March 25, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of Passion Sunday

Monday after Passion Sunday, Day Twenty-nine

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 119:1-16, Exodus 3:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Evening - Psalm 119:17-32, Psalm 117, Jeremiah 20:7-13, John 12:1-11


John 12:1-11

Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.

Commentary

Tonight's Gospel reading returns us to the Gospel of John. It also takes us back to the Friday prior to the crucifixion. Remember Jesus had crossed the Jordan into Judea at Jericho, and stopped in Bethany to spend the Sabbath. That evening, Mary washed the Saviour's feet and anointed Him with an extravagantly expensive ointment. For this she was soundly criticised by Judas, but defended by Jesus. Our Lord's words remind us again that He knew and accepted His fate; "against the day of my burying hath she kept this." He has come to Judea to go to the cross. A week from the date of Mary's anointment, Jesus will be dead.

Devotional

What would you do if you knew you only had a week to live? Jesus spent His last Friday and Saturday keeping the Sabbath. It is certain that He joined the liturgy of Sabbath evening prayers with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and that He kept His custom (Lk. 4:16) of worshiping in the synagogue on Saturday. "Custom" as used here means far more than a convention or habit. It is a way of life, an ethos. It is something that defines who we are and directs the way we live. Worship was a way of life for Christ, which He continued to the very end.

Tuesday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 123, Psalm 127, Exodus 4:10-18, 27-31, 1 Corinthians 15:20-34
Evening - Psalms 120, 121, 122, Jeremiah 22:10-23, John 12:12-19

John 12:12-19

On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.


Commentary

This week's evening readings take us through the twelfth chapter of John's Gospel by Thursday night. Curiously, this is all John records about the events from the Sabbath in Bethany to Maundy Thursday. Though many events of the week are omitted, one very significant event is recorded. This event is often overlooked, yet its importance cannot be overstated. It is found in verse 19, "Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the whole world is gone after him."

These were the words of the Pharisees as they talked among themselves and lamented the popularity of Christ as shown in His Triumphal Entry. The verse shows the complete inability of the religious leaders to capture Jesus or reduce His influence. It was their intention to kill Him, yet He had evaded all their efforts, and now had come into Jerusalem in a great, symbolic act that was a bold announcement of His presence, and of their inability to stop Him. All their efforts had prevailed nothing.



Wednesday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-one

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 128, 129, Exodus 5:1-9, 19-6:11, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49
Evening - Psalm 132, Jeremiah 28:1-2, 10-17, John 12:20-33

John 12:20-33

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.

Commentary

Last night's reading showed the absolute inability of the Pharisees to capture Jesus, or to reduce His popularity. Tonight's reading shows Christ's absolute commitment to the cross. He has proven that the Pharisees cannot kill Him, now He shows that He goes to the cross of His own volition. "For this cause came I to this hour" (12:27). "This he said, signifying what death he should die" (12:33). These verses are a graphic demonstration of the truth of Christ's words in John 10:17-18: "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."

Devotional

One of the most important aspects of repentance is replacing ungodliness with godliness. It is good to be sorry for sins. It is good to end or reduce particular sins, but repentance is not complete until we have replaced the sins with righteousness. Grubbing weeds out of a garden merely results in bare dirt. It is not until the good seed of desirable plants are sown that the garden blossoms with flowers and fruits.



Thursday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-two

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 144, Exodus 11:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:50
Evening - Psalms 133.134.137:1-6, Jeremiah 30:12-17, 23-24, John 12:34-43

John 12:34-43

The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them. But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.


Commentary

The masses who welcomed Christ into Jerusalem were entirely confused about His nature and work. Expecting a military deliverer, they did not understand His statement about the Son of Man being lifted up (12:34). In Hebrew and Greek, as in English, to lift up can mean to elevate in altitude, or to elevate in dignity or status. The people have welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as the Messiah (12:13). But now He is talking about lifting up the Son of Man. Jesus, of course, is talking about Himself being raised up on the cross (12:33), but the people think He is talking about elevating someone else to the status of Messiah. Thus, despite all their enthusiasm and show, "they believed not on him" (12:37) because they believed in Him only as they wanted Him to be, not as He really is.

Devotional

The Bible requires us to believe in Jesus as He really is, not as we would like Him to be. Likewise we are to live as He wants us to live, and worship as He wants to be worshiped. These things are not left our own imaginations. God clearly reveals His will in Scripture, demanding us to conform to Him. One of the great problems of the contemporary Church is the continuing attempt to re-create Christ and remake the Church according to our own desires rather than conforming to the Bible.

Friday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-three

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 141:1-4, Psalm 146, Exodus 12:21-28, 1 Corinthians 16:1-14
Evening - Psalm 139, Jeremiah 32:36-42, John 12:44

John 12:44

Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.


Commentary

Verse 44 says, "Jesus cried and said." It means He spoke out loudly and suddenly, not in anger or fear, but in a way that demands to be heard. One theme runs through His words, as though He wanted to state it once again as clearly as possible so the disciples would have it burned into their memories. The theme is simple; Christ's words are God's words, hear them well.

Devotional Thoughts

Many people are so busy with themselves they have shut themselves up to God. They may go to church and do a few religious things in a mechanical way, but they are not really open to God. To be open to God is to reject unbiblical actions or doctrines. It is to seek God, rather than ecstatic experiences and feelings. To be open to God is to be receptive to His word and Spirit through which He speaks to you and leads you into Himself. To be closed to God is to shut Him out of life, or to limit Him to "safe areas" where He can't "bother you." To be open to Him is to invite Him into all of your life.

Saturday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-four

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 147, Exodus 12:29-39, 42, 1 Corinthians 16:15.
Evening Psalm 145, Jeremiah 33:1-9, 14-16, John 13:1-7

John 13:1-7

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

Commentary

John barely mentions the "Last Supper" (13:2 & 4) but devotes much of His Gospel to the actions and words of Christ after the supper. Again our reading shows the Lord's progress toward the cross by recording Judas' intent to betray Him (13:2). It is important to see that, while it was the devil who put the intent into Judas' heart, it was Christ who allowed the betrayal for the purpose of bringing Himself to the cross. Through Judas, Christ gave Himself over to be crucified.

Devotional Thoughts

While our Gospel readings have followed Christ to Jerusalem, our first readings for the mornings of the week have been from Exodus, bringing us to this morning's reading of the Passover. The devastation of Egypt presented in Exodus is like that of a war zone. The stench of death and the sound of mourning covered the land. Among the Hebrews things were different. They were spared from the ruinous effects of the plagues, and delivered from the plague of death. The Egyptians even paid them to leave. They were free. They were going to a new land, to establish their own homes and govern their own lives. We can only imagine their joy. What marked the Hebrews so they were saved from the plague and set free of their bondage? It was the blood of the Lamb. It was no accident that Christ took the cup after the after the Passover meal and made it represent His blood as the Lamb of God. Christ is our Passover Lamb. His blood delivers us from our bondage of the soul and delivers us into the Heavenly "Promised Land."

Sermon, Passion Sunday

The God Who Suffers for Us
Psalm 51, Hebrews 9:11-15, John 8:46-59
Passion Sunday
March 25, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Most people would define "passion" as strong feelings or intense desires. But in earlier times, such as the time the King James Version was translated, passion was understood in more accordance with its Greek roots. For, like so many of our English words, passion came into English from the Greek language, and the Greek word means to suffer, to experience intense and painful suffering. It is the word used in Acts 1:3, which says Jesus "shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs.

