January 5, 2014

Scripture and Commentary Week of Epiphany

January 6, Epiphany

Morning – Ps. 46 & 100, Is. 60:1-9, 2 Cor. 4:1-6
Evening – Ps. 72, Is. 61, Rom. 15 & 21

Commentary, Isaiah 60:1-9

When Isaiah speaks of God coming to the Gentiles, he sometimes means in wrath, or a combination of wrath and mercy, as in Isaiah 66.  But Isaiah 60:1-9 is about God’s pure grace given to Gentiles as well as Jews.  The passage is addressed first to the Jews, naturally.  It tells of a great darkness that is upon the whole earth.  The darkness represents moral and spiritual decay.  People do not “see” their sins or their ignorance.  This is true of both Jew and Gentile.
Yet God says, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” The prophet has foretold many sad tidings to his people.  He has told them of their continuing refusal to hear the Word of God and turn from their sins.  He has told them that even now they will reject the word of God and remain in their rebellion and rejection of God.  He has told them that in faithfulness to His Word, God is going to bring the Covenant curses upon them.  (We must always remember that the Covenant with Israel contained both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.  God will faithfully uphold both parts of it (Dt. 11:27 & 28)).  He has told them of the coming destruction of their land and of the mass murder of their people in military conquest and captivity.  This is part of the darkness referred to in 60:2.  But God will arise upon them in Light.  He is rising already, even before the dark days of conquest and captivity, for He has sent Isaiah to give them a chance to repent.  He has also sent good tidings through the prophet, for a major part of Isaiah’s message is that God will not be angry with the Jews forever.  He will forgive them and bring them back to Jerusalem, and give them another chance to love Him and to live in His blessing.
The Light of the Messiah is rising upon the Jews.  The plan laid before the foundation of the world, by which the Saviour will come into the world to save His people from their sins and to establish His Kingdom as the fulfillment of all the promises made to humankind through the nation of Israel, is rising even in the time of Isaiah, who gives a clearer picture of it than was yet seen in Old Testament times.  Christ is the Light, the Lord rising on Israel, whose glory “shall be seen upon thee” (60:2).
This passage was chosen specifically for today because the sixth day of January is Epiphany, the day on which we remember and rejoice that Christ and His salvation was revealed to Gentiles.  Epiphany recalls the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem to worship Him who is born “King of the Jews.”  Their worship shows that He is not King of the Jews only, but of many others outside of Israel.  His Kingdom is not a worldly empire, but a Kingdom of the heart and of grace, for all who desire it may enter it by faith and enjoy its blessings.  Isaiah, moved by the Spirit of God, proclaims, “Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (60:3).
January 7

Morning – Ps. 85, Is. 42:1-9, Mt. 3:13
Evening – Ps. 97& 99, Is 43:1-12, Acts 11:1-18

Commentary, Isaiah 42:1-9

The Jewish people believe the Servant of Isaiah 42 is the remnant of Jews who survived the Babylonian Captivity and returned to Jerusalem to carry on their calling as the people of God.  In one sense they are right.  In another sense, no mere human person or group of people is able to do and be the things expected of the Servant in the book of Isaiah.  Yes, it is true that Isaiah spoke to the situation at hand, and that his words had meaning to that time and place.  It is also true that he foresaw things far ahead of his own time, and that he told the people about them also.  In this sense Isaiah’s work was much like that of the Apostle John witting the book of Revelation.
            Thus, the Servant in our morning reading is ultimately none other than Christ, the Word become flesh.  In verse 1 Christ brings judgment to the Gentiles.  They have abandoned His law, and lived for the fulfillment of their sinful desires.  They knew the will of God, but lived in sin by their own choice (Rom. 1:18-2:1).
            But the Lord is gracious.  He will not harm tiniest faith though it is no stronger than a bruised reed or a smoking flax barely able to smolder.  This grace is for Jew and Gentile alike, and verse 6 tells us Christ is the Light of the Gentiles.  His mission to open the eyes of the blind and to bring prisoners out of the prison and darkness of sin and hell, (42:7), is to both Jews and Gentiles.

January 8

Morning – Ps. 65, Is. 45:20, Mk. 9:2-13
Evening – Ps. 93 & 96, Is. 48:12-21, Acts 26:1, 13-23

Commentary, Isaiah 45:20

We start today with a reminder that when the Lectionary lesson says “Is. 45:20” it means to begin at verse 20 and read to the end of the chapter.  And what a wonderful reading this is.  Few laces in the Old Testament set forth God’s mercy and hope to the Gentiles as Isaiah 40:20-25.  It is unclear whether, “ye that are escaped of the nations” (45:20) refers to Jews who have survived their conquest and captivity by Babylon, or Gentiles who survive their own conquests by other nations.  Either way, and, both ways, their God given task is to proclaim the grace of God to all people.  Jews and Gentiles have been worshiping idols that cannot save (45:20).  God has told that that was so.  He has proved it by allowing them to be conquered in spite of their prayers to idols.  The survivors, Jew and Gentile, are to bring their brethren near so they may know there is no God but God and no Saviour but Him (45:21).
One of the grandest verses in all of Scripture is found in this chapter.  It does not get the attention given to chapters 7, or 9, or 53, but it is glorious none the less.  It is verse 22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else.”

