May 26, 2013

Week of Trinity Sunday

Monday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 2, 3, Num 16:1-14, Lk. 1:1-25
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Ezra 1:1-8, Acts 7:1-16

Commentary, Ezra 1:1-8

The book of Ezra is part of a section of the Old Testament that tells the
history of Israel from creation to the return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity. Genesis through Esther comprise this history, being followed in the Bible by the books, often called, Wisdom Literature, consisting of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. The Wisdom Literature is followed by the Prophets, beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi.

Like all Scripture, Ezra is organised around the ideas it intends to teach, and
the first part, consisting of chapters 1-7 gives a short history of the Jews
since the day Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home
and rebuild the Temple. You will remember that Israel divided into two nations
after the death of Solomon. One nation, made up of the ten northern tribes,
retained the name Israel. The second nation consisted of the tribes of Benjamin
and Judah, and was known as Judah. Israel suffered social and religious
decline, and, in 605 B.C., was defeated in the devastating battle of Carchemish.
The Israelites then largely adopted the ways and religions of their Gentile
conquerors, and virtually lost their identity as the people of God. In the New
Testament they are known as Samaritans. The Judeans, later known as "Jews," also
experienced decline, and were conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. They
were forced to leave their homes and live in Babylon, thus, this era is known as
the Babylonian Captivity. In 538, Cyrus of Persia, having conquered the
declining Babylonian Empire, began a goodwill campaign with those nations the
Babylonians had relocated to Babylon. He allowed them to return to their
homelands, even giving them financial and military aid. This had the desired
effect of promoting loyalty toward him, for the newly freed peoples considered
Persia their liberator rather than their conqueror. Ezra 1:1-4 records Cyrus'
degree to the Jews, and verses 5-11 records the Jews' return to Jerusalem, which
occurred in 536. Thus we see the hand of Providence guiding history and
accomplishing the purpose of God. The point of this passage is not that Cyrus
was a good ruler. It is not an object lesson in the principles of good
leadership. It is that God is still working with His people to accomplish His
purpose of Redemption. He created this world for the purpose of bringing all
things together in Christ. He is building His Kingdom, the Bride of Christ, and
nothing can stop His progress. Yes, there are other messages here. The
enduring mercy of God, His unstoppable power to save, conversion, repentance,
and faith, and leaders can certainly profit from the example of Cyrus. But the
pervading message here is the unstoppable progress of the purpose of God. He
will accomplish the purpose for which He created this world and called the Jews.
He will not fail.

Tuesday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 5, Num. 16:15-35, Lk. 1:26-38
Evening - Ps. 16, 20, Ezra 4:7-24, Acts 7:17-34

Commentary, Ezra 4:7-24

The first chapter of the book of Ezra records the decree of Cyrus releasing the Jews from captivity in Babylon.  In 536 B.C. the first of several groups of Jews left Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem, the return of one group is recorded in Ezra 2.  Almost immediately they attempted to rebuild the Temple, which had been plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. Chapter 3 records rebuilding the altar and reinstating the offerings and feasts required in the Old Testament law. As the work progressed, more people arrived from Babylon, including priests and Levites "to set forward the work of the house of the Lord" (3:8). Their labours resulted in the admirable task of laying the foundation of the new Temple, a feat accompanied by much celebration, and a few tears (3:12-13).  In chapter 4, adversaries of Judah ask to be allowed to help with the Temple, but are refused.  The adversaries were descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with Gentiles. They had also diluted their faith with pagan ideas and worship.  On the surface their appeal to help rebuild the Temple appears good, and the rejection of their offer by the Jews (Ez. 4:2) seems cruel and arrogant.  But perhaps the Jews understood that watered down, adulterated religion had to be rejected, and to allow its practitioners to help rebuild the Temple would be to invite their erroneous faith into it when completed.  It was just that kind of religious compromise that brought the judgment of God upon the Jews in the first place, and they had no intention of returning to it at that time.

Rather than repenting of their sin and purging themselves of false religion, the adversaries began to make trouble for the Jews (4:4-6), even making false accusations to the king that the Jews were preparing to mount a rebellion against Persia (4:8-16).  Believing the accusation to be true, the Persians sent an army to Jerusalem to stop the rebuilding of the Temple by force of arms (4:23-24).

Thus chapter two ends with another foreign army occupying Jerusalem and enforcing a halt to the Jews' plan to return to the law and the covenant of God.  The Jews must have been angry, but they must have also had questions.  Weren't they trying to obey God?  Weren't they trying to do what the Bible commands?  Why isn't God making it easy for them?  Why does He allow yet another army in Jerusalem to stop their progress?

Most of us face similar questions every day.  We try to obey God, but, rather than making the way easy and rewarding our efforts with success, we often find our way blocked by the armies of our enemies.  Overcoming one obstacle reveals not a clear and easy road ahead, but more and greater obstacles.  It may be that our thinking needs to change if we are going to continue with Christ rather than give up in despair.  Many have adopted the popular view that the Christian life is a luxury ride through life.  It is not.  It is a constant struggle with the world the flesh and the devil.  We must expect this if we are not to be disappointed.  Remember that our reward is in Heaven, not on earth.  Here we are merely pilgrims.  Our homes and our rest is in Heaven.    

Wednesday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 7, Num. 17:1-11, Lk. 1:39-56
Evening - Ps. 25, Haggai 1:1-15, Acts 7:35-53

Commentary, Haggai, 1:1-15

The Prophet Haggai lived and ministered in Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonian Captivity.  His work began in the second year of Darius, who ruled the Empire from 522-486 B.C.  So Haggai began his ministry around the year 520.  His message is that the Temple of the Lord must be rebuilt.  Nearly leveled in the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem, Cyrus of Persia gave permission and funds to rebuild it, yet fourteen years after their release from Babylon, only the Temple's foundations have been laid.

Haggai asks the Jews why they work diligently on their own houses, yet let the House of God lie waste (Hag. 1:4).  Applying this to the modern situation is easy.  How fervently we see people, maybe even our own selves, building their own "houses" and neglecting the House of God.  Our work, our amusements, our prosperity, our comfort, and our pleasure consume our energy and time, while day after day the Bible and Christian life are neglected. Sundays find us indulging our own pleasures while the House of God is ignored.

Haggai reminds all people that God is not blind to this, nor does He bless it.  He tells the Jews their neglect of God is the reason they have sown much to the flesh (see Gal. 6:7-8) but have reaped little harvest for their labours. In the same way, people today who put their efforts into the things of the world, to the neglect of the things of God, reap a bitter harvest.  There is nothing in this world that can give happiness and purpose to life.  Worldly things may give pleasure for the moment, but it fades quickly.  Only God remains forever, and only those who find their happiness in Him will be truly happy, now, and for eternity.
The Jews heard the words of Haggai and repented.  The Lord stirred up their hearts and they obeyed (1:12-15).  Through much work, sacrifice, and, even danger, the Temple was completed.  Those in our own age who have neglected the House of God will also expend much effort, sacrifice, and no small amount of spiritual danger as they try to re-establish Godly habits of life and worship.  But the greatest danger of all is failure to obey.  "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8).

Thursday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 9, Num. 20:1-13, Lk. 1:57-66
Evening - Ps. 27, Haggai 2:1-9, Acts 7:54-8:4

Commentary, Haggai 2:1-9

The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed when Babylon sacked the city in 586 B.C. 
That Temple is often called Solomon's Temple because it was built while he was king of Israel, and it was largely financed by him through a system of forced labour and foreign trade that made Solomon fabulously wealthy but caused a grassroots feeling of resentment among the Hebrew people.  The Temple reflected his wealth.  In Haggai's day things were different.  Jerusalem was in ruins and Judah was in poverty.  Even with the funds given by Cyrus, the Temple would be a poor reflection of the glory of Solomon's Temple (Hag. 2:3).

