March 3, 2013
March 4, Day Seventeen
Morning - Psalm 68:1-19, Genesis 37, 1 Corinthians 9:15
Evening - Psalm 71, Jeremiah 7:1-15, Mark 10:17-31
Commentary, Mark 10:17-31
The Gospel Reading for today turns to the Gospel of Mark, where we will continue for the next two weeks before returning to John. Often called, "the rich, young ruler" the reading for today tells of a man who comes to Jesus professing his own righteousness. He has obviously heard Christ teaching about eternal life, and has come to show that he deserves it through his keeping of the Law of God. "All these have I observed from my youth." But Jesus shows that his statement is false. The greatest commandment is to love God above all things, but this man loves his wealth and himself above God. Therefore, he is not a good man who deserves Heaven. He is a sinner, an idolater, and he is unworthy of the Heaven he claims to have earned.
Lent is no big mystery. It is simply a time of devotion to the serious practice of holiness. The heart of Lent is repentance. Before we can repent of sin we must find it in our lives, which is the process of self examination. After we find sin we confess it. That means we agree with God about our sin. But we have left something out, have we not? For how can we agree with God about sin, or find sin, or repent of sin if we do not first of all recognize sin? And so we begin our devotional today by asking the question, what is sin?
Sin is anything that is in any way less than 100% complete holiness. Any failure to be or do 100% good is sin. Sin is therefore, first of all a disposition of our being. Adam and Eve were righteous at the start. They became sinners when they chose to sin. Their natural righteousness was distorted. Their natural goodness was corrupted, and they became sinners in their beings as well as in their actions. Since then, all people are born with the same corrupted being. To return to the example of the castle and the throne, we are all born with ourselves on the throne. This translates into an inborn, natural inclination to sin. This inclination is itself sin. So we are sinners before we actually commit a sinful thought, word, or deed. We need God to both forgive our sinful deeds, and to incline our being towards righteousness.
March 5, Day Eighteen
Morning - Psalm 74, Genesis 40, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Evening - Psalm 73, Jeremiah 7:21-29, Mark 10:32-45
Commentary, Mark 10:32-45
Again we see Christ's full knowledge of what awaits Him in
Jerusalem. He is going there intentionally to face the
cross. The disciples fear to go, but
Christ faces the ordeal with calm assurance.
He has come to give His life as the ransom for many. He will not turn away.
Our hearts are so deceitful. If we listen to them they will convince us that our sins are really virtues. They will lead us to spend our time on small issues and miss the major things in our lives. They will attempt to make us focus intensely on one sinful action, and miss the general ungodly direction of our whole life. We often spend too much time trying to remedy our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, without working on their source; without changing the sinfulness in our nature that causes the sinful actions. This is the cause of the failure of all human attempts to make the world a better place. We try to educate people to do better, we use social engineering to redistribute wealth and equalize status and opportunity, and we pass laws enforcing peace and tolerance, only to find that people continue in the same old ways of oppression, greed, and strife. Why? Because we have not changed their nature. We have not dealt with the one issue that is the root and cause of all the others. We have not made them righteous. Indeed, we cannot make them righteous. We cannot make ourselves righteous. Only the Spirit of God can change the hearts of sinful people and give us the desire to dethrone ourselves and enthrone God.
March 6, Day Nineteen
Morning - Psalm 75, Psalm 76, Genesis 41:1-24, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
Evening - Psalm 77, Jeremiah 8:4-13, Mark 10:46
Commentary, Mark 10:46
"And they came to
Jericho" (Mk. 10:46) is a significant statement, for
it marks Christ's progress toward Jerusalem. He has been dwelling in Perea, from whence He
has made journeys into Judea, Galilee, and other areas. But this trip is different. He is now going to Jerusalem to be the
sacrificial Lamb of God. On the way He
demonstrates His authority yet again.
