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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 2:1-5

God’s Righteous Judgment

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

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My posts on Romans 1 are here and here. The second one, covering verses 16 to 32, is particularly important.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that Paul addressed Romans 1 to the Gentile world.

In Romans 2, Paul turns his attention to the Jewish world. As Christianity was still in its infancy at that time, AD 56, the Jews were the predominant believers in God.

As such, they upheld the standard for religious morality and believed they were exempt from judgement because of the covenant God made with them. Yet, Paul tells them that they, too, are imperfect and sinful, guilty of the same things they condemn in others (verse 1).

MacArthur says that Paul addresses six types of judgement in Romans 2 (emphases mine below):

the first three – knowledge, truth and guilt, and the last three: deeds, impartiality, and motive. God judges on the basis of those six things. He judges men on the basis of their knowledge, He judges them on the basis of the truth, He judges them on the basis of their guilt, He judges them on the basis of their deeds, He judges them with impartiality, and He judges their motives. Those are the six elements that come together to show how God judges.

Knowledge comes in the first verse.

MacArthur explains the point Paul makes and discusses ‘Therefore’, the first word of that verse:

… let’s look at the first one in verse 1, knowledge. “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest, for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself for thou that judgest doest the same things.” Now, let’s see what this is saying – fascinating verse. It begins with “therefore.” What he’s saying is this – and the “therefore” ties us, doesn’t it, backwards to the previous chapter? Some people have been confused by that “therefore” but there’s really no reason to be. Listen: Because what was true of those in 1:18-32 is also true of you, you are also without excuse. That’s the connection. If you go back to verse 18 – watch, here it is: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth.” Verse 19, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them.”

In other words, because they know the truth, the end of verse 20 says, they are without what? Excuse. Now, go right to verse 1 of chapter 2: “Therefore you also are inexcusable, O man.” Why? Implication: because you also know the truth. And you know how you prove that you know the truth? You prove it because you are judging others, and if you have a criterion by which to judge others, you prove that you must know the truth. You’re just as inexcusable.

Now, they knew the truth. Obviously, they knew the truth. It was clear that all men knew the truth from chapter 1, and what was true of those people is also true of the Jew in chapter 2. They knew not only from external natural revelation, they knew from conscience.

Paul, referring to his previous verses on immorality (Romans 1:16-32), says that God will judge anyone who is guilty of those sins, Gentile — and Jew — alike (verse 2).

Therefore, Paul reasons, how can the Jew escape judgement if he is guilty of such sins (verse 3)? The Jew already knows God, so, as MacArthur puts it:

you have the knowledge. In fact, you have a more complete knowledge so you’re even more inexcusable.

Paul poses another question, asking if the Jew believes God’s kindness extends to him in all circumstances, misunderstanding that His kindness is meant to lead His people to repentance not relieve them from His judgement (verse 4).

Then Paul lays down the spiritual hammer, warning the Jews of his day that they are laying up God’s wrath against themselves for their collective ‘hard and impenitent heart’ (verse 5).

MacArthur ties together the end of Romans 1 and these first five verses of Romans 2 as follows:

Look at verse 32 at the end of chapter 1. It says even the pagans know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death. Even the pagans know what is right and wrong. Even the pagans can apply God’s standard to their own life if they chose, much more you who have received His revelation, and you who sit in judgment on the pagans give evidence that you know. This would be like a judge who condemns a criminal by applying the law. He, therefore, makes himself responsible, obviously, to keep that same law if he’s going to sit in judgment on somebody else.

And then he goes to the next statement – powerful: “For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself.” Now, when you show the law of God as applied to somebody else, you prove that you know that law, and in knowing that law you condemn yourself. A pretty powerful statement. You condemn yourself. And this is really what Jesus said. If you look for a moment in Matthew 7, you can see where Paul got this whole thing: through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was really restating what our Lord said in Matthew 7 verse 1, “Judge not that you be not judged.”

