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In 2021, the First Sunday in Lent is February 21.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the First Sunday in Lent — Year B

My focus today is on the Gospel reading from Mark, which concerns the baptism of Jesus (emphases mine):

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I have often written about the accounts of our Lord’s baptism as a sign of obedience to God the Father. There was no reason for Jesus to undergo immersion in the River Jordan for His sins as He had none. Yet, He partook in what would become a sacrament in order to obey the ordinances of his Father under the New Covenant and to share in our human experience.

However, there is a far greater reason why Jesus was baptised. This was His earthly coronation, as John MacArthur ably explains.

Those who have read Mark’s Gospel know that it skips parts of Jesus’s earthly life and early ministry. This is because Mark wrote it for the Gentiles in Rome. He wanted them to understand quickly and simply that Jesus is the Son of God and our Saviour.

Instead of beginning with the lineage or Jesus or the Nativity, Mark begins with John the Baptist’s ministry, but not before introducing his Gospel as follows (Mark 1:1):

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]

Christ’s baptism has many scriptural hallmarks of being His coronation, through baptism, a religious ceremony that is not part of the Jewish tradition in terms of repentance.

There are ritual baths, mostly for women, but those are for the purposes of ceremonial rather than spiritual cleansing.

MacArthur looks at both the coronation and the sacramental aspect of baptism.

First, the coronation, involving this meeting between Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist, as adults:

This is the only one recorded in the New Testament. Though they contacted each other through their disciples, there is no other indication they had met. But this meeting is monumental. This meeting has significance that is sweeping and far-reaching because on this occasion of their meeting, there is the coronation of the new King. Remember I told you that in the gentile world, as well as the Jewish world, the word euaggelion, the word gospel had to do with the ascent of a king, the accession of a king to his throne. And Mark is writing about God’s great King, the new King who is coming, who will declare a new era for the world. This is His coronation.

From the Greek word euaggelion we derive the words ‘evangelist’ and ‘evangelical’. In French, the word évangile means ‘Gospel’.

From Matthew 3:14, we know that John was reluctant to baptise Jesus, because he knew who He was, so He gave this reason:

15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

Jesus obeyed the commands of His Father, and baptism was one of them (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

If God said this is to be done, then I will do this. It is that perfect obedience of Christ that is imputed to you and to me when we put our trust in Him. It’s what’s called His active righteousness.

But, how could the King of the Jews come from Galilee, let alone a little-known place called Nazareth?

The Jews considered Galilee unclean. MacArthur lays out the reasons why:

I don’t know if you know the history of Galilee. It was originally, of course, part of the land conquered by Joshua around the eighth century, I think – it was about then – it was invaded by the Assyrians, yes. And when it was invaded by the Assyrians, obviously they deported the Jews and many Gentiles came to live there. In the second century, they tried to – they tried to circumcise those gentiles, that didn’t go over real big.

They tried to attach them all to Judaism, that didn’t go over real big, either. So by the time you get to the ministry of John the Baptist, there are just a lot of Gentiles in that area. That’s why it’s called Galilee of the Gentiles. In fact, it was hated or treated with scorn and disdain by the Jews. One of the things that was said concerning Peter in Mark 14:70 was, “Isn’t he a Galilean?” There was nothing but scorn for Galilee. In fact, the further you were from Jerusalem, the more disdain they had for you, and this was a long, long way from Jerusalem. It was out on the fringes where the unclean people lived.

Yet — and yet — Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come from Galilee:

It would be unthinkable for the Messiah to come from Galilee, Galilee of the gentiles, that scorned place. And yet did they forget Isaiah 9, “There will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. In earlier times he treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious by the way of the sea on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light, the light will shine on them.”

That’s the Messianic prophecy, that the Messiah would come from Galilee of the gentiles, Messiah would come from the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is Galilee, northern part of Israel.

Let us take a closer look at Nazareth. MacArthur says:

the town is Nazareth, so obscure it has to be named and it has to be located into Galilee. If you said Jesus came from Nazareth, nobody would know where it was. Nazareth in Galilee because Nazareth is not known. There is no place in any existing Jewish literature, ancient Jewish literature, where Nazareth is ever mentioned. It’s not in Josephus, it’s not in the Talmud, it’s not in the Old Testament, most obscure no-place place.

Except that Nathanael knew about Nazareth (John 1:46; Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B). He asked of the newly-called Apostle Philip, rather bluntly:

1:46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Historically, the Jews expected the Messiah to come from Jerusalem, but the prophets knew better. MacArthur tells us:

The assumption was Messiah would come from Jerusalem, the temple is there, but the head, you know, the core, Jerusalem was corrupt, apostate. So the prophets said the Messiah will come from the fringes. The Messiah will come from the outskirts. He’ll come far at the most remote place from the religious establishment that is apostate. This in itself is a commentary on the corruption of Judaism at the time. And so He came and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

MacArthur explains the River Jordan:

You may have idyllic visions of the Jordan River, this mighty river. No. Jordan River is 105 miles long if you just fly down the Jordan. If you float, it’s 200 miles like that. Ten feet deep. At the widest, 100 feet across. “River” is stretching the word.

