December 31, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Tuesday after the First Sunday after Christmas

Morning - Ps. 103, Dt. 30:1-10, Eph.2:11
Evening - Ps. 148, Dt. 30:11, Rev. 19:11-16

Commentary,  Eph. 2:11-22

Ephesians 2 shows God working in this world to accomplish His purpose for His creation.  His purpose is stated in Eph. 1:10, gathering "together in one all things in Christ."  This includes Gentiles, and this morning's reading shows Him bringing Gentiles into the Church.  The Gospel of Christ is for all who will receive it in faith.  Heaven is for all who will enter through Christ.  The Church is for all who will believe.  In Christ there are no strangers or foreigners (2:19) only one Nation and Household.  In Him all believers are being built up into one holy Temple in the Lord (2:19-21).  There was a time when most Gentiles were excluded from the House of God (2:11-12).  God allowed them to live apart from Him, and to reap the just rewards of their sin.  But God's ultimate plan of gathering all things together in Christ was not blocked by human rebellion, Jewish or Gentile. He gathered Abraham and his descendants, to whom He gave His Word and Commandments, and through whom He would give His Messiah. In the New Testament era He began to bring in the Gentiles.  In His New Israel, the Church, all believers, Jews and Gentiles are made one body in Christ.  The work of gathering all things together in Christ continues, and will continue until the Last Day, when all of His people will be gathered Home to Him, all of His enemies will be cast out forever, and the heavens and earth will be made new.

December 30, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Monday after the First Sunday after Christmas


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

Commentary, Isaiah 62

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

A Saviour Born
Psalm 145, Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-20
First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2012
                       
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
                                       
The world seemed to be falling apart that night in Bethlehem.  A declining Rome controlled the Mediterranean world, and the decay was sensed throughout the Empire.  Law and justice were being replaced by corruption and graft.  Art was being replaced by gladiators.  Morality was being replaced by relativism, and human life, meaning the lives of people other than those in power, had little value.  In short, the world was much as it is today.  How comforting to be reminded at Christmas, 2012, that God has not forgotten us, nor left us to the ravages of an evil and ignorant world, or even to the evil and ignorance of our own sins.  How comforting to be reminded that unto us is born a Saviour "which is Christ the Lord."

When we hear the word, "Saviour," most of us think of the forgiveness of sins; of being saved from the penalty of our sins and being allowed into Heaven when we die.  We are right to think of these things, because a major reason the Saviour came into the world was to accomplish our forgiveness and allow us into Heaven.  We are all sinners, but Christ receives sinners.  He came into this world to save sinners.  He went to the cross to die for our sins.  He took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them on the cross.  He dresses us in the robe of His absolute righteousness, and now God regards us not in our sin, but in the righteousness of Christ given to us by grace.  "All have sinned," the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23.  The wages of sin is death, it continues in Romans 6:23.  But, thanks be to God, that is not the end of the story.  The same verse that tells us the wages of sin is death immediately says, "but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."   "There is," as the Bible says, "no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."

When we hear the word, "Saviour," we should also think of being saved from the destructive life of sin, which includes both our attitudes and our actions.  I am talking about being delivered from what the Bible often calls the bondage, or slavery to sin.  It means sin is like a power that enslaves us and forces us to do its bidding.  It binds our souls with hate, greed, dispair, lust, grief, anger, conceit and self-doubt, fear and fool-hardiness.  When these attitudes control us, we commit sinful actions.  In other words, when we have an attitude of hate, we hate. Or, we could say a hateful attitude leads us to do hateful things. 

Anyone who cares to take an honest look at sin will see that it has devastating consequences for us in this life.  It destroys lives, homes, families, nations, and empires.  It kills the soul.  These are the natural consequences of sin, as we reap what we have sown.  But Christ lived and died and lives again to save us from all of that.  We no longer have to live in hate or greed or sorrow or anger.   I don't mean we won't experience these things, we will; and sometimes they trouble us for long and dark times in our lives.  But they will pass, and we don't have to live in them as attitudes or habits.  We don't have to dwell in them.  They don't have to frame our thoughts or control our actions.  We don't have to be slaves to them any longer, we have been saved from them.  We are free to love, forgive, hope, and rejoice.  We are free to fill our souls with truth, honour, justice, purity, beauty, goodness, virtue, and praise.  "Think on these things," wrote St. Paul in Philippians 4:8 and 9, and "Those things which ye have both learned and received, and heard and received in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."