Today, Passion Sunday, we recall the suffering of Christ through the phony trial, the crown of thorns, the beating, the rejection, the death on the cross, and, worst of all, bearing the wrath of God for our sins. The Collect asks God to govern and preserve His people, meaning those who are forgiven and cleansed by the Passion of Christ. Hebrews 9 reminds us that Christ suffered voluntarily, offering up Himself as the only offering that can effectively cover our sin. John 8 recalls the Jewish leaders rejecting Christ, which led to their turning Christ over to the Romans to suffer crucifixion. Psalm 51 applies the Passion of Christ to the very personal needs each of us has before God. It is about the reason why Christ had to offer Himself up as our sacrifice. It is about our need for Christ's Passion.

The Psalm was written by David shortly after his sin with Bathsheba. We all know that David desired Bathsheba, and that he arranged for her husband to be placed on the front line of a fierce battle where he would almost certainly be killed. David did this to try to cover up his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, which had resulted in her pregnancy. It didn't work. His sin was found out, and many were forced to reap its bitter fruits. Psalm 51 is a song of great sorrow and penance. Finally, probably as he waited and prayed that the very sickly baby born of his sin, would live, David began to realise the depth and wickedness of his sin, the lives he had ruined and the lives he had cost. He finally began to realise the odiousness of his sin in the eyes of God. The first four verse of the Psalm express David's broken-hearted and shame-filled confession of his sin. "I acknowledge my faults," my transgressions, the many times I have intentionally broken the holy Law of God. "My sin," my rebellion, my evil, "is ever before me." David says, I can't stop thinking about it. I can't get it out of my mind. It haunts me like the gates of hell chasing after me day and night.

Our sins may be different from David's, but every honest person can see himself in Psalm 51. We recognise that we have done things that have affected the lives of many other people. We have caused unnecessary pain, worry, and sorrow as we manipulated circumstances and used, or ignored, people to get what we want instead of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor (mother, father, daughter, son, fellow Christian) as our selves according to the pure and righteous Law of God. Maybe you have never physically committed adultery, but you have committed it in your heart. Maybe you never physically killed another person, but you have acted hatefully and wickedly toward people. You have assassinated people's character, or you have made their lives a living death by your failure to live out your God-given responsibilities. And you know the words of Romans 3:23 express the truth about you when they say, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

One of the verses we often read in Lent is Joel 2:13, "Rend your heart and not your garments." In Biblical times people expressed intense sorrow or repentance by tearing the bodice of their robes. As you can imagine, some people tore their robes without really feeling the sorrow and without repenting. The forms have changed, but the practice continues today, for many church people continue in their old, sinful habits and patterns of life while outwardly preserving the appearance of a Godly, Christian life. In so doing they are rending their "garments" while their hearts decay within them. It is so easy to go through the outward forms of worship and prayer and say the right words of confession and repentance and faith in Christ, yet never really mean them, never really do what we say with our lips. That is rending the garment instead of the heart. It is an outward show of repentance that is not meant in the heart. God detests such shows. God tells us to rend our hearts. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. God wants hearts that are broken over sin. God wants hearts that ache over the evil that is in us. God wants hearts that are ready to be made new, whose deepest and most intense prayers are not, Lord, give me more of the toys of earth, but, Lord create in me a clean heart.

I truly hope this day, your heart is broken over your own sin. I hope it weighs you down like an elephant standing on your soul. Because when it weighs you down like that, then you are ready to let God do something about it. Then you are willing to let, even, beg God to create in you a clean heart.

I'm not just talking about forgiveness. Most people only want forgiveness from God. They only want to be released from the penalty of sin; they don't want to become new creatures. They don't want to "live a godly, righteous and sober life." They have no intention of giving up themselves to God's service or living before Him in holiness and righteousness all their days. But again, that is rending their garments instead of their hearts.

The good news is, God is the God of all grace and the Father of all mercies. He is more than willing to forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Christ "came into the world to save sinners." "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." His very dying words were, "Father, forgive them." That's why He went to the cross. He suffered the wrath of God for you, in your place. Instead of justly punishing your for your sins, He bore His wrath in Himself on the cross. He became your sacrificial Lamb, and He forgives the sins of all who call upon Him in Biblical faith.

But He does not merely forgive our sins and leave us to follow the same old self-destructive habits and patterns. He changes us. This is one of the most important teachings in all of the Bible. God changes us. We don't have to repeat the same old sins. We can be different. Life can be different. God intends it to be. David prays in verse 10, "Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. This same concept is taught throughout the Bible, and one of its clearest expressions is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ," meaning to trust in Christ to forgive your sins in Biblical faith, "he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." God is about making new creatures out of us. He is about changing our values, our hope, our desires, our thoughts, and our actions. He is about changing our entire view of life. He is about making us new in the likeness of the love and peace and joy of Christ.

March 18, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Monday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-three

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 90, Genesis 44, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Evening - Psalm91, Jeremiah 13:15, Mark 12:18-27

Mark 12:18-27

Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven. And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

Commentary

The enemies of Christ would take Him by force, but the people would defend Him. So they resort to trickery. Their questions are well thought out traps intended to trick Him into saying something that would turn the crowds against Him. Surely this complicated riddle about the resurrection would trip Him, but it did not. His refutation of them is decisive. They were in error because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. The resurrection life is of an entirely different kind from that of this physical world. In it we will be like the angels, free of the passions of earth, and devoted entirely to the glory and enjoyment of God. Our fellowship with one another also will be free of earthly passions, enabling us to love as Christ loves.

Devotional

One of the best ways to pray the Bible is to use the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book is simply the Bible in devotional form. Much of it comes right from the Bible, word-for-word. Other parts of it convey the Bible’s ideas and thoughts through indirect quotations and paraphrases. Consider the following prayer of thanksgiving from the service of “Evening Prayer.”

“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us and to all men; We bless the for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy 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; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.”

It has been said that to have a God is to worship Him. We may legitimately add that to worship God is to pray. May God help us to be a people of prayer.




Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-four

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 93 & 96, Genesis 45, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Evening - Psalm 92, Jeremiah 14:1-10, Mark 12:28-37

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question. And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.

Commentary

Our Gospel reading for today is a very sad portion of Scripture. It tells of a man, a religious leader, to whom our Lord said, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." At first this seems very complimentary. "Not far" appears to mean, very close, perhaps even, on the brink, or, at the very gate. But, "not far" does not equal "inside." In life, many have perished on the brink of safety, and in spiritual things, many have perished on the brink of faith. To loose your soul at the gate of Heaven is still to loose your soul.

Devotional

Christianity is often wrongly viewed as an experience rather than a way of life. Thus, it is no surprise that prayer is often viewed the same way, and, therefore, turned into an attempt to have experiences rather than communicate with God. But in the Bible, prayer is content oriented, not experience oriented. Like Scripture, prayer is communication, not feelings. Biblical prayer has no use for pretensions or emotional manipulation. It is simply a reverent conversation with God on the basis of Biblical truth. Does the Bible say "all have sinned?" In prayer we confess, "we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep." Does the Bible say all who believe in Him have are fully forgiven? In prayer we reaffirm our faith that "He pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel." Does the Bible tell us God watches over us? In prayer we entrust our day, and our lives into His providence, saying, "Grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight." Does the Bible tell us to make prayers and intercessions for all people? In prayer "we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men." Does the Bible tell us to give thanks? In prayer we give thanks for His "goodness and loving kindness to all." In short, Biblical prayer asks God for the things the Bible tells us to seek from Him. Yet prayer is more than asking for things. Prayer is also an expression of trust.





Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-five

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 94, Genesis 47:29-31, 46:8-20, 1 Corinthian 14:1-12
Evening - Psalms 97 & 98, Jeremiah 15:1-9, Mark 12:38

And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.


Commentary

The intent of the Lenten readings in the Gospels has been to follow our Lord's journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Thus, let us put the recent readings into their chronological perspective. In Mark 10 we saw Christ cross the Jordan and enter Judea. He crossed the river near Jericho in the company of a great crowd of pilgrims going to Jerusalem for Passover. In Mark 11 He arrived in Bethany, a small village just outside of Jerusalem. It was Friday, and He spent the night and following day in Bethany observing the Jewish Sabbath. On Sunday He went into Jerusalem, boldly announcing His arrival in what has become known as the Triumphal Entry (Mk. 11:1-11). He returned to Bethany that evening. Monday morning found Him in Jerusalem again, as we read in Mark 11:12-26. He went again to Bethany for the night, returning on the following day, Tuesday (Mk. 11:20). Tuesday was an exhausting day spent in confrontation with the priests and Pharisees in the Temple. The confrontation ended with our Lord's scathing condemnation of them, found in Matthew 23. Having completed this, He took the disciples to the Mount of Olives to teach them about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. This is found in Matthew 24 and 25 and in Mark 13. From there He returned to Bethany again to spend the night. Our reading for today, starting in Mark 12:38, continues to relate the events of the Tuesday before the crucifixion. Still in the Temple, Christ contrasts the religion of the Pharisees with the faith of the widow. The Pharisees' was a religion of pretense. Their religion was all about them. The widow's faith was real and Biblical. Hers was all about God.

Devotional

Prayer is not simply a list of requests. It is also an expression of our trust in God. As we take our concerns and needs to Him in prayer we also rest ourselves in the faith that He hears our prayers and answers us according to what is expedient for us. The very act of prayer implies trust in God. It assumes that He is willing to meet our needs and to care for us. Would you pray if you believed God would not listen? Would you ask Him for your daily bread if you thought He would not give what you need? Would you trust Him with your life and soul and heart if you did not believe He works all things for your good? Most people would not. But, believing He loves you and is doing better things for you than you can even imagine, you gladly take your needs and requests to Him in prayer. Thus, prayer is an affirmation of your faith in God.



Thursday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-six

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 104, Genesis 49:33-50:26, 1 Corinthians 14:13-25
Evening - Psalms 99 & 100, Jeremiah, 15:10, Mark13:1-13

Mark 13:1-13

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. 8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.


Commentary

The mission of the Temple and sacrificial system was ended and fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, they were no longer needed. If their leaders had welcomed Christ, the sacrifices might have passed happily into history, and the Temple might have become the center for preaching the Gospel of Christ. But their corruption made this impossible. The Temple was going to be destroyed, and Jerusalem sacked for the unbelief and corruption that pervaded them. The destruction would surprise the people, like a thief in the night, but the Christians, forewarned by our Lord in this passage, would be watching, and would escape the carnage.

Many mistakenly assume this passage is about the end of the world, and believe the false christs, wars, and earthquakes are signs of the return of Christ. In reality, such events are things that happen continually, and are not signs of anything except the presence and effects of sin in this world (Mk. 13:7-8). The whole passage is a clarification of Christ's words in Mark 13:2, which were prompted by the disciples' question in verses 3 and 4. For a fuller explanation of this, see He Shall Reign: the Message and Meaning of the Book of Revelation, pages 46-56.


Devotional

Christianity is not an emotional response to a religious experience. Christianity is a faith response to the revelation of God's truth, as found in the Bible. Granted, God is revealed in other ways. Nature shows that God exists, and that He is a God of order and power. Conscience reveals His moral will by telling us we should conduct ourselves in certain ways, and not in others. But nature and conscience do not tell us who God is, or how to be free of His displeasure over our moral failures. For this we need more specific and personal revelation. This revelation is found in the Bible. The Bible is nothing less than the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). It contains all you need to know about God, His will, and how to be put right with Him. This is why the Church spends so much time in the Bible. It is our desire to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Bible, that we may "embrace, and ever hold fast, the promise of everlasting life... given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent).

Every day is a day to give ourselves to the Bible. Like all matters of holy living, there is no special time or season during which it is to be studied, only to be neglected in others. But, in reality, we do not always devote ourselves to it as we should. Lent is an opportunity to re-develop or reinforce the habit of daily Bible time.

Friday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-seven

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 95 & 102, Exodus 1:8-14, 1 Corinthians 14:26
Evening - Psalm 107, Jeremiah 16:5-13, Mark 13:14-23

Mark 13:14-23

But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.



Commentary

The abomination of desolation in verse 14 refers to the Roman army sacking Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as Antiochus did in 163 B.C. (Daniel 9:26). Christ is telling the disciples that when they see the Romans approaching they are to leave Jerusalem immediately. Several verses describe the urgency of their escape. Flee to the mountains (14). Don't stop to gather belongings (15). Don't even stop to gather your coat (16). The escape will be difficult for those with child, and they are to pray that it will not be in winter (17 & 18). The devastation of the city and its ensuing suffering is shown in verses 19 & 20.

It would be natural for the Jews to look for the Messiah to appear at this time. Taught to expect a military leader to deliver them from the Romans, they would expect Him to arise when the Roman army surrounded the city. It would also be natural for false christs to come, claiming to be the Messiah (13:6), and for others to claim that the Christ is in the desert or in some other place (21-22) preparing to attack the Romans. Even Christians might be tempted to believe Jesus had returned and was preparing to lead the attack on Rome. But verse 23 shows the vanity of such claims. Jesus is saying He has foretold all of this, and the Christians are to "take heed."

Devotional

We must never allow ourselves to forget that the people who resisted and rejected Christ were religious people who considered themselves good and right with God. Yet Christ said these very people would be judged and destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem. The Corinthians were also convinced of their own righteousness, yet Paul's word to them was "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith" (2 Cor. 13:5). Do people today live under the same delusion?


Saturday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-eight
Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 108:1-6 & 112, Exodus 2:1-22, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Evening - Psalm 118, Jeremiah 17:5-14, Mark 13:24

Mark 13:24

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.


Commentary

This passage continues our Lord's discourse regarding the coming tribulation of Jerusalem. To understand the meaning of the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, we must look back to the Old Testament. In Genesis 37:9 the sun, moon, and eleven stars represent Joseph and his family. In Ezekiel 32:7 the celestial bodies go dark at the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. This is symbolic language, equivalent to saying the sun smiles or the clouds weep. The point in Mark 13 is not that the stars literally fall from the sky or that the sun and moon will literally go dark. As in Genesis they represent people, but here they are not bowing, they are going dark and falling; they are dying. As in Ezekiel they represent death and destruction in Jerusalem.

Devotional

As we read the New Testament's words against the religious leaders of Christ's time, we may forget that we also deserve to suffer the consequences of our sins. The collect for the Fourth Sunday of Lent forcefully reminds us that we are sinners whose only hope is the grace of God in Christ.

"Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."

Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Lent

The God Who Makes Us New Again
Psalm 147, Galatians 4:21-31, John 6:1-14
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


Our liturgical calendar leads us to spend the first half of the year emphasising what we are to believe about God, nature, and ourselves. So we have been looking at what the Bible says about God as the God of Grace, God our Saviour, God the Law Giver, and God who is Faithful. Today we are looking at "The God Who Makes Us New Again." In the Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Lent we ask God to relieve us by His comfort and grace through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Collect is an ancient prayer which has carried this petition to the throne of grace for at least 1,700, and, probably for more than 1,900 years. The earliest copies I know of are in the collection of prayers and liturgies known as the Gregorian Sacrametary and are written in Latin. Our English version of it uses the word, "relieve," which means to free, help, and release from an obligation. Its strongest meaning is to raise a person up and out of troubles and sorrows, to elevate him to a new level of life. The Latin word used is respiremus, from which we draw our English word, "respire." And guess what "respire" really means; it means to re-inspire, to breathe life into again, or to make alive again. Picture an ancient caravan traversing a hot, dry desert. After many weary days of travel it finally reaches an oasis rich with palm trees, grass and water. Man and beast rest themselves in the cool shade and drink their fill of the water. They remain at the oasis for several days, and when they leave they are relieved of their weariness and re-inspired for the journey ahead. Or picture a military troop that has been on the front line for many long months of hard battle. The soldiers are weak and tired, but, finally the orders come for them to move to the rear. There, away from the battle, they rest, eat hot meals, take hot showers, and sleep in beds. After a while they begin to regain their strength and courage. They are freed and released from the obligations of the war, and they are helped and elevated to a new level of life and health. It is as though they are re-made and become new people.

Psalm 147 is about God freeing and helping His people by raising us up to a new level of life. Verse 6 tells us the Lord "setteth up" the meek. He elevates them; He raises them up to a new level of life. The Psalm uses the ancient city of Jerusalem as an object lesson, and verses 2 and 3 form a key passage to those who wish to understand the Psalm's meaning and application; "The Lord doth build up Jerusalem, and gather together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth those that are broken in heart, and giveth medicine to heal their sickness."

From the very beginning enemies have besieged and scattered the Israel of God. From the death of Abel to persecutions on this very day we have been attacked and scattered like sheep. In Biblical times, Babylon, Greece, and Rome each attacked and destroyed Jerusalem, and forced the Jews to flee to the ends of the earth. In Psalm 147 God is rebuilding Jerusalem as He did under the leadership of Nehemiah. He is regathering the outcasts of Israel as He did when He brought them back from captivity in Babylon in 536 B.C. It is as though Israel had died like the soldiers in the valley of dry bones. And, just as God raised up and renewed the dry bones, He is raising up and renewing Israel. He is making Israel new again and alive again.

We need to remember that the real emphasis of this Psalm is not what God does for the physical city of Jerusalem. It was nice that God brought the Jews back to Jerusalem, and that He made the gates of the city fast so enemies could not break in, and that He gave them flour and wheat so that, in a land where people often did not have enough to eat, His people had food. Yet these physical blessings were not the heart of what it meant for God to relieve His people. It is the spiritual Jerusalem, the Jerusalem which is from above, which is the mother of us all, as we read a few minutes ago in Galatians 4:26, which is the real focus of this Psalm. This heavenly Jerusalem is the Church, which is the company of all faithful people, the company of those who have trusted in Jesus Christ to forgive their sins and make them fit for the fellowship and love of God. This makes the Church as an institution very important. It is ordained of God. It is He who sent Apostles and pastors to it, and calls ministers to preach and teach the word and calls people to come into His community of faith and worship Him. Yes, the Church as an organisation has its problems, but we are not allowed by God to give up on the organisation. Rather than giving up we are to seek out a church that is a real Church, founded on the Bible and striving to live by the faith and practice revealed in Scripture.

How does God refresh and relieve His people? He does it primarily through the everyday things of prayer, Scripture reading, public and private worship, and the Lord's Supper. Most of the TV and radio preachers teach that God works miracles, according to the measure of your faith, and it is through these miracles that He refreshes and relieves you. But the truth is that such miracles are extremely rare. For example, God seldom comforts and relieves us apart from His teaching and promises revealed in the Scriptures. And He seldom gives great understanding of Scripture's comfort and promises unless we spend time reading and studying them. It is the Scriptures that teach us the things we need to know about God and enable us to grow in grace. In other words, God uses the Scriptures to relieve and refresh us. He also uses the other things I mentioned, prayer, worship, the Lord's Supper, Christian fellowship, and baptism. Through these things God strengthens you and enables you to face the trials and stand fast against the enemies that attempt to scatter and destroy you. Through these things He encourages you, comforts, and relieves you. That's why I am always pestering you about daily prayer and daily Scripture reading, and coming to Church. These things help you, that's why I want you to do them.

But we cannot forget our primary means of relief from God, which is the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ for our sins. If God were to miraculously end war, crime, poverty and sickness, yet allow us to die in our sins He would do us no good. Our sins make us unfit to be in God's presence. Our sins make us fit only to be cast out of His presence forever. And if Jesus had not gone to the cross to pay the price for our sins, we would have to pay that price ourselves. We would have to be cast into that place of outer darkness forever.

But God in mercy sent His Son into the world to save sinners. He came to release you from the power and penalty of sin. He came to raise you up, to elevate you to a new life, a different life, and a better life. And this life is only possible for those who come to Him in faith through Christ.

"Grant, we beseech thee Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."

March 11, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of the Third Sunday in Lent

March 12, Day Seventeen
The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 68:1-19, Genesis 37, 1 Corinthians 9:15
Evening - Psalm 71, Jeremiah 7:1-15, Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31
17And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
19Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
23And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
27And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
28Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
29And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
30But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
31But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.


Commentary, Mark 10:17-31

The Gospel Reading for today turns to the Gospel of Mark, where we will continue for the next two weeks before returning to John. Often called, "the rich, young ruler" the reading for today tells of a man who comes to Jesus professing his own righteousness. He has obviously heard Christ teaching about eternal life, and has come to show that he deserves it through his keeping of the Law of God. "All these have I observed from my youth." But Jesus shows that his statement is false. The greatest commandment is to love God above all things, but this man loves his wealth and himself above God. Therefore, he is not a good man who deserves Heaven. He is a sinner, an idolater, and he is unworthy of the Heaven he claims to have earned.

Devotional Thoughts

Lent is no big mystery. It is simply a time of devotion to the serious practice of holiness. The heart of Lent is repentance. Before we can repent of sin we must find it in our lives, which is the process of self examination. After we find sin we confess it. That means we agree with God about our sin. But we have left something out, have we not? For how can we agree with God about sin, or find sin, or repent of sin if we do not first of all recognize sin? And so we begin our devotional today by asking the question, what is sin?

Sin is anything that is in any way less than 100% complete holiness. Any failure to be or do 100% good is sin. Sin is therefore, first of all a disposition of our being. Adam and Eve were righteous at the start. They became sinners when they chose to sin. Their natural righteousness was distorted. Their natural goodness was corrupted, and they became sinners in their beings as well as in their actions. Since then, all people are born with the same corrupted being. To return to the example of the castle and the throne, we are all born with ourselves on the throne. This translates into an inborn, natural inclination to sin. This inclination is itself sin. So we are sinners before we actually commit a sinful thought, word, or deed. We need God to both forgive our sinful deeds, and to incline our being towards righteousness.

