the Scripture "hath concluded all under sin" (3:22). Regarding the ceremonial law, we are told we can never make ourselves acceptable to God through it (3:21). This is important, for if we can atone for sin by performing a few ceremonies, then sin is a very trivial thing to God. If sin is trivial to God, it can be trivial to us, and if sin is trivial, so is righteousness. Holiness, justice, integrity, the Commandments of God, love for God, and love for one another really don't matter. Only the ceremonies matter. This mistaken view of the law was held by Israel many times throughout her history, and she paid dearly for it.

We come now to one of the law's most important purposes; it is our teacher to lead us to Christ (3:24). How does the law lead us to Christ? First, it concludes all people under sin (3:22). This means it reveals to us that we are sinners. Comparing ourselves to the moral law of God does not reveal how good we are. It reveals how wicked we are and how far short we are of the total perfection of God. Second, the ceremonial law reveals that there is nothing we can do to atone for our sins. Do we really think a ceremony, or even the life of an animal can make up for our sins? A right view of animal sacrifices reveals how pitifully small and powerless they are to cover our sins (Heb. 10:4). In short, they reveal the absolute impossibility of making ourselves acceptable to God. If we are going to be made acceptable to Him, He is going to have to accomplish it for us. Thus, the law teaches us that we need a Saviour. It leads us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God and the sacrifice of Christ, that we may be justified by grace through faith, not by the works of the law (3:24).

The law also shows the deadly seriousness of sin. It is not trivial to God and it cannot be trivial to us. It is so serious that sinners are called dead (Eph. 2:1) and worthy of death (Rom. 1:32), whose eternal destiny is the fires of hell (Rev. 20:15). Sin is so serious that we are unable to atone for it ourselves. Nothing could save us from the fires of hell but the sacrifice of Christ Himself. That's how serious sin is to God.

So, what is the relationship of the ceremonial law to the Christian? The short answer is, it has fulfilled its task and is no longer necessary (Heb. 8:13). It has been our schoolmaster, but in Christ we have graduated from it. From it we have learned that we are sinners. From it we have learned that our sin must be made right before we can be acceptable to God. From it we have learned that we cannot make our sins right by the ceremonies of the law. From it we learned that its ceremonies and sacrifices symbolised the life and ministry of Christ, "the Lamb of God:" who alone can atone for our sins. From it we have learned to trust in the suffering of the Lamb of God as the payment for our sins and the ground of our acceptance with God. Now that we have graduated from the school of the law, it no longer has control over us. We have moved into faith (3:25-26).

There is now no difference between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles. All are shown to be sinners unable to save themselves, and all are saved only by the grace of God received by faith (3:28-29). Those who are God's by faith in Christ are the true seed and descendants of Abraham; the true heirs of the promises of God (3:29).

Tuesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 5, Gen. 8:6, Mk. 8:11-26
Evening - Ps.11, 12, Amos 6:1-8, Gal. 4:1-11

Commentary, Galatians 4:1-11

We are heirs of God through Christ (4:7). The Apostle is telling Jewish and Gentile Christians that we are the heirs of all the promises of God given in the Old Testament. We inherit the promises not by means of the law, but by trusting in Christ's sacrifice as the Lamb of God that takes away our sins. It is very important to understand that faith is the means by which we become a child of God and an heir of the promises. Physical descent from Abraham does not make one an heir. Keeping the ceremonial law cannot do it. Becoming Jewish cannot do it. Only faith can open the door to Heaven. Only faith is the key to the Kingdom.

Verse 7 is the conclusion of the flow of thought that begins in verse 1. We are told that, under the ceremonial law, we were as children under the care of tutors and governors (guardians). But when God had brought the world to just the right moment, according to His plan, He sent His Son to redeem those who were under the law (4:4-5). He released them from their tutors and guardians and gave them the inheritance foreshadowed in the law and foretold in the prophets. Everything promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ and given to His people of faith, the Church.

