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

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

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

Jeremiah 31:31-34

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 51:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The alternative Psalm is better for family services:

Psalm 119:9-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 5:5-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 12:20-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Fourth Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday, which is Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom.

Mothering Sunday relates not only to mothers but to the Church:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts explain that Laetare Sunday is when clergy used to wear rose coloured vestments instead of purple. (Some still do.) It is traditionally the happy Sunday in Lent, as laetare means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening words of the traditional Latin Introit, which in English translate to ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. Salvation is coming.

This week’s readings from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library express the themes of liberation, forgiveness and salvation.

The following are readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading has to do with the complaints of the Israelites in the desert, God’s punishment of such complaints in light of their liberation from Egypt, followed by His loving forgiveness:

Numbers 21:4-9

21:4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.

21:5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

21:6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.

21:7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

21:8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

21:9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

The Psalm follows this theme of God’s loving forgiveness — His healing and deliverance from death and destruction:

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble

107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

107:17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;

107:18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.

107:19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;

107:20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.

107:21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

107:22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

Paul’s Epistle discusses the deliverance from sin thanks to God’s grace and salvation through His Son Jesus Christ:

Ephesians 2:1-10

2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins

2:2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

2:3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us

2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved

2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

2:7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

2:9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

John’s Gospel mentions the serpent of the Israelites and, just as that healed them, faith in Jesus Christ brings us to salvation:

John 3:14-21

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

In closing, I wish all my British readers who are mothers a very happy Mothering Sunday.

The following readings are for the Third Sunday in Lent (Year B in the three-year Lectionary), conveniently located at the Vanderbilt University Divinity Library site.

The Old Testament reading lists the Ten Commandments, as God gave them to Moses. Many of us question the use of the word ‘jealous’, which has negative connotations in our society. However, if we think of the word as ‘zealous’, there is less of a problem. explains (emphases mine throughout):

The root idea in the Old Testament word jealous is to become intensely red. It seems to refer to the changing color of the face or the rising heat of the emotions which are associated with intense zeal or fervor over something dear to us. In fact, both the Old and New Testament words for jealousy are also translated “zeal.” Being jealous and being zealous are essentially the same thing in the Bible. God is zealous—eager about protecting what is precious to Him.

One thing He views as especially important to Him in the Old Testament is the nation Israel. She belongs to Him as His special possession, His unique treasure.

Without further ado, here is the Old Testament reading:

Exodus 20:1-17

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.

20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,

20:6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

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.

20:10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.

20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

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.

The Psalm has the verse that Anglican (Episcopalian) clergy often recite before giving a sermon (verse 14, with ‘strength’ used instead of ‘rock’). Note the thematic tie to the Ten Commandments and wisdom:

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.

St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians discusses worldly wisdom, something to avoid when it usurps faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ. This ties into the First Commandment:

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,

1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1:25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

The Gospel reading from John recounts Jesus’s first righteous anger at the sellers and money changers at the temple. Three years later, on His second visit shortly before the Crucifixion, He found that their wicked system had not changed. Note the use of ‘zeal’ — akin to ‘jealous love’ in a good way:

John 2:13-22

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

2:15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

2:16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

2:18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

2:20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”

2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.

2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Note Jesus’s reference to His Resurrection which the Jews at the temple could not — would not — understand. They thought they were wise. They were spiritually blind and stubborn. John’s Gospel is my favourite and a good starting point for those who would like to know more about Christ.

What follows are the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent for Year B in the three-year Lectionary.

These come from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, a handy online reference for Sunday readings.

Themes are God’s covenant with Abraham, God’s infinite love, faith through grace and salvation via a belief in Christ Jesus. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading recounts God’s renaming of Abram and Sarai, promising that Abraham would be the father of many nations. At that time, the couple were elderly and Sarah was barren:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.

