March 31, 2013
Morning - Ps. 2, Isaiah 61:1-11, Luke 24:1-12
Evening - Ps. 103, Exodus 15:1-3, John 20:1-10
The resurrection "is the grand proof that [Jesus] was the promised Messiah whom the prophets had foretold. It is the one great sign which He named to the Jews when asked to give convincing evidence of His Divine mission,-the sign of the prophet Jonas, the rebuilding of the temple after destruction. (Matt. xii.29, John ii.19-21). If He did not rise again after three days, they were not to believe Him."
John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels
March 24, 2013
Monday before Easter, Day Thirty-five
Morning - Psalm 71, Isaiah 42:1-7, John 14:1-14
Evening - Psalms 42 & 43, Lamentations 1:7-12, John 14:15-31
"Have I been so long time with you, and yet thou hast not known me, Philip? (vs9). Philip knew much about Jesus. He knew Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead, for he had seen that with his own eyes. He knew Jesus was the Messiah, the One of whom Moses and the prophets wrote (Jn. 1:45). He had heard His sermons and seen His compassion. He had walked with Jesus for three years, sharing hardship, ridicule, and danger with Him. Yet he did not know Jesus. He did not know Jesus was God in human form (Jn. 1:1-14). He did not know Jesus was the revelation of the Father (Jn. 1:18). He did not know that if he has "seen" Jesus he has seen the Father.
To "see" Jesus is more than to simply view Him with our eyes. It is to see Him with understanding and faith. If we see Jesus in this way, we have seen God. But it is possible to see Him with neither understanding nor faith. To see Him as a good man, a prophet, a saint, but not Immanuel, God with us is to see Him without understanding, for it is to miss the real Jesus. To see Him as God, yet remain unaffected and unchanged by this knowledge is to see Him without faith. Let us not be as Philip. Let us understand and believe.
Tuesday before Easter, Day Thirty-six
Morning - Psalms 6 & 12, Hosea 14, John 15:1-16
Evening - Psalm51, Lamentations 2:10, 13-19, John 15:17
John 15 tells us those who abide in Jesus are like branches growing from a luxuriant vine. Those who do not abide in Him are like dead branches, and are removed and cast into the fire. To abide in Christ means many things, one of the obvious is to draw life from Him. Our physical existence comes from Christ. Remove His sustaining power from us and we cease to exist. But our spiritual existence comes from Christ also. Just as a branch that does not draw its life from the vine gradually withers and dies, a soul that does not draw its life from Christ dies.
A Christian's goal is to live a quiet and holy life every moment of every day. During Lent we have looked at what a holy life is, so as we come to the close of Lent it is natural that we ask ourselves a question; am I really serious about holiness? This is a difficult question to answer because we have a tendency to fool ourselves, and to convince ourselves that we are really doing better than we are. So we need to be brutally honest with ourselves, and we need to base our answers on evidence, rather than illusions. Are you serious about holiness? What in your life shows that you are?
Wednesday before Easter, Day Thirty-seven
Morning - Psalm 94, Zechariah 12:9,10, 13:1,7-9, John 16:1-15
Evening - Psalm 74 Lamentations 3:1, 14-33, John 16:16
Today's readings in the Gospel of John take us through the 16th chapter. Jesus and His disciples are still in the upper room where they have eaten the Passover meal and the Last Supper. Judas has gone (Jn. 13:30), and Christ is using the few precious hours left to teach the disciples. Christ speaks of many things, from the way the world will treat the disciples to the coming of the Holy Spirit, called here, the "Comforter" (17:7). The disciples understand nothing of what He is saying. His crucifixion will almost crush them emotionally and spiritually. Their faith in Christ will die with Him on the cross because they do not understand that He came to die for their sins and to bring them into a Kingdom of the Spirit. But their sorrow will be turned to joy (vs. 20) when they see the resurrected Christ. And they will understand when the Holy Spirit comes.
The Christian's goal is to grow in Christ every day. We have looked at Christian growth during Lent, now we need to ask ourselves how we are doing. Am I really seeking to grow in Christ? Do I see myself making honest attempts to seek and grow in Him? What positive steps am I taking to try to grow in Him? What am I really doing to conquer sin and reform my thoughts and attitudes and habits? These are not easy questions, but they are necessary. Be brave, ask them. Be heroic, answer them.
