January 31, 2016

Scripture and Comments, January 31-February 6

January 31

Gen. 44:14-,34, Mt. 20:1-16
Gen. 45:1-15, 1 Cor. 12


Matthew 20:1-16

Chapter 20 continues the discourse between Christ and the disciples begun after the departure of the rich young ruler in 19:22  Our Lord is still on the east side of the Jordan, but close enough to Judea to make excursions into it, and for the Judean people to come to Him.  And they do come to Him.  19:2 tells us great multitudes followed Him, and 19:3 says Pharisees also came attempting to trick and discredit (tempting) Him.

In this parable the Householder is God.  The vineyard is the Kingdom of God, which on earth is Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church in the New Testament.  The “work” is believing in Christ through Biblical faith.  Heaven, grace, and all the things we often express in the word. “salvation,” are symbolised as payment to the workers, though we all understand salvation is given to us as the free gift of God, not earned by our works.  That is precisely the point Christ is making in the parable. The Householder, God, doesn’t owe these men jobs, and God doesn’t need us to work His vineyard.  He allows us in because He is merciful.  So, those who come to the vineyard at the first call are receiving God’s grace, just as much as those who come at the eleventh hour.  Beyond this, the parable has two primary meanings.

First, most of the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They consider themselves to be those who come to the vineyard at the first call.  In their minds, they have worked hard and faithfully in the vineyard all of their lives.  Therefore, they have earned all the blessings God can give them. But Jesus is saying something is lacking in their service.  Most of them aren’t even in the right vineyard, as our Lord will make clear by pronouncing the woes on the Pharisees in Mathew 23. But, even if some of them are in the right vineyard, and even if some are are working hard, their work doesn’t count because they are doing the wrong work.  They are doing things they believe will earn a place for themselves in the Kingdom of Heaven.  In other words, they are trying to save themselves by their works.  But their labours are in vain. Why? Because they are sinners, just like the rest of us, and the only way sinners can have any of the good things of God is if God, somehow atones for our sins and give us His blessings as the free gifts of His grace.  Those, who, like most of the Pharisees, trust their good works, rather than the grace of God, will be found missing the mark on Judgment Day.  In other words, they will not measure up to God’s standard of perfect holiness, therefore they will have no place in Heaven.Holy Trinity Anglican Church

Second, full salvation is given to all who have the faith I just spoke of.  You do not have to be first in the vineyard, as the Pharisees considered themselves to be.  Even the last one to come to the vineyard will receive the full grace and pardon of Christ.  Even the last to come to Christ will receive the Spirit, the Church, the means of grace, the Bible, and Heaven at last.  Why? because salvation is completely and entirely a gift from God, not payment for good works.  No matter how long your list of good works may be, it is not enough to earn a place in Heaven, and, it is not significantly longer than anyone else's list.  If we think of our good works as gold, and we measure  them on the scales of God’s righteousness, none of us have enough gold to register on the scale.  It may seem to you that you have much gold, but when it is all placed on the scale, it is no bigger than a speck of dust.  But, fear not. God does not give Heaven on the basis of your ability to earn it.  He gives it on His ability to earn it for you through the cross of Christ.

Someone you know may be late in life, and still not in the vineyard. Continue to pray for him, there is yet hope.  You may be late in life yet not in the vineyard   You wonder if God will accept you after your decades of living like a Pharisee, or even like a pagan.  The answer is, yes.  “Come unto me” Jesus says in Matthew 11:28.  “[H]im that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” He says in John 6:37. “[W]hosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).

This is not an excuse to put off God.  You may not live to see tomorrow on this earth.  You may be called before the throne of God this very moment.  “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not you hearts” (Heb. 3:15).  Be ready, for Jesus may come for you “at an hour when ye think not” (Lk. 11:40).

February 1

Gen. 45:16-,  Mt. 20:17-34
Gen 46, 1 Cor. 13


Matthew 20:17-34

Verse 17 is a turning point in the Gospel.  Here Jesus begins His final journey into Jerusalem.  On the way He tells His disciples what is going to happen there.  He will be betrayed, condemned, and given to the Gentiles for crucifixion (18 & 19).  Our Saviour knows well what lays ahead of Him, and He intentionally goes to the cross.  He truly gives Himself for our sins.  He could still avoid Jerusalem.  He could leave Israel and live safely in another country.  Even on the cross He could easily come down and save Himself.  But the point Matthew is making in this passage is that He does not.  He knows what is going to happen, and He gives Himself to it.  As Christ says in John 10:17 and 18, “I lay down my life.” “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.”  Truly, as He said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this.”

In verse 20 the mother of James and John comes to Jesus asking that her sons be seated at the right and left hand of Christ in His Kingdom.  She obviously believes Jesus is going into Jerusalem to organize an army to drive the Romans out of Israel.  She believes He is going to establish Israel as the ruler of the world so the Jews can live in peace and prosperity forever.  She wants her sons to have preeminence in that kingdom, which will also ensure her own wealth and position.

Jesus asks James and John if they can drink His cup and endure His baptism.  He refers to the crucifixion that awaits Him. James and John do not understand His meaning, yet they quickly assure Him that they are able.  Christ tells them they will indeed drink and bear His cup and baptism.  Indeed, all the apostles died horrible deaths, except John, and he probably almost died during his imprisonment on Patmos.  James is thought to be the first Apostle to die in Christ’s service.