Verses 8-11 make a second point based on the preceding verses. It is stated in the form of a question in verse 9, and it asks the Galatians why they would want to go back to being ruled by the guardian when they can have the inheritance of Christ? Why would you turn your inheritance back over to the guardian instead of keeping and enjoying it yourself? Why would you want to be bound by rules and rituals that cannot take away your sins, when you can live in the freedom of Christ, who can take away your sins?


Wednesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 7, Gen. 9:8-17, Mk. 8:27-9:1
Evening - Ps. 13, 14, Amos 8:4-12, Gal. 4:12-20

Commentary, Galatians 4:12-20

To attempt to cleanse your own sins through your own actions is to reject Christ. Thus, Paul writes to the Galatians, "I am afraid... lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain" (4:12). Paul's appeal that we become as he is, means to trust in Christ alone to forgive your sins and reconcile you to God. That he was as the Galatians were, means was a time when he also was counting on his own works to make him acceptable to God. But he realised that he, like all people, must receive acceptance as a gift of God, not as a reward for his own efforts.

Paul apparently suffered an illness while in Galatia, but it did not prevent him from sharing the Gospel, and it did not prevent the Galatian people from receiving him with love and hearing him gladly (4:15). But, by the time Paul wrote the book of Galatians to them, their apparently strong faith in Christ had wavered so much that Paul doubted they were in Christ at all (4:20).


Thursday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 9, Gen. 11:1-9, Mk. 9:2-13
Evening - Ps.17, Amos, 9:1-10, Gal. 4:21

Commentary, Galatians 4:21,
People often stumble over this passage because it appears Paul has imposed a meaning onto a Bible passage that is completely foreign to it. The Old Testament story of Isaac and Ishmael is obviously a straightforward record of historical events, but Paul seems to make it an allegory of law and grace. The difficulty people have with this is fourfold. First, if Paul can allegorise one passage of Scripture, what is to stop us from allegorising all of it? Second, if the Bible has an allegorical meaning, what is it and how can we know it? Third, if the Bible has an allegorical meaning as well as a literal meaning, which is more important? Fourth, and most important, if the Bible has a meaning beyond the plain and obvious meaning of the words, we can never really understand the Bible. Before we address these issues, let us recall two very important principles of Biblical interpretation. First, Scripture interprets Scripture. This means the meaning of one passage will always illuminate and compliment the meaning of other passages in specific, and the entire Bible in general. Second, we should always understand the Bible in the plain and obvious meaning of the words, unless we have good reason not to. We are not to allegorise passages that are clearly meant literally.

The difficulty with tonight's reading disappears when we realise Paul is not allegorising the Old Testament; he is simply using the historical facts of Isaac and Ishmael to illustrate the point that bondage begets bondage and freedom begets freedom.

Ishmael, was the child of bondage. It is as though Paul is saying, "Let Ishmael symbolise people trying to atone for sin by keeping rules and performing rituals. The rules and rituals themselves are bondage, for the people are bound to observe them, yet they can never really atone for sin." Bondage begets bondage.

Isaac was the child of freedom. Paul is saying, "Let Isaac symbolise those who have trusted Christ to make them acceptable to God. They are free of the bondage to rules and ceremonies. They are free of the need to earn Heaven. It is given to them as a gift from God." Freedom begets freedom.

Paul goes on to use Hagar as a symbol for the law given at Mount Sinai, and Sarah as the symbol for grace given through Christ, "the Jerusalem which is above" (4:26). Those who were born into Israel were in bondage to the law until the Saviour came to fulfill the law and release them from its requirements. Those who are born into Christ are born into freedom. Therefore, they are no longer enslaved to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. "[W]e are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free" (4:31).

