May 1, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, May 1-7

May 1, St. Phillip and St. James, Apostles

James 1:1-12
John 14:1-14

Collect

“O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life; Grant us perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the footsteps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

James, and his brother, John, were fisherman in the sea of Galilee before Christ called them to be His disciples. James, John, and Peter, comprised the inner circle of disciples.  They were with Christ on the mount of Transfiguration. They were also closest to Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. Stephen, the deacon, was the first Christian martyr, but James was the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom.  He was killed by Herod in an attempt to “vex certain of the church” (Acts 12:1).  James the Apostle is the author of the New Testament book of James.

Philip is best known for bringing his brother Nathaniel to Christ. In John 14, Philip makes the request, “Lord show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Christ responds with some of the clearest teaching of his divinity in the New Testament. Jesus says “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” He goes on to say “I am in the Father and the Father in me.”  Philip went on to faithful service to his Master as an Apostle in His Church.  It is believed Phillip ministered in Asia   Minor (modern Turkey) where he died a martyr by crucifixion.

James and Philip paid for their faith with their lives.  How different their faith is from the easy-believism, “take what you want and leave the rest,” cafeteria Christianity ideas that pass for  following Christ today.  We want following Christ to be easy and fun.  We want Him to enhance our happiness and personal security.  We don’t want Him to demand changes in our attitudes and behaviour, and we certainly don’t want to have to sacrifice our comforts and pleasures to follow Him.  We want Heaven, but not the cross.  Is it any wonder we are so easily overcome by the world?  Perhaps we would do well to give today’s Collect serious consideration, and seriously pray, “that, following the footsteps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

May 2

1 Samuel 1,  John 11:1-29
1 Sam. 2:1-21,  Romans 1

Commentary,

John 11:1-29

As chapter 11 opens, Jesus and the Twelve are east of the Jordan River, where they had gone after the Jews attempted to kill Him in 10:39-40.  Here, “beyond Jordan,” the Pharisees have no power to arrest Him, yet Jerusalem is an easy journey away.  Thus, hearing of Lazarus’ illness,  Jesus can quickly get to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, where Lazarus lives with his sisters, Martha and Mary.  The message that Lazarus is sick is an urgent plea for Him to come and heal him.  After all, Christ has healed many who were not close to Him, surely He will come and heal this beloved friend.  But He does not.  Rather than going to Lazarus to heal Him, which He could have done from beyond Jordan, He stays in place for two more days (6).  Why? To let Lazarus die.  Hard as it may be for us to understand, it is God’s intention to let Lazarus die so Christ’s glory can be revealed by raising Him up again.  As Christians, we need to understand that we exist for God’s glory.  Our prayers should always be that we may be willing for God to be glorified in us.  We need to be willing to be a Lazarus if that is God’s will for us.

The disciples demure when Jesus says, “Let us go into Judea again” (7).  They know the Jews are  lying in wait to capture and kill Jesus, so they don’t want Him to go, and they don’t want to risk their lives by going with Him.  Jesus’ teaching in verses 9 and 10 show, first, that time is limited for all of us, and we must accomplish what God has given us to do while we can, or, during the day.  Second, God is in control, and our days are in His hand.  Therefore, we cannot stumble (be taken by death) until our day is over.  Jesus knows His day will end on the cross at Passover.  Therefore, His enemies are unable to harm Him now.  We do not know when our day will end.  We only know that we are called to be faithful to the end. 

Verses 25 and 26 are the heart of the message of this chapter:  “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.”

They are puzzling words to Martha.  She is angry at Christ for not healing Lazarus, and her words in verse 21 are spoken in chastisement for His failure to heal him.  Her words in 23 and 27 show that she believes in the resurrection at the last day, but does not quite understand what Christ has to do with that event.  In her mind, Jesus is a great prophet, but still a mere man.  To her, He teaches the resurrection, but has no power to enact it.  Jesus’ reply says He is the event.  He is life.  He is the resurrection. He raises up the body at the last day, but He also raises the soul out of death in trespasses and sins to everlasting life in Him.  Whether we look at life in the physical realm, or the spiritual realm, He is the Source and Author of it (Ryle vol 4, p. 53).

