October 31, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 40, 2 Kings 23:1-23, 2 John
Evening – Psalm 37, 26, Dt. 5:1-21, Mt. 25:14-30

Commentary, Matthew 25:14-30

This passage has been called the parable of the talents, and the parable of the unprofitable servant.  The story is very easy to follow.  A man intends to travel to “a far country,” leaving his goods in the care of his faithful servants during his absence.  Quite obviously Christ is beginning to talk about things beyond the disciples’ question about the destruction of Jerusalem.  Yes, the destruction of Jerusalem is in this parable.  Christ, the owner of the house is going away, leaving the care of His “goods” in the hands of the Apostles.  It will be their task to teach and guide the Church, and get it out of Jerusalem before the Romans attack.  Yet the parable seems to look beyond this, as though Christ is using the judgment of Jerusalem to illustrate a far greater time and event.

Christ is not just going into the desert for a while to pray, as the disciples probably think.  He is returning to the right hand of the Father in Heaven.  While He is gone, He will leave His “goods” in the care of the Apostles, and the clergy who follow them until the His return.  His “goods” are the Church.  His goods are the people who trust in Christ as Saviour and love Him as Lord and God.  It is the task of the Apostles to teach the Bible to these people, organize them into congregations and diocese, and to teach and ordain clergy to carry on the work of the ministry.

The talents are great measures of wealth, far beyond what even wealthy people could accumulate in a life-time.  Here they represent the Gospel and all the blessings of God on His people.  The Apostles are stewards of this wealth (see 1 Cor. 4:1).  A major part of the Apostles’ task is to “invest” this wealth in such a way that it brings a return to the Owner.  The return is the growth in faith and Godliness in the Church.  It is also the addition of souls to the Church as the Apostles spread the Gospel and receive believers into the Church.

The faithful Apostles are those who bring a return to Christ.  The faithful ministers are those who continue the faith they learn from the Apostles, and teach it to the succeeding generations.  But this is not the domain of clergy alone.  It is the task of the entire body, and every member of the Church.  Just as a ship has many people doing different jobs, but all are united in the primary task of getting the ship to its next port, so the Church has people in different callings and jobs, but all united in the task of being the Church and proclaiming the Gospel.

The unfaithful servant probably refers first to Judas the betrayer of Christ.  He will renounce his calling to be an Apostle, and show that he has no real faith in Christ.  His fate is the same as that of the unbelieving Pharisees; to be cast into the outer darkness where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 25:20.  See also Mt. 24:51, Mt. 21:45, Mt. 22:13).  It refers also to the clergy who renounce Christ by preaching another gospel and another Christ, who leave the faith given by Christ to the Apostles.  No matter how noble their intentions, there is one faith once for all delivered unto the saints.  No man is authorized to change that faith.  Finally, it refers to every person who believes himself to be a member of Christ’s Church, yet has buried the Gospel by changing or ignoring the Faith.  Such people show themselves to be unprofitable servants, and theirs is the fate of 25:30.

October 30, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday after the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 30, 2 Kings 22:14, Philemon
Evening – Psalm 37:1-25, Dt. 4:32-40, Matthew 25:1-13

Commentary, Matthew 25:1-13

Tonight’s reading continues to warn the Apostles to watch.  But there is a broadening in the focus here.  The parable includes the destruction of Jerusalem, but looks beyond it, or maybe uses it, to talk about the Kingdom of heaven.  The disciples are to watch for it in the same way they are to watch for the attack on Jerusalem.

The parable is very straightforward.  Some of the virgins were prepared for the groom’s arrival, some were not.  Those who were not were shut out of the wedding, meaning, shut out of the Kingdom of Heaven.   The conclusion is the same as the one previously, given, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

October 29, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Wednesday after the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 28, 2 Kings 22:3-13, Titus 3
Evening – Ps. 34, Dt. 4:25-31, Mt. 24:42-51

Commentary, Matthew 24:42-51

We are still looking at Christ’s words to His disciples on the Mount of Olives.  This “Olivet Discourse” probably occurs on the Tuesday before Good Friday.  So time is short for Christ, and He wants His disciples to be as prepared as possible for the coming events.  We recall that this discourse began as the answer to the disciples’ question regarding the denunciation of the Pharisees in chapter 23, and His prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, found in 24:37-39.  Even the Temple will be destroyed, according to the Lord’s words (24:2).  The disciples want to know when this will happen and what will be the sign that it is about to begin (24:3).

Our Lord has patiently answered their question as well as their limited understanding would allow.  But they still don’t understand, and will not until after His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Tonight’s reading shows Christ’s warning to be ready.  The goodman of the house in verse 43 is the one in charge of a house that belongs to another.  There is a great hint here that the Apostles, and other clergy after them, will have charge of the Saviour’s house, which is the Church.  The Apostles will basically reside in Jerusalem until its destruction.  They will be responsible for telling the Church when to leave that city to avoid the massive death and destruction the Romans will visit upon it.  Since they don’t know when this will happen, they are to “Watch therefore” (24:42).

Many have noticed that this same counsel applies to the ministers of God’s Church through history.  As the Lord’s judgment came upon Jerusalem, it will also come upon all the earth.  As the disciples did not know the day or hour when the Lord would “return” to judge Jerusalem, the Church also does not know when He will return to judge the earth.  It is the clergy’s task, therefore, to continually watch and warn His people to be constantly ready.  Thus, our Lord’s words to the disciples are as relevant to us today as they were to them; “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man [Christ] cometh” (24:44).

Verses 45-51 are addressed first to the disciples regarding their new role as Apostles in the New Testament Church.  They are to be faithful servants, preaching the Gospel and establishing the Church in the doctrine and practice He gives unto them.  He promises to make them rulers over all His goods (vs. 47).  That includes overseeing the Church, while they live on earth, and having thrones of glory in Heaven.  It applies, secondly, to the bishops and clergy that come after the Apostles, continuing to keep the Church in the Apostolic/Biblical faith and practice.  It applies, thirdly, to all Christians in all times and in all places.  It is the task and duty of each of us to keep the Church faithful, keep ourselves faithful, and proclaim the faith given to us by Christ through the Apostles and preserved in the Bible.  Evil servants, those who do not keep the Apostolic faith and practice, who lead others into sin, who no longer exhort people to believe the Gospel and watch for the coming of our Lord, shall be cut asunder (cut out of the Church) and have their portion with the hypocrites (Pharisees) where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (24:51).

October 28, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Tuesday after the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 25, 2 Kings 21:1-18, Titus 2
Evening – Psalm 29, Dt. 4:15-24, Mt. 24:29-41

Commentary, Matthew 24:29-41

Before we attempt to discern the meaning of these verses let us remind ourselves of two landmark verses within it.  First is verse 29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days.”  Second is verse 34, “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”  From these verses we learn two things.  First, whatever our Lord is speaking about in these verses will happen immediately after the tribulation He has just described in 24:1-28. If verses 1-28 describe the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the events of tonight’s reading follow immediately after.  Second, the generation of the Apostles will not pass, will not die, until all these things be fulfilled.  This means the darkening of the sun and moon, stars falling from heaven, and the Lord’s coming in the clouds happens before the Apostles’ generation dies.

