April 29, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of the Third Sunday after Easter

Monday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.85, Ex. 25:1-22, Heb. 9:15
Evening – Ps. 77, Is. 45:20, Eph. 1:1-14


Commentary, Hebrews 9:15

Hebrews 9:1-14 brought us to understand the finality and full sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. His offering of Himself on the cross pays in full the price of our sins and restores us to God. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament could never accomplish this, but God can and did in Christ. Thus we are free from the dead works of the ceremonial law. Attempts to continue or revive them are actually insults to Christ, which is why Galatians 1:6 says such people have left Christ for another gospel. This morning's reading continues to insist that the Old Covenant, was temporary, and has been fulfilled in the work of Christ and in calling together the New Israel (Church) in the New Covenant. The point of Hebrews 9:15-28 is that Christ did not come to continue the Old Covenant but to be the mediator of the New Covenant.

This point is made first by comparing the Old Covenant to a will, which takes effect at the death of the person making the will. The point is that the promises of the Old Testament become the possession of God’s people at the death of the One making the will, God. Thus, when Christ died, the promises became ours. The Church no longer lives in anticipation of the promises, but in the reality of them.

The point is made second by showing that the people and Tabernacle of the Old Covenant were “purified” with the blood of animals, but the New Covenant and its Tabernacle, which is the true Tabernacle in Heaven, is purified with the blood of Christ Himself. The old Tabernacle was a pattern (copy) of the true Tabernacle (9:23), and Christ entered into the true Tabernacle and holy place with His own blood to bring us into God.

Tuesday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, Ex. 28:1-38, Heb. 10:1-14
Evening – Ps. 84, 117, Is. 46:3-13, Eph. 1:15

Commentary, Hebrews 10:1-14

Today’s reading continues to emphasise the finality and supremacy of the life and work of Christ in accomplishing His peoples’ redemption. The Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices were but a shadow of Him. Verse 1 makes the point that a shadow is not even a full image or replica. It is but an outline, a silhouette. Christ is much more than just an image; He is the very presence of the good things to come. They have arrived in Him. In Him we have received eternal redemption. In Him, we are in God, and God is in us. Verses 1-8 explain the temporary nature of the Old Testament ceremonial and sacrificial laws. The very fact that they needed to be constantly repeated shows their temporary status. If they had been able to accomplish redemption they would not have needed to be repeated.

Christ accomplished full and eternal redemption by His one sacrifice of Himself. Verses 9-14 are about the full salvation purchased for us by His one, full, perfect, and all sufficient sacrifice. The conclusion of this section is that “by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (10:14).

Wednesday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 89:1-19, Ex. 32:1-20, Heb. 10:15-25
Evening – Ps. 90, Is. 48:12-21, Eph. 2:1-10

Commentary, Hebrews 10:15-25

Today’s reading can be summarized under three headings. First, found in Hebrews 10:15-18, reiterates the theme of verse 14, the absolute redemption accomplished by the one sacrifice of Christ. Verse 15 refers to the words of the Old Testament Scriptures as the Holy Ghost bearing witness. The Holy Ghost inspired and directed the prophets and authors of the Old Testament, so it is perfectly natural and right to say that in them the Holy Ghost testifies to the truth of what we read in Hebrews. Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted, bringing us to the point, stated in verse 18, that there is no more offering for sin. The Bible is saying God will no longer remember our sin under the New Covenant. That means He will not hold us responsible for its penalty. How can this be? It is only possible if God bears the cost of our sin in Himself, instead of requiring it from us. In other words, God must suffer for our sins in our places. This was accomplished in Christ on the cross. In Him God made the one full and sufficient sacrifice that is able to bear the cost of our sin, forever. There is no more offering for sin because the price has been paid in full and no more offerings are needed.

Second, made in verses 19-21, is the point that we now have boldness to enter into the holiest (presence of God, vs. 19) because our sins are forgiven through the one full and sufficient sacrifice of the blood of Christ. Compare our boldness in coming to God with the fear and temerity of the people under the Old Covenant. They came with blood offerings lest God take their own blood. They came not into the Holy of Holies, knowing they would die if they dared enter into the direct presence of God it symbolised. Even the High Priest feared to enter the Holy of Holies, lest God may be displeased with Israel, and strike him dead. But we, confident that our sins have been forgiven completely because of the sacrifice of Christ, dare to call upon God and enter His presence with confidence and boldness. Our boldness is not irreverent or glib. Our entrance into the presence of God is reverent and respectful. It is not arrogance; it is faith. It is our confidence that Christ has washed away our sins and made us acceptable unto God that allows us come to Him as His beloved children to our Father.

Third, verses 21-25 encourage us to “draw near” to God through Christ. He is our assurance of acceptance (10:22). We are also encouraged to hold our faith securely without wavering. That is, we are to be faithful to the end as Christ Himself was faithful to us (23). We are to encourage one another to remain in the faith and to let our lives show our faith through love and good works. Finally, we are to attend the worship and fellowship opportunities of the Church (25). Hebrews 10:25 does not get much “press” these days because our view of following Christ is often considered only in terms of our personal salvation and relationship with Christ. But we have over emphasized the individual aspect and almost abandoned the corporate aspect of following Christ. We often think the Church is optional, and that its only function is to bring others to Christ, which we can do on our own (so it is said). But Christ is calling us to be a part of His new people, new family, new nation, new body, and we are members of one another as much as we are members of Him. Thus we are not to be absent when the Church assembles. We are to be present and active, for the Day of Judgment is coming.

Thursday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 91, Ex. 32:21-34, Heb. 10:26
Evening – Ps. 97, 98, Is. 49:1-12, Eph. 2:11

Commentary, Hebrews 10:26

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the book of Hebrews turns again to an exhortation to faithfully trust and obey Him fully and forever. The exhortation begins with a dire warning, found in Hebrews 10:26-31. Commenting on Hebrews 6:4-8, I wrote that I hope these verses cause you to fear. I have the same hope for this passage. I say this because these verses teach the terrible consequences of falling away from Christ. Sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (10:26) does not refer to the constant failures and sins we commit in our daily battle to conquer sin and live for Christ. The sin of verse 26 is willfully deserting the faith. It is turning away from Christ and returning to the life of self-indulgence and self-direction. It is to remove Christ from the throne of your life, and to re-enthrone yourself as king and god of yourself. It is to live in unrepentant rebellion against God. It is, to draw back from Christ and return to perdition (10:39). What happens to a person who has professed Christ, but now has turned away from Him? Is that person “saved?” No. Hebrews 10:26 says such a person now has no sacrifice for sin. That person has rejected the only sufficient sacrifice, the only one that can cleanse the soul and make him acceptable unto God. That person, therefore, has no way to atone for his sins. He will stand before God in his sins, and for his sins he will be lost. Thus verse 27 says he has only a certain, fearful expectation of judgment. “Certain,” in this verse, means absolute. There is no question about it. It will happen as surely as God exists. Verses 28 & 29 prove this by the Old Testament, which records that people perished for disobeying the law that was given through Moses. If disobeying that law was a grievous crime, surely the rejection of Christ, Immanuel, God with us, is more heinous and more worthy of wrath. Such a person has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant (the blood Christ shed on the cross) as unholy. He counts the blood of Christ as not the blood of the Most High given for our sins, but as common and defiled and without value. Verse 30 quotes the words of Deuteronomy 32:35 and applies them to the one who has treated the Son of God so despicably. Verse 31 concludes the warning; it is a fearful thing for such people to fall into the hands of the living God.

Now the passage moves into a word of encouragement. It is based on the confidence of 10:39, “we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” The heart of this passage is verse 35, “cast not away therefore your confidence.” We could restate this verse as, hold fast to Christ in faith. The original recipients of this epistle had faced serious opposition and persecution when they became Christians (32-34). This opposition came from family and friends as well as the larger community. Yet they did not desert Christ. Nor did they desert the Apostle Paul, who was often in chains and prison for his faith in Christ (Heb 10: 34). Just as they stood firm in the faith then, they are encouraged to stand firm now, that they may receive their reward.

