September 2, 2014

Week of September 1-6

Monday

Morning - Ps. 71, 1 Sam. 31, Lk. 21:20
Evening - Ps. 77, Nahum 1:3-1, 15, Rom. 8:18-27

Commentary, Romans 8:18-27

We have been reading about justification and sanctification.  These have been the theme of Romans to this point.  Justification is simply God's regarding us as righteous on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  It has been a major point of Romans to show that God does not regard us righteous on the basis of our attempts to live up to the moral/ethical standards of Biblical law.  Our attempts to live up to these standards have been miserable failures.  As we measure ourselves by the Biblical law we see that we have not earned God's favour by keeping His law; we have earned His displeasure by breaking His law.  But God has taken all His displeasure at our sin upon Himself in Christ, and He counts us as righteous and just if we believe in Christ and trust His sacrificial death to make us right with God.  That is justification by grace through faith, often called, simply, justification by faith.  In less theological terms, Christ took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them on the cross.  He offers forgiveness of sins to all who will receive it from Him as His gift to us.  Thus, forgiveness is justification, and the act of receiving it from Christ is faith.

Justification is not the end of the Christian journey, it is the beginning.  Having been justified, we enter into a life-long pattern of growing more Godly in our thoughts and actions.  We begin a life style of growing in holiness.  In more theological language, we begin the process of sanctification.  This is also accomplished by God for us.  It is the result of His Word and Spirit working in us through the means of grace, restructuring our values, desires, ideas, and every other aspect of our being.

Now Romans turns to the end and result of justification and sanctification.  We call this, "glorification."  Glorification refers to the future blessing of all believers, when the trials of life are over and we find ourselves in that place of perfect bliss with God forever.  One of the most wonderful things about Heaven is that our sanctification will be complete.  We will be completely remade, so that all of our being lives for God, and can never be turned aside to sin again

This hope, according to verse 18, makes the battles and sorrows and persecutions of earth bearable.  More than bearable, they become insignificant, when compared to the final happiness the Christian will know in Heaven.  The two cannot even be compared.  They are like apples and oranges, or life and death, or Heaven and earth.

Paul illustrates this with the present and future states of the physical universe.  The "creature" in verses 19-22 refers to the entire physical creation (in the Greek New Testament, the same word is used throughout these verses, but it is translated as “creature” in verses 19, 20, and 21, and as “creation” in verse 22).  He says the created order waits for the revelation of the sons of God (8:19) This means the entire created order looks forward, (to use a little personification) to the day when those who are justified and sanctified will be shown in their final state of glorification.  Why?  Because in that day, when all of the purpose and plan of God for His Church is completed, the whole created order will be delivered from the current condition of corruption (8:21).

We live in the hope and anticipation of that day.  We are even seeing some of it already. We live in the beginning of the age of fulfillment in which the promises of the Old Testament are beginning to be fulfilled.  We live in the age of Christ.  We live in the era of His Church.  Even within ourselves we see God at work bringing us toward this fulfillment.  But we do not live in its complete fullness yet.  It is a hope that is not fulfilled yet (8:24), but our justification and sanctification give us confidence that our God will bring it into full reality.

Meanwhile, we have the Holy Spirit within us.  The Spirit helps our infirmities, our weaknesses, our small faith.  He helps us pray, with groanings too deep for words (8:26).  He intercedes for us according to the will of God (8:27).  The Spirit is the foretaste of that day when our sanctification will be complete, and we will dwell in the immediate presence of God forever.
                                                     
                                                              
Tuesday

Morning - Ps.73, 2 Sam. 1:1-16, Lk. 22:1-13
Evening - Ps.78, Nahum 2, Rom. 8:28

Commentary, Romans 8:28-39

Reading this passage in Romans requires us to look back at Rom. 8:18: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."  Everything in tonight's reading is written to support and prove the point stated in 8:18.
               
It is to prove verse 18 that Paul makes the great statement in 8:28, "all things work together for good to them that love God."  There are several reasons why all things work together for our good.  First, they develop Godliness in us.  The course of life shapes us into the people God wants us to be.  As James puts it, "the trying of your faith worketh patience" (Jas. 1:3), and as Paul states it in Romans 5:3&4, "tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope."  Second, the trials and disappointments of life teach us to look for our greatest treasures in Heaven rather than earth.  In Heaven, moths and rust do not corrupt our goods, and thieves cannot steal them away (Mt. 6:20).  But the greatest good that can come from our experiences on earth is the realisation that God is greater than all our problems, and even greater than all our worldly pleasures.  They "are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." It is as we realise this more and more that we fix our hope and peace on God.  In this way, all things work together for our good.