So the Saviour came to forgive our sins, and to save us from the destructive power of sin in our lives.  He came to give us love and peace and joy and hope, not as empty words or slogans, but as real attitudes and as the frame of our hearts and lives.  The person who is truly saved is delivered from the penalty of sin, and the power of sin.  You are receiving the forgiveness of your sins, and receiving deliverance from the old habits and attitudes and life-styles of sin, and receiving a new way of life lived in communion with God.   This new life yields conformity with His will as naturally as springtime yields flowers, all as the free gift of God through Christ our Saviour.

I need to make it clear that I am not saying we are saved to a condition of sinlessness in this life.  We are not.  We continue to struggle with the world the flesh and the devil, and we sometimes lose the fight.  I also need to make it clear that I am not saying we don't have a personal responsibility to do right and seek the kind of life that leads us into the peace of God.  We do, and we are accountable to God for our actions and choices, and they will affect our lives, and the lives of others, both in this world and for eternity.  God have mercy upon us.  I am saying God wants to give us new life, peace, joy, love, and all the good things the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit, and He will if we let Him.  Please let Him.

How does God impart the new way of life to us?  The means of grace. You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?  God imparts the new life to you through the Scriptures, prayer, the Church, and the Sacraments.  Devote yourself to these things, and you will find yourself growing in Christ.  Ignore them and you will find yourself languishing in the faith, if you even continue in it at all.

One more point, and I will make it brief; when we think of the Saviour we should think in global and cosmic terms.  One of the primary messages of the Bible is that Jesus Christ is going to Return, and when He does, He will set things right again.  He has not abandoned us.  The universe will be gathered together in Him.  His enemies will be vanquished, and His people will dwell with Him in unbroken peace, forever.
                
I can identify with the ancient Judeans.  It sometimes seems to me that the world is falling apart.  I seem to see the same departure from justice, beauty, morality.  Like them, I am comforted by the angel's words, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."    

December 26, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday through Saturday after Christmas Day


Thursday

Morning - Ps. 23 &24, Ex. 33:12, Jn. 13:2-26
Evening - Ps. 97, Is. 6:1-8, Rev. 1

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8

Today we return to a passage we have looked at before, Isaiah 6:1-8.  The prophet is given a vision of God in all His terrifying holiness and power.  From the vision of God, Isaiah is moved to see his own unworthiness.  He is a man of unclean lips, meaning, a sinner.  The seraphim sing "Holy, holy, holy," unto God, but Isaiah's lips are not worthy to address the Lord.  He sees his sin as filthy rags beside the incredibly white and shining Goodness of God, and he knows that he is "undone," or, destroyed, before God.  If Isaiah is to be allowed into real fellowship with God, God Himself is going to have to find a way to cover his sins and make him holy.  The seraphim touches Isaiah's mouth with a live coal from the altar where the sacrificial animals are killed and burned.  Symbolically, the sins of the Jewish people were laid upon the sacrifice, which paid the price of sin by dying on the altar.  The coal represents all the animals killed to pay for Isaiah's sin.  The sacrificial lambs themselves represent Christ, the Lamb of God and the only Sacrifice that could truly pay for the sins of any person.  It is Christ broken, sacrificed, and applied to the "undoneness" of people that restores them to wholeness before God.  In sin we are undone.  In Christ we are restored to wholeness. The restoration includes an invitation.  Isaiah was being called to preach the Word of God, but more than that, he was being invited into the fellowship and love of God.

Thus we see a threefold emphasis in these verses.  First is the vision of the greatness of God.  Second is the awareness of being undone.  Third is the cleansing of sin and the invitation to return to full fellowship with God.  The true Christian has a similar experience.  At some point we come to realise that God is far greater, far more worthy, and far more "good" than we ever imagined.  That knowledge immediately brings the knowledge that we are far smaller, far more unworthy, and far more wicked than we ever believed ourselves to be.  At this point we realise, "Woe is me! for I am undone" (vs. 5), and the only way to become whole and restored is for God to do something Himself that will cover our sins and restore us to His favour.  Christ restores us by taking our sins on Himself and paying their price with His own life. He then covers our sins with His own sinless perfection, and God counts us as righteous for His sake.  Now we are taken into the heart of God.  We have the joy of His presence and love in such abundance it can only be described as God dwelling in us, and us dwelling in God.

