April 28, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of the Fourth Sunday after Easter



Monday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 110, 114, Num. 10:29, Heb 11:32
Evening – Ps. 111, 113, Is. 51:1-11, Eph. 4:1-16

Commentary

The people of Hebrews 11 did what they did because they believed God. Following the leadership of God, some were healed of disease, and some died horrible deaths. It is impossible for us today to say to another, or to ourselves, that God will heal us, or give us whatever we ask for, if we only have faith. God deals with us according to the counsel of His own will, and promises us that it will work to our good, if we love Him and are called, according to His purpose. Our task is to trust and obey, no matter where His will takes us, no matter what it brings to us, either blessings or trials. Verses 36-38 especially make this point.

This roll call of the faithful is intended to show two things. First, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (11:1). We see God by faith, not by signs and wonders. We walk with God by faith, not by religious experiences. We know God is with us because we have faith, not because we “feel His presence.” Signs and wonders, religious experiences and feelings are not proof God is working in your life, faith is.

Second, the people of Hebrews 11 lived in the era of promise; we live in the age of fulfillment (11:39-40). Through faith they followed God according to the light given them by the Old Testament. But that light only gave shadows of the Promise, which is Christ. We live in the days of the Promised One. He has come to earth and accomplished His great work of salvation. The Old Testament saints saw this only dimly, as shadows on a wall. Yet they lived in faith. Yet they followed God, even at great cost. We have seen the Light. We see not shadows but the very form of God in Christ. Let us therefore walk in faith also.



Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 124, 126, Num. 11:4-32, Heb. 12:1-17
Evening – Ps 121, 122, Is. 51:12-16, Eph. 4:17

Commentary, Hebrews 12:1-17

The people of Hebrews 11 now become a great cloud of witness. Their witness is first one of watching us who are now running our race. The word picture given in Hebrews 12:1 is of the stadium with athletes on the track running a race. Those who have already finished their courses now witness those on the track, cheering and encouraging them. Second, they are those who bear witness to the absolute reliability of God. They show that God was faithful to them; thus, we can expect Him to be faithful to us. Third, and more importantly, they are witnesses as examples of living by faith. In this sense, it is we who are doing the watching. We watch them run their race by reading about them in the pages of Scripture. By their example, we learn what it means to live by faith in our generation, as they lived by faith in theirs. Fourth, and most importantly, they are witnesses in the sense of one who tells another about Christ. They lived in the promise of Christ. They looked forward to that great Day when the Son of God would appear on earth and accomplish His great work of Redemption.

Still using the analogy of the athletic arena, Paul encourages us to lay aside anything that will hinder us from running the course. As the athlete lives an athlete’s life of training, diet, and dedication to the sport, the Christian lives a Christian’s life of self-discipline, prayer, worship, Bible study, and purity, trusting God just as the people in chapter 11 also trusted Him.

In verse 2 we see Christ as our example. As the Author of our faith it is He who begins it in us. As its Finisher, He brings it to completion. He brings us into faith and into God, by enduring the cross. He was called to be our Saviour, and He was true to that calling unto death. He endured the cross and the shame to gain the crown. He ran His race. He completed the course. We who would be His must also be like Him. We must not allow our faith to grow weak. We must not give up. The passage goes on to say our trials have the effect of chastening us. We should no more expect a life without trials than a father without chastening. Trials, then, are not a sign that God has deserted us, but that He loves us and is guiding us in His ways and growing us in faith.

To desert the faith over trials is to be like Esau (12:15-17), who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. How little he valued the calling and grace of God. A bowl of stew was worth more to him. As he gave his birthright away, and was unable to regain it, so the “Christian” who turns away from Christ and returns to habitual and intentional sin, will be unable to gain the Heavenly Kingdom, though he seek it with tears.
                                                                                                 
Wednesday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter          

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 128, 129, Num 12, Heb. 12:18
Evening – Ps. 135, Is. 52: 1-12, Eph. 5:1-14

Commentary, Hebrews 12:18-29

Hebrews 12:18-29 further compare and contrast the law given at Sinai with the Gospel given at the Heavenly Mt. Sion in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God. The giving of the law showed the inability of man to enter into the presence of God. Everything about the giving of the law showed the absolute holiness of God and the absolute unworthiness of man. Even Moses trembled with fear at the presence of God (12:21). But those coming to God through the sacrifice of Christ come unto God with confidence that, though they are sinners, God accepts them because Christ has made them acceptable through His blood.

The consequences of transgressing the law were terrible. Even an animal accidentally touching the Mountain of God was to be killed (12:20). Likewise, the consequences of transgressing the New Covenant of the Gospel are terrible. And if people could not escape the consequences of breaking the Old Covenant given at Sinai, no one will escape the consequences of breaking the Covenant in Christ given in Heaven (12:25) for our God is a consuming fire (12:29).

Since, therefore, we are given, in Christ, a promise and Kingdom that cannot be “moved,” “let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably."

Thursday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 132, Num. 13:17-33, Heb. 13:1-8
Evening – Ps. 145, Is. 54:1-10, Eph. 5:15

Commentary, Hebrews 13:1-6

This morning’s reading brings us into the closing paragraphs of the epistle to the Hebrews. Having taught us about the nature and work of Christ, the Apostle now encourages us to be diligent about the everyday things of living for Him, especially in our relationship with one another in the fellowship of the Church. The theme of today’s reading is Christian love. Because Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, we love Him, and His people, and our love shows itself in the way we live (13:1). In love we entertain (show kindness and mercy to) the needy. We give aid to those being persecuted for the faith, and to those suffering adversity (13:2-3). We conduct ourselves honourably in the home and keep ourselves sexually pure (13:4). We conduct ourselves honourably towards one another’s possessions, not coveting, but being content with what we have, especially since we know we have the presence of God with us, and promises of the Gospel for our inheritance (13:5-6). We conduct ourselves honourably toward those called by God to minister in the Church (13:7-8). We remember that they have authority from God to preach and lead the Church, and we will treat them with due reverence as they lead us according to the Scriptures for our good and God’s glory. The end of their conversation, meaning the goal and the result of their ministry, is to bring us into Jesus Christ (13:8).

Friday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 143, Num. 14:1-10, Heb 13:9-16
Evening - Ps. 130, 138, Is. 54:11, Eph. 6:1-9

Commentary, Hebrews 13:9-16

We are nearly at the end of the letter to the Hebrews. Tomorrow’s reading will close our study of it for now. Typical of St. Paul’s work, Hebrews closes with doctrinal references and applies them to the daily life of Christian faith. Verses 9-16 show how Christ, as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, relates to Jewish Christians. They make it clear such Christians must leave Judaism and come into the New Israel, which is the Church. “Strange," (13:9) means alien, and not in accord with the Gospel of Christ. “Diverse” means shady and questionable. The words refer to teachings that encourage people to continue in the Old Testament ceremonies, especially the dietary laws and sacrifices. Such things are no longer required for the Christian’s heart is established by grace, not with diet and sacrifices (meats) that cannot make us holy. Strange and diverse doctrines also refer to Gentile teachings that deny the Gospel. Anything that is not of Christ is a strange and diverse doctrine. This verse is especially applicable to us today, for many run after anything that appears exciting and new, readily abandoning the way Christians have believed and practiced from the beginning. This tendency usually leads to apostasy and theological shipwreck. Verses 10-12 refer back to Christ as the One who makes us holy by His blood, apart from anything we could ever do or offer.

13-16 are the conclusion and point of this section, and also serve to summarise the entire book. Verse 13 states it well, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp.” Using the fact that Christ was crucified outside of Jerusalem (13:12), and Moses met God outside the camp, verse 13 says Christianity must also go outside (without) of Judaism. No more are we to keep the Jewish ceremonies. Our sacrifices are works of kindness and thanksgiving, not animals (13:14-16).