In support of the premise in 8:18, Paul offers the statements in verses 29 and 30.  Many stumble over the word "predestination," but we need not allow it to cause us grief.  It is, after all, a Biblical word.  Some people see this word and make it the sum and total of their understanding of the Bible.  Others ignore it altogether.  Neither is correct.  Obviously the God of all creation is moving the created order toward His pre-determined goal.  That goal, equally obviously, includes people.  Rather than letting this cause us heartburn, let it do as Paul meant it to do, assure us that our lives and souls are in the hand of God, who is preparing us to dwell with Him in Heaven forever. Compared to this, the problems and troubles of earth seem very small and trivial.

Romans 8:29 and 30 are simply more support for the conclusion of 8:18, and lead us to the question in 18:31,"if God be for us, who can be against us?"  He gave His Son for us, will a few problems on earth prevent Him from giving us all the things He intends to give? (8:32). He has justified us, can any charges against us stand up in His court? (8:33). Christ died and rose again for us, is anything able to separate us from that kind of Divine love? (8:34). The answer is a resounding, "NO!"  None of the sufferings of this present time are able to separate us from His love, or take from us our place in His Kingdom of grace.

Verses 35-39 offer a frightening array of the "sufferings of this present time."  None of them can prevent God from completing the work He has begun in us.  None of them can prevent those, whom He has justified and is sanctifying, from being brought into the full and final sense of the salvation Christ died to purchase for us.  In all of these things we are more than conquerors, for Christ will infallibly bring us to the promised joy of Heaven forever.

Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 67, 101, 2 Sam. 1:17, Lk. 22:14-30
Evening - Ps.85, 98, Nahum 3, Rom. 9:1-33

Commentary, Romans 9:1-33

Romans 9 returns to a topic introduced in chapters 2 and 3; the relationship between the Jewish people and the teaching of justification by faith.  It is a major intention of the book of Romans to show that all people in all times and all places have only one way to be made acceptable unto God; they must receive it from Him as a gift.  No human being is able to earn it for himself, a fact proven by the law, which shows our many breaches of the standard of God's perfect righteousness (Rom. 3:20).  Thus, all are guilty before God (Rom. 3:19) whether they are Jews or Gentiles, "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23).

It is incorrect to think people in Old Testament times were made acceptable unto God through the rituals and sacrifices of the Old Testament law.  They, like all people, committed sin, and the rituals and sacrifices could not atone for them.  Furthermore, it was just as possible for an Old Testament Jew to go through the ceremonies without meaning them, as it is for a person to go through the service of Holy Communion without meaning it.  Without faith, neither has any benefit.  The system of sacrifices and rituals was a symbol of our Saviour Christ, who suffered death on the cross for our redemption, and "made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world" (Holy Communion, p. 80). His sacrifice makes us acceptable to God (justification), which we receive by trusting Him to make us acceptable (faith).  "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). This has been the major theme of the book of Romans to this point.  In chapters 9-11, Paul returns to the Jews to show in more detail how this truth applies to them.

To understand this, we need to grasp a principle that permeates the Scriptures.  I have previously spent much time talking and writing about it, so I will not take much of your time to restate it tonight, but it is important, so I will take some time.  The principle is that the Bible meets its full meaning in Christ.  This means things like the Temple and the Old Testament sacrifices find their full meaning in Christ, who gave His life as an offering for our sin.  It goes even deeper than this, for even Israel is a symbol of the future scope of the Kingdom of Christ, which will include people from all nations and races and backgrounds, not just Jews.  In other words, the promises given to Israel in the Old Testament find their full meaning in Christ and in the Church of the New Testament.  The Church is the new Israel.  It is the continuation of the work of God on earth by which He brings people unto Himself in Christ (Rom.9:23-26).

