November 26, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Sunday next before Advent

Monday

Morning – Psalm 124, 128, Joel 1:13, 2 Pt. 1:1-11
Evening – Psalm 131, 132, 134, Rev. 1:1-8

Commentary, Psalm 124

The theme of this Psalm is gratitude.  Verses 1-4 recall dangers and enemies who have risen against Israel.  Verse 2 compares them to wild beasts which would have swallowed Israel alive.  Verse 3 compares them to a flood that would carry Israel away.
What has preserved the Jewish people?  Only the hand of God.  He was on their side.  He delivered them from the jaws of the wild beast.  He loosed them like birds caught in nets.
We who believe in Christ have also been delivered from great danger.  An enemy far more dangerous than the Gentile nations around Israel pursues us.  But is it not our land or wealth he wants.  His desire is our souls.  God delivered us by becoming flesh and dying in our places. Thus we can say with all of God’s people, “praised be the Lord, who hath not given us over for a prey.”

Tuesday

Morning – Psalm 129, 130, Joel 2:1-11, 2 Pt. 1:12
Evening – Psalm 132, Rev. 1:9

Commentary, Psalm 132

Psalms 122-134 are called Songs of Degrees, or Songs of Ascent.  They are thought to be part of a liturgical service in which people ascended the steps of the Temple, pausing at designated places to sing a Psalm.  A variation of the service is thought to have been sung by Jews traveling to Jerusalem for Passover and other feasts.  Thus, they are also called, “Pilgrim Psalms.”
Yesterday morning we read the first Psalm of Degrees, Psalm 124.  Written by King David, it recalls Israel’s deliverance from enemies, and is a perfect hymn to sing going into the Temple for Passover.  We can easily see how Psalm 132 fits into this liturgy also.  Written by David, it expresses his desire to replace the Tabernacle, which was essentially a tent, with a Temple building.  The wording of verse 4 does not mean David believed God needed a house to live in.  He knew, as Isaiah knew, that heaven is God’s throne and earth is His footstool, and no man can build a house for God (Is. 66:1).  They simply mean David desired to build a place that is worthy of the worship of God.  But even such a place, whether Tabernacle or Temple, is merely the Lord’s footstool, not His dwelling place (vs. 7).
Verses 10-18 recall God’s promise to allow the descendants of David to rule Israel.  This promise is, in one sense, conditional upon the obedience of the descendants (vs. 12).  In another sense, these verses describe God’s promise to send The Son of David who will rule the true Israel forever.  That Son of David is none other than our Saviour Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:1).  The true Israel is the Church, including Old Testament and New Testament people saved by grace through faith.
Psalm 132 expresses a joy that is equally relevant to those entering the Tabernacle, ascending the steps to the Temple, or on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  It is also expressive of the joy of those on their earthly pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem, where the Lord Almighty is the Temple and the water of life flows freely (Rev. 21:22, 22:1).

Wednesday

Morning – Psalm 136, Joel 2:12-19, 2 Pt. 2:1-10
Evening – Psalm 139, Rev. 2:1-11

Commentary, Psalm 136

The Book of Psalms was the hymnal of the Old Testament Church, and continued so in the New Israel, the New Testament Church.  The Church in Apostolic times chanted the Psalms exactly as they were sung in the synagogues and Temple, for the majority of Christians were Jews who had memorized the Psalms in childhood.  The Psalter contains 150 hymns divided into five books as follows;

Book I,    Psalms 1-41
Book II,  Psalms 42-72
Book III, Psalms 73-89
Book IV, Psalms 90-106
Book V,   Psalms 107-150

Psalm 136 is part of Book V, and is a song of thanksgiving.  It is meant to be used as a litany in which the minister sings the first part of the verse, and the congregation responds by singing, “for His mercy endureth forever.”
Most of the Psalm recalls the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt, their preservation in the wilderness, and their establishment in Canaan.  “God of gods” in verse 2 does not indicate the existence of, or belief in other gods.  It simply means God is absolute and supreme.  There is no God beside Him.

Thursday

Morning – Psalm 137, 138, Joel 2:21, 2 Pt. 2:11
Evening – Psalm 140, 141, Rev. 2:12-17

Commentary, Psalm 137

The Palms often ask God to judge the enemies of Israel.  This is one of those Psalms.  It begins with a lament for the Jews who live in captivity in Babylon.  In 586 B.C. the Babylonian Empire conquered Israel and destroyed Jerusalem.  Vast numbers of Jews died in the war.  Vast numbers more were executed after it.  Most of those left alive were taken to Babylon to live in what has been called the Babylonian Captivity.
While the conquest was brutal, Jewish life in Babylon had many benefits, and many Jews elected to stay in Babylon rather than return to Jerusalem when Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and released the prisoners.  But, at first, with the memories of war and brutality fresh in their minds, the Jews hated Babylon and Babylonians.  The Psalm says they wept.  They hanged their harps upon the willows, meaning they took no pleasure in music.  They vowed never to forget Jerusalem (vss. 5, 6), and they prayed for God’s judgment on the Babylonians.  Calling Babylon Edom in verse 7 equates it with the very worst of Israel’s enemies, the way John called JerusalemSodom and Egypt” in Revelation 11:8.  The one who conquers Babylon will be happy, or, blessed, in the eyes of the Jews (vss. 8, 9).

Friday

Morning – Psalm 142, 143, Joel 3:1-8, 2 Pt. 3:1-10
Evening – Psalm 144, Rev. 3:1-6

Commentary, Psalm 142

The inscription on the Psalm says, “Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave.”  Thirteen Psalms are inscribed with the word, “Maschil,” yet scholars learned in the Hebrew language differ over its meaning.  Some believe it means “instruction,” others think it simply means a meditative song. We will not err if we see both in this Psalm, for it is certainly a meditation on prayer.  It is also instruction, for, as Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon wrote in his commentary on the Psalms, “It teaches us principally by example how to order our prayer in times of distress.  Such instruction is among the most needful, practical, and effectual parts of our spiritual education.”
The cave is the place in which David hid after King Saul sought to kill him (1 Sam. 19:10-18, 22:1). Again quoting Charles Spurgeon, “Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion.  Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought so much misery upon his later days.”  Of course, Spurgeon refers to a cave in a figurative sense, as a time of trouble and gloom, rather than a literal cave.  Like wise, the palace is a time of peace and relief from troubles.  Truly we would be far happier if we prayed as much and as devoutly in the good times as we do in the bad ones.
“I cried unto the Lord” refers to the deep, deep cry of the soul overwhelmed with sorrow.  “I poured out my complaint” is another way of saying “I cried unto the Lord.”  We often see the Psalms using this literary technique.  Psalm 143:1, for example says, “Hear my prayer, or Lord.”  Then it repeats the idea saying, “give ear to my supplications.”  But this is not merely a literary device.  It is a way of emphasizing something that is essential in the mind of the writer.  David is emphasizing the depths of his sorrow and the desperate sincerity of his cry.  It is a cry so deep it is beyond words.  It is a groaning which cannot be uttered.  It is the cry of a person whose spirit is overwhelmed within him (vs. 3).
                 
