January 29, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Septuagesima


Monday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 123, 127, Gen. 1:1-19, Mk. 6:7-13
Evening - Ps. 126, 128. 131, Amos 7:1-8, 8:1-3, Gal. 1:1-10

Commentary, Gal. 1:1-10

Tonight's readings take us into the Book of Galatians.  Written by the Apostle Paul, it is a straightforward statement of the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ as the only atonement for sin. While Peter ministered in northern and eastern Galatia (1 Pet. 1:1), Paul carried the Gospel of Christ to the southwestern edge of the province (Acts 14:6-7).  Though faced with much opposition and persecution, Paul established Christian congregations in the region, but when he left to preach in other places, false teachers came behind him perverting the true Gospel and leading the Church astray (Gal. 1:6 & 7).  The essence of their false gospel was the idea that the sacrifice of Christ is not enough to save people from hell.  In addition to His sacrifice on the cross, Christians need keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws and rituals or they can not go to Heaven.  Thus, they made salvation a reward earned by human works, rather than a gift purchased by Christ and given by grace.

Why is this a problem? Because if we can earn Heaven by our own efforts we don't need a Saviour.  This makes the entire life, ministry, and crucifixion of Christ futile and unnecessary.  Furthermore, if we can atone for sins by keeping rituals, sin must be a fairly trivial matter.  Sin must not be an offense to God, a rejection of His Divine authority, or a personal rejection of Him as God.  It is simply an error, a mistake, which God doesn't really care much about, and for which we can make amends by offering a sacrifice or giving a few dollars to the Church, or saying an extra prayer.  And, if sin can be so easily atoned for, it was foolish of God to become a Man and suffer and die for it. In addition, any view that makes the Old Testament ceremonies compulsory for Christians overlooks the fact that the entire ceremonial law foreshadowed Christ and is fulfilled in Him.

Thus, the issue at stake in this book of Galatians is not just how we get to Heaven; it is the issue of the very nature, wisdom, and holiness of God and of our relationship to Him.  It is the issue of the nature of sin. Is sin an arrogant slap in the face of a holy and omnipotent God, or is it simply a slip up that God overlooks?

If God is too holy to endure even the thought of evil, if He is angry about the sorrow and destruction caused by sin, and if sin makes us criminals who deserve to be punished, then it is impossible for us to cover our offenses with a few good deeds or pretty ceremonies.  God Himself is going to have to bear the affront of our wickedness within Himself.  He is going to have to make a way for us to be forgiven and get to Heaven apart from our own actions and abilities.  He is going to have to bear the penalty of our sins in Himself.  This is exactly what He did.  In Christ He gave himself for our sins on the cross (Gal. 1:4).  This is what is at stake in the book of Galatians.  This is why Paul wrote, that those seeking to save themselves through the law are deserting Christ (1:6) and those who teach that it is possible to save ourselves by keeping the law are perverting the true Gospel (1:7) and are accursed, meaning, condemned to hell (1:8 & 9).
  
            Tuesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 135, Gen. 1:20-2:3, Mk.6:14-29
Evening - Ps. Amos 1:1-5, 13-2:3, Gal. 1:11

Commentary, Gal. 1:11

The Galatians, like us, were confronted with a wide variety of choices and decisions in religion.  The pagan cults around them were too numerous to count.  In addition to them was the Jewish faith, and now, in the preaching of Paul, they faced the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  By the grace of God they were drawn to Christ, but as soon as Paul left them to found churches elsewhere, others came to them, claiming to believe in the same Jesus, same crucifixion, and same resurrection, but teaching a different way of salvation.  Paul, they said, was mistaken about the Gospel.  You cannot be saved by Christ alone; you have to earn it by keeping the Jewish ceremonial law. You have to become Jews.  Only then will your sins be fully forgiven.  So the Galatians faced the question, who do we believe?  Realising this, Paul reminded them of his Apostolic authority and the origin of his message. 

Paul was not just a travelling philosopher or entertainer.  Paul was an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  This meant more than being just "a person sent" which would be the literal translation of the Greek word, apostolos.  An Apostle was an emissary from God, and his message was from God. He had no authority to change the content of the message, or to add to or delete from it, but he had full authority to proclaim it as the message from God Himself.  So, like the Apostles in Jerusalem, Paul's Apostleship was not conferred on him by people (1:1), it was a direct calling from Christ Himself. 

His message was not his own, nor did he receive it from other people (1:11).  This does not mean Paul never heard the Gospel before he met Christ on the Damascus road.  In his zeal to kill Christians (1:13) he had probably heard many Christians tell him about Jesus.  As a rising star in the religious leadership of Israel he had probably learned the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, for he had to know what Christians believed in order to determine who was or was not a Christian.  But Paul did not go to Jerusalem to study with the Apostles after his conversion.  Instead, he went into Arabia to ponder what had happened to him and to devote himself to studying the Scriptures (1:17). He wanted to learn what the Old Testament really taught about the Messiah and His Kingdom. He then returned to Damascus, to the very Christians he had once intended to kill, and became a part of the Church there.  By that time he was already grounded, so, while he undoubtedly grew in the faith while in Damascus, he did not receive his message from the ministers of the Church there.  After three years in Damascus, Paul went to Jerusalem and conferred with Peter and James.  Paul mentions this because it is important for the Galatians to know Peter and James agreed with him, both in the content of his message and in his calling as an Apostle.  His Gospel is the same Gospel they preached, and his Apostleship had the same validity theirs had (1:18-20).  Having this confirmation from Jerusalem, Paul travelled to Syria, where he became a part of the church in Antioch, from which his missionary journeys would begin (1:21-23).

So, Paul was appointed to the Apostleship by direct commission from Christ, he learned the Gospel message by revelation from Christ, and the truth of his message was affirmed by the church in Damascus, Antioch, and by the other Apostles in Jerusalem.  Could the people who taught the gospel of works produce such credentials?  If not, should the Galatians believe them or Paul?


            Wednesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 137:1-6, 140, Gen. 2:4-9, 16-25, Mk.6:30-44
Evening - Ps. 132, Amos 2:6, Gal. 2:1-10

Commentary, Gal 2:1-10

Tonight's reading takes us to the famous council at Jerusalem.  The promoters of the gospel of works, often called the party of the circumcision or Judaisers, had gained a large following in the Church and the question had to be dealt with.  Many Jewish Christians had probably continued in the Old Testament traditions, though they were forced to start Christian synagogues, rather than worship with non-Christians Jews.  They had no problem with the old traditions, nor did they see them as adding to the work of Christ or earning salvation. They were not the Judaisers.  The Judaisers believed the ceremonial law was absolutely necessary to salvation.  No one, they maintained was truly a Christian or going to Heaven unless he kept the ceremonial law.

The council of Jerusalem showed the Judaisers' gospel to be nothing but a perversion of the true Gospel of Christ.  The culmination of this council came when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, certified the veracity of the Gospel preached by Paul as the one true Gospel by extending unto him the  right hand of fellowship (2:9).  This is a public statement by the Apostles that Paul has Apostolic authority to preach, and that he preaches the Apostolic Gospel.