This means Jews were not "saved" just because they were Jews.  This is the point of verses 6 and 7, "they are not all Israel which are of [natural children of] Israel [Jacob]: neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children."  Jacob and Esau are given as examples of this in 9:10-13.  Jacob was "saved," Esau was not.  The entire point of these verses is to show that being born into the Jewish nation does not mean a person is born into the Kingdom of God.  Keeping the ceremonies and rituals of the Old Testament did not make a Jew a child of God.  Imperfect attempts to keep the moral and ethical law of the Old Testament did not make a Jew a child of God.  Only faith made a Jew a child of God and a member of the true Kingdom of God (9:31-33).  Faith is trusting God to make you acceptable unto Him through that one sacrifice the Old Testament pointed to; the Son of God who gave Himself as the ransom for many, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.

Thursday

Morning - Ps. 92, 2 Sam. 4:1-12, Lk. 22:13-46
Evening - Ps. 90, Hab. 1:2-4, 12-2:4, Rom 10

Commentary, Romans 10:1-21

Chapter 10 of Romans continues the theme of the relationship between Jews and the doctrine of justification by faith.  The major point made is that the Jews also, even in the Old Testament, were always justified by faith, never by the works of the law.  This had to be so because, first, no one could actually keep the law perfectly, and, second, and more importantly, because the true religion of the Old Testament is about the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law.  We can state this in different ways.  We can say the true Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly in his relationship to God, not outwardly in his cultural ceremonies.  We can say God wants religion of the heart, not a religion of works.  Either way, we are expressing an essential point of Romans, and the Old Testament, that the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament were never meant to be ends in themselves; they were always means by which God drew His people to Himself and by which their faith was expressed.  They were very much like the means of grace in the New Testament Church.  We read the Bible, for example, in faith, not just to mechanically accomplish a duty.  Likewise, the believing Jew of the Old Testament era offered his sacrifice in faith.  He knew the life of that animal could not really atone for his sin, but he had faith that God was going to receive him and accept him and bless him, and his faith was counted for him as righteousness, just as it was for Abraham.  The average Jew could not have said, "a Virgin named Mary will have a child in Bethlehem, and He will be the Son of God, and He will die on the cross as the Lamb of God, and He will take away my sins, and this lamb that I am offering is a symbol of Him."  But he did know his sacrifice pointed to something God was going to do that would atone for his sins, and that God was going to accept him on the basis of that Greater Sacrifice. He believed this in faith, and God counted him as just. Thus, the believing Jew looked for a righteousness apart from the law, given as the gift of God and received by faith.

But the unbelieving Jews, especially the leadership, perverted the true meaning of the law from a covenant of grace to a covenant of works by which merely performing the outward ceremonies made one acceptable to God.  They assumed the words of Moses in Leviticus 18:5 meant they could earn the pleasure of God just by performing the ceremonies (Rom. 10:5).  Thus, they lived and thought in very unGodly ways, but were careful to do all that the ceremonial law required, and they thought they were righteous because of their law keeping.  This is the point made in Romans 10:2-5.

Verses 6-13 return to God's way of making sinners righteous; justification by faith.  It is not our efforts but God's grace that cancels our sin and makes us acceptable to Him.  We do not need to go on a mighty quest, to ascend into Heaven or descend into Hell to find the way to God.  God has already come to us.  We don't have to hunt for a word from God; the word is "nigh thee."  All we have to do is receive it in faith.  The word is, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (10:9).  It doesn't matter if we are Jews or Greeks, meaning, Gentiles (10:11-12), "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (10:13).

The great tragedy is that many of the Jewish people will not call upon Him.  Verses 14 and 15 ask rhetorical questions that lead to the conclusion of verse 16, "But they [the Jews] have not all obeyed the gospel."  Verse 18 reiterates this, asking, "Have they not heard?" Then, answering its own question, it says, "Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world."  Gentiles have heard and believed (10:19 & 20), but Israel has heard and turned a deaf ear.  As verse 21 says, "All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."


Friday

Morning - Ps. 94, 2 Sam. 5:1-10, Lk. 22:47-62
Evening - Ps. 103, Hab. 2:9-20, Rom. 11:1-21

Commentary, Romans 11:1-21


Still continuing the issue of the relationship of the Jews to the doctrine of justification by faith, Paul poses an important question in Romans 11:1: "Hath God cast away his people?"  This is important because Paul has been writing about election and predestination and the foreknowledge of God, and the issue at stake is, if these things are true, yet the majority of Jews reject Christ, then hasn't God rejected Israel, and doesn't that make Him a liar?  For if He said He elected and preordained Israel to be His people, and now they are not, then, God is either unwilling or unable to fulfill His promise.  Either way His willingness or ability to keep us in His good graces is suspect.

