December 21, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, December 22-31

Monday 

Morning - Ps. 116, Is. 33:13, Lk.1:5-25
Evening - Ps. 104, Is. 35, Rev. 20:7

Commentary, Luke 1:5-25

Our emphasis for the week moves from the Prophet Isaiah to the Gospel of Luke, taking us through the first chapter and culminating in the birth of Christ on Christmas Day.  Our reading begins with the account of the birth of John the Baptist, who comes to make straight the way of the Lord.  Zacharias and his wife, Elisabeth, were both of priestly descent, and were residing in Jerusalem while Zacharias served a term burning incense in the Temple. We don't often pay much attention to the ancestry of John, but it is worth noting that his father was a priest and his mother was descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses.

  John himself is a summation of the work of the entire line of Old Testament priests, for the task of the priesthood was to prepare (make straight) the way of the Lord.  The Temple and sacrificial system, which was given into their care, foreshadowed Christ, "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world."  Thus, their work prepared people for the coming Messiah.  In Luke 1 the Messiah is drawing near and we see the arrival of John. 

Tuesday

Morning - Ps.130 &131, Is. 25:1-9, Lk. 1:26-38
Evening - Ps. 114 & 122, Gen. 49:1-10, Rev 21:1-8

Commentary, Luke 1:26-38

We are accustomed to thinking of Christ as the Lamb of God who fulfilled the meaning of the sacrificial system by giving Himself as the sacrifice for our sins.  But He is also our great High Priest who fulfilled the ministry of the Old Testament priesthood by offering that one great Sacrifice which could atone for sin.  The Lamb of God is also the Priest of God.  As we think of Christ, our High Priest, it is interesting to note that Mary was a cousin of Elisabeth, and Elisabeth was of the priestly line.  The priestly office was an inherited office in the Old Testament, passing from father to son in the tribe of Levi.  None but they could carry the Ark of the Covenant, or execute the duties of the Tabernacle and Temple.  They alone could offer the ceremonial sacrifices required by the Old Testament Law. So Mary was the inheritor of two blood lines.  First, she was a descendant of David, the Old Testament king of Israel.  This fact is sometimes overlooked because of our tendency to trace ancestry through the father's line.  But Joseph, though of the linage of David, was not Jesus' father, so if Jesus were to be of David's line His ancestry had to come through Mary.  And, indeed, Luke 1:27 tells us Mary was of the house of David.  The importance of her ancestry is that it makes Jesus the King in the line of David who will rule over Israel and extend His Kingdom throughout the entire earth.  Second, Mary was of the linage of the priests of Israel.  So in Christ the two houses of priest and king are united, just as in Him the true offices and meanings of Priest and King are fulfilled.  
Christmas Eve

Morning - Ps. 50,   Lk. 1:67
Evening - Ps. 85, Zech. 2:10, Mt. 1:18

Commentary, Luke 1:67-80

Zacharias' power of speech was taken from him when, in the Temple he did not believe the angel's message.  Now, after the birth of his son, it returns to him along with the inspiration of the Spirit by which he speaks forth the great passage of Scripture which is this morning's Second Lesson.  He speaks first of the Messiah, raised up to be a "horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David" (1:69).  The One foretold by the prophets, by whom we are saved, through whom the mercy of God is performed toward us, is ready to come into the world.  Indeed, He is already here in the Virgin's womb.

Next the priest turns to the ministry of his own son, John.  He is the prophet of the Highest.  He will go before the Messiah to prepare His way, give the people knowledge of their sins, and give light to them that are in darkness and the shadow of death.  We see that John actually completes the work of the Old Testament prophets and priests.  They were the preparation, preparing the way for Christ.  In a very real sense, the Old Testament ministry ended with John.  The New Testament ministry began with Christ.

