March 31, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Easter Monday


Easter Monday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, Isaiah 61:1-11, Luke 24:1-12
Evening - Ps. 103, Exodus 15:1-3, John 20:1-10

Commentary

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

Scripture and Commentary, Holy Week


Monday before Easter, Day Thirty-five

Lectionary                                                       

Morning - Psalm 71, Isaiah 42:1-7, John 14:1-14
Evening - Psalms 42 & 43, Lamentations 1:7-12, John 14:15-31

John 14:15-31

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;  Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.  Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe. Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.

Commentary

"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.


Devotional Thoughts

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

Lectionary                                                       

Morning - Psalms 6 & 12, Hosea 14, John 15:1-16
Evening - Psalm51, Lamentations 2:10, 13-19, John 15:17

John 15:17

These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

Commentary

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.

Devotional Thoughts

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

Lectionary

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


 A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye enquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you:  For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Commentary

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.

Devotional Thoughts

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

Lectionary                                                       

Morning - Psalm 116, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 13:18
Evening - Psalms 142, 143, Lamentations 3:40-58, John 17

John 17

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.  And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.  And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.  While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Commentary

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.

Devotional Thoughts

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

Lectionary

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

John 18

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.  And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.  Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?  Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,  And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. 1But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not. And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.
 The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.  Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said. And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me? Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest. And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not. One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him? Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew.  Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee. Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.


Commentary

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."

Devotional

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

Lectionary                                                       
               
Morning - Psalms 14, 16, Job 14:1-14, John 19:38
Evening - Psalm 27, Job 19:21-27, Romans 6:3-11

 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

Commentary

"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.

Devotional Thoughts

It is difficult for us to imagine how the disciples felt that first Saturday after Christ died.  They had given up everything to follow Him, and when He died all their hopes died with Him.  They were in fear for their lives, lest they too should be tortured to death. But more devastating than fear was their absolute despair.  God, they thought, had abandoned them.  Their entire faith and meaning in life died with Christ.  Today let us try to imagine their fear and despair.  Try to feel what they felt when they placed His body in the grave, never, as they thought, to live again.  But let us remember that their despair is only a hint of what we would feel if Christ were still in the grave.  Their emotional emptiness would be the natural condition of our lives, if Christ were still in the grave today.  Our existence would be as if someone had punched us in the stomach, and we were writhing on the floor, unable to breathe, unable to make ourselves do anything because of the uncontrollable pain and spasms.  Only it would not be our stomachs or diaphragms that were hit, it would be our souls.  But, more horrible than life without meaning is eternity without hope.  Eternity spent in forced exile from the Author of all goodness and happiness is eternity spent in abject sorrow and absolute misery, so deep it makes the fires of Hell seem almost insignificant by comparison.  As we imagine a world with Christ in the grave, let us see Hell yawning before us, pulling us in without mercy.  Let us imagine unfathomable physical suffering that can only be matched by the anguish of the soul.  And let us remember, that would be our fate forever, if Christ be not raised

March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday Sermon


The Humiliation of Christ
Psalm 22:1-17, Isaiah 53, Mark 15:25-37
Palm Sunday
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

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Passion Sunday


Monday after Passion Sunday, Day Twenty-nine

            Lectionary

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


John 12:1-11

Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.

            Commentary

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.

            Devotional

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

            Lectionary       

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

 John 12:12-19

On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.


            Commentary

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

            Lectionary

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

John 12:20-33

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.  And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.  If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.  Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.

            Commentary

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."

            Devotional

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

            Lectionary

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

John 12:34-43

The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.  But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.


            Commentary

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.

            Devotional

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

Lectionary

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

John 12:44

Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.


Commentary

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.

Devotional Thoughts

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

Lectionary                                                       

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 13:1-7

 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

Commentary

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.

Devotional Thoughts

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." 

Sermon, Passion Sunday


White as Snow
Psalm 51, Isaiah 1:10-20, 1 Peter 4:12
Passion Sunday
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

Scripture and Comments, week of Fourth Sunday in Lent


Monday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Day Twenty-three
                  
            Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 90, Genesis 44, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Evening - Psalm 91, Jeremiah 13:15, Mark 12:18-27

Mark 12:18-27

Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven. And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

            Commentary

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.

            Devotional

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

            Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 93 & 96, Genesis 45, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Evening - Psalm 92, Jeremiah 14:1-10, Mark 12:28-37

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question. And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.  

            Commentary

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.

            Devotional

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

Lectionary                                                 

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

And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:  Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation. And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:  For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.


            Commentary

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.    

            Devotional

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

            Lectionary       

Morning - Psalm 104, Genesis 49:33-50:26, 1 Corinthians 14:13-25
Evening - Psalms 99 & 100, Jeremiah, 15:10, Mark13:1-13

 Mark 13:1-13

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?  And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. 8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.  But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.


            Commentary

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.


            Devotional

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

            Lectionary

Morning - Psalms 95 & 102, Exodus 1:8-14, 1 Corinthians 14:26
Evening - Psalm 107, Jeremiah 16:5-13, Mark 13:14-23

Mark 13:14-23

But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!  And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:  For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.



            Commentary

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."

            Devotional

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
            Lectionary       

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

Mark 13:24

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.  And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.


            Commentary

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.

            Devotional

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."