April 16, 2016

Daily Scripture Readings and Commentary, April 17-23

April 17

Judg. 8:1-21  Jn. 2
Judg. 8:22-35 , 1 Peter 1


John 2

John 2 is beloved by readers and commentators because it can be divided into four recognizable sections, each telling its own story.  Verses 1-11 are about the beginning of Christ’s miracles.  12-17 show Christ driving the merchants out of the Temple.  13-22 tell of the Temple leaders disputing with Christ, and predict His death and resurrection.  23-25 show the reaction of the Jewish people to His words and miracles, as well as His reticence about their enthusiasm.

The miracle at Cana (1-11) is noted as the beginning of Christ’s miracles in Cana and Galilee. (11)  John passes over much, which has already been recorded in other Gospels, and moves straight from the public identification of the Messiah at His baptism, to His mighty works, and the peoples’ response.  The purpose of the wine is not to enable the people to have a drunken feast.  It is to enable the disciples to behold the glory of the Word who was made flesh, and to begin to believe in Him (11).  At the time, only the disciples, and the servants know about the miracle, though word of it surely spread rapidly.  There is no show about it, and no attempt by Christ to call attention to Himself.  His intention is obviously to encourage the disciples to be strengthened in their faith in Him by seeing His power in action.

The Word was not made flesh merely to perform tricks for people’s amusement, or even for their physical health and prosperity.  He is come to do spiritual work, and He goes into the Temple to restore some semblance of its purpose to it.  In so doing, He is claiming to have authority over the Temple, and even over the priests and high priest, who are the human custodians of the buildings and the liturgies.  The “Jews,” meaning the priests, recognise this claim, but do not accept it.  In verse 18, they demand a miraculous sign from Him, which He refuses to perform .  Instead He points to His resurrection as the sign for them and all humanity.  He speaks of the Temple of His body, which is much more truly the Temple of God than any structure built by men (Heb 9:11).  He says when they destroy it, referring to His crucifixion, He will raise it up in three days.  No one there understands His words at the time.  But, after His resurrection, the disciples remember and understand them, just as you and I understand them today (22).

Our Lord did other miracles in Jerusalem, which John does not list.  He moves from the miracles to the result that many believe in Him (23).  They believe He is the Messiah.  They believe He is come from God to bring in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and promises.  But they do not understand those promises, therefore, they do not understand Christ.  They follow Him to receive the miracles, and because they hope He will free them from Roman oppression, according to the popular messianic views of the time.  But Christ knows they do not believe in Him as the real Messiah.  He knows they will leave Him when He tells them the truth about Himself, and about themselves.  He knows they will join the call to crucify Him when He stands before them at His “trial.”  Therefore, He does not “commit Himself unto them” (24).  He does not allow their adulation of Him to deter Him from His mission, nor does He put any faith in them to be true followers.

It is no secret that many today try to make Jesus a mere healer or entertainer.  Many preach that about Him, and many follow Him to receive their miracles.  Be assured, Christ does not commit Himself to them.  He came to heal the soul, and only those who come to recognise Him as Lord and God of their lives and souls truly belong to Him.  

April 18 

Judg. 9:1-21, Jn. 3:1-21
Judg. 9:22-45, 1 Pet. 2


John 3:1-21

From the false belief of the general populace, and the open rejection by the priests and religious leaders, John moves to define true belief.  He does this by relating the encounter of Nicodemus with Christ.  After a few flattering remarks about Jesus, Nicodemus is confronted with the words, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  This must come as a shock to Nicodemus, who is one of the religious leaders of Israel, and he does not understand it.  But Christ is saying real faith is not merely recognising Him as a great teacher or prophet.  It is a work of the Holy Spirit, which enables a person to repent of sin, believe the Gospel, and devote himself to Christ as his Saviour and Lord and God.  When a person is thus enabled to believe in Christ, he is born into the Kingdom of the Messiah.

Verses 9-21 continue to contrast the false beliefs of the Pharisees with the true faith engendered in those who are born again.  False believers think they are accepted by God because of their good works.  They believe they are good people because they offer the appropriate sacrifices and keep the minute details of the Pharisaic code.  But, in reality, they are far from God.  Their faith is based on external acts, rather than an internal condition.  They fail to see the sinfulness in their hearts, which can gladly send an innocent Man to the cross.  They fail to see that their sacrifices cannot remove that sinfulness, or even that they need to have it removed.  It their own minds, they consider themselves good, and holy, and fully deserving of all the best God can give to them.  The result of such faith is seen in verse 15.  They will perish, spiritually, as those who died in the wilderness because of the serpent bites, perished physically (Num.21:6).  But those who repent and believe the Gospel are like those who looked in faith to the serpent Moses raised up in the wilderness.  That serpent is a symbol of Christ, and means  those who look upon Christ in true faith will not perish spiritually, but have everlasting life with Christ in Heaven (16).