Christmas Day

Morning - Ps. 89:1-30, Is. 9:2-7, Lk 2:1-20
Evening - Ps. 45, Micah 4:1-5, 1 Jn. 4:7-14

Commentary, Luke 2:1-20
  At last the Day arrives.  Only it is not "day;" it is night.  Nor is the King of Kings born in a palace, but in an animal shed; not heralded to kings and rulers, but announced to simple shepherds.   Thanks be to God that the Good News has come to us.  "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

December 26, the Feast of St. Stephen

Morning - Ps. 118, 2 Chron. 24:17-22, Acts 6
Evening - Ps. 30, 31, Acts 7:59-8:8

Commentary, Acts 7:59-8:8

It is notable that our cycle of prayer and Scripture moves immediately from the birth of the Saviour to the cost of following Christ, for Stephen is the first New Testament martyr for Christ.  Thus we are reminded that being a Christian is not just about going to Heaven; it is an absolute and lifelong commitment to observing all things He has commanded us.  The murder of Stephen begins the persecution of the New Testament Church.  Revelation 4:11 tells us Jerusalem will pay dearly for this, and Acts  8:1-4 tells us the persecution was so severe, all Christians, except the Apostles, fled Jerusalem.  But persecution followed them.  Saul was probably only one of many who captured Christian Jews and returned them to Jerusalem to die (Acts 9:1).
If the events of this passage are true, and if the God to which they testify is real, then becoming a Christian is not something we do in search of self esteem or to enhance our quality of life.  We become Christians because we owe God obedience and love.  We become Christians because we have been made to understand that we were living in rebellion and sin against God, and because we want to turn away from sin and begin to do what is right. In short, we become Christians because it is right to do so.  All other considerations are secondary, at best.  I wonder if the Church today, including myself, spends too much time inviting people to go to Heaven and too little time calling people to obey God.  Stephen's short time as a Christian was a time of prayer, service to God's people, and obedience unto death, not about blessings for Stephen.

December 27, Feast of St. John the Apostle

Morning - Ps. 23 &24, Ex. 33:12, Jn. 13:2-26
Evening - Ps. 97, Is. 6:1-8, Rev. 1

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8

Today we return to a passage we have looked at before, Isaiah 6:1-8.  The prophet is given a vision of God in all His terrifying holiness and power.  From the vision of God, Isaiah is moved to see his own unworthiness.  He is a man of unclean lips, meaning, a sinner.  The seraphim sing "Holy, holy, holy," unto God, but Isaiah's lips are not worthy to address the Lord.  He sees his sin as filthy rags beside the incredibly white and shining Goodness of God, and he knows that he is "undone," or, destroyed, before God.  If Isaiah is to be allowed into real fellowship with God, God Himself is going to have to find a way to cover his sins and make him holy.  The seraphim touches Isaiah's mouth with a live coal from the altar where the sacrificial animals are killed and burned.  Symbolically, the sins of the Jewish people were laid upon the sacrifice, which paid the price of sin by dying on the altar.  The coal represents all the animals killed to pay for Isaiah's sin.  The sacrificial lambs themselves represent Christ, the Lamb of God and the only Sacrifice that could truly pay for the sins of any person.  It is Christ broken, sacrificed, and applied to the "undoneness" of people that restores them to wholeness before God.  In sin we are undone.  In Christ we are restored to wholeness. The restoration includes an invitation.  Isaiah was being called to preach the Word of God, but more than that, he was being invited into the fellowship and love of God.

Thus we see a threefold emphasis in these verses.  First is the vision of the greatness of God.  Second is the awareness of being undone.  Third is the cleansing of sin and the invitation to return to full fellowship with God.  The true Christian has a similar experience.  At some point we come to realise that God is far greater, far more worthy, and far more "good" than we ever imagined.  That knowledge immediately brings the knowledge that we are far smaller, far more unworthy, and far more wicked than we ever believed ourselves to be.  At this point we realise, "Woe is me! for I am undone" (vs. 5), and the only way to become whole and restored is for God to do something Himself that will cover our sins and restore us to His favour.  Christ restores us by taking our sins on Himself and paying their price with His own life. He then covers our sins with His own sinless perfection, and God counts us as righteous for His sake.  Now we are taken into the heart of God.  We have the joy of His presence and love in such abundance it can only be described as God dwelling in us, and us dwelling in God.

December 28, Feast of Holy Innocents

Morning – Ps. 8 & 26, Jer. 31:1-6, 15-16, Mt. 18:1-14
Evening – Ps. 19, & 126, Is. 54:1-13, Mk. 10:13-16, 23-31

Commentary, Isaiah 54:1-13

Isaiah 54 is about God’s faithfulness and mercy.  The barren (childless) woman is Judea, whom God has allowed to be conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians.   God says He will not leave them in Babylon.  He will rescue them with great mercy, and gather them back to their home in Jerusalem (vs. 7).  The symbolism of this passage refers to God’s deliverance of the Jews from Babylon.  It also refers to our deliverance from the spiritual Babylon of sin that has held us captive until Christ our Redeemer set us free.  It is a beautiful and moving passage.

