December 21, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, December 22-January 4

Monday 

Morning - Ps. 116, Is. 33:13, Lk.1:5-25
Evening - Ps. 104, Is. 35, Rev. 20:7

Commentary, Luke 1:5-25

Our emphasis for the week moves from the Prophet Isaiah to the Gospel of Luke, taking us through the first chapter and culminating in the birth of Christ on Christmas Day.  Our reading begins with the account of the birth of John the Baptist, who comes to make straight the way of the Lord.  Zacharias and his wife, Elisabeth, were both of priestly descent, and were residing in Jerusalem while Zacharias served a term burning incense in the Temple. We don't often pay much attention to the ancestry of John, but it is worth noting that his father was a priest and his mother was descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses.

  John himself is a summation of the work of the entire line of Old Testament priests, for the task of the priesthood was to prepare (make straight) the way of the Lord.  The Temple and sacrificial system, which was given into their care, foreshadowed Christ, "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world."  Thus, their work prepared people for the coming Messiah.  In Luke 1 the Messiah is drawing near and we see the arrival of John. 

Tuesday

Morning - Ps.130 &131, Is. 25:1-9, Lk. 1:26-38
Evening - Ps. 114 & 122, Gen. 49:1-10, Rev 21:1-8

Commentary, Luke 1:26-38

We are accustomed to thinking of Christ as the Lamb of God who fulfilled the meaning of the sacrificial system by giving Himself as the sacrifice for our sins.  But He is also our great High Priest who fulfilled the ministry of the Old Testament priesthood by offering that one great Sacrifice which could atone for sin.  The Lamb of God is also the Priest of God.  As we think of Christ, our High Priest, it is interesting to note that Mary was a cousin of Elisabeth, and Elisabeth was of the priestly line.  The priestly office was an inherited office in the Old Testament, passing from father to son in the tribe of Levi.  None but they could carry the Ark of the Covenant, or execute the duties of the Tabernacle and Temple.  They alone could offer the ceremonial sacrifices required by the Old Testament Law. So Mary was the inheritor of two blood lines.  First, she was a descendant of David, the Old Testament king of Israel.  This fact is sometimes overlooked because of our tendency to trace ancestry through the father's line.  But Joseph, though of the linage of David, was not Jesus' father, so if Jesus were to be of David's line His ancestry had to come through Mary.  And, indeed, Luke 1:27 tells us Mary was of the house of David.  The importance of her ancestry is that it makes Jesus the King in the line of David who will rule over Israel and extend His Kingdom throughout the entire earth.  Second, Mary was of the linage of the priests of Israel.  So in Christ the two houses of priest and king are united, just as in Him the true offices and meanings of Priest and King are fulfilled.  
Christmas Eve

Morning - Ps. 50,   Lk. 1:67
Evening - Ps. 85, Zech. 2:10, Mt. 1:18

Commentary, Luke 1:67-80

Zacharias' power of speech was taken from him when, in the Temple he did not believe the angel's message.  Now, after the birth of his son, it returns to him along with the inspiration of the Spirit by which he speaks forth the great passage of Scripture which is this morning's Second Lesson.  He speaks first of the Messiah, raised up to be a "horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David" (1:69).  The One foretold by the prophets, by whom we are saved, through whom the mercy of God is performed toward us, is ready to come into the world.  Indeed, He is already here in the Virgin's womb.

Next the priest turns to the ministry of his own son, John.  He is the prophet of the Highest.  He will go before the Messiah to prepare His way, give the people knowledge of their sins, and give light to them that are in darkness and the shadow of death.  We see that John actually completes the work of the Old Testament prophets and priests.  They were the preparation, preparing the way for Christ.  In a very real sense, the Old Testament ministry ended with John.  The New Testament ministry began with Christ.

Christmas Day

Morning - Ps. 89:1-30, Is. 9:2-7, Lk 2:1-20
Evening - Ps. 45, Micah 4:1-5, 1 Jn. 4:7-14

Commentary, Luke 2:1-20
  At last the Day arrives.  Only it is not "day;" it is night.  Nor is the King of Kings born in a palace, but in an animal shed; not heralded to kings and rulers, but announced to simple shepherds.   Thanks be to God that the Good News has come to us.  "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

December 26, the Feast of St. Stephen

Morning - Ps. 118, 2 Chron. 24:17-22, Acts 6
Evening - Ps. 30, 31, Acts 7:59-8:8

Commentary, Acts 7:59-8:8

It is notable that our cycle of prayer and Scripture moves immediately from the birth of the Saviour to the cost of following Christ, for Stephen is the first New Testament martyr for Christ.  Thus we are reminded that being a Christian is not just about going to Heaven; it is an absolute and lifelong commitment to observing all things He has commanded us.  The murder of Stephen begins the persecution of the New Testament Church.  Revelation 4:11 tells us Jerusalem will pay dearly for this, and Acts  8:1-4 tells us the persecution was so severe, all Christians, except the Apostles, fled Jerusalem.  But persecution followed them.  Saul was probably only one of many who captured Christian Jews and returned them to Jerusalem to die (Acts 9:1).
If the events of this passage are true, and if the God to which they testify is real, then becoming a Christian is not something we do in search of self esteem or to enhance our quality of life.  We become Christians because we owe God obedience and love.  We become Christians because we have been made to understand that we were living in rebellion and sin against God, and because we want to turn away from sin and begin to do what is right. In short, we become Christians because it is right to do so.  All other considerations are secondary, at best.  I wonder if the Church today, including myself, spends too much time inviting people to go to Heaven and too little time calling people to obey God.  Stephen's short time as a Christian was a time of prayer, service to God's people, and obedience unto death, not about blessings for Stephen.

