February 21, 2012

Scriptures and Commentary, Ash Wednesday through February 25

Up to Jerusalem
Devotional Thoughts for Lent

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

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

February 22, Day One; Ash Wednesday

The Lectionary

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

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

Commentary, Luke 15:10-32

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

Devotional Thoughts

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

February 23, Day Two

The Lectionary

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

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

Commentary, John 8:1-11

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

Devotional Thoughts

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

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

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

February 24, Day Three

The Lectionary

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

Commentary, John 8:12-36

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

Devotional Thoughts

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

February 25, Day Four

The Lectionary

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

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

Commentary, John 8:45-59

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

Devotional Thoughts

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