Friday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.94, Ex. 33:7, Heb. 11:1-16
Evening – Ps. 103, Is. 49:13-23, Eph. 3:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 11:1-16

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, warned us against apostasy, and encouraged us to trust in Christ to the very end, St. Paul now shows several examples of faith in the Old Testament. Their example is given to encourage us to be faithful as they were, but they are also given to show that their salvation was the gift of God received by faith, not something they earned through good deeds or keeping Old Testament ceremonial laws. Many of these people actually antedated the ceremonial laws, but were received by God because they trust in Him. In other words, they were saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest they boast of their accomplishment (see Eph. 2:2-9). One commentator has captured the essence of the meaning of this passage, especially verse 1. He wrote:

“In Old Testament times…there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and in directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye. It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 277).

The people named in Hebrews 4-12 are often called heroes of faith, but they would probably rather be known as people who were saved by grace. And salvation by grace is the point of this passage. By grace, God promised them an inheritance. That inheritance was symbolized in things like children and land, but it was far more than these things. It was God Himself. Thus, even though Abraham did not technically own the Promised Land, He did inherit a better country, which is the country, or city, of God (vs. 16).

By faith they believed God and directed their lives as if what God had promised was already theirs. This is just what we are called to do as New Testament believers. By grace God has promised full forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. By faith we act like forgiven people. By grace God has given Christ to be the propitiation for our sins. By faith we trust Christ to remove all our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. By grace God has promised to take us to a land where the troubles of earth, the temptations of sin, and the barriers between ourselves and God will be only dim memories, and we will enjoy His glory forever. By faith we conduct and order our lives in the light of that promise.

Saturday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.99, 100, Ex. 34:1-35, Heb. 11:17-31
Evening – Ps. 23, 30, Is. 50:4-10, Eph. 3:13

Commentary, Hebrews 11:17-31

Looking at Abraham, let us be clear that God is not telling anyone to sacrifice someone as a test of faith today. It may seem odd to see such an obvious statement in today’s commentary, but it is here for the same reason hand lotion containers have to have warnings; “Not for internal use.” So, “Don’t try this at home.”

Now let us look at our reading for this morning, Hebrews 11:17-31. This passage continues to show how people in the Old Testament trusted the promise of God. Abraham is the primary example. Promised an inheritance of land and descendants, He believed God and ordered his life according to the promise. He trusted God even when it looked like the promise could not be kept. Thus, Abraham knew God would somehow be true, and he would return with Isaac alive and well (Gen. 22:5). This is the meaning of Hebrews 11:19. The point is that Abraham trusted God and acted accordingly.

Trusting God applies as much to us as to Abraham. Though not called to literally sacrifice children or people to God, we are called to trust God’s promise and providence when it comes to the people and things we love most in this world. Do we love God enough to trust Him with these things? Do we trust Him with our children, grand children, parents, and siblings? Do we trust Him with life as well as eternity? Will we live our lives with faith in the Promise of God in Christ, as Abraham lived with faith in the promise of Genesis 21:12 and Hebrews 11:18, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”?

Sermon, Third Sunday after Easter

God before the gods
Psalm 138, 1 Peter 2:11-17, John 16:16-22
Third Sunday after Easter
April 29, 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.


The message of the third Sunday after Easter is perseverance in Godliness. The Collect, based on First Peter 2, leads us to seek God's help for those who go astray and to pray that all who are admitted into Christ will avoid that which is contrary to our faith, and follow, as the direction and orientation of life, all that is agreeable to it. First Peter 2 makes this point by beseeching us to "abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." John 16 reminds us that the sorrows of this life are but for a little while, and even they will be turned to joy when we see Jesus. Psalm 138 is about remaining faithful to Christ in a world that is unfaithful and hostile to faith.

Since the end of Eden, this world has never been a friend of the Church. There have been times of renewal. There have been times of righteousness, when people turned to God and began to live for Him and put the teachings of the Bible into practice in personal life, business, and even government. But these eras have been brief, though, thanks be to God, their influence has been persistent. This was as true in David's time as it is today. David ruled the Old Testament Church, Israel, when it was surrounded by nations steeped in paganism, superstition, and open wickedness. And there was a tendency for the Israelites to drift into the ideas and practices of their pagan neighbors. Often, their adoption of pagan ways was so complete they almost completely lost their identity as the people of God. The surrounding nations were not passive in this. They waged an active and aggressive military and ideological war against Israel, and it often appeared that the pagans were winning.

I am sure the parallels between then and now are evident to the thinking Christian, for the world continues to aggressively oppose God and His Church. Sometimes the opposition comes in formal actions and policies of governments and agencies charged by God to defend the rights and freedoms of their people. Often it comes in formal actions and policies of Churches and religious leaders claiming to be doing the will of God, like those who burned dissenters and crucified Christ. But, mostly it comes in a general attitude of hostility toward the ways of God, and an equally general hostility toward those who attempt to follow God in Biblical faith.

David, king of Israel, king of this tiny, weak nation of shepherds, surrounded by stronger nations, dwelling on land wanted by the super powers of the era, and called by God to lead a people who were themselves often unfaithful and rebellious toward God, made a profound statement in this Psalm; "before the gods will I sing praise unto thee." This is the theme of this Psalm. It is a bold statement of steadfast faith when the whole world appears to have gone faithless. It is a statement of the intention to stand fast in the Biblical faith, even while the world chases after idols and false gods, and even while his own countrymen waffle and vacillate between God and the gods.

But there is even more in these words. David is saying he will stand for God in the face of a hostile world. Even before the gods, the very symbols of those who seek to eliminate the Church and her faith, David will stand with God.

One of the ways he will stand for God is by worshiping God in the Temple. This is one of the primary points of this Psalm, for it is in the Temple and the public worship of God that David gives thanks unto God and sings praises unto Him before the gods. It is as though David is saying, let the world and its idols look upon this scene, for in their very presence and in their plain sight I will worship the Living God. Every Sunday you pass cars filled with people on their way to worship. Most of them aren't going to Church. They are going to worship the god of the horse, the god of the lake and beach, or the god of materialism whose temple is the mall. Many are so dedicated to their gods they don't have to travel to worship them. Their houses and lands are their gods, and they live where their gods are. They literally dwell in the house of their gods.

I cannot help wondering how many of those at the horse trails, lakes, beaches, malls, and watering their azaleas claim to be Christians, yet habitually forsake the assembly of the Church for worship. And why? Not because there is not ample encouragement in the Scriptures. The Bible everywhere proceeds on the principle, the assumption that Christians are active members of the local church. The Bible was written to the Church. Romans was not written to individual Christians who happened to live in Rome. It was written to the Church in Rome. Revelation 3:14-22 was not written to individual Christians in Laodocea; it was written to the Church in Laodicea. We err when we think we don't need to be a part of the Church. We err if we think we have done all that God requires if we spend a few minutes alone with the Bible and prayer. The Church is His body and we are members of it. Thus, when Paul wrote in Hebrews 10:25 that we are not to forsake the worship assemblies of the Church, he meant the visible, local body of believers, not an intangible feeling of togetherness. It does not work to attempt to excuse forsaking the local church by saying you worship as part of the invisible Church which is that mystical body of all believers. It doesn't work because the invisible Church is manifested in the world, and participated in by the believer, through the local, visible church. My beloved in Christ, we need more than a Bible and a "quiet time." We need the worship and fellowship of the visible, organised Church.

If this world were a Christian world, we would still need the Church, and we would still need to be a part of the worship and services of it. But the world is not Christian, and that means we need the Church even more. And we need the discipline of standing firm for God in a faithless world. I beg and encourage you to sing God's praises and forsake the false gods and idols of this world. Stand fast for God, even before the gods sing your praise unto Him and worship toward His holy Temple.

"Almighty God, who showest to them that are in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness; Grant unto all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion, that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."

April 24, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Second Sunday after Easter

Monday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 49, Ex. 17:8, Heb. 6:1-12
Evening – Ps. 47, 48, Is. 43:8-13, 1 Pet. 3:13

Commentary, Hebrews 6:1-12

Hebrews 6 continues to warn us not to neglect the salvation purchased for us by God in Christ. The heart of this warning is terrible and frightening, for its message is that those who appear to begin to follow Christ in the life of faith, but stop following Him, will not become followers of Christ again. “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (Heb. 6:4-6).