December 27, Feast of St. John the Apostle

Morning - Ps. 23 &24, Ex. 33:12, Jn. 13:2-26
Evening - Ps. 97, Is. 6:1-8, Rev. 1

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8

Today we return to a passage we have looked at before, Isaiah 6:1-8.  The prophet is given a vision of God in all His terrifying holiness and power.  From the vision of God, Isaiah is moved to see his own unworthiness.  He is a man of unclean lips, meaning, a sinner.  The seraphim sing "Holy, holy, holy," unto God, but Isaiah's lips are not worthy to address the Lord.  He sees his sin as filthy rags beside the incredibly white and shining Goodness of God, and he knows that he is "undone," or, destroyed, before God.  If Isaiah is to be allowed into real fellowship with God, God Himself is going to have to find a way to cover his sins and make him holy.  The seraphim touches Isaiah's mouth with a live coal from the altar where the sacrificial animals are killed and burned.  Symbolically, the sins of the Jewish people were laid upon the sacrifice, which paid the price of sin by dying on the altar.  The coal represents all the animals killed to pay for Isaiah's sin.  The sacrificial lambs themselves represent Christ, the Lamb of God and the only Sacrifice that could truly pay for the sins of any person.  It is Christ broken, sacrificed, and applied to the "undoneness" of people that restores them to wholeness before God.  In sin we are undone.  In Christ we are restored to wholeness. The restoration includes an invitation.  Isaiah was being called to preach the Word of God, but more than that, he was being invited into the fellowship and love of God.

Thus we see a threefold emphasis in these verses.  First is the vision of the greatness of God.  Second is the awareness of being undone.  Third is the cleansing of sin and the invitation to return to full fellowship with God.  The true Christian has a similar experience.  At some point we come to realise that God is far greater, far more worthy, and far more "good" than we ever imagined.  That knowledge immediately brings the knowledge that we are far smaller, far more unworthy, and far more wicked than we ever believed ourselves to be.  At this point we realise, "Woe is me! for I am undone" (vs. 5), and the only way to become whole and restored is for God to do something Himself that will cover our sins and restore us to His favour.  Christ restores us by taking our sins on Himself and paying their price with His own life. He then covers our sins with His own sinless perfection, and God counts us as righteous for His sake.  Now we are taken into the heart of God.  We have the joy of His presence and love in such abundance it can only be described as God dwelling in us, and us dwelling in God.

December 28, Feast of Holy Innocents

Morning – Ps. 8 & 26, Jer. 31:1-6, 15-16, Mt. 18:1-14
Evening – Ps. 19, & 126, Is. 54:1-13, Mk. 10:13-16, 23-31

Commentary, Isaiah 54:1-13

Isaiah 54 is about God’s faithfulness and mercy.  The barren (childless) woman is Judea, whom God has allowed to be conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians.   God says He will not leave them in Babylon.  He will rescue them with great mercy, and gather them back to their home in Jerusalem (vs. 7).  The symbolism of this passage refers to God’s deliverance of the Jews from Babylon.  It also refers to our deliverance from the spiritual Babylon of sin that has held us captive until Christ our Redeemer set us free.  It is a beautiful and moving passage.

December 29

Morning – Ps. 27, Is. 56:1-8, 1Jn. 1
Evening – Ps. 20, Is. 57:13, Heb. 1

Commentary, Isaiah 56 and 57

Isaiah. 56 and 57 continue the message of God’s grace and forgiveness.  But His mercy is not confined to the Jews alone.  His House is a house of prayer for all people.  “Whosoever will may come” to Him and find mercy and hope and peace and forgiveness.  This theme is carried through chapter 57 where it is well stated in verse 19.  Those who are near are the Jews left in Jerusalem after the conquest by Babylon.  Those who are far off are those living in captivity in Babylon.  But the meaning looks beyond Babylon and Judea to the reign of the Messiah who extends His mercy both to the Jews (those who are near) and to the Gentiles (those who are far off). 

December 30

Morning - Ps. 33, Is 59:1-21, 1 Jn. 2:1-17
Evening - Ps. 111, 112, Is. 60:13, Heb. 2

Commentary, Isaiah 59:1-21

The Christmas season is one of the highlights of the year, and it is made even more precious as we follow the daily Bible readings.  Hebrews shows how Christ fulfills the meaning and intent of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, and how they pointed to Him as the only real sacrifice for sin, the great High Priest who intercedes for His people, and God Himself purchasing and applying salvation and forgiveness to His people.  1 John is a practical guide to living in Christ's Church, and in the fallen world around us.