17:2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”

17:3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,

17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

17:5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

17:6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

17:7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

17:15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

17:16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

The Psalm exhorts the twelve tribes of Israel — Jacob’s offspring — to glorify the Lord, who is faithful to His people:

Psalm 22:23-31

22:23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

22:24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

22:28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

22:29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

22:31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

In the Epistle, Paul explains that God’s covenant with Abraham was based not on legalism but on faith, similarly our salvation through a belief in Jesus Christ:

Romans 4:13-25

4:13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

4:14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

4:15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

4:16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

4:17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) –in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

4:18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”

4:19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

4:20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,

4:21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

4:22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

4:23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone,

4:24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,

4:25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Clergy have the choice of two readings from Mark’s Gospel, the second of which is the Transfiguration. It is useful to contemplate the two together, for reasons which follow.

The last verse in this first Gospel reading is particularly important to remember:

Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The story of the Transfiguration features each year during Lent. Jesus took His leading apostles to witness what was a ‘terrifying’ experience for them. A New Covenant was being made with the world:

Mark 9:2-9

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,

9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Ligonier Ministries has a concise and excellent explanation of the two readings, ‘The Mount of Transformation’. Excerpts follow:

Peter and the other disciples found it difficult to believe that Jesus would have to suffer and die, and they were no doubt troubled by our Lord’s teaching that true discipleship involves suffering (Mark 8:31–38). They needed encouragement that all was proceeding exactly as God had planned and that suffering for Christ’s sake would be worthwhile. In the transfiguration, they received such encouragement and assurance.

The account of Jesus’ transfiguration is so familiar that we must be careful not to miss the significance of the details. It occurred on a high mountain (9:2), which recalls Moses’ meeting with God high up on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:20). The disciples, on the Mount of Transfiguration, were participating in an event that marked a key transition in the history of the Lord’s people. At Sinai, the mediator of the old covenant—Moses—was established; on the Mount of Transfiguration, the mediator of the new covenant—Jesus Christ was revealed and confirmed

Peter, James, and John saw the purity and deity of our Savior on that occasion, which would strengthen their faith over the course of the rest of their lives (2 Peter 1:16–18).

Reading the coming Sunday’s Scripture in advance of the church service often reinforces the messages we are meant to understand.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent (Year B), from Vanderbilt University’s three-year Lectionary site. Emphases mine.

The Old Testament reading tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants. God promised not to destroy Earth with a flood. The sign of His covenant is the rainbow. This is one of my favourite Bible passages:

Genesis 9:8-17

9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

9:9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,

9:10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.

9:11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

9:12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

9:13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

9:14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,

9:15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

9:16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

9:17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Psalm reminds us of God’s infinite mercy and steadfast love:

Psalm 25:1-10

25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

In the Epistle, Peter, in describing the New Covenant, points to both the themes in the Psalm and the reading from Genesis:

1 Peter 3:18-22

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Gospel recounts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus’s subsequent exhortation to ‘believe in the good news’:

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.”

This is a powerful set of readings, well worth reflecting upon before church on Sunday.

December 31, 2018 is the First Sunday after Christmas. Readings for Year B of the three-year Lectionary are used.

The Gospel reading used in Year B is the one traditionally read on February 2 — Candlemas.

That said, this reading about Simeon and Anna witnessing the presentation of Jesus in the Temple describes what took place 40 days after Jesus’s birth, not eight days. Luke 2:22-40 recounts Mary and Jesus appearing with Joseph after Mary had undergone the customary ritual purification. They also presented a sacrifice.

Note the timeframe in Luke 2:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22 And 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 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

There is so much to study and consider in this passage that I broke it down into two parts several years ago.

Luke 2:22-32 discusses Simeon’s prophecy and the obedience of the Holy Family to Jewish law.

Luke 2:33-40 recounts Anna’s piety and explains the meaning of her father’s name Phanuel/Penuel/Peniel.

The other readings for Christmas 1, Year B, follow.

Where used, this is the first 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.

The Psalm is as follows:

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!

This is the Epistle:

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.

The aforementioned Gospel follows the Epistle.

The reading from Galatians is timely. The other day I wrote about an anti-Christmas guest editorial published in Australia and in the Washington Post in 2014. In short, WaPo tweeted the link to it again in 2017. The author, who lectures in Religious Studies at the University of Sidney, posits that there is no evidence Jesus lived among us. He says that Paul and other New Testament writers spoke of a ‘celestial Jesus’. The man’s former professor wrote a rebuttal for Australia’s ABC saying that Paul emphasised Jesus’s human qualities. He even cites Galatians 4:4.