Or would it?  Perhaps the real glory of the Temple cannot be found in its dimensions or ornaments.  Perhaps the Temple's real glory is measured by other things, like the faith of the people, obedience to God's law, and Scriptural worship.  Maybe the real glory of the Temple is something even greater than that; maybe it is something that cannot be given or removed by people.  Maybe it is the glory of God dwelling in it that is its true glory.  This is the point God is making through the prophet Haggai.  And God intends to make His Temple more glorious than the people of Jerusalem in 520 B. C. could imagine.  In a little while (2:6) God was going to shake the nations, and the Desire of Nations would come, and God would fill the Temple with His glory (2:7).  The Desire of Nations is Christ.  He filled the Temple with glory when He was taken there as a young child, when He later confounded the Doctors at Passover, and when He taught the people there during His ministry.  He filled it with glory when He accomplished the salvation it could only foreshadow, and when He gave Himself as the Lamb of God which alone is able to take away sins.  He filled it with glory when, in the true Holy of Holies in Heaven, He offered the true sacrifice.  He filled it with glory when He rose from the grave and ascended into the true Temple of God.  He fills it with glory now in the days of His new Temple, the Church.  In the Church He brings the nations into His Kingdom, proclaims His Word, dwells by His Spirit, and gives the kind of peace a Temple built by human hands could never give.

Friday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 10, Num. 20:14, Lk. 1:67
Evening - Ps.6, 26, Zech 1:7-17, Acts 8:5-25

Commentary, Zachariah 1:1-17

Zechariah is another of those short books at the end of the Old Testament called the Minor Prophets.  Though not in the scheduled reading for tonight, Zech 1:1 tells us he began his ministry in the second year of Darius.  Thus, we know that Zechariah and Haggai began their work in the same year, 520 B.C. (Hag. 1:1).  Looking at the first verses of both books we see their ministries began within two months of each other.  Naturally, their messages compliment one another.  Both were concerned to get the new Temple built.  Haggai told the people it was wrong for them to work so hard to establish their own houses, yet neglect the House of God.  Zechariah was determined to show why they were willing to neglect the House of God.  It was because their hearts were not with God.  They were starting to fall back into the ways of their fathers (1:3-4).  They were beginning to be content with an outward show of religion and a general intellectual assent to the being of God as revealed in Scripture.  They were willing to live in general conformity  with the moral and ceremonial law of God, but they lacked a sense of belonging to God, of being His people, of being loved by Him and of loving Him back with all their heart and soul and might (Dt. 6:4-5).  Thus, they really loved themselves above God, so they worked for their own advancement, and neglected the things of God.

We often see the same thing in professed believers today.  They give mental assent to the doctrines and moral values of the Bible.  They live decent lives.  They believe the things Christian people are supposed to believe.   But these things are held as something outside of them.  They are like the scenery through which a train passes, when they ought to be the fire that drives their locomotive.  Love for God ought to be the driving force of life; that one Thing that gives the direction and purpose to every other aspect of our being.  Mankind lost that love for God when we fell into sin.  We rejected God, and we chose to love ourselves more than we loved Him.  Christ died to free us from that kind of self love, for it is destructive and deadly to everything it touches.  And Christ died to return us to the spiritual condition of loving God first of all and with our all.  Faith that does not move a person in that direction is not faith at all by Biblical standards.  It is a form of Godliness which denies the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:4-5).  Thus, God, through Zechariah, urges and beseeches the people to be not like their fathers in their sin.

Three months after the message of Zechariah 1:1-6 was given, the Lord spoke again to Zechariah (1:7).  This word came in a vision of a Man among the myrtle trees receiving a report from riders who have returned from walking to and fro through the earth (1:10).  The Man is Christ Jesus, and the riders report that the earth is at rest.  There is peace in the Persian EmpirePersia is strong and secure, and there is none to disturb her rest (1:11).  But all is not well, for the Lord Himself is displeased with the people of Persia.  They are the heirs of the Babylonians who attacked and brutalised the Jews.  Even now they trouble the Jews and prevent them from building the Temple of God.  In this they have inflicted more sorrow upon the Jews than God intended (1:15).  The Babylonian Captivity was God's will.  He allowed it to chasten the Jews for their sin, to humble them, to lead them to depend upon Him again.  In 520 the time of chastisement is over, yet the Gentiles will not cease their troubling of the Jews.  So God assures the Jews He is with them again in mercy (1:16). Jerusalem, He promises, will prosper, along with God's people around the world (1:17).  This promise has an immediate meaning to the Jews in Jerusalem.  They did prosper, and the Temple of God was rebuilt.  But its primary meaning is fulfilled in Christ and His Church.  Through Christ the House of God was built in Jerusalem, and through His House, He has gathered people into it around the world.  In Christ He has blessed the New Jerusalem with prosperity and posterity the frightened inhabitants could scarcely imagine when Zechariah spoke these words.

Saturday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 13, 14, Num. 21:4-9, Lk. 2:1-20
Evening - Ps. 29, 30, Zech. 2, Acts, 8:26

Commentary, Zechariah 2

Why is the man measuring Jerusalem?  To show its dimensions, meaning, to show that it has dimensions.  It has boundaries, breadth and length (Zech. 2:1-2).   There is a point where Jerusalem begins, and a point where it ends.  But the day will come when its walls will not be able to contain its people and goods (2:4).  Its wall will be a wall of fire, not of stones, a living wall of God Himself (2:5).  God will dwell in it (2:10), and people of many nations will be joined to it(2:11).

These promises refer to the Jews in 520 B.C. Their feeble efforts and the seemingly plain and small Temple they build seem as nothing compared to the old one. Their city, small, weak, and impoverished, seems to them as a poor imitation of the old Jerusalem. But God has great things in store for them. The Temple of God will be great in all the earth, and the city of Jerusalem will be a city that cannot be contained by any wall but the presence of God. These promises were fulfilled in part by the rebuilding of the Temple and the city, and by the return to Jerusalem of Jews who had been scattered among many peoples and many nations. But this is only a partial fulfillment. The real fulfillment is found in Christ and His Church.

Few Old Testament passages speak so clearly of the Church of Christ in the New Testament.  The Church, which is the New Jerusalem, is a city encompassing multitudes of many nations.  Jews and Gentiles alike are welcomed into it.  Walls cannot contain its multitudes.  God, by His Spirit, dwells in it.

Let all flesh be silent before the Lord; "for He is raised up out of His holy habitation."

May 19, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Whitsun Week

Monday in Whitsun Week


Morning - Ps.139, Rev. 1:17-20, 1 Cor. 3:9-17
Evening - Ps. 105, Jer. 31:31-34, Acts 4:13-22

Commentary, Revelation 1:17-20

Today's passage shows the risen Christ in the midst of the seven churches. These are not symbols of seven ages of the Church, or the Church in different eras of time. They are seven specific and real churches located in the area known today as Turkey in the time frame of the middle of the first century A.D. These churches, with others throughout the Roman Empire, were in the beginning of a time which the Bible calls the tribulation (Rev. 1:9). It was a time of blood. Many would leave the faith, and many more would consider leaving it. Revelation was written to these churches in their time to prepare them for what was coming and to encourage them to stand firm in the faith at all costs.

In the coming chapters our Lord addresses each church with a message that affirms its faith, and also admonishes it for its shortcomings. Obviously our Lord is trying to prepare them for that great Day when they stand before God to give an account of their lives and their works. But there is also a more immediate application of His words. The tribulation is upon them and it is going to grow stronger and more devastating before it gets better. Any church, or Christian, that does not have an undivided, single minded faith will not be able to endure it, and only those who endure to the end will be saved. Thus, they need to get their houses in order. They need to decide here and now where their loyalties lie, and who their God is.

This is the essential message of the book of Revelation. The pictures of the fall of God's enemies are included only to encourage the Church in faith. Empires may rise and fall, attacking the Church like ravenous beasts. They will pass away, and God's true people will abide. One day, they will be cast into an eternity of living death, but the Church will be with God in unimaginable joy forever.

Tuesday in Whitsun Week


Morning - Ps. 148, Ezek. 36:22-28, 1 Cor. 12:1-13
Evening - Ps. 145, Num. 11:6-30, Acts 4:23

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

The Corinthian Church was a troubled church. It was divided and contentious (1:11), carnal, which means the people were still primarily oriented toward the world and their own desires (3:1), proud (4:10 & 18), tolerant of unrepentant sin (5:1), heretical (11:19) and so disunited to God and each other the members went to civil court to settle their disputes (6:1).