Now, what this means is not don’t make a proper evaluation, you’re supposed to make a proper evaluation of things. It even tells you to do that later on in the same chapter when it gets down into verses 15 to 20 and tells you to examine and make a decision based upon the fruit that you see in someone’s life. But what it means here is stop criticizing, stop being condemning and censorious and critical and fault-finding and self-righteous. Stop playing God. Stop trying to impugn people’s motives when you can’t even read their hearts. Stop pushing your criticism to the point where you’re playing God because in verse 2, with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you again.

In other words, if you show that you can judge everybody else, then you show that you ought to be judged by that same standard. If you know it so well to apply it to other people, you better make sure it isn’t going to be applied to you. That’s why James 3:1 says stop being so many teachers for theirs is a greater condemnation. Why is a teacher’s condemnation greater? Because the more he knows, the more he therefore condemns himself. And then the Lord goes on in chapter 7 to talk about before you get a splinter out of another guy’s eye, why don’t you get a two-by-four out of your own eye? It’s a fatal tendency – isn’t it? – to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize our own. And this was the classic line of the Jew who sat in judgment on everybody and thought he himself was exempt, and God says, “You’re not exempt. Not only are you not exempt, you’re even more inexcusable, and you prove it because you are applying the law to somebody else, which proves you know it, and it’s going to condemn you, too.”

As to misinterpreting God’s kindness in verse 4, MacArthur says — note, quoting Matthew Henry:

Matthew Henry, that commentator of old who has so many helpful thoughts in his commentary on the Scripture said, “There is in every willful sin a contempt of the goodness of God.” And that’s right. Whenever you sin or whenever I sin, we show contempt for God’s goodness.

Let me read you just two verses, and you need not turn to them, but in Hosea – Hosea, of course, records for us God’s love for wayward Israel, and in the 11th chapter and the first verse, God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him,” and that sort of sets the tone for the thoughts in the chapter, and verse 4: “I drew them with cords of a man with bands of love and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws and I laid food before them.” In other words, I didn’t have a bit in their mouth, I fed them and I led them gently and I drew them with love. And verse 7 says, “And My people are bent to backsliding away from Me.” I mean here was God with love and tenderness and graciousness and kindness and mercy, reaching out to draw Israel and they were just sliding away from Him.

Now, let’s go back to verses 4 and 5 and look at the several parts that make up these thoughts. The word “despisest” in the Authorized is a very strong word. It means basically to grossly underestimate the value of something, to grossly underestimate the significance of something. It is a failure to assess true worth. It is making light of the riches of the goodness of God, and this is the blackest of sins, by the way. The worst sin is not rights violated, the worst sin is mercy despised.

Let’s look at what happened. They failed to really evaluate, they failed to see the true worth of the riches of God’s goodness. They didn’t know how valuable it was, and men still don’t know. I mean everybody alive in the world today has experienced the goodness of God. I’ll say that again. Everybody alive in the world today has personally experienced the goodness of God and experiences it every breath they takein many, many ways, not the least of which is that the Lord makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust and the Lord gives them food to eat and the Lord gives them a fire to keep them warm and the Lord gives them water to refresh their thirst and the Lord gives them food to fill their hungry stomach and the Lord gives them a blue sky and a warm sun and the Lord gives them green grass and beautiful mountains and whatever it is, and the Lord gives them people to love. In every way, God has demonstrated His goodness.

And by the way, the word “goodness” is a very important word, chrstots. The idea is really kindness. It’s translated kindness in Galatians 5 in the list of elements of the fruit of the Spirit. It speaks of God’s benefits, His kindnesses to men, and then the word “forbearance” – anoch – is the word for truce. It’s the word for the cessation of a hostility. It’s the word for the withholding of judgment. So God pours out blessing and He holds back judgment. He is forbearing; that is, He says, “Okay, a truce, no hostility, I’ll just be kind to you and I’ll withhold My judgment.” And the word “long-suffering” – makrothumia – means patience. It is a word that signifies one who has the power to avenge but doesn’t use it. It’s a great characteristic of God, He’s so patient. Over and over again in the Scripture, we read about the patience of God, the patience of God. God is not willing that any should perish. God is long suffering because of that toward us because He’s not willing that we should perish.