Paul was not describing a celestial Jesus but One who came to earth as our Redeemer and Saviour.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauDecember 17, 2017, was Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent.

Gaudete Sunday

Traditionally, the celebrant in Catholic Mass as well as Anglican and Lutheran Communion services wears a pink — rose — vestment, because this is a time of joy and hope in expectation of our Saviour’s birth.

Even in the absence of a rose vestment, the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit on this particular day.

For these reasons, Gaudete Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday.

Gaudete means ‘rejoice’ in Latin. The name is taken from the original Introit:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

This is the English translation (emphases mine):

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Many centuries ago, Lent began much earlier, after the feast of St Martin on November 11:

The season of Advent originated as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas, commencing on the day after the feast of St. Martin (11 November), whence it was often called St. Martin’s Lent“—a name by which it was known as early as the fifth century. In the ninth century, the duration of Advent was reduced to four weeks, and Advent preserved most of the characteristics of a penitential season which made it a kind of counterpart to Lent.

The Lenten counterpart is Laetare Sunday.

One can imagine that after several weeks of fasting, a break must have been welcome, which is what is done on these two Sundays during the two seasons of penitence.

The readings communicate spiritual joy and expectation.

Gaudete Sunday readings — Year B

The Gaudete Sunday readings for Year B are available at the Vanderbilt University Lectionary library.

Not all of them are used in a single service but all have the theme of hope and joy.

We see the theme of expectation in the reading from Isaiah:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

61:9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

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.

Some Christians use that as a defence of social justice, but the greater message is that God made a covenant to send His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to Earth to humbly save mankind. Jesus released us from captivity to sin and freed us to be with Him for eternity.

The Psalm’s theme is joy after being released from captivity. I particularly love the expressive second half of the first verse:

Psalm 126

126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

126:6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

The Magnificat gives glory and thanks to God. These are the words of Mary at the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to tell her she would be the mother of Jesus:

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

St Paul’s message is one of rejoicing and praying unceasingly. As we turn from sin — an Advent theme — may God sanctify us entirely as we await the coming of our Saviour:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

5:16 Rejoice always,

5:17 pray without ceasing,

5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.

5:20 Do not despise the words of prophets,

5:21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good;

5:22 abstain from every form of evil.

5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

5:24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

John’s Gospel tells us of John the Baptist, who prophesied, baptised and prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah. Note John’s theme of light, especially timely as we enter into the darkest days of the year, although he was referring to Jesus Christ as the light against worldly darkness:

John 1:6-8, 19-28

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

1:20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”

1:21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”

1:22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

1:23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said.

1:24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.

1:25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

1:26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,

1:27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

1:28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The traditional Octave of Christmas also began on December 17. Readings to follow tomorrow for December 17 and 18.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauWhat follows are the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017.

These are from Year B in the three-year Lectionary. Emphases mine below.

Note the themes of temporal time contrasted with eternity as well as God’s mercy, God’s glory and the coming of the Saviour.

Isaiah 40:1-11

40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

40:2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

40:3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

40:5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

40:6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.

40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.

40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

40:10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

40:11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah

85:8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.

85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

85:11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.

85:12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

85:13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

2 Peter 3:8-15a

3:8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.

3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

3:11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,

3:12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?

3:13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

3:14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish;

3:15a and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.

Mark 1:1-8

1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1:2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;

1:3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

1:5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

1:6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

1:7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus Light of the World 616Christ the King Sunday — also known as the Feast of Christ the King and Stir up Sunday — was on November 26, 2017.

This feast day is the last Sunday of the Church year.

December 2, 2017, is the first Sunday in Advent. From then through the week following the next Christ the King Sunday, readings will come from Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Christ the King Sunday

Pope Pius XI created this feast day in 1925 to combat secularism imposed by dictatorships around the world at that time. Until 1960, the feast day was the last Sunday in October. With Vatican II, it was moved to the end of November.

