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File:Himmelfahrt Christi.jpgThe feast day of the Ascension of the Lord is Thursday, May 13, 2021.

The painting at left is German, Himmelfahrt Christi (The Ascension of Christ), by Mattheis Störbel. It was painted between 1515 and 1519 and is in the Deutsche Museum Nürnberg. This is likely to be the only depiction of the Ascension showing our Lord’s feet alone. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Relevant posts follow, including the readings:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Acts 1:1-11

1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning

1:2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

1:3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;

1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Commentary is from John MacArthur.

The first verse should be no mystery, although I hope that celebrants everywhere explain to their congregations that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts, or Acts of the Apostles.

John MacArthur gives us the details:

Luke is the author of Acts. And Luke was closely associated with the apostles from about the time of Jesus’ death, around 30 A.D. to about 60 or 63 A.D. when evidently he penned this book; and in those intervening 30‑plus years, as Luke travelled in the companionship of the apostles, he penned what was going on …

Now, there are many reasons that Luke wanted to write this, and we could, perhaps, pull out as many reasons as there are truths in the book. It’s important, because it gives us the pattern of the church. It’s important, because it shows us the pattern of world evangelism. It’s important, because there are principles of discipleship. It’s important for a multiplicity of reasons. But in Luke’s own mind, as he is writing, he is directing this book to a particular Roman high official whose name we shall see in a moment; and in writing to this man, he is evidently – as one of his purposes – attempting to commend Christianity to the Roman world.

MacArthur tells us about Theophilus:

Now, if you go back to the beginning of Luke and look at chapter 1, verse 3, Luke addresses this gospel to Theophilus. He says, “To write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.” Luke wrote Luke, the gospel of Luke, to Theophilus, and we know that. Now, here in chapter 1 of Acts, verse 1, he says, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,” so we know it’s the same writer

Now, picking just a moment, some thoughts from the name Theophilus, which is a combination of two words meaning beloved of God, or friend of God, or lover of God. Theophilus we know little or nothing about except historically. In the second century, his name appears, and is some indication in the second century sources that he was an influential wealthy official in Antioch. There’s also some indication that Luke was originally from Antioch, and therefore Luke had a knowledge of this man; and perhaps because he was a well‑known physician had some connection with Theophilus.

Undoubtedly, Theophilus had become a believer; and consequently Luke had addressed these particular volumes to Theophilus to give him information, as he states in Luke, concerning Jesus Christ that he might well understand the things in which he had been instructed. So evidently he had come to Christ, and now he needed detail; and perhaps Theophilus was a man who demanded detail. Also the fact that he commends Christianity to the Romans would be in back of his mind as he writes to a Roman like Theophilus.

Now, we may also assume from Luke chapter 1, where he calls him “excellent Theophilus,” that he was a high-ranking Roman official, for the term “excellent” also appears in connection with Festus and Felix who were governors. So it is very likely that this man Theophilus was a very high-ranking Roman official who had come to Christ; and it is this one to whom Luke pens this two-volume set on the work of Jesus Christ, His work on earth and His work through His church, Volume 2. And you’ll notice that this is indicated very simply in verse 1. It says this: “I’m writing to you about all that Jesus” – what’s the next word? – “began, began to do and to teach.” In other words, “I only got it started.” Jesus on earth in the gospel accounts only began to do the work.

Luke writes that his first book — the Gospel — was about the ministry of Jesus up to His ascension to heaven, having given Spirit-inspired instructions to the Apostles, whom He had chosen (verse 2).

Readers of the New Testament know that the Apostles, especially Peter, did not understand the purpose of His ministry very well. Jesus knew that He needed to send them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, otherwise they would not be able to expand the Church.

MacArthur explains Luke’s use of ‘taken up to heaven’, repeated in verses 9 and 11:

Verse 9 emphasized it. It say He was taken up, verse 11 says He was taken up, and verse 22 says He was taken up. And the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something: He was taken up. Physically in His glorified body, Jesus went up into heaven.

… the same Jesus Christ in the same glorified body that was touched by those disciples is sitting at the right hand of the Father, no different than He was when He left …

When He comes back He’ll be the very same that He was when He left. That’s why we can have confidence in what the writer of Hebrews says that we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He knows how we feel, because He’s there even now in a glorified body.

After His resurrection, Jesus continued appearing to the Apostles — eleven in number — teaching them about the kingdom of God (verse 3).