But it was there, away again from Jerusalem, in the wilderness, away from civilization because the center was so polluted. But John was baptizing as he had been commanded by God and Jesus came to be baptized.

MacArthur discusses John’s baptism of Jesus and the origin of the Greek word for this sacrament:

Baptizō means to immerse into water, Jesus was immersed, the symbol of the washing away of the old and purification that leads to newness, He was baptized. And He was baptized because God had commanded everybody to be baptized, and He was a man, and He would fulfill all righteousness.

And He was baptized secondarily because it was symbolic, I think, of going through the river of death, bearing the sins of His people.

As Jesus emerged from the water, two dramatic things happened (verse 10).

First, the heavens were ‘torn apart’. Secondly, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

MacArthur interprets this for us via Luke’s version of events:

“Immediately coming up out of the water,” Luke adds, Luke 3:21, “while He was praying” – Jesus was in communion with the Father the whole time – “coming up out of the water,” which is an indication that He was immersed. It doesn’t mean He walked up on the riverbank, it means He came up out of the water. The scene, by the way, is trinitarian, right? Trinitarian, one of the great trinitarian texts in Scripture.

Our Heavenly Father had not rent the heavens apart for four centuries prior to this. During that era, He had also silenced prophesy. John the Baptist was the first prophet to emerge since that time.

Then God rent the heavens — tore them apart for that moment when His only begotten Son was baptised — and crowned. The Holy Spirit also appeared.

God also spoke (verse 11).

These three phenomena were open to public witness.

People were there to witness what Isaiah had prophesied centuries before, as MacArthur explains:

as He comes up out of the water, the coronation takes place. Has two parts, a visual and an audible – a visual and an audible. First, the anointing by the Holy Spirit and secondly, the affirmation by the Father. Let’s look at the anointing by the Holy Spirit. “Immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened.” This is not a vision, by the way, folks, this is not a vision. We know it’s not a vision because … John 1:32 and following where John says, “I saw it. I saw it. I saw the Spirit descend, I saw it.”

And there’s no reason to think that others didn’t see it as well. It’s not a vision, it’s a visible reality, in contrast, for example, to the vision of Ezekiel 1. He saw the heavens opening. This is a signal of God breaking into time and space. I mean, this is huge. Now, remember, God hasn’t spoken in four hundred years. Four hundred years of divine silence until an angel comes and talks to Zacharias and Elizabeth. And another angel comes and talks to Joseph and Mary, but none of that is public. The heavens have been closed for four hundred years. And now they split.

He saw the heavens opening, and Mark uses a verb that Matthew and Luke do not use, schizō which means to rip. It’s dramatic, the heavens rip open. It’s only used one other time in the New Testament, when the veil in the temple at the death of Christ was ripped from top to bottom. This is so significant because Isaiah has been talking about the coming of Messiah, the coming of Messiah through the 40 chapters and the 50 chapters, and when you come to chapter 64, here’s the cry of the people, here’s the cry of the prophet’s heart, “O, that” – this is Isaiah 64:1. “O, that you would rip the heavens and come down.”

They were waiting for that, that God would rip open the heavens and come down and make His name known. This is anticipation of Messiah. The day is going to come when the silent heavens are going to rip open and God is going to come. The text of Isaiah 64 is a cry for God to do just that, break into history. And the Jews saw that text as evidences that Messiah would come and heaven would split open and down would come God.

MacArthur continues detailing this holy mystery of the Triune God:

God is about to come down, and He does in the form of the Holy Spirit – I love this – “and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.” Heaven rips open and you might think of something violent happening, something crashing down, but the Spirit like a dove descends upon Him.

Now, first of all, folks, this isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. I know there are doves all over Bible covers, and all over paraphernalia and holy hardware and all that, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is not a dove. The Holy Spirit is not a dove. That’s not what it’s saying. It simply says the Holy Spirit descended visibly – visibly. Luke says, think it’s chapter 3, maybe verse 21 or so, in bodily form, in some visible form, He descended like a dove. The question is not why is He a dove, the question is how does a dove descend. You understand the difference?

A dove doesn’t come crashing down. The dove is the gentlest, according to one text of Scripture, the gentlest of the birds. It comes down lightly, delicately, and rests in its place. That’s how the Holy Spirit came. That’s all it’s saying. It isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. The Holy Spirit is nowhere pictured as a dove. You don’t have to connect it with the dove that Noah sent out of the ark, like many commentators try to do, which is impossible. A dove is a very gentle, beautiful, delicate bird, and the Spirit came down in some visible form with the same kind of gentleness and beauty which is displayed when a little dove lands softly.