Isaiah 59:2 expresses the very heart of every person's problem with God.  Our problem is not that God is unable or unwilling to do good, but that our sins have separated us from Him.  Fallen humanity, and, often, Christians also, blame God for the mess of the world.  They conclude that, because God does not give world peace, personal affluence, freedom from disease, and a general happiness, He either does not care, does not hear their prayers, or is unable to do anything about the problems they face.  Such people impose two contradictory demands upon God. First, they demand total freedom to choose their own way and shape their own destinies.  Second, they expect God to force all people to act in accordance with general principles of goodness, so they can live in peace.  They refuse to see that their own sin is the cause of their separation from God, and that they themselves have contributed greatly to the general malaise of life on planet earth.

Because of sin, judgment and wrath have come upon all people.  Isaiah addresses first the people of Judea and their situation when the Babylonians come upon them in bloody and murderous conquest.  But the principle is true of all nations, all peoples, and all individuals.  We live in a world of sorrows because our sins have made it so.  The human race is naturally reaping what we have sown, and it is important that we see that sin has consequences for us in this world as well as in eternity.  Yet there is hope.  God has not deserted us, nor has He abandoned His plan to save His people.  "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression" (59: 20).  Throughout the Bible we see God working out His plan of salvation.  He called Abraham to be the father of a new people.  To them He gave His Commandments and His Word.  Through them He sent the Messiah; the Saviour, not for Israel alone, but for all who will receive Him as their Saviour and their God.  The descendants of Abraham were not always faithful to God.  More often than not, they were like sheep straying from the protection of the Shepherd and away from the safety of the Fold.  Though God allowed them to reap the bitter fruit of sin, He did not abandon them.  In the fullness of time the Saviour came to purchase their forgiveness and to call both Jews and Gentiles into His Kingdom and Church.  By His grace He overcame our sin, and even now He is working in the lives of His people to prepare us to be with Him in Heaven forever.  The surprise is not that we suffer hardship and troubles in this world.  The surprise is that God has not abandoned us to destruction and hell.  The surprise is that He came in grace to redeem us.

December 31

Morning - Ps.147, Is. 62, 1 Jn. 2:18
Evening - Ps 90, Dt. 10:12-11:1, Heb 3

Commentary, Isaiah 62


Isaiah 62 looks forward to the restoration of Jerusalem and Judea after the Jews return from their captivity in Babylon.  But, like much of the prophecy of Isaiah, it uses the return from captivity to foreshadow a greater return, a greater glory of Jerusalem, and a greater Salvation than from mere human enemies.  It foreshadows the grace of God given to Jew and Gentile through the Saviour Christ.  Jerusalem here represents the entire the people of God; the Church of Christ in all ages.  The love of God is poured out upon them forever.

January 1

Romans 4:8- ,  Luke 2:15 -

Commentary, Luke 2:15-

Christ was circumcised eight days after birth, receiving the sign of the Covenant with God made to His people through Abraham.  He received the sign of the Old Covenant because He obeyed all the commandments of God.  Only one who is perfectly righteous in His being and in His obedience to God can be the perfect sacrifice for sin.  It is noteworthy that the sign of the Old Covenant has passed away with the inauguration of the New Covenant.  Baptism, the sign of the New Covenant, has replaced circumcision.

The real message here is the surpassing and absolute righteousness of Christ.  He kept every part of the will and commandments of God.  He kept both the letter and the spirit of the law, which is the only way to actually obey God.

Because Christ kept the law perfectly, He was able to be the unblemished Lamb of God; able to offer Himself for our sins and suffer for our transgressions.  Another sinner could not accomplish our forgiveness, even by dying for us.  Another sinner could only die for his own sins.  But Jesus Christ the Righteous was able to live without sin, and, thus to pay for ours.


January 2

Morning - Genesis 1,  Matthew 1
Evening - Genesis 2,  Romans 1

Commentary, Genesis 1 and 2

“In the beginning, God.”  These words set the tone for the entire Bible.  The Bible is about God.  More specifically, it is about God’s grace in action toward humanity.  We could say it is the story of God’s redemptive work on planet earth.  It begins with the One who Is, the Eternal One without beginning or end, who is the beginning and end of all else.

The “beginning” is the beginning of the physical universe.  The “heavens” are the stars and galaxies beyond our planet.  Earth is the planet on which we live.  Thus, in one short sentence God encompasses everything from His Eternal Being, to the vast creation He made, to the tiny planet on which we dwell and on which the great drama of Redemption will take place.

Very few words are used to describe God’s act of creating.  He spoke, and it was done.  His power is so absolute He needs only to speak and His will is infallibly accomplished.  Nor does the Bible record human achievements, such as writing or the invention of the wheel.  They are not the subject of this book.  God is the subject. Redemption is the verb.  People are the direct objects.  This is true throughout the Bible.