Jesus no longer appeared to everyone, as He had done before He was crucified. He appeared only to His disciples.

Luke says that Jesus told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait until God fulfilled His promise (verse 4): a baptism not of water, as in John the Baptist’s time, but of the Holy Spirit (verse 5).

That baptism of the Spirit would be a first. MacArthur explains how the Holy Spirit operated through prophets previously:

in the old economy, the Spirit would come and go according to the need. If you’re going to do a special work, the Spirit would come in, and then when the work was done He would depart.

The Old Testament says the Spirit of God descended upon Elijah then the Spirit of God departed. This is how the Spirit of God worked, never indwelling, but just moving in-and-out for a specific purpose. But the promise now is that the Spirit will come and be in you. That’s John 14:17, one of the really key verses in all the Word of God.

Note that when they gathered around Jesus before His return to the Father, the Apostles asked if He was going to restore Israel’s kingdom (verse 6). They were still thinking temporally, not spiritually.

Jesus deflects that by saying that only God the Father knows when He will accomplish His purpose according to His timeline (verse 7).

He then returns to discussing the imminent arrival, ten days hence, of the Holy Spirit which will enable the Apostles to be Christ’s witnesses, not only in the lands nearest to Jerusalem but also ‘to the ends of the earth’ (verse 8).

MacArthur paraphrases that verse:

“Don’t concentrate on when I’m coming; you concentrate on doing the job until I get there.”

He discusses the word ‘witness’ in Greek, from which we get the word ‘martyr’, and applies it to Westerners’ practice of Christianity today:

It’s interesting; the word “witness” here is martures. “Witnesses unto me” is mou martures, “My martyrs, My martyrs.” For some of you maybe it’ll be that. So many Christians died that the word “witness” finally came to mean martyr. So many of them died. Are you willing?

It’s sad; not only are we not willing to die for Jesus, most of us aren’t even willing to live for Him. We haven’t even learned not only what it is to be a dead sacrifice, but we haven’t learned what it is to be a living sacrifice.

Do you know what it is to be a living sacrifice? I think maybe Hosea knew a little bit about it when he said, “I’ll offer God the calves of my lips,” – in other words – “the real me.” I think Abraham knew what it was about when he went to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac would have been a dead sacrifice; Abraham would have been a living one. He was sacrificing all of his dreams, and promises, and everything God had ever given him when he slew that son. But he was willing to do it for God’s sake.

And that’s what a living witness is all about; that’s what a martyr is all about. God doesn’t necessarily want you to die for Him, but He wants you to live for Him as if you couldn’t care less about anything, sacrificing everything you have for His glory: a living witness, a living martyr, a living sacrifice.

As soon as Jesus had spoken about the Apostles’ upcoming mission, He was ‘lifted up’ and a cloud took Him out of their sight (verse 9).

As He ascended — returning home — the Apostles looked upward, when, suddenly, two men in white robes appeared beside them (verse 10).

The two men ask why the Apostles were looking heavenward, then say that Jesus will return to us in the same way that He left (verse 11). What a glorious day that will be.

The rapid growth of the Church was the result of the Holy Spirit entering into the Apostles, then those to whom they preached, not just for a time, but throughout their lives, just as we do:

The early church did it right. They did it from the day of Pentecost for thirty years. And you can follow the church by the blaze of their witness: super-charged with divine power. Witnessing fearlessly to the world, they turned the currents of civilization, they changed the face of the ages for God; and they had no more equipment than you have – none at all.

Admittedly, the Apostles did have particular Spirit-led gifts, such as healing. These were only for the Apostolic Era in order to spread the growth of the Church.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

My grandfather had a poem written in his Bible, and I memorized it; and it goes like this: “When I stand at the judgment seat of Christ and He shows me His plan for me, the plan of my life as it might have been, and I see how I blocked Him here and checked Him there and would not yield my will; will there be grief in my Savior’s eyes, grief though He loves me still? He would have me rich, but I stand there poor, stripped of all but His grace, while memory runs like a haunted thing down a path I can’t retrace. Then my desolate heart will well nigh break with tears I cannot shed. I’ll cover my face with my empty hands, I’ll bow my uncrowned head.” Then this prayer: “O Lord, of the years that are left to me, I give them to Thy hand. Take me, break me, mold me to the pattern that Thou hast planned.”