As Protestant denominations began using the Lectionary in the 1970s, more of them gradually adopted the feast. Wikipedia tells us (bold emphases in the original, the one in purple mine):

Those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary observe Christ the King Sunday as the final Sunday of their liturgical years.[12] These churches include most major Anglican and mainline Protestant groups, including the Church of England, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in North America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran groups, United Methodist Church and other Methodist groups, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the Moravian Church. Some, such as the Uniting Church in Australia refer to it in non-gendered terms as feast of The Reign of Christ.

In the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden, this day is referred to as the Sunday of Doom, previously highlighting the final judgement, though after the Lectionary of 1983 the theme of the day was amended to the Return of Christ. In the Church in Wales, part of the Anglican Communion, the 4 Sundays before Advent are called the “Sundays of the Kingdom” and Christ the King is observed as a season and not a single festal day.

The United Methodist Church website has details on the impact the feast had in Mexico in the 1920s (emphases mine below):

It was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental pushback!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.”

In Britain, the feast is popularly known as Stir up Sunday, the time when women start making their Christmas cakes, which need the ensuing weeks in order to achieve maximum flavour and texture. The name comes from the traditional Collect:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be richly rewarded: through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen

Of course, in our postmodern era, some Christians object to the use of gender-oriented language, such as the word ‘king’. Therefore, some churches refer to it as Reign of Christ Sunday.

The aforementioned United Methodist Church article has a social justice tone to it regarding this particular feast day:

Here’s the part we may not like as well, but must pay attention to.

This shepherd takes sides.

This is also the shepherd who will choose to ignore or even destroy the sheep who have prospered at the expense of those who have been injured and scattered, those who have pushed or shoved the others out of the way to get all the choicest pasture for themselves, those who made themselves strong on the backs of those who were weaker and whom they made weaker still. This shepherd has no interest in their preservation. They are like a cancer, taking and consuming resources for themselves and their own purposes that were intended to be made available for the good of the whole body. If they will survive at all, it will be without the help of this shepherd.

This shepherd sides with the weak, the outcast, the damaged, the diseased, the abandoned, the marginalized.

That is what the Year A readings say, certainly, but there are different readings for the other two Lectionary years.

ChurchYear.Net understands our Saviour, the King of Kings, more broadly:

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word “messiah,” and the Greek word “Christ,” both mean “anointed one,” and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and he did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.

ChurchYear.Net explains Pius XI’s original objectives for establishing this feast day:

Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects. They were:

1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

Today, the same distrust of authority exists, although the problem has gotten worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Also, many balk at the idea of kings and queens, believing them to be antiquated and possibly oppressive. Some even reject the titles of “lord” and “king” for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. However true these statements might be (some kings have been oppressive), these individuals miss the point: Christ’s kingship is one of humility and service.

The site also has a separate page of prayers and hymns for Christ the King Sunday.

The readings for 2017 — Year A — are on the Vanderbilt University Lectionary site. The respective Epistle and Gospel follow:

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.


Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

First Sunday of Advent

The Epistle and Gospel readings for the First Sunday of Advent — Lectionary Year B — continue a similar theme, about being prepared for the Final Judgement.

Note that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians mentions thankfulness, spiritual strength and spiritual gifts — all coming from God — and being called into the fellowship of 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.

In Mark’s Gospel, we read Jesus’s warning about not knowing when the time will come, therefore, be prepared — ‘keep alert’, ‘keep awake’:

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.”

Most Christians observe Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. I will feature Advent posts and resources in the coming weeks.

Until then, readers might find Vanderbilt’s Advent resources and this page of Sunday readings useful.

Hand of God leedsacukBefore I get to my next Forbidden Bible Verses instalment, coming tomorrow, it is important to mention that the word ‘Christian’ appears in the Bible, specifically Acts 11:26.