A major point of the first chapter is the complete goodness of the Creation.  Death and decay are unknown.  Man and animals do not eat each other.  Natural disasters are non-existent.  Indeed the first chapter of the First Book reveals a world at peace as it reflects and enjoys the holiness of God.  Even Man, as male and female, are at peace in the glory of God.  Without sin, they live in freedom and peace with each other, and with God.  Thus the chapter ends appropriately, “And God saw every thing that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Genesis 2 expounds the creation of  Man in greater detail.  It continues to show the perfect peace and harmony of Adam and Eve with God and creation.  Eve is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, but more importantly, they are at one in spirit.  Bishop J.C. Ryle summarises the chapter’s teaching as:

Man’s kinship with God, (ver. 7).
Man’s worship of God, (ver. 3).
Man’s fellowship with God, (ver.16).
Man’s service for God, (ver. 18).
Man’s loyalty to God, (ver. 17).
Man’s authority from God,(ver. 19).
Man’s social life from God, (ver. 24).

January 3


Morning - Genesis 3,  Matthew 2
Evening - Genesis 4,  Romans 2

Commentary, Genesis 3 and 4

Genesis three sees the entire Creation fall from perfect peace in God into absolute misery in sin.  The essence of man’s sin is the desire to be “as gods,” (3:5).  Verse  6 says the fruit was to be desired to “make one wise.”  Adam and Eve wanted to make their own choices and decisions about good and evil, and right and wrong.  Instead of obeying God and trusting His wisdom, they wanted to be wise themselves and trust their own wisdom to decide what was “right” and “true” for themselves.  They essentially kicked God out of their lives, and enthroned themselves in His place.  They became as gods to themselves.That has been the desire of all people ever since.

The “wisdom” of Adam and Eve, like ours, was faulty.  How can the ideas of a finite creature compare to the  All Wise God?  Their decision, and the decisions of their progeny, do not make things better than what they receive from God.  Instead, they reap confusion, despair, strife, and death.  Nature becomes their enemy.  Storms and earthquakes attack them.  The labour of their hands and the sweat of their brow produce thorns.  Childbirth is pain. Strife and self-seeking become part of human relationships.

Because of sin, all people and all creation are now under the wrath of God, and unable to make themselves right with Him.  Unless God crucifies His right to be angry and to exact the punishment for our sins, we will dwell in His wrath forever.  Thus we understand the meaning of Genesis 3:15.  There will be a constant war between the seed of woman and the serpent (Satan).  But that war will be won by one Man, The Seed of Woman.  Yes the serpent will bruise His heel, but He will bruise the serpent’s head.  The Seed is Christ.  The bruising is the Cross on which He redeems His people.

The strife and turmoil caused by sin are immediately evident in Cain and Abel.  Note that God has already established a system of sacrifices in which the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God is portrayed.  The rejection of Cain’s sacrifice is due to the lack of blood, or, life, in it.  It could not show the death of Christ, the giving up of His life for the sins of His people.  Rather than purchase a lamb to sacrifice, Cain kills Abel.  Thus, instead of being welcomed back to God on the basis of the Sacrifice, Cain multiplies his guilt, and reaps the fruit of his sins.

January 4

Morning - Gen. 5,  Mt. 3
Evening - Gen 6,  Rom. 3 

Commentary, Genesis 5 and 6

Many wonder where Cain’s wife came from.  We are not told.  Cain’s story in chapter 4 is only given to show the depths of sin into which mankind continues to fall.  Having accomplished that, Genesis hurries on to the story of Seth, for Seth is the chosen vessel.  In him, and his son, Enos, after two hundred years of darkness and rebellion, “began men to call upon the name of the Lord.”

Chapter 5 gives the first several generations in the genealogy of the Messiah.  We see His line traced through Seth to Noah in Gen. 5.  We see it traced to Abraham in Gen, 10 and 11.  We see His line traced from Abraham to Joseph in Matthew 1.  So, the main point of Genesis 5 is Seth, who carries on the knowledge and worship of God, and begins the line through whom the Saviour will be born.

The sons of God in 6:2 are the descendants of Seth who have been spiritually adopted by God.  They are called sons of God in the same way the Jews are called children of God in Deuteronomy. 14:1, and Christians are called sons of God in John 1:12.  The point of chapter 6 is that the Sethites do not remain faithful to God.  They intermarry with the unbelieving descendants of Cain, who are physically big and strong, but spiritually are as small and weak as babies. Though men of physical prowess result from these marriages, the spiritual condition of the Sethite sons of God plummets to the level of the Canites.  Thus they are included in the description in 6:5; “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” so much that it grieved the heart of God (6:6).  It would do well to meditate on your sin, and how it also grieves the heart of God.


The result is God’s decision to cleanse the world of the human race.  Only the house of Noah, a descendant of Seth who still walks with God (6:9), will be saved.  Verses 13-22 record the call of Noah and the construction of the Ark.

December 14, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, Week of December 15-20

Monday

Ps. 84,  Is. 29:1-14,  Mk. 5:1-20
Ps. 75, 76,  Is.29:15,  Rev. 18:11

Commentary, Mark 5:1-120

Jesus leaves the area of Capernaum for the southwest coast of the Sea of Galilee.  The stilling of the sea, described in Mark 4:35-41 occurs during this trip.  The city of Gaderene is located about thirty miles from the coast, but its economic and political domination of the area causes the Jews to call the whole territory, “the country of the Gadarenes” (Mk. 5:1).  It is possible that our Lord travelled there to get away from the crowds.  It is also obvious that He went there by Divine Appointment to meet and deliver the man with an unclean spirit (5:2).