I don’t know how much time we have, but I know whatever you do for Christ needs to be done today, because Jesus is coming. Christian, do you see it? Chapter 1, verse 1 to 11. You’ve got it all, you’ve got it all. It’s only a question of your will.

There is much for us to contemplate between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday — the Church’s birthday — in ten days’ time.

Below are the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 18.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Peter has just healed a lame man. It is a pity that the Lectionary compilers could not have included the first part of Acts 3 to put this reading into context. This miracle took place soon after the first Pentecost. Who doesn’t want to hear about a miracle?

One would almost think the Lectionary editors despise the Bible. These omissions make most pewsitters think that Holy Scripture is arcane, obscure or boring.

Here are those verses:

The Lame Beggar Healed

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.[a] And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Peter Speaks in Solomon’s Portico

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s.

Here is today’s reading, which shows how the Holy Spirit transformed Peter into a bold healer and preacher:

Acts 3:12-19

3:12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?

3:13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him.

3:14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you,

3:15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

3:16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

3:17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.

3:18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.

3:19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,

Psalm

In this short Psalm, David exhorts his people to repent for the peace it provides with God. It fits well with the reading from Acts.

Psalm 4

4:1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

4:2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah

4:3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

4:4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah

4:5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.

4:6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!”

4:7 You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.

4:8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.

Epistle

Readings from 1 John continue. John tells his Christian converts of the glorified bodies that they and all believers will have one day as children of God.

1 John 3:1-7

3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

3:3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

3:4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

3:5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

3:6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Gospel

This reading comes at the end of Luke’s Gospel. The preceding event was the encounter with Christ — although the disciples did not recognise Him — on the road to Emmaus on the day of our Lord’s resurrection. He now had a glorified body.

Luke 24:36b-48

24:36b While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

24:37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

24:38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

24:39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

24:40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

24:41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

24:42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,

24:43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48 You are witnesses of these things.

So, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture. It was God’s plan for His Son to suffer at the hands of men to die for our sins, reconcile us to God and bring us to everlasting life.

I am writing this on Saturday, the day of Prince Philip’s funeral at Windsor Castle. Eternal rest grant unto your servant Philip, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

All being well, Monday’s post will recap the funeral and include more recollections about Prince Philip.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday after Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, January 10, 2021.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

We have Moses’s account of the beginning of the world. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that word Moses used for God was Elohim, meaning ‘the great God, the God of Creation’.

Genesis 1:1-5

1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

1:2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

1:4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

1:5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm

Matthew Henry says that many Bible scholars think that David wrote this Psalm during a severe storm. While all around him were paralysed by fear, David wrote of his confidence that God, the ruler of nature, would let no harm come to them.

Psalm 29

29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Epistle

I hope that celebrants giving sermons on Sunday explain to their congregations that John the Baptist had many followers. During his ministry, a good number of those baptised were passing through the region then returned home to a distant land. As such, they had not heard of Jesus. Paul taught them about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Ephesus was in Asia Minor, a very long way away from the River Jordan.

Acts 19:1-7

19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.

19:2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

19:3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”

19:4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”

19:5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

19:6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied

19:7 altogether there were about twelve of them.

Gospel

This is Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus. Our Lord did not need baptism, but as He did with Jewish law, again unnecessary for Him, he obeyed. In other Gospel accounts, John was understandably reluctant to baptise his relative, Jesus, but He insisted. The Holy Spirit and God the Father’s voice came from heaven after our Lord’s baptism (verses 10, 11). Note that John did not preach his message in Jerusalem, but, as was prophesied, in the wilderness.

Mark 1:4-11

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.”

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.”

I read on a notionally Christian website around 15 years ago that Baptism was not necessary for salvation. Perhaps, in certain cases. However, throughout His life, Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem, preached in the synagogue in Nazareth and obeyed the religious laws of His time.

He set the example for believers. Why would we not follow it by joining a good church and receiving the Sacraments?

Circumcision of Christ stained glassMay I wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Given our present circumstances in the West, we have much for which to pray in 2021, particularly health and prosperity.

For centuries, January 1 was known in the established denominations of the Church as the Circumcision of Jesus, the Circumcision of Christ or the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord:

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

The stained glass depicting this religious rite came from Cologne, Germany. It was made in the 15th century for a religious order known as the Crutched Friars. It now hangs in the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan:

New Year’s greetings — and the Feast of the Circumcision (2017, details on circumcision stained glass window)

Luke’s Gospel is the only one that mentions this ceremony, more about which below in the context of the life of Christ.