The reason for his distress is found in verses 6 and 7.  His persecutor is Saul, King of Israel.  How wicked it is for those charged with protecting the freedom and security of people, to move into the role of persecutors.  Yet we see this happen in governments, schools, families, and even religion.  History is full of stories of the oppressed becoming the oppressors, and using the force and power of government to harm rather than protect people.  King Saul has become an oppressor, using the power and the resources of the government to persecute an innocent man.  David’s prayer in verse 7, “Bring my soul out of prison,” is still the prayer of billions who are wrongfully abused by their own public servants.
What, then, is the instruction for us?  It is to seek God.  It is to pray.  It is to trust Him with the troubles and sorrows of our hearts.  Are we in great distress?  Are our sorrows too deep for words?  Take them to God.  Remember Christ sits at the right hand of the Father and “maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34).  Remember He “ever liveth to make intercession” (Heb. 7:25).  When our need is so deep we don’t seem to be able to express it in words, remember that the Holy Spirit “maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
            Our greatest oppressor is Satan, and our greatest need is to be delivered from the prison of our sins.  Here, too, our God is our Deliverer.  He freed us and pardoned us from the cross.  All who are His in Biblical faith can joyfully say He has brought our souls out of prison.

Saturday

Morning – Psalm 146, 149, Joel 3:9-17, 2 Pt. 3:11
Evening – Psalm 148, 150, Rev. 3:7-13

Commentary, Psalm 150

Today is the last day of Trinity Season.  It is also the day we complete our reading of the beloved book of Psalms.  Therefore, the commentary will focus on tonight’s reading of Psalm 150.
This is a Psalm of praise.  In Hebrew, all verse, except verse 6, open with the word, “Hallelujah,” and verse 6 closes the Psalm by repeating it twice.  The King James Version translates hallelujah as “Praise ye the Lord.” The Great Bible, used in the Book of Common Prayer, translates it as “Praise God,” and Praise him.” The Psalm is not about working us into an emotional state.  It is about calling us to a rational response to the Majesty of God.  This response, praise, summarises all that we do in worship, and all that we do in life.  Hallelujah means very much what the New Testament means by the word “glorify.” The Greek form of it is the word from which we get “Doxology.”  Thus, when 1 Corinthians 10:31says “do all to the glory of God” it uses the word doxan.  It also defines what it means to praise God.  It shows that praise is doing what we do to the glory of God.  Essentially, glorify/praise/hallelujah/doxa means to recognize and live in accordance with the glory of God.  This is the meaning of “Praise ye the Lord” in Psalm 150.  Matthew Henry points out that Psalm 150 teaches whence (where), upon what account (why), in what manner (how), and from whom God’s praise is due. 
Where is God to be praised? In the firmament of His power, and His sanctuary.   Psalm 150 is primarily concerned with the formal liturgy of the Temple, but God’s sanctuary also includes His people. “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit,” says Isaiah 57:15.  “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” says 1 Corinthians 3:16.  God is to be praised in His people.  He is “thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Ps. 22:3).  God is to be praised in church, at home, and in all places.
Who is to praise God? Everything that hath breath, meaning life and intellect. The meaning is clearly that all creatures in Heaven and earth join together in a concert of praise to God.

“THEREFORE, with Angels, and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Amen”
Order for Holy Communion, Book of Common Prayer.
        
Why praise God?  For what He does (His mighty acts), and who He is (His excellent greatness).  Of all His mighty acts, the greatest of all, to us, is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In Him God became flesh, paid the price of our forgiveness, and conquered sin, death and hell for us forever.  His excellent greatness is His perfection in all attributes of goodness, wisdom, and power.  Most of all, to us, it is the excellent greatness of His love.
How is God to be praised? Psalm 150 is primarily concerned with the liturgy of the Temple.  This ritual, in certain places had ceremonial calls of trumpets (ram’s horns) and gongs. These things signaled certain events in the liturgy.  But the Psalm is concerned with God’s praise outside of the Temple also.  Thus it refers to dances at weddings and other occasions, such as that of Miriam in Exodus 15: 20.

The final Psalm ends with, “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.  Praise ye the Lord.”  This is more than simply an exhortation.  It is a joyful exclamation that God is worthy of praise.  He is all that we could ever want in God.  Therefore let us praise Him in all places and in all things.  “Praise ye the Lord.”

November 24, 2013

Sermon, Sunday next before Advent

Christians and Ministry
Psalm 90, Ecclesiastes 12, Hebrews 13:1-21
Sunday next before Advent
November 24, 2013

“I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).  “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mt. 28:19).  “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13).  “[T]he church, which is His body (Eph. 1:23).  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers… for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11, 12).

The Church was God’s idea.  Not just the spiritual church, not just an intangible feeling of unity, not just believing the same things other Christians believe; but the visible tangible organisation with hymns and liturgy and clergy and creed.  That Church was God’s idea, established to be His unique people, to edify and bless His people, to continue in The Faith given by Christ to the Apostles and through the Apostles to the Church, and to proclaim that Faith to all people for as long as this earth shall last.  We can easily discern several major ideas in the verses I just read.  First, the Church belongs to Jesus.  Second, He is its builder.  Third it has an organised, identifiable membership. Fourth, it has an organized, identifiable ministry, clergy.  Fifth, it has an organized and identifiable creed, a body of belief. Sixth, baptism, though it has many other meanings, is baptism into this organized visible Church.

I want to take make two of these ideas the subject of the sermon today.  The ideas are, the Church’s ministers, and the Church’s members.

Let’s talk about the ministers first.  In one sense, every member is a minister.  It is also true that God has ordained an official clergy for His Church.  In times past the clergy included Apostles and prophets.  The office of Apostle passed when the last Apostle, probably John, died in the early second century A.D.  The office of prophet, a much different office from that imagined by most people today, passed when the New Testament was written.  Apostles and prophets were extraordinary offices because they were temporary and limited to a very few men. The ordinary offices, those that remain in the Church until the Lord returns, are Deacons, Presbyters, and Bishops.   Deacons assist in the worship and care of souls in the local congregation.  The presbyter, sometimes called a priest, is the pastor of a local church. The Bishop ordains ministers and ensures that the clergy and churches in the diocese proclaim and live the Biblical Faith.