In closing, Matthew Henry has this to say about God’s kindness and mercy, designed to bring about our repentance:

See here what method God takes to bring sinners to repentance. He leads them, not drives them like beasts, but leads them like rational creatures, allures them (Hosea 2:14); and it is goodness that leads, bands of love, Hosea 11:4. Compare Jeremiah 31:3. The consideration of the goodness of God, his common goodness to all (the goodness of his providence, of his patience, and of his offers), should be effectual to bring us all to repentance; and the reason why so many continue in impenitency is because they do not know and consider this.

How true.

I cannot add anything more other than to ask that all of us think about that in the days ahead, while we are cooped up at home because of coronavirus lockdowns.

Next time — Romans 2:6-11

What follows are the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Passion Sunday — March 29, 2020.

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

Traditionally, the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Passion Sunday — begins a two-week season called Passiontide, which encompasses Palm Sunday (next week) and Holy Week.

Some traditionalist churches cover crosses and images with dark or black cloth from this Sunday throughout most of Holy Week. Crosses and crucifixes can be uncovered after Good Friday services. Statues remain covered until the Easter Vigil Mass takes place on Holy Saturday.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Here we have the dramatic account of the Lord instructing Ezekiel to blow life into bones, which come back to life as His remnant of believers. This is one of the Bible’s best accounts of God’s omnipotence. This theme of resurrection is also seen in today’s Gospel reading, that of Christ’s raising Lazarus from the dead. The 20th century spiritual, Dem Bones, was inspired by this story and uses verse 4 in the refrain.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

37:1 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

37:2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

37:3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

37:4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

37:5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

37:6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

37:7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

37:8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

37:9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

37:10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

37:11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

37:12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

37:13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.

37:14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

Psalm

This Psalm ties in well with the reading from Ezekiel. Many readers will recognise the first verse. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this is a Psalm of the soul, expressing the desires of the penitent towards God: repentance, reconciliation, hope and redemption.

Psalm 130

130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

130:2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

130:4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

130:8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Epistle

Matthew Henry says that these verses offer comfort and refreshment to the faithful, as Paul reminds the Romans — and us — that we received the Holy Spirit to turn us away from sin.

Romans 8:6-11

8:6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

8:7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot,

8:8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

8:9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

8:10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel

This is the marvellous account of Jesus’s raising Lazarus from the dead. This was His last miracle before His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). It foretells His own Resurrection to come in the days afterwards. This ties in well with the aforementioned reading from Ezekiel.

John 11:1-45

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.

11:10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

11:11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

11:13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.

11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

11:19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

11:20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

11:21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

11:22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

11:24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

11:28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

11:29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

11:35 Jesus began to weep.

11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.

11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

John’s Gospel is the only one that tells us about Jesus resurrecting Lazarus.

The King James Version has a superb rendering of verse 39. Once you read it, you will never forget it:

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

As we are unable to attend church because of international coronavirus shutdowns, below is a brief exposition on today’s Gospel reading.

Last week, we read John’s account of Jesus curing the man who had been blind since birth.

Matthew Henry explains what Jesus meant when He said that the two men presented Him with the opportunity of glorifying God by curing the one and bringing back the other from the dead:

It was for the glory of God, for it was that the Son of God might be glorified thereby, as it gave him occasion to work that glorious miracle, the raising of him from the dead. As, before, the man was born blind that Christ might have the honour of curing him (John 9:3), so Lazarus must be sick and die, that Christ may be glorified as the Lord of life. Let this comfort those whom Christ loves under all their grievances that the design of them all is that the Son of God may be glorified thereby, his wisdom, power, and goodness, glorified in supporting and relieving them; see 2 Corinthians 12:9,10.

Jesus waited two days before visiting Mary and Martha to test their faith and patience, despite His love for them and Lazarus. A deferred visit made the raising of Lazarus to life that much more meaningful, not only to the three concerned but also to the Jews who were at their house.

