April 28, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Monday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter


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


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

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

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

Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter


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

Commentary, Hebrews 12:1-17

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

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

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

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


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

Commentary, Hebrews 12:18-29

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

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

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

Thursday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter


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

Commentary, Hebrews 13:1-6

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

Friday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter


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

Commentary, Hebrews 13:9-16

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

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

Saturday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter


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

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

Commentary, Hebrews 13:17

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

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

Sermon, Fourth Sunday after Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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