I wrote about the first half of Acts 11 last week. The second half of Acts 11 is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship (emphases mine below):

The Church in Antioch

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists[c] also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers[d] living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

This reading is not only interesting but also important to the development of the early Church. Before discussing it in full, I will go into the use of the word Christian in Antioch. The city was pagan, and those who did not convert used ‘Christian’ as a derogatory term. John MacArthur explains:

That’s a new name and it was a term of derision, iani, i-a-n-i had to do with the party of. A Caesariani would have to do with Caesar. Christiani would be of the party of Christ, and this was a derisive mocking term. Oh he’s a Christian. He’s one of those Christ-party ones. The fact that Agrippa said, “… persuadeth thou me to become a Christian. And Peter says in I Peter 4, “If any of you suffer for being a Christian don’t be ashamed.” That was a term of derision. Those blessed people turned it into something courageous or something lovely, didn’t they? And you know something people, you and I bear the name that they died to preserve in purity. You know so many people call themselves Christians so glibly. Listen, if you’re a Christian, my friend, wear it well. It was given to the finest.

It is not so different today, particularly in parts of Europe where Christians are derided every day. It’s one of the reasons why I very much enjoy the opportunity to bring Christianity as a topic into a dinner party conversation.

The first part of Acts 11 records Peter’s account of the Holy Spirit descending on the Gentiles — namely Cornelius and his household — which was followed by baptism. Peter had to justify this to the Jewish converts in Jerusalem, because they were angry with him for teaching and associating with Gentiles. These were hardliners, known as the circumcision party, who believed that one could only believe in Jesus by becoming a Jew first, including the rite of circumcision. Once Peter explained everything, they not only calmed down, they also praised God.

The second part of Acts 11 records the expansion of the Church further into Gentile territory. We also see the re-emergence of Barnabas. St Luke, the author of Acts, was truly divinely inspired to write such a fascinating account of the Apostles’ and the disciples’ work.

Verse 19 reminds us that after Stephen was made the first martyr for Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 7), which Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) was involved in (Acts 8), many of the Jews who converted there left the city. The original Apostles remained for those who stayed. Among those who left were Hellenist (Greek) Jews. The scattered converts went near and far to convert more Jews. They would have long been out of Jerusalem by the time Peter returned to the city after his visit with Cornelius. They probably would have been out for six or seven years at that time.

MacArthur explains their various journeys in light of verse 19:

Now Phoenicia is the coastal plain of Palestine right along the Mediterranean Sea. Two famous cities there: Tyre and Sidon. And from either of those port cities you could catch a ship and go west and you’d come to the island of Cyprus. So that’s what they did. They went up to Phoenicia, Tyre, and Sidon and some of them got on a ship and west to Cyprus.

Some of them didn’t go west they just kept going north. If you keep going north on the coast you come to Antioch. Antioch became the capital of Syria and Antioch was then a strategic place and some folks came there. But notice this: that they were preaching to Jews only. Why? Because they still believe that salvation was for the Jews and they were still hung up on a nationalistic view of salvation. But God was about to bust them out of the shell.

However, some spoke to the Gentiles — Hellenists — in Antioch of Jesus (verse 20).

MacArthur describes Antioch, a largely pagan city full of commerce, culture and depravity:

Now Antioch is a very interesting city, 15 miles or so from the mouth of the Euphrates River, founded in about 300 B.C., later was made a free city. And when it was made a free city under the Roman government in 64 A. D. it has its own self-government. It became the capital of the Province of Syria. It became very famous, grew like crazy. It was the third largest city in the world. First was Rome, then was Alexandria, then was Antioch, had 600,000 people at least. It was famous for culture, it was famous for business. It was just a very very very large city. The network of Roman roads crisscrossed Antioch so it was a place where the all the caravans of the East unloaded their wares and all the wharves and warehouses of Antioch. Cicero said it was a land of most learned men in liberal studies. But with all this good thing it was basically known as an evil city. In fact, Juvenal, a Roman writer said that the Euphrates River spilled its garbage into the Tiber, and what he meant was that Antioch corrupted Rome.

Now if Rome was rotten you can get an idea about how rotten that which corrupted Rome must have been. Antioch was gross to put it mildly. The people lived for their pleasures. One writer said that life there was a perpetual festival of vice revolving around the baths, brothels, the amphitheatre and the circus. And so it was an evil place.