Henry says:

If he had been there time enough, he would have healed his disease and prevented his death, which would have been much for the comfort of Lazarus’s friends, but then his disciples would have seen no further proof of his power than what they had often seen, and, consequently, their faith had received no improvement; but now that he went and raised him from the dead, as there were many brought to believe on him who before did no (John 11:45), so there was much done towards the perfecting of what was lacking in the faith of those that did, which Christ aimed at: To the intent that you may believe. [3.] He resolves now to go to Bethany, and take his disciples along with him: Let us go unto him. Not, “Let us go to his sisters, to comfort them” (which is the utmost we can do), but, Let us go to him; for Christ can show wonders to the dead. Death, which will separate us from all our other friends, and cut us off from correspondence with them, cannot separate us from the love of Christ, nor put us out of the reach of his calls; as he will maintain his covenant with the dust, so he can make visits to the dust …

Also:

Promised salvations, though they always come surely, yet often come slowly.

He was also returning to Judea, which was dangerous for Him. Nonetheless, He returned out of mercy, compassion and love for the three. Even more importantly, He took that risk to a) glorify God and b) bring others to believe that He is the Messiah.

Henry explains why Jesus used the word ‘sleep’ in referring to Lazarus, because the word refers to refreshing rest:

He calls the death of a believer a sleep: he sleepeth. It is good to call death by such names and titles as will help to make it more familiar and less formidable to us. The death of Lazarus was in a peculiar sense a sleep, as that of Jairus’s daughter, because he was to be raised again speedily; and, since we are sure to rise again at last, why should that make any great difference? And why should not the believing hope of that resurrection to eternal life make it as easy to us to put off the body and die as it is to put off our clothes and go to sleep? A good Christian, when he dies, does but sleep: he rests from the labours of the day past, and is refreshing himself for the next morning. Nay, herein death has the advantage of sleep, that sleep is only the parenthesis, but death is the period, of our cares and toils. The soul does not sleep, but becomes more active; but the body sleeps without any toss, without any terror; not distempered nor disturbed. The grave to the wicked is a prison, and its grave-clothes as the shackles of a criminal reserved for execution; but to the godly it is a bed, and all its bands as the soft and downy fetters of an easy quiet sleep. Though the body corrupt, it will rise in the morning as if it had never seen corruption; it is but putting off our clothes to be mended and trimmed up for the marriage day, the coronation day, to which we must rise. See Isaiah 57:2,1Th+4:14. The Greeks called their burying-places dormitories–koimeteria.

I will leave it there. Everlasting life is ours, my friends. Let us, therefore, prepare ourselves now — in this life — equipped with His infinite grace and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, for the life to come.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry (here and here) and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 1:8-15

Longing to Go to Rome

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,[b] both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

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I purposely delayed writing about Romans, although it follows Acts. However, it is heavily doctrinal, which is why I wanted to write about Hebrews first. Having the basics from Hebrews will make Romans more digestible. Parts of it are strongly worded and some might find certain passages objectionable. Nevertheless … sexual sin was a problem then and it has not changed much nearly 2000 years later.

Matthew Henry says that Paul wrote his letters to the Romans in AD 56, while he was staying in Corinth:

Paul made a short stay there in his way to Troas, Acts 20:5,6. He commendeth to the Romans Phebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1), which was a place belonging to Corinth. He calls Gaius his host, or the man with whom he lodged (Romans 16:23), and he was a Corinthian, not the same with Gaius of Derbe, mentioned Acts 20:4. Paul was now going up to Jerusalem, with the money that was given to the poor saints there; and of that he speaks, Romans 15:26.

As to the content (emphases mine):

The great mysteries treated of in this epistle must needs produce in this, as in other writings of Paul, many things dark and hard to be understood, 2 Peter 3:16. The method of this (as of several other of the epistles) is observable; the former part of it doctrinal, in the first eleven chapters; the latter part practical, in the last five: to inform the judgment and to reform the life. And the best way to understand the truths explained in the former part is to abide and abound in the practice of the duties prescribed in the latter part; for, if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, John 7:17.

Henry divides the chapters into separate parts, summarised as follows:

– Doctrinal — a) the way of salvation (Romans 1 – 8), b) the saved (Romans 9 – 11);

– Practical — Romans 12 – 14;

– Personal — Romans 15 and 16 in which Paul writes of his life at that time and mentions his friends.