I truly hope these verses cause you to fear. Most people don’t pay much attention to them because they immediately call up all their defensive tactics that tell them once saved always saved, and that such people were never saved in the first place. That is true, but that is not the point, because they believed they were saved, and they made a start at living the Christian life. But at some point and for some reason, they quit. They either found out that they really don’t believe, or they decided they aren’t really willing to live the Christian life. They were probably quite happy to believe Jesus died for their sins, be baptized, and do a few churchy things as long as it was convenient and easy for them, but when following Christ began to require trusting Him in difficult situations and sacrificing personal goals and desires to live for Him, they simply quit. Such people will probably continue to convince themselves that they are Christians, but in reality, they are not. So the “moral of the story” is found in verse 12, “be not slothful, but followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Tuesday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 50, Ex. 18:1-12, Heb. 6:13
Evening – Ps. 61,62, Is. 43:15-21 & 44:1-3, 1 Pet. 4:1-6

Commentary, Hebrews 6:13

Abraham is an example of a person who inherited the promises through faith and patience (6:15). He patiently endured in the faith, though it was not always easy for him. He inherited the earthly Promised Land through his descendants, but he inherited the Kingdom of Heaven as the promise of God. Canaan was but a symbol of the Heavenly Promised Land.

The promises of God are immutable. In verse 17 it says the counsel of God is immutable, but the counsel of God includes His promises. We could interpret the verse as saying the word of God is immutable, meaning the word of God is His bond and He will not break it. His word is confirmed by an oath. God swears by Himself, making it evident that His word is indeed a promise. He binds Himself to keep His promise, that those who trust in Christ in Biblical faith, will inherit the promise, and those who do not trust in Him to the end, will not.

This promise is an anchor of hope in a sea of troubles (6:19). It gives us faith to continue on, steadfast to the end. It keeps us anchored in Christ, and Christ Himself is “within the veil” the Holy of Holies, which is the right hand of God in Heaven.

Wednesday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 63, Ex. 18:13, Heb. 7:1-11
Evening – Ps. 65, Is 44:6-23, 1 Pet. 4:7-11

Commentary, Hebrews 7:1-11

Hebrews, chapter 6 closed with a quote from Psalm 110:4 and a reference to Genesis 14:18-20. Our reading in Hebrews 7 explains how Christ is a Priest of the order of Melchisidec. The identity of Melchisidec is a topic of much discussion among students of Scripture. He is noted as the King of Salem, which means King of Peace, and the inference in the book of Hebrews is that he is an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Thus, verse 2 calls Him the King of Righteousness to whom Abraham offered a tithe. He is also noted as being without parents and without descent. Christ is eternally God, so God the Father is not His parent in the same sense that our human fathers and mothers are ours. He has no “beginning of days nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (7:3).

Melchisidec is a greater priest than the Levitical priests of the Old Testament because they paid tithes to Him through Abraham (7:5). Note also that Melchisidec predates the Levitical priesthood (7:6) and that His office did not pass to another at His death. Finally, His priesthood brings His people to perfection, which the Levitical priesthood could never do.

Thursday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 66, Ex. 19:1-20, Heb 7:12
Evening – Ps. 71, Is. 44:9-20, 1 Pet. 4:12

Commentary, Hebrews 7:12

The major point being made in Hebrews 7 is that the Old Testament priesthood was a temporary institution, while the priesthood of Christ is eternal. Just as the priests themselves were not permanent, but passed their office on to another at death, so their order of priesthood was also temporary, and would be passed on to another who will continue in it forever. Melchisidec is eternally a priest, Aaron was temporary.

The ministry of the order of Melchisidec supersedes the Old Testament priests’ ministry. Their ministry has ended, but the ministry of Christ continues. Even now He “ever liveth to make intercession” (7:25). His ministry surpasses theirs because He accomplished it with a single sacrifice, while theirs required daily sacrifices (7:27). His ministry surpasses theirs because He is able to save to the uttermost (7:25). His ministry accomplished our salvation, theirs symbolized it.

Friday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 51, Ex. 20:1-21, Heb 8
Evening – Ps. 73, Is. 44:24-45:4, 1 Pet. 5:1-7

Commentary, Hebrews 8


Chapter 8 begins to state the sum, or, conclusion, of what has been said in previous chapters, especially chapter 7. The sum is that the Old Testament office of priesthood ended when Christ, the Priest of the order of Melchisidec, appeared. Equally important, the Old Covenant ended when the New Covenant began (8:13). In future studies we will consider the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments). For now let us simply say that the Old Testament parts that have ended are those which foreshadowed the ministry of Christ. They have ended, but they are not dead. They continue in their fulfillment in Christ Jesus and in the New Israel, which is the New Testament Church. Thus, for example, we no longer call people clean or unclean because of the food they eat, for those in Christ are clean by virtue of His atoning death, and those outside of Christ are unclean in their souls, regardless of what they eat. Our spiritual cleanness in Christ fulfills the symbolic cleanness of foods in the Old Testament. So the Old Covenant is waxed old and vanishes away not because it is useless, but because it is fulfilled in Christ. Both are important to us because both chronicle the history of Redemption.

Christ fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood and now resides at the right hand of the Heavenly Majesty (8:1). The Heavenly Majesty is God, and the meaning is that Christ has returned to the place of honour in the Divine glory of the Trinity. His true work was and is accomplished in the Heavenly Sanctuary, of which the Temple was a symbol, or shadow (8:2-5).

Christ, the substance of which the Old Testament was the shadow, has a more excellent ministry than the Old Testament priests because He is the mediator of a better covenant (8:6). The Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Verse 8 refers to Jeremiah 31:31, but the New Covenant is promised in other verses also. The New Covenant people will have the law of God in their hearts (8:10) and they will all know God (8:11). Verses 6-13 tell us much about the New Covenant, all building upon the truth stated in 7:25, that Christ’s Covenant and dying gift to His people is their complete salvation and restoration to God.

Saturday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 72, Ex 24:1-18, Heb. 9:1-14
Evening – Ps. 33, Is. 45:5-19, 1 Pet. 5:8

Commentary, Hebrews 9:1-14

Hebrews 9:1-5 describes the Tabernacle as God directed it to be built in the wilderness of Sinai. The plan of the Tabernacle was given directly to Moses, and was followed strictly in the Temple built by Solomon. The point of this passage is the temporary nature of the Tabernacle and its services. This is shown in verses 6 & 7, which tell of the repetitive nature of the services. The priests entered daily into the holy place, and the high priest entered annually into the Holy of Holies to conduct the services and worship of God. So, the temporary effects of the service illustrate the temporary nature of the entire system.

Verses 9 and 10 make another important point; access to the presence of God, symbolized by the Holy of Holies, is no longer prevented by a physical barrier. In Christ the veil, which acted as a barrier to separate the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Sanctuary, is removed and access to God is open to anyone who will come to Him. Meat and drink offerings and washings (9:10 & 13) are now irrelevant to the real worship of God. Under the Old Covenant, they had their place and function, but the sacrifice of Christ alone can purify the heart and bring a person into the true Holy of Holies. Verse 14 makes an excellent point about the Old Testament sacrifices and services. They did what God wanted them to do, and they did it effectually. They made a person symbolically clean and allowed him to participate in the covenant community of Israel. If such small sacrifices could accomplish their purpose, then the surpassing value of the sacrifice of the Son of God is also able to accomplish its purpose, the complete forgiveness of our sins and the complete restoration of our souls to God. If this has been accomplished for us in Christ, we are free from the need for meat and drink offerings (dead works) to serve the Living God through faith in Christ (9:14).