Saturday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 146, 149, Num. 24:22-25, Heb. 13:17

Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Is. 55, Eph. 6:10

Commentary, Hebrews 13:17

Today we complete this journey through the book of Hebrews. The book has constantly kept our minds on Christ. It has shown us from the start that Christ is the supreme and final revelation of God, and that we can only come to God through Him. Having shown us that Christian Jews are to leave Judaism as surely as Christian Gentiles are to leave their former religion and come into the Church, verse 13 encourages us to not only join the Church, but also to honour the leadership and structure God has placed in it. Being a Christian is not a life of splendid isolation, and those who proclaim that the Church age is over have seriously misunderstood the Bible. The Church is the Body of Christ and abides with Him and in Him now and forever, and, as long as we abide in this world we are not to forsake her services (Heb 10:25).

Furthermore, the Church is not anarchy. It has structure and organisation, which includes men called to shepherd and teach the flock. Every person in the Church is a servant of Christ, and, in that sense, is called to minister to the body. Some are ordained to a unique ministry of teaching and preaching the word and leading the Church for the perfecting of the saints and the edification of the Body (Eph. 4:11-14). Thus we are told to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves" (Heb 13:17). We are to conduct ourselves in such a way that when they give an account of their ministry among us it will be a joyful report of our progress in Christ, not a sad report of our refusal to follow them. We are also to pray for our ministers to have a good conscience and live honestly (13:18). A minister's authority is not absolute. He is not the Shepherd, he is an undershepherd. The flock does not belong to him, it belongs to Christ. So he only has authority to lead the flock according to the clear teachings of God as revealed in Scripture. Hebrews ends with an exhortation to honour the ministers of the Church, and a greeting from Christians in Italy.

Sermon, Fourth Sunday after Easter


The Resurrection of You
Psalm 116, Job 19:21-27, John 12:44-50
Fourth Sunday after Easter
April 28, 2013
                                                        
The future is a dim and shadowy thing to us.  Even Biblical references to it are often given in symbolism that is hard to understand.  But some of the major future events are given in plain and bold language.  One, for example, is the Return of Christ.  It is stated in our reading from John this morning, for when Christ refers to "the last day," He means the time after His Second Coming, when all shall stand before God to give an account of our lives.  Other verses are clearer.  "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come again,"  says Acts 1:11.  He is "the Lord, which is, and was, and which is to come, says Revelation 1:8."  "Behold, I come" says Christ Himself in Revelation 21:12.  The Return of Christ is so clearly stated in Scripture it is one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith.  Thus we affirm it every Sunday, in the Nicene Creed, "He shall come again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead," or in the Apostles' Creed, "From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead."  A second future event, stated with equal clarity and boldness, is the resurrection of the dead.  Not only is Christ raised from the dead, but you and I, and all people will also be raised.  It is in that resurrected state that our Lord says in John 12:48 people will be judged on the last day.  1 Thessalonians 4:16 tells us "the dead in Christ shall rise first."  Job 19:26 says, though worms destroy my body "yet in my flesh shall I see God."  Here again is such a foundational element of Biblical faith that God's Church has felt constrained to affirm it every Sunday for two-thousand years. "I believe... in the resurrection of the body," "I look for the resurrection of the dead: And the life of the world to come."  So, as we near the end of the Easter season, I want to speak this morning about your resurrection.

Those who belong to Christ actually have two resurrections.  The first is a resurrection of the spirit within us.  Romans 6:23 tells us "the wages of sin is death."  This death is twofold.  First it is the lake of fire found in Revelation 21:8, which is to live forever in the condition of dying a horrible death.  Second, it is a spiritual separation from God here and now in this life.  Thus Ephesians 2:1, telling Christians about our spiritual condition before we were rescued by Christ, says we were "dead in trespasses and sins."  Ephesians 2:12 explains this death in terrifying terms.  It is to be "without Christ... strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."  This is the natural condition of all sinners, and, Romans 3:23 states what we all know to be true, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

So, the Christian's first resurrection is to be raised from the condition of spiritual death to a condition of spiritual life.  Ephesians 2:1 calls this being quickened, meaning, made alive: "you hath He quickened, who were dead in your trespasses and sins."  In other places the Bible calls it being "born again" as in John. 3:3, or "regeneration" as in Titus 3:5; "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."  One of my favourite passages on this subject is Romans 6:4: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."  So your first resurrection, if you are a Christian, is that resurrection from the grave and death of sin, to life in Jesus Christ.  We actually prayed for this today in the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter; "Grant unto thy people, that ... our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

The second resurrection is the physical resurrection of our bodies.  This is somewhat puzzling to many.  How can a physical body that has long since been destroyed be put back together and raised again?  It becomes especially complicated when we think that, over the millennia of time, the elements and chemicals of earth may actually become parts of many human bodies.  How can God raise up two bodies of the same material?  My answer is, that's God's problem, and I'm sure the One who could be in Heaven, and, at the same time, living on earth in a human body, can raise us up and put us back together again if He wants to.  I am confident, therefore, that as Job said, "though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God"  (Job 19:26).

When does this physical resurrection occur?  Martha gives the answer in John 11:24.  Speaking to Christ about Lazarus, she says, " I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Revelation 20:12 confirms this.  After the defeat of Satan, after the millennial reign, at the last day the dead are raised to stand before God.  And when is the last day?  It is the day Christ returns.  On that day "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

What will the resurrected body be like?  The Bible give us some clues.  Philippians 4:20-21 says it will "be fashioned like unto his glorious body."  Our resurrected body will be like Christ's resurrected body.  So it will be a real body as Christ's is.  It will be recognisable.  We will recognise each other as the disciples were able to recognise Christ.  It will not be susceptible to age, disease, or death.  Finally, it will be able to stand in the presence of God.  God told Moses no man could see Him and live.  That was in our Friday morning reading in Exodus 33.  But our glorified, resurrected bodies will be made to be in the immediate presence of God. "So shall we ever be with the Lord."

The physical resurrection of our bodies is part of that blessed hope that belongs to every Christian.  There is much more to life than what we see with our physical eyes now.  There is a world beyond this world which we can only see with the eyes of faith.  But one day our physical eyes will see it.  One day our feet will walk on its streets.  One day our knees will bow in the immediate presence of God.  One day, in our flesh, shall we see God.

April 21, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Third Sunday after Easter


Monday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.85, Ex. 25:1-22, Heb. 9:15
Evening – Ps. 77, Is. 45:20, Eph. 1:1-14


Commentary, Hebrews 9:15

Hebrews 9:1-14 brought us to understand the finality and full sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. His offering of Himself on the cross pays in full the price of our sins and restores us to God. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament could never accomplish this, but God can and did in Christ. Thus we are free from the dead works of the ceremonial law. Attempts to continue or revive them are actually insults to Christ, which is why Galatians 1:6 says such people have left Christ for another gospel. This morning's reading continues to insist that the Old Covenant, was temporary, and has been fulfilled in the work of Christ and in calling together the New Israel (Church) in the New Covenant. The point of Hebrews 9:15-28 is that Christ did not come to continue the Old Covenant but to be the mediator of the New Covenant. 

This point is made first by comparing the Old Covenant to a will, which takes effect at the death of the person making the will. The point is that the promises of the Old Testament become the possession of God’s people at the death of the One making the will, God. Thus, when Christ died, the promises became ours. The Church no longer lives in anticipation of the promises, but in the reality of them.

The point is made second by showing that the people and Tabernacle of the Old Covenant were “purified” with the blood of animals, but the New Covenant and its Tabernacle, which is the true Tabernacle in Heaven, is purified with the blood of Christ Himself. The old Tabernacle was a pattern (copy) of the true Tabernacle (9:23), and Christ entered into the true Tabernacle and holy place with His own blood to bring us into God.