Paul had been keen to get to Rome for some time. He still had a few years’ wait ahead. The church in Rome was established by Judaeans who were present in Jerusalem at the first Pentecost. They set sail for Rome to spread the Good News. However, there were also Romans present at the first Pentecost, and they returned with enthusiasm, telling their friends what they had witnessed on that glorious day. The emperor Claudius had banned them from the city, so they had to be in exile for a few years, but then they returned, and it was upon their return that Paul wrote his greatest epistle (letter).

The church in Rome had no one founder and there were little groups of new Christians scattered about with no central organisation. John MacArthur concludes:

So there had been no apostolic establishing. And I think in Paul’s heart he sensed the tremendously strategic location of the Roman church in the heart of the empire and he knew they needed to be solidified and he said, “I want to come in order to impart to you some spiritual gift in order to establish you.”

MacArthur surmises that, given Paul’s ministry, he also wanted to convert more Romans:

His heart literally could see the tremendous potential of reaching Rome for Christ.

He also wanted to go for more personal reasons:

I think he thought about himself, too. Chapter 15:32, he says, “I want to come to you with joy by the will of God so that I can be refreshed.” I mean, I just want to fellowship with you. So he wanted to go for the sake of the church, for the sake of the lost, for his own sake. And I think, too, he wanted them to know him for several reasons. First of all, so they could pray for him. Chapter 15, verse 30: “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and for the love of the Spirit, strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” He wanted people praying for him. He wanted them praying for him.

From Rome, Paul had intended to travel to Spain and evangelise there.

Romans is unarguably one of the great books not only of the New Testament but of the Bible as a whole.

Throughout history, many great theologians read it often. Matthew Henry says that, the early Church father, St John Chrysostom, was one of them:

Chrysostom would have this epistle read over to him twice a week.

St Augustine of Hippo was converted by it. For many years, he led a dissolute life lusting after women. MacArthur tells us:

in the summer of A.D. 386 a man named Augustine, a native of North Africa, who had for two years been the professor of rhetoric at Milan, sat weeping in the garden of his friend Alypius. He was almost persuaded to begin a new life and yet he found it impossible to break with his old life. As he sat, historians tell us that he heard a child singing in a neighboring yard, “Tolle Lege, Tolle Lege,” a little melody that says, “Take up and read, take up and read.”

It struck him that perhaps that was something he should do and so he picked up a scroll which lay at his friend’s side. That scroll contained a portion of the book of Romans. He read it, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

“No further would I read,” he said, “nor had I any need. “Instantly, at the end of this sentence a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” And in that very moment, from one sentence in the book of Romans, the church received the great Augustine, the framer of much of its theology.

Martin Luther studied Romans for ten months:

from November of 1515 to the following September of 1516, he daily spent himself in the understanding of that epistle. And as he daily prepared his lectures, he became more and more appreciative of the centrality of the Pauline doctrine of justification by…what?…faith. He writes, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, `the righteousness of God.’ Because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous. Night and day I pondered until I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby through grace and sheer mercy He justifies us by faith. There upon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise, the whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the righteousness of God had filled me with hate, it now began to fill me inexpressibly with a sweet love. The passage of Paul became to me the gateway to heaven.” And need I say what contribution Martin Luther made? …

Luther said, “Romans is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel.”

John Calvin said:

If a man understands it, he has a sure road open to him to the understanding of the whole of Scripture.

Nearly two centuries later, on May 24, 1738, an Anglican, John Wesley, was similarly enlightened in London:

His biographer says that he went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where a man was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine he wrote in his journal, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, “I myself felt my heart strangely warmed.” Wesley goes on, “I felt I did trust in Christ and Christ alone for my salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken my sins away, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.” And so it was in Aldersgate Street at the reading of the book of Romans that John Wesley was redeemed. And we all know the contribution he made.

MacArthur says that Romans continues to speak to Christians:

It speaks to the issues we face today morally, for it speaks about adultery. It speaks about homosexuality. It speaks about perversion. It speaks about killing and hating and lying and civil disobedience. So it speaks to us morally. It speaks to us intellectually. It tells us why man is so confused because he possesses a reprobate mind. It speaks to us socially. It tells us how we are to relate to one another. It speaks to us psychologically. It tells us where true freedom comes to deliver men from guilt. It speaks to us spiritually for it answers our despair with a hope in the future. It speaks to us internationally for it tells us the ultimate destiny of the earth and specially the plan for the nation Israel. It speaks to us nationally, for it tells us our responsibility to the government. It speaks to us supernaturally, for it defines for us the infinite power of God. And it speaks to us theologically because it teaches us relationships between flesh and spirit, law and grace. But most of all, it brings God to us profoundly.