April 16, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of First Sunday after Easter

Week of the First Sunday after Easter

Monday

Lectionary

Psalm 1, 3, Ex. 13:3-16, Heb. 1
Psalm 4, 11, Is. 40:1-11, 1 Pet. 1:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 1

Hebrews has one resounding theme, the absolute supremacy of Christ. He is the Son of God, which is to say He is God, the Second Person of the Triune God who is One, yet Three. As the Son of God He is God’s final and ultimate revelation. In times past God has spoken through the prophets. To them He gave visions and visitations and signs and wonders. But Jesus is the final Message of God. The prophets wrote of Him. The visions, signs, and wonders were given to guide Israel toward the fullness of time when Christ would appear and begin to bring all things together under Himself. Therefore, Christ is superior to visions and signs. They are actually superseded by Him. They are no longer needed. God spoke to us in His Son, who gave His word to the Apostles, who recorded it in the Bible. Thus, the Bible is our authority. We should not expect more visions or prophecies or signs or feelings. We should not expect God to speak to us through such measures. We have a much surer way of knowing God; He is revealed in the Bible. To seek to know the will of God apart from the Bible is to treat the Bible as insufficient, and that is the same as saying Christ is insufficient.

This Word of God, the Son of God is brightness of His glory and the image of His person (1:3). “Image” in the Greek is the word from which we derive our English word, “character.” It means Christ is not an image of God as a portrait or statue is an image of a person. Christ is the living expression of God. He is the “character” (nature) of God in a living, human form. Therefore, He is superior to angels. Angels are great and powerful beings. They are good, they are strong, and they dwell in the immediate presence of God. They serve Him and worship Him and do His will. Yet they are nothing in comparison to Christ. He is their Lord. He is their Creator and Master. He gives their powers to them. He gives their existence to them. He can take it away in less than an instant if He wants to.

Tuesday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 5, Ex. 13:17-14:4, Heb. 2:1-8
Evening – Psalm 15, 24, Is. 40:12-17, 1 Pet. 1:13

Commentary, Hebrews 2:1-8

If an angel were to appear to you at this very moment, you would probably be filled with fear. If the angel told you to do something, you would probably obey immediately. Yet One far greater than all the angels has appeared on earth, and bids you believe in Him and keep His commandments, therefore you should give your utmost to hearing and obeying His Word. This is the point of our reading in Hebrews this morning, and it begins in the very first verse. The One who is greater than the angels is Christ Jesus, the character of God in human form, as we saw in our reading yesterday. Christ is the heir and creator of all things, who purged our sins by His own blood, and now is seated again at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:2). God has spoken to us in Him, a revelation that is complete and full and above every other communication from God. The other revelations looked forward to Him, and He is the completion of their story (Heb. 1:1).

People suffered for disobeying the word of God given through these lesser beings. This is seen in the numerous disasters suffered by Israel for their lack of obedience. If Israel was punished for disobedience to the word given through men and angels, God will surely punish those who disobey His word given through Christ Himself. If they who disobeyed angels did not escape, can anyone who disobeys the express image of God expect to escape? “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (He. 2:3). Let us give “more earnest heed” to the things God has spoken in Christ, “lest at any time we should let them slip” (2:1).

Wednesday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Psalm 22, 23, Ex.14:5-30, Heb. 2:9
Evening – Psalm 25, Is. 40: 18-31, 1 Pet. 2:1-10



Commentary, Hebrews 2:9

It may be good to recall that when the Lectionary only lists one verse in a chapter, as in Heb. 2:9, it means to read from verse 9 to the end of the chapter. Thus, our reading for this morning is Hebrews 2:9-18, and it reminds us again that God became a real, living human being. This theme begins in verse 9 and culminates in verse 16. Christ was made “lower than the angels” (2:9) and of the seed of Abraham (2:16). It is necessary to have this fact firmly in mind to understand the main point of this passage because an angel could not accomplish what Christ accomplished for us. If an angel had become human and gone to the cross his death would be as unable to atone for our sins as the blood of bulls and goats. Why? Because God must bear the cost of our sins, just as we must bear the cost of sins against us if we are going to continue in relationship with other people. So God, somehow remained God, yet also became fully human and participated fully in the human condition even to the point of death. He allowed Himself no special privileges. He had to live by faith, He had to live by the power of the Spirit, and he had to obey the Scriptures just as we all have to do. “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren” (2:17). But unlike us, He accomplished it all without sin.

Having made the point that Christ always was/is/will be nothing less than God who became flesh, we are now told why He did so, “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (2:17). His full experience of the human condition allows Him to know by experience what we face in life. He was tempted. He knew physical weakness, hunger, weariness, and sickness. He was constrained by time and space. He suffered these things, and having experienced them, He is able to succour us (2:18). “Succour” summarises this whole passage, for it summarises the work of Christ. It means to have empathy and to feel our sorrows and needs. But it also means to apply healing and help to our wounds. Our wound is our sin and the wrath of God. He heals that wound by bearing it in Himself on the cross, reconciling us to God. But His work does not end there. It continues, as He calls His people unto Himself, builds up His Church, leads us into God by His Word and Spirit, and, finally, places us in His immediate presence in that land where sin and sorrow will never touch us again, forever.

Thursday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 28, Ex. 15:20, Heb 3
Evening – Ps. 29, 46, Is. 42:1-9, 1 Pet. 2:11-17

Commentary, Hebrews 3

The Old Testament is filled with the works of great prophets. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Samuel, were great men and great leaders, whose works have influenced the world for thousands of years. Yet none of them can compare to the work and influence of Moses. No other human being has left a stamp upon the mind and fabric of humanity that compares to that of Moses. No philosopher, no religious leader, no political leader or empire has had the global historical influence of Moses. Yet One has come among us who is far greater than Moses. This One is Christ Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our faith (3:1). He is superior to Moses as the builder is greater than the building (3:3). He is the builder of all things (3:4), and He is the builder of the Church, which is His house (3:6). Moses was a servant in His house (3:5), but Christ is the owner, the Son to whom the house belongs (3:6). Thus, the book of Hebrews emphasizes again the Divine identity of Christ. He is not just a prophet and not just a man. He is the One who sent the prophets. Moses was His servant. He created the world and all the people, and He is the owner as well as the creator of all things.

Verses 7-19 remind us to give unto Christ the honour and obedience that is His due. The verses remind us that those who disobeyed Moses suffered death in the wilderness. They were brought out of Egypt by the power of God, yet they did not enter into the Promised Land. Their unbelief sealed their fate forever, for they did not make it to the Heavenly Promised Land ay more than they made it to Canaan (38). Verse 14 is an important verse, for it tells us only those who continue in Christ to the end will be partakers of His eternal Kingdom in Heaven. This is a conclusion based on the illustration of those who died in the wilderness. They did not continue in faith in God, therefore, they did not enter Canaan. Those who appear to begin to follow Christ, but do not continue in Him to the end, will not make it to Heaven. Therefore, “Harden not your heart as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, and saw my works forty years” (3:8&9). But exhort one another, and yourself, “lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13). Make no mistake, sin is deceitful, and can convince you that you are in Christ even when you are far away from Him. Please abide in Him, steadfast to the end (3:14).

Friday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 40:1-16, Ex. 16:1-15, Heb. 4:1-13
Evening – Ps 39, Is. 42:10-17, 1 Pet. 2:18


Commentary, Hebrews 4:1-13

Hebrews 4:1-13 continues the theme begun in verse 7 of chapter 3, namely, love and obedience to Christ. This is a pattern of the book of Hebrews. Chapter 1 tells us Christ is the Son of God who is far greater than angels. Chapter 2 tells us that since He is greater than angels, He is more worthy of our love and obedience than they. Chapter 3: 1-6 tells us Christ is greater than Moses. This is followed by an exhortation to honour and obey Him more than Moses. Today’s reading is part of that exhortation.