In verse 25 Jesus teaches them about greatness in His Kingdom.  Greatness does not consist of power, wealth, and privilege, as in the Roman Empire.  It consists of humility, and serving others as a slave serves his master.  In verse 26, Christ literally says whosoever will be great among you, let him be your slave.  He uses Himself as an example, saying even He, God in the flesh, came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

In verse 29 Jesus has crossed the Jordan River at Jericho and is in Judea on the road to Jerusalem. A crowd has gathered around Him, and, beside the road two voices are raised asking Him to have mercy.  It is interesting that these blind men “see” something the Pharisees miss.  They “see” that Jesus is the Son of David.  They are calling Him by a Messianic title.  They are saying He is the Son of David promised in the law and prophets. Remember that one of Matthew’s intentions is to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Being called Son of David by these men is one of the ways he shows this.

February 2, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple,
commonly called
The Purification of the Virgin Mary

Collect for the Day

“Almighty and everliving God, we humble beseech thy Majesty, that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the Temple in substance of our flesh, so we  may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 2 tells us Joseph and Mary brought Christ to the Temple after the time of Mary’s purification.  This means her body has healed after the strain of childbirth, and the bleeding from her womb has ended.  The presentation of a child in the Temple is accompanied by sacrifices showing that he belongs to God, and is given to the parents to be raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

As they ascend the steps to the Temple, Simeon, whom the Holy Spirit has told the Child is the Messiah, worships the Lord giving voice to the beautiful words we  often sing in Evening Prayer, and which have been set to music many times since that day.  “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” 

Mt. 21:1-22
1 Cor. 14


Matthew 21:1-22

The religious leaders of Israel have corrupted the Jewish faith so completely it is doubtful that Moses would recognise it.  Even Aaron, brother of Moses and first High Priest of Israel, though he would recognise the ritual and liturgy of the Temple, would not recognise the attitude or doctrine of the priests and people.  They act and believe as though it is only important that the liturgy be done, not meant.  Thus, they allow the Court of the Gentiles to be transformed from a place for Gentiles to pray and seek God, to a place for Jews to buy and sell animals for the sacrifices.  It is probable that the chief priests and Pharisees receive a comfortable fee from the vendors, for the Temple court is bound to be a lucrative business location, for which the vendors would pay gladly.  We can imagine the bribery and scheming involved in getting and giving the choice locations.

So, rather than being a quiet place where Gentiles can pray and talk to the priests about the faith, the Court of the Gentiles has become a noisy, smelly market and den of thieves.  This says something important about Israel. She has lost her vision.  She has lost her understanding of her calling, and of the purpose of God in calling her.  She thinks her calling is only to offer the sacrifices and receive blessings, rather than to love God.  She thinks God wants only the actions, not the actions and the heart.

Jesus, like the prophets before Him, considers this a distortion of the very essence of Israel, and a heretical perversion of the true nature and purpose of God. The religious leaders realise the wide gulf between their views and the views of Jesus.  They know He wants to take them back to  the original meaning of the Old Testament, the sacrifices, and the liturgies of the Temple and Synagogue.  To allow that would ruin the priests and Pharisees financially and socially, and it would require them to become Biblical believers and servants of God, rather than mammon.  For them facing Jesus is like facing a choice.  Will they choose to remain in their sin, or will they  choose Christ?  They choose sin.  Consequently, they oppose Christ at every opportunity.  They argue with Him.  They attempt to justify their actions and views, and discredit His.  They form a conspiracy to murder Him, and, in a few short days they will put Christ in His grave.

In Matthew 21 Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Messiah coming to His people.  He comes to judge and set right the leaders and the people.  He comes as the Son of David ascending His throne and receiving the adoration of His people. Yet He goes not to the palace, but to the Temple where He casts out the vendors and moneychangers.  He does not stop or condemn the lawful sacrifices and liturgies of the Temple.  He does show their true purpose, which is to express the faith and love of the people, and to proclaim the grace and promises of God.  He even spends some time teaching and healing in the Temple, so that, once again it becomes a place where the Word of God is proclaimed and souls are healed.  But the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders, are “sore displeased” (16).  Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem happens on the Sunday before Passover.  By Friday evening the rulers of the Jews will have accomplished their goal: Jesus will be dead.

The village of Bethany is an easy walk from the city of Jerusalem.  Our Lord returns to it Sunday night.  He probably spends the night sleeping on the ground on the Mount of Olives (Lk. 21:37).  Walking back to Jerusalem on Monday, probably without breakfast, He seeks fruit from a fig tree, but the tree has no fruit.  It is very much like Israel at that time, like the priests and the Pharisees and the Temple and the Synagogues.  Their abundant people and activity make them look vibrant and healthy, but they bear no fruit of holiness.  In a similar manner, many contemporary denominations, churches, and lives are filled with religious activity, but bear no fruit of holiness, love, obedience, or Biblical wisdom.  On the outside they appear to honour God, but on the inside they are far away from Him.  Their religious activity makes no difference in their social, business, or home lives.  They do not become “Christ-like,” they simply remain in the same ungodly ideas and lifestyles that characterise the unbelievers around them.

The disciples “marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!”   Israel, too, will soon wither.  Even the Holy City will fall to the very Romans the Pharisees convince to kill Jesus.  Matthew 24 and 25 give our Lord’s prediction of this event.  Revelation 5-11 gives a fuller account.