The readings for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus are in the next post:

Readings for New Year’s Day — the Holy Name of Jesus (all Lectionary years)

The Gospel is largely the same reading from Christmas Day, apart from the addition of verse 21 (emphases mine):

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The shepherds went to see the Christ Child not once, but twice.

They were no ordinary shepherds, but rather shepherds who tended the animals destined for sacrifice at the temple. They were located at Migdal Eder, mentioned twice in the Old Testament. Micah 4:8 contains the prophecy of the Messiah; it would be the place where His presence would be declared first:

Migdal Eder: the shepherds provide a biblical key to unlocking the Christmas story

John MacArthur doesn’t mention Migdal Eder, but he has this to say about the shepherds’ return visit:

Hey, did you know that when you become a Christian and you’ve had the greatest imaginable transformation and you heard the revelation from God, you believed it and you’ve embraced Christ and you’ve begun to witness, when all of that has happened and you begin to think deeply about the profound realities of who God is, who Christ is and what the saving purpose of God is unfolding in the world. When you’ve come to that point you still have to go back to work. Life goes on, doesn’t it? Life goes on. And that’s analogous to what happens. You go back. Only you go back with a different attitude. You go back glorifying and praising God. That’s what they did. They went back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen just as have been told them. It was exactly the way they were told by the angel, every detail was exactly accurate. And they went back with a whole new attitude.

I don’t know what their attitude was like before they had this incredible encounter with the revelation of God. But it certainly wasn’t like it is now. They may have been hopeful. They may have been worried and wondered and doubted and questioned and been wearied and all of that, but not anymore. They went back glorifying and praising God. And that too is analogous to what happens when a conversion takes place. There’s a revelation. We hear the revelation of God, we believe it, we go and we embrace Christ. There’s witness that follows. There’s a deep pondering about great divine truth as we deepen our knowledge of the Word of God. And there is also a life attitude of praise and worship to God that marks a believer.

Now by the time they got the whole story put together with the additional elements that Joseph and Mary would bring to bear on it, they were so filled with praise and thanks they were literally overwhelmed by it all. And they just went back glorifying and praising God for the whole thing. That’s the attitude that Christians should have

They knew that this child would be the Savior, the Christ, the Lord, fulfill the Davidic promise, Abrahamic promise and the promise of the New Covenant. They couldn’t restrain themselves. Their lives were just filled with praise.

In many nations where Christmas is observed as a public holiday, it lasts for 24 hours. For this reason, I am grateful we have Boxing Day. Now that my far better half and I are largely retired, we can celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas right up to Epiphany, January 6. It certainly deepens the Christmas religious experience.

With regard to circumcision, the mohel — the man who performs it — has a very sharp, small knife. It has to be very sharp so that the infant boy feels no pain. Just in case, tradition dictates that a drop of wine is placed on the child’s tongue to relax him.

If you’ve ever cut yourself with a really sharp knife, you don’t notice the wound until you see the blood. A blunt knife hurts. A really sharp one does not.

Luke’s Gospel shows us that Mary and Joseph obeyed Mosaic law, not only with this, but also with their visit to the temple once Mary had been purified through a ritual bath 40 days later. That is when Simeon and Anna appeared. See Luke 2:22-32 and Luke 2:33-40.

Where Jesus was concerned, circumcision was a foretaste of what would happen later in His earthly life: the Crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice and expiation for sin, despite the fact that He never sinned.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

Though it supposed him a stranger, that was by that ceremony to be admitted into covenant with God, whereas he had always been his beloved Son; nay, though it supposed him a sinner, that needed to have his filthiness taken away, whereas he had no impurity or superfluity of naughtiness to be cut off, yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would be made in the likeness, not only of flesh, but of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3. 3. Though thereby he made himself a debtor to the whole law (Galatians 5:3), yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would take upon him the form of a servant, though he was free-born. Christ was circumcised, (1.) That he might own himself of the seed of Abraham, and of that nation of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, and who was to take on him the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:16. (2.) That he might own himself a surety for our sins, and an undertaker for our safety. Circumcision (saith Dr. Goodwin) was our bond, whereby we acknowledged ourselves debtors to the law; and Christ, by being circumcised, did as it were set his hand to it, being made sin for us. The ceremonial law consisted much in sacrifices; Christ hereby obliged himself to offer, not the blood of bulls or goats, but his own blood, which none that ever were circumcised before could oblige themselves to. (3.) That he might justify, and put an honour upon, the dedication of the infant seed of the church to God, by that ordinance which is the instituted seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness which is by faith, as circumcision was (Romans 4:11), and baptism is. And certainly his being circumcised at eight days old doth make much more for the dedicating of the seed of the faithful by baptism in their infancy than his being baptized at thirty years old doth for the deferring of it till they are grown up. The change of the ceremony alters not the substance.