All of that is an introduction, because what I really want to talk about today is what every true minister wants for his congregation.  If we look back to Hebrews 13:7,8, we see three important phrases.  First, “who have spoken unto you the word of God.”  A true minister preaches the word.  He preaches the Bible.  He does not preach his own ideas.  He does not preach sentimental stories.  He does not preach idle chatter.  He does preach the Bible.  His sermons will be true to the Bible.  They will explain the Bible’s meaning, and will show how it applies to life.  His explanation of the Bible will be in conformity to the faith once delivered to the saints.  If we look back through the history of the Church we will see that it has always followed a carefully preserved body of belief.  It has a creed. Yes, there have been disagreements over some issues, but the true church has always clung to the faith.  Likewise the true minister believes and teaches that faith.

The second phrase is, “whose faith follow.”  The true minister wants everyone in the congregation to follow the true faith.  Please look at Hebrews 13:9. “Be not carried about with diverse and strange doctrines.”  Now picture a river, a swift, wild river.  The river has strong currents, which can carry you away.  They can harm you, they can even kill you.  So anyone who goes onto the river has to be careful of the currents.  Diverse and strange doctrines are teachings that are alien to The Faith, and they are like those river currents.  People get caught in them and get carried away from the true faith.  Watch out for the currents.  Be not carried away by them.  I say again there is a body of belief, a body of doctrine that has been preserved and handed down through the Church from the beginning.  It was given to the Apostles by Christ.  It consists of all He taught and did and commands.  The Apostles preached it to the world and preserved it in the New Testament Scriptures.  The Church has believed and preserved it for us today. Follow that faith.

The third phrase is, “considering the end of their conversation.”  The end and goal of a true minister’s conversation is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  He wants you to know Jesus Christ.  He wants you to know the forgiveness of sins.  He wants you to know the peace that passes all understanding.  He wants you to have a home in that House of many Mansions.  He wants you to have peace with God.
                
You noticed that Hebrew 13:7 opens with, “Remember them which have the rule over you.”  Who are “them which have the rule over you”?  They are those who have “spoken unto you the word of God.”  Hebrews 13:17 elaborates on this saying, “Obey them that have the rule over you” and identifies them as those who “watch for your souls” No true minister wants to be your lord and master, and that is not what the Bible is teaching here.  The Bible is teaching us to develop a cooperative and respectful spirit toward His ministers.  We should always address them in respectful tones, just as we should always address one another in respectful tones.  Our respect for each other should be evident in our voices and actions.  God has charged His ministers with preaching the Gospel and caring for our souls, and we should honour them and follow them, unless we have good evidence they are teaching and asking us to go against Scripture.  I think the meaning of all that I have been trying to say here is well summarized in Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”  He says something similar in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, “Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord.”  A true minister directs you to Christ and says, “I am going with Him, come with me.”

Let us now turn to the members of the Church.  It is clear that true Christians will attempt to follow a true minister, attend a true Church, and believe the true faith.  That’s not all.  If you look at Hebrews 13:21 you read Paul’s prayer for his fellow Jewish believers, asking God to make them “perfect in every good work to do His will.  The word, “perfect” means to have a sanctified mind, a mind turned toward God.  The result of having such a mind is to do the will of God.  That’s the point I want to make.  The true Christian wants to do the will of God.  He does not live in resentment against God.  He does not live in rebellion against God.  He does not consider the commandments of God as intrusions on his fun.  He knows the will of God is good, and he seeks to do it.

Second, the true Christian wants to be “well-pleasing” to God.  In one sense the only way to be well pleasing is to have our displeasingness covered by Christ’s atoning sacrifice and transformed by the Holy Spirit.  But Paul is talking about our will, our goal, our desire, and the actions that come out of them.  He is talking about what happens in our lives when we have that sanctified mind I just spoke about.  Our actions and our attitudes and our values and our words and the way we treat others are changed. They go from being displeasing, to being well pleasing to God.  True Christians want to be well pleasing to God.

Finally, true Christians “suffer the word of exhortation.”  I know some of you think you have suffered this word of exhortation long enough, but be patient for a few more minutes, please.  Paul is talking about receiving the faith.  He is talking about being patient to receive Biblical preaching without needing to have your ears tickled with fluff.  The Bible tells us to eat spiritual meat, but most people want sugar.  Eat the meat.  Listen to Biblical preaching.  Tune your mind to hear it.  Train your mind to listen to it.  “Suffer the word of exhortation.”

Obviously, not all who call themselves ministers are true ministers.  Likewise, not all who call themselves Christians are true Christians.  Let that not be so of us.  I resolve this day to be a true minister.  And, if I go the way of the Lord, come with me.

November 21, 2013

Scripture and Commentary Friday and Saturday after the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity

Friday

Morning – Psalm 106, Lam. 4:10-22, 1 Pt. 5:1-7
Evening – Psalm116, 2 Thess. 3:6

Commentary, Lamentations 4:10-22

Verse 10 refers back to the hunger and starvation in post captivity Jerusalem.  The hunger is so terrible the people have turned to cannibalism.  Even mothers have eaten their own children.

Verses 12-16 return to the religious leaders’ complicity in the sin of Israel, and, therefore, their part in bringing the conquest upon the Jewish people.  Lamentations 2:14 has already indicted the prophets; 4:12-16 also accuses the priests and elders.

Prophets were charged with calling Israel back to the Covenant with God.  Theirs was a ministry of pointing out failure to keep the Covenant, and to urge the people to return.  Nathan illustrates this well in 2 Samuel 12.

Priests led the worship and services of the Tabernacle, which was replaced by the Jerusalem Temple by Solomon.  It was also their job to read and teach the Scriptures to the people, and to be examples of Godliness.

Elders were judges.  At first they were probably wise men, noted for their piety and knowledge of the ways of God, who had no official status but were consulted to settle disputes and give advice on life.  In Exodus 18, Moses made the elder an official position.  Around 1,000 B.C. Israel demanded a king, who took over some of the elders’ tasks, and the elder was moved to a less official status. Still the service of the elder continued more or less intact at the time of the Babylonian Captivity.

Like the prophets, the priests and elders had failed in their tasks.  We know from other books in Scripture that the priests allowed altars and sacrifices to pagan idols into the Temple, and the elders went along with the general trend away from God and into paganism.  God says their failure makes them responsible for the blood of Israel.  This passage is a stern warning to those who serve God, both in official and unofficial capacities.  Those in official capacities must carry out their callings in fear and trembling, for to lead their people astray is to become guilty of their blood and souls.  Those in unofficial capacities are no less responsible to God.  In this era of moral and doctrinal compromise it is especially necessary to attend and support a Church and ministry that remain faithful to the Biblical faith and practice.  To attend or support a false church, or to attend and support no church at all, is to teach others, by example, things contrary to the Bible, and to become guilty of their blood.