Verses 2-6 give the answer.  God has not cast away Israel, for it has always been a minority of the Jews who were the true Israel.  There have been times when it appeared to some, such as Elijah in 1 Kings 19:10, that all Israel had left God, but even in those times there have always been those who have remained true to Him (Rom 11:4, 1 Kings 19:18).  As it was in the time of Elijah it was also in the time of Paul; "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (11:5).  Three thousand Jews were converted on Pentecost (Acts 2:41).  In Acts 4:4, five thousand more were converted.  By Acts 21:20 we read, "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe," and many commentators have correctly noted that the Greek word used here, from which we derive our English word, "myriads," really means "tens of thousands."  So the Apostles in Acts 21:20 were really saying, "See how many tens of thousands of Jews have believed in Christ."  Thus, it is very possible that the New Testament Church, at the time of Paul's arrival in Jerusalem around the year 57 A.D., was still comprised primarily of Jews.  Whether that is a correct assessment or not, large numbers of Jews did become believers in Christ, proving that God has not cast the Jews away, but has preserved a remnant for Himself.

Verses 7-10. The rest of Israel, "hath not obtained that which he seeketh" (11:7).  The rest of the Jews were seeking righteousness by means of the law.  Still believing it was the ceremonies and sacrifices that made them acceptable to God, they would not receive the righteousness that is apart from the law through faith.  They are in the same category as those spoken of in Romans 1:24, 26, and 28: "God also gave them up," God gave them up," "God gave them over."  Notice how similar the intent of these verses is to the intent of Romans 11:7-10.  The point is that God simply gave unbelieving Jews what they want; the opportunity to attempt to justify themselves by means of the law, or to ignore God altogether.

The rejection of Christ by some Jews does not mean God has cast away the Jews as a people.  A day will come when they will awaken to Christ (11:26).  Meanwhile, their unbelief has worked for the redemption of the Gentiles.  Verses 11-14 make this plain, Paul even refers to himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles (11:13).  Paul did not start out to win the Gentiles.  His established method of evangelism was to speak to the Jews in the synagogues.  His message was not well received.  Beaten, stoned, and rejected, he finally turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).   Thus, through the fall of the Jews, "salvation is come to the Gentiles" (11:11).  It is Paul's hope, that Jews will see the Gentiles coming to the God of Israel and the Messiah of Israel, and be moved to seek Him also  He hopes they will emulate the Gentiles (11:14).

The salvation of the Gentiles is no cause for pride among us.  It is by the grace of God that we have been brought into the Kingdom, not by any worthiness we have achieved on our own.  It is as though some branches of an olive tree have been broken off, and branches from a wild olive tree have been grafted to the tree in their places.  Thus, the root, Israel, is still alive, and we are grafted into it.  This does not mean we are to become Jews.  It does mean we continue the faith of Israel as it is fulfilled in Christ.

Saturday

Morning - Ps.96, 2 Sam. 6:1-11, Lk. 22:63-23:12
Evening - Ps. 112, 113, Hab. 3:2-19, Rom. 11:22-36

Commentary, Romans 11:22-36

The many Jews who missed the point of justification by faith are a solemn reminder to the Gentiles that they abide in God only as long as they abide by faith in Christ.  Paul returns to the illustration of the olive tree to reinforce his point. If the natural branches (Jews) were broken off and wild branches (Gentiles) were grafted in, God can just as easily remove the wild branches and replace the natural ones (11:22-24).

Again we are reminded that God will turn the Jews to Himself.  Verses 25- 32 are a little difficult to follow because they jump from the Jews' present blindness to their future faith, to the Gentiles benefiting from the grace of God, but their basic meaning is found in verse 26, the Deliverer shall turn away their ungodliness.

In verses 33-36 we come to the conclusion of this part of Romans, which is a great prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God.   It confesses something we need to bear in mind as we ponder these chapters, that the wisdom and knowledge of God are far deeper than we can fathom (11:33), therefore His ways will always be a mystery to us.  We are not His counselors, nor are we able to do anything that would cause God to be indebted to us (34-35).  Just the opposite, we are constantly indebted to Him, and must accept His will, though we may not always understand it.