Friday Holy Innocents

Morning – Ps. 8 & 26, Jer. 31:1-6, 15-16, Mt. 18:1-14
Evening – Ps. 19, & 126, Is. 54:1-13, Mk. 10:13-16, 23-31

Commentary, Isaiah 54:1-13

Isaiah 54 is about God’s faithfulness and mercy.  The barren (childless) woman is Judea, whom God has allowed to be conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians.   God says He will not leave them in Babylon.  He will rescue them with great mercy, and gather them back to their home in Jerusalem (vs. 7).  The symbolism of this passage refers to God’s deliverance of the Jews from Babylon.  It also refers to our deliverance from the spiritual Babylon of sin that has held us captive until Christ our Redeemer set us free.  It is a beautiful and moving passage.

Saturday

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

Commentary, Isaiah 57:13

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

There is yet another application of this passage.  Those who are far off could symbolise people living without regard to God.  Obviously, people who are deep in unbelief and sin are far off.  But "good people," and even "church people" can be far off too.  For  all who live for themselves, rather than for God, are far off, no matter how bad or good their lives appear to be.  The good news is that Christ came for those who are far off as much as He came for those who are near. 

December 23, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day


Monday, Christmas Eve

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

Commentary, Matthew 1:18

Zacharias' power of speech was taken from him when, in the Temple he did not believe the angel's message.  Now, after the birth of his son, it returns to him along with the inspiration of the Spirit by which he speaks forth the great passage of Scripture which we read this morning.  He speaks first of the Messiah, raised up to be a "horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David" (1:69).  The One foretold by the prophets, by whom we are saved, through whom the mercy of God is performed toward us, is ready to come into the world.  Indeed, He is already here in the Virgin's womb.

Next the priest turns to the ministry of his own son, John.  He is the prophet of the Highest.  He will go before the Messiah to prepare His ways, give the people knowledge of their sins, and give light to them that are in darkness and the shadow of death.  We see that John actually prepares Israel for the work Jesus will do.  John prepares the way, Jesus accomplishes it.

Tuesday  Christmas Day

Morning - Ps. 89:1-30, Is. 9:2-7, Lk 2:1-20
Evening - Ps. 45, Micah 4:1-5, 1 Jn. 4:7-14
           
Commentary, Luke 2:1-20

At last the Day arrives.  Only it is not "day;" it is night.  Nor is the King of Kings born in a palace, but in an animal shed; not heralded to kings and rulers, but announced to simple shepherds.   Thanks be to God that the Good News has come to us.  "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Advent


What the Bible Says about Us
Psalm 80, Isaiah 40:1-11, Luke 3:1-17
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2012

We always need to keep in mind that the Bible's primary message is "God."  It is about who God is, what He is like, what  He is doing, and what His purpose and goal for creation is.  So, in today's reading, as well as the readings in the other Sundays in Advent, the message is not about Zechariah, Elizabeth, or John, so much as it is about what God was doing through them to fullfill His purpose of bringing all things together in Christ.  We saw, on the First Sunday of Advent, that John was promised by God as the one who would prepare the way of the Lord.  Last Sunday we read of the birth of John as the fullfillment of God's promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and also as part of the fullfilment of the much greater Promise to send the Saviour, under whom all things will be gathered together.  Today we see God using John in the work for which he was born; preparing the way of the Lord, and calling the people of Israel back to God.  So, I want to emphasise that the Bible is about God, but, I don't want to give the impression that people are just props in a Divine Soliloquy.  People are part of God's plan, which means God's plan is partly about us.  That means the Bible, too, is partly about us.  So, using John as an example, I want to talk about what the Bible says about us.