April 19

Judg. 9: 46-57, Jn. 3:22-36
Judg. 10, 1 Pet. 3


John 3:22-36

Leaving Jerusalem after the conversation with Nicodemus, our Lord ministers in the Judean countryside (22).  The baptist is working in the area, and word comes to him that Christ and His disciples are also preaching and baptizing (26).

The question about purifying (25) probably centres on baptism.  Is John’s baptism just as true and effectual as Christ’s, or is there an essential difference between them?  If there is a difference, which is better?  We remember that John himself said Christ’s ministry was better than his, and that Christ will baptize with the Holy Ghost, while John merely baptizes with water (Jn. 1:15-18).  Of course, we understand that water baptism, including John’s, is symbolic of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which happens to the believer at conversion.  But the disciples of John do not understand this yet.  To them, the real issue is not which baptism is better, but that people are going to Jesus instead of John (26).

John ignores the question about purification, and turns to the real difference between himself and the Messiah.  His words reveal a deep understanding of the meaning and ministry of Christ, which goes far beyond the popular views of the people, and the scholarly studies of the priests and scribes.  John says people should go to Jesus instead of him.  He is glad people are going to Jesus (29, 30).  John has only come to prepare the way for the Messiah.  John is the one “sent before Him” (28).  He is not the Messiah.  Therefore, he must decrease in influence and popularity, while Christ must increase (30).  This is the heart desire of every true Gospel minister.

Verses 31-36 give some of the clearest teaching about the nature and purpose of the Messiah found in Scripture.  John must be a man of much prayer, as well as a true scholar of the Bible to  understand it so well.  Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, John understands that the Bible teaches that the Messiah is the Son of God, that all things are given unto the Son, and that the eternal destinies of all people rest upon their true belief and acceptance, or their rejection of the Son as Saviour, Lord, and God.

“Son of God,” as used in verse 35, refers to a spiritual, rather than physical relationship.  It does not mean there was a time when the Son did not exist, or that the Son was somehow conceived into being by an act of God the Father.  It means what we mean when we say, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  It is a statement of the full deity of Christ, and serves to further identify  the Word, which was made flesh and dwelt among us (see comments on John 1:1-14).

John understands that the Messiah is not here to fulfill Israel’s fantasy of world dominion and wealth.  He is here to bring people back to God in the fullest sense.  He is come to give eternal life with God in Heaven, not worldly peace and prosperity.  Those who understand and believe this, receive that everlasting life.  Those who reject it, “shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (36).

April 20

Judg. 11:1-28, Jn. 4
Judg. 11:29-40, 1 Pet.4


John 4

Verses 1-42 tell the beloved story of “The Woman at the Well.”  The Pharisees have already begun to oppose Jesus.  They were offended when He cleansed the Temple (Jn. 2:13-22), and they demanded a sign to show His authority to do it.  Before that, they were offended by John the Baptist (Mt. 3:7).  Therefore, they naturally oppose anyone John identifies as the Messiah.  So, when they hear Jesus is teaching and baptizing in the country around Jerusalem (1, 2), their opposition becomes more intense.

In due time, Jesus will confront them publicly.  At that time He will expose their hypocrisy and false understanding of Scripture.   For now, He has more important things to do, so He returns to Galilee (3), where He will conduct most of His ministry.  Samaria lies between Judea and Galilee.  Because the Samaritans are noted for their corrupt faith, and the moral/cultural corruption, which is the natural result of a corrupt faith, most Jews will not travel through Samaria.  But Jesus, “must needs go through Samaria” (4).  He has an appointment, made before the world was created, to bring the Gospel to a woman who is lost and dead in sin.

He meets the woman at the well of Jacob near the town of Sychar (5), and begins the conversation by asking the woman to give Him water to drink.  From there, He swiftly moves to offering Living Water to her.  The Living Water springs up inside a person.  It is water that nourishes and heals the soul, and those who drink it receive everlasting life from it (14).