In addition, their worship services were horrendous displays of hypocrisy and self-aggrandisement (11:18-34). It is their worship, or, rather, their lack of it, that Paul addresses in our reading for this morning. Heretical worship is the natural result of heretical doctrine, and heretical doctrine abounded in Corinth. The Corinthians were the early leaders in the movement to adapt Christian faith and worship to the surrounding culture. Whether this was done as an intentional attempt to make Christianity more attractive to the pagans, or it was simply that the Corinthian Christians had not fully repented of their pagan past is not known, nor does it really matter. The end result is the same either way, and serves as an important reminder to us today. We cannot cling to our pre-Christain views and practices, and still remain faithful to Christ. We cannot incorporate the practices and values of the world into the Church, and still have pure doctrine and practice. Any attempt to do so makes us just like so many others who have left the Church of Jesus Christ to join The Church of the Accommodation. 1 and 2 Corinthians are not commendations of practices to be emulated, but chastisements of mistakes and sins to be avoided. 1 Corinthians 12 addresses the unifying and edifying purpose of spiritual gifts, making the point that things which do not unify and edify are not spiritual gifts, but manifestations of the carnal spirit which pervaded the Church in Corinth. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to come back together in Christ, and work for the glory of God and the edification of the Church as God calls and enables them.

Today people read this passage and become side-tracked by questions about tongues and spiritual gifts. But these are not the message of this chapter. The message is that no single gift is superior to another, nor do all have the same gifts (12:4 & 10). Tongues, therefore, whatever their nature may have been, were never for every Christian. I believe true tongues were known languages the speaker did not understand, but was supernaturally enabled to speak. Thus, the Corinthian tongues were slightly different from the tongues in Acts, but had the same purpose. I do not believe they were ecstatic utterances. I also believe the Corinthians did not know this, thus they were trying to induce themselves, and others, to have ecstatic experiences in which they babbled meaningless sounds, calling them the work of the Spirit. Such experiences were common among the pagans in Corinth, and the Christians wanted them too. Corinthian "Christians" who had such experiences considered themselves superior to those who did not. This is further proof that their "tongues" were bogus. One of the reasons Paul wrote 1 Corinthians was to correct their false view of tongues and gifts, thereby restoring Biblical worship in the Church.

Ember Day in Whitsun Week


Morning - Ps. 132, Rev. 4:1-6, 1 Cor. 2
Evening - Ps. 84, Rev. 4:6-11, Acts 5:12-28

Commentary, Revelation 4:1-6

From the tribulations of the Church on earth the book of Revelation takes us to the throne of Heaven. The difference is tremendous. Here we see God calm and in control of all things. His enemies on earth plan to destroy His Church and establish their own kingdom. But their rants are completely ineffectual. God is not moved. He knows their plots are doomed to failure and He is able to deliver His people.

Why does the book of Revelation show this? Because the persecuted Christians need to see that the attacks of the wicked cannot hurt God or destroy His ability to accomplish His purpose and redeem His people.

This is a message the world desperately needs to hear. Instead of searching this chapter for the "Rapture" let us hear its real message that God is in complete control. He will bring His will into reality, and no earthly or supernatural power can stop Him. He even uses them as it suits His purpose, and easily disposes of them when it suits His purpose. Our God is strong to save. He is unassailable Therefore, lets us keep the faith.

Thursday in Whitsun Week


Morning - Ps. 48, Is. 44:1-23, Gal. 5:16-25
Evening - Ps. 18:1-20, Rev. 6, Acts 5:29

Commentary, Revelation 6

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are familiar themes in literature, and have received much attention from Bible commentators. Recent commentators have interpreted them as the bearers of the wrath of God after the "Rapture" of the Church, but a much older view sees them as symbols of the Roman army's siege and conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The white horse symbolises the pomp and pride of the Romans gloating over their conquest. The red horse is war unleashed upon Jews throughout the Empire, especially Jerusalem. The black horse is the famine that would grip Jerusalem during the Roman siege. The pale horse is death. More than 1.3 million Jews died under Roman hands in this war, which, tragically, could have easily been averted. It was fought for two reasons. First, the Jews refused to live peacefully under Roman rule. The Romans would have gladly allowed the Jews to live in peace. But the Jews wanted the Romans out and Israel free. Much of their desire was political, and some of it was pure bigotry, but many truly wanted the Roman idolatry out of the Holy City. Rebellions were frequent and costly until the Romans finally tired of them and set out to crush the Jews forever. Second, the Romans were the avenging hand of God for the persecution of the Church. It was the Jews who began and encouraged the persecution and murder of Christians. We need only remember the exploits of Saul of Tarsus to understand this. In Revelation chapters 4-11 God brings the rebellious Jews to their knees in tragic and costly conquest and in fulfillment of the words of Christ in Matthew 24.

Ember Friday in Whitsunweek


Morning - Ps. 122, 125, Is. 61:1-9, 2 Cor. 3
Evening - Ps. 43, 134, Is. 52:1-10

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 3

Ember Days are times set aside to beseech our merciful Father to call labourers to fields white with harvest. It is no disservice to the intent of the day if we also pray God to bless those already serving in the ministry, and I encourage all reading these words to do so.

Our Scripture readings were chosen for their relevance to this special time of prayer. Isaiah 61 has long been a favourite text for ordination sermons, and was used by our Lord to explain His own work and ministry. He is the Good Tidings. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the means by which our broken hearts are bound, our captivity becomes freedom, and the year of the Lord and day of vengeance are accomplished. On Pentecost the time of fulfillment has come upon us. The promises become reality, and shadows are replaced with Light.

In this "Year of the Lord" He continues His ministry through the Church, especially through men called, equipped, and sent into a unique ministry in the Word and sacraments. 2 Corinthians 3 shows that it is this calling of God and empowering of His Spirit which makes a man a true minister, and only those who continue in the truth have any right to the office.

This has several implications. First, it is not man, but God who makes a man a minister (2 Cor. 3:3-6). I say this because we live in a time when many who take up holy orders are clearly unqualified and not called to the ministry. Many don't even want to be ministers in the Biblical sense. They want to be social workers, activities directors, CEOs, life coaches, philosophers, and agents of change who cast away what Bishop Ryle called "The Old Paths" and usher in their own views of what God ought to do and want and receive. Second, Biblical fidelity is the true test of a minister. A big congregation is no proof of God's calling or blessing. Sadly, more people love to have their ears tickled than hear the Word and worship God Biblically. University and seminary degrees are no proof of calling. Many with walls papered with diplomas, lack even the most basic knowledge of God. "Ordination" is no proof of calling. Many have been ordained by a church who have never been ordained by God. Apostolic Succession is no proof of calling. I rejoice that, as a bishop in the Anglican Orthodox Church, my orders can be traced back to Peter and James. But that same claim can be made by many others, who, based on Biblical standards, should leave the pulpit and take up other work. Presiding Bishop Ogles is fond of reminding his clergy that our true Apostolic Succession is doctrinal, and without doctrinal succession our ministry is invalid. Third, the church must evaluate her ministers by their faithfulness, not their personalities. There is a sense in which many congregations are really personality cults. Remove the personality and charisma of the central figure (the "preacher") and the congregation has nothing to hold it together. One of the wonderful things about the liturgy is that it is independent of the personality of the minister. The liturgy is wonderfully sound and faithful, and it leads us to concentrate on God, not the preacher.

If these things are true, we should be devoting much time to prayer for the Church and her ministers. God grant that we may so do.