Tuesday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, Ex. 28:1-38, Heb. 10:1-14
Evening – Ps. 84, 117, Is. 46:3-13, Eph. 1:15

Commentary, Hebrews 10:1-14

Today’s reading continues to emphasise the finality and supremacy of the life and work of Christ in accomplishing His peoples’ redemption. The Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices were but a shadow of Him. Verse 1 makes the point that a shadow is not even a full image or replica. It is but an outline, a silhouette. Christ is much more than just an image; He is the very presence of the good things to come. They have arrived in Him. In Him we have received eternal redemption. In Him, we are in God, and God is in us. Verses 1-8 explain the temporary nature of the Old Testament ceremonial and sacrificial laws. The very fact that they needed to be constantly repeated shows their temporary status. If they had been able to accomplish redemption they would not have needed to be repeated.

Christ accomplished full and eternal redemption by His one sacrifice of Himself. Verses 9-14 are about the full salvation purchased for us by His one, full, perfect, and all sufficient sacrifice. The conclusion of this section is that “by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (10:14).

Wednesday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 89:1-19, Ex. 32:1-20, Heb. 10:15-25
Evening – Ps. 90, Is. 48:12-21, Eph. 2:1-10

Commentary, Hebrews 10:15-25

Today’s reading can be summarized under three headings. First, found in Hebrews 10:15-18, reiterates the theme of verse 14, the absolute redemption accomplished by the one sacrifice of Christ. Verse 15 refers to the words of the Old Testament Scriptures as the Holy Ghost bearing witness. The Holy Ghost inspired and directed the prophets and authors of the Old Testament, so it is perfectly natural and right to say that in them the Holy Ghost testifies to the truth of what we read in Hebrews. Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted, bringing us to the point, stated in verse 18, that there is no more offering for sin. The Bible is saying God will no longer remember our sin under the New Covenant. That means He will not hold us responsible for its penalty. How can this be? It is only possible if God bears the cost of our sin in Himself, instead of requiring it from us. In other words, God must suffer for our sins in our places. This was accomplished in Christ on the cross. In Him God made the one full and sufficient sacrifice that is able to bear the cost of our sin, forever. There is no more offering for sin because the price has been paid in full and no more offerings are needed.

Second, made in verses 19-21, is the point that we now have boldness to enter into the holiest (presence of God, vs. 19) because our sins are forgiven through the one full and sufficient sacrifice of the blood of Christ. Compare our boldness in coming to God with the fear and temerity of the people under the Old Covenant. They came with blood offerings lest God take their own blood. They came not into the Holy of Holies, knowing they would die if they dared enter into the direct presence of God it symbolised. Even the High Priest feared to enter the Holy of Holies, lest God may be displeased with Israel, and strike him dead. But we, confident that our sins have been forgiven completely because of the sacrifice of Christ, dare to call upon God and enter His presence with confidence and boldness. Our boldness is not irreverent or glib. Our entrance into the presence of God is reverent and respectful. It is not arrogance; it is faith. It is our confidence that Christ has washed away our sins and made us acceptable unto God that allows us come to Him as His beloved children to our Father. 

Third, verses 21-25 encourage us to “draw near” to God through Christ. He is our assurance of acceptance (10:22). We are also encouraged to hold our faith securely without wavering. That is, we are to be faithful to the end as Christ Himself was faithful to us (23). We are to encourage one another to remain in the faith and to let our lives show our faith through love and good works. Finally, we are to attend the worship and fellowship opportunities of the Church (25). Hebrews 10:25 does not get much “press” these days because our view of following Christ is often considered only in terms of our personal salvation and relationship with Christ. But we have over emphasized the individual aspect and almost abandoned the corporate aspect of following Christ. We often think the Church is optional, and that its only function is to bring others to Christ, which we can do on our own (so it is said). But Christ is calling us to be a part of His new people, new family, new nation, new body, and we are members of one another as much as we are members of Him. Thus we are not to be absent when the Church assembles. We are to be present and active, for the Day of Judgment is coming.

Thursday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 91, Ex. 32:21-34, Heb. 10:26
Evening – Ps. 97, 98, Is. 49:1-12, Eph. 2:11

Commentary, Hebrews 10:26

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the book of Hebrews turns again to an exhortation to faithfully trust and obey Him fully and forever. The exhortation begins with a dire warning, found in Hebrews 10:26-31. Commenting on Hebrews 6:4-8, I wrote that I hope these verses cause you to fear. I have the same hope for this passage. I say this because these verses teach the terrible consequences of falling away from Christ. Sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (10:26) does not refer to the constant failures and sins we commit in our daily battle to conquer sin and live for Christ. The sin of verse 26 is willfully deserting the faith. It is turning away from Christ and returning to the life of self-indulgence and self-direction. It is to remove Christ from the throne of your life, and to re-enthrone yourself as king and god of yourself. It is to live in unrepentant rebellion against God. It is, to draw back from Christ and return to perdition (10:39). What happens to a person who has professed Christ, but now has turned away from Him? Is that person “saved?” No. Hebrews 10:26 says such a person now has no sacrifice for sin. That person has rejected the only sufficient sacrifice, the only one that can cleanse the soul and make him acceptable unto God. That person, therefore, has no way to atone for his sins. He will stand before God in his sins, and for his sins he will be lost. Thus verse 27 says he has only a certain, fearful expectation of judgment. “Certain,” in this verse, means absolute. There is no question about it. It will happen as surely as God exists. Verses 28 & 29 prove this by the Old Testament, which records that people perished for disobeying the law that was given through Moses. If disobeying that law was a grievous crime, surely the rejection of Christ, Immanuel, God with us, is more heinous and more worthy of wrath. Such a person has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant (the blood Christ shed on the cross) as unholy. He counts the blood of Christ as not the blood of the Most High given for our sins, but as common and defiled and without value. Verse 30 quotes the words of Deuteronomy 32:35 and applies them to the one who has treated the Son of God so despicably. Verse 31 concludes the warning; it is a fearful thing for such people to fall into the hands of the living God.

Now the passage moves into a word of encouragement. It is based on the confidence of 10:39, “we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” The heart of this passage is verse 35, “cast not away therefore your confidence.” We could restate this verse as, hold fast to Christ in faith. The original recipients of this epistle had faced serious opposition and persecution when they became Christians (32-34). This opposition came from family and friends as well as the larger community. Yet they did not desert Christ. Nor did they desert the Apostle Paul, who was often in chains and prison for his faith in Christ (Heb 10: 34). Just as they stood firm in the faith then, they are encouraged to stand firm now, that they may receive their reward.

Friday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.94, Ex. 33:7, Heb. 11:1-16
Evening – Ps. 103, Is. 49:13-23, Eph. 3:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 11:1-16

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, warned us against apostasy, and encouraged us to trust in Christ to the very end, St. Paul now shows several examples of faith in the Old Testament. Their example is given to encourage us to be faithful as they were, but they are also given to show that their salvation was the gift of God received by faith, not something they earned through good deeds or keeping Old Testament ceremonial laws. Many of these people actually antedated the ceremonial laws, but were received by God because they trust in Him. In other words, they were saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest they boast of their accomplishment (see Eph. 2:2-9). One commentator has captured the essence of the meaning of this passage, especially verse 1. He wrote:

“In Old Testament times…there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and in directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye. It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 277).

The people named in Hebrews 4-12 are often called heroes of faith, but they would probably rather be known as people who were saved by grace. And salvation by grace is the point of this passage. By grace, God promised them an inheritance. That inheritance was symbolized in things like children and land, but it was far more than these things. It was God Himself. Thus, even though Abraham did not technically own the Promised Land, He did inherit a better country, which is the country, or city, of God (vs. 16).