First, the Bible says we are created by God.  Genesis 1 makes it very clear that the earth was created to be populated by people.  We were no after thought, we were part of God's purpose for His creation.  But it is not just people who were created, it was persons.  The Bible gives many instances of individual persons being born because God planned and  intended them to be.  John was one of these persons.  John was no accident of blind chance.  John was foretold and forknown by God.  He was born to parents past child bearing age. John was a miracle child.  But, and this is important, every child is a miracle child.  Every child is foreseen and foreknown by God. Before we were conceived, and even before the world was formed, God knew us.    We were in God's mind and plan from the beginning.  You were no after thought.  You were no accident.  God knew you before He formed you in the womb.

Second, we are created for a purpose.  Let me put it another way, God has a purpose for you.  Your life has meaning.  You exist for more than simply accumulating toys and gratifying your mental pride and physical desires.  Millions of people today spend the bulk of their time and energy trying to "find" themselves.  They are looking for an identity and purpose.  They are looking for their "passion."  Sometimes they look in the craziest places; drugs, toys, amusements, cults, radical causes, self indulgence, or fornication.  Yet, after they have indulged every whim and passion, they find they still have an emptiness inside of them.  They have not "found themselves."

Not everyone runs amuck in their quest for self.  Some people look in more traditional places, like love, marriage, children, meaningful work, and being a "good" person.  These people also find an emptiness inside of them that their carefully crafted identities cannot fill.  So they continue to search, or they simply resolve to live with the emptiness.

I think I see something in their quest.  I see in it an explicit confession of one of the Bible's foundational teachings about man; they are lost.  People are desperately trying to find themselves because they know, deep inside, that they have lost themselves.  What they don't know is that they have lost themselves because they have lost God.  They are strangers and aliens to God and His ways.  But, rather than seeking God, they look for hope and meaning in things that cannot give them.  They do not understand what St. Augustine meant when he said; "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless til we find our rest in Thee."

According to the Bible, your life has meaning and purpose already.  You don't have to find it, invent it, or create it.  It is given to you by One far wiser than yourself, who knows your needs, and wants better things for you than you can ask or think.  Your purpose is to receive and return the love of God.   The One who is omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, and Holy, created you to receive and return His love.

How do we return the love of God? By doing His will.  When we see John in today's reading, we see him doing the will of God.  He is serving God and God's people.  But notice that it is not only "minsters" who serve God.  All people are called to serve Him in every area of life.  When the everyday people asked John what they should do, they were instructed to turn from sin and bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.  Publicans, or, tax collectors, were told to gather only what was fair and required, rather than stealing to enrich themselves.  Soldiers were told not to abuse civilians, or plunder like pirates.  Instead they were to uphold the law and maintain the peace.  So even our occupations are opportunities to serve God.

I see in these verses a call that encompases all people.  It begins with the faithful Jewish believers, the ones who do their jobs and care for their families and go to synagogue.  They are the people of verse 10.  It moves to the marginal Jews, the tax collectors who work for the Roman conquerors.  They need to do righteousness too, even in their work.  Then it moves to those on the far fringe.  They were either Jews who had enlisted in the Roman army, or Gentiles soldiers who had come to Judaism or were attracted by the preaching of John, and wanted to know if it was possible to serve in the Roman army and still serve God.  John's answer is to come back to the center.  Don't stay on the fringes.  Repent of sin.  Let your heart be changed for God.  Love Him, love His people, and prepare for the Advent of the Saviour.  So the call to serve God in all of life is not just for clergy or "saints," it is for all people, and it is your purpose and calling in life.

Third, we need to be enabled to serve God.  There is something about us, about our nature, that inclines us away from God.  Some call this our sinful nature.  Some call it our Adamic nature, meaning the human nature we have inherited from our parents, back to the very beginning.  Some call it our natural fallenness.  I prefer to call it what our Anglican Articles of Religion call it, "Original Sin."  Article IX says Original Sin is the "fault and corruption of the Nature of every man... whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil."  These words are a very brief summary of a very involved Biblical doctrine, but it is expressed well in verses like 1 Corinthians 2:14; "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

When John came preaching, "repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 3:2), he was addressing the need to have our natural inclination toward sin repaired.  Repentance is to have a new mind and a new way of life.  It is to be turned around, so that instead of going away from God we begin to walk toward Him.  More correctly, it is to be turned from a life-style of living apart from God, to a life-style of living in God.  So John's call to repent is actually a call to let God renew and re-make your mind and your being, so you will be able to believe in Him in faith and follow Him in faithfulness.