The Gaderenes were Gentiles, and, except for a few Jews, their country was thoroughly pagan.  When the Messiah is revealed to them in the spiritual deliverance of the demoniac, they reject Him and beg Him to leave.  Yet, the man with a legion of demons recognises and worships Christ (5:7).
There is great meaning in this event.  The demoniac is a symbol of all who do not know God.  They dwell in the deepest darkness and harshest oppression of the devil.  In fact, the story gives two examples of the destruction and death caused by demonic oppression.

First is the demoniac himself.  His existence is a horrible torrent of self-destruction and pain.  He even cuts himself, an expression of despair and an attempt to distract himself from inner turmoil by focusing on outward pain.  His cries of agony must have echoed through the hills and over the sea.  His suffering is unimaginable to us.  Yet he is the very picture of the misery of sin in the life of the un-believer.  Mental/spiritual darkness, inner turmoil, living in the tombs as though dead, unable to bear the pain, and unable to deliver himself, are the marks of all apart from the grace of God.  And he has no hope of deliverance, unless this Jesus, Son of the Most High God, has mercy on Him.

Note his desperate cry to Christ, “I adjure you by God, that thou torment me not” (5:7).  Yes, he recognises who Jesus is, but cannot believe He will have mercy.  So he does not beg for deliverance, only that God will not add more suffering to his already unbearable torture.

Second is the herd of swine.  Many theologians make much ado about swine’s ceremonial uncleanness according to Old Testament law.  But the real point of this story is that the demonic influence placed in them drives them to madness and death.  Not knowing what they are doing, they are driven into the sea and drowned.  Notice that it is the demons, not Jesus, who killed the hogs.  Such is the result of demonic presence in any life.

By contrast, the presence of God brings deliverance and peace.  In verse 15 we see the man well.  He is clothed outwardly, but also inwardly in the righteousness of Christ.  No longer roaming and crying, he is sitting, signifying peace in the inner person.  He is in his right mind;  no longer tormented, not in darkness or emotional pain.  He is restored to his right mind in Christ.  Such is the presence of Christ in the soul of the believer.

His countrymen reject the Lord.  They beseech Him to depart (5:17).  Apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit men love darkness rather than light.  Yet a witness remains among them.  The man is told, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.”

Tuesday

Ps. 90,  Is. 30:8-17,  Mk. 5:21-43
Ps. 91,  Is. 30:18-26, Rev. 18:1-16

Commentary, Mark 5:21-43

Christ returns to Galilee near the city of Capernaum, and much people gathered unto Him (5:21).  While most of the Jewish leaders reject Christ, a leader in one to the synagogues seeks Him.  Why?  His daughter “lieth at the point of death.”  Does this man believe Jesus is the Messiah?  We do not know.  We do know he believes Jesus can heal his daughter, and beseeches Him greatly.

Jesus goes with him, and, on the way, is touched by the woman with an issue of blood.  Physicians have been unable to help her, so she turns to the Great Physician and is restored.  A woman in her issue of blood was symbolically unclean (Lev. 15:19-33).  Some would object that the woman cannot control this, and should not be considered unclean, not even symbolically.    But that is the point.  All people are unclean by God’s standards, and we cannot make ourselves clean.  But God can.  If the woman had touched a mere human being, he or she would have also become unclean.  But, rather than making Christ unclean from her touch, she becomes clean by touching Him.  When Christ’s “virtue,” (righteousness) enters a person, it drives out uncleanness.

While Christ speaks to her, word comes to Jairus that his daughter is dead, but Jesus reassures him, “Be not afraid, only believe.”  The people in Jairus’ house do not believe.  They laugh Jesus to scorn (5:40).  But Jesus raises her up from death as easily as we might rouse a person from sleep.  Death is not death for the Christian.  It is only sleep for the body until Christ raises it up by His power.

Wednesday, Ember Day

Ps. 1, 15,  Jer. 23:9-15,  Lk. 12:35-48
Ps. 92,  Jer. 23:16-22,  Mt. 28:16

Commentary, Matthew 28:16-20

Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the Third Sunday in Advent have traditionally been times of prayer for, and ordination of clergy.  Called, Ember Days, they were often set aside by people for fasting, prayer, and reading passages from Scripture relating to the ministry.  Our reading from Matthew 28 is one of the best known of these passages.  Here our Lord, having made the great Sacrifice for our sins, and being raised from the dead, commissions His disciples: “Go ye therefore , and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”  The Greek word translated, “nations” is the word from which we derive our English word, “ethnic.”  Our Lord refers not so much to political entities as to ethnic groups.  His Kingdom transcends the barriers of race or nation.  It is for all who will believe.

The message of the Kingdom is “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  It is the faith and practice given to the Apostles by Christ.  They are to proclaim that same faith, and practice that same practice.  They are also to hand it down to others, who will hand it down to others and keep on handing it down until the Lord returns.  It is the faith once for all delivered unto the saints, and it must be passed on pure and unaltered.  We are not authorised to add to or delete from it.  We teach what we have received; no more, no less.
As we pray for ministers today, let us include those who will be ordained, and those currently serving.  The following is from the ordination service in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and expresses well what we desire in our clergy.