Ember Saturday in Whitsunweek


Morning - Ps. 19, Micah 3:5-8, 2 Tim 1:1-14
Evening - Ps. 111,113, Num. 6:22, 2 Cor. 13:5

Commentary, 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Second Timothy was written from a Roman prison, probably in the autumn of the year 68 A.D. Knowing he would soon give his life in the service of Christ, the Apostle Paul wanted to contact and encourage his friend, student, and fellow servant of Christ, Timothy. Timothy has served his Saviour well, but Paul has always been there to counsel and help him. When Paul is gone, Timothy will stand alone in a time of increasing Roman opposition and persecution. As Paul wrote this epistle, Peter was dead, having been executed by the civil authorities in Rome. John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he had written the book of Revelation about two years earlier. Many Christians had suffered imprisonment or death for the cause of Christ, while others had deserted the faith rather than face persecution. Paul mentions Phygelus and Hermogenes among many in Asia who had turned away from him, meaning, away from the Gospel he preached (2 Tim. 1:15).

It is worth noting that Phygelus, Hermogenes, and the others Paul mentions were from Asia. In Paul's time "Asia" did not refer to a continent. It referred only to the area later called Asia Minor, and known today as Turkey. This is the area in which the seven churches of Revelation 1-3 were located, and it was an area of intense persecution. So the Roman oppression of the Church was increasing at the time, and one of Paul's intentions in this letter to Timothy was to encourage him not to fear the opposition (1:7) and to stand fast in the faith, even in the face of persecution and affliction (1:8).

The Church was also under another form of attack. This was an attack far more serious and dangerous than Roman persecution; this was an attack on the Gospel itself. Heresies abounded in the church of that era, most of them growing out of attempts to accommodate the doctrines and practices of the Church to the pagan culture and religions of Rome. Thus Timothy is encouraged to hold fast to the form of sound words he learned from Paul (1:13). We should not allow ourselves to think "form" refers only to a "resemblance," as though the teaching of Timothy (and ourselves) need only resemble that of Paul. Paul is telling Timothy to hold fast the substance of Paul's teaching and also to his expression of it, including the very words of Paul. This should not surprise us, for if Paul received his message from Christ, he would naturally want that message preserved word-for-word. In our day we are seeing a widespread abandonment of the tried and true ways of expressing the Christian faith, and a corresponding adoption the idea that we must continually recast the Christian faith into today's language and cultural patterns. This view has become dear to the hearts of the majority of contemporary churches, yet it seems to be in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture as found in 2 Timothy 1:13-14. A change in the expression of the faith necessarily involves a change in the substance of the faith. How many of our errors in theology and practice might have been avoided if we had simply held fast to both the substance and the expression of the faith once delivered? On this Ember Day, let us remember that the faith is non-negotiable, and let us beseech God to enable us to hold fast the "form of sound words."

Sermon for Whitsuntide

Psalm 145 Joel 2:28, Romans 8:1-11

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen.

Fifty days after the resurrection of Christ, something amazing happened.  Not that the resurrection wasn't amazing enough.  Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross.  He literally died there.  And when you consider that He was God in the flesh, that's  somewhat amazing in itself.  Yet, three days later, He was alive again.  He rose from the dead.  Amazing. The ascension of Christ was equally amazing.  This "Man" who had died and risen from the grave, physically and bodily began to float, steadily rising higher and higher into the sky until He disappeared into the clouds.  I can't imagine the fear and shock felt by those eleven men who witnessed the ascension.  Remember that at this point they still did not understand who Jesus is.  Just moments before His ascension they had asked Him if He was  ready to restore the kingdom to Israel., meaning was He going to drive out the Romans and give the land back to the Jews?  It was as though they were saying, since Jesus had gotten this crucifixion and resurrection out of His system, would He now do something important, and give the land of Israel back to the Jews?  But instead of leading an attack on Rome, Jesus simply left the earth.  He simply floated away.  Amazing.  But even after the ascension, something amazing happened.  The Holy Spirit came to the Apostles and enabled them to miraculously speak in ways that were understood by people of many different languages.  And what they spoke was not what today passes for speaking in tongues, nor was it a private "prayer language," they proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is easy to miss the real significance of this event, because so many people nowadays  proclaim an erroneous view of it.  In fact, whole denominations have formed around the mistaken idea that the main event here is speaking in tongues.  But the main event is not speaking in tongues.  The main even is the inauguration of the New Age, the age of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the Bible, the New Age is often called  the "last days" or the"end times"   But it is important that we realise that the phrase "last days" does not refer to the final few days  before the end. It is not a numerical term, it is a positional term.  It describes the place or position of our time in the plan of God.  "Last days" means we are in the last era, the last age.  And this era could end today, or it could last several more thousand, or even million, years.    Understand this and you will save yourself much wasted time trying to decide if this is the day Jesus is coming back, or if this or that event it the "sign" that His return, or "rapture" is near.

Since the Reformation, certain groups have taken Peter's quote of Joel 2 as a numerical term, meaning they thought it referred to the very last few days before the end of the world, return of Christ, or "rapture." But again I stress that "last days" refers to an era, not a number.  It refers to the last era of the plan of God, prior to the time when God will fully and finally  "gather together in one all things in Christ" (Eph. 1:10).  Since the Reformation, the number of groups and people interpreting the last days as a numerical phrase has multiplied, and it is because of the multitude of these groups and people, and the way their views have been popularised in movies and books and sermons, that  the real meaning of the day of Pentecost has been obscured.  Their views have so influenced the popular understanding of Pentecost that most people do not even know about the real meaning of Pentecost and the last days. So, I repeat my earlier statement, that the real significance of the day of Pentecost is that it is the beginning of the New Era of the Gospel of Christ, and the "last days" are that era.

The new era is the age in which the promises of the Old Testament are beginning to be fulfilled.  The Old Testament gave us sacrifices and dietary laws and a physical, political entity named Israel, and these things symbolically represented the coming of Christ.  His sacrifice on the cross would accomplish what no animal sacrifice could accomplish.  He would be the Priest of His people in a way no human priest could ever be.  He would be the King of His people in a way no human king could ever be.  And the revelation of His Kingdom would be accomplished through direct proclamation rather than through signs and symbols.  And His Kingdom would include people from all races and nationalities and languages, not just people from Israel.  The day of Pentecost is the beginning of that era.  The Saviour has come and has given His life as the ransom for sin.  Now forgiveness of sin and life in His Kingdom are offered to all who believe and receive it.  The power of sin is breaking, and those who are in Christ are called and enabled to live free of the things that kill the soul and ruin lives, free to live in unity and harmony with God and one another.

In other words, the last days are the era of the Gospel.  The meaning of Pentecost is not that you can or should speak in tongues.  Tongues were just a sign that the new era has begun.  They were/are not the point, nor were/are they to be sought.  To make tongues the point is to make personal experience the meaning of Christianity.  It is to force Christianity into the realm of subjective feelings and emotions and mystical experiences.  None of these things have any relationship or resemblance to Biblical Christian faith.  This is why I oppose what I call "contemporaryism" in church.  Contemporaryism isn't just an attempt to dispense with the ancient liturgies and hymns in order to connect with people through music and worship styles they like.  Contemporayism is an attempt to  subectivise worship and the faith. Contemporaryism reduces worship to happy-clappy experiences, and reduces faith to feeling good about God.  But the Good news of Jesus Christ is not that you can get a good feeling at church.  It is that God is with us.  He has paid the price of our sins and offers us a chance to live the way He created us to live, a constructive and meaningful life lived in harmony with Him and one another, now and forever.

And now, the Gospel that was once almost hidden by the animal sacrifices and symbolism of the Old Testament, is openly and clearly proclaimed.  That is what the Holy Spirit was doing on the day of Pentecost.  The Apostles, so confused about the nature and work of Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, were suddenly able to understand who Jesus is.  His teaching suddenly made sense to them.  His crucifixion made sense to them, as did His resurrection and ascension.  Suddenly they knew He was everything the Old Testament promised.  That is what the Holy Spirit does today, He enables us to believe the Gospel of Christ.

But the Apostles also proclaimed the Gospel, and that is also the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  He proclaims this Gospel of reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ.  The Old Testament signs and symbols have passed away now.  The clear and clarion call goes out to all, "Believe [have faith] on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."  