Our Lord called this being "born again" (John 3:16).  The Apostle Paul called it being quickened, or being made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1).  He also called it being renewed in your mind.  I like the word,"regeneration."  Paul used it in Titus 3:5, which tells us we are not saved by "works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost."  I like the word "regeneration" because it reminds me of the Lord's words in Matthew 19:28; "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."  Regeneration here refers to the new heavens and new earth, the renewal of creation and its restoration to its original condition as it came from the hand of God in the beginning.  When Paul wrote of our regeneration he referred to our being restored to the original goodness and fellowship with God, which man had in paradise.  That is what man needs.  That is what God is doing in the lives of His people.  That is His goal for you.

So the Bible has much to say about us.  We were created by God.  We were created to love Him and to receive His love.  And because of our sin and natural corruption we need to be regenerated so we can be restored to the fellowship and purpose for which God created us.  Thanks be to God, Christ is all about restoring us to God.

O Lord, our God, grant unto us true repentance and Thy Holy Spirit, that we may be wheat gathered into Thy garner, and bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, through Christ our Saviour. Amen.

December 16, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Third Sunday in Advent


Monday after the Third Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

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

Commentary
Revelation 18:11-24

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

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

Tuesday after the Third Sunday in Advent
Lectionary

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

Commentary
Revelation 19

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

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

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

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

Wednesday after the Third Sunday in Advent, Ember Day

Lectionary

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday after the Third Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

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

Commentary
Revelation 20:1-6

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

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

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

Friday after the Third Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

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

Commentary
Jeremiah 23:23-32

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

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

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

Saturday after the Third Sunday in Advent, Ember Day

Lectionary

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

Commentary
Mt.9:38

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

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

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

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

Sermon, Third Sunday in Advent


God Is Faithful
Psalm 99, Jeremiah 1:4-19, Luke 1:57-80
Third Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2012

On the first Sunday in Advent we looked at verses in Luke's Gospel that tell of Zechariah in the Temple.  Confronted with the message of God through the angel Gabriel, he was told a son would be born to Elizabeth; a miraculous child who would do wonderful things in the service of God.  I said that we miss the point of the story when we focus on the people, for it is what God is doing that is the point of the story.  I also said one of the things we see in the passage is that God has a plan.  Today's reading in Luke takes us to the birth of Elizabeth's son; the fulfillment of God's promise to Zechariah. I want to draw two points from the passage.
                                                             
First, God's plan comes to pass.  In more theological language we would say there is an unseen hand that guides events and people, such that history is actually the unfolding of the plan of God.  Isaiah, the prophet of Advent, shows the truth of this.  In the fourteenth chapter he writes of the coming destruction of Assyria.  His words make it clear that Assyria's fall is not just something God knows about because He knows the future; it is something that will happen because God has purposed it.  It will happen according to God's plan.  Isaiah 14:24 says, "The Lord of hosts hath sworn saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand."  Again He says in Isaiah 46:9-10, "I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."

If what God plans comes to pass, we need to know what His plan is, and how we fit into it.  I think there is probably no passage in Scripture that expresses this as well and succinctly as Ephesians 1:3-12.  The heart of the passage is verses 9 and 10, which, after stating that God made known to us the mystery of His will, "according to his good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself," says, "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ."  God's plan is, and has always been, to gather all things together in Christ.   This is the purpose for which God created all things.  This is the plan laid before the foundation of the world.  This is the purpose for which the Lamb of God was slain.

We see God's plan unfolding in the Old Testament.  He announced it in the Garden.  The Saviour will come.  The devil will bruise His heel, but He will bruise the devil's head.  From the Garden God moved toward calling and separating to Himself a people through whom the Saviour will be born.  We see God's plan unfolding in the call Abraham; "in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:2).  We see God's plan unfolding in the rise of Israel, the Temple, the Law, and the prophets, all looking and pointing ahead to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world."  Isaiah gives some of the best known Old Testament pictures of it;  "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Is. 7:14).  "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is. 53:6).  One of the fullest Old Testament statements is found in Isaiah 2:1-4:

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it.  And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