Obviously, then, these events are not about the Second Coming.  Remember, the Apostles didn’t even know there will be a Second Coming.  What, then is described in these verses, especially in verses 29-30?  Fortunately, the Bible sheds some light on its own symbolism here.  Isaiah 19:1 describes the Lord coming to Egypt riding “upon a swift cloud.”  Revelation 1:7, refers to Christ, saying, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him.”  Isaiah refers God coming in judgment upon Egypt.  Revelation 1:7 refers to Christ coming in judgment to Israel and Rome.  So, the events of Mt. 24:29-30 must refer to the same events.

Verse 31 refers to the advance of the Gospel in the world.  Christ coming in the clouds may also have some application to this, since the Gospel judges people by marking them as those who belong to Christ through faith, and those who do not.  Certainly the angels gathering God’s elect from the earth is accomplished through the preaching of the Gospel.

The time of the Roman’s advance on Jerusalem is not known (vs. 36), and it will catch most people unaware as the Flood did in the days of Noah (Noe).  Two in the field (24:40) refers to one taken in the battle and one escaping, as does the two women of verse 41.   The ones who escape are the ones who heed the Lord’s warning to leave Jerusalem as the Roman army approaches.

October 27, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Monay after the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 18:21-36, 2 Kings 17:1-18, Titus 1
Evening – Psalm 20, 24, Dt. 4:1-9, Mt. 24:15-28

Commentary, Matthew 24:15-28

Our Lord continues to address the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  He uses the sack of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes, written about in Daniel 9, as a warning.  Antiochus conquered Jerusalem and offered a pig on the altar of the Holy of Holies.  Christ is saying that when the disciples see the Romans preparing to attack and desolate Jerusalem as the Greeks did under Antiochus, they are to leave the city (see Mt. 23:38, “your house is left unto you desolate).  The danger is so great they should not even stop to gather belongings (vss. 17-18).  The flight will be especially hard on women and children (24:19), and they are to pray that it will not happen in winter or on a Sabbath (24:20). The tribulation of verse 21 is not a period of intense trouble after the “rapture.”  It is the trouble experienced in Jerusalem during the time of the siege and conquest of Jerusalem.  This occurred in 70 A.D.

Our Lord again warns against false Christs and prophets claiming to be the deliverer sent to fight the Romans.  The disciples are not to believe their reports.  When He does come, it will not be a man to fight the Romans.  It will be as God.  He will come as the lightning flashing across the sky.

Our reading closes with another reference to the devastation of Jerusalem, “wheresoever the carrion is, there will the eagles [vultures] be gathered together.  One of the Roman symbols was an eagle.  Our Lord is saying that Jerusalem is spiritual carrion and the Roman eagles will gather around it.

Sermon, Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Christians Hold Fast
Psalm 71, Numbers 20:14-29, 2 Timothy 11-14
Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
October 27, 2013

I am surprised at the increasing nihilism in our culture.  I should not be for nihilism is the natural philosophy of man, but it is such a degrading and depressing view of life I am surprised anyone can tolerate it.  Nihilism is the philosophy of nothing.  It is based on atheism, and states that, since there is no god, there is no purpose or meaning to anything.  There is no moral standard; morality itself is a meaningless word, for all thoughts and actions are meaningless.  Therefore cruelty and kindness are morally equal; or, more accurately, without moral value or meaning.  In this view nothing means anything, nothing has any value, except what you can put into your own life, and that generally becomes a matter of finding pleasure.  That is why we are such an entertainment oriented culture; we are looking for pleasure.  Even though pleasure is empty and meaningless in this view, it is basically all there is.

The Bible refutes this view at every point.  According to the Bible the world has purpose, human life has purpose, your life has purpose because God is, and God has purpose.  What is God’s purpose?  It is stated well for us in Ephesians 1:9-10.  This is one of the foundational points of Scripture and we ought to memorise it the way we have memorized other verses of Scripture.  If I say, “John 3:16,” most of you can quote it from memory immediately.  If I mention Romans 3:23 most of you immediately think, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  If I mention Romans 6:23, most of you will automatically say, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  But how many of you can quote, or even state the essence of Ephesisans 1:9-10?  These verses describe the purpose of God, and here it is:

Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of time he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.

God’s purpose is to gather all things into Christ.  Some will be gathered into Him in sorrow.  They are the unbelievers, the wicked.  Others will be gathered into Him in joy.  They are the believers who have come to God in Biblical faith.  But all will be gathered together in Christ.  That is what God is doing with this world.

That purpose is manifest, that is, it is revealed and put into action by the appearing of Christ according to 2 Timothy 1:9-10.  The “appearing” of Christ here refers to His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection.  By this we have seen the purpose of God.  But also, by this we see that He has “abolished death and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  He has abolished the wages of sin.  Remember Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.”  This refers to the second death, a living death of the soul in the hell of eternal punishment and separation from God.  This has been abolished by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  He died the sinner’s death, and now the sinner does not have to die.  Instead, He has brought life and immortality to light.  He has revealed the way of eternal life.  He has even purchased it for us.  It is in His cross.  He died in our places, and offers life to those who will accept it.  “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We learn of this through the Gospel, according to verse 10.  In one sense the Gospel is the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  It is the whole story of God’s dealings with humanity from the very start of time to the very end of it.  In a more limited sense, the Gospel is the story of Christ dying for our sins and gathering us into His Kingdom of Grace.  It is the story of Him purchasing eternal life for us, and giving it to us as His free gift, which we receive by faith.

Now we come to the point of today’s sermon; “Christians Hold Fast.”  Christians hold fast to this Gospel of Christ, according to verse 13.  That means we cling to it like a life preserver in a stormy sea.  It means we honour and preserve it as an heirloom, as a great treasure above all treasures.  It is our most prized possession.  Christ is worth more to us than all the world, even more than our very lives.  We know the truth of the words that to gain the whole and loose our own soul profits us nothing.  Without Christ we have nothing.  We are thrown back into the nihilism I spoke of earlier in this sermon.  Without Him nothing matters.  But with Him we have purpose, we have fullness, we have hope and joy and happiness and peace.

We hold fast to the form of sound words.  Many say the faith and the Church has to be re-cast into the lingo and culture of each new generation.  We must speak their lingo, their street talk.  We must sing their music and dress their dress.  I fail to see the logic in this.  It seems to me that most of the lingo, music, and fashion of the world is intentionally anti God.  Why would I want to imitate that?  I would rather call people into the forms that have served God’s people for thousands of years.  I would rather call people out of their worldly identity into a new identity.  I don’t want to show the world how much I can be like it and still be a Christian, I want to show the world how being a Christian is different and better than the world.