MacArthur says:

Why was Jesus circumcised? Somebody might wonder about that. Well, because He would obey the law of God. He would fulfill all righteousness. He would be a man in every sense and so He would fulfill all those prescriptions that are human and in Israel this was required by the law of God on all male children, and so it was done. That’s again another remarkable indication of Jesus fulfilling all righteousness. Even before He could consciously do it God made sure that all Old Testament requirements were fulfilled in His life, and as He grew in wisdom, and favor, and stature…wisdom, and stature, and favor with God and man, He personally fulfilled the law of God in its completion.

And again I remind you that He lived a perfect life. Even from His circumcision He fulfilled every aspect of God’s law so that His perfect life could be credited to your account. That’s what justification does. It puts your sin on Him and takes His perfect life and puts it on you.

MacArthur points out Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the law:

Their devotion to obey the will of God is clear. They wanted to do what God had revealed for them to do and they did it with joy and faithfulness. The whole passage really features their dedication, it features their obedience. And as I said, in Luke’s continuing effort to mold the reader’s understanding of who Christ is, he shapes his narrative around the testimony of these uniquely righteous people. And, first of all, Jesus’ earthly family lead out in giving testimony.

MacArthur discusses the biblical origin of circumcision, necessary for centuries in terms of hygiene but also as a reminder of sin:

Now we all understand that the eighth-day circumcision was what was prescribed by Mosaic law. It is clearly recorded that this is to be done. Leviticus chapter 12 verse 3says on the eighth day the child is to be circumcised. Every male child born into Israel was to be circumcised on the eighth day. The circumcision was introduced by God to Abraham. In Genesis 17:1 to 14, Abraham was circumcised, he, however, was circumcised as an adult when God identified him as the father of the race. He was circumcised as an adult. And then every male that came from him and from those who came from him throughout all of the Hebrew people, every male child was to be circumcised on the eighth day. That was the sign and symbol of God’s covenant. Back in chapter 1 verse 59 regarding John, the prophet born to Zacharias and Elizabeth, “It came about on the eighth day they came to circumcise him.” That was just standard operating procedure on the eighth day.

Circumcision, just to give you a brief recap, circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant. It was a sign of God’s covenant. It identified a Jew. But God was saying something in circumcision. In the cutting away of that skin, God, first of all, was…was doing something physical, He was protecting the Jewish man from passing on infections and bacteria to his wife. That’s why in ancient times, not today because we have so much hygiene, but in ancient times Jewish women had the lowest rate of cervical cancer in the world and it was better when men and women came together circumcised in terms of cleanliness and protection than not. And therefore God preserved His people that way. He was definitely committed to preserving His people since they are the center of redemptive history clear to the end of the world. And so God protected them and that was one way physically that God protected them from illness. He also protected them, of course, by giving them monogamous laws and calling for their purity and sanctifying one man-one woman for life so that they were not subject to the devastating plagues of venereal disease which destroyed whole peoples.

But circumcision was more than a physical protection. It was a symbol of a need for spiritual cleansing. And that’s why the Bible talks about circumcise your hearts. God was showing them through this symbol that they needed to be cleansed because they not only passed on sin potentially physically they passed on sin heart to heart, soul to soul. When they had a child they got a sinner because they were sinners. They needed a cleansing at a deep, deep level of their souls. That’s why God said circumcise your heart, circumcise your heart. Every circumcised male child then, every time that operation took place, it was a symbol of how deeply sinful people were and how greatly they needed a heart cleansing.