            Thursday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 141, Gen. 3, Mk. 6:45
Evening - Ps. 139, Amos 3, Gal.2:11

Commentary, Gal. 2:11

There is yet another issue at stake in this whole consideration of the place of the ceremonial law in the Church.  That issue is the very nature of the Church itself.  Is the Church simply a continuation of the Old Testament Israel, or is it the fulfillment of it, the New Israel?  If it is simply a continuation of the old Israel, then they are correct who say Gentiles who want to follow Christ must first become Jews.  If the Church is the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies to Israel, then Gentiles are not required to become Jews, and, even Jewish Christians are not bound by the ceremonial law.  So, which is it?  Before we can answer this question we must assert there is much continuity between the Old and New Testaments.  We may be better able to understand this if we remember that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old, and that, together, they tell the same story of salvation by grace through the sacrificial blood of Christ.  The Old Testament ceremonial law pictured the sacrifice of Christ in a way that is similar to the Lord's Supper today.  So, the two are part of the same story.  The Old Testament is the first chapter, preparing the way for the Messiah; the New Testament is the fulfillment and completion of the story.

But the Jewish nation and the Church are also different, and Gentiles are not required to become Jews or keep the ceremonial law.  This is because the ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ.  Why would we offer animal sacrifices when the Lamb of God has offered Himself once for all?  Why would we concern ourselves with things that made people ceremonially clean when Christ made us truly and completely clean by His own blood?  Thus, the Jewish rituals have done their job, they have pointed us to the one Sacrifice that can take away our sins and make us clean in our souls before God.  Having completed their work, they, like John the Baptist, must decrease while Christ increases.

It is important to see that the Apostles and elders already understood this.  It was not a concept ironed out in debate and decided by majority vote.  Peter and James affirmed that it was true fourteen years before the council took place (Gal. 1:18 & 2:1).  The purpose of the council was not to decide what was true, but to declare what was true to a large gathering of Church leaders so all would know the truth on this issue.

Yet the idea of ceremonial uncleanness, which was a central part of the ceremonial law, was difficult for Jewish Christians to surrender.  Even Peter had lapses of faith on the issue, for when he was in Antioch he ate with Gentiles freely, but when Jews came up from Jerusalem, he separated himself from the Gentiles.  Why the separation?  In the ceremonial law, a Gentile was unclean.  That meant he was unacceptable to God and unacceptable to God's people, Israel.   Eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles made a Jew unclean, meaning the Jew was in the same situation as the Gentile before God.  But if a Gentile became a Jew and began to keep the traditions and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, he became acceptable; he became "clean."  The Gentile Christians at Antioch did not become Jews, so Peter, thinking the Jewish emissaries from Jerusalem would consider them unclean, stopped eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles (2:12). 

This gave Paul another chance to proclaim what was already known by the Church; that it was not the rituals of the ceremonial law that made people clean before God.  Only the shed blood of Christ made a person clean (2:16). Paul points out that Peter knew this, as did other Jewish Christians in Antioch, for they freely ate with Gentiles as brothers and sisters in Christ until the other Jews arrived.  If they did not keep the ceremonial law by remaining separate from the Gentiles, how could they expect Gentiles to keep the law?  And why had they eaten with the Gentile Christians, thus, breaking the ceremonial law, in the first place?  It was because they knew it is not keeping the law, but faith in Christ that makes a person clean to God (2:14-21).
   
            Friday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 143, Gen. 4:1-16, Mk. 7:1-13
Evening - Ps. 142, 146, Amos 4:4, Gal. 3:1-9

Commentary, Gal. 3:1-19

The Galatian Christians, Jews and Gentiles, knew it was Christ, not the law, that made them clean and acceptable to God.  But when the Judaisers came teaching that Paul was wrong and that they needed to keep the ceremonial law to make themselves acceptable to God, their faith wavered.  So Paul addresses the very heart of the matter in tonight's reading.  He asks two questions.  First, did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law or by hearing the Gospel of Christ in faith (3:2)? The Galatians had to admit that when they believed in Christ as their Saviour, they received the Holy Spirit of God, which represents all the blessings given to a person in Christ.  They also had to admit that they did not receive the Spirit by doing the rituals of the ceremonial law.  They received Him by grace through faith.  This forced the Galatians to realise again that they are saved by the grace of God in Christ, which they received by faith, not by doing the works of the law.  Second, if the blood of Christ made you clean enough for the Spirit of God to dwell in you, do you really think you can make yourself cleaner by rituals and ceremonies (3:3) or by any other thing you can do?  To make such an assumption is blasphemy.  "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common [unclean]" (Acts 10:15, 28, 34-47).  Even Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, was saved by grace, not law (3:6) and it is those who trust in Christ through faith who are his true children and heirs of the promises of God (3:7-9).

            Saturday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 149, Gen. 1-22, Mk. 7:14-23
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Amos 5:1-13, Gal. 3:10-18

Commentary, Gal. 3:10-18

Tonight's reading reinforces Galatian's two main points.  First, those who try to make themselves acceptable to God by keeping the law, always fail.  Thus they remain under the wrath of God.  Second, only those who are in Christ are acceptable unto God.

Those who try to make themselves acceptable to God by keeping the law always fail.  The reason it is impossible to make yourself acceptable to God by keeping the law is that the law must be kept perfectly.  Any failure to keep it to its fullest measure, including having the proper mental and spiritual intentions and attitudes, makes you unacceptable.  This includes both the ceremonial law and the moral law, so, to fail to keep the moral law perfectly renders you unacceptable to God. And, even if you were to keep the ceremonial law perfectly, it could not atone for your failure in the moral law.  Therefore, since no one has ever kept the moral law, anyone who tries to make himself acceptable by means of the ceremonial law is wasting his time (3:10).

Only those who are in Christ are acceptable unto God.  Those who are accepted by God are accepted on the basis of Christ's sacrifice (3:13) received by faith (3:11).   This is true of Gentiles as well as Jews, for Christ died for us, that the blessing of Abraham (3:8) might come to the Gentiles, meaning, we are made fully acceptable to God and receive His Spirit through faith (3:14).

Abraham also was accepted by grace not works.  He actually lived more than 400 years before the ceremonial law was given (3:17).  Therefore, he could never have made himself acceptable by it. He was accepted by God because he trusted God, and God accepted his faith and treated him as though he were without sin (3:6).  Abraham received the promise of Christ (3:8 & 16) 400 years before the ceremonial law was given, and the giving of the law did not negate the promise (3:17).  So the entire history of redemption has been the history of God's grace as promised to Abraham (3:18).  It is the story of the promises of God, not the good works of man.

January 20, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Second Sunday after Epiphany



Monday                   

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 17, Prov. 4:20, Eph. 4:17
Evening - Ps. 18:1-20, Ezek. 12:21, Jn. 3:14-21

Commentary, Eph.4:17

Those who are gathered into Christ as members of His Body and Church, are gathered into a new identity and way of life.  They no longer live according to the patterns and values of the godless people and cultures around them (4:17).  Nor do they live and act merely on the basis of their own desires and ideas, which have been corrupted by human pride, greed, and a general inclination to go our own way instead of God's.  Instead, they put off their own ways, called the old man in verse 22, and put on the new man of righteousness and holiness, which is created in them by God (4:23-24).  The rest of chapter 4 (vss. 25-32) shows just what they have put off and what they have put on.  The verses give a word picture of discarding a wardrobe of rags (our sin) and putting on a new wardrobe, given by God, and consisting of righteousness and of the character of God Himself.      

Tuesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.23 &24, Prov. 6:12-19, Eph. 5:1-14
Evening - Ps. Ps. 25, Ezek. 13:1-9, Jn. 3:22

Commentary, Eph. 5:1-14

The heart of today's reading is found in Ephesians 5:1 & 2.  Following God, as His dear children gathered into Christ, walk in love.  Love is not a nebulous feeling.  It is primarily an attitude of doing good for others as Christ has done for us.  These verses remind us that we have strayed from God like lost sheep, offended against His holy laws, left undone much good we ought to have done, and done many things we ought not to have done.  In Biblical language, we have sinned against God.  But, part of God's plan of gathering together all things in Christ includes calling a people out of their sin to live in restored fellowship and harmony with Him, He accomplished this by becoming a Man taking our sins upon Himself and dying for them in our places on the cross.  This is the great expression of Divine love.  It is also our example of real love, and the way we ought to love one another.  The rest of the reading contrasts works of hate with those of love.  Fornication, uncleanness in thoughts and deeds, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk and jesting, and other evils listed here are sins and are out of character for those gathered into Christ.  They are so far out of character that the person who habitually lives in them shows that he has no part in the inheritance of Christ (4:5) but is still outside of God and remains among the children of disobedience and under the wrath of God (4:6).  "Be not ye therefore partakers with them" (5:7).


Wednesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 28, Prov. 8:1-11, Eph. 5:15
Evening - Ps. 31, Ezek 14:1-11, Jn. 4:1-14

Commentary, Eph.5:15

The Christian home is a sacred place.  It is almost, as Matthew Henry said, "A Church in the House," for a Christian home is a place where God is loved and worshiped daily and where Christian living begins each day.  God's plan for the family begins with Biblical faith in Him as Lord and Saviour, and one of the primary tasks of parents is to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  Baptism, Confirmation, daily prayers, and the fellowship of the Church are the minimum children can expect from parents, and the family is the first mission field of every Christian.  Ephesians 5 & 6 refers to the relationship between family members under the assumption of real, Christian love in each heart, operating on the principle of mutual submission rather than individual assertion.  In other words, it is the role of each member of the household to exalt the others by serving them in Christ.  Any authority given to any member is the authority of service, not lordship.  Christ is Lord, and the overall goal of the home is to honour Him.
                
The husband/father is called to the role of lead servant.  He bears the responsibility of leading the family into the Word and ways of God.  The wife/mother is his helpmeet and completer (Gen. 2:18). These two willingly submit their goals and wants to the other's, and to the overall goals of God and the needs of the family Together, they are one in mind, heart, values, goals, and faith.  They are partners in the task of ordering their home and family under God.  Young children are obedient learners, who by their obedience and learning exercise considerable influence over the direction of the home.   Young adults still living at home are responsible partners in the home, and the spiritual climate of the family is one of their primary goals.  Happy is the home where Christ is Lord and all in the family gladly work together in His service.


Thursday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 30, Prov. 8:12-20, Eph. 6
Evening - Ps. 33, Ezek. 14:12-20, Jn. 15:26

Commentary, Eph. 6

Ephesians closes appropriately with an exhortation to be strong in the Lord (6:10).  This is followed by several verses describing the Christian faith in terms of the armour of a Roman soldier.  It has often been noticed that armour is protective in nature, designed to keep the soldier safe in the deadly field of battle.  The soldier's weapon is the sword, which, for the soldier of the cross, is the Scriptures, the Word of God (6:17).

The reason for putting on the armour is stated in verse 12.  We are at war with powers of darkness that oppress and destroy souls and cause the havoc and destruction that so characterises life on earth.  We are also at war with the forces of evil in our own lives.  We wrestle against the inclinations and temptations that attempt to draw us back into the darkness of sin and hate.  We wrestle with forces that attempt to prevent the fulfillment of God's purpose in our own lives and in all creation.  "Wrestle," refers to hand-to-hand combat, a life or death struggle that Christians face daily in the service of God.  We must expect to fight.  We must be prepared for battle. We must stand our ground at the approach of the foe (6:14).   This is our part in the eternal purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ. 

Friday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 32, Prov. 8:22-35, Phil. 1:1-11
Evening - Ps.40:1-16, Ezek. 18:1-23, Jn. 4:27-42

Commentary, Phil. 1:1-11

It is the nature of people to associate themselves together, and a word is often used to reflect the nature of their relationship to others in the group.  A sorority or fraternity might speak of sisterhood or brotherhood.  People who have shared important experiences, such as war, may see themselves as "a band of brothers."  There is great meaning in this.  Such words convey an intangible bond that unites them in a way that is so strong and enduring it is similar to the relationship and unity found in the closest and most loving families.  They are bound by shared values, commitments, goals, respect, love, and experience.  They are bound together by these things into something that is bigger than they and more important than all of them.  Their relationship is something suggested by the title of J.R.R. Tolkien's book, The Fellowship of the Ring.  "Fellowship" captures the meaning and the goal of most of our associations.

Philippians 1:5 speaks of "fellowship in the gospel."  God is saying here that the Gospel of Christ is not merely an historical fact or theological doctrine.  It is a bond that brings us into a deep and profound relationship to all other believers.  It gives us shared meaning, shared goals, purpose, experience, values, respect, and love.  It means we have a share in Christ.  He is part of us.  He dwells in us and we dwell in Him.  It also means we are part of each other.  We are in this together.  What happens to one of us happens to all.  We bear each other's burdens and sorrows and joys. We have the same Heavenly home. We strive to have the mind of Christ.  We strive to love Him above all else, and to love one another as we love ourselves.  But fellowship means also that we do not have these things in isolation.  We have them in fellowship and communion with one another.  We have them in the Church.

Saturday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 36, Prov. 9:1-18, Phil. 1:12-26
Evening - Ps. 34, Ezek. 18:26, Jn. 4:43

Commentary, Phil. 1:12-26

Our readings for this morning bring us to one of the most important verses of the entire Bible.  Reading it is not always comforting.  It follows St. Paul's comments about suffering, and, even death in the service of Christ.  In this passage he declares the principle that guides his thoughts and his actions, that "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death" (Phil. 1:20).  Then follows the great verse which I have called one of the most important in all of Scripture; Philippians 1:21, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." 

Are you living for Christ?  I do not ask if you call yourself a Christian or go to Church.  I do not ask if you know the Bible and theology.  I ask if it is your stated and deepest desire to live entirely for Christ, so much, that like Paul, you can say, "For me to live is Christ."  If you cannot answer this question, "Yes!" then I ask another; why not?  What holds you back?  Is it attachment to your own comforts and pleasures?  They will pass from your grasp one day, and what will you have then?  It is fear of sacrifice?  It is for good reason that following Christ is called taking up your cross; there are many sacrifices to make.  It is very costly to walk the way of the cross.  But, while the cross lasts for a life-time, Heaven is forever.  Is it money?  Is it possessions?  Is it power?  Is it fame?  What keeps you from complete surrender to Christ?  It will pass away, but He will endure forever.