February 3

Gen. 47:1-12, Mt. 21:23-46
Gen. 47:13-, 1 Cor. 15


Matthew 21:23-46

The primary point in the second half of chapter 21 is the question of authority (23-32).  Jesus returns to the Temple, to be met by an angry and confrontational crowd of religious leaders, who, in verse 23, demand, “By what authority doest thou these things?”   They probably refer to His driving the moneychangers and vendors out of the Temple, but their question could encompass the whole of Christ’s ministry.  It is significant that they do not question that He has healed the sick, raised the dead, correctly interpreted Scripture, and cleared the Temple of its ring of thieves.  Their question is, where does He get the authority to do these things?

Jesus refers them back to John the Baptist.  Was his baptism, meaning his authority to preach and baptize, from Heaven (God) or man?  Remember that when John was in prison he sent messengers to Jesus asking Him if He was the Messiah or not (Mt. 11:2-6).  Jesus’ reply was that He does that which the Messiah does.  Through His ministry the spiritually blind see God.  The spiritually lame walk with God.  The spiritually unclean are restored to God.  The spiritually poor have the Gospel preached to them.  Jesus considered that enough to convince John.  And if it was enough to convince one who was soon to give his life for Christ, it should certainly be enough to convince the scholars and wise men and religious leaders of Israel. But it is not.  

So Jesus tells two parables, which His opponents quickly see are about them (45).  The son who repents and goes to work in the vineyard represents those who have openly failed to seek God, and those who outwardly seem to seek God, but in reality do not.  This son, repents, signifying that these people realize their sin and turn to God in true faith.  The second son says he will work, but does not.  He represents the religious leaders who say they are living for God, but are really not.  Nor do they repent.  They remain in their disobedience.  Thus Jesus makes His point in verse 31: publicans and harlots who repent will go into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the unrepentant, no matter how religious, will not.

February 4

Gen. 48, Mt. 22:1-22
Gen. 49, 1 Cor. 16


Matthew 22:1-22

This passage records two attempts entangle our Lord in His talk.  The attempts are part of the religious leaders’ plan to destroy Jesus.  They hope to make Him say something that will cause the people to turn away from Him.  Once the people leave Him, He will be easy to kill, and they, so they think, will be rid of their problem.

The flattery of verse 16 is meant to put Christ off guard, but does not fool Him for a moment.  The question is meant to make the people believe He is not the Messiah.  The popular view of the Messiah is that of a warrior king, who, filled with power from God, who will lead the people of Israel into a war that will crush the Romans and Gentiles, and establish Israel as the capitol of the world, with all Gentile nations subservient to her.  If Jesus says it is right to give tribute (taxes) to Caesar, the people will think He is not the Messiah, and will abandon Him.  If He says it is not right, they will brand Him as an enemy of Rome, and possibly convince the Romans to kill Him.  He spoils their plans with His words in verse 21; “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things which are God’s.”

February 5

Gen. 50:1-14, Mt. 22:23-46
Gen. 50:15-, 2 Cor. 1


Matthew 22:23-46

Next, the Saducees attempt to trick Christ.  These men are the chief priests, and do not believe in any form of resurrection.  Their question, regarding the woman’s marital status in the resurrection, is intended to confuse Christ and make the people laugh at Him.  In their minds, He will have to say the woman will be married to one of the men in Heaven.  No matter which one He says, they can confound Him with reasons why she might be married to another.  If He does not know the answer to their question, He must not be the Messiah, so the people will leave Him and they can kill Him.

Again, He easily spoils their plan.  In the resurrection people are not married.  All of the ties of kinship are different in Heaven.  Our relationships with one another will be similar to the relationship of angels to other angels.

He pointedly shows the reality of the resurrection, saying God is God of the living, not the dead.  If He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then they live even though they have died, and their bodies will be raised in the resurrection.

Hearing the questions and the answers of Christ, the people are more convinced than ever that He is the Messiah.  They are astonished, meaning, surprised, overwhelmed, and awed, by His doctrine.  They go away with greater respect for Him.

In verses 34-40 a lawyer continues the barrage of questions designed to trick Jesus.  He is not a lawyer as we think of them today.  He is a theologian, a minister who specializes in the massive body of regulations which had largely replaced the Scriptures as the rule of life in Israel.  Again, no matter which single law Jesus chooses the theologian can offer many arguments against it and for others.  But Christ dismisses the man-made regulations and goes straight to the words of Scripture.  The first commandment, to love God, summarises the first four of what we know as the Ten Commandments.  The second commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self summarises the meaning of the next six of the Ten Commandments.  Together, they express the true meaning and purpose of all the commandments and all the words of the prophets.  This is what all the law and all the messages of the prophets are about.  The lawyer cannot argue with that.

In verses 41-46, Jesus asks a question.  The religious leaders have tried to confound and discredit him.  Now He will confound and discredit them.  He asks them one question in two parts.  The first part, “What think ye of Christ?” has captured the imagination of preachers and commentators since the day Christ spoke the words.  But it is actually the second part that is the essence of the question; “whose son is he.”  Jesus asks this question knowing the Pharisees will answer as they do in verse 42, “The son of David.”  And, according to the flesh, that is the correct answer. The Messiah was to be a descendant of David.  That’s why Matthew goes to such great lengths to trace Jesus’ lineage back to David in chapter 1, and to call Him the son of David in the very first verse of his Gospel.  Son of David is a Messianic title.  That is why the blind men called Jesus by that name near Jericho (Mt. 20:30).
Jesus catches the Pharisees and scribes in His trap easily.  If Christ is David’s son, why does David refer to Him as his Lord in Psalm 110:1?  Jesus is making an important point about the Messiah; He is David’s Lord, meaning, God.  If this is true, the Messiah is not the son of David in the same way Solomon was.  Whose son is He then?  He is the Son of God.