By faith they believed God and directed their lives as if what God had promised was already theirs. This is just what we are called to do as New Testament believers. By grace God has promised full forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. By faith we act like forgiven people. By grace God has given Christ to be the propitiation for our sins. By faith we trust Christ to remove all our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. By grace God has promised to take us to a land where the troubles of earth, the temptations of sin, and the barriers between ourselves and God will be only dim memories, and we will enjoy His glory forever. By faith we conduct and order our lives in the light of that promise.

Saturday after the Third Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps.99, 100, Ex. 34:1-35, Heb. 11:17-31
Evening – Ps. 23, 30, Is. 50:4-10, Eph. 3:13

Commentary, Hebrews 11:17-31

Looking at Abraham, let us be clear that God is not telling anyone to sacrifice someone as a test of faith today. It may seem odd to see such an obvious statement in today’s commentary, but it is here for the same reason hand lotion containers have to have warnings; “Not for internal use.” So, “Don’t try this at home.”

Now let us look at our reading for this morning, Hebrews 11:17-31. This passage continues to show how people in the Old Testament trusted the promise of God. Abraham is the primary example. Promised an inheritance of land and descendants, He believed God and ordered his life according to the promise. He trusted God even when it looked like the promise could not be kept. Thus, Abraham knew God would somehow be true, and he would return with Isaac alive and well (Gen. 22:5). This is the meaning of Hebrews 11:19. The point is that Abraham trusted God and acted accordingly.

Trusting God applies as much to us as to Abraham. Though not called to literally sacrifice children or people to God, we are called to trust God’s promise and providence when it comes to the people and things we love most in this world. Do we love God enough to trust Him with these things? Do we trust Him with our children, grand children, parents, and siblings? Do we trust Him with life as well as eternity? Will we live our lives with faith in the Promise of God in Christ, as Abraham lived with faith in the promise of Genesis 21:12 and Hebrews 11:18, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”?

Sermon, Third Sunday after Easter


                                                       Perseverance and Preservation
John 10:22-30
Third Sunday after Easter
April 21, 2013

By now you know about the connection our annual cycle of worship and prayer gives to the Scripture readings and sermons.  We don't just wander through the Bible in our daily readings, and we aren't dependent on what ever strikes the minister's interest on Sundays.  We follow a plan that takes us through the Bible in an orderly and sensible way every year.  The result of this plan is that there is a connection between the daily Bible readings and the Sunday Bible readings.  And there is a connection between the sermons, Sunday to Sunday, throughout the year.  Last Sunday's sermon was about conversion.  The main point of the sermon was to say that conversion means to be turned from a lifestyle of going astray from God, to a lifestyle of following God.  As Jesus Himself said, "My sheep hear my voice... and they follow me" (Jn. 10:27).  So we have become followers of Christ.  I know we do not follow perfectly, we do stray sometimes.  We still sin.  But we repent and return to Christ because we have a lifestyle of following our Shepherd.

Converted people naturally have a question at this point; "how can I know I will continue the lifestyle of following?"  This is an important question, and the heart of it is this, how do I know I will not become unconverted?  How do I know I will actually make it to Heaven?  Can a person who is saved ever become unsaved?

This is not a silly question.  We who love Christ and trust Him as our Saviour are very much aware of the weakness of our faith and the strength of the temptations and enticements of the world the flesh and the devil.  We know that the will to sin still lives in us, and we wonder if it will ever cause us to completely and finally stray away from Christ and back into eternal damnation.  Therefore, today, looking at the words of Christ in John 10:27-30, I intend to talk about the eternal security of those who are in Christ.

Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice... and they follow me."  From this I want to say, you know you are one of Christ's sheep if you hear His voice and follow Him.  I am not talking about hearing an audible voice.  I am not even talking about hearing a voice in your head.  I am not talking about receiving signs or seeing visions or having miracles. I know of a TV preacher who thinks that, while he is praying, God tells him, someone is being healed of disease, someone in financial distress is going to receive money, or someone's marriage is being healed, or some other miracle is happening.  I doubt it.  I don't think God is telling him these things, I think he is imagining God telling him these things.   So, how do we hear the voice of God?  We hear the voice of God when we read the Bible.  That's where you should go if you want to know what God is saying to you.  And Christ's sheep read the Bible.

So what does the Bible say to those who are truly followers of Christ? It says, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish."  Eternal life means to live in fellowship and peace with God now and forever.  We have looked at this often in the past, so I will not take the time to discuss it today.  Today I only want to look at the origin of eternal life.  Where does it come from?  How do we obtain it?  It comes to us from God.  It is given to us as His gift.  Jesus said, "I give unto them eternal life."  Romans 6:23 confirms this, as though to make sure there is no confusion about it; "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  So you didn't earn it.  You didn't make yourself so good you earned Heaven.  God gives eternal life to His sheep.  And notice the tense of that word "give."  It is present tense and it describes continuing action in the present.  So Christ is saying, "I give, and forever keep on giving, unto them eternal life."  I stress the continuing action because if Christ keeps on giving eternal life to us, we possess it, and we keep on possessing it.  He doesn't give us eternal life for a day or a millennium or a million trillion zillion millennia, He gives it forever and we possess it forever.  Thanks be to God.

Therefore, as Jesus says, "they shall never perish."  To perish means to die unforgiven, and suffer for your sins forever.  "The wages of sin is death" says Romans 6:23.  Revelation 21:8 describes that death as the lake of fire and brimstone, "which is the second death."  But I want to emphasise what Jesus says of those who are His sheep, those who are truly converted, "they shall never perish."  They will never see the lake of fire, never see the second death, never be separated from the love and salvation given to them by God.  He will never take that gift back.

Next, Jesus says nothing is able to pluck us out of God's hand.  He is intentionally using a word picture here.  He gives the image of  God holding us, firmly and gently in His almighty hand.  The world, the flesh and the devil are trying to pluck us out, but God is too strong for them.  They can't pluck us out of His hand.  Even we sometimes kick and squirm and try to break out, but again, God's hand is too strong for us, and we remain in His grasp.  He keeps on giving the gift of eternal life.

Two words are often used in discussions about eternal security.  The first is perseverance.  Bishop J. C. Ryle gave a good definition of the theological meaning of this word in his book, Old Paths.  I heartily recommend this book as an essential read for every Christian.  He wrote;

"the Bible teaches that true believers, real genuine Christians, shall persevere in their religion to the end of their lives.  They shall never perish.  They shall never be lost.  They shall never be cast away.  Once in Christ they shall always be in Christ.  Once made children of God by adoption and grace, they shall never cease to be His children and become children of the devil.  Once endued with the grace of the Spirit, that grace shall never be taken from them.  Once pardoned and forgiven, they shall never be deprived of their pardon.  Once joined to Christ by living faith, their union shall never be broken off.  Once called by God into the narrow way that leads to life, they shall never be allowed to fall into hell.  In a word, every man, woman, and child on earth that receives saving grace, shall sooner or later receive eternal glory. Every soul that is once justified and washed in Christ's blood, shall at length be found safe at Christ's right hand in the day of judgement."

I do not say you will not sin, or doubt, or fear, or experience times when it feels like you are falling away from God.  But you will never fall away completely.  If you have truly been converted you will stay converted until you finally reach your home in Heaven.  You will persevere in the faith.

The second word, and I actually like it better than the word perseverance, is "preservation."  I like it better because some people make perseverance seem like it all depends on us, but preservation shows that it actually all depends on God.  I return to  John 10 to recall to your mind the continuing act of God in giving eternal life.  He gives it now and continues to give it for all eternity.  I recall again to your mind Christ's words in John 10 29, "no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand."  Christ is saying that our continuance in the faith and safe arrival in Heaven does not depend on our ability, to hang on to God; it depends on God's ability and willingness to hang on to us.  In other words, we will continue in the faith and make it to Heaven because God preserves us.  He holds us in His hand, and nothing can pluck us out of it.