Of course, many prophets, priests and elders of Israel remained true to the Faith and Covenant of God.  We think of Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example, who constantly warned Israel of the coming judgment of God, and pleaded with her to seek God and be spared.  Yet the people “respected not” such men (4:16). As much as it is necessary to avoid the unfaithful ministers, it is equally required that we seek and hear faithful and Godly ministers of the Word.  Such men are to be esteemed highly (1 Thess. 5:12) and regarded as servants and ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) who watch over our souls (Heb 13:17).

Verses 17-22 close the chapter with a change to the literary first person point of view.  They say what the Jews should be saying of themselves. The essence of the passage is a recognition that, rather than trusting God, Israel sought to ensure peace through alliances with other nations.  She “watched for a nation that could not save us” (4:17).

The Babylonians hunt the steps of the Jews and are swifter than eagles in chasing them down and capturing them (4:18, 19).  These verses, along with verse 20, also have a particular reference to Zedekiah, the anointed one, meaning, king of Israel at the time of the conquest.  He escaped from the city, but was chased down by the Babylonians near Jericho.  His captors forced him to watch as they killed his family, after which they burned out his eyes with a hot iron rod and took him to Babylon.  The captive Jews would live in Babylon “under his shadow.”

The Gentiles rejoice over the fall of the Jews (4:21).  But their joy will be brief.  God will restore Israel, and will punish the Gentiles who oppose and oppress her (4:22).  In our own time, the Church seems to live under the domination of unbelievers.  The Bible is rejected.  God’s law is called oppressive and hateful.  The Faith is believed to be an obsolete impediment to human progress.  Christian values are replaced by secular ones, and people rejoice to see it happen.  Their joy, too, will be brief.  God is yet working in history, and He will bring all things together under Christ, and the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled in all righteousness.

Saturday

Morning – Psalm 118, Lam. 5, 1 Pt. 5:8
Evening – Psalm 85, 134, Jude

Commentary, Lamentations 5

The closing lament is also an appeal to God for mercy.  The chapter is addressed to God and counts before Him the affliction borne by the people of Israel.  “Our inheritance” in verse 2 refers to the land, which was to be their heritage.  It was considered so dear God forbade selling it.  It could be leased out, but it must be returned to the family in the year of Jubilee.  But now it is in the possession of strangers and aliens.  The Jews even have to buy the water and wood that rightfully belongs to them. They are forced to work for Egyptians and Assyrians to buy wheat raised on their own land (vs.6), and still they are hungry (vss. 9-10).  Their women are raped and their men are tortured (5:11-12).  Their previously free and peaceful lives are now lives of sorrow.  Their “dance is turned into mourning.”


Finally, in verse 16 comes the confession, “woe unto us, that we have sinned.”  Now there is hope, for confession may bring them to repentance, a change in their way of thinking and acting; a change from acting as though God had to take them on their terms, to desiring God on His terms.  That is always the issue faced by people, and most are never able to make the change.  Thus the prayer in verse 21 asks God to change them.  All real change comes from God.  The ability to change comes from God.  And this prayer asks God to move them into a condition and state of heart and mind that accepts God on His terms.  It states very well what the Anglican Book of Common Prayer encourages us to do in Morning and Evening Prayer: “beseech Him to grant us true repentance, and His Holy Spirit, that those things may please Him which we do at this present, and that the rest of our lives hereafter may be pure and holy; so that at the last we may come to His eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” May that prayer be our prayer, always.

November 18, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Tuesday through Thursday after the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity

Tuesday

Morning – Psalm 107, Lam. 1:15, 1 Pt. 4:1-6
Evening – Psalm 104, 2 Thess. 1

Commentary, Lamentations 1:15-22

In these verses Jerusalem is presented as a person speaking and lamenting her fate.  She says, “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed.” Her comforter is God.  But she has become His enemy.  Therefore He does not comfort her.  Instead her children are desolate and here enemy, the Babylonians prevailed.

For centuries God has blessed and comforted IsraelAnd. For centuries, Israel has gone astray from God.  He sent the prophets to call her back to Him, back to the covenant He had made with Abraham and his descendants.  There were brief periods of revival, but the general direction on Israel was away from God rather than toward Him.  Often God allowed Gentile nations to oppress Israel.  We remember the Philistines and Assyrians, for example.  In 586 B.C. the most devastating conquest to date took place when the Babylonian Empire, led by its king Nebuchadnezzar, invaded Israel and nearly exterminated the Jewish people.  Lamentations was written after the Babylonian conquest and describes the sorrow of the Jewish people following the massive death and destruction of their people and home, and their captivity in the land of Babylon.

Verse 17 says God has made Jerusalem unclean, unable to participate in the life of the covenant, as a woman is temporarily unable to participate during her issue of blood.
In verse 18 Jerusalem confesses that God has dealt justly with her because “I have rebelled against his commandment.”  Israel often forsook God to follow pagan idols.  The idolatrous religions were self-indulgent and blessed wickedness while God demands self-discipline and holiness.  The pagan religions were more “fun” and the Hebrews people often gladly flocked to them.  Many did not outwardly desert God, but incorporated pagan ideas and practices into the Old Testament faith and worship.  They believed they were faithful to God and the new ideas and practices were compatible with His will.  But to add or delete anything to the will of God in doctrine or practice angered God, who often punished Israel for this sin.

The pagan religions, and the practices adopted from them, deceived even the priests of Israel.  Their participation in them left them dead in the streets of Jerusalem (1:19).  This should serve as a constant reminder of the danger of attempting to attract people to the Church by adopting the ideas and practices of ungodly people.  Because of sin, “abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death” (1:20).

Though God allowed Jerusalem to fall, the Babylonians are not absolved of the terrible evil of conquest and devastation.  Israel had sinned wickedly against God, but had done no wrong to Babylon.  Therefore the attack on Israel was unprovoked and unjustifiable.  It was nothing short of murder on a massive scale.  Therefore Jerusalem prays for justice upon Babylon (1:21-22).

Wednesday

Morning – Psalm111,112, Lam. 2, 1 Pt. 4:7-11
Evening – Psalm 105, Lam. 3, 2 Thess. 2:1-12

Commentary, Lamentations 2

Chapter two continues to describe the death and devastation of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.  Yet, it is recognized that someone far more powerful than the Babylonians has allowed this to happen.  It is God who has become as an enemy to Israel (2:5).  He has swallowed up all her palaces, destroyed the strongholds, and increased her mourning and lamentations.  The Babylonians are but His instrument.  He has raised them up for this purpose

Not all prophets speak the truth.  There are false prophets, self-proclaimed prophets who are neither called of God nor speak God’s word.  They say what people want to hear, and they speak to make themselves popular, for popularity means money and money means power.  Thus we read in verse 14, “Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things.”  Vain means empty and meaningless.  Here it refers to faked visions and soothing words which do not convey the truth. Foolish refers to things that are not of God.  Since the false words of false prophets cannot give real comfort, the perceived comfort they give is false.  The felt peace they give is a false peace.  No matter how good people feel about the message they bring, their feelings are based on falsehood, therefore the good feelings are vain.  Trust in lies is foolishness.