This is Paul’s greeting to the Romans. Note the biblical doctrine in it:

Paul, a servant[a] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David[b] according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

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

Paul then pays the Roman Christians a great compliment, saying that their faith is renowned in the Roman Empire (verse 8).

Matthew Henry explains:

Paul travelled up and down from place to place, and, wherever he came, he heard great commendations of the Christians at Rome, which he mentions, not to make them proud, but to quicken them to answer the general character people gave of them, and the general expectation people had from them.

He’s never met the Romans, yet he wrote the rest of the verses in today’s passage as if they were close friends of his.

Paul says that he never stops praying for them (verse 9) and is desperate to meet them (verse 10).

MacArthur says of today’s verses:

I read this passage, I can’t tell you how many times, before something finally clicked in my mind as to what was going on here. In fact, I can’t remember a passage in months and months that I went over and over and over like I did this, and never really got the whole thing put together till half way through yesterday after spending all week on it. Because I never could really see what the key was. And then there was a sort of, “Eureka!” And I caught a phrase in verse 9: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son.” And the phrase that jumped out at me was: “whom I serve with my spirit.”

Paul explained his desire to see them was rooted in imparting a spiritual gift to strengthen them (verse 11).

Henry explains that the Romans were beginning to go off piste spiritually:

The church of Rome was then a flourishing church; but since that time how is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! Rome is not what it was. She was then espoused a chaste virgin to Christ, and excelled in beauty; but she has since degenerated, dealt treacherously, and embraced the bosom of a stranger; so that (as that good old book, the Practice of Piety, makes appear in no less than twenty-six instances) even the epistle to the Romans is now an epistle against the Romans; little reason has she therefore to boast of her former credit.

However, Paul was encouraging in his reproach, saying that he hoped each party could encourage the other in faith (verse 12).

He explained that various circumstances prevented him from getting to Rome and that he wanted to meet them as much as he did the Gentiles (verse 13).

Henry elaborates:

What he heard of their flourishing in grace was so much a joy to him that it must needs be much more so to behold it. Paul could take comfort in the fruit of the labours of other ministers.–By the mutual faith both of you and me, that is, our mutual faithfulness and fidelity. It is very comfortable when there is a mutual confidence between minister and people, they confiding in him as a faithful minister, and he in them as a faithful people. Or, the mutual work of faith, which is love; they rejoiced in the expressions of one another’s love, or communicating their faith one to another. It is very refreshing to Christians to compare notes about their spiritual concerns; thus are they sharpened, as iron sharpens iron.–That I might have some fruit, Romans 1:13. Their edification would be his advantage, it would be fruit abounding to a good account. Paul minded his work, as one that believed the more good he did the greater would his reward be.

Paul presented his excuses to the Romans for not being with them (verse 14): his ‘obligations’ to the Greeks (educated) and ‘barbarians’ (uneducated). ‘Barbarians’ was the customary word used at the time for the uneducated. Paul called them the ‘wise’ and the ‘foolish’. By this, he meant he felt obliged to spend time preaching to and teaching them about Christ.

However, nothing could take away his eagerness to get to Rome to further his ministry there (verse 15).

Matthew Henry says:

Though a public place, though a perilous place, where Christianity met with a great deal of opposition, yet Paul was ready to run the risk at Rome, if called to it: I am ready–prothymon. It denotes a great readiness of mind, and that he was very forward to it. What he did was not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. It is an excellent thing to be ready to meet every opportunity of doing or getting good.

MacArthur asks us to reflect on Paul’s eagerness:

He’s like a racehorse in the gate, banging against the steel, waiting for the thing to open. He’s like a sprinter who gets in those blocks, and I can remember that feeling so well. And that guy puts his hand up and up goes the gun and you’re just…and there’s usually in a very important race somebody goes too soon and they have to restart. Paul was like a sprinter and God had to hold him back he was so ready to go.