“Most merciful Father, we beseech thee to send upon these thy servants thy heavenly blessing; that they may be clothed with righteousness, and that thy Word spoken by their mouths may have such success, that it may never be spoken in vain.  Grant also, that we may have grace to hear and receive what they shall deliver out of thy most holy Word, or agreeable to the same, as the means of our salvation; that in all our words and deeds we may seek thy glory, and the increase of thy kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Thursday

Ps. 96,  Is, 32:1-20,  Mk. 6:1-6
Ps. 93, 98,  Is 33:1-10,  Rev. 20:1-16

Commentary, Mark 6:1-6

Our Lord returns to His own country, Nazareth, about 22 miles southwest of Capernaum.  Here, among those who watched Him grow into manhood, and know Mary and James and Joseph, He is received, not as a prophet, but as the carpenter.  The people know of His miracles and teaching, but, like His “friends” who thought Him “beside himself,” they reject Him and His message.  Thus, when He preaches the sermon in the synagogue, “they were offended at him.”  Who does He think He is?  He is just the local carpenter.  We know His family.  We saw Him grow up.  Others may think Him great, but we know He is nothing.  He should give up trying to be the Messiah, and go back to the carpenter shop.  This is the way they thought about Him.

How sad that these people, who knew about His sinless life, His wisdom, and His love, ultimately rejected Him.  But even today it is still true that those with the most opportunity to know Christ are the most prone to take Him for granted, and, even to reject Him.  Beware of making that mistake.  Beware when you think you stand, lest ye fall.
Friday, Ember Day

Ps. 40:1-16,  Jer. 23:23-32,  2 Cor. 5:5
Ps. 51,  Jer. 26:1-15,  2 Tim. 3:14-4:8

Commentary, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:8

Returning to prayers for ministers, we are reminded in Timothy of the minister’s equipment and the minister’s task.  His equipment is the Word of God.  This word is the Bible, the “Holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:14).  They are inspired by God, and are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.  Profitable does not mean the Bible is profitable along with and equal to other sources of these things.  It means the Bible is the profitable source above all others.  It is the one Book to rule them all.  Our own ideas about God, visions, dreams, feelings, and religious experiences are unprofitable sources.  They will lead us astray.  Therefore, never evaluate your life and faith by them.  Evaluate your life and faith by the Bible.

The minister who allows himself to be instructed by the Bible will find himself “throughly” furnished for the ministry.  It is helpful to know history and science, art and philosophy, but these cannot feed the hungry souls of the church.  The Apostles, though not as ignorant and unlettered as many believe, and with the exception of Paul, were not Doctors of Philosophy or Doctors of the Law.  But they knew the Word given to them by Christ, and by that Word they were furnished for the good work of the ministry.

2 Timothy 4:2 shows the task of the minister.  “Preach the word.”  He is not to expound the latest self-help theory.  His task is not to dazzle with literary references or sparkling wit.  His is to preach that Word that is “quick , and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb.4:12).

Saturday, Ember Day

Ps. 42, 43,  Mal. 2:1-9,  Mt. 9:35-10:15
Ps. 103,  Mal. 3:1-6,  Heb. 4:14-5:10 

Commentary,

Today is the last of the Autumn Ember Days.  They will return to us again on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the first week of Lent.  The readings in Malachi warn the priests that the people should be able to hear knowledge from their lips, and law from their mouths, for they are the messengers of the Lord of Hosts (2:6-7).  Sadly, Malachi says the priests of Israel have departed out of the way of God.  Rather than giving light and knowledge, the words of the priests have turned away from God and caused the people to stumble (2:8).

In contrast to them, God will send a faithful minister who will prepare the way for Him.  This is fulfilled in John the baptizer.  The Lord coming to His Temple is Jesus Christ.  His lips will give knowledge, and will teach the true meaning of the Law.

As we pray for those called to minister in Christ;s Church, let us also remember to pray for the Church.


“O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.  Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, on Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in the holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

December 7, 2014

Scripture and Comments, Week of December 8-13

Monday

Ps. 33,  Is.8:5-20,  Mk. 2:23-3:6
Ps. 42, 43,  Is. 9:8-17,  Rev. 11:15

Commentary, Mark 2:23-3:6

The disciples are not committing theft, nor are the Pharisees concerned about the property rights of the field’s owner.  Deuteronomy 23:25 allows the poor to pick enough grain to eat from a neighbor’s field.  This privilege is for those who are unable to provide for themselves.  It is not a right, and it is not intended to subsidise those who are able to work, but choose not to.  Of course, Christ is the real owner of the field, and has the right to give its produce to whomever He wills.

The concern of the Pharisees is that this is done on the Sabbath, thus appearing to break the Fourth Commandment that, on the Sabbath Day, “thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates”  (Ex. 20:10).

The words and acts of Christ make three essential points.  First, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is a day of rest from the daily round of work.  That rest is found in thanksgiving, family, and “church.”  It is a day of refreshment, not rules.  The reference to David eating the sacred bread makes the point that ministering to the real (not  imagined) needs of God’s people is part of God’s purpose for the Sabbath. 
Second, doing good on the Sabbath is desirable  In Luke 15, our Lord, on this very subject, refers to Exodus 23:4 & 5, which requires helping another by returning an escaped or over-burdened ass or ox.  Christ says this is always to be done, even on the Sabbath.  Christ’s defense of the healing of the man with the withered hand makes the same point.  His rhetorical question in 3:4 demands the answer that doing good on the Sabbath is good and desirable.