May 12, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Sunday after Ascension

Monday after the Sunday after Ascension


Morning - Ps. 2, 1 Sam. 2:1-10, Rev. 5
Evening - Ps. 147 - Is. 66:1-13, Acts 2:22-36

Commentary, Revelation 5

The fifth chapter of Revelation is part of a larger section dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It deals with the same issues found in the 24th and 25th chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. In this chapter God arises in answer to the prayers of persecuted Christians and begins to accomplish those things "which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). God sits on His throne holding a scroll bound with 7 seals. No one is found worthy to open the seals, and John begins to weep. Why? Because he longs to see God act on behalf of the persecuted churches of Asia Minor. John is imprisoned on Patmos during the beginning of a long and terrible persecution of the Church. He has held Apostolic oversight of the churches named in chapters 2 and 3, and he is concerned about them. How are they faring? Are they holding fast to the faith, or are they deserting Christ to save themselves? It was a difficult time for Christians, and it was going to get much worse. All Christians living at the time John wrote Revelation would be dead long before this period of tribulation ended. The seals of the scroll represent God's judgment poured out on those persecuting the Church.

But someone is worthy to open the seals. The Lion of the tribe of Jesse has overcome the world by giving His life as a Lamb slain, and is worthy, by virtue of His absolute righteousness, to open the scrolls and let the judgment begin. He is worshiped as God, and there is no doubt that He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He has overcome once by submission to death on the cross. Now He overcomes by conquering and judging His enemies.

Tuesday after the Sunday after Ascension


Morning - Ps. 92, 2 Sam 7:18, Rev. 11:15
Evening - Ps. 57, Is. 26:1-7, Acts 2:37

Commentary, Revelation 11:15

The readings from Revelation this week were chosen because they show the Lord Jesus Christ risen, ascended into Heaven, and reigning as King of His Church. In these chapters we see Christ ruling His people, and also defending them as any good king would do. He is engaged in a deadly war with the forces of evil which want to destroy His people. So we, the Church, are not merely spectators in this battle, we are combatants following our King into the fray.

Revelation 11 is the conclusion of one battle in this war. Chapter 4 shows the beginning of this battle, and the first 14 verses of chapter 11 reveal the enemy. It is that city "which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified" (Rev. 11:8). "Spiritually" means symbolically or figuratively. So the city is not literally Sodom and Egypt. Obviously Sodom and Egypt are not the same physical place, and Egypt is a nation, not a city. The city is the one in which Christ was crucified, Jerusalem. The city is demolished in 11:13. Like the name of the city, the earthquake is also symbolic It refers to an invading army that is so powerful and destructive it is like an earthquake. It symbolises a conquest so complete and devastating it is as if a powerful earthquake has struck. This city has been in a great tribulation throughout this section of Revelation. In chapter 11 it finally falls. The city is Jerusalem and the earthquake is the Roman army. Chapters 4-11 tell of the Roman siege and conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Today's reading shows those persecuted by the city rejoicing that their enemy has been defeated. This is a bitter-sweet victory, for the holy city has been destroyed, including the Temple and countless people. The oppression of the Church by this city has been ended, but at tremendous cost. But the true Israel, not Israel in name only, but in true faith, remains. It has become the Kingdom of our Lord who is shown in His glory as the conquering hero. This is but the first of many conquests as His army and Kingdom advances through history. Thanks be to God many will be conquered by grace instead of judgment.

Wednesday after Sunday after Ascension


Morning - Ps. 21, 23, Is. 4:2, Rev. 19:11-16
Evening - Ps. 33, Is. 25:1-9, Acts 3:1-10

Commentary, Revelation 19:11-16

Revelation 19 is the conclusion of a section that began with chapter 13 and shows the destruction and defeat of the great beast of Revelation. This is the same beast found in Daniel 7:7-8, and it represents the Roman Empire, which at the time John wrote the book of Revelation, was beginning a 200 year persecution of the Church. The Roman Empire is also signified in the double image of the beast and the harlot in Revelation 17, where it is pictured as drunk with fornication (idolatry) and drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs of Jesus (Rev. 17:2 & 6). Rome is called "Babylon" in Rev. 17:5, as it is also in 1 Peter 5:13.

The Empire is defeated by the beginning of chapter 18. "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen," calls the other angel coming down from heaven (Rev. 18:1-2), and her fall is lamented by many who shared her sin and reveled in her evil (18:11-19). But those who suffered under her wickedness rejoice (18:20). Chapter 19 portrays the rejoicing of the righteous over the Lord's conquest of Rome (19:1-6), and the contrast between the great whore and the pure Bride of Christ (19:7-8). The Bride's exaltation is so great and her deliverance from her enemies is so wonderful, John is moved to fall at the feet of the person showing these things to him (19:10). But the person forbids this, and John is shown heaven opened and Christ, who is called Faithful and True, riding a white horse and followed by His armies going forth into the earth. Here the Lord smites the nations with the sword of His mouth, which is the Word of God (19:15). He rules the nations with a rod of iron and treads them in the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. The "nations" are not just political entities; they are the masses of unbelievers who continue in rebellion against God and in persecution of His Church. They shall fall as surely as Rome.

But, thanks be to God, some will be saved. The Word of God is a fearful Word of Judgment to those who refuse Him, but a welcome Word of Grace to those who receive Him in faith. Thus, we see in Revelation 19, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords advancing through the earth, establishing His Kingdom and bringing all things under His rule. Many will be defeated by His wrath, but many will be won by His grace.

Thursday after the Sunday after Ascension


Morning - Ps. 66, 1 Kings 2:1-15, Rev. 21:1-8
Evening - Ps. 72, Is. 9:2-7, Acts 3:11

Commentary, Revelation 21:1-8

Revelation chapters 1-19 have shown the conquest of Jerusalem and the fall of the Roman Empire. Though history to us, these events were far in the future when John wrote the Revelation. But chapters 20-22 leap into events that are future to us also. Chapter 20 shows the Millennial Age, and also the fate of the wicked on Judgment Day. They have followed Satan, the great deceiver, they have resisted God, and they have persecuted His people since Cain killed Abel. Now their end is come upon them and they follow the deceiver to his doom, and theirs. Chapter 21 shows the future happiness of the Church. Here we see God bring the days of earth to an end and bring His people to their eternal bliss in a new heaven and earth (21:1). "New" means a new and different kind of heaven and earth, for the old is passed away. In verse 2 we see the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of peace. She comes as a bride adorned for her husband. This city is a symbol of the Church (Rev. 19:7-9), but it is also a symbol of God. In it God and His people dwell together in perfect unity and joy. All the suffering of earth, the persecutions, the disease, the sorrows and tears are wiped away by God Himself. They passed away with the old earth. There is no place for them in the new.

Thus God says, "It is done" (21:6). Not done in the sense of being ended, God is telling us His great work is now fully accomplished. All enemies have been put under His feet. The corruption and decay of the physical creation has been ended. The Church has been gathered unto Him and lives in Him literally, face to face. All of the promises and hopes of His people have been fulfilled, and all of the plans and purpose of God have been brought into their fullest possible state of being. The story, the work of redemption is completed, but the state, the condition of redemption is a present reality forever and forever. Everything the Bible tells us about exists in absolute fullest perfection in Rev. 21:6. It is hard to put this into words, for we use superlatives to describe things that are meaningless in comparison to what God is doing in this verse, but it may not be too much to say "It is done" are some of the most important words in all of Scripture.

Verses 7 and 8 take us back to the first century Christians to whom Revelation was first addressed. But the words apply to all Christians of all times. Who will dwell in the New Jerusalem? Who will see the fulfillment of everything he has prayed for and longed for since the day he first knelt at the foot of the cross and gave his heart to Christ? "He that overcometh." He shall inherit these things. They are for those who overcome the world through faith. They are for those who overcome their enemies by remaining faithful to Christ. They are for those who live for Christ at all times and at all costs. They are not for those who turn back. They are not for those who call themselves Christians but live like the devil. They not for the unfaithful. They are for those who are faithful to the end. 