This is important because Isaiah made it very clear that when the Messiah comes, He will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. So this is confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah because here comes the Spirit. Listen to Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,” that’s the father of David, out of David’s line, “A branch from his roots will bear fruit.” That’s the Messiah coming through Jesse’s line through David. “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.” Messianic prophecy. Thirty-second chapter of Isaiah in the fifteenth verse, “Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high.” They knew that when the Messianic Kingdom comes, when Messianic glory arrives, it will be with the full power of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to 42:1, Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One whom my soul delights, I have put my Spirit upon Him.” Those are prophecies. The Messiah would have the full presence power of the Holy Spirit. In John 3:34 it says this, that God gave Jesus the Spirit – this is the key phrase – without measure – without measure, without limit. That’s not true of everybody else. Everybody else has the Spirit in measure. Even the New Testament says that even those of us living in the age of the Holy Spirit receive a measure of the Spirit.

But He received the Spirit without measure, the full presence, the full power of the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him. The infinite presence and power of the Spirit so that the whole life of Jesus was controlled by the Holy Spirit. His whole life was controlled by the Spirit. At the risk of over-simplifying something that is profoundly mysterious and beyond the grasp of all of us, let me see if I can give you a way to understand it. You have the Man Jesus here, you have the Son of God, eternal deity here, and that which is deity is conveyed to the man which is humanity through the means of the Holy Spirit.

As it says, He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, it was the Holy Spirit dispensing to the man, Jesus, the developing realities of truth that matured Him. That’s how you have to understand it. The Holy Spirit is the mediator between deity and humanity. John Owen makes the point that His divine nature did not directly communicate anything at all to the human Jesus. His divine nature did not communicate anything directly to the human Jesus, it all went through the mediation of the Holy Spirit, part of His self-emptying.

Through the Holy Spirit, divine power came, understanding came, enlightenment came, revelation came, so that His human nature was under the full control of the Holy Spirit, so that everything He did, He did in the power of the Spirit.

Then the Holy Spirit directed Jesus to the wilderness (verse 12).

Mark arrives at this part of the story without filling in intervening details that the other Gospels do because he wants to demonstrate the authority of Jesus.

MacArthur explains Mark’s reasoning:

He demonstrates the authority of Christ over three realms. One, over Satan and his realm. Two, over sin and its dominion. Three, over sinners. It is important for us to know that if the new King is going to take His throne, if the new King is going to reign, if the new King is going to overthrow the usurper, the temporary king, Satan himself, and if the King is going to conquer Satan and sin and sinners, He has to demonstrate the power to do that.

And so that’s where Mark establishes His authority. First in His temptation, His authority over Satan becomes clear … He can overpower and will overpower Satan. He can overpower and will overpower sin.

Mark tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days — which is how we derived the period of our Lenten season — and, whilst there, the angels tended to Him (verse 13).

During this time, Jesus went without food, which is the root for Lenten fasting accompanied by prayer.

MacArthur continues, reminding us not only of scriptural precedent but also that Satan was ever present, tempting Him to worldly comforts:

Now, Mark doesn’t tell us what Matthew and Luke tell us, and that is this: that Jesus went without food for the entire forty days. Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2, He didn’t eat for forty days. Forty-day fasts had happened before. According to Exodus chapter 34, Moses had a forty-day fast. According to 1 Kings 19, Elijah had a forty-day fast. That’s a long time, almost six weeks of eating nothing. Verse 13 says He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. Forty days alone, forty days in isolation, forty days in a dangerous, devastating place. Forty days without anything to eat.

So you have no support system, no one to help Him, no one to comfort Him, no one to instruct Him, no one to encourage Him, and He is at His lowest possible physical condition. His strength would be gone long before the sixth week. It would begin to diminish seriously the second week. But if He is the King, He must be able, alone at His weakest, to conquer the enemy. And so the Holy Spirit throws Him into that conflict.

He is not only to be a King – and this is what you want to keep in mind. He is a King, and He is reigning over His people now, and He will reign over the earth and over all the new heaven and the new earth in eternity. He is a King, He will always reign, and He will ultimately and finally reign over everything. But He is also a suffering servant. And while as a King He is exalted, as a suffering servant, He is humiliated. The new King is also the suffering servant, it is a paradox, it is a paradox. The most exalted one is the one who suffers most.

Wandering in that place alone for nearly six weeks with nothing to eat in the wilderness, He is tempted the whole time by Satan. Some people assume that He was only tempted at the end of the forty days. Well, the temptations that came at the end of the forty days are given in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, but here we are told He was tempted the whole time. The whole time. And the interesting thing about the temptation Mark doesn’t describe, he leaves that to Matthew and to Luke, the interesting thing about the temptation was that the temptation was never a temptation for Him to give up His sovereignty.