March 13, Day Eighteen
The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 74, Genesis 40, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Evening - Psalm 73, Jeremiah 7:21-29, Mark 10:32-45

Mark 10:32-45
32And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him,
33Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles:
34And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.
35And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.
36And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you?
37They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
38But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
39And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized:
40But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.
41And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John.
42But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
43But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
45For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.


Commentary, Mark 10:32-45

Again we see Christ's full knowledge of what awaits Him in Jerusalem. He is going there intentionally to face the cross. The disciples fear to go, but Christ faces the ordeal with calm assurance. He has come to give His life as the ransom for many. He will not turn away.

Devotional Thoughts

Our hearts are so deceitful. If we listen to them they will convince us that our sins are really virtues. They will lead us to spend our time on small issues and miss the major things in our lives. They will attempt to make us focus intensely on one sinful action, and miss the general ungodly direction of our whole life. We often spend too much time trying to remedy our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, without working on their source; without changing the sinfulness in our nature that causes the sinful actions. This is the cause of the failure of all human attempts to make the world a better place. We try to educate people to do better, we use social engineering to redistribute wealth and equalize status and opportunity, and we pass laws enforcing peace and tolerance, only to find that people continue in the same old ways of oppression, greed, and strife. Why? Because we have not changed their nature. We have not dealt with the one issue that is the root and cause of all the others. We have not made them righteous. Indeed, we cannot make them righteous. We cannot make ourselves righteous. Only the Spirit of God can change the hearts of sinful people and give us the desire to dethrone ourselves and enthrone God.

March 14, Day Nineteen
The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 75, Psalm 76, Genesis 41:1-24, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
Evening - Psalm 77, Jeremiah 8:4-13, Mark 10:46

And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.


Commentary, Mark 10:46

"And they came to Jericho" (Mk. 10:46) is a significant statement, for it marks Christ's progress toward Jerusalem. He has been dwelling in Perea, from whence He has made journeys into Judea, Galilee, and other areas. But this trip is different. He is now going to Jerusalem to be the sacrificial Lamb of God. On the way He demonstrates His authority yet again. The blind son of Timeus calls to Him and pleads for his sight. Bartimeus knows something about Jesus, for he calls Him, "Son of David," a name full of Messianic expectations. Jesus is the Messiah who goes into Jerusalem to ascend to His throne, but the cross is the way to the throne.


Devotional Thoughts

Our natural unrighteousness is “sin,” but what is “a sin?” A sin is any thought, word, or deed that is inconsistent with the will and nature of God as revealed in Christ and recorded in the Holy Bible. Obviously, the Bible speaks clearly about some sins. The Ten Commandments and Moral Law of the Old Testament are the will of God for our lives, and any breach of their letter or spirit is sin. In other places, God gives principles of righteousness. The Bible cannot address every situation of every life, so God gives general principles of righteousness, which we are to employ in our daily lives and situations. The Bible will not tell you who you should marry, but it gives many principles for choosing an appropriate spouse and living the married life. The Bible does not tell you your calling in life. It does lay down clear principles of godly business conduct and industry, which you must apply to your career choices and practices. Failure to keep these laws and principles is sin. Thus, anything that goes against the letter or spirit of the Bible is sin.



March 15, Day Twenty

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 85, Genesis 41:25-40, 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
Evening - Psalm 80, Jeremiah 9:2-16, Mark 11:12-26

And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Commentary, Mark 11:12-26

Again Scripture marks the progress of our Lord toward Jerusalem. Bethpage and Bethany are on the road that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives is on the east side of Jerusalem between Bethany and the city. From there Christ could view the Temple, symbol of His presence and sacrifice. To put the events in their proper sequence, Jesus travelled from Jericho through Bethphage to arrive in Bethany on the Friday before Passover, probably in the year 28. He remained in Bethany for the Sabbath and went into Jerusalem on Sunday in what has been called "The Triumphal Entry" which is recorded in Mark 11:1-11. The crowds who greeted Him with palm branches were the pilgrims traveling to or already in Jerusalem for Passover. The Triumphal Entry is a bold announcement that Jesus has come to Jerusalem. It is also a bold acceptance of the fate that awaits Him. He does not go in secret. He does not hide in fear. He goes into the city boldly, as a King to His Throne, and, at the same time, as a Lamb to the Slaughter. Having made His Triumphal Entry, Jesus returned to Bethany for the night.

The next day, Monday, Christ returned to Jerusalem. On this day He saw the fig tree in leaf but having no figs. This was an appropriate symbol of the decaying religion of the religious leaders of Israel. Like the fig tree, they were luxuriant in appearance, but barren in reality. They were great in the appearance of Godliness, with their traditions and ceremonies, but their hearts were far from God. The words of Christ withered the tree as the Gospel withers the pretence of faith in false believers. As He chased the moneychangers from the Temple He reminded them of the true purpose of their calling (Mk. 11:17). They were to lead the people of God into the very presence of God in worship. Instead they had turned the House of Prayer into a den of thieves who robbed people of the very thing they were called to provide.

Devotional Thoughts

We have been talking about Lent, and the things we do in this season of the Church Year. I pray we have seen that it has never been our objective to simply add another season to the calendar or to create a pretty ritual or ceremony. Our objective is to always to apply ourselves to holiness. So, in Lent, we intentionally put aside some of the things that normally claim our attention, and apply ourselves to seeking God. We turn aside from some of the pleasures of life. They may be good and lawful pleasures, but we lay them aside, not to say “I gave them up for Lent," but to spend the time we normally spend in those pleasures seeking God. Of course we also spend the Lenten season in turning away from the ungodly things we have allowed into our lives. For the first half of Lent we have talked about recognizing sin, confessing sin, and turning away from sin, and this is an essential part of holiness. I sincerely pray that we have all applied ourselves to this during this time of Lent. But holiness also means to embrace Godliness. Lent, then, is a time to apply ourselves to the positive actions and attitudes that are so much a part of holy living. One of the most important of these is prayer

March 16, Day Twenty-one

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 79, Genesis 42:1-38, 1 Corinthians 11:17
Evening - Psalm 86, Jeremiah 9:17-24, Mark12:1-12

And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.

Commentary

Our Lord was no passive victim. He rode into Jerusalem as a King to His Throne, and He took the battle to His enemies. The parable of the vineyard is a direct confrontation and condemnation of the empty religion of the priests and Pharisees. They are the husbandmen and groundskeepers who tend the vineyard of the Lord, which is Israel. But they have assumed ownership of the vineyard. So when the Owner, which is God, sends servants, the prophets, to them to collect His due, they beat them and kill them. Finally the Owner sends His Son, Jesus. But rather than reverencing the Son, they kill Him and cast Him out of the vineyard. Christ also spoke of the stone rejected by the builders, which becomes the chief cornerstone. The religious leaders were building a building that was not of God. When the Son came to them they rejected Him, but He became the chief cornerstone of the new Temple, the Church. These parables refer to the crucifixion of Christ and show the determination and faith with which He embraced the cross, that we might be saved.