Once again, the miracle Christ performs is a sign.  Raising Lazarus shows His power to raise the dead, and demonstrates that He truly is the resurrection and the life.  It is He who gives physical life and spiritual life.  It is He who raises us up to new life in Him, and He who raises our bodies to live again at the last day.  He raises Lazarus “to the intent that ye may believe” (15)


May 3
1 Sam. 2:22-36,  Jn 11:30-57
1 Sam. 3,  Rom. 2

Couldn’t this man, who has healed so many people, have also healed Lazarus?  That is the heart of the question in verse 37.  But there is another question in this verse, too.  Why didn’t He heal Lazarus?  It is implied that Jesus didn’t really love Lazarus, or if He did, He was unable to prevent his death.  Thus we see the age old charge puny man hurls against Omnipotent God, and which he uses to attempt to justify his sin and unbelief.  It can be summarised as; “if God exists, He doesn’t care enough to stop the suffering and sorrows of earth.  If He does care, He must be unable to stop them.  If He does not care enough, or if He is unable to stop the suffering, He is irrelevant to life on earth, and we should live as we choose, rather than as the Bible teaches.” 

Christ does not answer these charges. He turns to Martha and says, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?”  Martha still believes Jesus is a mere man.  But what she will see will not show the glory of a man, not even a man sent from God (Jn. 3:2).  Martha will see the glory of God raising the body of Lazarus to life again.

There is no question about Lazarus’ condition.  He is dead, as all will know when the tomb is opened (39)  There is no question about who raises Lazarus, for Jesus does not say, “In the Name of the Father, come forth.”  By His own power, and on His own authority as God, He Himself commands the dead man, “Lazarus, come forth.”

Hearing of this miracle, the Jerusalem elites meet to further their plans to kill Jesus.  It never seems to occur to them that this One who has power to raise the dead by His word, may also have the power to slay them with a word.  Nor does it occur to them that they should believe in Him, too.  Their only concern is that if He is allowed to continue His miracles, all Israel will believe in Him.

The Messianic view of these men mirrors the popular Jewish hope for a military leader, similar to Samson, who will lead the Jews in a war against the Romans.  Therefore, assuming Jesus is not the Messiah, they fear His actions will cause the Romans to make a pre-emptive strike against Israel, resulting in death and destruction to the land.  Caiaphas’ words in verse 50 mean he is quite willing to murder Jesus to prevent a Roman attack.


May 4

1 Sam. 4,  Jn. 12:1-19
1 Sam. 5, Rom. 3

Commentary,

John 12:1-19

The Passover in verse 1 is the  Passover in which the true Lamb of God is sacrificed.  His blood will secure His people’s freedom from sin and lead them to the Promised Land of everlasting life.  It is the Passover in which our Lord gives His life on the cross.  Almost half of John’s Gospel is devoted to the events and teaching of this last week of Christ’s “life,” and the events of His crucifixion and resurrection.

Verse 1 finds our Lord in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  At least sixteen people are in the house.  Martha is motivated by the rules of hospitality and her great love for Jesus, who is still a very mysterious figure in her mind.  She still thinks of Him as a prophet and teacher sent from God.  Like Nicodemus, she is sure no man could do the miracles Christ does, “except God be with him” (Jn. 3:2), but has no understanding of His real identity and mission.  She does not know He will be dead in less than a week.  So she busies herself with the daunting task of preparing a meal for the people.

Mary does not know this either.  She is simply listening to the teaching of the Lord.  Like Martha, she understands very little of it, and He remains a great mystery to her.  But she knows He is sent from God, and she is determined to sit at His feet and hear His wonderful message of a new world where all the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled, and people live in harmony and unity with each other and with God.  It is Mary who washes the Lord’s feet with costly ointment (3), causing Judas to complain (5).  Judas’ real motive is revealed in verse 6.  He is a thief, who would like to put some of the money into his own pocket.