In the New Testament we see the birth and ministry of the Saviour.   He is the One whose day Abraham saw and rejoiced; the One of whom Moses wrote.  He is the One whose sacrifice accomplishes the redemption and purification of His people.  He is the One who ascended into Heaven, and will come again to judge the quick and the dead, to bring into completion the new heaven and new earth.  When God is ready, He will bring to completion His plan.  All who oppose Him will be cast into the lake of fire.  All the redeemed will be finally and fully gathered together under Christ and in Christ forever.  You and I fit into this plan in one of two ways.  We are either among those who oppose God, and whose end is the lake of fire; or we are among those who are with God through faith, whose end is to be in Him forever.  Here is what makes the difference.  Those in Christ have trusted Christ to save them.  They have seen their sin and their unworthiness, yet believe Christ died to pay for their sins and to give them forgiveness and peace with God forever.

The second point I want to draw from our reading in Luke is simply this; God keeps His promises.  Looking back at Luke 1:13 we see a promise, Elizabeth will bear a son.  In verses 15-17 we read that he, will be great in the eyes of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, will go before the Lord in the spirit of Elijah, and will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord.

What do we find in Luke 1:57?  "Now Elizabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son."  In verses 60 and 63 his parents are emphatic, "he shall be called John."  In verse 76 we read that he is the prophet of the Highest, who prepares the way of the Lord.  In verse 80 we see, "the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts til the day of his showing unto Israel."  God keeps His promises.

Yet, as important as it is to see God keeping His promise to Zechariah, it is even more important to see the birth of John as part of the fulfillment of a far greater Promise; a Promise which fulfills all the promises of God in the Bible. God promised a Saviour.  God promised One would come who would save His people from their sins, and who would complete the plan of bringing all things together in God.  The message of John is this; the Saviour is Coming.  God keeps His promises.

December 9, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Second Sunday in Advent


Monday after the Second Sunday of Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.33, Is. 8, Mk. 2:23-3:6
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Is. 9:1-17, Rev. 11

Commentary
Revelation 11

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

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

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

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

Tuesday after the Second Sunday of Advent

Lectionary

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

Commentary
Revelation 12

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

The Child (12:5) is quite obviously Jesus, but the woman giving birth is not Mary.  This woman is a sign in Heaven (12:1) and represents the Old Testament Israel, for it was through Israel that God brought the Saviour into the world.  She also represents the New Testament Church.  Thus she represents the unity and continuity of God's people.
               
The dragon is obviously Satan, but he also represents Rome, as will be made clear in future commentaries, especially when we come to chapter 17.  The war in Heaven represents Satan's attempts to destroy God's people, and the stars he casts to the earth are Christians killed by the Romans in the growing persecution.  Yet God has not abandoned His church.  She flees to the wilderness and the brethren overcome the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (12:11).  This means that the Gospel of Christ will overcome and defeat the Roman persecutors.  Rome, like all enemies of God's people, will come and go, but the Church will remain.  It may persecute the Church for a while (12:13, 17), but its end is sure and God's victory is assured; "Faith of our fathers, living still."  Therefore, the Church is to hold fast to the faith.  

Wednesday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

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

Commentary
Revelation 13

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

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

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

Thursday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

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

Commentary
Revelation 14

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

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

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

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

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

Friday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

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

Commentary
Revelation 15 and 16

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

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

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

Saturday after the Second Sunday in Advent

Lectionary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon, Second Sunday in Advent


Finding God in the Bible
Psalm 119:1-16, Romans 15:4-13, Luke 21:24-33
Second Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2012

Advent calls us to step away from frantic activities and commercialism, and to quietly reflect on the things of God. Things like, what does it mean that God came to earth in Bethlehem?  And, what does it mean that this same Jesus will come again?  Thus we are reminded of the two Advents of Christ: the first in humility as "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world," the second as the Lion of Judah who will come again "to judge the quick and the dead."
                                                       
Yet, there is another way in which Christ "comes" to us.  This is not a visible Advent or Return.  It is not heralded by angels or trumpets.  It is a spiritual advent as Christ's Spirit comes to those who love Him.  When a soul seeks Him in prayer, He comes.  When His Church worships Him, He comes.  When we kneel at the communion rail, He comes.  When we open the Bible, He comes.  He is here now.

