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Below are the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

As we have seen in the readings for the previous Sundays in Lent, the Old Testament theme is about God’s promises to Israel, principally their liberation from Egypt. The New Testament readings focus on the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ.

God told Jeremiah that He will make a new covenant with His people, despite their iniquity (emphases mine):

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31:31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

31:32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.

31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

31:34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

There is a choice of Psalms. Whilst I like both, Psalm 51 is well known by devout Christians not only for its request of spiritual cleansing but also its evocative prose:

Psalm 51:1-12

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

The alternative Psalm is better for family services:

Psalm 119:9-16

119:9 How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word.

119:10 With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments.

119:11 I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

119:12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes.

119:13 With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth.

119:14 I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches.

119:15 I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.

119:16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

The author of Hebrews explained that God appointed Jesus to be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek and our source of eternal salvation:

Hebrews 5:5-10

5:5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;

5:6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

5:8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;

5:9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,

5:10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

The reading from John’s Gospel is on the same theme of Jesus’s obedient suffering to come in order to save us:

John 12:20-33

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.

12:21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

12:22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

12:23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

12:27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

12:28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

12:29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

12:30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

12:33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

These readings are apposite as the sixth Sunday in Lent is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passiontide — Holy Week.

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CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany.

The Web Gallery of Art explains:

The crucified Christ is in the centre of the panel. His figure is repeated on the left side conquering an evil demon and death. In the background, a scene of the Expulsion from Eden reminds viewers of the presence of sin and the subsequent need for salvation. Immediately on the right of Christ, St John the Baptist points one of his fingers at the central figure and the index finger from his other hand to the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. Next to the Baptist stands Lucas Cranach the Elder. A stream of blood from Christ’s side flows directly upon his forehead, implying that no priest or saint is needed for intercession. On the far right, Luther points to a passage from his German translation of the Bible concerning Christ’s redemptive blood, which frees all believers from sin. In the background, the Old Testament tale of Moses and the Brazen Serpent and the New Testament story of the Annunciation to the Shepherds are depicted as examples of God’s grace.

Below is a back catalogue of posts I wrote about Good Friday, which readers might find useful:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

We are in Year C of the three-year Lectionary. One of the epistle choices for Good Friday 2016 is Hebrews 10:16-25:

10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

10:17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,

10:20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),

10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

10:22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

10:23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,

10:25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The Book of Hebrews is thought to have been written for Hellenistic (Greek) Jews, not those living in Palestine. Its authorship has been debated throughout Christian history. It was probably written after St Paul’s death in 65 AD but before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The Hebrew audience for these letters were converts to the Church. They had also been persecuted and the book contains a number of encouraging messages for them to focus on Christ and the life to come.

It’s a beautiful book, explaining why Mosaic Law and Jewish customs are no longer required as Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, was the ultimate, perfect, sufficient sacrifice for sin.

Hebrews is also a good book to use with atheists who continue to stubbornly insist that Christians follow Mosaic Law. It describes how the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant.

Hebrews 10 begins with an explanation of Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient, thereby ending the old requirement for ritual sacrifice (verses 12-14):

12 But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

The theme for our Good Friday reading is the full assurance of faith.

Verses 16 and 17 cite Jeremiah 31:33-34, which prophesy the New Covenant, the forgiveness of sin and the Church (emphases mine):

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Therefore, as Christ gave Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, there is no longer any need for continuing animal sacrifices (verse 18).

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

… there shall be no more remembrance of sin against true believers, either to shame them now or to condemn them hereafter. This was much more than the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices could effect.

The author of Hebrews then discusses the temple and Jesus’s crucifixion (verses 19, 20). Through his sacrifice, He has opened the once forbidden Holy of Holies. As we know, after Jesus died, the curtain hiding the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem from the faithful was rent afterward. The author draws the comparison of Jesus’s pierced flesh to the torn temple curtain.

John MacArthur explains the staggering significance of this for a Jew — and those in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion:

… in the Old Testament, as we’ve been studying, there was a Tabernacle or a Temple, and inside of the totality of this outer courtyard there was what was called the holy places, the holy place, and inside, separated by a veil, was the Holy of Holies. And in the Holy of Holies, God dwelt. And no man could enter into that place except the high priest once a year to offer atonement for the sins of the nation Israel.

But now He is saying, “You all can enter into God’s presence. The veil has been torn down, and you can all enter in, and you can enter in boldly.” So we have this new entrance, you see, into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. And, of course, this is a fantastic statement to a Jew, because, to a Jew, entering into the holiest is absolutely forbidden. And if a Jew ever tried to do that under the old economy, he would’ve been instantly consumed in the flames of the fire of almighty wrath. And no Jew would ever conceive of going into the Holy of Holies.

In fact, it’s interesting. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll find out that there’s a certain area of the Temple ground where it is forbidden to Jews to ever walk there, because it may be the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and no Jew would ever put his foot on the Holy of Holies. Therefore, there are big signs outside the gates of the Temple that say, “Orthodox Jews have been forbidden by the rabbi to enter in this place lest they step on the Holy of Holies.”

They have a fear, still today, the Orthodox Jews, of ever going into the presence of God. But because of the new covenant, He says we can have boldness. We don’t even go in sheepishly, saying, “God, I’m coming, don’t step on me,” see. We can enter in boldly. It’s a fantastic concept for the Jewish mind to understand.

The ‘great priest’ in verse 20 refers to Christ Jesus. Therefore, the Hebrew audience may approach the tabernacle with true hearts as well as the full assurance and knowledge that their sins are forgiven (verse 21). Their sins have been forgiven and they should consider themselves washed clean (verse 22). Water refers to Baptism as well as their former ritual cleansing, still a part of Jewish life today. However, Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross has abolished the need for it. Instead, His blood was (figuratively) sprinkled on their hearts, making them clean.

Henry takes this a step further:

Our bodies washed with pure water, that is, with the water of baptism (by which we are recorded among the disciples of Christ, members of his mystical body), or with the sanctifying virtue of the Holy Spirit, reforming and regulating our outward conversation as well as our inward frame, cleansing from the filthiness of the flesh as well as of the spirit. The priests under the law were to wash, before they went into the presence of the Lord to offer before him. There must be a due preparation for making our approaches to God.

Therefore, the author says, the Hebrews should remain hopeful and not waver, because our Lord is faithful (verse 23). The author did not want to see his people go back to the Jewish faith, which is the reason for the next two verses (24, 25). The people were to meet together regularly so that no one fell away and returned to his original beliefs.

Henry goes on to apply this in another sense. God’s constant faithfulness is infinitely greater than ours, therefore, we owe Him our full devotion:

God has made great and precious promises to believers, and he is a faithful God, true to his word there is no falseness nor fickleness with him, and there should be none with us. His faithfulness should excite and encourage us to be faithful, and we must depend more upon his promises to us than upon our promises to him, and we must plead with him the promise of grace sufficient.

The rest of Hebrews 10 explains the divine judgement and eternal condemnation — ‘a fury of fire’ (verse 27) — that would result from going back to Jewish belief. However, it ends on a hopeful note, with a reminder of how they bore their persecution and imprisonment because they were contemplating Christ.

We, too, should share that same confidence and assurance in and through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Good Friday is a time of sorrowful contemplation but also one for prayers of thanksgiving for our Lord Jesus Christ.

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