Jeremiah knows well the deceit of false prophets. Read his words to them in Jeremiah 23:14-40.  Nor are false teachers limited to the Old Testament era.  2 Timothy 4:3 and 4 tell us they will continue, even in the Church, and that people will gladly hear them.  Certainly they abound today.  Beware of such for they are dangers to your soul.

Lamentations 3

Chapter three finally begins to show some remorse for sin.  We should see this as encouragement from Jeremiah, rather than repentance from the people.  Yet, Jews in Jerusalem and Babylon will read these words, and some will find them expressing their heart’s desire in true repentance.

Verses 22 and 23 express the great foundation of the penitent’s heart; the compassion and mercy of the Lord.  It is because He is merciful that He has not completely annihilated Israel.  “His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”  What moving and comfortable words.  No wonder they form the essence of one of the Church’s great hymns.

From the mercy of God, the prophet turns to the benefits of God’s chastisement.  “But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies” (3:32).  The chapter gives the hope that those who bear the chastisement of God, who do not grow angry at God for their chastisement, or allow it to drive them into unbelief, will see God’s mercy again, and very soon.  Their chastisement will bring them to repentance, and repentance will bring them back to God.  The chapter ends by recounting again the trouble Israel has brought on itself by her own sin, and a cry to deliver her from the enemies who now control them.

Thursday

Morning – Psalm115, Lam. 4:1-9, 1 Pt. 4:12
Evening – Psalm 114, 124, 2 Thess. 2:13-3:5

Commentary, Lamentations 4:1-9


“How is the gold become dim.”  Israel is that gold.  Once a brightly gleaming treasure to God, it is now dim, ugly, refuse.  Her people, once more precious than gold to their God, lie dead in her streets.  Rather than fine gold, they are like broken clay pots.  Even though the battle is over, hunger continues to ravage the people.  Mothers have no milk for their children (3-4).  Those who were once wealthy now search trash heaps for food (4:5). The Nazarites, a people supposedly completely set apart for God’s service, once well fed and healthy, are unrecognizable; their skin clings to their bones as though muscle and sinew are completely absent (4:7-8).  Those who died in the war are better off than those who survived, who pine away for the fruits of the field (4:9).

November 17, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Monday after the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 99, 100, Lamentations 1:1-14, 1 Peter 3:13
Evening – Psalm 103, 1 Thessalonians 5:12

Commentary, Lamentations 1:1-14

Lamentations is appropriately named, for it is a lament over Israel’s devastating conquest by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.  Jerusalem has been completely sacked.  The city’s protective wall have been destroyed, along with that great symbol of God’s presence and blessing, the Temple.  Thousands of the city’s residents have been killed in the battle; thousands more were mercilessly executed after the city fell.  Great numbers of those left alive were taken on a death march to live in captivity in Babylon.

The first chapter expresses the grief of the people over their plight.  Jerusalem, and, sometimes Judah, are referred to in the literary form of personification: “She weepeth” (vs 2), “her adversaries” (vs. 5).


The reason for he devastation is given in verse 8, and this may well be the single most important verse in the book.  “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed,” meaning taken to Babylon.

Sermon, Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity

Christians Abide
Psalm 98, 1 John 3:1-8, Matthew 13:24-31
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity
November 17, 2013


 “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” (Ps. 90:1).  “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”  (1 Jn. 4:15).  “Little children, abide in him” (1 John 2:28).  “Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not” (1 Jn 3:6).

We are still talking about what Christians do, and today’s sermon is, “Christians Abide.”  The word, abide isn’t used much any more, yet I think we all know it means to live in, or make your abode somewhere.  The word seems to have a sense of place.  It means more than just to live in a house; it means to make your house your home. So when I say, “Christians abide” I mean we abide in God.  We live in Him.  He is our home.  I think we all know this, we know Christians abide in God.  But I am not sure all Christians know how to abide in God.  So today I want to talk about how Christians abide in God.

The first thing I want to say, is that we abide in God by abiding in The Faith.  I mean, of course, the faith found in the Bible, the doctrines, teachings, ideas, values, and life-understanding taught in the Bible.  We express the essentials of The Faith every Sunday in the liturgies of Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. The liturgies express The Faith. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed certainly express it quite clearly.  They express the foundational, essential teachings of Scripture.  Christians may disagree on some other points, but to compromise on these points is to desert the Christian faith.

We abide in The Faith because we believe it is given to us by God.  It is, as Jude 3 says, the faith once delivered unto the saints. God became flesh and taught the faith to the Apostles.  The Apostles preserved it for us in the Bible.  Faithful people have proclaimed and preserved it down through the ages.  Millions have held to it in time of persecution.  Millions have died for it.  Millions live for it.  People often wonder why the Anglican Orthodox Church was founded, and why we established Holy Trinity Church here in Powhatan.  The answer is simple, to keep The Faith.  Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Anglican Orthodox Church. What made Bishop Dees feel constrained to leave a denomination that had been his family’s spiritual home for generations?  What made him invest his own personal money into this new and tiny Anglican denomination?  What made so many others in these United States and around the world come out of their denominations and unite with the Anglican Orthodox World Communion?  It was the Faith.  Why did Thomas Cranmer suffer the horrible death of being burned at the stake?  To keep The Faith.  Why did the early Christians go to the lions and the gladiators and the cross?  To keep the faith.  This Faith is valuable.  It is the way of life, the way to God.  We only abide in God when we abide in The Faith.

We abide in God when we abide in righteousness.  According to our reading from 1 John this morning, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.”  Who is the “him” in that verse?  It is Jesus Christ, of course.  It is the One 1 John 3:5 says “was manifested” that is, He appeared, He was revealed, He came to us, “to take away our sins.”  Christians abide, live, and dwell in Him, and “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.”

It is important for us to note that the Bible is not saying Christians do not sin.  If Christians do not sin, then there has never been a real Christian, because even the most Godly among us sins.  Would you compare yourself to the Apostle Paul?  Would you claim that your behaviour is as pure and good as his?  Would you assert that you have lived up to the teachings of Scripture as he did?  Served God as fully and willingly as he did?  Suffered and sacrificed in God’s service as he did?  I doubt if any of us would make that claim.  Yet listen to St. Paul’s words in Romans 7:19: “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”  Paul is saying even he has left undone the things he ought to have done, and has done those things which he ought not to have done.  Even Paul sinned.