Our Lord responds that Mary is doing this “against the day of my burying” (7).  Mary probably has no idea what He is talking about.  She is simply giving her best to the Lord and performing the lowly service of washing His feet.  But Jesus uses the incident to speak again of His burial.  The Lamb of God will go to the cross.  The Messiah will die.  The Good Shepherd will lay down His life for the sheep.  Mary is anointing His body for the grave.

It is important to note that the elites’ intention to kill Jesus, and Lazarus (10), in order to prevent the people from believing in Him (Jn. 11:48) actually leads some to believe in Him (11).  The  things that harden some people in unbelief lead others into faith.  Nothing can explain this except the grace of God working according to the counsel of His own will.

The “next day” of verse 12 is the Sunday before the crucifixion, which we still commemorate as Palm Sunday.  Those who line the streets and welcome Jesus into Jerusalem are mostly Galileans.  They are the same people who wanted to take Jesus by force and crown Him king in Jerusalem (Jn. 6:15).  They cheer because they believe He is going to assume the throne and start the war that will drive out the Romans and conquer the world for Israel.  They even call Him “King of Israel” (13).  Some of the people are from Jerusalem and the surrounding area.  They were either present when Christ raised Lazarus, or have believed in Him because they know of that miracle (17, 18).  They are just as confused about Christ as the Galileans, and they welcome Him to Jerusalem for the same reasons.  They are receiving Christ on their own terms, not His.

Jesus is, indeed the King of Israel.  But His use of the word in verse 15 means something very different from the people’s use of it.  He does come in judgement.  He does come to establish peace for His people, and to overcome their enemies.  But His Kingdom is a Kingdom of the Spirit, and He defeats His enemies by giving His life to save His people.  He does not come to revive the old Israel with worldly peace and prosperity.  He comes to create a New Israel of righteousness and faith.

Seeing the crowd adoring Jesus, the Pharisees are angered.  They share the Messianic misunderstanding of the people, and would gladly join them in welcoming Christ to Jerusalem, if He would conform to their Messianic view.  It is because our Lord rejects their view, and because He refuses to endorse their heresy and hypocrisy, that they reject and oppose Him.  But here, seeing the people welcome Him, they are angry and discouraged.  It seems to them that the whole world has gone after Christ (19).

May 5

1 Sam. 6,  Jn. 12:20-50
1 Sam. 7, Rom. 4

Commentary,

John 12:20-50

As the Pharisees reject the Messiah, Gentiles come seeking Him.  The Greeks (20) have come to worship at the feast.  They have seen the fallacy and hopelessness of the Greek religions.  They desire to worship the true God, whose love and faithfulness is revealed in the Bible, and who calls people to live in Covenant with Him.  They are Gentiles who worship the God of the Bible, but have not become Jews.  Therefore, they are allowed into the Temple court of the Gentiles, but not into the inner court where Jesus is speaking.  This is why they come to Phillip and Andrew.  They want them to go to Jesus and ask Him to see them (21).

The Lord does not go to them immediately.  In fact, the Bible never tells us He ever spoke to them, though we can hardly imagine that He would refuse them.  Instead, Jesus uses their arrival to further teach about the significance of His life and approaching death.  It is as though their arrival is a sign of the new era, when people of all nations and races will come to Christ, and the Kingdom of God will be defined by faith and obedience to Him, not by geographic or ethnic boundaries.  “The hour has come that the Son of man should be glorified” (23).

His glorification is not accomplished by defeating the Gentiles in military conflict.  It is accomplished by giving His life on the cross for the sins of the world.  He uses the planting of wheat to illustrate that His burial will be the means by which many, new grains of wheat (believers) will come into the Kingdom of God.  Burial here encompasses the entire life and ministry of Christ and is part of His glorification.  But, there is a sense in which the full glorification of Christ is yet to come.  His death is part of it, as is His ascension.  But His return, when He sets the world right again, and every knee bows and every tongue confesses that He is Lord, is His full glorification.