Friday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 22, Gen. 11:27-12:6, Mk. 9:14-29
Evening - Ps.6, 26, Amos 7:10, Gal. 5:1-12

Commentary, Galatians 5:1-12
Tonight's reading is a plea to stand fast in the liberty of grace and not return to the bondage of trying to earn God's favour by our own works. There is no middle road; either we must keep the law and become Jews, or we are saved by grace through faith and the ceremonies of the law are superfluous. Any attempt to return to the law is to reject the work of Christ and fall from grace (5:4). And, if you are going to reject Christ for any part of the law, you must keep the whole law perfectly to be acceptable to God (5:3).

We see an important point in verses 11 and 12. Paul preaches salvation by grace through faith alone, and has never taught that Gentiles must become Jews, or that Jewish Christians are required to keep the ceremonial laws in any way. If he had, the Jews would not be persecuting him. They would be praising him, for he would be bringing multitudes of converts to the Jewish faith. They may have disagreed with his view of Christ as the Messiah, but they could have tolerated that. But Paul, preaching the Gospel of grace, actually made the Jewish faith irrelevant. If Paul's Gospel was true, the Jews needed to come out of Judaism and into the Church. The Old Israel had fulfilled its mission and it was necessary for Jews to join the New Israel, the Church. This is what angered the Jews. The Temple, the sacrifices, the rules of clean and unclean, circumcision, kosher food, and everything that typified and identified the Jewish people would have been rendered obsolete. This is why they persecuted the Church. This is why they rioted at the preaching of Paul, and beat him and stoned him and tried to kill him.

Saturday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 16, Gen. 13:1-18, Mk. 9:30-37
Evening - Ps. 93, 98, Hosea 4:1-10, Gal 5:13

Commentary, Galatians 5:13

Salvation by grace through faith is not a license to sin (5:13). Paul quotes Leviticus 19:18, which our Lord quoted often, as part of the summary of the moral law's requirements of the way we treat each other. Paul, like our Lord, quotes it to show its continuing relevance and authority in the lives of all people. It is still the standard of life to which Christians aspire because, by God's grace, we love our neighbors and we love God.

Living by love is not as easy as it sounds. Love requires us to choose against ourselves. Love requires us to do things we don't want to do, and to sacrifice things we do want to do. Just as love of God requires us to organise our schedules in a way that makes public, family, and private worship a top priority, love of neighbors requires us to orient ourselves around giving rather than receiving. This causes a spiritual battle to take place in us (5:17). It is the battle of our own desires and will (flesh) against the desires and will of God (Spirit). It is the battle of our sinfulness against God's holiness. It is a life-long war, and we must expect to have to fight it, and we must expect it to be difficult.

Since the war is spiritual, our weapons are spiritual. Our power to fight is the Spirit of God. Those who surrender to the flesh are easily known by their actions and way of life, called the works of the flesh (5:19). Those who fight on in the Spirit are also easily recognised by their actions, called the fruit of the Spirit (5:22). The victory we seek is absolute. The goal is to exterminate our sin, to rise above our own desires and live for Christ alone. Paul uses the gruesome practice of crucifixion to illustrate our objective. We are to crucify our own desires, in order that we may live for God. If this sounds difficult it's because it is. If it sounds painful it's because it is. If it sounds unpleasant it's because it is. But this is what it means to live and walk in the Spirit (5:25).

Frankly, most "Christians" will not fight this war. They will not crucify their will and comfort to live for God. Seeing the difficulty and personal sacrifice required to truly follow Christ, they will retreat. They will opt for an easier gospel, like the Galatians have done. They will choose religious ceremonies over self-crucifixion. They will choose happy feelings over obedience to God. They will choose self indulgence over service to God. Yet, all the while they will convince themselves they are in Christ. But those who live by the Spirit walk by the Spirit.

Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday

Trust in God
II Corinthians 11:19-31, Luke 8:4-15, Psalm 71
Sexagesima Sunday
February 12, 2012

"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 the, 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." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


As we saw last Sunday, Septugasima Sunday is the third Sunday before Lent and the ninth Sunday before Easter. Sexagesima Sunday, then, is the second Sunday before Lent and the eighth Sunday before Easter. It is the Sunday nearest to the sixtieth day before Easter. So we are reminded again that we are beginning to leave that part of the year in which we celebrate the Saviour's birth, and entering the time in which we remember that tremendous Sacrifice by which He accomplished His great work of the forgiveness of our sin and the Redemption of our souls.

Sexagesima Sunday emphasises trust in the work of Christ alone, rather than in our own attempts to be good or to please God. The Collect clearly declares that we trust not in anything that we do, but cast ourselves on the mercy of God to defend and keep us by His power. The Collect is already looking toward the fasts and prayers of Lent. It reminds us that these are acts of self-discipline and dedication, not things that make us worthy of Heaven, and it reminds us that we are not to put our trust in them to make us acceptable to God. We fast, we pray, and we discipline ourselves not because we think we can make ourselves acceptable to God by such "good works," but because Christ has already made us acceptable to God. These things are part of our response to His mercy, not the cause of it.

The Epistle recalls the afflictions of St. Paul, who vigorously maintained that even his work and tribulations in the service of Christ did nothing to make him acceptable to God. Even he received his acceptability as the gift of grace through faith, not by anything he accomplished for God (see Titus 3:5).

Today's Gospel reading is the Parable of the Sower, in which Christ's work of Redemption is the good seed and our hearts are the soils in which it is planted. As differing soils have different responses to the seed, different people have different responses to the Gospel. So the parable implies the question, what kind of soil are you? What are you doing to make your heart ready to receive Christ, and to continue in Him now and forever?

The Psalm for this morning continues the theme of trust in God. It begins with a declaration, "In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust; let me never be put to confusion."
At the most basic level, it means to trust God with our cares in this life. It means to trust God to provide for our basic needs of food, water, and shelter. St. Paul was often homeless and hungry in the service of Christ. Sometimes his "shelter" was a prison, sometimes his only shelter from heat or cold or rain or snow was a tree beside a road. Often he had nothing to eat or drink. Yet he thanked God for providing for him, and wrote that if we have enough food, water, and shelter to survive we have enough. So this thing of trusting God for the things of this life includes trusting Him in the way He chooses to provide them. He may give plenty at some time and scarcity at another. No matter. Like Paul we must learn to be content "in whatsoever state I am" (Phil. 4:11-13), and "in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God" (1 Thes. 5:18).

One of the most basic cares of this life is health, and trusting God also means trusting Him with it. St. Paul must have had terrible health. The beatings, the prisons, the shipwrecks, the hunger and heat and cold he suffered in his travels must have left him in chronic pain and illness. Yet the Paul who wrote about suffering much affliction, lack of necessities, distress, beatings, imprisonments and hunger (2 Cor. 6:4-5), also wrote, "in everything give thanks." So, trusting God for our health also means trusting Him when He chooses to allow us to suffer illness as well as when He allows us to enjoy good health. So the author of Psalm 71 professes great boldness of faith that trusts God in all of these things. He trusts God when evil people wrong him. He trusts God in the adversities of life (19), and he trusts God in old age and weakness (8, 17).

There is another way in which we must trust in God. We must trust Him for the life of the soul. Most people will think I am talking here about Heaven, and, in a sense I am, for that is the ultimate life of the soul. Heaven is only gained by trusting in Christ to forgive your sin and dress you in His righteousness so you are fit to be in that Holy place which is the immediate presence of God. But I am also talking about the life of the soul now in this world. Many people, including Christians turn to things for their real meaning and comfort in the soul. These can be good things, like community service or helping professions. They can be amusements and recreations we think we need to help us deal with our stress and problems. I have to be careful here, for I do not want you to think such things are evil. I think God has given such things to us for our enjoyment, and they are good things. But even good things can be misused, and we misuse these things when we turn to them instead of to God for the life of the soul.