The blind son of Timeus calls to Him and pleads for his sight. Bartimeus knows something about Jesus, for he
calls Him, "Son of David," a name full of Messianic
expectations. Jesus is the Messiah who
goes into Jerusalem to ascend to His throne, but the cross is the way to the
Our natural unrighteousness is “sin,” but what is “a sin?” A sin is any thought, word, or deed that is inconsistent with the will and nature of God as revealed in Christ and recorded in the Holy Bible. Obviously, the Bible speaks clearly about some sins. The Ten Commandments and Moral Law of the Old Testament are the will of God for our lives, and any breach of their letter or spirit is sin. In other places, God gives principles of righteousness. The Bible cannot address every situation of every life, so God gives general principles of righteousness, which we are to employ in our daily lives and situations. The Bible will not tell you who you should marry, but it gives many principles for choosing an appropriate spouse and living the married life. The Bible does not tell you your calling in life. It does lay down clear principles of godly business conduct and industry, which you must apply to your career choices and practices. Failure to keep these laws and principles is sin. Thus, anything that goes against the letter or spirit of the Bible is sin.
March 7, Day Twenty
Morning - Psalm 85, Genesis 41:25-40, 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
Evening - Psalm 80, Jeremiah 9:2-16, Mark 11:12-26
Commentary, Mark 11:12-26
Again Scripture marks the progress of our Lord toward Jerusalem. Bethphage and Bethany are on the road that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives is on the east side of Jerusalem between Bethany and the city. From there Christ could view the Temple, symbol of His presence and sacrifice. To put the events in their proper sequence, Jesus traveled from Jericho through Bethphage to arrive in Bethany on the Friday before Passover, probably in the year 28. He remained in Bethany for the Sabbath and went into Jerusalem on Sunday in what has been called "The Triumphal Entry" which is recorded in Mark 11:1-11. The crowds who greeted Him with palm branches were the pilgrims traveling to or already in Jerusalem for Passover. The Triumphal Entry is a bold announcement that Jesus has come to Jerusalem. It is also a bold acceptance of the fate that awaits Him. He does not go in secret. He does not hide in fear. He goes into the city boldly, as a King to His Throne, and, at the same time, as a Lamb to the Slaughter. Having made His Triumphal Entry, Jesus returned to Bethany for the night.
The next day, Monday, Christ returned to Jerusalem. On this day He saw the fig tree in leaf but having no figs. This was an appropriate symbol of the decaying religion of the religious leaders of Israel. Like the fig tree, they were luxuriant in appearance, but barren in reality. They were great in the appearance of Godliness, with their traditions and ceremonies, but their hearts were far from God. The words of Christ withered the tree as the Gospel withers the pretense of faith in false believers. As He chased the moneychangers from the Temple He reminded them of the true purpose of their calling (Mk. 11:17). They were to lead the people of God into the very presence of God in worship. Instead they had turned the House of Prayer into a den of thieves who robbed people of the very thing they were called to provide.
We have been talking about Lent, and the things we do in this season of the Church Year. I pray we have seen that it has never been our objective to simply add another season to the calendar or to create a pretty ritual or ceremony. Our objective is to always to apply ourselves to holiness. So, in Lent, we intentionally put aside some of the things that normally claim our attention, and apply ourselves to seeking God. We turn aside from some of the pleasures of life. They may be good and lawful pleasures, but we lay them aside, not to say “I gave them up for Lent," but to spend the time we normally spend in those pleasures seeking God. Of course we also spend the Lenten season in turning away from the ungodly things we have allowed into our lives. For the first half of Lent we have talked about recognizing sin, confessing sin, and turning away from sin, and this is an essential part of holiness. I sincerely pray that we have all applied ourselves to this during this time of Lent. But holiness also means to embrace Godliness. Lent, then, is a time to apply ourselves to the positive actions and attitudes that are so much a part of holy living. One of the most important of these is prayer
March 8, Day Twenty-one
Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 79, Genesis 42:1-38, 1 Corinthians 11:17
Evening - Psalm 86, Jeremiah 9:17-24, Mark12:1-12
Our Lord was no passive victim. He rode into Jerusalem as a King to His Throne, and He took the battle to His enemies. The parable of the vineyard is a direct confrontation and condemnation of the empty religion of the priests and Pharisees. They are the husbandmen and groundskeepers who tend the vineyard of the Lord, which is Israel. But they have assumed ownership of the vineyard. So when the Owner, which is God, sends servants, the prophets, to them to collect His due, they beat them and kill them. Finally the Owner sends His Son, Jesus. But rather than reverencing the Son, they kill Him and cast Him out of the vineyard. Christ also spoke of the stone rejected by the builders, which becomes the chief cornerstone. The religious leaders were building a building that was not of God. When the Son came to them they rejected Him, but He became the chief cornerstone of the new Temple, the Church. These parables refer to the crucifixion of Christ and show the determination and faith with which He embraced the cross, that we might be saved.