Verses 1-6 use a word we don’t hear much anymore, “fear.” “Let us therefore fear.” And what does it tell us to fear? Coming short of entering into His rest. The Bible is using the experience of the Hebrew people who were freed from Egyptian slavery, yet did not make it into the Promised Land. We remember that they came to its borders, but failed to enter out of fear of the Canaanites. According to Hebrews, their fear was the sin of unbelief. They simply did not trust God enough to put their lives in His hand. Therefore, they died in the wilderness rather than obey God. The point being made is that many people will appear to start the journey of faith in Christ, but will not make it to Heaven because they will not really trust God with their lives and their souls. They will go astray. They will love the things of the world more than they love God. They will pursue the things of the world, to the exclusion of God, because they will not trust God to provide for them in this life. And if they cannot trust God with their lives, they cannot trust Him with their souls. Therefore, they will be lost. They will not make it to Heaven. These people may be very religious. They may keep the outward forms of the faith carefully. They may pray and worship and read the Bible, and give money, but their hearts belong to them, not God. You can see it in them that they are afraid to trust God. They are afraid to give up their pleasures and amusements to serve Him. They find their life’s meaning in toys and recreations rather than God, and when they face challenges in life, they turn to their amusements rather than God, to see them through. At one time they “tried Jesus.” At one time they started the journey of faith in Him. But at some point they stopped trusting Him. They couldn’t face the giants, so they entered not into the Promised Land, and if they do not return to God they will not enter Heaven.

Thus, verse 7 exhorts us to follow Christ “today.” It is not to be put off. The longer we wallow in sin the harder it becomes to get up and walk in faith. The longer we put our trust in money, or things, or amusements, the harder it gets to put our trust in God. The more we love these things, the more we fear losing them, and the less we trust God to be worth more to us than they are. What if God takes them away from us? What if I have to give up my Saturday night out or my Sunday morning golf to go to Church? What means more to me, these things, or God? Today is the day to choose. In fact you will choose today. You are choosing now. Today, harden not your hearts as the Hebrews did in the wilderness. Do not turn away from God. Today trust Him with all your heart, and enter into His rest.

Verse 12 is often quoted but little understood. It means that the word of God sees into your soul and makes it plain whether you are following God or not. It cuts through your defenses and the make-believe world you create to insulate yourself from God. They are coverings of fig leaves, but to God your soul is naked, for He discerns your thoughts. He knows whether you are following Him or turning back away from Him.

Saturday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 42, 43, Ex. 17:1-7, Heb 4:14-5:14
Evening – Ps.93, 111, Is. 43:1-7, 1 Pet. 3:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 4:14-5:14

The rabbi was a highly honoured man in the Jewish community. Known for learning and wisdom, he was often asked to settle disputes and give counsel on a wide range of issues. And his word was usually followed gladly. Yet beloved and respected as he was, the High Priest was much more so. He lived in palatial grandeur, oversaw the services of Jerusalem’s the Temple, and was the spiritual leader and symbol of the entire Jewish religion and nation. The book of Hebrews has already told us Christ is greater than angels and Moses, now it tells us He is greater than the High Priest.

He is greater because He has passed into the heavens and because He is the Son of God. Yet He is also aware of our human trials because He experienced them Himself. He is touched by our infirmities and was in all points tried and tempted as we are, though without sin (4:15). Therefore He is merciful and welcoming to those who continue with Him, steadfast to the end (3:14). We may come to Him boldly, not arrogantly nor flippantly, but in reverence tempered with confidence in His grace, knowing that in Him we will find mercy, grace, and help (4:16).

He is greater than the human High Priest because He Himself is without sin, therefore, every aspect of His work is for His people, not Himself. The human High Priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins, and to spend time in prayer and confession for himself (5:3), but Christ is without sin, and His ministry was given entirely for our sake.

He is greater that the High Priest because His Priestly Order is great than the Human High Priest’s. He is of the Order of Melchisedec (5:10). We will see more about Melchisedec later. The point of today’ reading is that Melchisedec was the Priest of God long before the institution of the Temple, the sacrificial system, and the order of priests that conducted the services, including the High Priest.

Therefore, let us go on with Christ into mature faith. That means there must be more to our faith than simply repeating “Christ died for my sins, so I am saved.” We must move into fully trusting Christ with our lives and souls. We must move into finding in Him our life’s meaning, our joy, our pleasure, our hope, and our comfort. In other words, our belief that Christ died for our sins must transform and direct every other aspect of our life, else it is not real faith.

April 15, 2012

Sermon for First Sunday after Easter

How Communion Makes Us Holy
Psalm 66, 1 John 5:4-12, John 20:19-23
First Sunday after Easter
April 15, 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.

Faithfulness is the subject of the prayers and Scripture readings for today. The Collect first declares that Christ died and rose again to make us acceptable to God, which it calls, "justification." It then beseeches God to enable us to put away unGodliness and serve Him in purity of life and truth. 1 John 5 reminds us that we are not to be worldly but are to overcome the world by faith, and John's Gospel, chapter 20 records the appearance of the Risen Christ to His disciples, who are now becoming Apostles commissioned to found the Church.

Purity of life, let's call it, "holiness," should be one of the results of receiving the Lord's Supper. We profess that the Lord's Supper is a means of grace, and therefore, duly and rightly receiving it makes us holy. Yet I wonder how many understand how the Lord's Supper, or, as we like to call it, the Holy Communion makes us holy. We can easily understand how a serious and continuing study of the Bible makes us holy. We know that reading it puts God's thoughts and values into us, and His thoughts and values change us by shaping our thoughts and values. We can easily understand how prayer makes us holy. I am not talking about simply asking God to give us things; I am talking about prayer as we find it in the Book of Common Prayer, and in Scripture, where it means, "worship." We can easily see that the services of Morning and Evening Prayer faithfully lead us into Biblical worship, and, as they are faithful expressions of Biblical truth, they cause us to ponder Godly things. Thus, they change us in our hearts and beings. They make us holy. We can easily see how the fellowship of a Biblical Church can make us holy. In its worship we hear the Bible read and proclaimed, in its prayers we are taken to the throne of grace, and in the fellowship of our family in Christ we find acceptance, encouragement, and love. But there is a great element of mystery surrounding the Holy Communion. We even call the bread and the cup, "holy mysteries" in the prayer after the Communion. So again, we ask, how does receiving Holy Communion make us holy?

It makes us holy by causing us to remember Christ's sacrificial death. In fact, remembering Christ's death is primary in Holy Communion. The bread of the Lord's Table is a symbol of the Lord's body, and by breaking and eating it we are reminded of the crown of thorns, the scourge, the nails, and the spear, and we remember that His body was broken for us. The wine we drink is the symbol of His blood that ran from His wounds and was poured out for us. I stress the word "symbol" here because the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ. They never become His literal body or blood. So when the Lord Himself, still in His physical body before the crucifixion, said, "This is my body," and "This is my blood, He clearly meant this bread represents and symbolises His body, and this wine represents and symbolises His blood. Remembering His death causes us to think on holy things, which, when accompanied by Biblical faith, helps us develop holiness of life.

The Lord's Supper makes us holy by causing us to remember that Christ's death purchased our eternal life. The Bible speaks of two states or conditions of the souls of people in eternity. One is called eternal death and it signifies being cut off from the presence and joy of God forever. As the Epistle for this morning states it; "he that hath not the son hath not life." This does not mean the soul goes into non-existence. It means the soul goes into a state that is so terrible and frightful that it can best be described as a living death. We can understand this easily because we have heard of people going through experiences in life which were so horrible they called their existence a 'living death." This, magnified beyond our ability to understand, is the condition of those who are forever cast out of the presence of God.

The other condition of the soul in eternity is called everlasting life, or, eternal life. Again, this refers to the quality, rather than the quantity, of existence, and it means to dwell forever in the immeasurable love and happiness of God. This condition of eternal life was purchased for us by Christ. Referring again to the Epistle of 1 John we read, "this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in His son." The breaking of His body and the pouring out of His blood was part of the way He paid the price of our sins, and purchased eternal life for us. When we eat the bread and drink the wine of Communion, we remember these things, and we are moved to greater faith and faithfulness. We are made holy. This is the second major point of this sermon; receiving Holy Communion moves us to greater faith and faithfulness.