Devotional Thoughts

Lent is a time of prayer. And prayer is so essential to following Christ in holy living that we can say with certainty that to be a Christian is to be a person of prayer. Yet many do not understand prayer, and it is to our shame that most Christians see prayer as a time to ask God for blessings, and as a way to manipulate God. Actually prayer is much deeper than this. Prayer is nothing less than acknowledging the presence of God. It is, as The Homilies remind us, quoting St. Augustine, “a lifting up of the mind to God … a humble and lowly pouring out of the heart to God.” The same sermon, quoting Isidorus, calls prayer, “an affection of the heart and not a labor of the lips,” It is, “the inward groaning and crying of the heart to God” (The Homilies, p. 234). Real prayer is not so much seeking things from God, as it is seeking God Himself.

This understanding of prayer moves beyond the mechanical, I ask-God gives, view of prayer. It also answers the ancient question, “why pray?” Why pray? We might as well ask why talk to a loved one? How can we say we love someone, yet not want to converse with him? What kind of relationship is conducted without communication, without communion? Those who love God will long for Him, will enjoy pouring out their hearts to Him in prayer, will earnestly desire to acknowledge His presence. Indeed, if prayer were only asking for things, it would be an exercise in futility. God knows all things. He knows our needs better than we know them ourselves. But if prayer is anything like the descriptions above, we know why we pray.

March 17, Day Twenty-two

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 89:1-19, Genesis 43: 1-34, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Evening - Psalm 103, Jeremiah 10:1-13, Mark 12:13-17

Mark 12:13-17

And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.

Commentary

The priests and Pharisees would have gladly taken Jesus to the edge of the city and stoned Him. But the people who had come with Him into Jerusalem were convinced He was the Messiah, and would have freed Him by force. Thus, the religious leaders feared the people (12:12). So they sought to trick Him into saying something that would turn the people against Him. Divide and conquer. If Jesus was the Messiah, according to the current Jewish views, He was there to organize the Jews into an army to drive the Romans into the sea. It is certain that both Romans and Jews were present at this questioning, so any slip of the tongue would result in disaster for Christ. If He appeared to take a non-aggressive stance toward the Romans, the people would desert Him, leaving Him vulnerable to the attack of the Pharisees. If He appeared to condone rebellion against the Romans, He could be starting a war that would cost the lives of millions.

It is a decisive moment for Christ. One word from Him will bring the Jews to violent revolution. He could lead them. He could give them victory. He had that power. He could establish a worldly Kingdom without going to the cross. He could give them what they want, and save Himself all the agony of the garden, the cross, and the grave. We have to realise that Jesus knew all of this. Yet He turned not aside from His purpose. He considered the temptation no more here than He did in the wilderness during His forty days of fasting. He rejected the opportunity to be a worldly Messiah. He embraced the cross.

Devotional Thoughts

How do I pray? Pray the Bible. Does the Bible say we are to be holy as Christ is holy? Pray for holiness. Does the Bible say love others as Christ has loved us? Pray that God will help you love. Does the Bible invite people to come to Jesus? Pray that millions will come today. Pray for God’s glory to be known around the world. Pray that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Christ. Pray that souls will be saved and lives will be changed. Pray that transformed people living transformed lives will be as salt and light in their homes and communities. Pray that the Church of Christ may boldly proclaim His truth. Pray that its ranks will swell so that all the church buildings in all the earth cannot hold it. Pray for the clergy and the people, the young and the old the rich and the poor, for all people in all places.

Third Sunday in Lent Sermon

Our Gracious Lord
Ephesians 5:1-14, Luke 11:14-28, Psalm 34
Third Sunday in Lent
March 11, 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.



The emphasis of the Third Sunday in Lent is God our defender. We see this in the Collect for the day, which asks God to defend us from our enemies. Ephesians 5 shows many of our enemies, meaning the sins that place us under the wrath of God and kill the soul. Luke 11 shows our great enemy the devil, who holds the ungodly in prison in his house. He is the strong man armed, but Christ is the One who is stronger than the devil, who conquers the devil and releases his captives. Psalm 34 is about God's defense of David when he was forced to seek safety in Philistia.

Psalm 34 is a preacher's dream because God has done all the work. All the preacher has to do is follow the outline God has provided. That outline has two major points, which can be stated clearly and grasped quickly. First, God is worthy of our worship. Second, God blesses those who seek Him, while those who reject Him reap desolation of the soul.

So let's talk about how God is worthy of our worship. The Psalm begins with a joyful statement of praise to God. "I will always give thanks unto the Lord; his praise shall ever be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord." When David wrote this Psalm he had already been anointed to become the king of Israel. Yet Saul, the reigning king hated David and sought to kill him. So David had to flee for his life and he sought refuge in the land of one of Israel's most malevolent enemies, the Philistines. The king of the Philistines would have killed David, but David pretended to be crazy, so, instead of killing him, the Philistines just sent him away. In this Psalm David is rejoicing and giving thanks to God for delivering him out of the hands the kings of Israel and Philistia. But the Psalm rises above the blessings of one man to express the gratitude of all who recognise the grace of God in their lives. Instead of the specific circumstances of David, the Psalm talks about the grace of God to all His people, and invites us to join together in His love and worship. "O praise the Lord with me, and let us magnify his Name together."

Why would anyone want to "magnify," or, worship, God? First, understand that by "worship" I do not merely refer to the things we do together in church on Sunday. What we do here is important. It is so vitally important that a person who habitually neglects worshiping in a Biblical church on the Lord's Day has strong reason to seriously doubt the validity of his faith. We are not to forsake the assembling, the meetings of the Church for worship, commands Hebrews 10:25. Knowing this we think of our Lord's words in John 14:15, "If ye love me, keep my commandments," and the even more direct statement in John 14:21, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me."

By worship I mean more than daily prayer and Bible reading. Encouraging daily private and family worship is very important to me. It is my goal to have every member of our parish joining our fellow Anglicans around the world, and many who aren't Anglicans worshiping daily in the Prayers and the Scriptures. We Anglicans are blessed to have the Lectionary of daily Bible readings and the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and I rejoice that many of you are already partaking of these blessings. I rejoice because I know that, by them, your souls are fed daily by the word of God; your knowledge and understanding of the Bible is increasing; and you are being shaped in your innermost being by the things of God. You are being built up and strengthened in Christ, and God, who is worthy of all love and worship, is being honoured in your life and home. But worship is bigger than this. The worship of which I speak is a total life orientation that brings all of life together under the Lordship of Christ and does all things to the glory of God. It is this kind of worship David invites us to in this Psalm. And our reason for worship is the goodness of God given unto us. For example, He hears our prayers. "I sought the Lord and he heard me." Lo, the poor crieth, and the Lord heareth him." "The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth them." It ought to shock us to hear that the One who upholds Heaven and earth, who created all things for His glory, cares about you, so much that He is willing to give you His attention, and hear your prayers. And He acts on your behalf. He answers prayer. "He delivered me out of all my fear." "They who fear him lack nothing." "They who seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good." "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart, and will save such as be of an humble spirit." There are many reasons to worship God, but these are certainly among the best.

The second point of this Psalm is the contrast between the worldly and eternal situations of those who worship God, and those who don't. Let's look at those who don't first. Two verses express their fate. They are short, but they speak volumes. Verse 16 says, "The countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil, to root out the remembrance of them from the earth." We have all seen weeds in gardens and lawns, and we all know people who spend much time and energy rooting them out. Picture their efforts, and see God doing the same to rid His creation of those who do evil. God is digging down into the earth and pulling out the wicked by their roots. That is the meaning of this verse.