Maundy Thursday, Day Thirty-eight
Morning - Psalm 116, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 13:18
Evening - Psalms 142, 143, Lamentations 3:40-58, John 17
Thursday before Easter Sunday recalls the institution of Holy Communion. Passover began that evening at sunset, and Christ gathered His disciples into the upper room to keep the feast. After the meal Jesus took the bread and cup, saying, "This is My body. This is My blood." Afterwards they went to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, where Jesus was "captured" and led away for His "trials." The trials lasted through the night and into the next morning. Friday took Him to the cross, and by Friday evening He was dead. Thus, we see the awful finality in Jesus' words in 17:1, "the hour is come." The time has come for Him to go to the cross. The hour has come for Him to accomplish that for which He came into the world. His journey to the cross is almost complete.
Many people think growing in holiness means increasing religious activities. It is true that a genuinely holy person will participate in Bible study, prayer, public worship, and other religious things. But these things alone do not make one holy. The people who put Christ to death were religious people. They were leaders in the "Church," but they were far from holy. They honoured God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. Holiness, then, begins with an attitude of Godliness in the heart. This attitude expresses itself in prayer, worship, and the other outward activities of holiness. To have the activities without the inward attitude is like having a body without a soul. Such a body is dead. To have the inward attitude without the outward actions is to have a phony faith. For real faith always moves us to outward actions.
Good Friday, Day Thirty-nine
Morning - Psalms 22, 40:1-16, 54, Genesis 22:1-18, John 18
Evening - Psalm 69:1-22, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, 1 Peter 2:11
In addition to the daily readings from the Lectionary, the Prayer Book includes a reading from John 19:1-37, which records the crucifixion of Jesus. The reading from 1 Peter 2 is a fitting commentary on the reading from John. Verses 21-25 especially remind us why Christ suffered. He "bare our sins in His own body."
Both the inward attitude, call it "faith," and the outward actions, call them "faithfulness" are required if a person is going to be truly holy. But we cannot let ourselves assume that the only outward actions required of us are those we would normally call "religious." Religious activities are required, and one who will not take them up willingly needs to seriously look at his heart, for he will likely not find biblical faith there. But holiness also requires certain actions and attitudes toward other people, call them, "neighbors." As Jesus so clearly pointed out, our duty to God means we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and loving our neighbors generally means treating others the way we would like to be treated. No one wants to be mistreated in any way, yet, how often our actions and words offend and hurt is something we cannot know in this life. But God knows. Nor are we talking only about negative things, for love consist not only of "thou shalt nots," but of plenteous "thou shalts." There are enough of these in the Bible to keep us busy reading and learning them for some time, but some of them are compassion, empathy, encouragement, and emotional support. During Lent we have intentionally devoted ourselves to growing in holiness, both inwardly, in the heart, and outwardly, in our actions. Have our efforts included both love for God, and love for our "neighbors?"
Easter Even, Day Forty
Morning - Psalms 14, 16, Job 14:1-14, John 19:38
Evening - Psalm 27, Job 19:21-27, Romans 6:3-11
"It is finished." We have come to the end of Christ's journey to the cross. We have followed Him from the outer reaches of Galilee to the courts of the Temple, to the hill of Golgotha. In every place and every time He resolutely followed the road to the cross. Nothing could turn Him aside from that great and terrible transaction by which He offered Himself for the sins of His people. When He had suffered our punishment and died our death, He cried with a loud voice, "It is finished." Let us remember it was for us that He died. It was for our sake that He was placed in the tomb. It was for our sin that He "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified dead and buried." His entire journey to the cross has been for you.
March 23, 2013
The Humiliation of Christ
Psalm 22:1-17, Isaiah 53, Mark 15:25-37
March 23, 2013
It is difficult for us to imagine how humiliating it was for Christ to become a human being. He who was God "became flesh and dwelt among us," says John 1:1, and Isaiah 53:3 says He was a "man of sorrows." It is important to know Jesus was not only a man outwardly, He was also a man inwardly. "He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham," says Hebrews 2:16. So, when Christ came to earth He became a real man. He never stopped being God, but He participated fully in the human condition as a human being, with no special exemptions or privileges. In fact, He was a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." He bled when He scraped His knee as a child. He cried when He hurt. He got hungry and tired and sick, and lonely. He knew what it was to live by faith. He knew what it was to be betrayed by a "friend." He was tempted, just like the rest of us, and He died, just like the rest of us. Wherefore the Scriptures say, "in all things it behooved Him to be made like His brethren" (Hebrews 2:17). He was a man.