The Living Water is Christ, and all the ways and means He gives to reveal himself to us and draw us to Himself.  The Bible, the Church, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism are part of that river of Living Water.

The woman argues, and Christ reveals that He knows all about her sin (16-18).  Her sin does not consist merely of adultery, though that is bad enough.  Her sin is a life-style of neglecting the things of God, and indulging her own ideas and desires.  Adultery is only part of that life-style.  Yet, like the tree of Eden, her sin has not given the joy and freedom she expected.  Instead she has reaped sorrow and disillusionment.  We can only imagine the hurt, anger, and brokenness this woman feels due to the break up of so many relationships.  

Her life-style of sin is evident, in spite of her religiousness, which is shown by her sketchy knowledge of the Bible, and her hope in the Messiah (19, 25).  It is very important to see that it is possible to be a religious person, to go to Church, and to have some knowledge of the Bible, yet still have an attitude and life-style which does not accept and live close to God and according to His will.  It is possible to be religious, but only accept God on your terms, instead of His.  Such people demand that God change His commandments and nature to accommodate their desires and ideas of what He ought to be like.  But God demands that we change our desires and ideas to accommodate ourselves to Him.  Refusal to do so is sin, no matter how many nice, religious things we may also be doing.  Whatever else the words, “in spirit and in truth” (23) mean, surely they convey the stark reality that the true worship of God consist of a humble and contrite spirit that willingly seeks and does His will, and honestly accepts and devotes ourselves to Him according to His truth revealed in the Bible, not according to our own ideas of what we want Him to be like. 

The result of this meeting is the conversion of the woman, along with many others in the town of Sychar (31-42).  It is interesting that the Samaritans believe in Christ as the Saviour of the world (42).  They realise He has come to save souls.  Very few Jews understand this during the Saviour’s time on earth.  At this time, even the disciples don’t understand it, but the Samaritans do.

Back in Galilee (45), our Lord is welcomed by the people, who saw His miracles and heard His sermons at Passover in Jerusalem (45).  The words to the nobleman, in verse 48 are an inditement of the majority of people, who want signs, in order to believe in Christ, or miracles to relieve their suffering.  The nobleman already knows Christ can heal his son, but he probably has no real understanding of who Christ is, or what His mission is.  It is only when he receives word from his servants that his son is well (51, 52), that he truly believes in Jesus (53).

April 21

Judg. 12, Jn. 5
Judg. 13, 1 Pet. 5


John 5

Our Lord travels again to Jerusalem for “a feast of the Jews.”  Many believe the feast is Passover, but 6:17 seems to indicate it was something else.  Certainly, our Lord could have gone for any of the annual feasts.  While in the city, our Lord has mercy on a man who has been paralysed for thirty-eight years.  No word is given about how he came to be paralysed, but the Lord warns him to sin no more “lest a worse thing come unto thee” (14).  Thus we see that his own personal sin is at least partially responsible for his condition.  This is an important point.  There is a general malaise of the world, which is the result of our collective sin.  Natural disasters, interpersonal and international strife, disease, and a general misery are all part of this malaise.  But there are also individual and specific  results of sin, which can only be understood as punishment for our personal sins.  Often this comes to us in the form of the natural  consequences of our actions.  A person who jumps out of a second story window can expect to get hurt as a natural consequence of jumping.  A person who lives in opposition to the way of peace and harmony, taught in the commandments of God, can expect to reap strife and discord as the natural consequences of his sin.  But, sometimes, God actually causes something to happen, as a direct punishment for sin, and this appears to be the case in this man’s life.  We do not know exactly how or why this man is paralysed, but we do know his sins have not brought him pleasure and joy.  Like the woman at the well in John 4, his sins have brought him sorrow and brokenness.

The Jews, mentioned in verses 10, 15, and 18, are not the Jewish people.  They are what we might call, the “elite.”  They are the people in power in the Jewish culture.  They are the people who have worked themselves into the leadership positions of Israel’s financial political, and religious institutions in order to use them to increase their own social and economic security.   They have created an elaborate and burdensome code of rules, which they impose on the people, but do not keep themselves.  The code originated as a way to help the people keep the commandments of God, but by the time of Christ, it is often used to control the “flock” so the “sheep” are easier to fleece.