Third, and the real point of this passage; Jesus of Nazareth is Lord of the Sabbath.  He, as God the Son, gave the Law.  Therefore, He knows what it means, and He knows how to keep it.  He tells us how to keep it: we do not tell Him.   This is a clear and obvious claim to Divinity by Jesus of Nazareth.  Who is Lord of the Sabbath but God?  If Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, then He is God.

Tuesday

Ps. 48,  Is. 9:18-10:4,  Mk. 3:7-19
Ps. 46, 47,  Is. 10:5-21,  Rev. 12:1-12

Commentary, Mark 3:7-19

Our Lord goes back to the shores of Galilee, just outside of Capernaum.  A great multitude of people come to Him.  He heals many, and the demons (unclean spirits) fall before Him and declare His identity.

In verse 13 Jesus goes “up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would.”  Luke adds that Jesus spends the night in prayer (Lk. 6:12).  Our Lord knew well that He would appoint twelve of His followers to be “with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sickness, and to cast out devils.”  Some of these men will become the Apostles, to whom Christ will entrust His teaching, and who will be called upon to establish His Church.  Selecting them is an event that will have eternal consequences for every person on earth forever, and our Lord feels constrained to spend much time in prayer about it.

Wednesday

Ps. 50,  Is. 11:1-10,  Mk. 3:20-35
Ps. 49,  Is. 12,  Rev. 13:1-10

Commentary, Mark 3:20-35

Mark is meticulous in reporting the rising opposition to Christ, which will culminate in His betrayal and crucifixion.  Yes, the masses receive Him gladly, as long as He feeds and heals them, but they will eventually turn away from Him. The religious leaders, who should recognise their Master and God, also oppose Him.  In Mk. 2:7, they accuse Him of blasphemy because He claims to have authority to forgive sin. In Mk 3:6, the Pharisees and Herodians conspire to destroy Jesus.  In today’s reading we see their opposition growing bolder and more vindictive.

Notice that they never deny the miracles of Christ.  Many today say the miracles of Christ are legends or fakes.  But the people who saw them, including His enemies, knew they were real. So, instead of trying to refute the miracles, they attack Christ’s motive and power for doing them.  His power, they say, comes from Satan, whom they call Beelzebub and the prince of devils (3:22).  If His power comes from Satan, His motive is to deceive people and lead them to Satan and the pangs of Hell.

Christ’s response is found in verses 23-30.  If Christ were demonic, yet delivered people from demonic possession, Satan’s “house,” or, people, or kingdom, would be divided against itself.  Thus Jesus would be working against Satan.  But Christ is not of Satan.  He is leading the attack on Satan’s kingdom.  He is rescuing people from Satan and Hell.  Christ is storming Satan’s fortress and invading his private quarters. He is taking Satan prisoner, and taking whatever He wants from Satan’s treasure house.
We were the treasures of Satan.  We were prisoners and slaves of Satan.  We were his “goods” and possessions.  But Christ has conquered Satan and claimed us.  He has saved us from Satan.  The healings and exorcisms are vivid portrayals of this, but it is really and fully accomplished by His cross.

Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (vs.29) is defined in verse 30 as saying Jesus has an unclean spirit, or, demon (see 3:22).  It is calling the work and revelation of God in Christ demonic.  In short, it is to reject Christ as Lord and Saviour, and to call His work “Satanic.”  This is what the Pharisees say in this passage, and Christ’s words about the sin against the Holy Ghost are said in response to and explanation of them.

Even the friends of Jesus oppose Him in this passage.  They think He is beside Himself.  They think he is crazy (3:21).  Thus Mark includes the three possible answers to the question, who is Jesus?  First, is the answer of the Pharisees, He is demonic.  He is evil.  He works for the Devil, and His intention is to lead people down into the pit of Hell.  Second, is the answer of His “friends,” He is crazy.  He claims to be God.  He claims to have power to heal, to forgive sins, to make people right with God, and to command the devil himself.  He must be crazy.  Third, is the answer of Jesus, He is who and what He says He is.  From the very early days of the Church, people have recognised this, and even today Christian writers continue to state it.  C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which is widely read today, is one example of this.  Mark is putting this to you as a problem to solve.  Here is the evidence; here are the possible answers.  Which answer is yours?
The chapter closes with Mary and the brethren of Jesus seeking Him.  It is probable that they came to get Jesus after His “friends” failed to take Him home.  Mary probably told people she was His mother, which is why Mark refers to her as such (3:31).  But Jesus never refers to her as His mother.  He always calls her “woman.”  In America, especially in the South, this would be disrespectful, for we always call them, “ladies.”  But in Jesus’ time this is considered respectful and mannerly.  It also serves to emphasise that Mary is not the mother of God, even though He became flesh by being born of her womb.  Nor are her other children His brothers and sisters merely because they were born of the same womb.  It is true and Biblical faith in Christ that makes us His brother and sister and mother (3:35).  Christ means that the only relationship to Him that counts is that relationship of faith.  It alone makes us part of the family of God.