It was never a temptation to give up His royalty, if you will. It was never a temptation for Him to give up His rights and His privileges and His honor and His exaltation and His elevation. It was a temptation for Him to abandon His humiliation.

We do not know exactly how the angels ministered to Jesus. Perhaps they kept him away from dangerous beasts, which were in the wilderness. Perhaps they distracted Him in good ways to look at the natural beauty of his surroundings. Even a desert offers God-given flowers and stunning sunsets.

Matthew Henry says:

Note, The ministration of the good angels about us, is matter of great comfort in reference to the malicious designs of the evil angels against us but much more doth it befriend us, to have the indwelling of the spirit in our hearts, which they that have, are so born of God, that, as far as they are so, the evil one toucheth them not, much less shall be triumph over them.

MacArthur says that on the final day, the angels found food for Jesus:

How did the angels minister to Him? They fed Him. After forty days of fasting, they gave Him something to eat. But I think they ministered in another way as well. I think they brought by their very presence and the food the confirmation of the Father. This was God’s way of saying, “I am still well pleased.” The divine approval of His holy triumph over Satan and fierce temptation is signaled by God sending holy angels to minister to Him at the end in the exhaustion of His victory.

Then Herod had John the Baptist arrested, after which Jesus proclaimed the Good News in Galilee (verse 14).

In real time — according to the other three Gospels — this was probably over four months after the end of His time in the wilderness, according to MacArthur.

Note that Jesus preached in Galilee, the region where He grew up. MacArthur says:

Galilee was the northern part of the land of Israel, the hinterlands, the outskirts, far from the religious center in Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus really launched His ministry in full power there was a testimony to the apostasy of the core, the corruption of Jerusalem.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God, as we still say today, was at hand (verse 15). When people say it now, we understand it to be that the end of the world is nigh.

However, when Jesus spoke of it, he did so proclaiming the era of the long-awaited Messiah. This is the best news the people of faith at that time could receive.

MacArthur explains the message of Jesus:

… this is the message. It is the good news, it is good news, it is the best news the world has ever heard. And what is it? Verse 15, it is this, “The time is fulfilled,” the kairos, not the chronos, not clock time, not calendar time, epochal time – the era, the fixed point in history for an event to happen. Or in the words of Galatians 4:4, “The fullness of time.” The administration of the fullness of time, it’s called in Ephesians 1:10. God’s sovereign moment. The significant hour in human history.

This is it for which the world has long waited, the most significant era in the world’s history, the arrival of the Savior who will pay the penalty for sin and thus provide salvation for all who have believed from the beginning of history to the end. The time is fulfilled. This is God’s great epochal moment. The promises of the Old Testament regarding Messiah, the promises regarding the Kingdom, the promises of salvation are about to be fulfilled. What is the message? That Christ has come not only to conquer Satan but to conquer sin – to conquer sin through the gospel.

The new King has arrived and with Him the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here because the King is here. Wherever the King is present, the Kingdom is. Jesus’ message, very simple, unmistakable: the Kingdom of God is at hand, here it is. I’m here, the Kingdom’s here.

When He was in Nazareth in Galilee, Luke 4, just after His temptation, right at this same time, goes in to the synagogue and He says, “Today this prophecy is fulfilled in your ears.” And He was talking about the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61. It is the message, the good news, God’s hour has come, the Kingdom is here because the King is here. How do you enter that Kingdom? Repent and believe in the gospel, writes Mark. Repent of your sin. Believe in the gospel, the good news concerning Jesus Christ.

Matthew Henry says that that people, by and large, forgot the ancient prophesies. Jesus reminded them:

Observe, (1.) The great truths Christ preached The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. This refers to the Old Testament, in which the kingdom of the Messiah was promised, and the time fixed for the introducing of it. They were not so well versed in those prophecies, nor did they so well observe the signs of the times, as to understand it themselves, and therefore Christ gives them notice of it “The time prefixed is now at hand glorious discoveries of divine light, life, and love, are now to be made a new dispensation far more spiritual and heavenly than that which you have hitherto been under, is now to commence.” Note, God keeps time when the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, for the vision is for an appointed time, which will be punctually observed, though it tarry past our time.

The baptism of Jesus signified His kingship as Christ our Lord forevermore.

Below are the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 7, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

As I explained last week, we are now in Shrovetide. Last Sunday was Septuagesima Sunday. February 7 is Sexagesima Sunday, signifying 60 days before Easter.

My posts below discuss these Sundays and Shrovetide in more detail:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies deliverance, not only for the chosen held captive in Babylon but also salvation for mankind in general through Jesus Christ. Verse 31 contains the imagery of eagles’ wings, also found in Exodus 19, Psalm 91 and Matthew 13.

Isaiah 40:21-31

40:21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;

40:23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

40:25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

40:26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

40:29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

40:30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

40:31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm

This is one of the Praise Psalms (145-150). Matthew Henry’s commentary says that many Bible scholars believe this was written after the Jews were released from captivity, but Henry says that a case could also be made for David’s authorship, during the building up of Jerusalem and the return of the outcasts from Saul’s time.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

147:1 Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

147:2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

147:3 He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

147:4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

147:6 The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.