Some people think God saves us something like this, He looks at the mass of lost sinners, and reaches His hand down to us, and says, "Come to My hand grab a finger and hold on, and if you can hold on until I bring My hand back to Heaven, you will be saved.  That is not the Biblical teaching.  According to the Bible, God looks upon the mass of sinful people, and reaches out His hand, and picks us up and holds us in His hand until He carries us safely to Heaven.  We can only persevere because God preserves.

Merciful Father, preserve us.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

April 14, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Second Sunday after Easter


Monday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 49, Ex. 17:8, Heb. 6:1-12
Evening – Ps. 47, 48, Is. 43:8-13, 1 Pet. 3:13

Commentary, Hebrews 6:1-12

Hebrews 6 continues to warn us not to neglect the salvation purchased for us by God in Christ. The heart of this warning is terrible and frightening, for its message is that those who appear to begin to follow Christ in the life of faith, but stop following Him, will not become followers of Christ again. “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (Heb. 6:4-6).

I truly hope these verses cause you to fear. Most people don’t pay much attention to them because they immediately call up all their defensive tactics that tell them once saved always saved, and that such people were never saved in the first place. That is true, but that is not the point, because they believed they were saved, and they made a start at living the Christian life. But at some point and for some reason, they quit. They either found out that they really don’t believe, or they decided they aren’t really willing to live the Christian life. They were probably quite happy to believe Jesus died for their sins, be baptized, and do a few churchy things as long as it was convenient and easy for them, but when following Christ began to require trusting Him in difficult situations and sacrificing personal goals and desires to live for Him, they simply quit. Such people will probably continue to convince themselves that they are Christians, but in reality, they are not. So the “moral of the story” is found in verse 12, “be not slothful, but followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Tuesday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 50, Ex. 18:1-12, Heb. 6:13
Evening – Ps. 61,62, Is. 43:15-21 & 44:1-3, 1 Pet. 4:1-6

Commentary, Hebrews 6:13

Abraham is an example of a person who inherited the promises through faith and patience (6:15). He patiently endured in the faith, though it was not always easy for him. He inherited the earthly Promised Land through his descendants, but he inherited the Kingdom of Heaven as the promise of God. Canaan was but a symbol of the Heavenly Promised Land.

The promises of God are immutable. In verse 17 it says the counsel of God is immutable, but the counsel of God includes His promises. We could interpret the verse as saying the word of God is immutable, meaning the word of God is His bond and He will not break it. His word is confirmed by an oath. God swears by Himself, making it evident that His word is indeed a promise. He binds Himself to keep His promise, that those who trust in Christ in Biblical faith, will inherit the promise, and those who do not trust in Him to the end, will not.

This promise is an anchor of hope in a sea of troubles (6:19). It gives us faith to continue on, steadfast to the end. It keeps us anchored in Christ, and Christ Himself is “within the veil” the Holy of Holies, which is the right hand of God in Heaven.

Wednesday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 63, Ex. 18:13, Heb. 7:1-11
Evening – Ps. 65, Is 44:6-23, 1 Pet. 4:7-11

Commentary, Hebrews 7:1-11

Hebrews, chapter 6 closed with a quote from Psalm 110:4 and a reference to Genesis 14:18-20. Our reading in Hebrews 7 explains how Christ is a Priest of the order of Melchisidec. The identity of Melchisidec is a topic of much discussion among students of Scripture. He is noted as the King of Salem, which means King of Peace, and the inference in the book of Hebrews is that he is an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Thus, verse 2 calls Him the King of Righteousness to whom Abraham offered a tithe. He is also noted as being without parents and without descent. Christ is eternally God, so God the Father is not His parent in the same sense that our human fathers and mothers are ours. He has no “beginning of days nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (7:3).

Melchisidec is a greater priest than the Levitical priests of the Old Testament because they paid tithes to Him through Abraham (7:5). Note also that Melchisidec predates the Levitical priesthood (7:6) and that His office did not pass to another at His death. Finally, His priesthood brings His people to perfection, which the Levitical priesthood could never do.

Thursday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 66, Ex. 19:1-20, Heb 7:12
Evening – Ps. 71, Is. 44:9-20, 1 Pet. 4:12

Commentary, Hebrews 7:12

The major point being made in Hebrews 7 is that the Old Testament priesthood was a temporary institution, while the priesthood of Christ is eternal. Just as the priests themselves were not permanent, but passed their office on to another at death, so their order of priesthood was also temporary, and would be passed on to another who will continue in it forever. Melchisidec is eternally a priest, Aaron was temporary.

The ministry of the order of Melchisidec supersedes the Old Testament priests’ ministry. Their ministry has ended, but the ministry of Christ continues. Even now He “ever liveth to make intercession” (7:25). His ministry surpasses theirs because He accomplished it with a single sacrifice, while theirs required daily sacrifices (7:27). His ministry surpasses theirs because He is able to save to the uttermost (7:25). His ministry accomplished our salvation, theirs symbolized it. 

Friday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 51, Ex. 20:1-21, Heb 8
Evening – Ps. 73, Is. 44:24-45:4, 1 Pet. 5:1-7

Commentary, Hebrews 8


Chapter 8 begins to state the sum, or, conclusion, of what has been said in previous chapters, especially chapter 7. The sum is that the Old Testament office of priesthood ended when Christ, the Priest of the order of Melchisidec, appeared. Equally important, the Old Covenant ended when the New Covenant began (8:13). In future studies we will consider the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments). For now let us simply say that the Old Testament parts that have ended are those which foreshadowed the ministry of Christ. They have ended, but they are not dead. They continue in their fulfillment in Christ Jesus and in the New Israel, which is the New Testament Church. Thus, for example, we no longer call people clean or unclean because of the food they eat, for those in Christ are clean by virtue of His atoning death, and those outside of Christ are unclean in their souls, regardless of what they eat. Our spiritual cleanness in Christ fulfills the symbolic cleanness of foods in the Old Testament. So the Old Covenant is waxed old and vanishes away not because it is useless, but because it is fulfilled in Christ. Both are important to us because both chronicle the history of Redemption. 

Christ fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood and now resides at the right hand of the Heavenly Majesty (8:1). The Heavenly Majesty is God, and the meaning is that Christ has returned to the place of honour in the Divine glory of the Trinity. His true work was and is accomplished in the Heavenly Sanctuary, of which the Temple was a symbol, or shadow (8:2-5).

Christ, the substance of which the Old Testament was the shadow, has a more excellent ministry than the Old Testament priests because He is the mediator of a better covenant (8:6). The Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Verse 8 refers to Jeremiah 31:31, but the New Covenant is promised in other verses also. The New Covenant people will have the law of God in their hearts (8:10) and they will all know God (8:11). Verses 6-13 tell us much about the New Covenant, all building upon the truth stated in 7:25, that Christ’s Covenant and dying gift to His people is their complete salvation and restoration to God.

Saturday after the Second Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 72, Ex 24:1-18, Heb. 9:1-14
Evening – Ps. 33, Is. 45:5-19, 1 Pet. 5:8

Commentary, Hebrews 9:1-14

Hebrews 9:1-5 describes the Tabernacle as God directed it to be built in the wilderness of Sinai. The plan of the Tabernacle was given directly to Moses, and was followed strictly in the Temple built by Solomon. The point of this passage is the temporary nature of the Tabernacle and its services. This is shown in verses 6 & 7, which tell of the repetitive nature of the services. The priests entered daily into the holy place, and the high priest entered annually into the Holy of Holies to conduct the services and worship of God. So, the temporary effects of the service illustrate the temporary nature of the entire system.