I ask another question.  If you cannot say, "For me to live is Christ," what are you doing about it?  Are you playing the ostrich, ignoring the shortness of life and the coming day of reckoning?  Are you simply convincing yourself to be content with half-hearted faith, convincing yourself you are good enough and close enough to God already, therefore you don't need to do anything more?  Or are you applying yourself daily to the means of grace, and working diligently to replace sinful habits and attitudes with Godly ones? God will not be content with anything less than first place in your life.  He must be first, above all position, power, and possessions, even above your own life.  Do that, and for you to live is Christ.  Fail to do it and for you to live is you. 

Sermon, Second Sunday after Epiphany


Peace
Psalm 99, Zechariah 8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Second Sunday after Trinity
January 20, 2013

Most of the Bible's teachings oppose what people would naturally expect of God.  For example, we naturally expect to make peace with God through our own efforts.  We think we can make ourselves good enough for God and atone for our sins by countering them with good deeds, like charitable giving, going to church, receiving communion, or doing acts of penance.  There are other ways people attempt to blot out their own sins, but the point is that all these are human efforts, and man naturally tends to believe he can accomplish his own peace with God through his own efforts.

The Bible presents a different view.  the Bible says peace with God is a gift.  It is something God accomplishes for us, and gives to us free of charge.  It has to be a gift because none of our good works could ever atone for our sins.  Let me use a financial example.  You owe God complete obedience.  Failure to pay Him 100% obedience is to default on your debt, and any banker will tell you you cannot make up for missing this month's mortgage payment simply by paying next month's.  Likewise, you can't make up for not paying God all of what you owe, simply by paying Him part of what you owe.  That won't make up for your sins.  Only God can atone for your sins.  You can only receive atonement as His gift.  That's why it is called, "forgiveness."

The Church is a similar example.  People naturally assume church membership and attendance is a personal choice and voluntary action.  In our minds, our relationship to God is entirely personal and private.  Every other person's is too.  It is nice for people to form associations in which to worship, or pray, or attempt to persuade others to become Christians, but such associations, often called churches, are purely a matter of personal choice, convenience, and preference, and every Christian is free to join and attend, or not, as he or she sees fit.

Once again, the Bible gives a different view.  The Old Testament Church, Israel, did not consist of individuals who happened to believe in the God of Abraham.  Israel was a nation, a people, a family.  Israel was the family of God.  The same is true of the New Testament Israel, the Church.  In Matthew 16:18 Christ Himself said, "I will build My church."  In Matthew 28:19 the Apostles were commissioned to teach the Gospel to all nations, and to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Baptized converts were not just baptized and left to be their own individual faith.  They were baptized into the Church, for Acts 2:47 tells us "the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved."  Colossians 1:18 says Christ is the head of the Church.  Titus was placed in Crete by the Apostle Paul for the purpose of ordaining pastors of local congregations, and bishops to oversee them (Titus 1:5-9).  Unto whom did Paul write the letters we now treasure as Scripture?  "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2); "unto the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:2); to the saints, bishops and deacons in Philippi (Phil 1:1); and "unto the church of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:1).  Even when he doesn't use the word, "church" as in his letter to the Romans, it is clear throughout the book that he is addressing a particular congregation of believers, as part of the larger body and Church of Christ.  And the New Testament assumes throughout that every Christian believer is baptized into Christ through the Church, and carries out his faith and worship within the context of the Church through its local manifestation in the local, particular churches.

The reading from Zechariah 8 tells of God bringing people together into the holy mountain of God.  Jews will come, so will Gentiles. Strong nations, and men of other languages will be made one with faithful Israel.

1 Corinthians 12 teaches the unity that is to be of the essence of the Church of Jesus Christ.  The Corinthians weren't very good at keeping the unity.  In fact they are a sad example of how not to be a church.  They had adopted heretical views and practices, and had made ecstatic experiences  the essence of being a Christian.  Thus, for many, worship was all about having, and being known, to have an experience.  Speaking in tongues or prophesying, singing a song or anything to be seen by the rest of the congregation to make them think you were filled with the Holy Spirit became the objective.  It needs to be noted that ecstatic experiences did happen in Apostolic times.  It also needs to be noted that they were not the norm.  In fact they were very rare.  Divine healings were much more frequent than tongues, for example, and even healings seem to have become rare just a few years after Pentecost.  So the Bible does not talk about healing services and tongues as the normal way of worship.  It talks about preaching and hearing the word, prayer, the sacraments, loving one another, and holiness.

1 Corinthians 12 talks about valuing one another as part of the body of Christ, rather than attempting to impress others with your spirituality. It uses the illustration of the body, making the point that the feet are just as important as any other part of the body.  I have often heard people compliment someones beautiful eyes, but I have never heard anyone compliment another person's feet.  Yet no one would say the feet are not important.  We take care of our feet.  I've heard people say they're going to sit down and put their feet up, but I've never hear anyone say they're going to sit down and put their tongue up.

Here is the point, and this is what I am trying to say in this sermon.  First you are a part of the Church.  It is not an option.  Your only choice is to be a good member or a bad member, and if you choose to be a bad member you have reason to doubt the validity of your faith in Christ.  You are a member of His Church, so act like one.  Conduct yourself with the humble dignity, obedience and love you would expect of people of such a high calling in life.  Attend, support, and love a Biblical church.  Take it seriously, God does.  Second, every other Christian is just as much a part of the Church, and just as valuable to it as you.  You need to treat them as though they are.  You need to treat one another with a sense of reverence, and address one another with respect and humility.  We would treat the actual, physical body of Christ with great respect, and we would conduct ourselves with great care and discretion in His presence.  We should have a similar attitude toward the spiritual body of Christ, and every member of it.  God grant that it may be so.

January 13, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of First Sunday after Trinity


Monday

Morning - Ps. 1, 3, Prov. 1:7-19, Eph.1
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Ezek. 1:1-28, Jn. 1:1-8

            Verse 16 stands out in Ephesians 1 because it is the only verse that does not mention God directly.  Look at the other verses: "an apostle of Christ Jesus," "from God our Father," "Blessed be the God," "he hath chosen," "Christ himself," "in whom we have redemption," all of them have some direct reference to God by name or pronoun. This chapter, and the entire book of Ephesians, is about God.  It is about who God is, and what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do.  It is about why He does what He does; why He created us, why He became a Man, why He died on the cross, and why He continues to work in us and in this world through His Holy Spirit. He does all of these things to achieve His ultimate goal; to "gather into one all things in Christ" (1:10).
            Most people are accustomed to thinking everything God does is about us, about saving us, loving us, and blessing us. It may be shocking to think that these things are ultimately not about us.  Our creation and salvation are all for the greater purpose of the glory of God.     Perhaps this means we have to turn some of our thinking around.  Perhaps we need to begin to see ourselves as existing for the glory of God (1:12) instead of God existing for our benefit.