147:7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.

147:8 He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.

147:9 He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.

147:10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;

147:11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

147:20c Praise the LORD!

Epistle

The Corinthians were a troublesome congregation, paying too much attention to the world and developing factions among themselves with false teachers. As such, Paul felt the need to justify his commission to preach the Gospel. He explains his strategy for evangelising in order to reach both Jew and Gentile.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

9:16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!

9:17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.

9:18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

9:19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.

9:20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.

9:21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.

9:22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.

9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. His account of Jesus’s early ministry continues, relating what happened after he drove the demon out of the man with the unclean spirit. This is his account of His healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, who had a debilitating fever. Afterwards, Jesus healed many more people through His power, mercy and compassion.

Mark 1:29-39

1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

1:30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

1:31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

1:32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

1:33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.

1:34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

1:35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

1:36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

1:37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

1:38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

1:39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Have a blessed Sunday.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 27, 2020.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

During this particular festive season, there are two Sundays after Christmas Day. That doesn’t happen very often. Therefore, if you enjoy Christmas carols, get to church, coronavirus restrictions permitting.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies God’s deliverance of His people but also the fulfilment of the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. Gentiles — ‘the nations’ — will also be saved. In the version of the Bible that Matthew Henry used, Isaiah 62:2 reads as follows:

And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.

Now on to the reading:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm

This is one of the Praise Psalms (145-150). Matthew Henry’s exposition on it is nothing less than stunning and well worth reading, especially during the Christmas season.

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Paul tells the Galatians that those who follow Jesus are no longer ‘slaves’ to Mosaic law but adopted children of God. Various judaizers beset the Galatians with worries about legalism, saying that they must obey Mosaic law even as Christians. Paul’s verses are a beautiful summary of the Christmas story.

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Gospel

Perhaps I am getting old, but the more I read the account of Simeon and Anna seeing the Christ Child at the temple, the more moving it becomes. One cannot imagine what they must have experienced at that moment. Both were elderly. Both devoted their lives to God. The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. When Simeon says ‘dismissing’ in verse 29, he means that he can now pass from this life ‘in peace’. This took place 40 days after Mary gave birth and had her ritual bath allowing her to resume public worship. The Anglican Communion has a similar ceremony, without the ritual bath, in the Churching of Women. My post makes reference to this chapter in Luke’s Gospel:

The Churching of Women — misogynist or not?

Luke 2:22-40

2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),

2:24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

2:27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,

2:28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

2:29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;

2:30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,

2:31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

2:33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed

2:35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

2:37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

2:38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

2:39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.

2:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Contrast Simeon and Anna’s godly reactions to the judgemental bile and wilful hatred that the Sanhedrin — the notional spiritual shepherds of the Jews — heaped upon Jesus during His ministry. Jesus — all divine, all human — knew from the beginning everything that would happen. His inner experience amongst mankind is impossible to put into words.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship, meaning that we are now entering into a new calendar year, which always begins with Advent.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

In Isaiah’s time, God’s people finally repented. This was part of their prayer. However, Matthew Henry notes that it is equally applicable to today’s faithful in any ‘time of affliction’. Verse 6 will be familiar to many; our works are but a filthy rag in the Lord’s sight.

Isaiah 64:1-9

64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence–

64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Psalm

Although it is unclear under what circumstance this Psalm was written, it is appropriate during times of trouble.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

80:2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

80:3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

80:5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

80:6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

80:7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

80:18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

80:19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Epistle

Paul’s greeting to the errant, divided Corinthians was a heartfelt one, reminding them of the spiritual strength only the Lord can provide through His Son Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,

1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind

1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel

Jesus spoke of His Second Coming, for which we should all be prepared — as we should be for our own individual mortality. We know not when either will come.

Mark 13:24-37

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Advent reminds us to turn from sin and repent — turn over a new leaf in our lives.

In the days before Christ’s earthly ministry began, John the Baptist preached not only baptism but also repentance, so that we may be prepared for Him whose earthly birth we celebrate at Christmas.

May we use the time of Advent wisely.

Below are readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, October 18, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two options for the first reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading and Psalm — Option One

Readings from Exodus continue. Last week’s was about the golden calf. Here Moses expresses his desire to know God better and asks for a glimpse of His glory.

Exodus 33:12-23

33:12 Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’

33:13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

33:14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

33:15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.

33:16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

33:17 The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”

33:18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.”

33:19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

33:20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

33:21 And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock;

33:22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by;

33:23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

The Psalm extols God’s might and glory, mentioning Moses and His forgiveness of the Israelites’ sins.

Psalm 99

99:1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

99:2 The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.

99:3 Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!