Certainly we hold fast the form of sound words rather than changing those words to please people.  Paul refers in part to the ancient way of teaching and learning that prevailed in his time.  That method was memorisation.  Hebrew children memorised vast portions of Scripture.  They memorised the history of Israel.  They memorised their family history.  They did this partly for education and partly for entertainment.  The result was a sense of connection and belonging in the children.  They had an identity and a solidarity with the Jewish people.  The Apostle Paul, as a Jew, had also memorized much of the Scriptures.  He had probably memorized most of the words of Jesus while he was a new Christian in the Church in Antioch.  He memorized them word for word.  To change or omit a word was not permitted.  He kept the form just as the Jewish children kept the form of words they memorised, word for word.

Paul passed this form of sound words on to Timothy.  Timothy passed them on to the people and ministers of the Church.  They have passed them on to others, who passed them on to others, and eventually they have come to us.  We, have not memorised them they way the early Christians did, but we read them in the Bible.  We hold them fast.

Paul tells us to hold fast the form of sound words, “in faith.”  This means first with understanding.  It means we know the words and their meanings.  It means also that we believe the words.  It means we believe the Gospel.   We trust it.  We trust that in Christ we are clean.  Our sins are washed away and we are dressed in the righteousness of Christ.  We believe we are accepted by God, forgiven by God.  We have been made acceptable to God, and God has been made acceptable to us.  God and us are reconciled in Christ.

It is, as verse 12 says in some of the Bible’s most famous words, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”

October 25, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Saturday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 21, 23, 2 Kings 11:1-16, 2 Tim. 4:9
Evening – Psalm 18, Ecc. 12, Mt. 24:1-14

Commentary, Matthew 24:1-14

Having completed His denunciation of the self-righteous religion of the Pharisees, our Lord leaves the Temple heading for Bethany and the Mount of Olives.  His disciples have just heard some of the most astonishing words they have ever heard Him speak.  Jerusalem, desolate?  It cannot be.  So passing through the Temple they venture to call the Lord’s attention to the beauty of the building.  Jesus is unimpressed.  The Temple and its sacrifices were a symbol of His one great sacrifice on the cross.  But the Temple organisation has become a self perpetuating sheep killing business with very little regard for the meaning of the sacrifices.  Jesus says to the disciples, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (vs. 2).

The disciples are even more shocked at these words.  Is Jesus actually saying the Temple will be destroyed?  This is the House of God.  If the Temple is destroyed, where will the sacrifices be made?  If the Temple falls, they surmise, the current age of history will end with it.  They keep silent until they reach the Mount of Olives.  There they ask, “when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (vs. 3).

It is important to understand the disciples’ question.  They are not asking about the Second Coming, nor are they asking about a “rapture” of the Church.  They do not even know there is going to be a Second Coming of Christ.  They still think Christ has come to drive the Romans out and give the world to Israel. Their question is about how they will know when He is coming to Jerusalem to begin the war with the Gentiles.  They seem to think the fall of the Temple has something to do with that war.  Nor are they asking about the end of planet earth.  The Greek word translated, “world” in verse 3 actually means “age.”  They are asking when the current age of Gentile domination will end, and the new age, or the new “world” of Jewish domination will begin.  These are the issues that trouble them, and they are the issues Christ addresses in the following verses.

He warns them against false Messiahs (vs.5).  Many will come claiming to be the Messiah and urging the people to take up arms against the Romans.  Don’t follow them.  Wars and rumours of wars (vs. 6) means the disciples will hear of uprisings and revolts against Rome, led by men claiming to be the Messiah. They are not to be troubled by such reports, nor are they to join the battle.  These things will happen, but the end of the age is not yet.  In other words, such wars are not signs of the end, they are just wars.

Nor are the wars limited to Israel.  “For nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places” (vs. 8).  These are not signs of anything except the fallenness of man and the natural course of history in a world that is infected with sin.  They are the “beginning of sorrows,” not the end.

There will be persecution, and hate will be poured out on those who follow Christ (vs. 9-10).  Family members who are not Christians will turn against relatives who are. False prophets will arise and deceive many (vs. 11).  Some Christians will leave the faith, and only those who persevere in it will be saved (vs. 13).  But even these things are not signs of the end of the age of Gentile domination.  When the Gospel is preached in all the world and unto all nations, “then shall the end come” (vs. 14).  “All the world” and “all nations” were popular terms used to describe the Roman Empire, and that is probably the Lord’s meaning here.  The Gospel will be preached to the Jews first throughout the Empire.  But many of them will reject Christ and persecute the Christians unto torture and death  Only when the Jews have heard and rejected the Gospel will the Lord allow Jerusalem to be attacked and conquered and the Temple to be destroyed.

October 24, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 22, 2 Kings 9:30, 2 Tim 4:1-8
Evening – Psalm 6, 26, Ecc. 11, Mt. 23:24

Commentary, Matthew 23:24-39

Verse 24 is actually part of the fifth woe which began in verse 23.  It completes the point that the Pharisees concern with small matters makes them blind to great matters.  Here, however, our Lord seems to make the small points of God’s law a matter of difficulty.  They strain at them, like someone trying to get a gnat out of his mouth.  Yet they have no problem with the massive code of rabbinic regulations.  Compared to the small points of God’s law, which gives them so much trouble, their own regulations are like a camel.  But, though they strain at the gnat, they gladly swallow the camel.

Woe six is found in verses 25 and 26.  It concerns the Pharisees’ excessive worries about appearing outwardly pure, while remaining impure on the inside.  They would, for example, never think of not washing their hands before eating, according to their standard ceremony (Lk. 11:37-42)Yet their hearts are filled with plans for extortion and excessive self indulgence.  Christ says they (and we) should be much more concerned about being clean on the inside.  We should desire hands that are spiritually clean.

Woe seven, in verses 27 and 28 continues the same idea of pursuing real, inward purity rather than a false outward appearance of purity.  For this reason it is often considered as part of the sixth woe.  This would reduce the number of woes from eight to seven, making for the seven woes against the Pharisees.  Whether there are seven woes or eight really does not matter.  What does matter is that the Pharisees appear righteous to other people, but their hearts are full of hypocrisy.

Woe eight, verses 29-35 demolishes a favourite pretense of the Pharisees.  They love to say they would have been faithful in times when their forefathers forsook God.  They say they would not have killed the prophets, they would have stood with them for the truth of God (vs. 30).  Many today say they would have stood with Christ, the Apostles, and the martyrs, if they had lived during those times.  Maybe so, but perhaps we should ask for faith sufficient for life today, rather than boast about how great our faith would have been then.

