February 12, 2012

Scriptures and Commentary for Week of Sexagesima Sunday



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

Commentary, Galatians 3:19-29

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Commentary, Galatians 4:1-11

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

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

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



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

Commentary, Galatians 4:12-20

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

Commentary, Galatians 5:13

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

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

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

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

Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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