Part of the humiliation of Christ was that, even though He became a true man, He didn't "fit in" with the rest of us. He was always different. He was a man out of place. Isaiah calls Him "a root out of dry ground," a beautiful, lush, green tree growing in a waterless, barren desert, and we are the desert. There was no one here like Him. He was truly alone, even among the crowds. The was no one who understood Him, no one to be His confidant or help. Even Mary and Joseph were always His inferiors, nor were they able to instruct or comfort Him. He was perfect goodness. He did not fit the pattern of fallen humanity, did not join others in their sin. He always stood apart from them, different, odd. And no one could help Him or share His burden. Even those closest to Him slept while He prayed in Gethsemane, and deserted Him when He was arrested and murdered. "He was despised and rejected of men... he was despised and we esteemed him not: (Is. 53:3).
Yes, He was murdered. It was the civil authorities who executed Him, and the ecclesiastical authorities who incited them to do it. But though it was an act of Church and state, it was murder. Isaiah says He was "brought as a lamb to the slaughter" (53:7), and "cut off" from the land of the living (53:8). This, His crucifixion and death, was part of His humiliation. There He hung on the cross, beaten and nailed to it, to be mocked while His life slowly drained away. He was killed by His enemies, and they were gloating. Save yourself. Prove that you are the Messiah. Let God save Him, they taunted as He writhed in unbearable pain. Imagine yourself in His place, then you may be able to imagine His humiliation.
The really surprising thing about all of this was that it was God's will for Him to suffer. It was God's will for Him to die. In fact, it was so deeply and fully ordained by God it can truly be said, God did it. Look at Isaiah 53:10; "it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; he hath put him to grief." Look again at Isaiah 53:4, "we did esteem him smitten of God, and afflicted." It wasn't the nails or the spear that killed Jesus. It was God. God smote Him on the cross. God bruised Him and put Him to grief, because He bore the wrath of God in His flesh on the cross. And this was humiliating for Christ. He who was of purer eyes than to behold sin was forced to bear the sins of the world. He who was absolute goodness was forced to become as one who was absolute evil. He was even forsaken by the Father.
Then, He died. "It is finished." He cried. "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." Jesus, Son of God, Emmanuel, God in the flesh, the One in whom is life, died. His body went into the tomb. His spirit went into the place of the dead. He died. This is the penalty for sin. "Thou shalt surely die." "The wages of sin is death." Jesus suffered the wage, the death of sin. He made His grave with the wicked, despised and rejected by men and forsaken by God. There is no greater humiliation.
But He didn't have to do it. That's the amazing thing. He did it by His own choice, and He did it for us. He was wounded for our transgressions. He "hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." He suffered the penalty of our sins. He died in our places. He suffered all that humiliation and pain for you, because He loved you. Do you love Him?
March 17, 2013
Monday after Passion Sunday, Day Twenty-nine
Morning - Psalm 119:1-16, Exodus 3:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Evening - Psalm 119:17-32, Psalm 117, Jeremiah 20:7-13, John 12:1-11
Tonight's Gospel reading returns us to the Gospel of John. It also takes us back to the Friday prior to the crucifixion. Remember Jesus had crossed the Jordan into Judea at Jericho, and stopped in Bethany to spend the Sabbath. That evening, Mary washed the Saviour's feet and anointed Him with an extravagantly expensive ointment. For this she was soundly criticised by Judas, but defended by Jesus. Our Lord's words remind us again that He knew and accepted His fate; "against the day of my burying hath she kept this." He has come to Judea to go to the cross. A week from the date of Mary's anointment, Jesus will be dead.
What would you do if you knew you only had a week to live? Jesus spent His last Friday and Saturday keeping the Sabbath. It is certain that He joined the liturgy of Sabbath evening prayers with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and that He kept His custom (Lk. 4:16) of worshiping in the synagogue on Saturday. "Custom" as used here means far more than a convention or habit. It is a way of life, an ethos. It is something that defines who we are and directs the way we live. Worship was a way of life for Christ, which He continued to the very end.