If you look at Judaism, just look at Judaism, the message that God was sending to His people was about their sin. You could take the law of God and all the law of God did was, break them and crush them. The law of God laid out before for the Jew rendered him a sinner … So the Sabbath then became a contemplation point for violation of the law of God

On top of that, life was a bloody mess because all those violations called for sacrifice. That’s why we’ve said that priests were nothing but butchers. They were, you know, chin deep in blood slaughtering animals, because sin just kept coming and coming and with it came sacrifice and sacrifice. And the whole of Judaism, the whole of Judaism was one massive effort on God’s part to call those people to a recognition of how sinful they were. Every time a baby was born into the world, circumcision on the eighth day was a reminder of the depth of sin, that they were so deep in sin they needed a cleansing at the deepest level.

Again, Jesus personally did not require cleansing, but His circumcision was done for us. Furthermore, as an adult, He continued to be obedient to His Father and asked John the Baptist to baptise Him. He did not need to do that either, but He did:

Jesus was born under the law and Jesus was going to obey every aspect of God’s law whether He obeyed it as a baby passively or whether He obeyed as an adult actively when He went to the river Jordan and He said to John, “You need to baptize Me.” And John said, “I don’t need to baptize You, You’ve got to be kidding me. You need to baptize me.” And John was saying, You don’t need cleansing so why the symbol? And Jesus responded in Matthew 3:15 and said, “I must fulfill all righteousness. Whatever the law requires, I do that. I do that.”

Whatever Jesus did on this mortal coil, He did for us:

Why did He have to do that? So that perfect life could be credited to your account. You see, in the doctrine of substitution, on the cross God treats Jesus as if He lived your life so He could treat you as if you lived His. And there has to be a perfect life to be put to your account, and His is it. That’s why He was circumcised and everything else.

As millions of us across the world are shut up at home on what is normally a day of celebration, we have time on New Year’s Day 2021 to contemplate the meaning of Christ’s obedience throughout His earthly life. Everything He did, He did for us.

I am always on the lookout for obscure paintings of shepherds to illustrate the Christmas story.

Thanks to someone who posted it on another site, here is The Shepherds and The Angel, oil on copper, which the Danish artist Carl H Bloch painted in 1879:

Shepherds and the Angel Carl H Bloch Denmark

That painting was posted in the comments to an excellent post elsewhere about a place called Migdal Eder, which translates to ‘tower of the flock’.

The post refers to the original article, ‘The Tower of the Flock’, by Dr. Juergen Buehler. He wrote it in 2012.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

We are all familiar with the angels’ and the shepherds’ role in the Christmas story, as detailed in Luke 2. An angel, followed by many more, appeared to the shepherds to say:

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

It was a first declaration of the euangelion, the Good News of the redemptive Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is remarkable to see that this first declaration made to Israelites outside the immediate family of Jesus was not given to the religious or political rulers of Israel but to shepherds keeping their flocks.

The shepherds’ fields outside Bethlehem, to this day, play a central role in the Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land.

How did Jesus describe Himself during His earthly ministry? As the Good Shepherd.

The Bible makes many references to the Lord’s elevation of the lowly. This was a great manifestation of it, to be sure.

Dr Buehler writes that one of the earliest historians of the Church and great Bible scholar, Eusebius, linked the fields just outside of Bethlehem that the shepherds were in to a biblical location, Migdal Eder:

The church historian Eusebius linked these fields to a unique biblical location called Migdal Eder, which translated means the “tower of the flock”.

The first time Migdal Eder is mentioned in the Bible is in the account of Rachel, who died after giving birth to Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. “Then Israel [Jacob] journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder”, records Genesis 35:21.

This area on the outskirts of Bethlehem is also mentioned in the Talmudic writings. According to the Talmud, all cattle found in the area surrounding Jerusalem “as far as Migdal Eder” were deemed to be holy and consecrated and could only be used for sacrifices in the Temple, in particular for the peace and Passover sacrifices. There was thus a special, consecrated circle around the city of Jerusalem.

This means the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem who first heard the Good News from the angels were not ordinary shepherds but served the sacrificial system of the Temple. These men served the Mosaic covenant, a foreshadowing of the new covenant. And these men were now confronted with the reality of the eternal light to which their ministry had been pointing all these centuries. It was declaring a new era of salvation!

There is another mention of Migdal Eder in the Bible:

The Hebrew prophet Micah also refers to Migdal Eder. “And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8)

Long ago, Jewish scholars wrote learned studies of Scripture, creating what is known as the Midrash. Based on Micah’s prophecy, the Migdal Eder would figure significantly in the story of the Messiah:

Based on that prophecy, prominent Jewish writers concluded in the Midrash that from all of the places in Israel, it would be the Migdal Eder where the arrival of the Messiah would be declared first.