Lent is a time of prayer. And prayer is so essential to following Christ in holy living that we can say with certainty that to be a Christian is to be a person of prayer. Yet many do not understand prayer, and it is to our shame that most Christians see prayer as a time to ask God for blessings, and as a way to manipulate God. Actually prayer is much deeper than this. Prayer is nothing less than acknowledging the presence of God. It is, as The Homilies remind us, quoting St. Augustine, “a lifting up of the mind to God … a humble and lowly pouring out of the heart to God.” The same sermon, quoting Isidorus, calls prayer, “an affection of the heart and not a labor of the lips,” It is, “the inward groaning and crying of the heart to God” (The Homilies, p. 234). Real prayer is not so much seeking things from God, as it is seeking God Himself.
This understanding of prayer moves beyond the mechanical, I ask-God gives, view of prayer. It also answers the ancient question, “why pray?” Why pray? We might as well ask why talk to a loved one? How can we say we love someone, yet not want to converse with him? What kind of relationship is conducted without communication, without communion? Those who love God will long for Him, will enjoy pouring out their hearts to Him in prayer, will earnestly desire to acknowledge His presence. Indeed, if prayer were only asking for things, it would be an exercise in futility. God knows all things. He knows our needs better than we know them ourselves. But if prayer is anything like the descriptions above, we know why we pray.
March 9, Day Twenty-two
Morning - Psalm 89:1-19, Genesis 43: 1-34, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Evening - Psalm 103, Jeremiah 10:1-13, Mark 12:13-17
The priests and Pharisees would have gladly taken Jesus to the edge of the city and stoned Him. But the people who had come with Him into Jerusalem were convinced He was the Messiah, and would have freed Him by force. Thus, the religious leaders feared the people (12:12). So they sought to trick Him into saying something that would turn the people against Him. Divide and conquer. If Jesus was the Messiah, according to the current Jewish views, He was there to organize the Jews into an army to drive the Romans into the sea. It is certain that both Romans and Jews were present at this questioning, so any slip of the tongue would result in disaster for Christ. If He appeared to take a non-aggressive stance toward the Romans, the people would desert Him, leaving Him vulnerable to the attack of the Pharisees. If He appeared to condone rebellion against the Romans, He could be starting a war that would cost the lives of millions.
It is a decisive moment for Christ. One word from Him will bring the Jews to violent revolution. He could lead them. He could give them victory. He had that power. He could establish a worldly Kingdom without going to the cross. He could give them what they want, and save Himself all the agony of the garden, the cross, and the grave. We have to realise that Jesus knew all of this. Yet He turned not aside from His purpose. He considered the temptation no more here than He did in the wilderness during His forty days of fasting. He rejected the opportunity to be a worldly Messiah. He embraced the cross.
How do I pray? Pray the Bible. Does the Bible say we are to be holy as Christ is holy? Pray for holiness. Does the Bible say love others as Christ has loved us? Pray that God will help you love. Does the Bible invite people to come to Jesus? Pray that millions will come today. Pray for God’s glory to be known around the world. Pray that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Christ. Pray that souls will be saved and lives will be changed. Pray that transformed people living transformed lives will be as salt and light in their homes and communities. Pray that the Church of Christ may boldly proclaim His truth. Pray that its ranks will swell so that all the church buildings in all the earth cannot hold it. Pray for the clergy and the people, the young and the old the rich and the poor, for all people in all places.
Psalm 25, Deuteronomy 6, 1 Corinthians 3
Third Sunday in Lent
March 3, 2013
Several "3:16's" in the Bible express significant Biblical truth. The best known is the well beloved John 3:16, " God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Probably second, in terms of being well known and well beloved, is 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Most people know these verse, and I suspect and hope that you know them by heart. There is another 3:16, found in our readings for this morning. It is 1 Corinthians 3:16; "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"
"Ye are the temple of God." I want to call attention to something that, at first, will seem very obvious, yet, I think is habitually overlooked by most readers of this verse. I want to call attention to the word, "temple," and I want to emphasise that it is singular, not plural. It is "temple," not "temples." Now let me call attention to the word, "ye." Ye is plural. Old England, like the Old South, had a plural form of "you." "Ye" is that plural form. So Paul was addressing many people, but he said of them that "Ye," plural, are "the temple," singular.