Jesus counters this with two points.  First He says this is an admission that they are “children of them which killed the prophets.”  Second, He says they will continue the very same sin.  They will persecute the prophets and wise men and scribes Christ will send to them with His Gospel.  They will kill and crucify them; scourge them in their synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (vs. 34).  He even reminds them of a man named Zacharius, slain near the altar of the Temple.  We know they crucified Christ.  We also know they followed Christians from city to city, hunting them down for the “crime” of believing in Christ.  Many died horrible deaths for Christ, literally fulfilling His words to the Pharisees.

Verse 35 marks a turning point in this confrontation.  Here Christ begins to include all of Jerusalem in the sins of the Pharisees.  He is saying the entire Jerusalem religious machine is corrupt.  Outward show has replaced inward Godliness.  Therefore, “all these things will come upon this generation” (vs. 36).

There is no joy in Christ’s remarks.  He speaks with a broken heart.  “[H]ow often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings” (vs. 37).  Under their mother’s wings is the safest place a chick can be. Any danger or predator will get the mother hen first.  Jesus would take the danger and the wrath of God for Jerusalem.  He would have the people come to Him, but they would not.  They persist in their sin.  Therefore, He says, “your house is left unto you desolate.” He means first, they will be left in their desolate, empty corruption of the word of God, and in that corruption, they will die.  Second, He refers to the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  He will give more details about this in chapter 24.

Verse 39 does not refer to seeing Christ with their eyes.  It refers to seeing Him in faith.  Obviously the Pharisees continue to see Him with their eyes as the week continues.  They see Him before Pilate, see Him on the cross, see His lifeless body removed from the cross, and probably see it laid in the tomb.  But most of them will never see Him in faith.  Some will, but most will die in their sins and remain under His wrath forever.  Let us ensure that we see Him in faith, lest we also hear Him say, “Woe unto you.”

October 23, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 10, 2 Kings 9:17-28, 2 Tim. 3
Evening – Psalm 16, 17, Ecc. 9, Mt. 23:13-23

Commentary, Matthew 23:13-23

In verse 13 our Lord begins to address the Pharisees again. Not comforting, His words are scalding hot pronouncements of Divine wrath upon them.  Their woes will be the deepest of sorrows, the kind that can only be known by those under God’s wrath in eternity.  This woe will be known by these Pharisees in spite of their loud profession of righteousness and Godliness. 

The first woe is found in verse 13.  Here Christ says the Pharisees tell people they are not in the Kingdom of Heaven because they do not keep the Pharisees’ regulations. According to Jesus, it is the Pharisees who are not in the Kingdom.  They may attempt to shut others out, but they are not going in themselves.

The second woe is in verse 14.  Jesus says they “devour widows’ houses,” yet make long prayers.  In other words, though they make long prayers and seem to be deeply devout, they plot evil against the innocent.  They will take a widow’s home and possessions, leaving her without shelter to face starvation and death.  Then they make long prayers to show how Godly they are.  Jesus does not call them Godly.  He calls them hypocrites.

Woe three is in verse 15.  Here Jesus says people who convert to the Pharisees’ way of thinking are being converted to hell.  Amazing.  There are actually people trying to win you to their religion, but their religion will actually take you to hell.  The Bible has many warnings about following false teachers and false Gospels, yet they abound today.

Woe four is in verses 16-22.  It calls the Pharisees “blind guides” (vs. 16) because they miss the law of God and follow their own foolish regulations.  Jesus uses the example of their false distinction between swearing (making a promise) by the Temple and swearing by the gold in the Temple.  They say that if you make a promise, saying something like, “I swear by the Temple,” the promise means nothing.  But if you swear by the gold in the Temple the promise is binding.  Jesus’ point is that their distinction is wrong.  After all, the Temple is greater than the gold.  More importantly, to swear by the Temple, altar, or anything in it is to swear by God.

Part of what Jesus is condemning is deception, or, false swearing.  The Pharisees’ promises are like those of a child promising to do something while crossing his fingers, as though the crossed fingers make his promise invalid.  In reality he promises to do something, but his promise is a lie.

Woe five is in verse 23.  Here Christ condemns the Pharisees for being  meticulous in the small things while ignoring the big things.  He does not say the small things are unimportant.  He simply means that doing them while neglecting the bigger things is foolish and hypocritical.  It is like a man who prays every night, but robs widows during the day in business.

October 22, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Wednesday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm9, 2 Kings 9:1-16, 2 Tim. 2:14
Evening – Psalm 13, 14, Ecc. 8:12-9:1, Mt. 23:1-12

Commentary, Matthew 23:1-12

“Then spake Jesus unto the multitude, and to his disciples.”  Having confounded the religious leaders, Jesus addresses the people gathered around Him in the Temple.  The multitude includes people who have come to Jerusalem for Passover, His disciples, and the religious leaders.  There has always been some question about the origin of the Pharisees, and the exact nature of their ministry.  Therefore, we don’t know exactly what our Lord meant when He said they “sit in Moses’ seat” (vs. 2).  But Christ seems to indicate that they have a legitimate ministry under the Old Covenant.  Whatever their official position may have been, Jesus tells the people that if what they say is in accordance with the teaching of Scripture, do it.  He also warns to people not to take the scribes and Pharisees as role models; “do ye not after their works” (vs.3).  The reason for this warning is that their words do not match their actions.  “[T]hey say, and do not.”

“[H]heavy burdens and grievous to be borne” (vs. 4) refers to the Pharisees’ extensive regulations and traditions, which attempt to teach the people how to keep the law of God.  Christ says the Pharisees are happy to lay these regulations on the people, but offer no help in keeping them, nor do they keep them themselves.  Yet they love to be considered intensely stringent law keepers.  Phylacteries (vs.5) are fringes or pockets in their apparel containing verses of Scripture or passages from their books of regulations.  They like to make these pockets very large and very visible to other Jews to make it appear that they are completely faithful and diligent about keeping them.  They also love the respect their apparent dedication to the law garners from the rest of the Jews.  They are given preference in social arrangements and in the synagogues, and they are called “teacher” and “father” by the Jews.

Our Lord warns the people, many of whom are and will be His people in the New Testament Church, not to follow their example.  He is especially talking to His disciples when He says “be not ye called Rabbi (vs.8), and “call no man your father upon earth” (vs. 9).  The reason for this is that Christ is their Master, or, Teacher (Rabbi), and God is their Father.  This does not mean no titles are used in the Church.  It does mean all Christians are brothers in Christ, and are equally servants of God and one another (vs. 11).  Titles in the Church, therefore, are more like job descriptions than ascriptions of honour, and no man should assume or accept titles that belong to God.