Tuesday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty
Morning - Psalm 123, Psalm 127, Exodus 4:10-31, 1 Corinthians 15:20-34
Evening - Psalms 120, 121, 122, Jeremiah 22:10-23, John 12:12-19
This week's evening readings take us through the twelfth chapter of John's Gospel by Thursday night. Curiously, this is all John records about the events from the Sabbath in Bethany to Maundy Thursday. Though many events of the week are omitted, one very significant event is recorded. This event is often overlooked, yet its importance cannot be overstated. It is found in verse 19, "Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the whole world is gone after him."
These were the words of the Pharisees as they talked among themselves and lamented the popularity of Christ as shown in His Triumphal Entry. The verse shows the complete inability of the religious leaders to capture Jesus or reduce His influence. It was their intention to kill Him, yet He had evaded all their efforts, and now had come into Jerusalem in a great, symbolic act that was a bold announcement of His presence, and of their inability to stop Him. All their efforts had prevailed nothing.
Wednesday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-one
Morning - Psalms 128, 129, Exodus 5:1-9, 19-6:11, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49
Evening - Psalm 132, Jeremiah 28:1-2, 10-17, John 12:20-33
Last night's reading showed the absolute inability of the Pharisees to capture Jesus, or to reduce His popularity. Tonight's reading shows Christ's absolute commitment to the cross. He has proven that the Pharisees cannot kill Him, now He shows that He goes to the cross of His own volition. "For this cause came I to this hour" (12:27). "This he said, signifying what death he should die" (12:33). These verses are a graphic demonstration of the truth of Christ's words in John 10:17-18: "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."
One of the most important aspects of repentance is replacing ungodliness with godliness. It is good to be sorry for sins. It is good to end or reduce particular sins, but repentance is not complete until we have replaced the sins with righteousness. Grubbing weeds out of a garden merely results in bare dirt. It is not until the good seed of desirable plants are sown that the garden blossoms with flowers and fruits.
Thursday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-two
Morning - Psalm 144, Exodus 11:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:50
Evening - Psalms 133.134.137:1-6, Jeremiah 30:12-17, 23-24, John 12:34-43
The masses who welcomed Christ into Jerusalem were entirely confused about His nature and work. Expecting a military deliverer, they did not understand His statement about the Son of Man being lifted up (12:34). In Hebrew and Greek, as in English, to lift up can mean to elevate in altitude, or to elevate in dignity or status. The people have welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as the Messiah (12:13). But now He is talking about lifting up the Son of Man. Jesus, of course, is talking about Himself being raised up on the cross (12:33), but the people think He is talking about elevating someone else to the status of Messiah. Thus, despite all their enthusiasm and show, "they believed not on him" (12:37) because they believed in Him only as they wanted Him to be, not as He really is.
The Bible requires us to believe in Jesus as He really is, not as we would like Him to be. Likewise we are to live as He wants us to live, and worship as He wants to be worshiped. These things are not left our own imaginations. God clearly reveals His will in Scripture, demanding us to conform to Him. One of the great problems of the contemporary Church is the continuing attempt to re-create Christ and remake the Church according to our own desires rather than conforming to the Bible.
Friday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-three
Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 141:1-4, Psalm 146, Exodus 12:21-28, 1 Corinthians 16:1-14
Evening - Psalm 139, Jeremiah 32:36-42, John 12:44
Verse 44 says, "Jesus cried and said." It means He spoke out loudly and suddenly, not in anger or fear, but in a way that demands to be heard. One theme runs through His words, as though He wanted to state it once again as clearly as possible so the disciples would have it burned into their memories. The theme is simple; Christ's words are God's words, hear them well.
Many people are so busy with themselves they have shut themselves up to God. They may go to church and do a few religious things in a mechanical way, but they are not really open to God. To be open to God is to reject unbiblical actions or doctrines. It is to seek God, rather than ecstatic experiences and feelings. To be open to God is to be receptive to His word and Spirit through which He speaks to you and leads you into Himself. To be closed to God is to shut Him out of life, or to limit Him to "safe areas" where He can't "bother you." To be open to Him is to invite Him into all of your life.