Thursday

Ps. 62, 63,  Is. 13:1-11,  Mk. 4:1-20
Ps. 66,  Is. 13:12-22

Commentary, Mark 4:1-20

Jesus has gone out of Capernaum again, but the crowds follow Him and grow even larger as He teaches by the Sea of Galilee.  We can only imagine the press of the people.  Many hope for healing, others are curious about Him, still others look for things to use in their plan to destroy Him.  Mark records no healings here.  Instead Christ spends His time teaching, but still the crowds increase. When the crowds grow very large, the Lord gets into a boat, which probably belongs to Peter, and is rowed a short way from the shore, where He continues to teach the people.  This time of teaching may have lasted for several days, and includes the parable in today’s reading.
The parable is known as the Parable of the Sower.  Our Lord did not name it: He simply begins, “Harken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow.”  Verses 2-9 record the parable as given.  Verses 10-20 give its meaning.  Since our Lord gives its meaning, this commentary will merely emphasise its four major points. 

First, the Sower is Christ.   He sows the seed by His preaching and teaching.
Second, the “seed” is the word (4:15).  It is the message Christ has been preaching since His baptism: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

Third, people are the soils.  Some are soil by the wayside, meaning the path or the road.    The seed falls upon them, but they do not receive it, and the devil is able to take it away from them.  Some people are the stony soil, and the Gospel cannot put deep roots in them.  They appear to be Christians, but give up the faith when they experience the heat (troubles) of life.  Some are  thorny ground, where the cares of this world, material wealth, and physical lust choke the word out of them.  The good ground is those who receive the word and remain in it.  In them the seed flourishes and bears the fruit of the Spirit and of everlasting life.  The parable seems to  pose an unspoken question; what kind of soil are you? 

Fourth, the seed will accomplish its purpose.  Though many reject it, by God’s grace others will receive it.  It will produce fruit abundantly, which means it will grow and increase as people come to Christ.


Friday

Ps. 73,  Is. 24:16,  Mk. 4:21-29
Ps. 77.  Is. 26:11-19,  Rev. 15

Commentary, Mark 4:21-29

The disciples do not understand the parables any better than the other Jews (Mk. 4:10). So Christ assures them that the meaning will soon be apparent to them (4:21 and 22).  The word of God, which includes His teaching and Christ Himself (Jn. 1:14) is like a candle.  To the disciples it seems He is hiding the Light under a basket or bed, so it cannot be “seen.”  In a sense He is (4:11 and 12).  He does this because the conquering hero version of the Messiah, which prevails during the time of Christ, confuses the people.  If Christ openly proclaims Himself as the Messiah, the people will think He has come to lead them in battle against the Romans.  They will arm themselves and attempt to drive the Romans out of Israel.  This will result in a terrible massacre, and will not accomplish the spiritual salvation Christ came to purchase on the cross. So Christ speaks in parables, which both reveal the Messiah, and, at the same time, keep much of His nature and work hidden.  But He has not lit the candle to hide it under a basket or bed.  He will make Himself known (manifest), very soon.  He will accomplish this by the cross, resurrection, advent of the Holy Sprit, and the preaching of the Church.  This will manifest Him to the world, and the meaning of the parables will become clear to those who have ears to hear.

Verses 24 and 25 warn us to be careful what we hear and how we understand the nature of God, and His will for us.  To mete is to measure or evaluate.  Here it is to evaluate truth.  Using a wrong measure results in faulty understanding, and that faulty understanding will be measured back to you.  Only the truth can set you free from the bondage and penalty of sin, and Christ is the way the truth and the life.

Those who have the truth will receive also the forgiveness of sin, and the glory of Heaven (4:24).  Those who  do not receive the truth will lose even what they have (4:25).

The parable of the field in verses 26-29 shows that the Kingdom of God comes and grows in ways that are mysterious to us.  It comes as Christ gives His life on the cross.  It comes by the preaching of the Gospel.  It comes by the Holy Spirit giving life and understanding to people who are dead in sin and ignorant of God.  It comes by preaching the Gospel.  It does not come by military war against Rome, nor does it come by any worldly, human inventions or ideas.  It is a spiritual Kingdom, and the means of its advance are spiritual.

Saturday

Ps. 80,  Is. 28:1-13,  Mk. 4:30
Ps. 65, Is. 28:14-22,  Rev. 18:1-10

Commentary, Mark 4:30-41

The coming and advance of the Kingdom of God begins with a tiny seed, Christ.  Born in obscurity, far way from the centers of worldly power, He seems unlikely to be the One to bring the Kingdom of God to us.  Yet, when He is sown, by His death and burial, He “groweth up,” by His resurrection, and “becometh greater than all herbs.”  His Kingdom will cross mountains and oceans.  It will cross all barriers of race and culture.  It will encompass people in every part of the world.  It will be greater than any other empire has ever been or ever will be.  One day He will personally return to this planet and restore all things to His order and righteousness.  In that Day, the Kingdom of God will be the only Kingdom on planet earth.