There was a goddess by the name Daphne, who was supposed to be the lover of Apollo and they built a garden that was so big it was 10 miles in circumference and it was populated by prostitutes and you went in and indulged yourself in the garden and the prostitute activity and all kinds of sick immoralities. That was worship in the city of Antioch. When they wanted to expand their religious opportunities they hired magicians, sorcerers, charlatans and Babylonian astrologers made a fortune off the people of Antioch. So it was a vile place.

Converts preached to the pagans in the city and ‘the hand of the Lord was with them’ (verse 21). Many pagans — Gentiles — converted. MacArthur reminds us of the significance of ‘the hand of the Lord’ in Scripture:

It means two things: first of all it means power. The hand of the Lord means power. In Exodus 14:31, the Bible says, “And Israel saw that great work, which the Lord had done.” And the word work is the word hand. It expresses power and the Egyptians were shocked at what God had done. They said, “Look it is the finger of God.” His hand extended means power. But it always means power with blessing. There may be something happening in it, but ultimately He’s blessing. It may be something of an evil nature initially, but blessing is the end of it. And it’s more qualified in Ezra. Ezra 7:9, Ezra 8:18, Nehemiah 2: 2,8, 18. All of that in there you can read sometime not now. But in that passage you have the statement, “The good hand of the Lord.” And it’s repeated at least four or five times. The hand of the Lord then means blessing.

So the hand of the Lord is power for blessing. And so the hand of the Lord moved into Antioch with power that resulted in salvation, power with blessing. And look at the harvest. A great number believed.

News of these great conversions in Antioch reached Jerusalem. The church there sent Barnabas to join the disciples in Antioch.

Barnabas appeared early in Acts, specifically Acts 4:36-37:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabas was one of the Hellenist Jews who converted in Jerusalem. There is a further explanation on him by John MacArthur in this post. In short, he was a kind, generous, devout man.

He also lacked prejudice. In my post on Acts 9:26-31, when Saul of Tarsus — the fiercest persecutor of the Church in Jerusalem — returned a convert and attempted to join the disciples, only Barnabas came to his defence. It was thanks to Barnabas’s efforts that they accepted Saul:

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

That passage states that Saul had to leave Jerusalem, because the Jews wanted to kill him. So, he went back to his native Tarsus for a few years.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he was delighted to see such a manifestation of God’s grace, but some of the converts were discouraged — no doubt ridiculed, perhaps harmed. Barnabas encouraged — ‘exhorted’ — them to keep the faith (verse 23).

Here’s a note from MacArthur on the meaning of ‘exhortation’:

Positive encouragement. It’s not the idea of browbeating. There are some people who think they’re exhorting when all they’re doing is browbeating, crushing people. This is positive encouragement.

Through Barnabas’s exhortations, many more souls in Antioch were added to the Lord (verse 24).

There were so many converts now that Barnabas needed help from another powerful teacher. So, he left for Tarsus in search of Saul (verse 25). Barnabas also did not want to lose any of the converts. They had a hard time living in a depraved metropolis — not so different to big cities today:

First thing, he exhorted them to cling to the Lord. That’s the first thing necessary, I think, in dealing with a new Christian. You’ve led somebody to Christ, what’s the thing that concerns you the most? That they hold on to Christ, right? That their faith be real. You say, “I hope you mean this.” And then you begin to think, “Oh I hope they read the Word, right? and I hope they pray, and I hope it’s real.” Isn’t that what you think, always? Sure. That’s your first reaction when you lead somebody to Christ. I hope it’s real. I hope they hang onto to Christ and that they secure that faith by, that they secure that salvation by real faith …

Number two, if you are real, stay close to Jesus Christ. Practice His presence. You know the greatest joy for me when I lead somebody to Jesus Christ to see that person really getting involved with Jesus Christ. Isn’t that your joy? How many times have you led somebody to Christ and you can’t find them? Just discourages and breaks your heart. They’ve wandered off somewhere and you don’t know where they are. You try to track them down, it’s a sad thing. And so the first thing He does is come on, “Continue, continue,” He says. “Hold on to the Lord with all your strength.”