Tuesday

Morning - Ps. 5, Prov. 2:1-9, Eph. 2:1-10
Evening - Ps. 11, 12, Ezek, 2, Jn. 1:19-34

            The first chapter of Ephesians ends with the subject of the Church, which chapter two continues.  Note that the reference is to the Church, not the churches.  The idea that churches exist in independence of one another without accountability, and that the Bible always mentions "churches," but never "the Church" as a whole is false.  Paul never considered any of the congregations he corresponded with independent of him, or as anything but a local manifestation of the universal Body of Christ.  1 Corinthians 3:9-17, for example, is about The Church primarily, and, secondarily, how the church in Corinth is to function within the wider Church.  The Church, collectively, is the Temple of God.  Local churches are part of the greater Church, all together form the spiritual Temple, or house of the Holy Spirit of God.  The Corinthian church had its own ministers, yet Paul, writing from Ephesus in A.D. 57, excommunicated members of that congregation, and told the ministers and remaining members to stay away from them (1 Cor. 5:1-13).
            Far from being independent congregations, the Church is God's appointed way of bringing people together in one body in Christ.  God is already working in this world to achieve His ultimate goal.  Eph. 1:10 is not just something for the end of time; God is at work now, accomplishing His purpose in the Church.  The Church is that people which has already become one Body, one Temple, one Family, one Nation, in Christ.
            Chapter two reminds us how God has brought us into the Church.  There was a time when we lived apart from God, and were under His wrath (2:3).  By His own grace (2:8 & 9) and for the purpose of showing the riches of His grace and kindness (2:7) He raised us out of the death of sin and placed us in Himself and in His Church where we are one in Christ (2:6-7, 1:10).  Thus, even while we live in this world, we sit in heavenly places and have a foretaste of the great and final goal of God which will one day be brought to its completion.  Thus, as His workmanship we are to do the things of Godliness, to which we have been called and for which we have been created (2:10).

Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 7, Prov. 3:1-7, 11-12, Eph. 2:11
Evening - Ps. 13, 14, Ezek. 3:4-14, Jn. 1:36

            The great purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ is continued by His 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).  Having chosen to exclude Him from their own lives, 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. 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.

Thursday

Morning - Ps. 9, Prov. 3:13-20, Eph. 3:1-13
Evening - Ps. 15, 21, Ezek. 3:16-21, Jn. 2:1-12

            The great and ultimate goal of all the work of God in this world is to gather all things together in Christ.  Everything He does, from creating us, to giving His Word and means of grace, to entering into history and dying on the cross, even His daily providential care and guidance in our lives is done primarily to achieve that goal.  Most Christians have wrongly been taught to believe God's ultimate goal is our salvation, and that everything He does is done to save us from Hell.  In reality, our salvation is a means to accomplish the end of gathering all things together in Christ.  It is primarily about Christ, not about us.
            It is for the purpose of gathering all things together in Christ (3:1) that Paul has been made an Apostle and sent to the Gentile people.  His calling is to bring Gentiles into the body of Christ and the promises of God as full participants with the Jews (3:6).
            It is for this purpose that God has brought His people together into the Church (3:10-11).  The Church is the people already brought together.  The Church Family will ultimately and fully inherit the Kingdom of God, and, indeed, is already dwelling in it.  Those not in the Church will still be gathered together in Christ, but in a much different way.  They will be gathered together to face His wrath, while the Church is gathered to receive His grace.  If we think of the Kingdom of God as a great Castle, the Church is the people who have been elevated to the status of courtiers and friends.  Those outside the Church are also gathered, but they are the enemies of God and they are gathered into the dungeon.  One day the entire land will be gathered under the authority and reign of the King.  Many people will become His friends and will be welcomed into the full fellowship of the Castle.  Others will persist in rebellion and hate.  They will be thrown into the dungeon.  Either way, the King will gather all things together and will reign over all.
            Verse 10 again uses "church" to refer to the entire body of Christ rather than a local congregation.  In the time of Paul, the Apostles were still living and considered the Church one organisation.

Friday

Morning - Ps. 10, Prov. 3:27, Eph. 3:14
Evening - Ps. 6, 26, Ezek. 7:10-27, Jn. 2:13

            Verse 14 begins a great prayer to the Father of whom the whole family is named (3:14-15).  That family is the Church, and it includes those in Heaven and those on earth.  Paul prays that the Church will be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man (3:16).  This "might" is power which enables us to know what God wants us to know, be what God wants us to be, and do what God wants us to do.  What God wants is then given in verses 17-19 culminating in the phrase, "that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."  Yes, the ultimate purpose of God is to gather a people for Himself, a people to exist in Christ and glorify Him forever.  But those blessed to be part of that People, are given the highest gift God can give to any created being, the gift of living forever in such closeness, fellowship and love with Him it can only be described as being perpetually filled with the fullness (greatness and presence) of God.  This fullness will ultimately only be realised in Heaven, but we can know some of it here and now by the indwelling Spirit of God and the means of grace.

  Note again the reason Paul prays for these things for the Church. It is not just for the benefit of people. It is "For this cause" (3:14), the very same cause Paul has been writing about throughout this Epistle; the cause of gathering all things together in Christ.

Saturday

Morning - Ps. 16, Prov. 4:7-18, Eph. 4:1-16
Evening - Ps. 27, Ezek. 11:14-20, Jn. 3:1-13

What does all of this talk about the fullness of God and His gathering a people together in Christ have to do with us in everyday life?  Everything!  If we are a part of that people, and if we are called into that people gathered into Christ, we are to live our lives in conformity with the will and nature of Christ.  As Ephesians 4:1 states the issue, ""walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.  Thus, being the people who live for and in the glory of God is every Christian's vocation. It is your life's work.  The remainder of Ephesians is about how to live worthy of your vocation.

Sermon, First Sunday after Epiphany


Grace Given Unto Us
Psalm 23, Romans 12:1-5, Luke 2:41-52
First Sunday after Epiphany
January 13, 2013

The Epistle for this First Sunday after Epiphany is the first four verse Romans 12.  In that passage, Paul wrote many astounding words, among them are those found in verse 3, "through the grace given unto me."  I want to talk about grace today.  I often speak of this building as a house of grace.  I mean there is a sense in which this place is different from others.  Here people have sought and found grace for more than a hundred and sixty years.  There is a sense of connection about this place, a sense of being connected with many others, past and present, as we read the same Bible pray the same Prayers, sing the same hymns, and receive the same grace.  We are all one in the grace of God; "one body in Christ, and every one members of one another."  In a sense this building is a symbol of God's grace, and I rejoice that a body of believers worships here, because if this building doesn't house a living, worshiping congregation, it ceases to be a house of grace and becomes a mausoleum.

When I say this is a house of grace I mean something wonderful and mysterious happens when we meet here.  God touches us here.  He makes us to lie down in green pastures and leadeth us beside still waters.  He restores our souls and leads us in the paths of righteousness.  He prepares a table before us and anoints us with oil.  He fills our souls with such abundance we are like cups running over with grace.

There is grace in the things we do here.  God draws us into Himself by them, and God imparts Himself to us in them.  There is grace in the Prayers.  The more we understand the Bible, the more the Prayers express our hearts to God, and the more they lead us into Him.  In the Prayers we lie down in the green pastures of God and drink His still waters.  There is grace in reading, hearing, and preaching the Bible.  Let us call them the ministry of the Word, and let us know that it is different from other readings and hearings.  To read the Bible is to enter the presence of God; to "hear" it is to let God's presence enter us.  To read the Bible is to let God lead us to the green pastures and still waters.  To "hear" it, that is, to receive it into our hearts with faith, is to feed on the green pasture and drink the still waters of God.  The sermon serves the feast God has prepared for us.  It points us to the pastures and waters of God.  The preacher, by God's authority and command, invites us to eat and drink of God's grace.  Thus, the Prayers and the ministry of the Word  are means by which the Living God imparts His grace to us.