Saturday after Passion Sunday, Day Thirty-four
Morning - Psalm 147, Exodus 12:29-39, 42, 1 Corinthians 16:15.
Evening Psalm 145, Jeremiah 33:1-9, 14-16, John 13:1-7
John barely mentions the "Last Supper" (13:2 & 4) but devotes much of His Gospel to the actions and words of Christ after the supper. Again our reading shows the Lord's progress toward the cross by recording Judas' intent to betray Him (13:2). It is important to see that, while it was the devil who put the intent into Judas' heart, it was Christ who allowed the betrayal for the purpose of bringing Himself to the cross. Through Judas, Christ gave Himself over to be crucified.
While our Gospel readings have followed Christ to Jerusalem, our first readings for the mornings of the week have been from Exodus, bringing us to this morning's reading of the Passover. The devastation of Egypt presented in Exodus is like that of a war zone. The stench of death and the sound of mourning covered the land. Among the Hebrews things were different. They were spared from the ruinous effects of the plagues, and delivered from the plague of death. The Egyptians even paid them to leave. They were free. They were going to a new land, to establish their own homes and govern their own lives. We can only imagine their joy. What marked the Hebrews so they were saved from the plague and set free of their bondage? It was the blood of the Lamb. It was no accident that Christ took the cup after the after the Passover meal and made it represent His blood as the Lamb of God. Christ is our Passover Lamb. His blood delivers us from our bondage of the soul and delivers us into the Heavenly "Promised Land."
White as Snow
Psalm 51, Isaiah 1:10-20, 1 Peter 4:12
March 17, 2013
Isaiah 1:18 contains some of the most famous words in the world, "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow." When I hear these words I think of Nathaniel Hawthorn's story, The Scarlet Letter. He probably got the idea for the scarlet colour of the letter from Isaiah, for, in the story, Hester Prynne was forced to wear a red letter "A" for committing the sin of adultery. Of course, in reality, we are all adulteresses, all branded with a scarlet letter.
We understand this when we look at the people outside of Christ. We see their carousing, chasing pleasure, reveling in drunkenness, debauchery, and fornication. We see them giving themselves to power, position, material possessions, physical pleasures, and self-indulgence. We understand that they have made these things their gods. They are their first loves. They receive the devotion and love God deserves. They covet these things, and "covetousness," as Paul wrote in Colossians 3:5, "is idolatry." What is idolatry but adultery of the soul? They have left their true Husband to commit adultery with things that are not even gods.
But, I have noticed something that is very important; when the Bible talks about spiritual adultery, it almost always refers to those who claim to be the people of God. I don't know of a single place where the word is used of those outside of the visible Church. There may be, but I don't remember any. The reason it is used of the Church is because it is we who have taken vows to love and serve God as our God, and to keep ourselves for Him alone. Thus, the Bible calls the Church the "bride of Christ" (Rev. 21:9).
We seldom think of ourselves as spiritual adulterers, but I wonder, when we are honest with ourselves, if we do not see that our sins are as scarlet as Hester Prynne's? Who has not become aware that our very best efforts fall far, far short of God's perfection? Who is not aware that pride, greed, jealousy, lust, and a general spiritual laziness still live in us, even after years and decades of trying to follow Christ? What parent reprimanding a child does not remember committing the same offense? What minister preaching the word is not aware of the sin still dwelling in him? I read once of a young minister leading a catechism class and being stricken with the awful truth that he had not carried the burden he was now asking others to bear. St. Augustine is reported to have prayed for purity and chastity, but not today. Even St Paul admitted his own continuing battle with sin. "I am carnal, sold under sin," he wrote in Romans 7:14. "[T]o perform that which is good I find not" says Romans 7:18. Then there are those famous words in Romans 7:19, "The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."
But it is not just what we do that is sin, it is what we are. If it were possible for us to peel back the layer of God's grace that hides our sinfulness from us, we would shudder at the writhing mass of evil that is in us. Once in a while it breaks out. Then we act in the most unGodly ways. That is the real you coming out. You are able, by God's grace, to keep it under some control most of the time, but sometimes it breaks out. Truly our sins are as scarlet. How shall they be white as snow? White of course means pure and clean. In spiritual terms, red symbolises wickedness, white stands for good. Red is ungodly, white is Godly. How can we go from red to white? It can only come to us as the gift of God. And that happens in three ways.