99:4 Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

99:5 Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!

99:6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.

99:7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.

99:8 O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

99:9 Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.

First reading and Psalm — Option Two

Readings from Isaiah continue. Here the Lord introduces Himself to Cyrus, a pagan, whom he prepares to conquer Babylon so that His chosen can be liberated. He put Cyrus to work for His glory, promising him earthly rewards.

Isaiah 45:1-7

45:1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him– and the gates shall not be closed:

45:2 I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,

45:3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

45:4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.

45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me,

45:6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.

45:7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things.

This Psalm calls all nations to worship the Lord, foretelling the kingdom of Christ and the inclusion of Gentiles into the Church.

Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)

96:1 O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.

96:2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

96:3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.

96:4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.

96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

96:6 Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

96:7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

96:8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.

96:9 Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.

96:10 Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”

96:11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

96:12 let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

96:13 before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

Epistle

Last week’s reading was from the final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We now begin readings from 1 Thessalonians, which is the first letter Paul wrote to various churches, all of which he planted, except for the one in Rome. Paul probably wrote this letter in AD 51. Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy were with him at the time.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

1:2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly

1:3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you,

1:5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.

1:6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,

1:7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

1:8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.

1:9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,

1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Gospel

Readings from Matthew continue. This exchange followed the Parable of the Wedding Feast and took place a few days before the Crucifixion.

Matthew 22:15-22

22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.

22:16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.

22:17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

22:18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?

22:19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.

22:20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”

22:21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

22:22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

I hope that everyone has a blessed Sunday, despite any lockdown restrictions.

Below are the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, October 11, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two options for the first reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading and Psalm — Option One

Last week’s reading was about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Sometime later, Moses went up Mount Sinai for 40 days to learn from God. Meanwhile, in the camp, the Israelites grew restless, not caring about Moses’s whereabouts. Instead, they coerced Aaron into creating an idol — the golden calf — which they worshipped. Matthew Henry has a fascinating commentary on this terrible episode in the story of the Israelites. Henry says that Jewish tradition teaches that Hur, who was left with Aaron as the other person in authority, was stoned to death because he would not make the idol. Aaron, possibly fearing for his own life, agreed to make it.

Exodus 32:1-14

32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

32:2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”

32:3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron.

32:4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

32:5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.”

32:6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

32:7 The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely;

32:8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'”

32:9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.

32:10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

32:11 But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

32:12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'”

32:14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

This Psalm of David’s is a confession of Israel’s greatest sins, most of which are omitted in the verses below, as well as a reminder of God’s mercy.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

106:1 Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

106:2 Who can utter the mighty doings of the LORD, or declare all his praise?

106:3 Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.

106:4 Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them;

106:5 that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory in your heritage.

106:6 Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.

106:19 They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image.

106:20 They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.

106:21 They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt,

106:22 wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.

106:23 Therefore he said he would destroy them– had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

First reading and Psalm — Option Two

Readings from Isaiah continue. This is a prophecy not only of God’s intended deliverance of the Jews from Babylon but also of the Church to come.

Isaiah 25:1-9

25:1 O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

25:2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt.

25:3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you.

25:4 For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,

25:5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.

25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

25:7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

25:8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

25:9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The Psalm, one of my favourites, will be familiar to everyone.

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Epistle

Readings from Paul’s letter to the Philippians continue. Verse 4 below is a familiar one. Verse 7 is the standard blessing used at the end of Anglican services. Paul remembered many people who had worked with him for the Church in all locations. In Romans 16, he commends a long list of people to the Christians in Rome. Here he asks the Philippians to help two women Euodia and Syntyche, who perhaps had a disagreement (verse 2), by building them up in their continued work for the church in Philippi (verse 3).

Philippians 4:1-9

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

4:2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.

4:3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

4:8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

4:9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Gospel

Readings from Matthew’s Gospel continue. The Parable of the Wedding Feast is another parable that Jesus delivered a few days before His death on the Cross. It points to His rejection by the Jewish hierarchy and the invitation of the Gentiles into the Church. God is the king giving a wedding banquet for His Son Jesus. The Church is Christ’s bride. The invited guests reject the king’s invitation. The king instructed his servants to find new guests, of a lowlier status, to attend. This refers to the biblical theme of the last being first. The rejection of the man with no wedding garment refers to the hypocrite who professes faith yet has none. Only the king notices his lack of attire. Only God knows what is truly in our hearts.

This parable fits well with last week’s, the Parable of the Vineyard.

Matthew 22:1-14

22:1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:

22:2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.

22:3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.

22:4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’

22:5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,

22:6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.

22:7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

22:8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.

22:9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’

22:10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

22:11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,

22:12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.

22:13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

For many years, the Parables made little sense to me. It was only when I started studying the Bible in depth that their meaning became clear.