We are accustomed to thinking about the word, "faith" in two ways. First we think of the act of trusting in Christ's sacrificial death to make you right with God. The best way I can think of to express this is to say that if anyone asks you why you think you are going to Heaven, your answer would be, "Because Christ took my sins on Himself and paid their penalty by dying for me on the cross, and that is why God will let me into Heaven" Second, we think of The Faith, which means the doctrinal content of Christianity. The right receiving of Holy Communion increases our faith in both of these meanings. It increases our faith in Christ as our Saviour, by helping us trust Him more. It increases our belief that Christ died for my sins, therefore God is going to accept me into Heaven. It also increases our understanding of The Faith. The more we ponder the sacrifice of Christ, the more we grow in our understanding of the whole of the Christian Faith. We grow in our understanding of the seriousness of sin, the need for grace and justification, the meaning and need of holy living, and the Church, and so many other important things. We grow in faith as we receive Communion.

Yet there is a third meaning of the word, "faith" as it is used in the Bible, and that meaning is, "faithfulness." We could also call this, "purity of life," or, "holiness," or "Godliness," or any number of other things, but they all refer to living lives that are more fully surrendered to the will of God and less occupied with the things of sin and self. I think no one will disagree when I say that the more we realise the wickedness of our sin, the horrors of hell, and the greatness of the sacrifice of Christ, the more we ought to be moved to lives of holiness and purity. The more we ought to be moved to love Christ, and devote ourselves to Him in all things. The Lord's Supper gives us the opportunity to think on these things, to grow in our understanding of them. And, if we truly understand these things, and if we truly see them through the eyes of faith as we come to the Table of the Lord, we will naturally find ourselves moved to holiness.

I need to say one more, very important thing. You have noticed that I keep saying things like, the Bible changes us, prayer changes us, and Communion changes us. This is very important because we do not change ourselves by doing these things; God changes us, and He uses these things to do it. That's why they are known as the means, or channels, of grace. Grace, of course means God's attitude of mercy toward us, but it also refers to God's activity toward us as He changes and remakes us, and causes us to walk in His ways and find our joy in Him. So, when we worship, God works in us to heal our souls and strengthen our faith. When we read the Bible God changes our thoughts and gives us His values. And when we come to the Holy Table of Communion, God Himself enables us to come in faith, and grow in faith as we remember our Saviour's loving sacrifice. So, in the end, it is not we who make ourselves holy by coming to this Table or doing good things. It is God who makes us holy by the means of grace. We could say, God uses these things to draw us into Himself. That is the real way Communion makes us holy.

"Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification; Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

April 8, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Easter Week

Easter Monday

Lectionary

Psalm 2, Is. 61:1-11, Lk. 24:1-12
Psalm 103, Ex. 15:1-13, Jn. 20:1-10

Commentary, Is. 61:1-11

We left the book of the Prophet Isaiah during the season of Epiphany. We return to it now, reading different passages this week before taking it up in its regular order of chapter and verse next Monday. We will continue in it until the week of the Sunday after Ascension, by which time we will have read the entirety of this important Old Testament book. Today’s reading includes the same read by our Lord in the synagogue in Nazareth, which caused such a stir among the people when He said. “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Lk. 4:16-30)

The passage obviously looks ahead to a new day in Jerusalem when the captivity in Babylon will be over and the Jews are allowed to return to their homes in Judea. Isaiah is the one upon whom the Spirit of the Lord is come in the passage. He was called to the sorrowful task of proclaiming the wrath and judgment of God upon the Jews. But his message was allowed to give some comfort, and several passages, like today’s, tell of forgiveness and restoration for the people. He is allowed to proclaim good tidings, bind up the broken hearted, and preach liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound (61:1). The setting of the Babylonian Captivity, in which the Jews were conquered and carried away from Jerusalem by the Babylonians, is evident in the words. It is the release from Babylon that the prophet proclaims. Yet their release from human captors cannot exhaust the meaning of this passage. Our Lord was quite correct to say that it was fulfilled in Him, who came to release us from a conqueror far more cruel than Nebuchadnezzar, and a bondage far more bitter than the ancient city of Babylon. Christ came to release us from our bondage of sin and our captor Satan. These are the ultimate good tidings of Isaiah 66.

Easter Tuesday

Lectionary

Psalm 30, Dan.12: 1-4, 13, 1 Thes. 4:13
Psalm 115, Is. 30:18-21, Jn. 20:11-18

Commentary, Is. 30:18-21

“The Lord is a God of judgment.” These words from Isaiah 30:18 remind us that sin has consequences, and God is willing to let us suffer them. In this passage, the Jews have disobeyed and disregarded God for generations. He has been patient, and has sent many prophets to call them back to Him, but they continued to drift away from Him, and even convinced themselves they were doing what God wanted. Finally, God raised up the Babylonians against Judea. They swarmed over the Jews like a horde of locusts, and when they were finished the land was a blackened ruin, Jerusalem and the Temple were demolished, and most of the people still alive were taken to Babylon as prisoners. Will God leave Israel in this condition? No, He will have mercy, but He will wait. In Isaiah, mercy comes after judgment.

In Christ mercy replaces judgment. When Christ told the disciples their sorrow would be turned to joy, He meant first that, though “crucified, dead, and buried” He would live again. But His primary meaning was the joy they would have in the redemption He was purchasing for them on the cross. He bore the wrath of God for them. Therefore, all who are in Christ are in grace, not judgment.

Easter Wednesday

Lectionary

Psalm 97, 99, Micah 7:-20, 1 Tim. 6:11-19
Psalm 148, Is. 26:12-19, Jn. 20:19-23

Commentary, Is. 26:12-19

Tonight’s reading in Isaiah is part of the conclusion of a theme that began in chapter 13. The theme is God’s judgment on unbelievers, leading to the day when “the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion” (Is. 24:23). This refers first to God judging the enemies of Judea and restoring the Jews to Jerusalem as His covenant people. Chapters 25-27 are a song of praise and thanksgiving, which 26:1 says will be sung in the land of Judah on the day God accomplishes their deliverance.

26:16 pictures the Jews calling upon the Lord during their captivity in Babylon. They have been scattered to the ends of the earth (15), but in their trouble they have visited (sought) God again. Verses 17 and 18 show the vanity of using human inventions to accomplish spiritual ends. The Jews tried to build and maintain their nation and their traditions on their own terms. They often kept the outward forms of the Old Testament faith, but their lives were not given to God. Thus, they were like a woman in childbirth, suffering all the pain of labour, but bringing forth nothing. Their labour has been in vain because they were unable to conquer their enemies or secure their land by their own hand. But the day will come, Isaiah says, when God will rescue them. They will be like people rising from the dead, and Judea will be as a body rising from the grave. They will awake and sing to God again when the earth (Babylon and pagan nations) cast out the dead (return the Jews to Jerusalem).

These events have a meaning far beyond the mere return of the Jews from Babylon. Like God’s rescue of Israel from Egyptian bondage, the rescue from Babylonian Captivity is a picture of God rescuing all of His people from their spiritual captivity and bringing them into the Heavenly Jerusalem through Christ Jesus. In a very real sense, the song of praise, of which tonight’s reading is a part, cannot really be sung in its fullest meaning until God gathers His whole Church home with Him forever. “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Is. 25:1).


Easter Thursday

Lectionary

Psalm 149, 150, Ezek. 37:1-14, Phil. 3:7
Psalm 147, Is. 52:1-10, Jn. 20:24

Commentary, Is 52:1-10

Isaiah 52 cannot be understood apart from chapter 51, especially verses 22 and 23:

“Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again: But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.”

The Jews have been laid low by their enemies. They have been trodden down, and their enemies have walked upon them as the ground of the street. God has allowed this because of the sins of the Jews, but the other nations still had no just cause to invade Israel. Their conquests and oppression were wicked and cruel, crushing the Jews into the dust and blaspheming the Name of God, but God was neither blind to their sin nor unmoved by the suffering of the Jews. In tonight’s reading He is preparing to act in a mighty deliverance for them. Therefore, they are to awake (52:1), arise (52:2), and shake off the dust (52:2). They are to stop being the ground for their enemies to walk on. They are to rise up and stand upright, and shake the dust of the street and ground off themselves. They are to put on beautiful garments, their very best, the clothes thy reserve for the most festive and joyful occasions, for they are to be delivered from their enemies and returned to the holy city. The cup of trembling 51:22) will be taken from them and given to their enemies. Their enemies will fear as the Jews have had to in the past. Thus, the Jews will know God has spoken to them; they will see the revelation of His saving grace, and will know it is the work of God for them.