This ends the questions and the verbal traps being set for Jesus.  The religious rulers find Him more adept at logic than they, and more knowledgeable of Scripture than they.  Rather than confounding Him, He has confounded them (vs. 46).

February 6

Exodus 1, Mt. 23
Ex. 2, 2 Cor. 2

 Matthew 23

“Then spake Jesus unto the multitude, and to his disciples.”  Having confounded the religious leaders, Jesus addresses the people gathered around Him in the Temple.  The multitude includes people who have come to Jerusalem for Passover, His disciples, and the religious leaders.  There has always been some question about the origin of the Pharisees, and the exact nature of their ministry.  Therefore, we don’t know exactly what our Lord meant when He said they “sit in Moses’ seat” (2).  But, whatever their position may be, Jesus tells the people that if what they say is in accordance with the teaching of Scripture, do it.  He also warns to people not to take the scribes and Pharisees as role models; “do ye not after their works” (3).  The reason for this warning is that their words do not match their actions.  “[T]hey say, and do not.”

“[H]heavy burdens and grievous to be borne” (4) refers to the Pharisees’ extensive regulations and traditions, which they want people to follow in place of the law of God.  Christ says the Pharisees are happy to lay these regulations on the people, but offer no help in keeping them, nor do they keep them themselves.  Yet they love to be considered intensely stringent law keepers.  Phylacteries (5) are fringes or pockets in their apparel containing verses of Scripture or passages from their books of regulations.  They like to make these pockets very large and very visible to other Jews to make it appear that they are completely faithful and diligent about keeping them.  They also love the respect their apparent dedication to the law garners from the rest of the Jews.    They are like people who prominently display large Bibles in their homes, but never read them or intend to live by Biblical teachings. The Pharisees love to be given preference in social arrangements and in the synagogues, and they love to be called “teacher” and “father” by the Jews.

Our Lord warns the people, many of whom are and will be His people in the New Testament Church, not to follow their example.  He is especially talking to His disciples when He says “be not ye called Rabbi (8), and “call no man your father upon earth” (9).  The reason for this is that Christ is their Master, or, Teacher (Rabbi), and God is their Father.  This does not mean no titles are used in the Church.  It does mean all Christians are brothers in Christ, and are equally servants of God and one another (11).  Titles in the Church, therefore, are more like job descriptions than ascriptions of honour, and no man should assume or accept titles that belong to God.

In verse 13 our Lord begins to address the Pharisees again. His words are scalding pronouncements of Divine wrath upon them.  Their woes will be the deepest of sorrows, the kind that can only be known by those under God’s wrath in eternity.  This woe will be known by these Pharisees in spite of their loud profession of righteousness and Godliness.  

The first woe is found in verse 13.  Here Christ says the Pharisees tell others they are not in the Kingdom of Heaven because they do not keep the Pharisees’ regulations. But, according to Jesus, it is the Pharisees who are not in the Kingdom.  They may attempt to shut others out, but they are not going in themselves.

The second woe is in verse 14.  Jesus says they “devour widows’ houses,” yet make long prayers.  In other words, though they make long prayers and seem to be deeply devout, they plot evil against the innocent.  They will swindle a widow out of her home and possessions, and leave her without shelter to face starvation and death.  Then they make long prayers to show how Godly they are.  Jesus does not call them Godly.  He calls them hypocrites.

Woe three is in verse 15.  Here Jesus says people who convert to the Pharisees’ way of thinking are being converted to hell.  Amazing!  There are actually people trying to win you to their religion, but their religion will actually take you to hell.  The Bible has many warnings about following false teachers and false Gospels, yet they abound today.

Woe four is in verses 16-22.  It calls the Pharisees “blind guides” (16) because they miss the law of God and follow their own foolish regulations.  Jesus uses the example of their false distinction between swearing (making a promise) by the Temple and swearing by the gold in the Temple.  The Pharisees say that if you make a promise, saying something like, “I swear by the Temple,” the promise means nothing.  But if you swear by the gold in the Temple the promise is binding.  Jesus’ point is that their distinction is wrong.  After all, the Temple is greater than the gold.  More importantly, to swear by the Temple, altar, or anything in it is to swear by God.

Part of what Jesus is condemning is deception, or, false swearing.  The Pharisees’ promises are like those of a child promising to do something while crossing his fingers, as though the crossed fingers make his promise invalid.  In reality he promises to do something, but his promise is a lie.

Woe five is in verse 23.  Here Christ condemns the Pharisees for being  meticulous in the small things while ignoring the big things.  He does not say the small things are unimportant.  He simply means that doing them while neglecting the bigger things is foolish and hypocritical.  It is like a man who prays every night, but cheats widows during the day in business.

Verse 24 is actually part of the fifth woe which began in verse 23.  It completes the point that the Pharisees concern with small matters makes them blind to great matters.  Here, however, our Lord seems to make the small points of God’s law a matter of difficulty.  They strain at them, like someone trying to get a gnat out of his mouth.  Yet they have no problem with the massive code of rabbinic regulations.  Compared to the small points of God’s law, which gives them so much trouble, their own regulations are like a camel.  But, though they strain at the gnat, they gladly swallow the camel.