October 21, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Tuesday after Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 5, 2 Kings 6:15-23, 2 Tim. 1:15-2:13
Evening-Psalm 11, 12, Ecc. 6:1-12, Mt. 22:34

Commentary, Matthew 22:34-46

In verses 34-40 a lawyer continues the barrage of questions designed to trick Jesus.  He is not a lawyer as we think of them today.  He is a theologian, a scribe who specializes in the massive body of regulations which had largely replaced the Scriptures as the rule of life in Israel.  Again, no matter which single law Jesus chooses the theologian can offer many arguments against it and for others.  But Christ dismisses the man-made regulations and goes straight to the words of Scripture.  The first commandment, to love God, summarises the first four of what we know as the Ten Commandments.  The second commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self summarises the meaning of the next six of the Ten Commandments.  Together, they express the true meaning and purpose of all the commandments and all the words of the prophets.  This is what all the law and all the messages of the prophets are about.  The lawyer couldn’t argue with that.

In verses 41-46, Jesus asks a question.  The religious leaders had tried to confound and discredit him.  Now He will confound and discredit them.  He asks them one question in two parts.  The first part, “What think ye of Christ?” has captured the imagination of preachers and commentator since the day Christ spoke the words.  But it is actually the second part that is the essence of the question; “whose son is he.”  Jesus asks this question knowing the Pharisees will answer as they do in verse 42, “The son of David.”  And, according to the flesh, that is the correct answer. The Messiah was to be a descendant of David.  That’s why Matthew goes to such great lengths to trace Jesus’ lineage back to David in chapter 1, and to call Him the son of David in the very first verse of his Gospel.  Son of David was a Messianic title.  That is why the blind men called Jesus by that name near Jericho (Mt. 20:30).
Jesus catches the Pharisees and scribes in His trap easily.  If Christ is David’s son, why does David refer to Him as his Lord in Psalm 110:1?  Jesus is making an important point about the Messiah; He is David’s Lord, meaning God.  If this is true, the Messiah is not the son of David in the same way Solomon was.  Whose son is He then?  He is the Son of God.

This ends the questions and the verbal traps being set for Jesus.  The religious rulers find Him more adept at logic than they, and more knowledgeable of Scripture than they.  Rather than confounding Him, He has confounded them (vs. 46). 

October 20, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Monday after Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 2, 3, 2 Kings 6:8-14, 2 Tim. 1:1-14
Evening – Psalm 4, 8, Ecc. 5:8, Mt. 22:15-33

Commentary, Matthew 22:15-33

Tonight’s reading records two attempts entangle our Lord in His talk.  This is part of the religious leaders’ plan to destroy Jesus.  They hope to make Him say something that will cause the people to turn away from Him.  Once the people leave Him, He will be easy to kill, and they, so they think, will be rid of their problem.

The flattery of verse 16, meant to put Christ off guard, does not fool Him for a moment.  The question is meant to make the people believe He is not the Messiah.  The popular view of the Messiah was that of a warrior king, who, filled with power from God, will lead the people of Israel into a crush the Romans and Gentiles, and establish Israel as the capitol of the world, with all Gentile nations subservient to her.  If Jesus says it was right to give tribute (pay taxes) to Caesar, the people will think He is not the Messiah, and will abandon Him.  If He says it is not right, they will brand Him as an enemy of Rome, and possibly convince the Romans to kill Him.  He foiled their plans with His words in verse 21; “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things which are God’s.”

Next, the Saducees attempt to trick Christ.  These men are the chief priests, and do not believe in any form of resurrection.  Their question, regarding the woman’s marital status in the resurrection, is intended to confuse Christ and make the people laugh at Him.  In their minds, He will have to say the woman will be married to one of the men in Heaven.  No matter which one He says, they can confound Him with reasons why she might be married to another.  If He does not know the answer to their question, He must not be the Messiah, so the people will leave Him and they can kill Him.

Again, He easily foils their plan.  In the resurrection people are not married.  All of the ties of kinship are different in Heaven.  Our relationships with one another will be similar to the relationship of angels to other angels.

He pointedly shows the reality of the resurrection, saying God is God of the living, not the dead.  If He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they will live even though they have died.  When will they live?  In the resurrection.

Hearing the questions and the answers of Christ, the people are more convinced than ever that He is the Messiah.  They are astonished, meaning, surprised, overwhelmed, and awed, by His doctrine.  They go away with greater respect for Him. 

Sermon, Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Christians Rest
Psalm 91, Exodus 33:7-17, Hebrews 4:1-16
Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
October 20, 2013

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”  This, the ninth verse of Hebrews 4 is the focal verse of the sermon today, which is titled, “Christians Rest.”  That may sound odd, since I have been preaching about what Christians do, and the sermons have often been about activity, about actions.  I said, on the Third Sunday after Trinity, that Christians pray.  That’s an action.  Yes, there is an attitude of prayer that should characterize all of us every day, but there must also be times when we put other things aside and consciously and intentionally pray to God.  So prayer, in this sense, is an action, an activity.  I have also talked about such things as following Christ, love, and repentance, each of which, like prayer, is an attitude or frame of mind, and an activity.  So how do we do these activities and rest too?  How can we do all these things and still find “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God?”

First, we must understand that the great rest of the people of God happens in the New Heaven and Earth at the end of time.  The day is coming when this fallen world will end.  And all the troubles and trials of life in this world will end with it.  When I call the world “fallen,” I mean it is influenced by sin, for that is the condition of people and the world today.  The word “influence” means to exert control or have an effect.  It comes from a Latin word, influentia, meaning, to flow into and cause changes.  “Influence” is similar to another word, “influenza,” which comes from the same Latin word, influentia, and we all know influenza causes changes.  So I am saying the world, its people, and its institutions all have sin influenza.  Sin has flowed into them and caused changes.  Sin exerts control and has an effect on everything and everyone.  Every person, every nation, every institution from Church to state is in some way heavily influenced by sin and sinners.  That’s why Christians argue about the Bible.  That’s why the Church is divided into denominations and factions.  That’s why governments are corrupt, and charities spend more on their directors’ salaries than on helping the poor and needy.  But that will all end one day.  One day everything will be openly gathered together in Christ, as Ephesians 1:10 states.  Sin will be put away.  So will sickness and death and ignorance and sorrow and selfishness and strife.  All will live under the perfect rule of Christ, and all who are in Christ will have rest from the sorrows that plaque us now.

Second, we must understand that the great rest for God’s people is the rest from trying to earn a place in God’s Kingdom by our own efforts.  This rest is resting in what God has done in Christ to give us a place in His Kingdom.  Please understand this; you cannot earn Heaven by your good works, because in God’s eyes, your works aren’t good.  There is a pollution that exists in you.  You have sin influenza and it taints everything you do.  So, not only are your good deeds unable to make up for your sins, your good deeds aren’t even good, not when compared to the absolute perfection of God.  Nothing you can do will ever measure up to God’s perfection and perfect standards.  But God wants to give you a place in Heaven anyway.  He wants you to have it as a free gift from Him.  Jesus died on the cross to purchase that place for you.  But He also died to give His righteousness, His Godly perfection to you.  Because of that, God no longer “sees” your sins when He looks at you.  He sees only Christ’s holiness.  Therefore, the door of Heaven is open for you.  All you have to do is step in.  Of course this is only true for you if you honestly trust Jesus’ death to make you right with God.  Trust Him to be who He says He is, and to do what He says He does, make your peace with God by the blood of His cross.