I know these are rather vague statements.  They contain much imagery and very little concrete definitions.  But even the Bible uses more imagery than definitions here, and I think it is because these things are too big to be reduced to concrete terms.  Someone said, "in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, everything else is math."  Everything else may be math, but God is not, nor are the workings of His Spirit imparting grace to His people.  He, and His ways, are, in a very real sense, beyond comprehension and unexplainable.  He Himself is a great mystery, not because He hides from us or keeps secrets from us, but because He is beyond our ability to comprehend.  And so, we must be content with the little that we can understand, and be content to know Him as Mystery.  Thanks be to God, we can understand something about Him, and the Bible tells us who He is, and what we owe to Him as our God, and how to find and continue in peace with God through the cross of Christ.  The Bible draws us into Him and imparts Him to us in a spiritual transaction that is as inexplicable and mysterious as God Himself.

There is grace in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  It is truly a Table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies, for we come to it in the midst of a great spiritual war against spiritual wickedness in high places, and against our own weaknesses and temptations.  Even the most valiant soldiers need rest sometimes, and our presence in this house of grace and at this feast of grace is our respite from the battle.  Here, for a while, we are in green pastures and beside still waters.

There is a sense in which the grace given to us in the Sacrament is even more mysterious than that given in the Prayers, worship, and ministry of the Word.  We can understand  that reading and hearing the Bible shapes our thoughts and attitudes, for we see that we are shaped by the music, movies, and books we allow into our lives.  What child has not wanted to be like his cartoon or movie hero?  We can understand how the Prayers can shape our lives.  We see that saying and meaning them with understanding gives form to our faith and our petitions.  But how does eating a communion wafer dipped in wine put God in us and us in God?  No wonder that, after receiving the bread and wine, we thank God for these "holy mysteries."

And yet, there is something we do know about this Sacrament.  We know the bread portrays the body of Christ dying on the cross.  The bread our Lord broke when He instituted this Sacrament was something like a dense, wheat cracker, large enough to be broken into twelve pieces.  "This is My body," He said as He broke it and gave the pieces to the disciples.  "This is My blood,' He said as He poured the wine out of its container and gave it to them.  Thus, the Communion graphically portrays the crucifixion of our Lord.

Eating the bread and drinking the wine are expressions of our faith.  In these acts we state that we believe in Christ in Biblical faith.  We remember Christ's death. We intentionally open ourselves to Him to receive all the benefits of His death. We signify our belief that, somehow God is bringing us more fully into Himself, and imparting Himself more fully to us in this Sacrament.  We are receiving grace.

Grace is in this place, because God is in us and in the things we do in this place.  In them we come to God's throne of grace.  In them God calms our fears and teaches us to trust Him.  In them He heals the wounds caused by sin, and strengthens us in holiness and faith. He imparts His healing presence to us, and He draws us into Himself.

Father of all mercies, whose nature is love and whose throne is grace.  We beseech Thee, and believe that Thou wilt, impart Thy grace unto us, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 11, 2013

Scripture Readings for Saturday after Epiphany


Saturday

Morning - Ps. 50, Malachi 1:11, 2 Thessalonians 1
Evening - Ps. 145, Is. 9:2-7, Galatians 3:27-47

January 9, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday and Friday after Epiphany


Thursday

Morning - Ps. 67, 87,  Is. 19:19,  Colossians 2:6-17
Evening - Ps.138, 146,  Zechariah 8,  Romans 10:1-20

Commentary, Zechariah 8

Like Isaiah 49, Zechariah 8 refers to the restoration of Israel, and to the Gentiles being brought into the Covenant people.  Israel is called to return to God as well as to Jerusalem.  They are to be God's people as He is their God, as verse 8 states.  There is a promise of great happiness and prosperity when the Jews return to Jerusalem.  The seed shall be prosperous and the vine shall give her fruit (8:12), referring as much to the people as to the land, for, in a sense, the nation is the the seed and the vine.

Men out of all languages and nations will seek to join with Israel because God is with him (8:23).  In one sense this refers to the Jewish people, returned from captivity and blessed by the grace and presence of God.  As they walk in the ways of God, loving Him with all their heart, soul, and mind, and loving all people as they love themselves, people will be moved to seek their God with them.  In this way, a penitent, faithful
Israel will be as light unto the Gentiles, as she was meant to be.  In a second sense, this refers to the New Testament Church.  She is the fulfillment of Israel, the people of God out of all nations and tongues, living for Christ in such a way that people must recognise that God is with her.  Ultimately, it is Christ Himself, who accomplished our redemption by His incarnation and cross.

Friday

Morning - Ps. 102:15, Jonah 4, 1 Peter 1:1-9
Evening - Ps. 147, Rom. 11:13-27

Commentary, Jonah 4

Jonah is angry at God for not killing the Ninevites and burning them in hell.  He basically says to God, "I knew you would save them, because You are gracious and merciful and kind.  That's why I didn't want to come to Nineveh or preach to her people."  In other words, Jonah did not want the Ninevites to be saved.  Fortunately, God did.  God did a great work of mercy among the Ninevites, bringing multitudes to faith and repentance.  Even the king turned to God, proclaiming a fast for seeking God and His righteousness (3:5-10).  Their faith did not seem to last into future generations.  Perhaps they did not apply themselves to really worshiping God.  Perhaps like Jonah, no Jews wanted to teach them the ways of God.  Either way, the Ninevite awakening was far too brief, and the city sank back into paganism.  But the grace of God is made evident in the salvation of those who turned to Him. 

It matters not to God what we were.  Nationality, race, and gender are neither helps nor impediments to the love and grace of God.  Nor does it matter what sins may be in our past.  He forgives one as readily as another.  It only matters that we trust Him to receive us.  He saved the Ninevites who trusted Him: He will save us too. 

January 8, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Wednesday after Epiphany


Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 22, 23, 24, Is. 49, 1 John 1:1-9
Evening - Ps. 48, 117, Is. 54:1-10, Acts 28:23

Commentary, Isaiah 49

Here we see God's promise to end the Jewish captivity.  They have been forcefully moved to Babylon and other countries by their captors, and this has been purposed by God because of their sin.  But His anger does not last forever, and He remember mercy, even in wrath.  He will return the Jews to Judea by His powerful and graceful hand.  They "shall come from afar: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of shinim" (49:12).  Their numbers will be far greater than before.  Areas now uninhabited wastelands because of the desolation of war will be too small to hold the numbers of their people.  They will say, "The place is too straight (small and narrow) for me; give place (land, room) to me that I may dwell" (49:20).Gentiles will bring the children of Israel (49:22) and will enable and aid them to return.  Gentiles will also join themselves to them, and become heirs with them in the salvation of God.  They will bring them and they will also come themselves (49:6-7).

This will be made possible by a mysterious Person sent from God to accomplish it.  He will be formed in the womb to bring Jacob to God again (49:5).  Nor will His ministry end with the Jews, for He shall be a light to the Gentiles, and accomplish salvation "unto the end of the earth" (49:6).