Woe six is found in verses 25 and 26.  It concerns the Pharisees’ excessive worries about appearing outwardly pure, while remaining impure on the inside.  They would, for example, never think of not washing their hands before eating, according to their standard ceremony (Lk. 11:37-42)Yet their hearts are filled with plans for extortion and excessive self indulgence.  Christ says they (and we) should be much more concerned about being clean on the inside.  We should desire hands that are spiritually clean.

Woe seven, in verses 27 and 28, continues the same idea of pursuing real, inward purity rather than a false outward appearance of purity.  For this reason it is often considered as part of the sixth woe.  This would reduce the number of woes from eight to seven, making for the seven woes against the Pharisees.  Whether there are seven woes or eight really does not matter.  What does matter is that the Pharisees appear righteous to other people, but their hearts are full of hypocrisy.

Woe eight, verses 29-35 demolishes a favourite pretense of the Pharisees.  They love to say they would have been faithful in times when their forefathers forsook God.  They say they would not have killed the prophets, they would have stood with them for the truth of God (30).  Many today say they would have stood with Christ, the Apostles, and the martyrs, if they had lived during those times.  Maybe so, but perhaps we should ask for faith sufficient for life today, rather than boast about how great our faith would have been then. 

Jesus counters this with two points.  First He says this is an admission that they are “children of them which killed the prophets.”  Second, He says they will continue the very same sin.  They will persecute the prophets and wise men and scribes Christ will send to them with His Gospel.  They will kill and crucify them; scourge them in their synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (34).  He even reminds them of a man named Zacharias, slain near the altar of the Temple.  We know they crucified Christ.  We also know they followed Christians from city to city, hunting them down for the “crime” of believing in Christ.  Many died horrible deaths for Christ, literally fulfilling His words to the Pharisees.

Verse 35 marks a turning point in this confrontation.  Here Christ begins to include all of Jerusalem in the sins of the Pharisees.  He is saying the entire Jerusalem religious machine is corrupt.  Outward show has replaced inward Godliness.  Therefore, “all these things will come upon this generation” (36).

There is no joy in Christ’s remarks.  He speaks with a broken heart.  “[H]ow often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings” (37).  Under their mother’s wings is the safest place a chick can be. Any danger or predator will get the mother hen first.  Jesus would gladly take the danger and the wrath of God for Jerusalem.  He would have the people come to Him, but they would not.  They persist in their sin.  Therefore, He says, “your house is left unto you desolate.” He means first, they will be left in their desolate, empty corruption of the word of God, and in that corruption, they will die.  Second, He refers to the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  He will give more details about this in chapter 24.

Verse 39 does not refer to seeing Christ with their eyes.  It refers to seeing Him in faith.  Obviously the Pharisees continue to see Him with their eyes as the week continues.  They see Him before Pilate, see Him on the cross, see His lifeless body removed from the cross, and probably see it laid in the tomb.  But most of them will never see Him in faith.  Some will, but most will die in their sins and remain under His wrath forever.  Let us ensure that we see Him in faith, lest we also hear Him say, “Woe unto you.”

January 28, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, January 24-30

January 24

Gen. 34,  Mt. 15:21-39
Gen. 35, 1 Cor. 6


Matthew 15:21-39

The woman of Canaan is an important element in the Gospel of Christ.  At one time the Hebrews were told to destroy the Canaanites.  The hatred between the two peoples still exists in the time of Christ.  Yet Christ receives this woman and delivers her daughter from the devil.  In Him, the animosity and differences between people disappear.  All are shown to be sinners.  All are shown to be dogs, unworthy to gather the crumbs under His table.  Yet His mercy is for Jews and Gentiles alike.  Canaanites, Roman Centurions, Babylonian wise men, and Samaritans are all welcomed into His Church. His blood covers the sins of all who will believe, and unites them in one Family of Faith for all time.

Verses 29-39 record more of the miraculous power and grace of Christ.  He has compassion on the multitudes (32).  This compassion leads Him to give them their daily bread.  It also leads Him to lay down His life for them that they may eat of the Bread of Heaven.

January 25

Conversion of St. Paul

Acts 22:1-21
Acts 26:1-23

O God, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, haying his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

January 26

Gen. 37, Mt. 16
Gen. 39, 1 Cor. 7


Matthew 16

The Pharisees can discern the signs of the weather, but not the signs of the Messiah.  His signs are plentiful.  Healings, miracles, the testimony of John the Baptist, and Scripture all point to Christ.  But the Pharisees do not accept them, so they ask for a different sign.  Christ says they will only have the sign of Jonas (Jonah).  Simply stated, the sign of Jonas is the resurrection of Christ.  Jonah was in the fish for three days.  On the third he was freed.  Christ was in the grave three days. On the third He rose again. The resurrection is the sign Jesus will give the Pharisees, and they will even reject it.

It is the same today.  People reject the signs given and ask for new signs.  Some want miracles.  Some want audible and visible appearances.  Some want religious feelings and experiences.  “Give me these,” they say, “and I will believe in Jesus.”  But Jesus says the sign, Christ’s resurrection, has already been given to us.  So we do not need new and more signs; we need faith to believe the signs we have, especially the resurrection of Christ.