Third, the great rest for the people of God is rest for your spirit, even though you live in this sin-troubled world.  We often call this rest, “peace of mind.”  Like many of you, I believe these United States are doing many things that are counter productive to the peace and security of this country, and of other nations around the world.  I believe this has been happening for generations, and I don’t see any signs of it stopping soon.  But I am not in despair about it.  My hope is in God, not government, not even the people.  I know God can pull us out of our self-dug pit any time.  He has done it before, and things have been this bad before.  For example, on Sunday, February 24th 1811 a young man was ordained a deacon in Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The religious and moral decay of that time parallels our own.  Hear what that young man wrote of it.

On our way to the old church the Bishop and myself met a number of students with guns on their shoulders and dogs at their sides, attracted by the frosty morning, which was favourable to the chase; and at the same time one of the citizens was filling his ice house.  On arriving at the church we found it in a wretched condition, with broken windows and a gloomy, comfortless aspect.  The congregation which assembled consisted of two ladies and about fifteen gentlemen, nearly all of whom were relatives or acquaintances.  The morning service being over, the ordination and communion were administered, and then I was put into the pulpit to preach, there being no ordination sermon.  The religious condition of the College [William and Mary], and of the place may easily and justly be inferred from the above.  I was informed that not long before this two questions were discussed in a literary society of the College:- First, Whether there be a God? Secondly, Whether the Christian religion had been injurious or beneficial to mankind?  Infidelity was rife in the state… and for some years after, in every educated young man of Virginia whom I met, I expected to find a skeptic, if not an avowed unbeliever.”
These words were written by William Meade, who later became bishop of Virginia. In later years he wrote of a great change in Virginia.  Daily family prayer and Bible reading had become common.  Church attendance was normal, and Gospel preaching ministers filled the pulpits of many of the leading churches in the Commonwealth.  Vice had decreased and godliness had increased.  The duties of church, family, and community, rather than vice and amusements occupied the time and energy of the people.

I read accounts like this, and I read of revivals in Israel in the Old Testament, and I am encouraged about the future.  For God still lives, and can do today what He did then.  Believing this, I can be at peace about my country and my world.  And even if God allows America to decline away, my spirit can be at rest.

In other words, the Christian’s rest is based on the knowledge that God is, and that He is in control.  He has not forsaken us, nor has he been overcome by evil.  Instead He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”  This same God loves me and gave Himself for me.  He promises that all things work together for my good.  He promised me a place in His Mansion of Mansions.  One day I will see Him face to face in that land where sorrow and death are but dim memories.  That knowledge gives me rest here and now.  I think King David expressed this whole idea of rest for the people of God very well in the Twenty-third Psalm; “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. X  

October 18, 2013

October 17, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 143, 2 Kings 5:9-19, 1 Tim. 6:1-11
Evening – Psalm 139, Ecc. 3:16, Mt. 21:17-32

Commentary, Matthew 21:17-32

The village of Bethany was an easy walk from the city of Jerusalem.  Our Lord returns to it Sunday night.  He probably spends the night sleeping on the ground on the Mount of Olives (Lk. 21:37).  Walking back to Jerusalem on Monday, probably without breakfast, He seeks fruit from a fig tree, but the tree has no fruit.  It is very much like Israel at that time, like the priests and the Pharisees and the Temple and the Synagogues.  Their abundant people and activity made them look vibrant and healthy, but they bore no fruit.  In a similar manner, many contemporary denominations, churches, and lives are filled with religious activity, but bear no fruit of holiness, love, obedience or Biblical wisdom.  On the outside they appear to honour God, but on the inside they are far away from Him.  Their religious activity makes no difference in their social, business, or home lives.  They do not become “Christ-like,” they simply remain in the same ungodly ideas and lifestyles that characterise the unbelievers around them.

The disciples “marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!”   Israel, too, will soon wither.  Even the Holy City will fall to the very Romans the Pharisees will convince to kill Jesus.  Matthew 24 and 25 give our Lord’s prediction of this event.  Revelation 5-11 gives a fuller account.

The primary point in tonight’s reading is the question of authority (vss. 23-32).  Jesus returns to the Temple, to be met by an angry and confrontational crowd of religious leaders, who, in verse 23, demand, “By what authority doest thou these things?”   They probably refer to His driving the moneychangers and vendors out of the Temple, but their question could encompass the whole of Christ’s ministry.  It is significant that they do not question that He has healed the sick, raised the dead, correctly interpreted Scripture, and cleared the Temple of its ring of thieves.  Their question is, where does He get the authority to do these things?

Jesus refers them back to John the Baptist.  Was his baptism, meaning his authority to preach and baptize, from Heaven (God) or man?  Remember that when John was in prison he sent messengers to Jesus asking Him if He was the Messiah or not (Mt. 11:2-6).  Jesus’ reply was that He does that which the Messiah does.  Through His ministry the spiritually blind see God.  The spiritually lame walk with God.  The spiritually unclean are restored to God.  The spiritually poor have the Gospel preached to them.  Jesus considered that enough to convince John.  And if it was enough to convince one who was soon to give his life for Christ, it should certainly be enough to convince the scholars and wise men and religious leaders of Israel. But it is not.  

So Jesus tells two parables, which His opponents quickly see are about them (vs. 45).  The son who repents and goes to work in the vineyard represents those who have openly failed to seek God, and those who outwardly seem to seek God, but in reality do not.  This son, repents, signifying that these people realize their sin and turn to God in true faith.  The second son says he will work, but does not.  He represents the religious leaders who say they are living for God, but are really not.  Nor do they repent.  They remain in their disobedience.  Thus Jesus makes His point in verse 31: publicans and harlots who repent will go into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the unrepentant, no matter how religious, will not.

October 16, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday after Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 141, 142, 2 Kings 5:1-8, 1 Tim. 5:17
Evening – Psalm137, 138, Ecc. 3:1-15, Mt. 21:1-16

Commentary, Mathew 21:1-16

The religious leaders of Israel had corrupted the Jewish faith so completely it is doubtful that Moses would have recognized it.  Even Aaron, brother of Moses and first High Priest of Israel, though he would have recognized the ritual and liturgy of the Temple, would not have recognized the attitude or doctrine of the priests and people.  They acted and believed as though it was only important that the liturgy be done, not meant.  Thus, they allowed the Court of the Gentiles to be transformed from a place for Gentiles to pray and seek God, to a place for Jews to buy and sell animals for the sacrifices.  It is probable that the chief priests and Pharisees received a comfortable fee from the vendors; the Temple court was bound to be a lucrative business location for which the vendors would pay gladly.  We can imagine the bribery and scheming involved in getting and giving the choice locations.