Then, verse 21 tells us, "misfortune shall slay the ungodly." Misfortune refers to the natural forces of life. Sickness guilt, grief, loss, loneliness, sorrow, and the natural wear and tear on the body brought about by ungodly living will accompany them throughout this life, and finally bring them to an end. It would be bad enough if that were all, but the Bible talks about an eternal living death; an eternal existence in a place of everlasting suffering, a place where all the problems and natural consequences of life are multiplied and suffered forever. It is to dwell in a place where you keep on sinning and keep on reaping sin's bitter fruit.

Now let us turn to the condition of those who seek God. I am compelled to say at the start, that seeking God means seeking God His way, which means according to His revelation and teaching in the Bible. There are many ways to seek God, but only one way to find Him. In fact, finding Him means to give up on all your own ideas and attempts to find and define God, and to accept His Way. Those who do this are the ones of whom the Bible speaks when it says, "seek and ye shall find."

One of my favourite verses in the Psalms is Psalm 19:11, "in keeping of them there is great reward." It refers to the law of God as the revelation of the way to live a harmonious, peaceful, and happy life. The harmonious, peaceful and happy life is simply the result of living life God's way. I know we live in a fallen world and people hurt us, economies go bust, illness strikes us, and death stalks us every day. Even this Psalm recognises that troubles come to us. It was persecution, not justice, that forced David to flee for his life. Many things are beyond our control and we just have to trust God with them. But if we put what we can control under the Lordship of Christ, we find that the more closely we approximate life by His commandments, the better life is, and the further we get away from them the worse life is. That is the point being made in Psalm 34:12, if you want to live and see good days, if you want to live in a way that brings rewards and joys and avoids many of life's heartaches and sorrows, live for God. Keep your tongue from evil. Let your words build people up rather than cut them down. Speak truth instead of lies. Put away evil and do good. Wage peace. This kind of life is its own reward.

But God is not merely helping us get through this world. God is using this world to prepare us for Heaven. Thus verse 21 says, "The Lord delivereth the souls of his servants." There is a land that is far more glorious than we can imagine. It is so glorious even the Bible can only describe it in images like streets of gold and a house full of mansions. But the Bible doesn't have to use images to tell us we are going there, if we are Christ's in Biblical faith. "I go to prepare a place for you," our Lord said in John 14, and, "if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am there ye may be also." This is what God is about in the lives of His people. This is what God wants for you. This is what He gives to all who "truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel." Truly the Lord is gracious, and "blessed is the man that trusteth in him."

March 4, 2012

Scriptures and Comments for Week of the Second Sunday in Lent

March 5, Day Eleven

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 39, Genesis27:1-29, 1 Corinthians 5
Evening - Psalm 50, Jeremiah 4:23, John 10:11-21

John 10:11-21
11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
12But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
13The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
17Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
19There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings.
20And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?
21Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?


Commentary, John 10:11-21

The Good Shepherd is Jesus who gives His life for His sheep. Jesus knows His fate and walks without hesitation toward the cross. People have been tempted to reduce Jesus to a mere social/religious reformer who was killed for His efforts. But Jesus makes it clear that His death was an intentional sacrifice for us. No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of His own accord to bring His people into one fold, which is His Church. We must not read verses16 and 18 without also reading verses 4 and 5. Christ came to lay down His life for His sheep. His sheep know His voice, follow Him, and will not follow another. These aspects of God's sacrifice and human response are essential elements of the Gospel of Christ.

Devotional Thoughts

Self examination is an honest look at the whole tenor of our lives. We have looked at the way it includes attitudes and thoughts, now we finally look at the self examination of our actions. Are they sinful? Do they honor God? Do we sin by inaction; by failing to do what we know we should? In more Biblical language, do we hear and follow the voice of Christ? Do we flee from the hirelings, the thieves and the predators? Or do we happily follow them to our doom?

March 6, Day Twelve

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 41, Genesis 27:30-40, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Evening - Psalm 51, Jeremiah 5:1-9, John 10:22-38

John 10:22-38
22And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.
23And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch.
24Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
25Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.
26But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
28And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
29My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
30I and my Father are one.
31Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
32Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
33The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
34Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
37If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
38But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

Commentary, John 10:22-38

John 10:22 finds Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, known to us as Hanukah. The "Jews" of this passage are the religious leaders who live in Judea and who oppose Jesus because He is a threat to their power and money. Two things stand out in this passage. First, Jesus gives eternal life to His sheep (10:28). Jesus is stating again His reason for coming to this planet. He came to lay down His life for His sheep, so we can have eternal life in Heaven with Him. We see His face set boldly toward the cross, never faltering, never turning aside, always moving toward it with faith and determination. Second, we see a clear statement of His Divinity. He calls The Father "My Father," and says, "I and the Father are one" (10:30). The Jews understood this as what it was, a direct answer to their question, and a claim to be nothing less than God Himself (10:31). Again it is stated that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him, while those who are not His sheep do not hear Him or believe in Him (10:26). Let us hear His voice.


Devotional Thoughts

We have not completed our self-examination until we have also given serious attention to our motives for doing what we do, for our motives are at least as important as the things we do. The Pharisees spent hours in prayer and fasting, and gave extravagantly to the Temple and synagogue. Yet Christ had no praise for their actions (Mt. 23:14). Why? Their motives were wrong. They did it to be known for doing it, rather than for God. James tells us one reason God refuses to give what we ask in prayer is that we ask amiss, for the wrong motives, that we may consume it upon our own lust, rather than for the glory of God (Jas.4:1-3). Simon wanted power to bestow the Holy Ghost, but his motives were impure (Acts 8:18-21). It is difficult to honestly examine our motives, yet we cannot really begin to confess and repent until we know what motivates us in our daily activities.

March 7, Day Thirteen

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 56, Genesis 27:46-28:22, 1 Corinthians 6:12
Evening - Psalm 65 and 67, Jeremiah 5:10-19, John 11:1-16

John 11:1-16
1Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
2(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
3Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
4When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
5Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
6When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.
7Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.
8His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
9Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.
10But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
11These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
12Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
13Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
14Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
15And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.
16Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
Commentary, John 11:1-16

John 11 finds Jesus going back into Judea. He had left the area to stay in Perea, east of the Jordan River, though He travelled widely during this time, making trips to Galilee and Judea. Much of this time was spent teaching the Twelve, but He also took time to preach and teach the multitudes that followed Him. In today's reading, He crosses again into Judea to raise Lazarus, showing that He has power over death. This is an important step on Christ's journey to the cross. He has already said that He lays His life down of His own accord and no man can take it from Him (see Jn. chapter 10). Now He shows His power over physical death. There is no doubt about Lazarus' death (11:14). Our Lord waited for him to die before going to him because He wanted to show His authority one more time before going to the cross. In a sense, Lazarus represents the spiritual condition of all people apart from Christ. We are as dead toward God as Lazarus was toward this world. And we are as unable to give life to our souls as Lazarus was to give life to his flesh. Christ came to give us life by laying down His own for ours. In another sense, the raising of Lazarus is proof that Jesus lays down His life of His own free will. If He can raise Lazarus, He can keep His own flesh alive, and no human treachery or power is able to take His life from Him. This will be important for His disciples to remember when He is dead and in the tomb. He gave His life. He allowed this to happen to Him. This was an intentional act on His part. We must never read the raising of Lazarus without also remembering the tenth chapter of John's Gospel.