The first application of the words in verse 25 seem to apply to Christ Himself.  He will allow  His desire to avoid suffering and death to prevent Him from going to the cross, for that is why He came into this world (28, 28).  The second application is to those who would be His servants.  Notice that our Lord does not speak of being a Christian as a life-enhancing commodity, or a mere ticket to Heaven.  He speaks instead of belonging so completely to Him, and being so fully directed by His will we are like the slaves of the Romans.  We are His property and are constrained to do His will, even when it is inconvenient and uncomfortable, or costs our lives.  “Follow me” (26) refers to following His example of giving up His life.  We may not have to go to a literal cross, but we are to be living sacrifices while we live, and willing to sacrifice life, if necessary, in His service.  As Christ’s primary goal is to glorify the Father, ours is to glorify Him.

The voice (28) is not recognised by some of the hearers.  To them, it sounds like thunder.  Only a few hear the voice of God speaking, which Jesus says is for our benefit, to encourage us to believe and be faithful.

The results of the cross are given in verses 31 and 32.  The prince of the world, Satan, and all the forces of darkness are defeated and cast out, and Christ will draw all men to Himself.  Lifted up means to be raised up on the cross and refers to His crucifixion (33).  Being crucified, He opens the door to Heaven, and all are invited to enter through Him.

Now follows a short teaching about walking in the light, meaning, in Him, the light and life of men and the light of the world.  Apparently, most of His hearers reject Him, for verses 37-41 explain that they are spiritually blind like the people to whom Isaiah wrote and spoke.  Some  appear to believe (42), but their faith is really non-faith and non-sense.  Though they heard Him speak of the cross, hating their own lives, and following Him (24-27) they will not follow Him because they love their lives (the praise of men) more than the praise of God.

Verses 44-50 provide what is probably our Lord’s last public discourse before His death.  It seems to take place in the Temple on the day after the one recorded in verses 23-33, and is almost a summary of what our Lord has been teaching throughout His ministry.  Anyone desiring to know what Jesus believed and taught may find it encapsulated in these verses.  He repeats His claim to Divinity, saying: “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.  And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me” (44, 45).

He urges people to come to Him as to light in darkness, and to abide in Him while they have the opportunity. Bishop Ryle wrote of the duty of using present opportunities, saying:

“Our own time for getting good is short and limited; let us take heed that we make good use of it. Let us ‘Walk while we have the light.’ Have we Bibles? Let us not neglect to read them. Have we the preached Gospel? Let us not linger halting between two opinions, but believe to the saving of our souls. Have we Sabbaths? Let us not waste them in idleness, carelessness, and indifference, but throw our whole hearts into their sacred employments, and turn them to good account. Light is about us and around us and near us on every side. Let us each resolve to walk in the light while we have it, lest we find ourselves at length cast into outer darkness forever.”

Our Lord, Himself speaks of a day when such opportunities will pass out of the reach of many people.  Rather than the throne of grace, they will stand before the bar of judgement.  Instead of hearing, “enter into thy rest,” they will hear, “depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  Why should those who reject God now think He will accept them on that day?  The word, which Christ has spoken will stand against them on that day; “the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”

But the Lord ends His preaching ministry in mercy, not wrath.  To call the Lord’s commandment life everlasting (50) is to invite us to believe in Him and live.  For this is God’s commandment, that we believe in Christ.

May 6

1 Sam. 8,  Jn. 13
1 Sam. 9,  Rom.

Commentary,

John 13

The next several chapters of John are different from the other three Gospels. They are not different in theology, they are different in content. John omits much of what is found in the others, and includes things not found in them. John, for example, omits the Olivet Discourse and the institution of the Lord's Supper. After reporting some of our Lord’s shorter discourses, John  moves to Passover and the Lord's words in the Upper Room. This is the last Passover in our Lord’s earthly ministry.  In a matter of hours He will be dead.  Thus, chapter 13 begins by telling us Jesus knows the time has come for him to depart from this world and return to the Father.  John also reminds us why Jesus came, and why He is going to the cross; “having loved his own which  were in the world, he loved them until the end.” It is love, not force, which placed Jesus on the cross. It is love, not nails, that held Him there.