Obviously, the passage looks forward to much more than the physical return from Babylon.  It pictures a spiritual return to God that begins with the Jews and extends to people in all parts of the world.  The One who accomplishes this is none other than Christ Jesus, and the salvation written of in these verses is ultimately His Kingdom of grace.

January 6, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Monday and Tuesday after Epiphany


Monday

Morning – Ps. 85, Is. 42:1-9, Mt. 3:13
Evening – Ps. 97& 99, Is 43:1-12, Acts 11:1-18

The Jewish people believe the Servant of Isaiah 42 is the remnant of Jews who survived the Babylonian Captivity and returned to Jerusalem to carry on their calling as the people of God.  In one sense they are right.  In another sense, no mere human person or group of people is able to do and be the things expected of the Servant in the book of Isaiah.  Yes, it is true that Isaiah spoke to the situation at hand, and that his words had meaning to that time and place.  It is also true that he foresaw things far ahead of his own time, and that he told the people about them also.  In this sense Isaiah’s work was much like that of the Apostle John witting the book of Revelation.
            Thus, the Servant in our morning reading is ultimately none other than Christ, the Word become flesh.  In verse 1 Christ brings judgment to the Gentiles.  They have abandoned His law, and lived for the fulfillment of their sinful desires.  They knew the will of God, but lived in sin by their own choice (Rom. 1:18-2:1).
            But the Lord is gracious.  He will not harm tiniest faith though it is no stronger than a bruised reed or a smoking flax barely able to smolder.  This grace is for Jew and Gentile alike, and verse 6 tells us Christ is the Light of the Gentiles.  His mission to open the eyes of the blind and to bring prisoners out of the prison and darkness of sin and hell, (42:7), is to both Jews and Gentiles.

Tuesday

Morning – Ps. 65, Is. 45:20, Mk. 9:2-13
Evening – Ps. 93 & 96, Is. 48:12-21, Acts 26:1-23

We start today with a reminder that when the Lectionary lesson says “Is. 45:20” it means to begin at verse 20 and read to the end of the chapter.  And what a wonderful reading this is.  Few laces in the Old Testament set forth God’s mercy and hope to the Gentiles as Isaiah 45:20-25.  It is unclear whether, “ye that are escaped of the nations” (45:20) refers to Jews who have survived their conquest and captivity by Babylon, or Gentiles who survive their own conquests by other nations.  Either way, and, both ways, their God given task is to proclaim the grace of God to all people.  Jews and Gentiles have been worshiping idols that cannot save (45:20).  God has told them that was so.  He has proved it by allowing them to be conquered in spite of their prayers to idols.  The survivors, Jew and Gentile, are to bring their brethren near so they may know there is no God but God and no Saviour but Him (45:21).
One of the grandest verses in all of Scripture is found in this chapter.  It does not get the attention given to chapters 7, or 9, or 53, but it is glorious none the less.  It is verse 22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else.” 

Sermon, Epiphany Sunday


Light in the Face of Christ
Psalm 46, Isaiah 60:1-9, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Epiphany
January 6, 2013

God is mentioned many times in 2 Corinthians 4. Verse 2 says, "handling the word of God." "In the sight of God."  Verse 4; "glorious gospel of Christ... image of God."  Verse 5; "Christ Jesus the Lord... for Jesus' sake."  Verse 6; "God, who commanded the light to shine... the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

I think no person can read this passage without noticing that it makes reference to two Divine Persons.  The first it calls God, by which is meant the God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of Deborah, Esther, and Ruth.  This is the God who said to Moses, "I Am that I Am."  This is the great God who delivered Israel from bondage and called the children of Abraham to be His unique people upon earth.  We know Him as God the Father, and we confess our belief in Him daily in the Apostle's Creed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty."  This is the One we address when, praying as Christ taught us, "Our Father who art in Heaven."  This Father God is a definite, identifiable Person.  He is God.

The second Person is equally obvious in this passage.  He is mentioned four times in six verses, where He is called Christ, Christ Jesus the Lord, Jesus, and Jesus Christ.  This is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, born in Bethlehem, and laid in a manger.  This is the One who later healed the sick and gave sight to the blind.  This is the One who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The third day He arose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God the Father, and will come again to judge the quick and the dead.  In all of this, Christ is spoken of as an individual Person with His own identity.  So we look into this passage and we see the Person of God and the Person of Christ, two Persons.

The unique, and very mysterious thing we find in these verses is that this Jesus is spoken of as God also. He is the countenance of God made visible for us to see.  Thus, verse 4 calls Him "Christ who is the image of God, " and verse 6 tells us we see the "glory of God in the face of Jesus.

This same Jesus is also called "Christ Jesus the Lord" (5).  When the King James Version was translated in 1611, "lord" was the title of people of power and property. There was, Lord of the manor, and Lord of the Admiralty, and almost every member of the upper class called himself lord of something.  Kings often called themselves lords.  One of the titles claimed by the Roman Emperors was "king of kings, and lord of lords" signifying that other kings and lords owed their aligience, titles, and lives to Caesar.

But God is Lord in a way no mere human could ever be.  The words He spoke to Israel in the very first of the Ten Commandments are repeated many times throughout the Old Testament,  "I am the Lord thy God."  There is none other.  He is the Creator and owner.  He is the Master and Lord.  He is God.

To call Jesus Christ, "Lord" is to equate Him with the Father.  It is to call Him God.  This is precisely the point of the words of 1 Corinthians 4:5; "Christ Jesus the Lord."  Christ is God.

Christ claimed to be the very same God who created the universe, called Abraham to found a new people, and saved Israel from her Egyptian slavery.  But, He also claims to be different from the Father, and the real difficulty we have with this is that He claims to be the same God, yet also a unique person, at the same time.  He claims to exist with the Father and the Holy Spirit in such a way that the Three are one God.  Three Persons, yet one Person.  Or, more correctly, three Persons, one God.

There is no way for us to express this in a way that our finite minds can understand.  St. Patrick attempted it with the shamrock, with its three leaflets making one leaf.  Others have used the triangle, having three sides, yet being one form.  Still others have used three inter-connecting circles or ovals, such as the quitectra. Shamrocks and triangles and circles are helpful as illustrations and symbols, yet cannot fully convey the truth of the Holy Trinity to us.  In the end we must admit that God is greater than we can now understand.  He is so great He exists as Three Persons in One Person.  Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is God.  He is also Man, but that is another sermon.  

Now we come to the real point of today's sermon.  It is found in 1 Corinthians 6:6, which tells us God commanded the Light to shine.   The Light is the glory of God made visible to enable us to know and love God.  We are to look upon the Light and see God.  We are to look upon the Light and see His love for us, His self-sacrificing love, His cross bearing love, His forgiving love, as well as His perfect goodness and purity.  The Light reveals His truth, His purity, His absolute moral perfection that cannot even be tempted by evil.  Evil has no allure to Him.  He is pure love and goodness.  The Light is Christ.

The Christ enables us to see the pitfalls and the dangers of the world. We see the dangers of sin.  We see that it ruins lives as surely as it makes us worthy of God's wrath.   In seeing them, we are warned to negotiate around them safely.  Like a lighthouse, Christ reveals dangers in the waters, so the ships can go safely around them.