January 9

Morning, Ps. 22, 24, Is. 49:8-23, 1 John 1:1-9
Evening - Ps. 48, 117, Is. 54:1-10, Acts 28:23

Commentary, Acts 28:23-31

The Apostle Paul is in Rome under guard.  He is there because he has appealed to Caesar rather than allow the crooked Felix, who wanted bribery for justice, or Festus, who wanted to please those Jews who hate Paul, to pass judgment on him (Acts 24 and 25).  After a troubled passage, which included shipwreck and stranded on Melita, Paul arrives safe in Rome, where, under house arrest, he is treated far better than he was treated by his own people.  Though probably enjoying the fellowship of his many friends (Rom. 16:1-16), he invites the leading Jews of the city to his rented house, where he tells them about his trial in Jerusalem, and “expounded and testified the Kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets (Acts 28:23).  While some believed, most did not. Paul, therefore, after quoting from the Old Testament, says the Gentiles will hear, meaning hear with understanding and faith, what he has just said to the Jews.  Paul spent two years in Rome preaching and teaching the things “which concern the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Though under house arrest, Paul had more freedom to preach, and less danger and inteferrance than ever before in his ministry.  The churches in Rome must have been greatly strengthened by his ministry, and must have grown rapidly in the environment of freedom they encountered in Rome.
The point, and reason of this passage being chosen for reading in Epiphany Season, is that it records Paul’s resolve to take the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles.  From this point on, his ministry will focus primarily on them.  He will be released from Rome and will take the Gospel into Spain. Some speculate that he will even preach in Britania.
He will return to Rome years later, a different Rome that persecutes and murders Christians.  In this new Rome he will be confined in the Mammrtine prison, a place known for its cruelty and suffering.  Eventually Paul, the Roman citizen will suffer martyrdom in Rome, giving his life for the cause of Christ.

January 10

Morning - Ps.67, 87, Is. 19:19, Col. 2:6-17
Evening - Ps. 138, 146, Zech. 8:11-23, Rom 10

Commentary, Romans 10

It is possible to be very religious, yet not right with God.  That is the issue St. Paul addresses concerning his own brethren, the Jews.  Many of them were very concerned about the minutiae of their own religious regulations, yet cared little about the commandments of God.  When they did attempt to keep the commandments of God, they were generally concerned about the letter, not the meaning, of the law.  Thus, the Pharisees gladly took Jesus to the Romans for execution, but they did not actually kill Jesus themselves.  Therefore, they considered themselves not guilty of the sin of murder.  Romans 10 does not let them off so easily.  He says their zeal for the commandments and rules is not the same as rigteousness.  Even the many, many Jews who really loved God and tried to keep His commandments cannot make themselves acceptable to God by their good works.  The only real righteousness is found in the One tho whom the law and the Temple point, Jesus Christ.  And that righteousness is received by grace through faith, not earned by works.  It is those who call upon the name of the Lord, who shall be saved (10:13).

January 11

Morning - Ps. 102:15, Jonah 4, 1 Peter 1:1-9
Evening - Ps.147, Rom. 11:13-27

Commentary, Psalm 102

The ascription to this Psalm reads, “A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.”  All have been afflicted.  All will be again.  But it is not personal troubles that afflict the Psalmist.  He pours out his prayer on behalf of another, someone he cares about so deeply his own soul is afflicted with grief.  Here is love that hurts when others hurt and weeps when others weep.  Here is love that bears another’s sorrow as though it were his own.  To love in this way is to love as Christ loves.  Yes, ours is a very poor version of love, for God’s love is perfect while ours is fractured and mixed with selfishness.  Yet, by the grace of God working in us, we are enabled to begin to love as God loves, purely for the benefit of the beloved. It is this kind of love that moves the Psalmist to pray. 
The writer seems to know he cannot change the other’s condition. Such a task is beyond his abilities.  But God can.  He who raises up nations for His own glory is able to do greater things that we can imagine.  So the Psalmist cries out to God, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my crying come unto thee.”
Verses 3-11 express the depths of sorrow into which the writer has fallen.  His dyas are consumed like smoke, rising and dissipating into what seems to be nothingness.  His grief consumes him as though his bones are on fire.  He feels as though he is “withered like grass.”
Verse 12 turns to the ability of God; He endures forever.  Verse 13 expresses confidence that God will arise and have mercy.  Here we also learn the identity of the one for whom the Psalmist grieves.  It is Zion.  It is the people of Israel whom God has called and blessed, yet who at the time of this Psalm are in distress.  It is likely that this Psalm refers to the Babylonian Conquest, when Jerusalem was razed and the Jews were murdered or taken to Babylon.  Verse 14 refers to Jerusalem’s stones, which are in the dust, seeming to describe the ruin and devastation of the city’s wall.
We may apply this to nearly any situation.  A person’s life may be like a conquered city.  He may be a captive of evil forces and sin.  His soul may be in the dust.  A country may be chastised by God by being laid open to enemies or financial hardship.  Today we see the New Testament Church weak and divided, unsure of her mission and message, and opposed by principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world.  We see her in the dust.