December 29

Morning – Ps. 27, Is. 56:1-8, 1Jn. 1
Evening – Ps. 20, Is. 57:13, Heb. 1

Commentary, Isaiah 56 and 57

Isaiah. 56 and 57 continue the message of God’s grace and forgiveness.  But His mercy is not confined to the Jews alone.  His House is a house of prayer for all people.  “Whosoever will may come” to Him and find mercy and hope and peace and forgiveness.  This theme is carried through chapter 57 where it is well stated in verse 19.  Those who are near are the Jews left in Jerusalem after the conquest by Babylon.  Those who are far off are those living in captivity in Babylon.  But the meaning looks beyond Babylon and Judea to the reign of the Messiah who extends His mercy both to the Jews (those who are near) and to the Gentiles (those who are far off). 

December 30

Morning - Ps. 33, Is 59:1-21, 1 Jn. 2:1-17
Evening - Ps. 111, 112, Is. 60:13, Heb. 2

Commentary, Isaiah 59:1-21

The Christmas season is one of the highlights of the year, and it is made even more precious as we follow the daily Bible readings.  Hebrews shows how Christ fulfills the meaning and intent of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, and how they pointed to Him as the only real sacrifice for sin, the great High Priest who intercedes for His people, and God Himself purchasing and applying salvation and forgiveness to His people.  1 John is a practical guide to living in Christ's Church, and in the fallen world around us.

Isaiah 59:2 expresses the very heart of every person's problem with God.  Our problem is not that God is unable or unwilling to do good, but that our sins have separated us from Him.  Fallen humanity, and, often, Christians also, blame God for the mess of the world.  They conclude that, because God does not give world peace, personal affluence, freedom from disease, and a general happiness, He either does not care, does not hear their prayers, or is unable to do anything about the problems they face.  Such people impose two contradictory demands upon God. First, they demand total freedom to choose their own way and shape their own destinies.  Second, they expect God to force all people to act in accordance with general principles of goodness, so they can live in peace.  They refuse to see that their own sin is the cause of their separation from God, and that they themselves have contributed greatly to the general malaise of life on planet earth.

Because of sin, judgment and wrath have come upon all people.  Isaiah addresses first the people of Judea and their situation when the Babylonians come upon them in bloody and murderous conquest.  But the principle is true of all nations, all peoples, and all individuals.  We live in a world of sorrows because our sins have made it so.  The human race is naturally reaping what we have sown, and it is important that we see that sin has consequences for us in this world as well as in eternity.  Yet there is hope.  God has not deserted us, nor has He abandoned His plan to save His people.  "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression" (59: 20).  Throughout the Bible we see God working out His plan of salvation.  He called Abraham to be the father of a new people.  To them He gave His Commandments and His Word.  Through them He sent the Messiah; the Saviour, not for Israel alone, but for all who will receive Him as their Saviour and their God.  The descendants of Abraham were not always faithful to God.  More often than not, they were like sheep straying from the protection of the Shepherd and away from the safety of the Fold.  Though God allowed them to reap the bitter fruit of sin, He did not abandon them.  In the fullness of time the Saviour came to purchase their forgiveness and to call both Jews and Gentiles into His Kingdom and Church.  By His grace He overcame our sin, and even now He is working in the lives of His people to prepare us to be with Him in Heaven forever.  The surprise is not that we suffer hardship and troubles in this world.  The surprise is that God has not abandoned us to destruction and hell.  The surprise is that He came in grace to redeem us.

December 31

Morning - Ps.147, Is. 62, 1 Jn. 2:18
Evening - Ps 90, Dt. 10:12-11:1, Heb 3

Commentary, Isaiah 62


Isaiah 62 looks forward to the restoration of Jerusalem and Judea after the Jews return from their captivity in Babylon.  But, like much of the prophecy of Isaiah, it uses the return from captivity to foreshadow a greater return, a greater glory of Jerusalem, and a greater Salvation than from mere human enemies.  It foreshadows the grace of God given to Jew and Gentile through the Saviour Christ.  Jerusalem here represents the entire the people of God; the Church of Christ in all ages.  The love of God is poured out upon them forever.