That means when the angels appeared that night to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, it was not just a declaration of the Good News to simple shepherds. It was a powerful prophetic sign to all of Israel. The news of that night must have spread like wildfire through the surrounding villages.

This is why people in the vicinity marvelled at the news:

Luke records: “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:17-18)

Buehler gives us several lessons from this regarding Christ’s earthly birth:

1) First, it is always beneficial for the Church to see that Jesus did not arrive into a vacuum, but was born into an entirely Jewish context. When Christ came in the flesh, he was born first-and-foremost to the Jewish people but would then also bring his favour and good pleasure to all men. Even though the celebration of Christ’s birth has become a feast marked almost exclusively by the gentile Church, it is important for us to see it in its historic and biblical context – as a message intended to give hope to Israel. As Zacharias prophesies at the birth of John the Baptist, this all happened to “perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham…” (Luke 1:72f).

2) Second, already from the moment Jesus entered the world the ultimate reason for his arrival was alluded to. These were the shepherds who took care of the sheep and cattle offered in the Temple – in particular the Passover sacrifices. And it was they who were confronted with the announcement that the ultimate sacrifice, which would carry away not only the sins of Israel but of the whole world, was born. Just thirty three years later, no further sacrifice was to be needed, as all those who believe in him have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

3) The angelic announcement gave these simple shepherds a profound revelation of who this Messiah would be. He was proclaimed to be both King (born in the city of David) and Priest. That he was both Christ and Lord, the son of man but also the son of God. He would be the saviour of humanity but also the shepherd of all those who would follow his voice.

The shepherds visited the Christ Child then proclaimed the Good News:

… the mere knowledge of this news is not enough. They needed to act upon it and they did. They went personally to see that child and then proclaimed his birth wherever they could.

We should carry forth that same enthusiasm in proclaiming the same Good News today. Let us evangelise in whatever way we can, not only during the Christmas season but beyond:

Let us follow the example of the shepherds of Bethlehem and rededicate our lives afresh to that great saviour who was born in Bethlehem. He is the shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) who died for our sins and who redeems us to reign and rule with him for eternity! This is Good News indeed!

Migdal Eder is yet another scriptural and historical key pointing the way to the Messiah, our blessed Saviour, the Good Shepherd: Jesus Christ.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear next 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 Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020.

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

Either the Psalm or its alternative below, The Magnificat, may be read.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

David desperately wants to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. However, God had other plans for David. Solomon would be the one to build the first temple. The Lord tells Nathan the prophet, David’s confidant, that His promises to David and his descendants are secure. I am disappointed that verse 12 is excluded, so I have included it in red. Verse 12 relates to Solomon, however, it also relates to Christ (see Matthew 1), as Matthew Henry’s commentary states, and introduces verse 16.

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,

7:2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”

7:3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.”

7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:

7:5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?

7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.

7:7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

7:8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;

7:9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

7:10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly,

7:11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.

12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.

7:16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Psalm

The Psalmist, whose identity is unclear, is hopeful for the covenant that God made with David, considered as a type of Christ, in theological terms. ‘Selah’ is an emphatic word, synonymous with ‘pay close attention’.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

89:1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

89:2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

89:3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David:

89:4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.'” Selah

89:19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: “I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.

89:20 I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him;

89:21 my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.

89:22 The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.

89:23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.

89:24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted.

89:25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.

89:26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’

Alternative to the Psalm

The Magnificat will be familiar to many. Indeed, the Song of Mary is included in Anglican and Lutheran Evening Prayer services and is often sung.

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.”

Epistle

These are the closing verses of the Book of Romans, celebrating the glory of God.

Romans 16:25-27

16:25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages

16:26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

16:27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Gospel

The angel Gabriel announces that Mary will be giving birth to the Christ Child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. These verses from Luke’s Gospel precede The Magnificat, the Song of Mary (see above). Her relative Elizabeth, barren and past her childbearing years, was expecting John the Baptist at the time. Note that Joseph was descended from the house of David. Even more reason to have included 2 Samuel 7:12 (see above)!

Luke 1:26-38

1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,

1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

1:29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

1:30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

1:31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

1:32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.

1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

1:35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

1:36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.

1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”

1:38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

These readings build us up for Christmas perfectly — and beautifully.