It is possible to go through life with a belief in God and a certain amount of faith and intention to live a moral life, yet trust in other things to provide your meaning, purpose, and help in life. So instead of seeking God in prayer and worship and Scripture, you run to your favourite pastime when things get tough. Instead of seeking God's help to be content in your circumstances, you run to your amusements to help you forget your discontentment for a while. I think this might be especially true of our over stimulated, over-amused, distraction-addicted generation. We rush from one distraction to the next, from TV to cell phones to computers to stereos to malls and hobbies, always looking for another rush, or, at least, another distraction. Have we forgotten how to trust God with our happiness? Have we forgotten how to be still before God? Have we forgotten how to enjoy God who is the life of the soul?

The Psalmist has not forgotten. He writes about praising God and His faithfulness. He means to honour God with our lips and with our lives by living in fellowship with God and in loving obedience to His will. He means to live in thanksgiving. This is what the Psalm means in verses 21-23, and this is what I mean by the life of the soul, It is not a passing emotional experience, it is a way of thinking and a way of living, to be able to say what David wrote in verse 4, "For thou, O Lord, art the thing that I long for; thou art my hope" (4).




In the Psalms, and indeed, in all of Scripture, you can hear the story and experience of Christ. In some places it is shouted from the house tops. In this Psalm it is a low whisper. You can hear it in verses 9 and 10, "For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take their counsel together, saying, God hath forsaken him, for there is none to deliver him." How tragically this sounds like Matthew 27:1, "all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death." Look at verse 19, "O what great troubles and adversities hast thou showed me! and yet didst thou turn and refresh; yea, and broughtest me from the deep of the earth again." How very much like the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ this sounds. There is more, but this is enough to show how we can often see Christ in the Psalms.

Let us close the sermon with a final exhortation to trust in God. Let us determine in our hearts that we will be able to say with confidence what Psalm 71 says so triumphantly at its very beginning: "In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust." Amen.

February 5, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of Septuagesima Sunday

Monday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 123, 127, Gen. 1:1-19, Mk. 6:7-13
Evening - Ps. 126, 128. 131, Amos 7:1-8, 8:1-3, Gal. 1:1-10

Commentary, Gal. 1:1-10

Tonight's readings take us into the Book of Galatians. Written by the Apostle Paul, it is a straightforward statement of the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ as the only atonement for sin. While Peter ministered in northern and eastern Galatia (1 Pet. 1:1), Paul carried the Gospel of Christ to the southwestern edge of the province (Acts 14:6-7). Though faced with much opposition and persecution, Paul established Christian congregations in the region, but when he left to preach in other places, false teachers came behind him perverting the true Gospel and leading the church astray (Gal. 1:6 & 7). The essence of their false gospel was the idea that the sacrifice of Christ is not enough to save people from hell. In addition to His sacrifice on the cross, Christians need keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws and rituals or they can not go to Heaven. Thus, they made salvation a reward earned by human works, rather than a gift purchased by Christ and given by grace.

Why is this a problem? Because if we can earn Heaven by our own efforts we don't need a Saviour. This makes the entire life, ministry, and crucifixion of Christ futile and unnecessary. Furthermore, if we can atone for sins by keeping rituals, sin must be a fairly trivial matter. Sin must not be an offense to God, a rejection of His Divine authority, or a personal rejection of Him as God. It is simply an error, a mistake, which God doesn't really care much about, and for which we can make amends by offering a sacrifice or giving a few dollars to the Church, or saying an extra prayer. And, if sin can be so easily atoned for, it was foolish of God to become a Man and suffer and die for it. In addition, any view that makes the Old Testament ceremonies compulsory for Christians overlooks the fact that the entire ceremonial law foreshadowed Christ and is fulfilled in Him.

Thus, the issue at stake in this book of Galatians is not just how we get to Heaven; it is the issue of the very nature, wisdom, and holiness of God and of our relationship to Him. It is the issue of the nature of sin. Is sin an arrogant slap in the face of a holy and omnipotent God, or is it simply a slip up that God overlooks?