Friday after the Sunday after Ascension


Morning - Ps. 115, Is. 35, Rev. 21:19
Evening - Ps. 116, 117, 2 Sam. 22:32-51, Acts 4:1-12

Commentary, Revelation 21:19

"It is done." These words in Revelation 21:6 are at the very heart of the Biblical message. Everything that comes before them, from Genesis to this very verse is about God working to bring His people and His creation to this point of fulfillment and accomplishment. Everything that comes after them expounds and elucidates them. David Clark called chapter 21 the "watershed that divides time and eternity," and verse 6 the consummation and climax of the long process of redemption. Writing of this passage, Jonathan Edwards said, "God created the world to provide a spouse and a kingdom for His Son: and the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, and the spiritual marriage of the spouse to Him, is what the whole creation labours and travails in pain to bring to pass."

In Ephesians 1:10 we learn the purpose of God in creation. Why did He create the world and put up with sinners, and even come to earth and die to save them? He did so for one purpose, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather into one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him." In Revelation 21:6, "It is done." God's purpose is accomplished fully and perfectly.

Verses 9-27 show the wondrous happiness of God's Church in that era of "the fullness of times." It is the bride of Christ, the Church that is described in these verses. She is the New Jerusalem, the great and holy city descending out of heaven from God, "having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious" (21:10-11). References to jeweled walls and streets of gold symbolise the glory and joy of the Church in Heaven. Chief among her joys is the absolute presence of God. In the age of fulfillment the Church literally dwells in Christ and He in her. There is no need for Temple or church buildings, which are symbols of the presence of God. Our communion with Him will be full and complete forever when, "It is done." 

Saturday after the Sunday after Ascension


Morning - Ps. 81, Zech 8:1-23, Rev. 22:1-17
Evening - Ps. 46, 133, Deut. 16:9-12, Rom. 8:12-18

Commentary, 22:1-17

The 22nd chapter of Revelation shows the conclusion of God's work of redemption. In this chapter, the world has ended, the enemies of God have been defeated, and the Bride of Christ has been presented to Him in whom she dwells in everlasting joy. The sorrows of earth are passed away to trouble her no more. Sickness, death, and persecution, all aspects of the curse, are but as a shadow that has passed and is no more. Fears, doubts, and questions, have passed also. In that New Jerusalem we know even as we are known.

How this vision must have comforted the churches of Asia Minor. How it must have strengthened them for the tribulation they endured. But, as important as this picture of their future bliss must have been, it was also important for them to know God was already at work, already bringing this great redemption into being. "Behold, I come quickly" (21:7) does not refer to the Second Coming, but to Christ coming to His people to answer their prayers and to begin the work of their deliverance. They are not told to wait until the end of time; they are told their Saviour is even now at work to deliver them and accomplish His purpose for them. And this work, now begun in them, which seems so small compared to worldly powers, will bring them, and all of God's Church, to the glorious fulfillment shown in this chapter.

This completes the great work of redemption. We have seen the end, the goal, the complete fulfillment. We have seen the Church go from a small band of persecuted outcasts to the very pinnacle of honour and joy. We have seen her enemies judged and punished, but, more importantly, we have seen the great victory of our God. His purpose was not defeated in Eden. Rebellion in the house of Israel did not prevent His victory. The rejection and crucifixion of Christ Himself did not defeat our God, for it was His own plan that Christ should die, and it was by His obedience unto death that He overcame the world. The empires of the world, great and mighty in their own eyes, appearing to the Church as powerful and terrible in their relentless tribulation of the Church, cannot stand before the power of God. He sweeps them away with ease. Jerusalem has fallen. Mighty Rome is crushed. God has marched through history, extending His Kingdom and vanquishing His foes until all enemies are put under His feet and He alone is known to be King of kings and Lord of lords who reigns forever and ever. Not even the devil is able to resist His power. God uses Satan as it pleases Him, and, when the time comes, destroys him with ease. Thanks be to God, many of His enemies are conquered by grace. They have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and they will live in Him forever.

Even in this vision of the end, the Bible thrusts us back to our own time with the invitation to come and drink the water of life (salvation) freely. This is an encouragement to those already in Christ. It tells us to abide in Him, to remain faithful to the very end, no matter what the cost. It tells us to seek and love God with all our heart, to make disciples of all nations, and to contend for the faith once delivered. Stand fast in the evil day. Never retreat. Never bow to any "beast," for your cause is Christ's cause, and "He shall reign forever and ever."

This is also an encouragement to those who are yet in rebellion and sin. The Day of Judgment is coming. Christ's enemies will not enter into His Kingdom. The joys of the New Jerusalem are not for them unless they repent. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

Sunday after Ascension Sermon

Why We still Believe
1 Peter 4:7- 11, John 15:26-16:4
Sunday after Ascension
May 12, 2013

The Christian faith is either revealed truth from God, or it is just one of many made up stories that we can identify with or not as we choose.  Christian morality is either God's law binding upon all people at all times, or it is just another competing human view which we are free to accept or reject as we please.  Yet billions of people down through history, many of them the brightest lights of humanity, have earnestly believed the Christian faith is truth from God.  Even today billions of people still believe.  The  World Council of Churches claims to have 590 million members. There are over 330,000 protestant denominations. 300 million people are part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  1.2 billion people are Roman Catholics.  I personally have problems calling some of these people Christians, but the fact is, they believe they are, and that raises a question; why, in this, "enlightened" age, do so many still believe?  Why do we still cling to Christianity?

We still cling to Christianity because we believe it is the faith given by God.  We say this because we believe Jesus Christ brought the Christian faith to us, and we believe Jesus Christ was is and forever will be, God.  We believe He is the word who was with God and who was God in John 1:1.  We believe He is the word who became flesh in John 1:14.  We believe Him when He said in John 10:30, "I and my Father are one, " and in John 8:18, "the Father that sent me beareth witness of me," and, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" in John 14:9.  Thus we agree fully with Hebrews 1:1 and 2, "God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son."

How did God speak to us in His Son Jesus Christ?  He spoke to us in the teaching of Jesus.  Jesus came to teach us about God.  He said,"I do nothing of myself; but as the Father hath taught me, I speak these things"  (Jn. 8:18).  Looking through the Bible we see Jesus spending most of His time teaching about God.  We see the Sermon on the Mount.  We see Him teaching in the synagogues and in the Temple.  We especially see Him teaching the men who would become His Apostles.  We see Him taking them aside for special times of private instruction.  He even spent time teaching them after His resurrection.  Thus, on the Emmaus road, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk. 24:27).

It was these same men that He commissioned to be His witnesses, preaching the same faith He gave to them.  They were "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20),  and "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1).   They were to proclaim only what they had received from Christ, the very same faith He taught, the very word of Christ..  They were to "preach the word," as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 4:1).  And they were to pass that same word on to others, who were to pass it on to others,  and so it will continue down through the generations (2 Tim. 2:2).

So we believe the Christian faith is given to the world by God, and taught in the Church from the time of Christ to this very moment.  It was preserved by God through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit enabled the Apostles to understand and preserve the faith.  They preserved it by teaching it, and commissioning others to teach it.  They also preserved it by recording it in the books and letters we now call the New Testament.

We believe God established a people, a kingdom, an organisation called the Church, and a major part of its purpose is to preserve and proclaim the faith. given to it.  We believe the Church was established by God, for Christ Himself said, "on this rock I will build my church."  We believe all Christians are to be active and faithful members of the Church.  For Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to absent ourselves from its meetings.  Christ gave the faith to the Church and the Bible calls Christianity the faith once delivered to the saints.  This is why St. Paul calls the Church the pillar and ground of truth, because it preserves the faith given to it by Christ.

For two thousand years the Church has struggled to preserve the faith.  It has been persecuted by enemies, and untold numbers of her people have died in Coliseums and dungeons and on crosses, rather than give up the faith.  It has been torn by heresy.  I said earlier that I have a hard time calling some people Christians.  That is because so many of them have adopted other gospels and given up on the faith given by Christ.  This is not surprising to us, for the Bible itself says the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, and will turn away from the truth to fables.  I submit to you that many who call themselves Christians today are actually following fables rather than truth.  Yet God has His remnant, His people who have not bowed the knee to other gods or departed from the faith.  It is this Invisible Church within the Church that is the true Church.  And, though not perfect in either faith or practice, not even close to perfection, this Church continues in the faith, and always will.