Verse 7 pictures messengers posted on the hills outside of Jerusalem proclaiming the good news of the coming deliverance. The tidings are so wonderful that even the feet of the messengers are beautiful to the Jews. Inside the city, watchmen echo the message, united (eye to eye) in the proclamation and the praise of the God of their salvation. Even the most devastated (waste places) of Jerusalem are overcome with joy and join the song of praise, “for the Lord hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem.”

To make bare His arm (vs. 10) is to roll up the sleeves of His robe as a man going into battle or to physical labour where the extra material will be an encumbrance. It pictures God preparing to accomplish the deliverance of the Jews.

Again we look beyond the setting of the Old Testament Jerusalem and see the mighty deliverance of God for all His people, bringing them into the Heavenly Jerusalem through our Lord Jesus Christ. He bears the good tidings, and He is the good tidings. Therefore, let His people rejoice; “Thy God reigneth.”

Easter Friday

Lectionary

Psalm 124, 125, 126, Is. 65:17, Rev. 1:4-18
Psalm 110, 114, Zeph. 3:14, Jn. 21:1-14

Commentary, Is.65:17

This morning’s passage in Isaiah, like last night’s must be understood in light of its preceding verse, in this case, Isaiah 65:16, especially the words, “because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from my eyes.” The “former troubles” are the conquests and tribulations of the Jews, which God allowed them to suffer because of their sins. They are “forgotten” and “hid” because they are forgiven and God remembers them no more. Rather than remember their sins, God promises a time and place that will be entirely new. Enemies will not attack it, disease will not plague it, and the lifespan of God’s people will be like the lifespan of a tree. God will answer their prayers before they are even voiced, and the peace in the land will be such that former enemies, like the wolf and the lamb, shall be as friends. In other words, all the effects of the Fall and sin will be gone, and the world will be as it was in the beginning. Even people will be different. They will not make war, they will not steal or oppress one another. They will live in peace with one another and in unity with God.

This new era is prefigured in the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. In a sense, this deliverance is yet a further revelation of the coming of that Day. Since the Fall God has been working, in His way and at His pace, to bring the world back into Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. Seth, Noah, Abraham, the Exodus, and the release of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity, are shadows and revelations of this new and restored earth. They are also steps toward its full inauguration. Each step is itself a furtherance of that Day, and, in a sense, participates in it. Each step gives a foretaste of the glory of the Day of the Lord, and in each step that Day is here, yet not here in fullness. Each step is like the dawn of a new day, growing brighter each moment, yet not here in its full glory. Like the morning of the day of a great event, the day is here, but we have not experienced the fullness of its promise.

This new Day will see a new heaven and a new earth, but it will also see a new Israel. The profane and the unbelieving, though they be of the physical seed of Abraham, cannot enter. Only the renewed children of Abraham by faith will be in the new creation on that Day.

The Church is another step in the progress towards that Day. It is the new Israel, the children of Abraham by faith in Christ. The promises to Israel in the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the Church of the New Testament. And yet, that Day is not here in fullness. We also await it, as the Jews in Isaiah 65 awaited their deliverance from Assyria. As with the old Israel, so it is in the new Israel, that the tares will one day be removed, and the faithful and fruitful “wheat” will be gathered into Christ to enjoy Him in the final and complete fullness of the new creation.

Easter Saturday

Lectionary

Psalm 145, Is. 25:1-9, Rev. 7:10
Psalm 18:1-20, Jer. 31:10-14, Jn. 21:15

Commentary, Is. 25:1-9

Assyria will fall to Babylon, and, Isaiah does foresee the Babylonian Captivity and release in this passage, but the enemy at the gate for now is Assyria. Isaiah will address Babylon in later chapters. To put the passage in its historical setting we need to recall that Israel has divided into two kingdoms, one calling itself Israel and the other calling itself Judah. The Assyrians were the primary power in the area, and threatened to engulf both Israel and Judah. In a futile attempt to maintain her independence, Israel made an alliance with Syria, to resist Assyria. They attempted to force Judah to join them by issuing an ultimatum: become their ally or be conquered by them. But God warned Judah to make no alliance with them, and so Judah was spared when the Assyrians invaded and conquered Syria and Israel. Chapter 24 does refer in part to the Babylonian conquest of Judah, but its primary subject is Assyria.
Chapter 25 begins a hymn and prayer of thanksgiving to God for delivering Judah from the hand of her enemies. Yet, Isaiah sees there is more to this deliverance than being saved from mere human opponents. This is a mere foretaste of the miraculous deliverance God will bring to the Jews, and to those in all nations who will call upon Him.

Verses 6-9 especially convey this message. God will destroy the “face of the covering cast over all people,” and the “vail that is spread over the nations.” The covering and the vail are grave clothes. It is a tradition to cover the face of the dead, and so all nations are covered with the vail of death, for all are dead in their trespasses and sins. By their own choice they live in darkness and despair and spiritual death. But, the day is coming when the Light of God will shine forth in this world in an unmistakable manner that will call all nations into Him and His Kingdom.

He will feed them with fat things and wines on the lees well refined. This refers to the great blessings and the spiritual plenty poured out on those in God’s Kingdom. In a land of want, as Judah often was, such food and abundance was known only by the very wealthiest few. But in God’s new Kingdom such rich spiritual food is for all people. The Lord of hosts will make this feast and give freely to all his children.

And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Isaiah and the people of his day looked forward to the “Advent” of that salvation.

If we read verse 10 also, we cannot help noticing that the salvation of which Isaiah wrote is accomplished “in this mountain.” Originally the phrase refers to Mt. Zion, site of the Temple, but, in a broader sense, it symbolizes Jerusalem and the Jewish people. It symbolizes what we often call, “the Jewish Church.” The salvation, of which Isaiah wrote, refers to God’s mighty deliverance of Jerusalem, and to His bountiful blessings upon her. But that cannot exhaust the meaning of this text. It reaches out to the work of Christ in Zion seven hundred years in Isaiah’s future. It will be “in this mountain” that the Savior comes to teach the way of life and truth. It will be “in this mountain” that He suffers and dies to defeat the enemies of His people, and delivers them from the spiritual bonds of sin and death. And it will be “in this mountain that the Savior’s work continues in the world throughout all ages. Just as Zion represents the people of God in the Old Testament, so it also represent the people of God in the New Testament, the Christian Church, the New Israel, the spiritual Mount Zion, which is the spiritual Kingdom of God. The message of hope, the message that God is with us, of a new and better life made possible by the gift of God, of hell’s fires quenched and Heaven’s Gates opened as wide as the Savior’s arms on the cross are still preached “in this mountain” as the Church fulfills her Great Commission:
Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world, (St. Matthew 28:19-20).

The promises of God to the Israel of the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the Israel of the New Testament. And yet, they are not fulfilled completely even now. We still wait for the Messiah to complete His work. We still wait for that day when finally He will swallow even physical death in victory, and will dry every tear, and there will be no more suffering, and no more sorrow, and no more sin, forever and forever and forever. We await His Second Advent as eagerly as the Old Testament Zion awaited His First Advent. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, (Rev. 22:20).

April 1, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week Before Easter

Monday before Easter, Day Thirty-five

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 71, Isaiah 42:1-7, John 14:1-14
Evening - Psalms 42 & 43, Lamentations 1:7-12, John 14:15-31

John 14:15-31

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe. Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.

Commentary

"Have I been so long time with you, and yet thou hast not known me, Philip? (vs9). Philip knew much about Jesus. He knew Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead, for he had seen that with his own eyes. He knew Jesus was the Messiah, the One of whom Moses and the prophets wrote (Jn. 1:45). He had heard His sermons and seen His compassion. He had walked with Jesus for three years, sharing hardship, ridicule, and danger with Him. Yet he did not know Jesus. He did not know Jesus was God in human form (Jn. 1:1-14). He did not know Jesus was the revelation of the Father (Jn. 1:18). He did not know that if he has "seen" Jesus he has seen the Father.