Thus, seeing the palsied man, now well and carrying his blanket home, they accost him to demand why he is carrying a burden on the Sabbath.  This causes real fear for the man, for these men have the power to have him beaten or stoned.  They also have power to expel him from the synagogue and the Temple, which is the same as expelling him from Israel.  Such a man is considered a Gentile, and outside of the promises of grace God has made to Israel.  In New Testament language, we would call him, “lost.”

The context of the passage seems to indicate that the “Jews” are not as interested in the Sabbath as they are in their own position of authority.  They appear to have no concern for him, nor do they rejoice that he is well.  What they are doing would be called “bullying” if it were happening among children.  The fact that it is being done by adults makes it a crime of oppression and abuse.

When they learn that Jesus healed the man, and told him to take his “bed” meaning, blanket, home, they do not rejoice that the Lord has had mercy on the man.  They make plans to kill Jesus, who confronts them openly, and exposes their hypocrisy and lack of understanding of the ways and purpose of God (19-47).

Verse 18 gives a secondary reasons for opposing Jesus.  The first is that He is a threat to their position and power.  But they cannot openly oppose Him on those grounds without exposing their sin. He has, after all, been identified as the Messiah by John the Baptist, who was universally accepted as a true prophet of God.  So they invent reasons to oppose Him.  They accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath by healing the man on the Sabbath.  In other places, the Lord will show that doing works of charity and necessity on the Sabbath are allowed and encouraged by the law, as these men already know.  But, in this confrontation, Christ deals primarily with their accusation that calling God His Father makes Him equal with God.

The Lord responds to this charge by acknowledging its truth.  In fact, He enlarges upon, and clarifies the fact that He and the Father are one.  Verses 19 and 20, along with verse 30, show that Christ and the Father act as one.  21-29 also show that Christ shares the nature and abilities of God.  He has life in Himself, not merely as a derivative from God, as mere creatures have (21, 27).  He has authority to judge humanity as only God has (22-30). 

Naturally, the Lord proves His case from Scripture.  In 39 we find the strongest support for His claim that He is in fact God, the Word become flesh.  He says the Scriptures, by which He means the Old Testament, especially the law, which these men know and distort for their own advantage, “testify” of Christ.  Jesus is not blaspheming. He truly is God, as shown in the clear teaching of the Bible, which these men profess to believe.

Jesus is making an important point: though these men are devoted to the Bible, and though they profess to know and love it, they do not understand it.  Jesus says they  do not have His word abiding in them.  They search the Scriptures, thinking they find in them eternal life, but, they miss the one essential point of Scripture, that they testify of Christ. (39).

April 22

Judg. 14, Jn. 6:1-21
Judg. 15, 2 Pet.1


John 6:1-21

“After these things,” (1) refers to the events in Jerusalem in chapter 5.  How much time has elapsed between them and chapter 6 is unknown, but the miracle happens during “the great Galilean ministry,” when our Lord spent most of His time and energy ministering in and around Galilee. Debate about which Passover is meant in verse 4, has consumed many hours of scholarly research and discussion, but John does not take time to clarify it.  He quickly moves to the main point of the passage; the miraculous feeding of the multitude.  Verses 1-21 tell of the feeding, and Christ walking on the water, which are also told in other Gospels.  Verse 25 is where the meaning, and it is very profound, begins to be explained to the people and to us.

The miracle is well known, even in this time of Biblical illiteracy.  The people have followed Jesus to a place devoid of places where they might buy food, so Jesus takes the lunch of a small boy, consisting of a couple sardine sized fish and crackers, and makes it feed a multitude of more than 5,000 people.

Tomorrow’s reading will give Christ’s teaching on the meaning of this miracle.  Therefore, let us spend a moment discussing what it does not mean.  It does not mean God will always feed you, or perform a miracle to supply your desires or physical needs.  It does not mean that, if you give a “seed” offering to Christ, He will multiply it back to you.  It does not mean that if you have enough faith, or ask in the right way, or give enough money to a TV preacher, God is going to miraculously give you money, heal your illness, or fix your economic/family/marital problems.  It is not Scriptural proof of any of the tenets of the health and prosperity or word of faith gospels currently taking over many churches, especially the mega-churches.  It is a sign of the Bread of Life that comes down from Heaven.  It is a sign of the Word who became flesh, and of the eternal reconciliation to God He came to give.

The people are already aware that Jesus can heal diseases, but when they find He can also feed them, they determine to take Him by force, and make Him their king (15).  Bishop Ryle’s comments explain their intent and Christ’s response.