The supper of verse four is the feast of unleavened bread. The Passover will not be eaten until after dark. With the supper ended, the Lord God stoops at the feet of unworthy men, and, performing the service of a slave, washes their dirty feet. The washing is symbolic of the cleansing of their souls, which He will accomplish on the cross. It is also an example of the Christian life. Christ, the Master, has performed the service of a slave for His people. His slaves, who can never be greater than their Master, must also and always be servants of one another. In the words of our Lord; “ye should do as I have done to you.”

Verse 18 begins the story of Christ’s betrayal. Judas, one of the Twelve, the inner circle of Christ’s followers, is, in reality, not a follower at all. He is a thief, a false friend, and a traitor.  “That thou doest, do quickly” (27) is thought by some commentators to be telling Judas to make up his mind which side he is on. The time has come. He has made arrangements to betray Jesus, now he needs to decide if he will follow the plan or follow Christ.

It has been noted that the particular “sop” given to Judas was considered a special token of friendship and regard.  Thus, given a special honour, Judas is told to decide what side he will choose.  He chooses against Christ.  Some suggest that it is very appropriate that, when Judas went out, “it was night” (30).  As he went out from the presence of Christ, he went into, and gave himself to the spiritual darkness that had long troubled him.  Let us beseech God  to prevent us from doing the same.

The other disciples do not understand what is happening between Christ and Judas (28).  Perhaps they are distracted by thoughts of their own weaknesses and temptations.  Perhaps, like Peter, they are distracted by delusions of their own ability to withstand temptation.  But the Lord knows Judas’ heart.  When He says, “Now is the Son of man glorified (32), He is saying there is no stopping the cross now.  Judas will bring the Jews to Him, and they will murder Him on the cross.  There is no turning back.

The Lord has only a few hours left with His disciples, now, and He uses them to teach them and pray for them.   He starts by telling them to love one another “as I have loved you” (34).  He loves His own unto the end (1).  He loves them enough to go to the cross for them.  He loves them in spite of their stupidity, willful ignorance, unlovingness, and unlovableness.  That is the way we must also love one another.  Christians do not love one another because we think alike, like the same things, share the same values, or act like Christians.  We love one another in spite of the fact that we don’t always think or act like Christians.  We often imagine what the Church could be like if we all believed and practiced all that the Bible teaches.  Indeed, it would be Heavenly.  But none of us, including you, is anywhere close to that kind of faith and faithfulness.  But, when others in the Church, fail to live up to the ideal, we get angry and discouraged.  We consider them lower class Christians.  We treat them with distain, or leave their fellowship.  Many Christians, not worried about the beams in their own eyes, are overly critical of the motes in the eyes of others, and many have given up on the Church because the people don’t live up to the idealised Church of their dreams.  To love as Jesus loves, is to love in spite of faults, not because of perfection, otherwise, no one could love you.

Of course there is a time to denounce sin and heresy, just as there is a time to leave churches and denominations that are clearly and unrepentantly devoted to sin and heresy.  But most Christians do not divide over such things.  They fight over insignificant things, like where the piano should be placed.  May God have mercy.

Peter is blind to his own faults.  He is weak and cowardly, yet he believes himself strong and brave.  He will never desert Christ, not even if he has to lay down his life in the Lord’s service (37).  Or will he?  Jesus will soon lay down His life for Peter, but Peter will deny even knowing Christ.  Many others, convinced of the unmovable strength of their faith, have fallen far from God.  

May 7

1 Sam. 10,  Jn. 14
1 Sam. 11,  Rom. 6

Commentary,

John 14

We cannot say one verse or portion of the Holy Bible is deeper or more weighty than another, for each word of Bible is deeper and weightier than we can ever know while in this life.  A simple verse, like John 8:1, “Jesus went unto the mount of Olives,” expresses incredibly deep things, like the Incarnation, self-imposed limitations of Christ, and Divine purpose for being on earth and going to the Mount. But in some passages, the depth and weight are more easily recognised than in others.  John 14 is such a passages.  It looks simple, like a crystal clear pool, but we will never fathom its depths.  Libraries have been, written on the first six verses alone, and still there is more to say and more to know.  Thus, an intentionally brief and elementary commentary, such as this, must, of necessarily, give only the barest hints of its meaning.  We can say verse 6 is foundational to the chapter, and, there is a sense in which the rest of the Lord’s words in the chapter either lead us to it, or explain its meaning and application.