That brings me to this present moment and this very place.  It brings me to we who call ourselves Christians here and now.  The faith has been given.  It has come to us at great cost and much suffering.  It is ours to believe, to treasure, and to preserve, and to hand down to future generations.  Having it makes us stewards of the manifold grace of God, as the Apostle Peter wrote in the passage we read earlier this morning.  But I note that Peter didn't just call us stewards of the grace of God.  He told us to do certain things, "as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."  He is saying that having the grace of God makes us its stewards.  Now we must decide to be bad stewards, or good stewards.  God help to be good stewards.

May 5, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Rogation Sunday

Monday after Rogation Sunday


Morning - Ps. 104, Dt. 8:1-20, Mt. 6:5-17
Evening - Ps. 34, Dt. 28:1-14, Jas. 1:1-17

Commentary, Deuteronomy 8:1-11

The days between now and Ascensiontide are called Rogation days because they are set aside as days of prayer. Rogation comes from a Latin word meaning to ask or pray, and we certainly have much to pray about at this time. Naturally, agriculturally oriented societies spend much of their Rogation prayers asking God to bless their herds and crops so they will have the food they need. In more industrial societies people ask God to bless them with "honourable industry." Surely, as the Prayer Book reminds us, all can pray for sound learning, pure manners and to be saved from violence, discord, confusion, pride, arrogancy, and every evil way. Of course, it is important for those in industrial societies to remember that they, too, depend on the fruit of the earth for their sustenance. Therefore let them pray earnestly for good weather and a bountiful harvest. Floods and drought have already affected much of the world's food supply this year. Let us beseech God to deliver us from them, lest there be shortage and need.

Our reading in Deuteronomy 8 reminds us that our prosperity comes from God. Not only does He send the sunshine and the rain, He also "giveth thee power to get wealth" (Dt. 8:18). The land and soil are His creation. Our faculties of mind and thought are, also. It is He that enables us to harness the elements of nature and turn them to the benefit of humanity. The point of this passage is simple; "remember the Lord thy God" (8:18). The fruits of the earth and the inventions of industry are His gifts. Let us always value the Giver of all good things, more than we value His gifts.

"Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth; We beseech thee to pour forth thy blessing upon this land, and give us a fruitful season; that we, constantly receiving thy bounty, may give thanks unto thee in thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

~Collect for The Rogation Days

Tuesday after Rogation Sunday


Morning - Ps/ 80, Dt. 11:10-17, Mt. 6:24
Evening - Ps. 65, 67, 1 Kings 8:22-30, Jas. 4:8

Commentary, Deuteronomy 11:10-17

Egypt was dependent upon the Nile for water. Having very little rainfall, the land was watered by an annual flood. Attempts were made to create reservoirs and canals to catch and direct the water after the flood receded, but this required much physical labour. The method used required people to stand knee-deep in irrigation ditches for hours, directing the water by building mud dams with their feet. Obviously this was difficult and unsanitary work.

By contrast the Promised Land was watered by rains. There were a few natural lakes, such as Galilee, but the rains came with fairly dependable regularity, saving the residents the unhealthy work of building canals and ditches. This is the point made in our reading for this morning. Canaan "drinketh water of the rain of heaven (Dt. 11:10). It is a land cared for (watered) by God. Therefore the Hebrews entering Canaan are not to think they made the land fruitful by their own labours, or that the idols of the Canaanite tribes send the rains and give the increase.

It doesn't take much thought to see the application of this to our prayers for a fruitful season. We are recognising that it is not we who created the soil or cause the rain, and we are beseeching God to send the sunshine and the rain so the earth may yield her fruit and we may live in plenty. But there is a warning in this passage, too. There is to be no turning aside (11:16) meaning to leave the ways of God and take up the ways of ungodliness. Nor are we to worship the gods of the Gentiles (11:16). Such things kindle the Lord's wrath like a wildfire, and cause the rains to cease and the people to perish (11:17).

Applied to the Church today, the passage shows that turning away from God brings judgment upon us. The Spirit of God withholds His blessing, and spiritual drought becomes a nightmarish reality.

Wednesday after Rogation Sunday


Ps. 144, Jer. 14:1-9, 1 Jn. 5:5-15
Ps. 93, 99, Hosea 9:1-7, Lk. 24:44

Commentary, Jeremiah 14:1-9

Yesterday's reading in Deuteronomy was a call for obedience and a promise of blessings. Today's reading in Jeremiah is a prayer for deliverance from the wages of sin. In Jeremiah, Israel has entirely deserted the Covenant of God. Every kind of evil flourishes as the people turn from God and embrac the self-indulgent paganism around them. Everything God warned them to reject, they embrace. Everything God told them to embrace, they reject. But most of all, they reject God. Many still go through the motions of serving God. They keep the services and ceremonies of the Covenant, but they do not keep God in their hearts.

So, all the blessings of the Covenant are taken from them. Instead of the rains, God gives drought. Instead of plenty, God gives scarcity. Instead of spiritual fulness, God give spiritual emptiness and drought. Clearly God is willing to punish us for our sins. This is true of individuals and churches. But it is also true that God hears the prayers of those who repent. May God "leave us not."

Thursday after Rogation Sunday, Ascension Day


Morning - Ps. 96, Dan. 7:9-14, Eph. 4:1-6
Evening - Ps. 24, 47, Is. 33:5-22, Heb. 4:14-5:10

Commentary, Daniel 7:9-14

Daniel 7 records a vision of Daniel, which parallels a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. In this chapter, the Jews have been conquered by the Babylonians and are living in captivity in Babylon. Daniel's vision foresees four world empires, followed by the advent of the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days. The empires are represented by beasts, and they rise from the sea, which represents the Gentile nations. Each empire gains control over the Middle East, but each is in turn dominated or conquered by the following empire as they rise to power, fall into decay, and are overcome by a new power. Babylon, Mede, Persia, Greece, and Rome are the empires represented. Babylon is represented by the lion, Media by the bear, Persia by the leopard, and the Greco-Roman Empire by the fourth beast. We will meet the fourth beast again in Revelation 13-18, where it still represents the Greco-Roman Empire and culture.

The important point in Daniel 7, and Revelation 13-18, is the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days. Seemingly small and weak compared to empires with symbols like bears and leopards, His Kingdom remains as the others rise and fall. It will conquer the fourth beast. Its citizens will come from all over the world. His Kingdom will never end.

Friday after Rogation Sunday


Morning - Ps. 15, 108:1-5, Rom. 8:31
Evening - Ps. 20, 29, Is. 12, Acts 1:12

Commentary, Acts 1:12

The book of Acts rarely receives the attention it deserves, and what attention it does receive is often limited to passages referring to speaking in tongues and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is unfortunate because the book of Acts is really about what happens after the promised Redeemer accomplishes the salvation so long awaited by a dark and broken world. It is about the advent of the era of fulfillment, when the promises of a new world and a new community and a new people, who will dwell in a new Covenant relationship with God, begin to become reality on earth. In Acts we see the new order inaugurated on the earth. We see the era foretold by Micah begin to take visible form (Micah 4:1-7). We see the Kingdom of God reach into the world, bringing people into it and into God.

The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, and the founders of the Church were the Apostles. It was they who walked with Christ during the days of His flesh. They were taught by Him, and from Him they received the doctrines and practices of the Church. Christ taught the Christian faith to them, they, in turn, taught it to the Church and recorded it in the Scriptures under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we see in tonight's reading the calling of the twelfth Apostle. Judas, having betrayed our Lord and fallen away from Him, was never an Apostle. That calling, by Divine appointment, went to Matthias (1:26).

Now the stage is set. The Messiah has accomplished His redeeming work; the Apostles are restored to the intended number, and the people are waiting in one accord and in prayer (1:14). Everything is ready for the revelation of the new era, the Kingdom of God on earth.