If God is too holy to endure even the thought of evil, if He is angry about the sorrow and destruction caused by sin, and if sin makes us criminals who deserve to be punished, then it is impossible for us to cover our offenses with a few good deeds or pretty ceremonies. God Himself is going to have to bear the affront of our wickedness within Himself. He is going to have to make a way for us to be forgiven and get to Heaven apart from our own actions and abilities. He is going to have to bear the penalty of our sins in Himself. This is exactly what He did. In Christ He gave himself for our sins on the cross (Gal. 1:4). This is what is at stake in the book of Galatians. This is why Paul wrote, that those seeking to save themselves through the law are moving away from Christ (1:6) and those who teach that it is possible to save ourselves by keeping the law are perverting the true Gospel (1:7) and are accursed, meaning, condemned to hell (1:8 & 9).

Tuesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 135, Gen. 1:20-2:3, Mk.6:14-29
Evening - Ps. 129, 130, Amos 1:1-5, 13-2:3, Gal. 1:11

Commentary, Gal. 1:11

The Galatians, like us, were confronted with a wide variety of choices and decisions in religion. The pagan cults around them were too numerous to count. In addition to them was the Jewish faith, and now, in the preaching of Paul, they faced the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By the grace of God they were drawn to Christ, but as soon as Paul left them to found new churches elsewhere, others came to them, claiming to believe in the same Jesus, same crucifixion, and same resurrection, but teaching a different way of salvation. Paul, they said, was mistaken about the Gospel. You cannot be saved by Christ alone; you have to earn it by keeping the Jewish ceremonial law. You have to become Jews. Only then will your sins be fully forgiven. So the Galatians faced the question, who do we believe? Realising this, Paul reminded them of his Apostolic authority and the origin of his message.

Paul was not just a travelling philosopher or entertainer. Paul was an Apostle of Jesus Christ. This meant more than being just "a person sent" which would be the literal translation of the Greek word, apostolos. An Apostle was an emissary from God, and his message was from God. He had no authority to change the content of the message, or to add to or delete from it, but he had full authority to proclaim it as the message from God Himself. So, like the Apostles in Jerusalem, Paul's Apostleship was not conferred on him by people (1:1), it was a direct calling from Christ Himself.

His message was not his own, nor did he receive it from other people (1:11). This does not mean Paul never heard the Gospel before he met Christ on the Damascus road. In his zeal to kill Christians (1:13) he had probably heard many Christians tell him about Jesus. As a rising star in the religious leadership of Israel he had probably learned the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, for he had to know what Christians believed in order to determine who was or was not a Christian. But Paul did not go to Jerusalem to study with the Apostles after his conversion. Instead, he went into Arabia to ponder what had happened to him and to devote himself to studying the Scriptures (1:17). He wanted to learn what the Old Testament really taught about the Messiah and His Kingdom. He then returned to Damascus, to the very Christians he had once intended to kill, and became a part of the Church there. By that time he was already grounded, so, while he undoubtedly grew in the faith while in Damascus, he did not receive his message from the ministers of the Church there. He already knew the Gospel prior to his arrival, and he went there to teach, not to be taught After three years in Damascus, Paul went to Jerusalem and conferred with Peter and James. Paul mentions this because it is important for the Galatians to know Peter and James agreed with him, both in the content of his message and in his calling as an Apostle. His Gospel is the same Gospel they preached, and his Apostleship had the same validity as theirs (1:18-20). Having this confirmation from Jerusalem, Paul travelled to Syria, where he became a part of the church in Antioch, from which his missionary journeys would begin (1:21-23).

So, Paul was appointed to the Apostleship by direct commission from Christ, he learned the Gospel message by revelation from Christ, and the truth of his message was affirmed by the other Apostles in Jerusalem. Could the people who taught the gospel of works produce such credentials? If not, should the Galatians believe them or Paul?


Wednesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 137:1-6, 140, Gen. 2:4-9, 16-25, Mk.6:30-44
Evening - Ps. 132, Amos 2:6, Gal. 2:1-10

Commentary, Gal 2:1-10

Tonight's reading takes us to the famous council at Jerusalem. The promoters of the gospel of works, often called the party of the circumcision or Judaisers, had gained a large following in the Church and the question had to be dealt with. Many Jewish Christians had probably continued in the Old Testament traditions, though they were forced to start Christian synagogues, rather than worship with non-Christians Jews. They had no problem with the old traditions, nor did they see them as adding to the work of Christ or earning salvation. They were not the Judaisers. The Judaisers believed the ceremonial law was absolutely necessary to salvation. No one, they maintained was truly a Christian or going to Heaven unless he kept the ceremonial law.

The council of Jerusalem showed the Judaisers' gospel to be nothing but a perversion of the true Gospel of Christ. The culmination of this council came when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, certified the veracity of the Gospel preached by Paul as the one true Gospel by extending unto him the right hand of fellowship (2:9). This is a public statement by the Apostles that Paul has Apostolic authority to preach, and that he preaches the Apostolic Gospel.


Thursday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 141, Gen. 3, Mk. 6:45
Evening - Ps. 139, Amos 3, Gal.2:11

Commentary, Gal. 2:11

There is yet another issue at stake in this whole consideration of the place of the ceremonial law in the Church. That issue is the very nature of the Church itself. Is the Church simply a continuation of the Old Testament Israel, or is it the fulfillment of it, the New Israel? If it is simply a continuation of the old Israel, then they are correct who say Gentiles who want to follow Christ must first become Jews. If the Church is the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies to Israel, then Gentiles are not required to become Jews, and, even Jewish Christians are not bound by the ceremonial law. So, which is it? Before we can answer this question we must assert there is much continuity between the Old and New Testaments. We may be better able to understand this if we remember that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old, and that, together, they tell the same story of salvation by grace through the sacrificial blood of Christ. The Old Testament ceremonial law pictured the sacrifice of Christ in a way that is similar to the Lord's Supper today. So, the two are part of the same story. The Old Testament is the first chapter, preparing the way for the Messiah; the New Testament is the fulfillment and completion of the story.

But the Jewish nation and the Church are also different, and Gentiles are not required to become Jews or keep the ceremonial law. This is because the ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ. Why would we offer animal sacrifices when the Lamb of God has offered Himself once for all? Why would we concern ourselves with things that made people ceremonially clean when Christ made us truly and completely clean by His own blood? Thus, the Jewish rituals have done their job, they have pointed us to the one Sacrifice that can take away our sins and make us clean in our souls before God. Having completed their work, they, like John the Baptist, must decrease while Christ increases.

It is important to see that the Apostles and elders already understood this. It was not a concept ironed out in debate and decided by majority vote. Peter and James affirmed that it was true fourteen years before the council took place (Gal. 1:18 & 2:1). The purpose of the council was not to decide what was true, but to declare what was true to a large gathering of Church leaders so all would know the truth on this issue.

Yet the idea of ceremonial uncleanness, which was a central part of the ceremonial law, was difficult for Jewish Christians to surrender. Even Peter had lapses of faith on the issue, for when he was in Antioch he ate with Gentiles freely, but when Jews came up from Jerusalem, he separated himself from the Gentiles. Why the separation? In the ceremonial law, a Gentile was unclean. That meant he was unacceptable to God and unacceptable to God's people, Israel. Eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles made a Jew unclean, meaning the Jew was in the same situation as the Gentile before God. But if a Gentile became a Jew and began to keep the traditions and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, he became acceptable; he became "clean." The Gentile Christians at Antioch did not become Jews, so Peter, thinking the Jewish emissaries from Jerusalem would consider them unclean, stopped eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles (2:12).