Well if Paul sinned, what hope is there for us?  Fortunately the Bible is not talking about sinless perfection.  It is talking about a life-style, let’s call it a life orientation of righteousness.  The Christian’s life is oriented toward God, not sin.  In the days before GPS, people used maps and compasses to find their way.  If they got lost on a mountain road at night, they could find the direction they were going by the compass, and see what lay around them on the map.  If you have ever used a compass you know the needle tries to stay on magnetic north, but it has a hard time doing so. The bumps and turns in the road, and interference from metal and electronics cause the needle to waver.  We sometimes waver too.  The bumps in the road, interference of the world, and our own weakness causes us to go off course sometimes.  But our orientation and general direction of life is still toward God. We abide in Christ Jesus. That is what the Apostle John meant when he wrote these words.

A life-orientation toward Christ, necessarily leads us to purify ourselves.  1 John 3:3 says we purify ourselves, even as Christ is pure.  To purify is to cleanse.  It is to get rid of the things that don’t belong, and increase the things that do belong.  What doesn’t belong in a Christian’s life?  Anything that is not 100% compatible with God’s absolute goodness.  So,“ in this life orientation, in this life of dwelling and abiding in Christ, we make an honest attempt to purify our lives.  We make an honest attempt to run our thoughts, values, desires, and actions through the filter of God’s Holy Bible, and remove the bad and increase the good.  This is part of the way we abide in righteousness, and abiding in righteousness is one of the ways we abide in God.


I want to conclude by referring back to our old friends, the means of grace.  We abide in God through the means of grace. They are given to us by God specifically to enable us to abide in Him. The Bible is a means of grace, when it is read and believed in faith.  The Church is a means of grace, when its people abide in The Faith and in love.  Worship is a means of grace.  Baptism is a means of grace.   Communion is a means of grace, when taken in faith and understanding.  Of course these things are only means of grace to you when you make use of them.  A Bible on the nightstand is a beautiful thing, but the Bible being read is more beautiful by far.  And how can a person say he abides in God and God abides in him if he ignore the means by which abiding is accomplished?  And please tell me, can we have too much grace?  If not then why would we deprive ourselves of any of the means of grace?  They are all part of abiding in God, and, Christians abide. 

November 15, 2013

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

Morning – Psalm 79, Lev. 26:27-42, Phil. 4
Evening – Psalm 65, Dt. 19, Mt. 28:11

Commentary, Matthew 28:11-20

The Gospels were not written to give a chronological biography of the life and ministry of Christ.  They were written to present the Saviour to us, to introduce Him in a way that invites us to believe in Him and be reconciled to God through Him.  They are written in theological order not chronological order, using events and teachings in the life of Christ to illustrate His power, Divinity, and teachings.  Thus, Matthew leaves out several events after the resurrection of Christ.  He leaves out the appearance of Christ on the Emmaus Road.  He skips over His appearance in the upper room, doubting Thomas, and His appearance to Peter by the Sea of Galilee.  Rather than dwelling on these appearances, Matthew moves rapidly to what has been called “The Great Commission” in 20:19 and 20.  Let us, however, consider the chronology for a moment. 

Finding the tomb empty, the women hurry to tell the disciples what they have seen.  As the women run to tell the disciples, Christ appears to them, telling them to send the disciples to meet Him in Galilee (Mt. 28:10).  Hearing the news, Peter and John run to the tomb. John, reaching it first and stopping at the entrance to look in, is passed by Peter, who unhesitatingly enters.  They find only the linen cloth in which Joseph had wrapped the body.  Jesus is not there.  Bewildered, not understanding that Jesus has risen (Jn. 20:9), they return to the upper room.  Mary Magdalene is now alone at the tomb weeping when Christ appears to her again.  This is His second appearance, both to women, neither to the disciples.  After this He appears to the disciples in the upper room and on the Emmaus Road.

Matthew 28:10 is an important verse, commanding the disciples to meet Him in Galilee.  It is probably here, where He conducted most of His earlier ministry, that He also conducted the majority of His post resurrection ministry, teaching the disciples how to understand the Old Testament and how to organize and establish the New Testament Church.  The mountain appointed as the meeting place is very likely the place where Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount; the same mount on which He had ordained the twelve, “that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mk. 3:13 and 14).  It is a place filled with sacred memories in the minds of the disciples.

Many believe the meeting in Galilee is the one Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15:6, when our Lord “was seen of above five hundred brethren.”  Whether this is correct or not, there may be more people present than just the eleven disciples.  We can easily think of several who would hear of this meeting and might make plans to go to Galilee and see again their Saviour, who was dead but now is alive. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Mary the wife of Joseph, Mary and Martha, Lazarus, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea would probably not remain in Jerusalem knowing the risen Lord will appear in Galilee.

Wherever this mount may be, and whoever was or was not there, our Lord makes a shocking announcement. These eleven doubting and fearful men are no longer disciples, they are the Apostles.  Our Lord Himself commissions them to build His Church.  He calls them to teach all nations to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  Our Lord refers not only to the maxims of the moral law, which are always in effect.  He refers also to the entire faith He has taught, and will continue to teach them until His ascension into Heaven.  He refers to the Gospel and the doctrinal content of Christianity.  He refers to the Holy Trinity, the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement for sin, justification by grace through faith, the organisation and worship of the Church, and all the teachings recorded and preserved in the New Testament.  This is the faith given to them by Christ.  This is the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).  This is the faith they are called to proclaim and establish in the Church.

The new disciples are to be baptized into the Church.  It is worth noting that people are not baptized into isolation.  They are baptized into the people, the congregation, the Body and Kingdom of Christ on earth, which is the Church.  They were also baptized into local churches, which the Apostles quickly organized in the places where they preached.  The Apostles educated and ordained clergy in the churches, and gave them the liturgy and order.  The clergy, and the congregations committed to their charge, were not independent.  They answered to the Apostles, who ensured that they taught and lived according to all things Christ commanded.

Christ gives the Apostles two assurances, which are foundational to their calling.  First, “All power is given unto me in heaven and earth.”  He is telling the Apostles He has the power and authority to commission them, and to charge them with this ministry.  He has the power and authority to give the Christian Faith to them, and to require them to pass it on to others.  He has the authority to establish the Church, which is both the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament Israel.  The Apostles go in His authority, and He has all authority.

Second, He will be with them.  They do not yet understand that He will be physically returning to the Father.  They must return to Jerusalem, go with Him to the Mount of Olives, and see Him physically ascend before they understand that.  But after His ascension they will need to know He is still with them. His physical presence has been replaced by His spiritual presence through the Holy Spirit.  Through the Spirit He will dwell in them, and they will dwell in Him.  They will not be alone when they face unbelievers.  They will not be left to their own devices and persuasive abilities to win converts.  He will be with them. He will guide them.  He will empower them.  He will reach people through them.