Just as the Lighthouse warns ships away from rocks and shallows, it also leads them safely to the harbour.  In a similar way, the Light of Christ leads us to God.  Thus, Psalm 43:3 prays, "O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me, and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling."  The Light, the glory of God in the face of Christ, shines to illuminate to way to Heaven.  Its Beams send out a continuous message: here is life.  Here is hope.  Here is the way to God. Come to the Light, He will get you home.

January 2, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday through Saturday, Week of the First Sunday after Christmas


Thursday

Morning – Ps. 66, Is. 64, 1 Jn. 3:13
Evening – Ps. 34, Is. 65:8-16, Heb. 4:14-5:14

Isaiah 64 continues a deep and moving prayer for redemption of the people of Judea.  Much of the prayer confesses the sins of Israel, but much of it also expresses the faith that God is willing to help His people.   Chapter 63 asked God to remember that He is the “Father” and God of the Jews, and to remember mercy even in His very just anger.  The Jews in Babylon would read these words, and, by the grace of God, some of them would understand that their captivity was God’s just response to their sin, meant to correct them and to call them back to God’s gracious blessings.  God does cleanse and chastise His people.

By faith Isaiah sees that God will do more for  the Jews than simply return them to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  He will send the Messiah, who will ultimately deliver them into a Kingdom that is far greater than they can imagine (vs. 4).  The most earnest prayers for relief are worthless without real sorrow for and turning away from sin, and in verse 6 the prophet is moved to a prayer of humble confession and repentance for all of Judea.  The prayer will be read by the captives in Babylon, many of whom will be moved to confess their own sins, and to really and truly seek God.

The evening reading shows God’s merciful response to those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel.  There will be blessings for them (65:8).  They will inherit the holy mountain, meaning Jerusalem and the Temple mount, and, ultimately, the Kingdom of the Messiah (65:9).  Places now barren wasteland will blossom with abundance (65:10).

The blessings will not come before repentance, and repentance will not come before chastisement.  Thus God says again that the sword will come to Jerusalem.  Verses 11-16 tell of both wrath and grace.  Some will be saved from the sword and will repent and return to God.  How sad that they would not repent before the sword came to them.

Friday

Morning – Ps. 92, Is 65:17, 1 Jn. 4
Evening – Ps. 91, Is 66:1-13, Heb. 6:1-12

The Jews returning to Jerusalem will be under the special protection of God.  They will be delivered from war, and life will not be cut short or hampered by battle.  The Lord will answer their prayers before they pray, and the land will enjoy a time of peace and rest.  But the language of this passage obviously looks for more than just the restoration of Jerusalem.  Isaiah is supernaturally enabled to see far into the future to the new heavens and new earth, which God will bring into existence in the Kingdom of the Messiah. Like us, the prophet sees this dimly, as through a smoked glass. He describes it in terms of earthly blessings, using things we understand to describe things we cannot really understand while we live in this world.   So, as wonderful as the Messiah’s reign sounds in Isaiah’s words, its reality will be immeasurably greater in every detail.  His Kingdom will not be completed until the end of time, but it has begun already.  We in the Church have begun to reap the fruit of it.  One day we will see it fully.  We will walk in its streets and know its joy more fully than we now know the present world.  We now call that Kingdom “Heaven.”  One day we will call it “Home.”

Isaiah 66 takes up a different subject.  There are those, in both Israel and the Church who attempt to mix the pure Gospel with the unbiblical views and practices of the people around them.  In the time of Isaiah and the Jews, they mixed Biblical teaching with pagan religion.  Today it is more likely to be mixed with pop psychology and humanistic ideas of self-fulfillment and personal happiness.  Either way, God is dethroned and man becomes the center of his own religion.  In Isaiah’s time, pagan people believed their deities lived in houses built for them by people, and ate as food the sacrifices offered to them.  Many Jews applied the same ideas to God, the Temple, and the Sacrifices.  God explicitly denies any dependency on people (66:1-2).  He owns all things, so, people can really offer Him nothing.  Furthermore, anything offered unto God under such false understandings or motives is absolutely rejected by God.  An ox sacrificed to God in such a way (even with the greatest sincerity and best intentions) is as bad as murdering a man and offering him up on the altar of God  (66:3).   A lamb offered in this way is no better than a dog.  This passage is a clear and desperate call to true repentance and to Biblical faith and practice.  Those who truly repent will be welcomed to God as a loving mother welcomes her beloved child.  Even Gentiles are welcomed into the love of God.  “As one whom his mother comforteth, so I will comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66:13).

Saturday

Morning – Ps. 144, Is. 66:18-23, 1 John 5
Evening – Ps. 29, 98, Is. 49:1-7, Lk. 3:15-22

This morning’s reading from Isaiah 66:18 and following is a continuation of Is. 66:1-16 and cannot be understood apart from those verses.  The passage actually begins in verse 14, which tells of God’s grace toward His servants and His indignation toward His enemies.  Verse 15 begins to reveal how grace and indignation will be executed.  God will come with fire, chariots, and whirlwind, meaning the destruction and killing of military conquest (66:16).

Two kinds of enemies of God are portrayed.  First is Jews who have departed from the faith.  Verse 17 pictures them participating in pagan rites and worshiping idols.  Most Jews did not leave their religion behind to join pagan cults.  Instead they imported elements of paganism into their own faith.  At times, even the Temple of God was filled with pagan idols.  It halls rang with their prayers and altars ran with the blood of their sacrifices.  Those who have done these things will be consumed as by a consuming fire (17).

With these things firmly in our minds we are ready to look into our reading for today.  Verse 18 refers back to 17 as justification for God’s wrath.  He knows the works and thoughts of idolatrous Jews.  He has seen them give His glory to idols and attribute His providence to inanimate objects.  He knows they have followed gods that blessed their sins, rather than live the pure and holy life He demands of them.  They have even persecuted Jews who would not join their sin (66:5). They and their gods will be consumed.

The second group of God’s enemies consists of Gentiles who come to make war on Israel.  They lift up their sword against God’s anointed people, and that is the same as lifting up their sword against God Himself (Ps. 2:2).  The Church is the Body of Christ, and he who persecutes it persecutes Christ (Acts 9:4&5).  As the Gentile empires come to make war on Israel, they find themselves also falling to the sword.  We see in the history of the Jewish people a parade of conquerors taking the land, each conqueror conquered by another, which is also conquered by another.  From Assyria to Babylon, from Persia to Greece, and even mighty Rome, empires have come and gone while Israel, both old and new, remains.

Not all Gentiles are destroyed, for the grace of God extends to them as well.  Many survive the judgment of God and are brought into His Kingdom of Grace.  The Jewish people often enjoyed a steady stream of Gentiles coming to God and becoming members of the Covenant People.  Converts often took their new faith back to their own countries and people (66:19).

Seeing the application of this chapter to the Jews of the Babylonian era and beyond, we again come face to face with an important part of the book of Isaiah, namely its Christological meaning. The events of these verses cannot possibly be fulfilled by a simple return of the Jews to Jerusalem and Judea.  They can only find their ultimate meaning in the Kingdom of the Messiah and the establishment of His Kingdom in the hearts and minds of people of every race and nation, and in their elevation into the New Heaven and earth, which is the glorious fulfillment of all the promises of God in Heaven forever.).