I have rarely heard a good sermon on the Parables. Perhaps you have. If so, what a blessing.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that young Christians and those new to the faith understand their meaning. In many (not all), Jesus was warning His persecutors of the judgement to come because of their dereliction of duty as shepherds to their flock. They should have been telling the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. Instead, they worked at thwarting His ministry and plotted to kill Him. There is also a general message about persecution in the Parable of the Wedding Feast in verse 6.

This, together with the passage from Exodus, makes for sobering reading and serious consideration.

Below are the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, October 4, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two options for the first reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading and Psalm — Option One

Readings from Exodus continue. The Lord gives the Ten Commandments to the Israelites via Moses.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

20:1 Then God spoke all these words:

20:2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;

20:3 you shall have no other gods before me.

20:4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

20:7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

20:8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

20:13 You shall not murder.

20:14 You shall not commit adultery.

20:15 You shall not steal.

20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

20:18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance,

20:19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”

20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

The Psalm ties in beautifully with the Ten Commandments. Traditionally-minded Episcopal ministers recite verse 14 before giving a sermon.

Psalm 19

19:1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

19:2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

19:3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

19:4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

19:5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

19:6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;

19:8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;

19:9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

19:11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

19:12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

19:13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

First reading and Psalm — Option Two

The Lord spoke through Isaiah, comparing the house of Israel to a wild, unproductive vineyard.

Isaiah 5:1-7

5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.

5:2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

5:3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.

5:4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

5:5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.

5:6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

5:7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

The Psalm also uses the vineyard allegory in a plea for mercy rather than continuing judgement.

Psalm 80:7-15

80:7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.

80:9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.

80:10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;

80:11 it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.

80:12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?

80:13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.

80:14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,

80:15 the stock that your right hand planted.

Epistle

Readings from Philippians continue. Paul eloquently expresses his love for Christ. The privileges he had in life before his conversion were nothing compared to his subsequent salvation and ministry.

Philippians 3:4b-14

3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:

3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;

3:6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

3:7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,

3:11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,

3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel

Readings from Matthew continue, focussing on the parables of Jesus. Today’s is the Parable of the Vineyard, tying in well with the reading from Isaiah and Psalm 19 above. Verse 42 will be familiar to many.

Matthew 21:33-46

21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.

21:34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.

21:35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

21:36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.

21:37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’

21:39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

21:40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

21:41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?

21:43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.

21:44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.

21:46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

What a powerful set of readings and allegorical use of the vineyard.

God gave His people every blessing, yet the house of Israel preferred serious sin instead, violating His commandments.

Generations later, the chief priests and the Pharisees were supposed to be the experts in Scripture and were to tend to their flock accordingly. Instead, they were like wild vines, wilfully denouncing Jesus, the Messiah. In His parable, Jesus foretold His death. The Jewish hierarchy were the evil tenants of the vineyard. God left them in unbelief and spiritual blindness: a judgement.

As such, He allowed Gentiles to share in His Kingdom (Matthew 21:43).

Below are the readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, August 23, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two options for the First Reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First Reading and Psalm — Option One

Readings about Abraham’s descendants conclude. The beginning of the Book of Exodus below transitions from Joseph to Moses. Egypt has a new — and nasty — Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. Hence, the fortunes of the Israelites take a dramatic turn.

Exodus 1:8-2:10

1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

1:9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.

1:10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”

1:11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.

1:12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.

1:13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites,

1:14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,

1:16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.”

1:17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.

1:18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?”

1:19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”

1:20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong.

1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

1:22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.

2:2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months.

2:3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.

2:4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it.

2:6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said.

2:7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”

2:8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.

2:9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it.

2:10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

It is thought that David wrote the following Psalm after God delivered him and his people from what could have been a very bad situation, one that is left to speculation.

Psalm 124

124:1 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say —

124:2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,

124:3 then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;

124:4 then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;

124:5 then over us would have gone the raging waters.

124:6 Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

124:7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

First Reading and Psalm — Option Two

The Lord promises comfort and salvation to all who believe in Him.

Isaiah 51:1-6

51:1 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.

51:2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.

51:3 For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

51:4 Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.

51:5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.

51:6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.

This is a beautiful Psalm of thanksgiving to God for all His blessings.

Psalm 138

138:1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;

138:2 I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.

138:3 On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.

138:4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth.

138:5 They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.

138:6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.

138:7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.

138:8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Epistle

Paul exhorts the Romans to be united as one in their faith. This is a beautiful reading about the Church.

Romans 12:1-8

12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.

12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

12:4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,

12:5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

12:6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;

12:7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;

12:8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Gospel

Readings from Matthew’s Gospel continue. Here Simon Peter boldly states that Jesus is the Messiah. Verse 18 is one to memorise and take to heart.

Matthew 16:13-20

16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

16:14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

16:20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

There are any number of sermons that one could write about the Epistle and the Gospel, both of which are rich in content and meaning. They are worth rereading throughout the week ahead.