Verses 9 and 10 make another important point; access to the presence of God, symbolized by the Holy of Holies, is no longer prevented by a physical barrier. In Christ the veil, which acted as a barrier to separate the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Sanctuary, is removed and access to God is open to anyone who will come to Him. Meat and drink offerings and washings (9:10 & 13) are now irrelevant to the real worship of God. Under the Old Covenant, they had their place and function, but the sacrifice of Christ alone can purify the heart and bring a person into the true Holy of Holies. Verse 14 makes an excellent point about the Old Testament sacrifices and services. They did what God wanted them to do, and they did it effectually. They made a person symbolically clean and allowed him to participate in the covenant community of Israel. If such small sacrifices could accomplish their purpose, then the surpassing value of the sacrifice of the Son of God is also able to accomplish its purpose, the complete forgiveness of our sins and the complete restoration of our souls to God. If this has been accomplished for us in Christ, we are free from the need for meat and drink offerings (dead works) to serve the Living God through faith in Christ (9:14).

Sermon, Second Sunday after Easter


Conversion
Psalm 23,  1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:11-16
Second Sunday after Easter
April 14, 2013

I love the ancient creeds of the Church, because they summarise the primary and essential doctrines of the faith once delivered unto the saints.  The Nicene Creed for example, summarises what the Bible teaches about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It also ventures into such things as Church, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.  These are the foundational doctrines of the Bible.  To deny them is to deny the faith, to deny Christ Himself.  To deny them is to declare yourself an unbeliever.

It is no accident that the Creed begins with the doctrine of God as He is revealed in Scripture, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  The vast majority of the Creed focuses on these teachings, because without them we have no right understanding of God, and right understanding of God is the foundation of all right belief.  It is certainly the foundation of the Biblical, Christian faith.

Yet the knowledge of God profits us nothing unless we act on it in faith.  As James 2:19 tells us, even devils know about God, but are lost for eternity.  Devils "believe and tremble."  So the Bible does not just teach an intellectual assent to doctrine; it teaches right doctrine accompanied by the response of faith.  Today I want to look at the response of faith, and I want to address this vast, and many faceted subject under the heading of conversion, because it doesn't matter what you believe about God if your lifestyle and life orientation is still one of going astray from God.

For some, the word, "conversion" recalls images of tent meetings and evangelistic crusades, and going forward at an invitation to accept Christ.  Many even think the act act of going forward is conversion.  But it is possible to go forward at a thousand such meetings, yet not really be converted, for to convert is to change, not just go forward.  Of course, some have been truly converted in such meetings, in a dramatic and seemingly sudden event.  For others, conversion was a much slower process.  This is especially true of people raised in the Church and Godly homes.  Such people may kind of grow into Christ in such a way that they cannot  name a date and time and place in which they were converted, yet they are converted.  For conversion means to have a change of life based upon the revelation of God in Scripture.  The Apostle Peter, in the Epistle for today calls it being returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your soul, which is God.  Peter uses the familiar image of sheep going astray. We can imagine an ancient shepherd leading his flock; some sheep following him closely, but many are going their own way, and running away until they are finally lost and die in the wilderness. 

To be converted is to be returned to the Shepherd.  It means to change the direction of life, and it especially refers to a change in the direction of our relationships.  Take for example our human relationships. We are sinners who regularly rupture our human relationships, especially those that are most important, such as those with family and church members, and we need a conversion in these relationships so that we begin to to do the things that build them up, rather than tear them down.  Luke 1:17 is part of the angel's words about John the Baptist, and it says he will go before the Messiah and "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children."  In this verse Luke used the same Greek. word Peter used in 1 Peter 2:25, and we easily see the relational meaning of the word. 

Conversion especially refers to our relationship with God.  Returning to Luke 1 again, verse 16 says,  "many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God."  Again Luke and Peter use the same word, "turn," and, again, the word is relational. It is a conversion of relationships meaning to adopt a lifestyle of continually restructuring the relationship with with God.

It is important to stress here that those who are converted have, at some point in their lives, come to realise that they are trusting God to forgive their sins and receive them into Heaven because, and only because, Jesus Christ, "bare [their] sins in his own body of the tree," as Peter wrote in our Epistle.  That verse is 1 Peter 2:24, and I humbly ask you to look it up and ponder it this afternoon.  And then I ask you to humbly look at yourself and answer this question, "Am I trusting Jesus, and only Jesus to forgive my sin and receive me into Heaven?  And, if you are not, or are not sure, call me and I will explain this more fully.

There is something else that must be stressed today, and it goes back to that change in relationship I was talking about a few minutes ago.  Conversion means to have a changed relationship with God through Christ.  It means you stop going astray and return to the Great Shepherd. and Bishop of your soul, Jesus Christ.  It means you now intend to stop living the lifestyle of straying, and begin living the lifestyle of returning.  We could say, you decide to stop living apart from God as though you are divorced from Him, and start living in love and fidelity with Him as though you are part of the Church and the Bride of Christ.  Again I invite you to ask yourself if this describes your relationship with God, and if the answer is "no," or, "I'm not sure," talk to me, for your soul is in danger. 

All true Christians have made the decision to be a returner, not a strayer.  Peter portrays this change in very graphic terms.  He tells us "that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness."  This is what we prayed for in the Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter.  Asking that we might receive the inestimable benefit of the sacrifice of Christ, and that we might follow His example of a holy life, we prayed:

"Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life; Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

April 5, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of First Sunday after Easter


Monday

Lectionary

Psalm 1, 3, Ex. 13:3-16, Heb. 1
Psalm 4, 11, Is. 40:1-11, 1 Pet. 1:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 1

Hebrews has one resounding theme, the absolute supremacy of Christ. He is the Son of God, which is to say He is God, the Second Person of the Triune God who is One, yet Three. As the Son of God He is God’s final and ultimate revelation. In times past God has spoken through the prophets. To them He gave visions and visitations and signs and wonders. But Jesus is the final Message of God. The prophets wrote of Him. The visions, signs, and wonders were given to guide Israel toward the fullness of time when Christ would appear and begin to bring all things together under Himself. Therefore, Christ is superior to visions and signs. They are actually superseded by Him. They are no longer needed. God spoke to us in His Son, who gave His word to the Apostles, who recorded it in the Bible. Thus, the Bible is our authority. We should not expect more visions or prophecies or signs or feelings. We should not expect God to speak to us through such measures. We have a much surer way of knowing God; He is revealed in the Bible. To seek to know the will of God apart from the Bible is to treat the Bible as insufficient, and that is the same as saying Christ is insufficient.

This Word of God, the Son of God is the brightness of His glory and the image of His person (1:3). “Image” in the Greek is the word from which we derive our English word, “character.” It means Christ is not an image of God as a portrait or statue is an image of a person. Christ is the living expression of God. He is the “character” (nature) of God in a living, human form. Therefore, He is superior to angels. Angels are great and powerful beings. They are good, they are strong, and they dwell in the immediate presence of God. They serve Him and worship Him and do His will. Yet they are nothing in comparison to Christ. He is their Lord. He is their Creator and Master. He gives their powers to them. He gives their existence to them. He can take it away in less than an instant if He wants to.
 

Tuesday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 5, Ex. 13:17-14:4, Heb. 2:1-8
Evening – Psalm 15, 24, Is. 40:12-17, 1 Pet. 1:13

Commentary, Hebrews 2:1-8

If an angel were to appear to you at this very moment, you would probably be filled with fear. If the angel told you to do something, you would probably obey immediately. Yet One far greater than all the angels has appeared on earth, and bids you believe in Him and keep His commandments, therefore you should give your utmost to hearing and obeying His Word. This is the point of our reading in Hebrews this morning, and it begins in the very first verse. The One who is greater than the angels is Christ Jesus, the character of God in human form, as we saw in our reading yesterday. Christ is the heir and creator of all things, who purged our sins by His own blood, and now is seated again at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:2). God has spoken to us in Him, a revelation that is complete and full and above every other communication from God. The other revelations looked forward to Him, and He is the completion of their story (Heb. 1:1).