May you have a blessed week ahead.

Pentecost2Below are the readings for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020.

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

Pentecost, the final Sunday in Eastertide, is regarded as the Church’s birthday.

The first Pentecost coincided with the Jewish feast of Shavuot, which explains why there were so many witnesses to the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples, as we will see in the reading from Acts 2 below:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

The following posts have more on this important day in the Church calendar:

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Outside of the Psalm, the readings below have more than one option.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Option One

If this is not read as the first reading, it must be chosen for the Second Reading/Epistle.

This is the dramatic account of the Holy Spirit descending on the 70 disciples in Jerusalem. Many onlookers saw this, as the Jews had gathered for the Feast of Shavuot:

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Option Two

The Holy Spirit rested upon two men in the Israelites’ camp, and they began to prophesy. Far from silencing them, Moses wished there were more like them. Note that 70 elders received the Spirit, just as there were 70 disciples who received Him at the first Pentecost.

Numbers 11:24-30

11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.

11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

11:26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

11:27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

11:28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

11:30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Psalm

David praised God’s majesty and power, present in all of His creation.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works

104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Option One

If the aforementioned passage from Acts 2 has not already been read, then it must be read as the Epistle.

Option Two

If the passage from Acts 2 has been read, then this option will be the Epistle, wherein Paul describes the great power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some, e.g. tongues, miracles and healing, were particular to the Apostolic Era, which established the early Church.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

12:3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;

12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;

12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,

12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Gospel

Option One

This encounter between Jesus and His disciples took place just after His resurrection.

John 20:19-23

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Option Two

Jesus spoke these words during the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Note that John explains the Spirit would not descend until Jesus returned to Heaven, glorified.

John 7:37-39

7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Pray for continuing grace so that we may make all use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Have a blessed Pentecost!

Below are the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24, 2020.

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

This particular Sunday is also known traditionally as Exaudi Sunday, so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’. It is said to be the saddest Sunday of the church year, because the disciples were at a loose end after Jesus ascended to Heaven. They missed Him and were unsure as to what the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost would mean.

You can read more about it in this post:

Exaudi Sunday: between the Ascension and Pentecost

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

On Ascension Day, we had the reading from Luke’s Gospel about our Lord’s return to His Father. Here we have Luke’s other version — as he was the author of Acts — from Acts 1. Note that, even at this stage, the Apostles still expected a temporal return of Israel to glory.

Acts 1:6-14

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm

It is probable that David wrote this Psalm after he was no longer besieged by enemies. It is a Psalm of praise and thanks to God for His goodness and mercy.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

68:1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.

68:2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.

68:3 But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.

68:4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.

68:5 Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

68:6 God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.

68:7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah

68:8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

68:9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished;

68:10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

68:32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah

68:33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.

68:34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.

68:35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter conclude. Peter exhorted his converts to be Christlike in everything, despite their persecution. He also encouraged them to avoid temptation at all costs.

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.

5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel

Jesus said these words, The High Priestly Prayer, at the Last Supper. John’s Gospel is the only one that carries the full complement of Jesus’s final messages to the Apostles, from John 14John 17: four stunning chapters. Note verse 9 below, in particular: not all will be saved, only those whom God has given to Jesus.

John 17:1-11

17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

May God increase our faith through His grace daily. Jesus Christ will reign for ever and ever.

For those fortunate enough to be able to return to church this Sunday, please pray for the rest of us that our leaders will see fit to open our church doors, too. Thank you.

Thursday, May 21, 2020, commemorates the Ascension of the Lord.

Our Lord’s disciples saw Him ascend to Heaven to return to His Father, where He sits at God’s right hand forever.

These posts have more about this significant day in the Church calendar:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The disciples rightly marvelled at the Ascension and were full of joy. It is impossible to imagine the glory they witnessed at that moment.

Later, they were also understandably at a loose end in the days that followed. It was a bittersweet time. They missed their Friend, their Teacher, their Saviour. They had no idea what the first Pentecost would be like ten days later.

Some of us who adhere to events in the Church calendar might share the disciples’ feelings. I know I do.

Therefore, the following posts, citing resources from James A Fowler’s Christ In You Ministries site on what he calls Resurrection Theology will help revive the joy we felt at Easter. I have also included a Lutheran resource on the same principle:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

These help us to keep the joy of the Resurrection alive in our hearts long after Eastertide ends.

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