People often tell me they don't feel God's presence with them.  They don't feel His presence in church or at prayer or in the every day things of life.  The Bible never tells us to "feel" His presence.  The Bible simply tells us He is with us, and leaves it to us to believe it in faith.   We know He is with us because He says He is, and we believe His word.
                                                       
I believe we can be aware of living close to God, or of living apart from Him.  We become aware of this, not through a "feeling" inside of us, but through comparing our thoughts and actions to the clear teachings of Scripture.  We know we are close to God when we are living for Him in faith and obedience.  We know we are living apart from God when we neglect the things of God, either intentionally or unintentionally.  We know we are living apart from God when we neglect our God given duties to our family, community, or church.  We know we are living apart from God when we neglect the Church, the prayers, the sacraments, and the Bible.  Perhaps that is why, on this Second Sunday in Advent, when we begin again to reflect upon the doctrines of the Christian faith, we turn to the Holy Bible, and to Christ coming to His people in His Word.

When we talk about the Bible we generally talk about two things; its Divine origin, and its Divine subject.  To say the Bible has a Divine origin is to say the Bible comes from God.  This is what we mean when we call the Bible, "the word of God."  Somehow, God put His words into the minds of men, and enabled them to speak and/or write them exactly as God gave them.

The Old Testament is very clear about the Divine origin of the Bible.  God spoke to Adam and Eve.  God spoke to Noah.  God spoke to Abraham and Sarah.  God spoke to Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Isaiah.  All of these people received revelation directly from God, which is recorded in the Bible.  The prophets always prefaced their messages with words like, "The word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah from the Lord."  They often spoke the word of God at great personal sacrifice.  Jeremiah is well known for enduring persecution.  Others suffered also, so many that, before our Lord prophesied judgement on Jerusalem in Matthew 24 and 25, He wept over the city, saying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee" (Mt. 23:37).

The New Testament is also filled with references to its Divine authorship. The Gospels record the ministry and teachings of Christ, which He gave to the Apostles and commissioned them to, "teach all nations" (Mt. 28:19).  The Epistles teach the faith Christ committed to the Apostles.  "I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you," wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23.  Peter said the Scriptures are the result of holy men speaking "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (1 Pet 2:21).  John said he wrote the Book of Revelation at the direct command of Christ (Rev.1:11).  Then there is that magnificent statement in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God." I am sure you have heard many times that the original Greek says all scripture is, "God breathed," or, "breathed out of the mouth of God" as His word.

So the Bible has a Divine origin.  The Bible also has a Divine subject.  The Bible is about God.  In the Bible alone we find what God wants us to know about Him.  The Bible teaches us about the Trinity, the cross, and the resurrection.  The Bible teaches us of the Divine Wrath that hates our sins, and the Divine Love that gave Himself for our sins.
                                                            
The Bible teaches us how to have peace with God.  The Bible puts forth the unique and surprising view that we can only have peace with God if God gives it to us out of His own free grace. The Bible teaches that we can't be good enough to save ourselves because we can't atone for our sins.  The Bible teaches that knowledge won't save us because knowledge can't create in us the ability or desire to do what we know.  We need a complete moral/spiritual transformation of the very core of our being, based on a complete and eternal atonement for sin, and that can only be done by God Himself.

The Bible teaches us how God wants us to live. We hear much talk today about finding your passion and following your dream, but the Bible talks about receiving a better passion and a better dream from God.  It tells us that our greatest passion can be to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.  It tells us to let other passions go and to embrace the passion of doing the will of God.  It talks about learning to love what God loves, and learning to desire what God wants to give.  It talks about loving truth, and righteousness, and holiness, and self-sacrifice.  It talks about learning that in our relationships with others, it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that, rather than living for the next trinket or amusement, real happiness is found in living for God.

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

December 2, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Week of the First Sunday in Advent


Monday

Lectionary

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

Commentary,  Revelation 3:14-22

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

Lectionary

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

Commentary, Revelation 4

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

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

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

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

Wedesday 

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

Commentary, Revelation 5

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

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

Thursday 

Lectionary

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

Commentary, Revelation 6:1-11

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

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

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

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

Friday

Lectionary

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

Commentary, Revelation 6:12-7:17

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

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

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

Saturday

Lectionary

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

Commentary, Revelation 10

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

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

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

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

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