First it happens when God forgives our sins. By that I mean God simply stops holding our sins against us and starts treating us as though we were not sinners. This happens only because Christ paid the price of our sins for us. He suffered the wrath of God for our sins on the cross. There was nothing we could have done to make up for our sins. But God forgives our sins. Our sins were scarlet, now they are white as snow.
I know I say this often, but that is because it is the primary message of the Bible. The Bible addresses many things, good government, marriage, home, family, child rearing, work, economics, war, and peace. I hope to talk about some of these things this summer. From the Bible we learn that kings and presidents are not supreme any more than bishops or churches. God is supreme, and all rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, rule properly only when they rule under God and according to His will. From the Bible we learn that people have rights. Thou shalt not kill means you have the right to life, and you have the right to defend your life. Thou shalt not steal means you have the right to own property and to enjoy the fruits of your labours. Thou shalt not commit adultery means other people are not your sexual toys. All of these things are addressed in the Bible, but they are not the theme of the Bible. Redemption is its theme. God is Redeeming for Himself a nation which will inherit a new Kingdom that is Godly and righteous. In it we will serve and glorify God perfectly and forever. Those who enter into this Kingdom are only allowed in because God has forgiven their sins through the cross of Christ.
Second our sins become white as snow when, in the grace of God He accounts us as righteous. This is due to the righteousness of Christ accounted to us; credited to us, credited to our account. Christ has taken our unrighteousness upon Himself and suffered for it on the cross. He has given His righteousness to us, so that God now sees us as righteous and good and holy.
We need to remember here that righteousness is credited to us, not achieved by us. The old sinful ways of thinking and responding to life still remain strong in us, and have to be denied and crucified moment by moment and day by day every day of our lives. Progress is slow and painful, but does happen, so keep at it. Remember that doing the will of God goes against your natural impulses and desires, and the more you give in to evil and spiritual laziness, the easier it becomes. "Thou shalt find," wrote Anglican Bishop Joseph Hall in the 1600s, "that deffering [spiritual things] breeds an indisposition to [them]; so that what was before pleasant to thee, being omitted, to-morrow grows harsh, the next day unneccessary, afterward odious. To-day thou canst but wilt not; to-morrow thou couldst, but listeth not; the next day thou neither wilt nor canst."
But this is what I want to emphasise today. Your sins are white as snow in God's eyes because He sees you covered with the righteousness of Christ. Do not fear that you are not going to Heaven because you battle sins and temptation. Do not fear that God does not accept you because you still sin. God accepts you because He has placed the righteousness of Christ in your spiritual account. Because of that, you are righteous in His eyes.
Third, your sins will be white as snow because one day you will be fully purified. The day will come when the tendency to sin, that is now so much a part of you, will be gone forever. The day will come when your will, emotions, mind, and every aspect of your being will be completely righteous. The process of fighting against your sinfulness will be over because your sinfulness will be gone. You will be pure.
O God, who has made our sins as white as snow through the redeeming work of Christ; grant that we may live in holiness and peace through Thy grace. Amen.
March 10, 2013
Monday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-three
Morning - Psalm 90, Genesis 44, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Evening - Psalm 91, Jeremiah 13:15, Mark 12:18-27
The enemies of Christ would take Him by force, but the people would defend Him. So they resort to trickery. Their questions are well thought out traps intended to trick Him into saying something that would turn the crowds against Him. Surely this complicated riddle about the resurrection would trip Him, but it did not. His refutation of them is decisive. They were in error because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. The resurrection life is of an entirely different kind from that of this physical world. In it we will be like the angels, free of the passions of earth, and devoted entirely to the glory and enjoyment of God. Our fellowship with one another also will be free of earthly passions, enabling us to love as Christ loves.
One of the best ways to pray the Bible is to use the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book is simply the Bible in devotional form. Much of it comes right from the Bible, word-for-word. Other parts of it convey the Bible’s ideas and thoughts through indirect quotations and paraphrases. Consider the following prayer of thanksgiving from the service of “Evening Prayer.”
“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us and to all men; We bless the for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.”
It has been said that to have a God is to worship Him. We may legitimately add that to worship God is to pray. May God help us to be a people of prayer.
Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-four
Morning - Psalms 93 & 96, Genesis 45, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Evening - Psalm 92, Jeremiah 14:1-10, Mark 12:28-37
Our Gospel reading for today is a very sad portion of Scripture. It tells of a man, a religious leader, to whom our Lord said, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." At first this seems very complimentary. "Not far" appears to mean, very close, perhaps even, on the brink, or, at the very gate. But, "not far" does not equal "inside." In life, many have perished on the brink of safety, and in spiritual things, many have perished on the brink of faith. To loose your soul at the gate of Heaven is still to loose your soul.
Christianity is often wrongly viewed as an experience rather than a way of life. Thus, it is no surprise that prayer is often viewed the same way, and, therefore, turned into an attempt to have experiences rather than communicate with God. But in the Bible, prayer is content oriented, not experience oriented. Like Scripture, prayer is communication, not feelings. Biblical prayer has no use for pretensions or emotional manipulation. It is simply a reverent conversation with God on the basis of Biblical truth. Does the Bible say "all have sinned?" In prayer we confess, "we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep." Does the Bible say all who believe in Him have are fully forgiven? In prayer we reaffirm our faith that "He pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel." Does the Bible tell us God watches over us? In prayer we entrust our day, and our lives into His providence, saying, "Grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight." Does the Bible tell us to make prayers and intercessions for all people? In prayer "we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men." Does the Bible tell us to give thanks? In prayer we give thanks for His "goodness and loving kindness to all." In short, Biblical prayer asks God for the things the Bible tells us to seek from Him. Yet prayer is more than asking for things. Prayer is also an expression of trust.
Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-five
Morning - Psalm 94, Genesis 47:29-31, 46:8-20, 1 Corinthian 14:1-12
Evening - Psalms 97 & 98, Jeremiah 15:1-9, Mark 12:38
The intent of the Lenten readings in the Gospels has been to follow our Lord's journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Thus, let us put the recent readings into their chronological perspective. In Mark 10 we saw Christ cross the Jordan and enter Judea. He crossed the river near Jericho in the company of a great crowd of pilgrims going to Jerusalem for Passover. In Mark 11 He arrived in Bethany, a small village just outside of Jerusalem. It was Friday, and He spent the night and following day in Bethany observing the Jewish Sabbath. On Sunday He went into Jerusalem, boldly announcing His arrival in what has become known as the Triumphal Entry (Mk. 11:1-11). He returned to Bethany that evening. Monday morning found Him in Jerusalem again, as we read in Mark 11:12-26. He went again to Bethany for the night, returning on the following day, Tuesday (Mk. 11:20). Tuesday was an exhausting day spent in confrontation with the priests and Pharisees in the Temple. The confrontation ended with our Lord's scathing condemnation of them, found in Matthew 23. Having completed this, He took the disciples to the Mount of Olives to teach them about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. This is found in Matthew 24 and 25 and in Mark 13. From there He returned to Bethany again to spend the night. Our reading for today, starting in Mark 12:38, continues to relate the events of the Tuesday before the crucifixion. Still in the Temple, Christ contrasts the religion of the Pharisees with the faith of the widow. The Pharisees' was a religion of pretense. Their religion was all about them. The widow's faith was real and Biblical. Hers was all about God.
Prayer is not simply a list of requests. It is also an expression of our trust in God. As we take our concerns and needs to Him in prayer we also rest ourselves in the faith that He hears our prayers and answers us according to what is expedient for us. The very act of prayer implies trust in God. It assumes that He is willing to meet our needs and to care for us. Would you pray if you believed God would not listen? Would you ask Him for your daily bread if you thought He would not give what you need? Would you trust Him with your life and soul and heart if you did not believe He works all things for your good? Most people would not. But, believing He loves you and is doing better things for you than you can even imagine, you gladly take your needs and requests to Him in prayer. Thus, prayer is an affirmation of your faith in God.
Thursday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-six
Morning - Psalm 104, Genesis 49:33-50:26, 1 Corinthians 14:13-25
Evening - Psalms 99 & 100, Jeremiah, 15:10, Mark13:1-13
The mission of the Temple and sacrificial system was ended and fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, they were no longer needed. If their leaders had welcomed Christ, the sacrifices might have passed happily into history, and the Temple might have become the center for preaching the Gospel of Christ. But their corruption made this impossible. The Temple was going to be destroyed, and Jerusalem sacked for the unbelief and corruption that pervaded them. The destruction would surprise the people, like a thief in the night, but the Christians, forewarned by our Lord in this passage, would be watching, and would escape the carnage.