People suffered for disobeying the word of God given through these lesser beings. This is seen in the numerous disasters suffered by Israel for their lack of obedience. If Israel was punished for disobedience to the word given through men and angels, God will surely punish those who disobey His word given through Christ Himself. If they who disobeyed angels did not escape, can anyone who disobeys the express image of God expect to escape? “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (He. 2:3). Let us give “more earnest heed” to the things God has spoken in Christ, “lest at any time we should let them slip” (2:1).

Wednesday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Psalm 22, 23, Ex.14:5-30, Heb. 2:9
Evening – Psalm 25, Is. 40: 18-31, 1 Pet. 2:1-10



Commentary, Hebrews 2:9

It may be good to recall that when the Lectionary only lists one verse in a chapter, as in Heb. 2:9, it means to read from verse 9 to the end of the chapter. Thus, our reading for this morning is Hebrews 2:9-18, and it reminds us again that God became a real, living human being. This theme begins in verse 9 and culminates in verse 16. Christ was made “lower than the angels” (2:9) and of the seed of Abraham (2:16). It is necessary to have this fact firmly in mind to understand the main point of this passage because an angel could not accomplish what Christ accomplished for us. If an angel had become human and gone to the cross his death would be as unable to atone for our sins as the blood of bulls and goats. Why? Because God must bear the cost of our sins, just as we must bear the cost of sins against us if we are going to continue in relationship with other people. So God, somehow remained God, yet also became fully human and participated fully in the human condition even to the point of death. He allowed Himself no special privileges. He had to live by faith, He had to live by the power of the Spirit, and he had to obey the Scriptures just as we all have to do. “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren” (2:17). But unlike us, He accomplished it all without sin.

Having made the point that Christ always was/is/will be nothing less than God who became flesh, we are now told why He did so, “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (2:17). His full experience of the human condition allows Him to know by experience what we face in life. He was tempted. He knew physical weakness, hunger, weariness, and sickness. He was constrained by time and space. He suffered these things, and having experienced them, He is able to succour us (2:18). “Succour” summarises this whole passage, for it summarises the work of Christ. It means to have empathy and to feel our sorrows and needs. But it also means to apply healing and help to our wounds. Our wound is our sin and the wrath of God. He heals that wound by bearing it in Himself on the cross, reconciling us to God. But His work does not end there. It continues as He calls His people unto Himself, builds up His Church, leads us into God by His Word and Spirit, and, finally, places us in His immediate presence in that land where sin and sorrow will never touch us again, forever.

Thursday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 28, Ex. 15:20, Heb 3
Evening – Ps. 29, 46, Is. 42:1-9, 1 Pet. 2:11-17

Commentary, Hebrews 3

The Old Testament is filled with the works of great prophets. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Samuel, were great men and great leaders, whose works have influenced the world for thousands of years. Yet none of them can compare to the work and influence of Moses. No other human being has left a stamp upon the mind and fabric of humanity that compares to that of Moses. No philosopher, no religious leader, no political leader or empire has had the global historical influence of Moses. Yet One has come among us who is far greater than Moses. This One is Christ Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our faith (3:1). He is superior to Moses as the builder is greater than the building (3:3). He is the builder of all things (3:4), and He is the builder of the Church, which is His house (3:6). Moses was a servant in His house (3:5), but Christ is the owner, the Son to whom the house belongs (3:6). Thus, the book of Hebrews emphasizes again the Divine identity of Christ. He is not just a prophet and not just a man. He is the One who sent the prophets. Moses was His servant. He created the world and all the people, and He is the owner as well as the creator of all things.

Verses 7-19 remind us to give unto Christ the honour and obedience that is His due. The verses remind us that those who disobeyed Moses suffered death in the wilderness. They were brought out of Egypt by the power of God, yet they did not enter into the Promised Land. Their unbelief sealed their fate forever, for they did not make it to the Heavenly Promised Land any more than they made it to Canaan (38). Verse 14 is an important verse, for it tells us only those who continue in Christ to the end will be partakers of His eternal Kingdom in Heaven. This is a conclusion based on the illustration of those who died in the wilderness. They did not continue in faith in God, therefore, they did not enter Canaan. Those who appear to begin to follow Christ, but do not continue in Him to the end, will not make it to Heaven. Therefore, “Harden not your heart as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, and saw my works forty years” (3:8&9). But exhort one another, and yourself, “lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13). Make no mistake, sin is deceitful, and can convince you that you are in Christ even when you are far away from Him. Please abide in Him, steadfast to the end (3:14).

Friday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning – Ps. 40:1-16, Ex. 16:1-15, Heb. 4:1-13
Evening – Ps 39, Is. 42:10-17, 1 Pet. 2:18


Commentary, Hebrews 4:1-13

Hebrews 4:1-13 continues the theme begun in verse 7 of chapter 3, namely, love and obedience to Christ. This is a pattern of the book of Hebrews. Chapter 1 tells us Christ is the Son of God who is far greater than angels. Chapter 2 tells us that since He is greater than angels, He is more worthy of our love and obedience than they. Chapter 3: 1-6 tells us Christ is greater than Moses. This is followed by an exhortation to honour and obey Him more than Moses. Today’s reading is part of that exhortation.

Verses 1-6 use a word we don’t hear much anymore, “fear.” “Let us therefore fear.” And what does it tell us to fear? Coming short of entering into His rest. The Bible is using the experience of the Hebrew people who were freed from Egyptian slavery, yet did not make it into the Promised Land. We remember that they came to its borders, but failed to enter out of fear of the Canaanites. According to Hebrews, their fear was the sin of unbelief. They simply did not trust God enough to put their lives in His hand. Therefore, they died in the wilderness rather than obey God. The point being made is that many people will appear to start the journey of faith in Christ, but will not make it to Heaven because they will not really trust God with their lives and their souls. They will go astray. They will love the things of the world more than they love God. They will pursue the things of the world, to the exclusion of God, because they will not trust God to provide for them in this life. And if they cannot trust God with their lives, they cannot trust Him with their souls. Therefore, they will be lost. They will not make it to Heaven. These people may be very religious. They may keep the outward forms of the faith carefully. They may pray and worship and read the Bible, and give money, but their hearts belong to them, not God. You can see it in them that they are afraid to trust God. They are afraid to give up their pleasures and amusements to serve Him. They find their life’s meaning in toys and recreations rather than God, and when they face challenges in life, they turn to their amusements rather than God, to see them through. At one time they “tried Jesus.” At one time they started the journey of faith in Him. But at some point they stopped trusting Him. They couldn't face the giants, so they entered not into the Promised Land, and if they do not return to God they will not enter Heaven.

Thus, verse 7 exhorts us to follow Christ “today.” It is not to be put off. The longer we wallow in sin the harder it becomes to get up and walk in faith. The longer we put our trust in money, or things, or amusements, the harder it gets to put our trust in God. The more we love these things, the more we fear losing them, and the less we trust God to be worth more to us than they are. What if God takes them away from us? What if I have to give up my Saturday night out or my Sunday morning golf to go to Church? What means more to me, these things, or God? Today is the day to choose. In fact you will choose today. You are choosing now. Today, harden not your hearts as the Hebrews did in the wilderness. Do not turn away from God. Today trust Him with all your heart, and enter into His rest.

Verse 12 is often quoted but little understood. It means that the word of God sees into your soul and makes it plain whether you are following God or not. It cuts through your defenses and the make-believe world you create to insulate yourself from God. They are coverings of fig leaves, but to God your soul is naked, for He discerns your thoughts. He knows whether you are following Him or turning back away from Him.

Saturday after the First Sunday after Easter

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 42, 43, Ex. 17:1-7, Heb 4:14-5:14
Evening – Ps.93, 111, Is. 43:1-7, 1 Pet. 3:1-12

Commentary, Hebrews 4:14-5:14

The rabbi was a highly honoured man in the Jewish community. Known for learning and wisdom, he was often asked to settle disputes and give counsel on a wide range of issues. And his word was usually followed gladly. Yet beloved and respected as he was, the High Priest was much more so. He lived in palatial grandeur, oversaw the services of the Temple, and was the spiritual leader and symbol of the entire Jewish religion and nation. The book of Hebrews has already told us Christ is greater than angels and Moses, now it tells us He is greater than the High Priest.