Thus, Jesus warns the disciples to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees.  Theirs is the doctrine of unbelief. Theirs is the doctrine of self-righteousness rather than forgiveness of sins.  Theirs is the doctrine of works rather than grace.  Their entire understanding of the Bible is wrong.  They have distorted it to make it appear to say things it doesn’t really say.

People still distort the Bible.  TV, radio, and local congregations have many “teachers” who distort the Bible, usually to draw larger crowds and make more money.  They are often very adept at quoting the Bible.  But, the fact that the words they quote are in the Bible does not prove that the Bible means what they say it means.  This is why it is important to have a basic understanding of the whole Bible, and to understand a verse or book in the context of the whole Biblical message. Like the disciples, the Church today needs to beware, for the leaven of the Pharisees is with us still.

The question posed to the disciples is the most important question that can be asked to a human being.  “But whom say ye that I am?”  Peter’s answer is the only correct one, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  It is doubtful that Peter understood the full meaning of his words, but they did express the truth about Jesus’ being and identity.

“Son” does not mean Jesus began to exist at some point, or that He was born or created in some mysterious way at a distinct moment in time.  Nor does it mean Jesus is a God, similar to, but entirely distinct from the Father. It means there is unity and harmony within God, who is one God in three Persons. It is impossible for human intelligence to understand this, and attempts to clarify it usually cause more problems than they solve.  Our Anglican Articles of Religion state it as clearly as can be done.

“There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.  And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Christ’s response to Peter has caused much conversation through the centuries.  Some claim Christ made Peter the human head of the Church.  But the Bible does not seem to give Peter the treatment due to a person in such a position.  Neither does the Apostolic and post Apostolic Church.  More than 200 years must pass before the Bishop of Rome begins to claim to be head of the entire Church.  Even then, his claim is quickly refuted by men like Cyprian.  In the latter half of the fourth century, Jerome refers to Peter as “Peter upon whom the Church was founded.”  But John Chrysostom, Jerome’s contemporary and Bishop of Constantinople, states that the “rock” of Matthew 16:18 is the faith of Peter’s confession, not Peter himself.  Doubtless, the Lord’s words also contain some reference to the men who will become His Apostles and founders of His Church, but they in no way establish a pope, or subjugate the other Apostles to Peter.

The keys to the Kingdom are two.  First is the Gospel of Christ, second is Biblical faith.  These alone open the door of the Kingdom to any person.  The authority to bind and loose is the authority to preach the Gospel and proclaim that those who believe it are loosed from their sins,  while those who reject it remain bound in their sins.  This authority is delegated, rather than personal authority.  It is given to the Apostles as ambassadors of Christ.

Verses 22-28 show Jesus telling the disciples about His forthcoming death.  It is interesting that Peter now is called Satan and an offense to Christ.  This is because he insists on telling Jesus how to be the Messiah.  He is instructing God on how to be God.  Christ uses this to instruct His followers how to be disciples.  They must take up their crosses and follow Him.  The world, which they wanted Him to give to them in a miraculous display of Messianic power, is worthless in comparison to their souls.  And it is the life of the soul Jesus came to give, not the life of worldly indulgence.

Seeing “the Son of man coming in his Kingdom” (28) refers to the beginning of the New Testament Church.  It is the era of fulfillment leading to, and including, the Return of Christ to reward every man according to his works.  Some of the disciples, though not Judas Iscariot, will live to see the inauguration of that Kingdom.

January 27

Gen. 40, Mt. 17
Gen. 41:1-36, 1 Cor. 8


Matthew 17

Six days after Peter’s statement about Christ, our Lord leads him, along with James and John to the top of a high mountain.  There the veil of flesh is partly removed, and they are allowed to see the Lord “transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.”

It is worth noting that the transfiguration reveals a small part of Christ’s own glory.  As the sun gives light, rather than reflects it, Christ’s glory shines from His face and raiment. The significance is that the One standing before the three men is the source of glory and power, not a reflection or apparition of it.

Moses and Elijah confirm this.  There to honour Him as God, Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, are symbolic of the Law and the Prophets.  What are they doing on the mount?  They are talking with Jesus, talking about “his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk.9:31).  They speak with Christ about what the Law and the Prophets could never do, but what they point to and wait for, the atonement for sin through the cross of Christ.  Their presence signifies their inferiority to Christ.  They represent the Law and the Prophets, which testify of Him.  He is come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets by His death and resurrection.

The confusion of the disciples is understandable, under the circumstances.  They think they are honouring Christ with Peter’s offer to build three tabernacles.  In reality they are giving Moses and Elijah equality with Christ.  Thus the voice from Heaven in verse 5 identifies Jesus as far, far above even Moses and Elijah.  Moses and Elijah are great gifts of God to humanity.  Through the Law comes the knowledge of God’s will, and the knowledge of our sin.  Through the prophets comes the hope of a Redeemer, a “Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.”  Yet, Moses and Elijah are mere men.  Christ is God.  He is the Law Maker.  He is the Redeemer. He is the Son of God.  This revelation is followed by the commandment, “hear ye him.”  As you have sought the law and prophets for the ways of God and the guide for life and salvation, now “hear ye him.”  It will be helpful to read Hebrews 1:1-3, and Hebrews 3:1-6 in conjunction with this passage.