Many mistakenly assume this passage is about the end of the world, and believe the false christs, wars, and earthquakes are signs of the return of Christ. In reality, such events are things that happen continually, and are not signs of anything except the presence and effects of sin in this world (Mk. 13:7-8). The whole passage is a clarification of Christ's words in Mark 13:2, which were prompted by the disciples' question in verses 3 and 4. For a fuller explanation of this, see He Shall Reign: the Message and Meaning of the Book of Revelation, pages 46-56.
Christianity is not an emotional response to a religious experience. Christianity is a faith response to the revelation of God's truth, as found in the Bible. Granted, God is revealed in other ways. Nature shows that God exists, and that He is a God of order and power. Conscience reveals His moral will by telling us we should conduct ourselves in certain ways, and not in others. But nature and conscience do not tell us who God is, or how to be free of His displeasure over our moral failures. For this we need more specific and personal revelation. This revelation is found in the Bible. The Bible is nothing less than the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). It contains all you need to know about God, His will, and how to be put right with Him. This is why the Church spends so much time in the Bible. It is our desire to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Bible, that we may "embrace, and ever hold fast, the promise of everlasting life... given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent).
Every day is a day to give ourselves to the Bible. Like all matters of holy living, there is no special time or season during which it is to be studied, only to be neglected in others. But, in reality, we do not always devote ourselves to it as we should. Lent is an opportunity to re-develop or reinforce the habit of daily Bible time.
Friday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-seven
Morning - Psalms 95 & 102, Exodus 1:8-14, 1 Corinthians 14:26
Evening - Psalm 107, Jeremiah 16:5-13, Mark 13:14-23
The abomination of desolation in verse 14 refers to the Roman army sacking Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as Antiochus did in 163 B.C. (Daniel 9:26). Christ is telling the disciples that when they see the Romans approaching they are to leave Jerusalem immediately. Several verses describe the urgency of their escape. Flee to the mountains (14). Don't stop to gather belongings (15). Don't even stop to gather your coat (16). The escape will be difficult for those with child, and they are to pray that it will not be in winter (17 & 18). The devastation of the city and its ensuing suffering is shown in verses 19 & 20.
It would be natural for the Jews to look for the Messiah to appear at this time. Taught to expect a military leader to deliver them from the Romans, they would expect Him to arise when the Roman army surrounded the city. It would also be natural for false christs to come, claiming to be the Messiah (13:6), and for others to claim that the Christ is in the desert or in some other place (21-22) preparing to attack the Romans. Even Christians might be tempted to believe Jesus had returned and was preparing to lead the attack on Rome. But verse 23 shows the vanity of such claims. Jesus is saying He has foretold all of this, and the Christians are to "take heed."
We must never allow ourselves to forget that the people who resisted and rejected Christ were religious people who considered themselves good and right with God. Yet Christ said these very people would be judged and destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem. The Corinthians were also convinced of their own righteousness, yet Paul's word to them was "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith" (2 Cor. 13:5). Do people today live under the same delusion?
Saturday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-eight
Morning - Psalms 108:1-6 & 112, Exodus 2:1-22, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Evening - Psalm 118, Jeremiah 17:5-14, Mark 13:24
This passage continues our Lord's discourse regarding the coming tribulation of Jerusalem. To understand the meaning of the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, we must look back to the Old Testament. In Genesis 37:9 the sun, moon, and eleven stars represent Joseph and his family. In Ezekiel 32:7 the celestial bodies go dark at the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. This is symbolic language, equivalent to saying the sun smiles or the clouds weep. The point in Mark 13 is not that the stars literally fall from the sky or that the sun and moon will literally go dark. As in Genesis they represent people, but here they are not bowing, they are going dark and falling; they are dying. As in Ezekiel they represent death and destruction in Jerusalem.
As we read the New Testament's words against the religious leaders of Christ's time, we may forget that we also deserve to suffer the consequences of our sins. The collect for the Fourth Sunday of Lent forcefully reminds us that we are sinners whose only hope is the grace of God in Christ.
"Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."