So, rather than being a quiet place where Gentiles could pray and talk to the priests about the faith, the Court of the Gentiles had become a noisy, smelly market and den of thieves.  This says something important about Israel. She had lost her vision.  She had lost her understanding of her calling, and of the purpose of God in calling her.  She thought her calling was only to offer the sacrifices rather than offer the sacrifices and love God.  She thought God wanted only the actions, not the actions and the heart.

Jesus, like the prophets before Him, considered this a distortion of the very essence of Israel, and a heretical perversion of the true nature and purpose of God. The religious leaders realized the wide gulf between their views and the views of Jesus.  They knew He wanted to take them back to original meaning of the Old Testament, the sacrifices, and the liturgies of the Temple and Synagogue.  To allow that would ruin the priests and Pharisees financially and socially, and it would require them to become Biblical believers and servants of God rather than mammon.  For them facing Jesus was like facing a choice; would they repent of their sin, or reject Christ?  They chose sin.  They opposed Christ at every opportunity.  They argued with Him, attempting to justify their actions and views, and discredit His.  They formed a conspiracy to murder Him, an act they would accomplish in a few short days.

In Matthew 21 Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Messiah coming to His people.  He comes to judge and set right the leaders and the people.  He comes as the Son of David ascending His throne and receiving the adoration of His people. Yet He goes not to the palace, but to the Temple where He casts out the vendors and moneychangers.  He does not stop or condemn the lawful sacrifices and liturgies of the Temple.  He does show their true purpose, which is to express the faith and love of the people, and to proclaim the grace and promises of God.  He even spends some time teaching and healing in the Temple, so that, once again it becomes a place where the Word of God is proclaimed and souls are healed.  But the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders, “were sore displeased” (vs. 16).  Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem happened on the Sunday before Passover.  By Friday evening the rulers of the Jews accomplished their goal; Jesus was dead.

October 15, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Wednesday after the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 127, 130, 2 Kings 4:25-37, 1 Tim.5:1-16
Evening – Psalm 135, Ecc. 2:18, Mt. 20:17

Commentary, Matthew 20:17-34

Matthew 20:17 is a turning point in the Gospel.  Here Jesus begins His final journey into Jerusalem.  On the way He tells His disciples what is going to happen there.  He will be betrayed, condemned, and given to the Gentiles for crucifixion (20:18 and 19).  Our Saviour knew well what lay ahead of Him, and He intentionally went to the cross.  He truly gave Himself for our sins.  He could have avoided Jerusalem.  He could have left Israel and lived safely in another country.  Even on the cross He could have easily come down and saved Himself.  But the point Matthew is making in this passage is that He did not.  He knew what was going to happen, and He gave Himself to it.  As He said in John 10:17 and 18, “I lay down my life.” “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.”  Truly, as He said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this.”

In verse 20 the mother of James and John comes to Jesus asking that her sons be seated at the right and left hand of Christ in His Kingdom.  She probably believes Jesus is going into Jerusalem to organize an army and cast out the Romans.  She believes He is going to establish Israel as the ruler of the world so the Jews can live in peace and prosperity forever.  She wants her sons to have preeminence in that kingdom, which will also ensure her own wealth and position.

Jesus asks them if they can drink His cup and endure His baptism.  He refers to the crucifixion that awaits Him. James and John do not understand His meaning, yet they quickly assure Him that they are able.  Christ tells them they will indeed drink and bear His cup and baptism.  Indeed, all the apostles died horrible deaths, except John, and he probably almost died during his imprisonment on Patmos.  James is thought to be the first Apostle to die in Christ’s service.

In verse 25 Jesus teaches them about greatness in His Kingdom.  Greatness does not consist of power, wealth, and privilege, as in the Roman Empire.  It consists of humility, and serving others as a slave serves his master.  In verse 26, Christ literally says whosoever will be great among you, let him be your slave.  He uses Himself as an example, saying even He, God in the flesh, came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

In verse 29 Jesus has crossed the Jordan River at Jericho and is in Judea on the road to Jerusalem. A crowd has gathered around Him, and, beside the road two voices are raised asking Him to have mercy.  It is interesting that these blind men “see” something the Pharisees miss.  They “see” that Jesus is the Son of David.  They are calling Him by a Messianic title.  They are saying He is the Son of David promised in the law and prophets. Remember that one of Matthew’s intentions is to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Being called Son of David by these men is one of the ways he shows this.

October 14, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Tuesday after the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 125, 126, 2 Kings 4:18-25, 1 Tim. 4:6
Evening – Psalm 132, Ecc. 2:1-17, Mt. 20:1-16

Commentary, Matthew 20:1-16

This passage continues the discourse begun with the rich young ruler in 19:16.  Our Lord is still on the east side of the Jordan, but close enough to Judea to make excursions into it, and for the Judean people to come to Him.  And they do come to Him.  19:2 tells us great multitudes followed Him, and 19:3 says Pharisees also came attempting to trick and discredit (tempting) Him.

In this parable the Householder is God.  The vineyard is the Kingdom of God, which on earth is the Church.  The call to work in the vineyard is the Gospel calling people to believe in Christ.  The pay is Heaven and all the grace of God.  The parable has two primary meanings. First, most of the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Though they are first in religion they are last in faith (see 20:16).  Trusting their religiousness, rather than the atoning sacrifice of Christ, they will be found missing the mark on Judgment Day.  In other words, they will not measure up to God’s standard of perfect holiness, therefore they will have no place in Heaven. 

Second, all is forgiven to all who trust in Christ.  You do not have to be first in the vineyard, as the Pharisees considered themselves to be.  Even the last one to come to the vineyard will receive the full grace and pardon of Christ.  Even the last to come to Christ will receive the Spirit, the Church, the means of grace, the Bible, and Heaven at last.

Some one you know may be late in life, and still not in the vineyard. Continue to pray for him, there is yet hope.  You may be late in life yet not in the vineyard   You wonder if God will accept you after your decades of living like a Pharisee, or even like a pagan.  The answer is, yes.  “Come unto me” Jesus says in Matthew 11:28.  “[H]im that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” He says in John 6:37. “[W]hosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).

This is not an excuse to put off God.  You may not live to see tomorrow on this earth.  You may be called before the throne of God this very moment.  “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not you hearts” (Heb. 3:15).  Be ready, for Jesus may come for you “at an hour when ye think not” (Lk. 11:40).

October 13, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Monday after Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 124, 128, 2 Kings 4:8-17, 1 Tim. 3:14-4:5
Evening- Psalm 131, 133, 134,  Ecc. 1, Mt. 19:16

Commentary, Matthew 19:16-30

Matthew 19:16-22 is known as the story of the Rich Young Ruler because the young man is called a ruler in Luke 18:18.  He was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which directed the practice of Jewish faith during the time of Christ.  Nicodemus was a member of that body, and was called a ruler of the Jews in John 3:1.  It would be natural for such people to seek out Jesus at this point in Matthew as He was on the east side of the Jordan River, yet very near Judea and Jerusalem.  Though a Pharisee, he does not seem to oppose Jesus, yet he has the Pharisaical self-righteous attitude about him, and his words could be viewed as a challenge to Jesus.