Having noted the Apostles as the founders of the Church, let us remember that this in only true of them from the perspective of human agency. They were the human agents used by God to found His Church. In reality, of course, they were simply agents. "Instruments" or "tools" might be better words to describe their position, for the real founder of the New Israel is God, and the book of Acts is not really about the Acts of the Apostles; it is about the continuation of what Christ began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). What Jesus began in His earthly ministry is now continued by the Holy Spirit through the Church. The book of Acts records His continuing work.

Saturday after Rogation Sunday


Morning - Ps.45, Gen. 49:1-10, 2 Thes. 2:13
Evening - Ps. 8, 98, Jer. 23:5-8, Acts 2:1-21

Commentary, Acts 2:1-21

The second chapter of Acts records an event of monumental importance, which most people miss when reading it. They miss it because they focus on the signs instead of the event. They become bogged down in questions of whether the tongues were known languages or ecstatic tongues of angels. They become concerned about whether they should speak in tongues or not. We should know, for our own peace of mind, that the tongues were the languages of the people visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost, and that tongues have ceased and been superseded by the New Testament. Too many people today are trying to recreate the experiences of the people on the day of Pentecost, and too few are trying to see and understand the event signified by them.

The event is so momentous it is difficult to put into words. Let us begin by saying it is the event toward which the entire Old Testament looked. It is the event for which the Old Testament people waited and prayed. It is the event for which Christ came to earth and died on the cross. It is the event toward which all of Scripture points. That event is the inauguration of the New Covenant in Christ's blood. It is the beginning of the New Age of the Messiah's Kingdom. It is the dawning of the day of the reign of Heaven on Earth. It is nothing less than the beginning of the Kingdom of Christ. In this New Age, God is bringing all things together to ultimately place them under the rule of Christ. You remember from Ephesians that this is God's goal and purpose for this universe. It was created, as we were created, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth" (Eph. 1:10). This has been God's purpose from the beginning of our universe. It will one day be fully accomplished. On that Day His enemies will be cast out, and His Church will be gathered home to Him forever. The future element of this reality does not reduce its presence in the here and now. For even now that Day is breaking into the darkness and sorrows of our sin sick world. Even now God is gathering things together under Christ.

So, it is not tongues, but the advent of the Kingdom of the Messiah that we are to see in tonight's reading. The passage from Joel is quoted by Peter for one purpose. That purpose is not to say that visions and prophetic dreams are now the norm. That purpose is to say that the thing signified by those signs is now here among us in its wonderful and dreadful reality. The visions and dreams and tongues were but signs that the Day of the Lord is dawning. Therefore, our goal is not to have visions or speak in tongues, it is to enter and dwell in the reality of the presence of God.

Rogation Sunday Sermon

A Surprise Ending
Psalm 65, Ezekiel 34:25, Luke 11:1-13
Rogation Sunday
May 5, 2013

Most books and movies are fairly predictable.  We know how they end before they even begin, but, once in a while we find one that has a surprise ending.  This morning's reading from Luke 11 has a surprise ending.

It begins with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray.  At first this is appears to be an odd request.  These men prayed with Christ daily. He led them in the daily liturgical prayers said by all faithful Jews.  They worshiped with Him in the synagogues where He prayed the Sabbath liturgy.  And they heard Him pray daily in His own, private prayers.  So they knew how to pray, because they learned from His example and leadership. Still, it was common for people to ask their rabbi to write a prayer they could memorise and make part of their own daily prayers.  John had done this for his followers, and the disciples wanted Jesus to do the same for them.  Beyond that, they must have realised their own prayers lacked something when they heard Jesus pray. They were human, and were sometimes slothful about prayer, sometimes their minds wandered during prayer.  But Jesus delighted in prayer.  The liturgy was a joy to Him.  Seeking fellowship with the Father was natural to Him.  The disciples wanted to learn to pray like that.  But there is still more to their request.  They realised their prayers were prayers of anticipation of the coming Messiah. But here is the Messiah standing before them.  How should they pray now that the Messiah has come?

It is interesting to note that our Lord went to the Jewish Prayer Book, called the Siddur, and took its words to form what we now call, "The Lord's Prayer."  It is interesting because there has been much talk about whether this prayer is a model prayer or a liturgical prayer.  In other words, did Jesus give it to be a pattern for our prayers, so that we might know what to pray for and how to avoid over emphasising our whims and temporal desires, and under emphasising our more important spiritual needs and the glory of God?  Or, did Jesus give this prayer to be memorised by the disciples and passed down to the Church to be said liturgically throughout the generations as we prayed it earlier this morning?  And the answer is, "yes."  It is both.  It is a pattern for our private prayers, and it is a liturgical prayer to be prayed in private and public worship.

As a model it encompasses all our needs.  Everything we could ever pray for is in it.  We can expand on it but never improve on it.  When we pray, for example, "lead us not into temptation," we may expand on it by asking the Lord to keep us from the temptation of those sins to which we are personally most susceptible.  So we might say something like, "'lead us not into temptation,' and especially protect me from the temptation to have a judgmental and unforgiving attitude."

I have noticed most people's prayers tend to concentrate on temporal needs, especially money and health.  We do need to pray about these things, but the Lord's Prayer also teaches us to pray  that God would be honoured by people, and that His will be done by people on earth as it is by saints and angels in Heaven.  It especially teaches us to pray that we, I, will honour Him, and that I may do His will as it is done by those in Heaven.

As a liturgical prayer it used the words of the Jewish liturgy and applied them to the Church.  In other words, it moved from the liturgy of anticipating the Messiah, and began a liturgy for use after the advent of the Messiah.  It is the kind of liturgical prayer rabbis commonly wrote for their congregations to memorise and say daily and in the synagogue, and the disciples were asking Jesus, The Rabbi, to do the same for them. So Jesus gave this one to them and to the Church through them.

In verses 5-13 our Lord moves from giving the prayer to teaching about prayer, especially the relationship between faith and prayer.  His point is to inspire us to trust God when we pray.  Christ is not saying God is going to give us every trinket we ask for, just so we can indulge our whims and desires; and all you have to do is learn to ask for it in "faith," which they define as believing God will give it to you.  That is not faith, and that is not what Jesus is teaching here, or anywhere else in the Bible.  Jesus is teaching us to trust God to take care of us, and to make our prayers more about expressing our trust in Him than about asking Him for things.  I notice the Lord's Prayer emphasises this.  Rather than long pleadings for toys and salary raises, or even the basics of food and shelter, the Lord's prayer simply says, "give us this day our daily bread."  There is great faith in this.  It is a statement of faith.  It is like saying, "Lord, I trust You with all my needs, and I trust You to supply them according to Your wisdom "as may be most expedient" for me."

In verses 5-8 Christ uses the example of a man who gives bread to a friend.  The point being made is not that the friend does not want to get out of bed and give the bread, but will do it if you keep pounding on his door until he gives it just to get rid of you.  Jesus is saying that is not what a friend does, and that is not what God does.  A friend gives because he is a friend, and God gives because He is God. A friend gives because you have a need, and God gives because you have a need. He knows how to give good things, He knows how to give what we need, and He is willing to give it because He is the best real friend you have. Therefore, pray (knock) with this kind of faith.

So far everything has gone as we expected.  The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and  He gave them a prayer and taught them about prayer.  Now comes the surprise ending.  Jesus says God the Father knows how to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.  When did we start talking about the Holy Spirit?  We started praying about the Holy Spirit from the moment we started praying.  This is so because the Holy Spirit is the earnest of all God plans to give to us.  He is the down payment of the inheritance God has purchased for you through Christ.  It is also true because everything the Christian believer does is accomplished in and by the Spirit.  It is by the Spirit that we came to know and believe in Christ.  It is in the Spirit that we live the Christian life.  It is in the Spirit that we have fellowship with God, and understand the Scriptures, and receive the good of the means of grace.  Primarily, what Christ began to do and teach in His earthy ministry, is continued now by the Holy Spirit.  So to pray for the Holy Spirit is to ask to be a part of the work of Christ.  It is to ask for all of the blessings of Christ, and to be made a part of His new people in the new era of the reign of Christ.  May God grant us His Holy Spirit. Amen.