He is greater because He has passed into the heavens and because He is the Son of God. Yet He is also aware of our human trials because He experienced them Himself. He is touched by our infirmities and was in all points tried and tempted as we are, though without sin (4:15). Therefore He is merciful and welcoming to those who continue with Him, steadfast to the end (3:14). We may come to Him boldly, not arrogantly nor flippantly, but in reverence tempered with confidence in His grace, knowing that in Him we will find mercy, grace, and help (4:16).

He is greater than the human High Priest because He Himself is without sin, therefore, every aspect of His work is for His people, not Himself. The human High Priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins, and to spend time in prayer and confession for himself (5:3), but Christ is without sin, and His ministry was given entirely for our sake.

He is greater than the High Priest because His Priestly Order is great than the Human High Priest’s. He is of the Order of Melchisedec (5:10). We will see more about Melchisedec later. The point of today’ reading is that Melchisedec was the Priest of God long before the institution of the Temple, the sacrificial system, and the order of priests that conducted the services, including the High Priest.

Therefore, let us go on with Christ into mature faith. That means there must be more to our faith than simply repeating “Christ died for my sins, so I am saved.” We must move into fully trusting Christ with our lives and souls. We must move into finding in Him our life’s meaning, our joy, our pleasure, our hope, and our comfort. In other words, our belief that Christ died for our sins must transform and direct every other aspect of our life, else it is not real faith.

April 2, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Wednesday through Saturday of the Week after Easter Sunday


Easter Wednesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 97, 99, Micah 7:7-20, 1 Timothy 6:11-19
Evening - Ps 148, Isaiah 26:12-19, John 19-23

Commentary

Instead of a commentary on John 20, tonight we have a quote from "An Homily of the Resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ," one of a number of sermons appointed to be read in English churches after the Reformation.  Having appointed sermons to be read may seem strange today, but in a time when many English clergy were still emerging from Catholicism and were not accustomed to preaching, The Homilies assured that Biblical sermons would be heard by the people every Sunday.  The sermon on the resurrection of Christ was to be read on Easter Sunday. After telling of the many physical appearances of Christ, the homily says:

"Ye see, good Christian people, how necessary this article of our faith [the physical resurrection of Christ] is, seeing it was proved of Christ himself, by such evident reasons and tokens by so long time and space.  Now therefore, as our Saviour was diligent, for our comfort and instruction, to declare it, so let us be as ready in our belief, to receive it, to our comfort and instruction.  As he died not for himself, no more did he rise again for himself.  He was dead, saith St. Paul, for our sins, and rose again for our justification.  O most comfortable word, evermore to be borne in remembrance!  He died, saith he, to put away sin; he rose again to endow us with righteousness  His death took away sin, and maladiction; his death was the ransom of them both; his death destroyed death... his death destroyed hell, with all the damnation thereof.  Thus is death swallowed up by Christ's victory; thus is hell spoiled forever."

Thursday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps149, 150, Ezekiel 37:1-14, Philippians 3:7
Evening - Ps. 147, Isaiah 52:1-10, John 20:24

Commentary

Tonight we read again from the Homily for Easter Sunday, which exhorts us to rejoice.  Christ's resurrection proves that death and hell have been conquered for those who are in Christ.  Thus, the sting of death is gone and the power of hell is dead, for:

"If death could not keep Christ under his power, but that he rose again, it is manifest that [death's] power was overcome.  If death be conquered, then it must follow that sin, wherefore death was appointed as the wages, must be also destroyed.  If death and sin be vanquished away, then is the devil's tyranny vanquished, which had the power of death, and was the author and brewer of sin and ruler of hell.  If Christ had the victory of them all, by the power of his death, and openly proved it, by his most victorious and valiant resurrection... and it is true, that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification; why may not we, that be his members by true faith, rejoice, and boldly say with the Prophet Osee [Hosea], and the Apostle Paul, Where is thy dart, O death?  Where is thy victory, O hell? Thanks be unto God... which hath given us the victory, by our Lord Christ Jesus."

Friday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 124, 125, 126, Is. 65:17, Rev. 1:4-18
Evening - Ps. 110, 114, Zephaniah 3:14, John 21:1-14

Commentary,

The leaders of the Church during and immediately after the time of the Apostles are often referred to as the Church Fathers, for they had the responsibility of doing, and transmitting to posterity, the faith and practice they received from the Apostles.  Ignatius (ca. 25-108) was bishop of Antioch and an early martyr.  Justin Martyr (ca.100-165), as his name suggests, also paid the ultimate price for following Christ.  Tertullian (ca. 160-225) was a noted defender of the faith against internal heresy and external attack.  Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was bishop of Constantinople until his faithful preaching angered the emperor's wife and caused his exile and death.  He is also the author of the prayer which closes the Anglican services of Morning and Evening Prayer.  Some of their statements about the resurrection of Christ are given in the following paragraphs.


"I know and believe that even after His Resurrection He was in the flesh,"  Ignatius.

"At His Crucifixion even they that were acquainted with Him all denied and forsook Him; but afterwards, when He rose from the dead, He taught them to read the prophecies, in which all these things were foretold to happen,"  Justin Martyr.

"Believing the Resurrection of Christ, we believe also our own for whom He died and rose again," Tertullian.

"If Christ did not rise again, the whole reason of the Dispensation is overthrown," John Chrysostom.

Saturday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 145, Is. 25:1-9, Rev. 7:9
Evening - Ps. 18:1-20, Jeremiah 31:10-14, John 21:15

Commentary, John 21:15-25

We close the final chapter of John's Gospel with the concluding remarks of Bishop Ryle's commentary on the same.

"I have now set before thee thy Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, that very Son of God, who was begotten by the Father by an eternal and ineffable generation, cosubstantial and coequal with the Father in all things; - but in these last times, according to the prophetical oracles, was incarnate for us, suffered, died, rose again from the dead, and was made King and Lord of all things. - This is He who is appointed and given to us by God the Father, as the fulness of all grace and truth, as the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, as the ladder and door of Heaven, as the serpent lifted up to render the poison of sin harmless, as the water which refreshes the thirsty, as the bread of life, as the light of the world, as the redeemer of God's children, as the shepherd and door of the sheep, as the resurrection and the life, as the corn of wheat which springs up into much fruit, as the conqueror of the prince of this world, as the way, the truth, and the life, as the true vine, and finally, as the redemption, salvation, satisfaction, and righteousness of all the faithful in all the world through all the ages.  Let us therefore pray God the Father, that, being taught by His Gospel, we may know Him that is true, and believe in Him in whom alone is salvation; and that believing, we may feel God living in us in this world, and in the world to come may enjoy His eternal and most blessed fellowship.  Amen and Amen." 

April 1, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Easter Tuesday


Easter Tuesday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 30, Daniel 12:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 4:13
Evening - Ps115, Isaiah 30:18-21, John 20:11-18

Commentary, John 20:11-18

"A dead Christ might have been a Teacher and Wonder-worker, and remembered and loved as such. But only a Risen and Living Christ could be Saviour, the Life, and the Life-Giver - and as such preached to all men.  And of this most blessed truth we have the fullest and most unquestionable evidence.  We can, therfore, implicitly yield ourselves to the impression of these narratives, and, still more, to the realisation of that most sacred and blessed fact.  This is the foundation of the Church, the inscription on the banner of her armies, the strength and comfort of every Christian heart, and the grand hope of humanity: 'The Lord is risen indeed.'"
                        
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  by Anglican clergyman Alfred Edersheim