“The intention or wish was probably to place Him at their head, and proclaim Him their king, with or without His consent, and then to hurry Him away to Jerusalem, so as to arrive  there at the Passover feast, and announce Him as a Deliverer to the crowd assembled at that time. - The idea evidently in their mind was, that one who could work such a mighty miracle must be a mighty temporal Redeemer, raised up like the Judges of old, to break the bonds of the Romish government, and restore the old independence and kingdom to Israel. There is no reason to suppose that there was any more spiritual feeling in the minds of the multitude. Of sense of spiritual need, and of faith in our Lord as a savior from sin, there is no trace. Popularity and the good opinion of excited crowds are both worthless and temporary things.” 

April 23

Judg. 16:1-20, Jn. 6:22-71
Judg. 16:21-31, 2 Pet. 2

“The following day” (22), refers to the day after the feeding of the five thousand.  Jesus has returned to the Capernaum area, and the people He fed have also come there seeking Him (24).  What is their motive for seeking Jesus?  What do they want from Him?  Are they repenting of sin and trusting Him as Lord and Saviour?  No.  They seek Him for two reasons.  First, they want fed again.  It is breakfast time, and they are hungry.  Food is less common and more expensive in their time than in ours, and a free meal is a valuable thing.  So they hope Jesus will feed them.  Second, they still retain the hope of making Him their deliverer/king (15).  A king who can heal the sick and feed the nation is a very desirable benefit to them. Thus, Jesus says, they seek Him not because they saw (and understand the meaning of the) miracles, but because they, “did eat of the loaves and were filled” (26).  They want more food.  Jesus only has value to them as a source of healing, food, and national security.

Nothing has really changed over the centuries.  People still go to Church for entertainment or because they hope to receive a “miracle.”  Some come to Christ to be “saved” from Hell, but they still intend to live in the same old patterns of sin and un-Godliness.  They want to go to Heaven, but  they don’t want God.  Such people will aways abound.  Please don’t be one of them.

The heart of Jesus’ message is found in verses 35-51.  Our Lord is telling all humanity that He did not come to earth merely to work miracles and provide food.  He came to be the Bread of life that gives food and life to the soul.  He came to raise people up out of their sin and despair, out of the wrath of God, and out of the destiny of Hell.  He came to raise people up into goodness and justice, the confidence of Heaven, and the love of God and Godliness.  He does this by giving His life on the cross (51).

Some people truly come to Christ in Biblical faith.  These people trust in Him as their Saviour, and commit themselves to Him as their Lord and God.  They begin a new life of Godliness, of loving God with their whole being, which necessarily includes a genuine, life-long commitment to living and thinking as God wants them to.  To these people, Christ says, “him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (36).  These, and only these people, are assured of a great welcome from God.  They are the ones who eat the Bread of Life, and they are the ones Christ raises to new life now, and to eternal peace on the last day.

Just as in our own time, most of those who followed Christ in His own time were disgusted by His words, and turned away from Him (64-66).  When following Jesus seems to promise worldly prosperity, when worshiping Him seems to be like a party, when our minds imagine Him as we want Him to be, rather than as He really is, people follow Him gladly and en mass.  But, when they finally hear His real message, and realise what it means to them, and what it requires of them, the vast majority of them turn away from Him.  The people in Galilee have begun to see that Jesus is not going to be the kind of Messiah they want.  He is not going to give them breakfast, be reduced to a miracle worker, or free Israel from Rome.  Instead, He is talking about giving His life so they can have eternal life.  They don’t understand His words, and they don’t like them, so they just leave.  It is not just the masses who leave.  Verse 66 tells us many of His disciples “went back, and walked no more with Him.”  These are people who have been close to Him, and seemed to understand His message and believe in Him accordingly.  But they are false believers.  In their hearts they are no different from the Pharisees, or even the Romans who will nail Jesus to the cross.  They appear to be first in faith and loyalty to Christ.  In reality, they are last.

It is no different today.  Many who appear to follow Christ are really following their own ideas of what they want and imagine Christ to be.  If they ever begin to understand His real message, they will turn away from Him.  Thus, Christ’s words to the twelve are as relevant today as they were then: “Will ye also go away?”  Will you follow Christ only as long as it is convenient?  Will you follow Him only as long as He appears to conform to your ideas and hopes?  “Will ye also go away?”  Or will you turn from your sins, and your false hopes and ideas, and embrace Him as He really is?