He will be with them when they encounter opposition.  He who knows when a sparrow falls watches over them.  He who was a man of sorrows will be with them in their sorrows.  And when their earthly pilgrimage is over, He who died to open the gates of Heaven to them will receive them unto Himself, and they shall be with Him forever.  “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

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

Morning – Psalm 79, Lev. 26:27-42, Phil. 4
Evening – Psalm 65, Dt. 19, Mt. 28:11

Commentary, Matthew 28:11-20

The Gospels were not written to give a chronological biography of the life and ministry of Christ.  They were written to present the Saviour to us, to introduce Him in a way that invites us to believe in Him and be reconciled to God through Him.  They are written in theological order not chronological order, using events and teachings in the life of Christ to illustrate His power, Divinity, and teachings.  Thus, Matthew leaves out several events after the resurrection of Christ.  He leaves out the appearance of Christ on the Emmaus Road.  He skips over His appearance in the upper room, doubting Thomas, and His appearance to Peter by the Sea of Galilee.  Rather than dwelling on these appearances, Matthew moves rapidly to what has been called “The Great Commission” in 20:19 and 20.  Let us, however, consider the chronology for a moment. 

Finding the tomb empty, the women hurry to tell the disciples what they have seen.  As the women run to tell the disciples, Christ appears to them, telling them to send the disciples to meet Him in Galilee (Mt. 28:10).  Hearing the news, Peter and John run to the tomb. John, reaching it first and stopping at the entrance to look in, is passed by Peter, who unhesitatingly enters.  They find only the linen cloth in which Joseph had wrapped the body.  Jesus is not there.  Bewildered, not understanding that Jesus has risen (Jn. 20:9), they return to the upper room.  Mary Magdalene is now alone at the tomb weeping when Christ appears to her again.  This is His second appearance, both to women, neither to the disciples.  After this He appears to the disciples in the upper room and on the Emmaus Road.

Matthew 28:10 is an important verse, commanding the disciples to meet Him in Galilee.  It is probably here, where He conducted most of His earlier ministry, that He also conducted the majority of His post resurrection ministry, teaching the disciples how to understand the Old Testament and how to organize and establish the New Testament Church.  The mountain appointed as the meeting place is very likely the place where Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount; the same mount on which He had ordained the twelve, “that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mk. 3:13 and 14).  It is a place filled with sacred memories in the minds of the disciples.

Many believe the meeting in Galilee is the one Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15:6, when our Lord “was seen of above five hundred brethren.”  Whether this is correct or not, there may be more people present than just the eleven disciples.  We can easily think of several who would hear of this meeting and might make plans to go to Galilee and see again their Saviour, who was dead but now is alive. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Mary the wife of Joseph, Mary and Martha, Lazarus, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea would probably not remain in Jerusalem knowing the risen Lord will appear in Galilee.

Wherever this mount may be, and whoever was or was not there, our Lord makes a shocking announcement. These eleven doubting and fearful men are no longer disciples, they are the Apostles.  Our Lord Himself commissions them to build His Church.  He calls them to teach all nations to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  Our Lord refers not only to the maxims of the moral law, which are always in effect.  He refers also to the entire faith He has taught, and will continue to teach them until His ascension into Heaven.  He refers to the Gospel and the doctrinal content of Christianity.  He refers to the Holy Trinity, the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement for sin, justification by grace through faith, the organisation and worship of the Church, and all the teachings recorded and preserved in the New Testament.  This is the faith given to them by Christ.  This is the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).  This is the faith they are called to proclaim and establish in the Church.

The new disciples are to be baptized into the Church.  It is worth noting that people are not baptized into isolation.  They are baptized into the people, the congregation, the Body and Kingdom of Christ on earth, which is the Church.  They were also baptized into local churches, which the Apostles quickly organized in the places where they preached.  The Apostles educated and ordained clergy in the churches, and gave them the liturgy and order.  The clergy, and the congregations committed to their charge, were not independent.  They answered to the Apostles, who ensured that they taught and lived according to all things Christ commanded.

Christ gives the Apostles two assurances, which are foundational to their calling.  First, “All power is given unto me in heaven and earth.”  He is telling the Apostles He has the power and authority to commission them, and to charge them with this ministry.  He has the power and authority to give the Christian Faith to them, and to require them to pass it on to others.  He has the authority to establish the Church, which is both the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament Israel.  The Apostles go in His authority, and He has all authority.

Second, He will be with them.  They do not yet understand that He will be physically returning to the Father.  They must return to Jerusalem, go with Him to the Mount of Olives, and see Him physically ascend before they understand that.  But after His ascension they will need to know He is still with them. His physical presence has been replaced by His spiritual presence through the Holy Spirit.  Through the Spirit He will dwell in them, and they will dwell in Him.  They will not be alone when they face unbelievers.  They will not be left to their own devices and persuasive abilities to win converts.  He will be with them. He will guide them.  He will empower them.  He will reach people through them.


He will be with them when they encounter opposition.  He who knows when a sparrow falls watches over them.  He who was a man of sorrows will be with them in their sorrows.  And when their earthly pilgrimage is over, He who died to open the gates of Heaven to them will receive them unto Himself, and they shall be with Him forever.  “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

November 14, 2013

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

Commentary, Matthew 28:11-20

It is Sunday morning, the Jewish Sabbath is over.  It is probably still dark when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary leave for the cemetery to clean and prepare the body of Jesus for the customary burial.  They are concerned about the stone that seals the tomb, yet they press on, arriving at the tomb a little before sunrise.  They think Jesus is dead, but this Man of Miracles has more miracles to work.  As they approach the tomb, the angel of the Lord descends from Heaven.  His appearance has a three-fold effect.  First he causes and earthquake which rolls the stone away from the sepulcher.  Second, the battle-hardened soldiers are frightened to the point of fainting.  They will not stop the women from entering the tomb now.  Third, the women are frightened. But not as weak as the soldiers, they neither faint nor flee.  Now the angel addresses the women.  His words make it clear that the women do not believe Jesus has risen from the dead.  “I know ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.  He is not here: for He is risen, as He said.” He now invites the women to see the tomb, where a second angel appears and both repeat this most singular and important announcement, “He is not here, but is risen” (see Luke 24:6).

These women are shocked and amazed.  Three days ago they saw their loved one tortured to death.  They had believed in Him as the Messiah.  They didn’t understand very much of what He said, but they saw His works and they believed in Him.  When He died, their faith died with Him, but not their love.  They still grieve over their loss, and they still perform their customary duties for Him.  It is love that leads them to do this.  Now an angel appears to them.  He must have been an apparition of great power, for the soldiers, who could fight and kill and conquer in hand to hand combat, faint dead away.  This is yet another shock to these grieving women.  No wonder his first words to them are, “Fear not” (Mt. 28:5).

Note what the women see.  They see the soldiers standing guard, and they see them fall to the ground in fear.  They see the earth quake.  They see the stone roll away from the tomb.  They see the angel descend.  They see another angel in the tomb.  They see that the body of Christ is gone.