Coming down from the mountain, Peter, James and John immediately see a multitude gathered around the other disciples, who are unsuccessfully attempting to cast out a demon.  Jesus quickly and easily dispatches the demon and rebukes the disciples, saying it is their lack of faith that prevents them from casting it out.  Their lack of faith is shown by their lack of prayer and fasting, for Christ Himself says that kind of demon is only cast out by prayer and fasting.

Our Lord is not invoking prayer and fasting as magic charms or spells to manipulate demons or anything else.  He is pointing out that the disciples do not have the faith to be faithful in the small things of prayer and fasting, thus, they should not expect to be able to do the great things.

The same kind of thing continues to happen today.  Christians neglect what we consider the small and mundane things, like prayer, and fasting, and seeking God in the Scriptures, and worshiping God in a Biblical church.  They crave the mountain top experiences rather than the daily routine of faithfulness.  Therefore, they are weak when they face the demons. Should we be surprised at this?

It is the same with what some call “serving God.”  They want the euphoric feelings, admiration, and high profile positions in the local church.  They don’t want the daily routine of changing diapers, mowing lawns, taking out the trash, and doing the things required of a being a Godly person in the home and at work.  How can we expect to accomplish great things if we will not be faithful in small things?

January 28

Gen. 41:37-, Mt. 18:1-20
Gen. 42:1-24, 1 Cor. 9


Matthew 18:1-20

Our Lord’s teaching here answers the question, who is the greatest?  The unspoken meaning of the question can be stated simply; “I want to be the greatest.”  In more contemporary terms we might say, “I want my greatness to be recognized in the Church.  I want my giving, my knowledge, my wisdom, and my talents to bring honour to me, especially from those who are younger and weaker in the faith (meaning, everyone).” But Jesus turns greatness around.  In His Kingdom greatness is not measured by accomplishments and fame.  In His Kingdom greatness is measured by service, and the lowliest servant is greater than the mightiest warrior.  In His Kingdom greatness is measured by dependence and trust, not by independence and accomplishments.  A little child is completely dependent.  It cannot provide for itself, feed itself, or defend itself from the elements or enemies.  Yet Christ tells us to become like a little child in His Kingdom.  This means we do not claim great status in the Kingdom of God.  We do not even claim to have any right to be in it.  We come to it more dependent upon God than a child is upon his parents.  In the ultimate sense, we cannot really give anything to God or contribute anything to His Kingdom.  We can only receive, like a child.

Lest we think we are great in the Kingdom, Christ reminds us to not only receive it as a child receives the necessities of life from his parents, but also to be careful not to harm those we view as little ones in the Kingdom (6).  It is common for those who believe they are mature in the faith to deal roughly with those of smaller, newer, weaker faith.  It is as though we forget that it took time and much help to bring us to our level of maturity, which is usually not as great in reality as it is in our imaginations.  It is as though we forget our many failures and lapses, and the sinfulness that even now clings to us.

Thus, Christ reminds us to deal gently with others.  This is so important He tells us to drown ourselves in the sea, cut off our hands and feet, and pluck out our eyes, if through them we cause offense to the weak.  It is better to enter Heaven halt, maimed, and blind, than to be cast whole into hell fire.

There seems to be an implication here that if we are not able to be gentle to those we consider weaker in faith, then we are not really in Christ.  Something is preventing us from coming to Him in genuine faith, and it will be good for us to expunge it from our lives rather than cling to it and suffer in hell.  That something is not really a hand, or foot, or eye, and our Lord is not literally telling us to cut them off.  None of us would have any left.  It is pride that our Lord speaks of.  It is self-righteousness.  It is the self-deceit that convinces us we are great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Pride, self-righteousness, and self-deceit are what we must cut away if we are to return to Christ as a needy child.

This truth is illustrated by the story of the Shepherd and the sheep in the wilderness.  Do we think we are valuable to God?  He will leave us to go into the mountains for one of these little, weak ones gone astray.  That’s how much He values the small and weak. 

January 29

Gen. 42:25-, Mt 18:21-35
Gen. 43:1-14, 1 Cor. 10


Matthew 18:21-35

The Church is much more than a group of people.  It is the Body of Christ, and every member of it is a member of Christ and a member of one another.  Our relationship to, and dependence upon each other is much closer and deeper than that of the members of our own physical bodies.  For just as our bodies are one, organic being, we who are in Christ are no longer just individuals, we are one, organic, spiritual body, animated by the Spirit and living with and under the direction of Christ, our head.  A drop of water may exist in isolation, but pour it into a lake and it is no longer a drop.  Its nature and identity has been transformed.  It is no longer Drop, it is Lake.  Likewise, the Christian is no longer Individual, he is Body.  Understanding this spiritual and organic unity of the Church is critical to understanding the words of Christ in Matthew 18, and, indeed, all of Scripture.  As with the first 14 verses of this chapter, verses15-35 are about Christ’s people functioning together as the Body of Christ.  It is about us having one identity, one Spirit, one Mind, and functioning together as one.  We could put it this way; the Church is the body of the Redeemed, therefore the Redeemed must act as the Body.  There is no Biblical warrant for independent churches or independent believers.  All are part of the one Body.

With that in mind we turn to Christ’s teaching on dealing with a member who trespasses against the Body.  The Greek word for “trespass” is very graphic.  It means to “sin into you” and it shows we are not talking here about small and silly things.  We are talking about things that cause real harm.  We are talking about gross immorality, mean and ill intentioned actions and remarks, and serious doctrinal error with no intention of correction or repentance.  Such a member must be lovingly dealt with for his good, and the good of the Body.