Once Barnabas found Saul, he brought him to Antioch. MacArthur says that Saul was preaching and teaching in and around Tarsus. He was not popular with many and got into a lot of trouble for his faith:

He went all over Cilicia starting churches. Well, in the meantime according to II Corinthians 11 says, he was being beaten up mercilessly and all the things that he suffered in II Corinthians 11, probably many of them or most of them even occurred in these years we don’t know about, the quiet years of Paul.

During that time he had really been working for the Lord and he was not easy to find. The word seek in the English doesn’t help you at all. What it means in the Greek is to search for something with difficulty. He couldn’t find him. Why? He probably long ago had been kicked out of Tarsus, and long ago kicked out of every other town that he traced him to. He finally caught up with him. He was so busy preaching. He might have been glad to get out of there by now and the Lord knew that and the timing was right.

This marks the beginning of the preaching duo of Saul and Barnabas. The two stayed with the expanding church in Antioch for a year (verse 26). We will read more about their ministry elsewhere in Acts.

The final verses of Acts 11 point to famine, backed up by historians of the day, and distant relief efforts made by the early Church, which created a framework so characteristic of Christianity: charitable giving to those far away who need help.

Prophets travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch (verse 27). One of them, Agabus, foretold a great famine that would overtake much of that part of the world during the reign of Claudius (verse 28).

MacArthur tells us more:

The Jerusalem church sent up some prophets. There were prophets in the New Testament. They were foundational like apostles Ephesians 2:20 tells us. And they spoke for God, and they preached, and their preaching is described in I Corinthians 14, if you want to check it out. But they preached and also spoke and sometimes predicted the future for God. They have ceased as an office.

The gift of prophecy still goes on, which is preaching. But the office of a prophet is ceased. But then it happened so some prophets came to Antioch and they stood up one of them come to speak for God and tell the church at Antioch some things they needed to know and his name was Agabus and he signified by the Spirit that there should be great famine throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Incidentally, history says Claudius ruled from 41 to 54 and during the year 45 and 46 there were great famines in Israel. No crops came through, they all failed. Terrible famines are recorded by Chassidus, Josephus, Yesevias, Cassius, and there were times of famine.

The church in Antioch decided to give whatever they could to the church in Judea, sending it via Barnabas and Saul (verses 29, 30). Those who could give more generously did so. Those who gave what little they had out of necessity received no criticism.

In closing, I wanted to return to MacArthur’s recipe for church growth: doctrine and Scripture, about which I wrote the other day.

He is quite certain that is how Barnabas and Saul were able to increase the church in Antioch so dramatically:

Let’s see what they do? What kind of program they had? Boy I want to know because I got a church too. I want to find out what kind of program you need to get that thing going. And it came to pass for a whole year they assembled themselves together with the church, and had a lot of soup suppers, and had several contests, and lots of musical extravaganzas. That what it says? You say, that doesn’t say that. No, no. It says some of them together for one year and together they did what? Taught! You want to know what the church is for? It’s for teaching. If you never learn anything else about the church you learn that you’ve learned enough. The church is for teaching.

And I want to give you another salient point that I think you need to understand. When it came to pass that for a whole year they assembled themselves with the church. The word with is in, in the Greek it’s in. They assembled in the church. Apparently they had a large place where they all came together. The word assemble means they were all brought together. This idea that you can only teach in little groups isn’t so. Here in Antioch they had a big mass meeting where Paul and Barnabas taught them all the time for a year, that was their minister. You say well I’ll never forget one guy said one time he says, “What makes your church grow?” I said, “It’s just the teaching.” He says, “Oh that’ll never do it. I tried that. You got to do more than just teaching.” Well they spent a year teaching and the results are still going on. That’s my whole commitment. I don’t think the church really needs to set itself to do much else but teach. Teach. Teach. Teach. At every level, in every way, through every avenue, teach the Word of God.

The apostles said in Acts 6, “We will give ourselves continually to the ministry of the Word and prayer.” Teach. Teach. Teach. For one year they just taught and the fruit of their teaching, oh beloved fruit.

I really do wish today’s clergy realised this: preach the Word and they will come! No gimmicks necessary!

Forbidden Bible Verses continues tomorrow.

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