Note what they do not see.  They do not see Jesus.  They do not see Him in the tomb, nor do they see Him leave the tomb after the stone is rolled away.  Why?  Because Jesus is already risen when they arrive.  He rose from the dead and left the tomb alive before the stone was rolled away.  He did not need to stone moved to get out of the tomb.  He passed through the stone walls as easily as He stilled the storm and walked on water before His crucifixion.  He did not need man or angel to get Him out of the tomb.  He spoke truly when He said to His disciples, “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17 and 18).  Why, then, is the stone rolled away while they look on in fear?  To let the women, and later, the disciples, see into the tomb.  To let them see that Christ is not there, not dead, not finished.  He is alive.

November 13, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday after Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 74, Lev. 25:23-31, Phil. 2:19
Evening – Psalm 77, Dt. 17:14, Mt. 27:57

Commentary, Matthew 27:57-66

Christ really and truly died.  He really and truly became flesh, as John tells us in John 1:14.  He really and truly suffered and died, and He was really and truly dead and buried.  These points are important, because if any one of them is shown to be false, the entire Gospel of Christ is false, the Christian faith is false, and Christians are guilty of the sin of idolatry.  But we need not fear.  The entire Bible is written to announce Christ.  The Old Testament proclaims Him in the feasts and sacrifices, the Temple and the priests.  All of these things are shadowy signs of the One who fulfills the meaning and intent of the Old Testament.  Christ is the Scapegoat, the sacrificial Lamb, the High Priest, the Sabbath, the Passover, the Son of David, and the fulfillment of prophecy.  He is Immanuel (Is. 7:14), Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).  He is the destination to which all Scripture takes us.

In the New Testament He said many times that He would die.  Two days before Passover He told His disciples He was going to be betrayed and crucified (Mt. 26:2). Many other places in Scripture record predictions of His coming death.

In Matthew 27:57-66, we see the dead body of Christ removed from the cross and taken to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.  In the presence of Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” identified by Mark as the mother of the Apostle James, Christ’s body is placed in the tomb and a heavy, carved stone is moved into place to seal the tomb.  It is nearly sun set on Friday evening, and the Sabbath is rapidly approaching.  Thus, the mourners have to leave the body as it is until after the Sabbath.  Sunday morning will be the earliest they can give Him a proper burial.


The disciples and followers of Christ seem to have no confidence in our Lord’s promise to rise again after three days.  Even on Sunday morning the women go to His grave to anoint His body, meaning to clean it and prepare it for permanent burial.  But the Sadducees and Pharisees remember His prediction.  While they do not believe He will actually rise again, they want Pilate to place guards around the tomb for fear that the disciples will steal the body and fake His resurrection.  They want Pilate to post a guard of Roman soldiers around the tomb, to secure the grave and prevent theft of the body (27:63 and 64).  Pilate agrees to this, and the soldiers are sent.  The stone, which serves as the door of the tomb, is sealed with an official Roman seal, and the soldiers stand guard.  No one will challenge these soldiers who take pleasure in crucifying a man.  The grave is secure. 

November 12, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Wednesday after Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 71, Lev. 20:1-8, Phil. 1:27-2:18
Evening – Psalm 72, Dt. 15:7-15, Mt. 27:45-56

Commentary, Matthew 27:45-56

Christ is on the cross.  The spikes have been driven into His flesh and bones, and only by holding Himself up on the spikes is He able to breathe.  The physical pain must be excruciating, yet He bears a pain far worse than any caused by lash or nails. He bears the wrath of God for our sins.  We have nothing to compare this too, except a fire that burns forever.  Jesus bears that wrath for us. He is made to be sin for us, that we may be made the righteousness of God in Him (see 2 Cor. 5:21).  Thus, He cries in verse 46, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Bishop Ryle’s comments express the essence of these words.

They were meant to express the real pressure on his soul of the enormous burden of a world’s sin.  They were meant to show how truly and literally He was our substitute, was made sin, and a curse for us, and endured God’s righteous anger against a world’s sin in His own person.  At that awful moment, the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him to the uttermost.  It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, and put Him to grief (Isaiah liii.10) He bore our sins.  He carried our transgressions.  Heavy must have been that burden, real and literal must have been our Lord’s substitution for us, when He the eternal Son of God, could speak of Himself as for a time “forsaken.”
         Let the expression sink down into our hearts, and not be forgotten.  We can have no stronger proof of the sinfulness of sin, or of the vicarious nature of Christ’s suffering, than His cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  It is a cry that should stir us up to hate sin, and encourage us to trust in Christ.

                                                               Expository Thoughts on Matthew

The rending of the veil in verse 51 refers to the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple.  Only the High Priest was allowed to enter this symbol of God’s presence, and he entered with a rope tied around his waist, which enabled his body to be pulled out if he died in the Holy Place.  As Jesus died on the cross this curtain was miraculously torn from top to bottom.  Let us again let Bishop Ryle explain the significance of this miracle.

The rending of the veil proclaimed the termination and passing away of the ceremonial law.  It was a sign that the old dispensation of sacrifices and ordinances was no longer needed.  Its work was done.  Its occupation was gone from the moment that Christ died.  There was no more need of an earthly high priest, and a mercy seat, and a sprinkling of blood, and an offering up of incense, and a day of atonement.  The true High Priest had at length appeared.  The true Lamb of God had been slain.  The true mercy seat was at length revealed.  The figures and shadows were no longer needed.
         That rending of the veil proclaimed the opening of the way of salvation to all mankind.  The way into the presence of God was unknown to the Gentile, and only seen dimly by the Jew, until Christ died.  But Christ having now offered up a perfect sacrifice, and obtained eternal redemption, the darkness and mystery were to pass away.  All were to be invited now to draw near to God with boldness, and approach Him with confidence, by faith in Jesus.  A door was thrown open, and a way of life set before the whole world.
         Let us turn from the story of the crucifixion, every time we read it, with hearts full of praise. Let us praise God for the confidence it gives us as to the ground of our hope of pardon.  Our sins may be many and great, but the payment made by our Great Substitute far outweighs them all. – Let us praise God for the view it gives us of the love of our Father in heaven.  He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will surely give us all things. – Not least, let us praise God for the view it gives us of the sympathy of Jesus with all His believing people.  He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.  He knows what suffering is.  He is just the Saviour that an infirm body, with a weak heart, in an evil world, requires.
                                                  
                                                               Expository Thoughts on Matthew



The resurrection of many of the saints which slept (vs. 52) is yet another miracle that occurs at the moment of Christ’s death.  We do not know who they are.  We know only that they had lived their lives under the Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies that were shadowy signs of the death of Christ.  Now they are permitted to see, with their own eyes, the fulfillment of those signs   They are resurrected when Christ dies.  They go into Jerusalem, the holy city, at the time of His resurrection.  It is not said what happens to them after this, but probably their resurrected bodies ascended to Heaven.