Devotional Thoughts

What do we do in Lent? Lent is simply a time of seeking God. It is simply a time of intentional holy living. This requires that we turn away from sin and turn to God. We generally call this process repentance. We cannot repent of sin unless we first find the sin in our lives. We find sin through an intense process of self examination. We simply put our lives under the microscope of God’s word to discern where we are missing the mark. Once we find our sin, we must admit it. The Bible's term for this is confession, which simply and profoundly means to agree with God. In confession we agree with God about our sin. We agree that we are sinners. We agree that we have sin in our lives. We don’t cover it up. We don’t ignore it. We admit it is there, and we face it. Without this, repentance is impossible, and without repentance we have no part in Christ.

March 8, Day Fourteen

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 62, Genesis 29:1-20, 1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Evening - Psalm 66, Jeremiah 5:20, John 11:17-27

John 11:17-27
17Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.
18Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:
19And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.
21Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
22But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
23Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
24Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
25Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
27She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

Commentary, John 11:17-27

Verse 17 is the proof of Lazarus' death. He was in the tomb four days. We will find this proved again when they open his tomb and know the truth of Martha's words, "he stinketh." Jesus wanted everyone to know without doubt, "Lazarus is dead." If he is not dead, Christ's words in John 11:25 are meaningless. What power is required to wake a man that is merely sleeping? Cannot any mere mortal do that? But to restore life to this stinking, rotting corpse requires power no mortal can possess. He is the resurrection and the life. Therefore, those who believe in Him, though they were dead in their souls as well as their flesh, will live, and those who live in their souls through His gift of eternal life, will never die.

Devotional Thoughts

We are experts at justifying our actions. If we are disrespectful to someone, we convince ourselves he deserved it. If we fail to seek God in prayer and Bible study we convince ourselves we just don’t have time. If we fail to worship God, we say Sunday is my only time to rest, or play, or _____ (fill in the blank). If we fail to keep the spirit or the letter of God's commandments we tell ourselves we have some special excuse, or convince ourselves it is the commandments, rather than ourselves, that are wrong.

In stark contrast, true confession admits that sin is sin. Confession agrees with God that my sin is disobedience to God. My sin causes hurt to others. My sin wrecks my relationship to God and prevents me from experiencing the full joy of Christ. My sin embarrasses the cause of Christ on earth. My sin brings shame on the name of Christ’s Church. My sin is a stumbling block to others. My sin contributes to the general malaise of this sin-sick world, and because of my sin I am as much a cause of the problem as any other person, and apart from the grace of God in Christ, there is in me no good thing.

March 9, Day Fifteen

The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 95, Genesis 32:22-31, 1 Corinthians 8
Evening - Psalm 69, Jeremiah 6:1-8, John 11:28-44

John 11:28-44
28And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.
29As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.
30Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.
31The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.
32Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
33When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.
34And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35Jesus wept.
36Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
37And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
38Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
39Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
40Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
Commentary, John 11:28-44

John 11:37 voices the question that was on everyone's mind as they gathered at the grave of Lazarus. "Could not this man [Jesus] ... have caused that even this man [Lazarus] should not have died?" Jesus had healed the sick, caused the blind to see and made the lame to walk, why didn't He keep Lazarus alive? This reminds us of the question, if God is so good, why does He allow suffering and death? The answer is that the only way to prevent suffering and death is to create unthinking robots without any freedom of choice at all, following a given program. Freedom requires the ability to make wrong choices, and do wrong things, and to suffer the consequences of them.

But Jesus allowed Lazarus to die for a much greater reason. Lazarus died so Jesus could show that His power is much greater than simply the ability to heal the living. He can actually raise the dead. He can give life to a decaying corpse as easily as He can multiply bread and fish, or still the storm, or heal the blind. He is the Lord of Life, and if He can raise the dead, He can surely keep Himself alive. Thus His crucifixion is an intentional act of self sacrifice. He lays down His life; no man takes it from Him. He lays it down for us.

Devotional Thoughts

Confession means to agree with God that our sin makes us worthy of the wrath of God. We acknowledge that we deserve to be punished, and that God is righteous when He judges us guilty. King David was told a story about a thief who stole the single lamb of a poor man. David became livid with righteous indignation. He wanted to execute justice on the thief. Then the prophet said to the King, “Thou art the man.”

David saw that the sins of the thief deserved punishment, and was willing to be the hand of God to deliver the thief unto death. When he learned that he was the thief he had to admit that his guilt made him worthy of death, and of the wrath of man and God. All of us, when we are honest, agree that certain acts require restitution and retribution. Justice demands not only that wrongs be righted, but also that the guilty be punished for their wrongs in some way that will force them to experience something of the pain their actions have inflicted upon others This is the true meaning of, "an eye for an eye." If this is true of our sins against other people, should our crimes against the Righteous and Holy King of Heaven go unpunished? Confession admits that we are sinners, and that our sins alone have justly placed us under the wrath of God.


March 10, Day Sixteen
The Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 63, Genesis 35:1-20, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14
Evening - Psalm 72, Jeremiah 6:9-21, John 11:45

John 11:45
45Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.
46But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.
47Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.
48If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.
49And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,
50Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
51And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;
52And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
53Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
54Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples.
55And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves.
56Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?
57Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.
Commentary, John 11:45

Will Jesus come to the feast? This question is on the lips of all in Jerusalem as they prepare for the Feast of the Passover (Jn. 11:56). The chief priests and Pharisees are there, along with the devout Jews from all Israel and the Roman Empire. The conflict of the priests and Pharisees with Jesus, and their intent to take Him is well known (Jn. 11:57). It is also known that Jesus has been staying in Perea on the east side of the Jordan, and that He has made trips into Israel, as He did to raise Lazarus. Caiaphas' words show the deadly intent of the religious leaders (Jn. 11:50). John 11:53 shows their unanimity of purpose. Thus, for Jesus to come to the Feast is to face certain death. It is to accept the cross, or, more correctly, to embrace it. The moment He crosses the Jordan His fate is sealed, and He knows it.

Devotional Thoughts

One of our great problems is our ability to look at ourselves and say, “I’m not so bad. My sins aren’t so bad. I’m really O.K.” You may be familiar with the parody of that great Gospel song, “Love Lifted Me.” You recall that the song begins with the words, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.” The parody says, “I was sinking deep in sin, yipeeee!” This makes sin something to be joked about, winked at. It carries the assumption that it really isn’t sin. Today people march and organize to protect their right to sin. Even clergy and denominations say sin isn’t sin. It is right and good, and must be condoned. It seems the only “sin” left is to call sin “sin.”

By contrast, confession agrees that sin is sin. Confession agrees that God hates sin, I hate sin, and I hate my sin. If sin is as wicked as the Bible portrays it, we should not be surprised to learn that the One who is of purer eyes than to look upon it hates sin. He hates it for all the suffering and death it has caused to people He created to love and to enjoy the blessings of life. He hates it for putting children to bed at night in fear and hunger. He hates it for making the streets of our cities crime-filled death traps. He hates it for the abuse it causes, and for the way it causes us to use and discard people like paper plates. He hates it for the wars and oppression, and crime, and hate, and grief and loss it has caused through the blood stained millennia of human history. Do we not hate this sin? And do we hate, not just sin in general, but our own sins in particular? Can we not say with tears the General Confession of our Communion Service, “the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable?” Repentance is not complete until we confess, and confession is not complete until we learn to hate our sin as God hates it. God help us to confess our sin.