At first glance, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me,” is clear and obvious in meaning.  Building upon His comforting words that He leaves this world to prepare an abiding place for us in the Father’s house of mansions, Christ says He is the way to the house.   We understand that.  We know He is the way because He gives His life as the ransom and payment for our sins.  He is the way because He will come again to take us there Himself.  He is the way because, in Him all of the glory, grace, and truth of God stands before us in Human form, and God is the way to God.  We understand that He is the absolute and unchangeable Truth because He is God.  We understand that He is the source of all life, especially life in His house, for the very same reason, He is God.  That seems simple enough, but try to explain it clearly and fully, and we see how deep it really is.

Still, there can be no doubt about the Lord’s meaning here. The magnificence of the Triune God is beyond our ability to understand, but the point of verse 6 is that He is standing right here on this planet, in front of the disciples, and Jesus Christ is He.  If that is not clear enough, He states it again in verse 7, where Christ says if we know Him we know the Father, and again in verses 10 and 11, which culminate in the words, “I am in the Father, and the Father in me.”  Christ  is claiming to exist in the Father, and that the Father exists in Him, in such a way that they are the one and only God.  Yes, there is also a distinction between the Father and the Son, but that is not the Lord’s point here. Yes, the Holy Spirit is also a Person in this one and only God, but that is not Christ’s point either. His point is that He and the Father are One.  They are God.

Greater works (12) are not physical miracles like feeding the 5,000 or raising Lazarus. They are the miracles of feeding souls with the Gospel so they are brought into the Kingdom of Heaven, and people are raised from spiritual death to eternal life in Christ.  They are greater because Christ limited Himself in time and space as a man is limited, but His Church will grow beyond the boundaries of Israel, and will encompass people of many nations and races.  Souls saved through the ministry of the Church will far outnumber those saved when Christ walked the land of Israel.

Verse 16 promises the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to abide with the Church forever.  He will be with the Church when Christ has physically returned to the Father.  So we will never be without the presence of God.  Only now He will dwell in us instead of beside us, as when Christ dwelt among us.  One of the results of His presence will be the knowledge that Christ and the Father are one, and that we are in Christ and He is in us.  The Father is in Christ.  And, through the Holy Spirit, Christ is in us.

The result of the Spirit dwelling in us is holiness.  Those in whom He dwells keep  Christ’s commandments (21).  We no longer love sin with the same passion we had before.  We are ashamed of sin.  We try to shake it off, like ropes that bind us to Satan.  We attempt to replace sinful ideas and habits with Godly ones, as defined by the commandments of God.  Those who do this are the ones who are loved by God, and love Him in return.  Those who simply profess to love God, but make no progress toward holiness are deceiving themselves, but not deceiving God.


Judas, not Iscariot, asks why Jesus is revealing Himself to them but not to the world (22).  He still wants Christ to proclaim Himself King, and lead a war to drive out the Romans and conquer the world for Israel.  Jesus says He will reveal Himself to others, but not by taking command of an army and residing in the palace.  He will reveal Himself by coming to those who love Him, and show their love by keeping His commandments.  They will “see” Christ.  He and the Father will come to them and make their abode with them (23).  This will be accomplished by the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.  The Spirit, called, the Comforter, in verse 26, will teach them the things of God, and enable them to remember what Christ has said to them.  Now they must rejoice that Christ returns to the Father, rather than starting another war.  He will leave them with peace that is far different from the Pax Romana, or their desired Pax Israel.  They do not understand this yet, but the Spirit will have to teach them these things, for now Jesus’ time for teaching is over.  The disciples have already received far more than they can process now.  The time for action is come, and our Lord says, “Arise, let us go hence.”