Now we read of God’s willingness to answer.  He turneth unto the prayer of the poor destitute, and despiseth not their desire (vs. 17).  The physical destitution is symbolic of the poverty of the soul under the judgement of God.  Let such a soul cry unto the Lord.  Let him seek God’s mercy.  Let him turn from his sins and do what is good.  Let him trust in Christ’s forgiveness.  God will not despise his desire.  The Psalm closes by recalling the promise of God that He will always have a people for Himself.  He will preserve the true Jerusalem and the true Israel, which includes God’s people in both the Old and New Testament eras.  They shall continue and stand fast in His sight.

Healer of Broken Souls

Healer of Broken Souls
Psalm 65, Isaiah 61:1-3, Matthew 2:19-23
Second Sunday after Christmas
January 5, 2014

The words of Isaiah 61 were some of our Lord’s favourite verses in all of Scripture.  It was these words Christ used to describe Himself and His ministry when He went into the synagogue in Nazareth, concluding the reading with, “  It was this passage He quoted when John the Baptist, alone and fearing for his life in prison, sent people to ask Jesus, “Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?”  Christ quoted the words of Isaiah, words which looked forward to the coming Messiah, and the healing of souls He would accomplish, and He said tell John these things are happening.  In other words, Jesus is doing what only the Messiah can do.  Therefore, He is the Messiah.  He is “He that should come.”
            But these things aren’t merely proof of His identity.  They are His identity.  He didn’t just do them to show that He had the power and the glory.  He did them because He couldn’t help doing them.  They were part of His nature and His attitude towards us.  When the Centurion’s servant was sick, Jesus wanted to go to Him.  When the lepers came to Him He cleansed them.  When the poor and outcasts were rejected by the scribes and Pharisees, He welcomed them.  When the law told them they were sinners and lost and bound for Hell, He said He had come to receive sinners and to seek and to save that which was lost.
            I think of the time Jesus was in Capernaum, and had spent the evening, and far into the night healing the sick and casting out demons.  What was He doing there but preaching good tidings, proclaiming liberty to those in captivity to Satan, and binding up the broken hearted?  Yes, sin breaks hearts.  We tend to look at sin as the harmless indulgence of natural whims.  We have a hard time seeing how our sins affect others, and, I think, we are nearly blind to the way our own sins affect us.  Oh, we can see how drug addiction ruins lives.  We can see how the Hollywood consumptive life-style kills souls.  We can see how divorce, and crime, and war, and bad government, hurt us.  And we can imagine what a life of prostitution and pornography would do to a person, but we can’t always see how our sins draw us away from God and weaken our faith, and even dissolve our desire for God.  But they do.
            There is a story about an old time, horse and buggy minister; we’ll make him an Anglican, concerned for a family who had a habit of missing Church.  One cold winter evening the rector drove to the family’s farm.  It was deep winter, and the family was gathered around the hearth of their comfortable home enjoying hot tea and cookies, and the bountiful blessings of God.  The rector was given a chair by the fire, but said very little.  “How can I help these people see what the sin of forsaking the Church does to them? He prayed.  Eventually he took the poker and pulled a burning red ember out of the fire onto the hearth.  At first it continued to burn, but, slowly at first, then with increasing quickness, it began to cool.  First the flame died.  Then the glowing red color gave way to charred blackness, then the heat, the life of the coal, just went out, and the rector picked it up with his bear hand.  He set it beside another ember, one that had not been deprived of the warmth of the fire.  They sat there on the hearth, one glowing and red, the other cold and dead.  Soon the father and husband of the home spoke.  “I understand, Reverend,” he said.  “We will be in church this Sunday.”
            The Song of Solomon makes a similar point about the effects of sin.  It talks about the little foxes that spoil the vines.  It pictures a Godly marriage as a luxuriant vineyard, but the little foxes, the small and seemingly harmless things dig up the vines and grapes.  We can apply this to any relationship, and almost any aspect of our own lives. Our vines have tender grapes.  Our faith is small and weak, and the little things, the little foxes, can do tremendous damage to our lives.  Perhaps you know by experience what I am saying.  But be of good cheer.  One has come from God saying,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound: to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto the beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AmenX