The first step in this is to personally meet with the person, honestly sharing your own concerns, and openly listening to his.  You may find out you were mistaken. You may even find yourself needing to ask forgiveness.  If no agreement is reached, and the matter still appears to be worthy of further action, you return to the person, with one or two neutral members of the Body, re-state your concern, and re-hear his.  If no agreement is reached, the matter goes to the Church.  This means you bring it to the minister for help.  If the person is found to be in error, serious error, and unrepentant, and if he continues in this condition, he is to be considered as belonging to the world instead of the Body.  The point is that those who are part of the Body will seriously view and conduct themselves as such.  Those who do not are showing that they are indeed not part of the Body, and cannot be regarded as such by the Church.

The binding, loosing, and agreement in verses 18 and 19 refer to the judgment of the Church.  They mean that the judgment of the Church, if in agreement with the facts of the case, and if in agreement with the teachings of Scripture, pronounce God’s judgment on the case.  This does not mean God simply affirms the Church’s judgment, for the pronouncements of mere men do not bind God.  It means the Church has affirmed God’s judgment as reveled in Scripture.  The Church, obeying Scripture, has bound or loosed what God has commanded to be bound or loosed.

Seventy times seven is considered an enormous number by the disciples.  Seven, representing perfection, probably meant to Peter that he has taken enough offenses from a person and is free to withhold further forgiveness.  Christ does not agree, and the seventy times seven probably refers to a never ending river of forgiveness intended to flow out of the heart of the Redeemed.  It is perfection times perfection times ten.

The parable of the unjust servant is meant to illustrate this.  The servant has been offered forgiveness, but will not forgive others.  He represents a person claiming to be a part of the Body, who wants God to forgive his sins, but does not want to forgive others for their offenses against him.  In this way he shows that he is really not part of the Body, and, unless he repents, God will deliver him to the prison of hell, where he will pay all that is due for his sin.  This meaning is made clear in verse 35, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.”

January 30

Gen 43:1-14, Mt. 19
Gen 44:13-, 1 Cor 11


Matthew 19

The Pharisees continue their opposition to Christ..  Part of their plan is to kill Him; part of their plan is to discredit Him.  Of course, discrediting comes first, for that will turn the crowds against Him, and give the Pharisees the pretext of having Him executed for heresy and blasphemy.  So they attempt to make Him alienate the people by asking Him about divorce.  Then, as now, people were self-centered, and had a difficult time making themselves love their spouses after the first excitement of hormones wore off.  So divorce was common, and people went from marriage to marriage.  If Jesus speaks against it, He will certainly alienate many people.  If He does not speak against it He will be guilty of breaking the teachings of Scripture.

Undeterred, our Lord gives the truth about marriage; one man and one woman for life.  That is God’s view of marriage, and it is as immutable as God Himself. Furthermore, He declares that marrying a divorced woman is adultery.  In other words, in God’s eyes, she is still married to her first husband.  The same is true of a divorced man, though our Lord deals here only with the woman due to the nature of the question He is answering.

There are circumstances that make divorce allowable, though not required.  Christ here mentions fornication.  That frees the spouse from the marriage.

Jesus blessing the children teaches an important lesson; children are never too young to learn of the Saviour’s love, never too young to learn to love and worship Him, never too young to be counted as part of the family of God.  “Suffer little children” means to allow them to come to Jesus.

Verses16-22 record the story of a young man who is called a ruler in Luke 18:18.  He is probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which directs the practice of Jewish faith during the time of Christ.  Nicodemus is a member of that body, and is called a ruler of the Jews in John 3:1.  It would be natural for such people to seek out Jesus at this point in Matthew, for He is teaching and ministering on the east side of the Jordan River, very near Judea and Jerusalem.  Though a Pharisee, the young ruler does not seem to oppose Jesus, yet he has the Pharisaical self-righteous attitude about him, and his words could be viewed as a challenge to Jesus.

Jesus’ words in verse 17, “there is none good but one; that is, God,” are a direct challenge to the Pharisaical view of righteousness by law keeping.  Yet the man states boldly, “All these things have I kept from my youth up.”  So Jesus shows him that his perceived righteousness is imaginary.  The true test of righteousness is what Jesus calls the first and great commandment, to love God with all thy heart, soul, and mind.  But this man loves his wealth and possessions far more than he loves God.  Thus, when told to sell all “he went away sorrowful” (22).  Thus the man is shown to be a sinner after all, for he loves his possessions and comforts more than he loves God.

Verses 23-26 reveal the stronghold earthly possessions often have over people.  The rich young ruler probably considers them proof of God’s acceptance of him.  But Jesus says they are heavy burdens that literally keep people from entering the Kingdom of God.  Like this man, we are prone to value our possessions over God. 

It seems to Peter, then, that no one can be saved, and Christ makes the very profound statement, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”  In other words, it is impossible for any of us to save ourselves.  Not only can we not atone for our sins, but we cannot make ourselves want to love God more than our possessions or ourselves.  Only God can save us.  Only God can change our hearts and cause us to seek Him in Biblical faith. The reassurance Christ gives to the disciples is that they will be saved. They have given up family, home, possessions, and all else to follow Jesus.  Their faith is in Him.  And Jesus promises that He will give them eternal life (25-30).