Jesus’words in verse 17, “there is none good but one; that is, God,” are a direct challenge to the Pharisaical view of righteousness by law keeping.  Yet the man states blatantly that “All these things have I kept from my youth up.”  So Jesus shows him that his perceived righteousness is imaginary.  The true test of righteousness is what Jesus called the first and great commandment, to love God with all thy heart, soul, and mind.  But this man loved his wealth and possessions far more than he loved God.  Thus, when told to sell all “he went away sorrowful” (vs. 22).  Thus the man is shown to be a sinner after all; a sinner whose only hope is the grace of God in Christ.  Like him, we are sinners, and our only hope of acceptance with God, what the young ruler called having “eternal life,” is the grace of God in Christ.

Verses 23-26 reveal the stronghold earthly possessions often have over people.  The rich young ruler probably considered them proof of God’s acceptance of him.  But Jesus says they are heavy burdens that virtually hold people out of the Kingdom of God.  Like this man, we are prone to value our possessions over God.

It seems to Peter, then, that no one can be saved, and Christ makes the very profound statement, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”     In other words, it is impossible for any of us to save ourselves.  Not only can we not atone for our sins, but we cannot make ourselves want to love God more than our possessions or ourselves.  Only God can change our hearts and cause us to seek Him in Biblical faith. The reassurance Christ gives to the disciples is that they will be saved. They have given up family, home, possessions, and all else to follow Jesus.  Their faith is in Him.  And Jesus promises that He will give them eternal life (vss. 25-30).

October 11, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Saturday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 120, 122, 123, 2 Kings 2, 1 Tim.3:1-13
Evening - Psalm 144, Job 42:1-9. Mt. 19:1-15

Commentary, Matthew 19:1-15

The Pharisees continue their opposition to Christ..  Part of their plan is to kill Him; part of their plan is to discredit Him.  Of course, discrediting comes first, for that will turn the crowds against Him, and give them the pretext of having Him executed for heresy and blasphemy.  So they attempt to make Him alienate the people by asking Him about divorce.  Then, as now, people were self-centered, and had a difficult time making themselves love their spouses after the first excitement of hormones wore off.  So divorce was common, and people went from marriage to marriage.  If Jesus speaks against it, He will certainly alienate many people.  If He does not speak against it He will be guilty of breaking the teachings of Scripture.

Undeterred, our Lord gives the truth about marriage; one man and one woman for life.  That is God’s view of marriage, and it is as immutable as God Himself..  Furthermore, He declares that marrying a divorced woman is adultery.  In other words, in God’s eyes, she is still married to her first husband.  The same is true of a divorced man, though our Lord deals here only with the woman due to the nature of the question He is answering.

There are circumstances that make divorce allowable, though not required.  Christ here mentions fornication.  That frees the spouse from the marriage.

Jesus’ blessing the children teaches an important lesson; children are never too young to learn of the Saviour’s love, never too young to learn to love and worship Him, never too young to be counted as part of the family of God.  “Suffer little children” means to allow them to come to Jesus.

October 10, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 119:145-160, 2 Kings 1:1-17, 1 Tim. 2:1-10
Evening – Psalm 119:161-176, Job 39:19, Mt. 18:15

Commentary, Matthew 18:15-35

The Church is much more than a group of people.  It is the Body of Christ, and every member of it is a member of Christ and a member of one another.  Our relationship to, and dependence upon each other is much closer and deeper than that of the members of our own physical bodies.  For just as our bodies are one, organic being, we who are in Christ are no longer just individuals, we are one, organic, spiritual body, animated by the Spirit and living with and under the direction of Christ, our head.  A drop of water may exist in isolation, but pour it into a lake and it is no longer a drop.  Its nature and identity has been transformed.  It is no longer Drop, it is Lake.  Likewise, the Christian is no longer Individual, he is Body.  Understanding this spiritual and organic unity of the Church is critical to understanding the words of Christ in Matthew 18, and, indeed, all of Scripture.  As with the first 14 verses of this chapter, verses15-35 are about Christ’s people functioning together as the Body of Christ.  It is about us having one identity, one Spirit, one Mind, and functioning together as one.  We could put it this way; the Church is the body of the Redeemed, therefore the Redeemed must act as the Body.  There is no Biblical warrant for independent churches or independent believers.  All are part of the one Body.

With that in mind we turn to Christ’s teaching on dealing with a member who trespasses against the Body.  The Greek word for “trespass” is very graphic.  It means to “sin into you” and it shows we are not talking here about small and silly things.  We are talking about things that cause real harm.  We are talking about gross immorality, mean and ill intentioned actions and remarks, and serious doctrinal error with no intention of correction or repentance.  Such a member must be lovingly dealt with for his good, and the good of the Body.

The first step in this is to personally meet with the person, honestly sharing your own concerns, and openly listening to his.  You may find out you were mistaken. You may even find yourself needing to ask forgiveness.  If no agreement is reached, and the matter still appears to be worthy of further action, you return to the person, with one or two neutral member of the Body, re-state your concern, and re-hear his.  If no agreement is reached, the matter goes to the Church.  This means you bring it to the minister for help.  If the person is found to be in error, serious error, and unrepentant, and if he continues in this condition, he is to be considered as belonging to the world instead of the Body.  The point is that those who are part of the Body will seriously view and conduct themselves as such.  Those who do not are showing that they are indeed not part of the Body, and cannot be regarded as such by the Church.

The binding, loosing, and agreement in verses 18 and 19 refer to the judgment of the Church.  They mean that the judgment of the Church, if in agreement with the facts of the case, and if in agreement with the teachings of Scripture, pronounce God’s judgment on the case.  This does not mean God simply affirms the Church’s judgment, for the pronouncements of mere men do not bind God.  It means the Church has affirmed God’s judgment as reveled in Scripture.  The Church, obeying Scripture, has bound or loosed what God has commanded to be bound or loosed.

Seventy times seven was considered an enormous number.  Seven, representing perfection, probably meant to Peter that he would have taken enough offenses from a person and was free to withhold further forgiveness.  Christ does not agree, and the seventy times seven probably refers to a never ending river of forgiveness intended to flow out of the heart of the Redeemed.  It is perfection times perfection times ten.

The parable of the unjust servant is meant to illustrate this.  The servant had been offered forgiveness, but would not forgive others.  He represents a person claiming to be a part of the Body, who wants God to forgive his sins, but does not want to forgive others for their offenses against him.  In this way he shows that he is really not part of the Body, and, unless he repents, God will deliver him to the prison of hell, where he will pay all that is due for his sin.  This meaning is made clear in verse 35, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.”