Devotional Thoughts

To "see" Jesus is more than to simply view Him with our eyes. It is to see Him with understanding and faith. If we see Jesus in this way, we have seen God. But it is possible to see Him with neither understanding nor faith. To see Him as a good man, a prophet, a saint, but not Immanuel, God with us is to see Him without understanding, for it is to miss the real Jesus. To see Him as God, yet remain unaffected and unchanged by this knowledge is to see Him without faith. Let us not be as Philip. Let us understand and believe.

Tuesday before Easter, Day Thirty-six

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 6 & 12, Hosea 14, John 15:1-16
Evening - Psalm51, Lamentations 2:10, 13-19, John 15:17

John 15:17

These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

Commentary

John 15 tells us those who abide in Jesus are like branches growing from a luxuriant vine. Those who do not abide in Him are like dead branches, and are removed and cast into the fire. To abide in Christ means many things, one of the obvious is to draw life from Him. Our physical existence comes from Christ. Remove His sustaining power from us and we cease to exist. But our spiritual existence comes from Christ also. Just as a branch that does not draw its life from the vine gradually withers and dies, a soul that does not draw its life from Christ dies.

Devotional Thoughts

A Christian's goal is to live a quiet and holy life every moment of every day. During Lent we have looked at what a holy life is, so as we come to the close of Lent it is natural that we ask ourselves a question; am I really serious about holiness? This is a difficult question to answer because we have a tendency to fool ourselves, and to convince ourselves that we are really doing better than we are. So we need to be brutally honest with ourselves, and we need to base our answers on evidence, rather than illusions. Are you serious about holiness? What in your life shows that you are?


Wednesday before Easter, Day Thirty-seven

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 94, Zechariah 12:9,10, 13:1,7-9, John 16:1-15
Evening - Psalm 74 Lamentations 3:1, 14-33, John 16:16

John 16:16

A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye enquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Commentary

Today's readings in the Gospel of John take us through the 16th chapter. Jesus and His disciples are still in the upper room where they have eaten the Passover meal and the Last Supper. Judas has gone (Jn. 13:30), and Christ is using the few precious hours left to teach the disciples. Christ speaks of many things, from the way the world will treat the disciples to the coming of the Holy Spirit, called here, the "Comforter" (17:7). The disciples understand nothing of what He is saying. His crucifixion will almost crush them emotionally and spiritually. Their faith in Christ will die with Him on the cross because they do not understand that He came to die for their sins and to bring them into a Kingdom of the Spirit. But their sorrow will be turned to joy (vs. 20) when they see the resurrected Christ. And they will understand when the Holy Spirit comes.

Devotional Thoughts

The Christian's goal is to grow in Christ every day. We have looked at Christian growth during Lent, now we need to ask ourselves how we are doing. Am I really seeking to grow in Christ? Do I see myself making honest attempts to seek and grow in Him? What positive steps am I taking to try to grow in Him? What am I really doing to conquer sin and reform my thoughts and attitudes and habits? These are not easy questions, but they are necessary. Be brave, ask them. Be heroic, answer them.


Maundy Thursday, Day Thirty-eight

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 116, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 13:18
Evening - Psalms 142, 143, Lamentations 3:40-58, John 17

John 17

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Commentary

Thursday before Easter Sunday recalls the institution of Holy Communion. Passover began that evening at sunset, and Christ gathered His disciples into the upper room to keep the feast. After the meal Jesus took the bread and cup, saying, "This is My body. This is My blood." Afterwards they went to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, where Jesus was "captured" and led away for His "trials." The trials lasted through the night and into the next morning. Friday took Him to the cross, and by Friday evening He was dead. Thus, we see the awful finality in Jesus' words in 17:1, "the hour is come." The time has come for Him to go to the cross. The hour has come for Him to accomplish that for which He came into the world. His journey to the cross is almost complete.

Devotional Thoughts

Many people think growing in holiness means increasing religious activities. It is true that a genuinely holy person will participate in Bible study, prayer, public worship, and other religious things. But these things alone do not make one holy. The people who put Christ to death were religious people. They were leaders in the "Church," but they were far from holy. They honoured God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. Holiness, then, begins with an attitude of Godliness in the heart. This attitude expresses itself in prayer, worship, and the other outward activities of holiness. To have the activities without the inward attitude is like having a body without a soul. Such a body is dead. To have the inward attitude without the outward actions is to have a phony faith. For real faith always moves us to outward actions.

Good Friday, Day Thirty-nine

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 22, 40:1-16, 54, Genesis 22:1-18, John 18
Evening - Psalm 69:1-22, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, 1 Peter 2:11

John 18

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none. Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. 1But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not. And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.
The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said. And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me? Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest. And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not. One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him? Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew. Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.


Commentary

In addition to the daily readings from the Lectionary, the Prayer Book includes a reading from John 19:1-37, which records the crucifixion of Jesus. The reading from 1 Peter 2 is a fitting commentary on the reading from John. Verses 21-25 especially remind us why Christ suffered. He "bare our sins in His own body."

Devotional

Both the inward attitude, call it "faith," and the outward actions, call them "faithfulness" are required if a person is going to be truly holy. But we cannot let ourselves assume that the only outward actions required of us are those we would normally call "religious." Religious activities are required, and one who will not take them up willingly needs to seriously look at his heart, for he will likely not find biblical faith there. But holiness also requires certain actions and attitudes toward other people, call them, "neighbors." As Jesus so clearly pointed out, our duty to God means we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and loving our neighbors generally means treating others the way we would like to be treated. No one wants to be mistreated in any way, yet, how often our actions and words offend and hurt is something we cannot know in this life. But God knows. Nor are we talking only about negative things, for love consist not only of "thou shalt nots," but of plenteous "thou shalts." There are enough of these in the Bible to keep us busy reading and learning them for some time, but some of them are compassion, empathy, encouragement, and emotional support. During Lent we have intentionally devoted ourselves to growing in holiness, both inwardly, in the heart, and outwardly, in our actions. Have our efforts included both love for God, and love for our "neighbors?"


Easter Even, Day Forty

Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 14, 16, Job 14:1-14, John 19:38
Evening - Psalm 27, Job 19:21-27, Romans 6:3-11

And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

Commentary

"It is finished." We have come to the end of Christ's journey to the cross. We have followed Him from the outer reaches of Galilee to the courts of the Temple, to the hill of Golgotha. In every place and every time He resolutely followed the road to the cross. Nothing could turn Him aside from that great and terrible transaction by which He offered Himself for the sins of His people. When He had suffered our punishment and died our death, He cried with a loud voice, "It is finished." Let us remember it was for us that He died. It was for our sake that He was placed in the tomb. It was for our sin that He "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified dead and buried." His entire journey to the cross has been for you.

Devotional Thoughts

It is difficult for us to imagine how the disciples felt that first Saturday after Christ died. They had given up everything to follow Him, and when He died all their hopes died with Him. They were in fear for their lives, lest they too should be tortured to death. But more devastating than fear was their absolute despair. God, they thought, had abandoned them. Their entire faith and meaning in life died with Christ. Today let us try to imagine their fear and despair. Try to feel what they felt when they placed His body in the grave, never, as they thought, to live again. But let us remember that their despair is only a hint of what we would feel if Christ were still in the grave. Their emotional emptiness would be the natural condition of our lives, if Christ were still in the grave today. Our existence would be as if someone had punched us in the stomach, and we were writhing on the floor, unable to breathe, unable to make ourselves do anything because of the uncontrollable pain and spasms. Only it would not be our stomachs or diaphragms that were hit, it would be our souls. But, more horrible than life without meaning is eternity without hope. Eternity spent in forced exile from the Author of all goodness and happiness is eternity spent in abject sorrow and absolute misery, so deep it makes the fires of Hell seem almost insignificant by comparison. As we imagine a world with Christ in the grave, let us see Hell yawning before us, pulling us in without mercy. Let us imagine unfathomable physical suffering that can only be matched by the anguish of the soul. And let us remember, that would be our fate forever, if Christ be not raised.