Below are the readings for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, August 16, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two options for the First Reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First Reading and Psalm — Option One

In this season of Trinity, this choice of first readings has focused on Abraham and his descendants. Last week, we had the story of Joseph’s brothers selling him to the Ishmaelites. (Ishmael was Abraham’s illegitimate son by Hagar, his servant. Ishmael became the father of the Arab people.) Today’s reading describes what took place some time later. Joseph was in charge of Pharaoh’s grain stores, which were full, thanks to his careful management. A famine ensued, but Joseph continued to maintain a goodly supply of grain. Jacob had told his other sons to move to Egypt temporarily so that they and their families could be fed. Joseph encountered his brothers, who were slaves. A tearful reconciliation took place.

Genesis 45:1-15

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

45:2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.

45:3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

45:4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.

45:5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

45:6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.

45:7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.

45:8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

45:9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay.

45:10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.

45:11 I will provide for you there–since there are five more years of famine to come–so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.

45:12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you.

45:13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.”

45:14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck.

45:15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

The Psalm verses fit perfectly with the story of Jacob’s sons reconciling with Joseph.

Psalm 133

133:1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

133:2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.

133:3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

First Reading and Psalm — Option Two

With God’s promise of salvation comes responsibility from the faithful: to honour Him and humanity.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

56:1 Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.

56:6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant

56:7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

56:8 Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

The Psalm follows the theme of Jew and Gentile worshipping the one Lord of all creation.

Psalm 67

67:1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

67:2 that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.

67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

67:4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

67:5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

67:6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.

67:7 May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Epistle

This complex reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans says that God has not rejected the Jews fully because of their unbelief. He has brought Gentiles into the promise for the Jews, despite their previous pagan ways. Therefore, God will show mercy to those who repent of their ways. Romans 11 is worth a series of sermons. I doubt whether many clergy are up to that these days.

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

11:2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

11:29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

11:30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,

11:31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.

11:32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Gospel

The Pharisees and scribes took issue with the disciples’ not washing their hands before they ate. Jesus replied that the Jewish elders were guilty of far greater sins; they twisted the commandment to honour one’s mother and father such that it became ‘void of God’. Verse 14 will be very familiar to everyone. Jesus then gathered the crowd to listen to His lesson on what defiles a person. Afterwards, he healed a Gentile woman’s daughter from a distance and blessed the mother for her faith.

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

15:10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:

15:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

15:12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”

15:13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.

15:14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”

15:15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”

15:16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding?

15:17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?

15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.

15:19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.

15:20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

15:21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

15:22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

15:23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”

15:24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

15:25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

15:26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

15:27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

I fear that we are becoming Pharisaical in some of our secular beliefs, turning ourselves into hypocrites. We are too concerned with what goes into our mouths yet we tolerate all manner of sin, things previous generations would never have countenanced. Jesus gives us a strong message in the Gospel. May we heed His words.

Below are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity: August 2, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two options for the First Reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First Reading and Psalm — Option One

Readings continue about the life of Jacob, one of Abraham’s two grandsons and the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. This is the dramatic story of Jacob wrestling with an angel, who appears to him as a man. Matthew Henry has an excellent commentary on this long struggle, which he deems every bit as spiritual as it was physical. Even though Jacob won, he humbly asked for a blessing. He received not only that but also a new name: Israel.

Genesis 32:22-31

32:22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

32:23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

32:24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

32:25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

32:26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

32:27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

32:28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

32:29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

The Psalm is about David’s seeking solace in the Lord against his enemies.

Psalm 17:1-7, 15

17:1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.

17:2 From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.

17:3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.

17:4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.

17:5 My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.

17:6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.

17:7 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.

17:15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

First Reading and Psalm — Option Two

Isaiah prophesies the offer of free grace through Christ in the New Covenant to come and the invitation to the Gentiles to be part of it.

Isaiah 55:1-5

55:1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

55:3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

55:4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Psalm 145 is the first Psalm of praise, a theme that dominates the last six Psalms.

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

145:8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

145:9 The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.

145:14 The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.

145:15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

145:16 You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

145:17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.

145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

145:19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.

145:20 The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

145:21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

Epistle

Paul, a former Pharisee, describes his deep sorrow at the Jews’ rejection of Christ, the Messiah.

Romans 9:1-5

9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit–

9:2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.

9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.

9:4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;

9:5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Gospel

This reading is Matthew’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which was many times more when accounting for women and children (verse 21). This happened after Jesus received news of John the Baptist’s beheading and word of what Herod had said about Him. Herod surmised that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected. That is why He left Herod’s jurisdiction to continue His ministry. His hour had not yet come.

Matthew 14:13-21

14:13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.

14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

14:15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

14:16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

14:17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”

14:18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

14:19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

14:20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.

14:21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

What an amazing miracle that was. I never tire of reading about it.

I hope that all my readers have a blessed Sunday.

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