This gave Paul another chance to proclaim what was already known by the Church; that it was not the rituals of the ceremonial law that made people clean before God. Only the shed blood of Christ made a person clean (2:16). Paul points out that Peter knew this, as did other Jewish Christians in Antioch, for they freely ate with Gentiles as brothers and sisters in Christ until the other Jews arrived. If they did not keep the ceremonial law by remaining separate from the Gentiles, how could they expect Gentiles to keep the law? And why had they eaten with the Gentile Christians, thus, breaking the ceremonial law, in the first place? It was because they knew it is not keeping the law, but faith in Christ that makes a person clean to God (2:14-21).

Friday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 143, Gen. 4:1-16, Mk. 7:1-13
Evening - Ps. 142, 146, Amos 4:4, Gal. 3:1-9

Commentary, Gal. 3:1-19

The Galatian Christians, Jews and Gentiles, knew it was Christ, not the law, that made them clean and acceptable to God. But when the Judaisers came teaching that Paul was wrong and that they needed to keep the ceremonial law to make themselves acceptable to God, their faith wavered. So Paul addresses the very heart of the matter in tonight's reading. He asks two questions. First, did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law or by hearing the Gospel of Christ in faith (3:2)? The Galatians had to admit that when they believed in Christ as their Saviour, they received the Holy Spirit of God, which represents all the blessings given to a person in Christ. They also had to admit that they did not receive the Spirit by doing the rituals of the ceremonial law. They received Him by grace through faith. This forced the Galatians to realise again that they are saved by the grace of God in Christ, which they received by faith, not by doing the works of the law. Second, if the blood of Christ made you clean enough for the Spirit of God to dwell in you, do you really think you can make yourself cleaner by rituals and ceremonies (3:3) or by any other thing you can do? To make such an assumption is blasphemy. "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common [unclean]" (Acts 10:15, 28, 34-47). Even Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, was saved by grace, not law (3:6) and it is those who trust in Christ through faith who are his true children and heirs of the promises of God (3:7-9).

Saturday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 149, Gen. 6:5-8, 13-22, Mk. 7:14-23
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Amos 5:1-13, Gal. 3:10-18

Commentary, Gal. 3:10-18

Tonight's reading reinforces Galatian's two main points. First, those who try to make themselves acceptable to God by keeping the law, always fail. Thus they remain under the wrath of God. Second, only those who are in Christ are acceptable unto God.

Those who try to make themselves acceptable to God by keeping the law always fail. The reason it is impossible to make yourself acceptable to God by keeping the law is that the law must be kept perfectly. Any failure to keep it to its fullest measure, including having the proper mental and spiritual intentions and attitudes, makes you unacceptable. This includes both the ceremonial law and the moral law, so, to fail to keep the moral law perfectly renders you unacceptable to God. And, even if you were to keep the ceremonial law perfectly, it could not atone for your failure in the moral law. Therefore, since no one has ever kept the moral law, anyone who tries to make himself acceptable by means of the ceremonial law is wasting his time (3:10).

Only those who are in Christ are acceptable unto God. Those who are accepted by God are accepted on the basis of Christ's sacrifice (3:13) received by faith (3:11). This is true of Gentiles as well as Jews, for Christ died for us, that the blessing of Abraham (3:8) might come to the Gentiles, meaning, we are made fully acceptable to God and receive His Spirit through faith (3:14).

Abraham also was accepted by grace not works. He actually lived more than 400 years before the ceremonial law was given (3:17). Therefore, he could never have made himself acceptable by it. He was accepted by God because he trusted God, and God accepted his faith and treated him as though he were without sin (3:6). Abraham received the promise of Christ (3:8 & 16) 400 years before the ceremonial law was given, and the giving of the law did not negate the promise (3:17). So the entire history of redemption has been the history of God's grace as promised to Abraham (3:18). It is the story of the promises of God, not the good works of man.