Paul has been writing about the divisions and strife that existed in the Corinthian Church. The Corinthians had a difficult time following Christ. They lived in the time before most of the New Testament had been written, they probably did not have a copy of the Old Testament, and, even if they had, they would not have understood it because they were Gentiles. They were of a culture that was completely alien to the Bible. Theirs was a culture of sensual indulgence. Even their religions were primarily about sensuality and sensual experiences. And everything was all about "Me;" whatever seems right to "Me," and whatever feels good to "Me." In fact, it was a culture very much like our own.
It took a while for those who converted to Christianity to put their pagan ideas, values, and religious views behind them, or even to know they should be put behind them. So their pagan ideas followed them into the Church. This was partly a calculated, intentional thing; and it was partly just because they didn't know any better. When they heard about God they thought of Him the way they thought of pagan idols, and they tried to worship Him as they had worshiped their pagan gods. They made Christianity all about having religious experiences. And they made it all about "Me;" my faith, my beliefs, my salvation, my worship, and my relationship with Jesus. This is the natural tendency of people, and we still see it in the lives and views of Christians today. We're still trying to make Christianity all about experiencing God, my own personal faith, my beliefs, my salvation, my worship, my interpretation of the Bible, and my relationship with Jesus, as though it is only about "Just Jesus and Me."
There is some truth in me-centered religion. A person must have personal faith in Christ. A person must be personally saved, personally read the Bible, personally worship God, and personally walk with Jesus. But me centered religion leaves out the very important fact that individual faith, salvation, worship, understanding of the Bible, and relationship with Christ, are lived and practiced in the context of the wider Body of Christ, which the Bible calls the Church.
In contrast to me-centered religion, the Bible presents a God-centered faith. One of the clearest statements of this is found in Ephesians 1:9 and 10, which tell us the purpose of God is to bring all things together in Christ. God's purpose in building and sustaining this universe, and in sending Christ to the cross, and in sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Church, is to bring all things together under the Lordship of Christ. Thanks be to God, Ephesians 1:11 tells us we have an inheritance in Him. We have a share in His Kingdom, "according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will," but we need to remember that the Kingdom is about God and for His glory. It is not about us or our glory.
The Bible also presents a unified Church instead of me-centered individualism. In other words, instead of a highly individualised faith of independent Christians following God as the Spirit leads them, or, more correctly, as they think the Spirit is leading them, the Bible presents a view of a unified people following and serving God together as one person. This is a major part of the teaching of 1 Corinthians 3. The language and intent is a little different from that in Ephesians 1, for, while Ephesians refers to all things in general, 1 Corinthians refers to the Church specifically. But the idea of being brought together under Christ is found in both passages. 1 Corinthians describes the Church as the temple of God, the place where God dwells. The Church is one, and all the Christians together form the Temple, the Church.
This is not just a nice idea built on an isolated text. It is taught throughout the New Testament and Bible. Deuteronomy 6:4, for example address Israel as one body. "Hear O Israel," not "Hear O Israelites. Look also at 1 Peter 2:5 which says "Ye" (plural) "as lively stones (plural), are built up a (singular) spiritual house," (singular), "an (singular) holy priesthood" (singular). The point is that God is building a spiritual house for Himself, by putting Christians together to form a spiritual home for Himself. Peter does not say God is collecting stones for a rock collection. Some people collect rocks, and they have a story to tell about each rock. God is not collecting rocks, He is building a spiritual house, a Temple for Himself. That Temple is the Church. You and I are stones in it. God gathers us, shapes us, chips off the parts He doesn't want, sticks us into the mortar and we become part of the temple. And in this Temple we become one. We are a unity. We are not just rocks, we are the Temple.
So the Bible teaches a unity of believers. We are one body. We are one building. We are living stones in a living building We are members of one another. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism. God grant that we may always hold and practice the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.