Are you so eager? Is that the kind of service you render? Or does somebody have to get behind you and shove with all their might to get you involved? Does your wife have to give you the typical Sunday afternoon lecture to get you here Sunday night? To get you to the Flock group or the Bible study? Or are you eager? If it comes out of your heart, you’re eager.

And, you know, it’s amazing that he was as eager as he was because he knew what a volatile place Rome was. He knew they would despise him. He knew they would reject his message. He knew they hated Christ.

What an apostle, what a driven spirit, what an ambassador for Christ was Paul. He was fearless.

In 2009, in the early years of Forbidden Bible Verses, I wrote about Romans 1:16-32, which was not in the Episcopal Lectionary index I was using at the time. Most of those verses are now included in their Lectionary readings. Even in the usual Lectionary readings, however, some verses are omitted, because they contradict what we are seeing today in certain types of sexual relationships. Therefore, it is very important to read that post.

Next time — Romans 2:1-5

The following are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent — Laetare Sunday — March 22, 2020.

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

This Sunday is Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom. Centuries ago, people returned to the church they worshipped in as youngsters and visited their mothers afterwards.

There was an ancient tradition of ‘clipping’ the church on this particular day, whereby the congregation would gather outside, hold hands and create a huge circle around the building. It was not only a group hug for Mother Church but also a symbol of protection by the faithful.

This is a joyful Sunday in Lent. The traditional Introit for Laetare Sunday includes the words

“Laetare Jerusalem” (“O be joyful, Jerusalem”)

Traditionally, priests wore rose coloured vestments to denote that joy. Easter is nearing and we look forward to celebrating and worshipping the Risen Christ.

On the subject of roses, for over 1,000 years, the Catholic Church has commissioned expert goldsmiths to fashion a golden rose, which the Pope then gives to a distinguished Catholic of high social standing. I do not know what the present Pope does, but, in the past, some of these golden roses have been very elaborate; one was fashioned in the shape of a Jesse tree, which is appropriate, given today’s first reading.

You can read more about Laetare Sunday below:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

The splendid illustration of Lent in the following tweet must be British, as it includes Mothering Sunday. This comes from an Episcopal priest in the United States:

How sad that our churches are closed for public worship because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mothers will have a quiet day at home, as restaurants are also shut, except for takeaway service.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the marvellous story of Samuel’s divinely directed visit to Jesse in search of a future king. Jesse was reluctant to produce David, his youngest, who was tending sheep at the time. Matthew Henry’s commentary says: ‘Thus small are the beginnings of that great man’. This is an early ‘type’ of Jesus and the humble Holy Family.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

16:2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’

16:3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”

16:4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”

16:5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.”

16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”

16:10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”

16:11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

16:12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”

16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm

This enduringly popular and comforting Psalm needs little introduction. David, a former shepherd, names God as his shepherd.

Psalm 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epistle

Paul encourages the Christians of Ephesus to seek the light of righteousness.

Ephesians 5:8-14

5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light

5:9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

5:10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

5:12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;

5:13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

5:14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Gospel

This moving account from John’s Gospel tells the story of the blind man, whom Jesus cured. The Pharisees were angry that Jesus had mercy on this man during the Sabbath; some said He was not from God. They had blasphemed Him. Jesus told them that they were spiritually blind. Sadly, they remained that way until the bitter end.

John 9:1-41

9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

9:3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,

9:7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

9:9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”

9:10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

9:11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

9:12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

9:19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

9:20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”

9:25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

9:26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

9:27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

9:30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

9:34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

9:36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”

9:37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

9:38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

9:39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

What a powerful story.

Yet, who will hear a sermon today in this period of martial (France) or quasi-martial law (UK)? If you are among the deprived, Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 9 is excellent.

Below are the readings for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020.

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

Faith and God-given water — for temporal as well as eternal life — are this week’s themes.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The Israelites were angry at not having any water. God told Moses what to do. This was God-given water for temporal life, yet was a precursor of the water for everlasting life that Jesus Christ brings (see Gospel reading below). In verse 7, Massah means temptation (of God, in this case) and Meribah means strife (quarrelling with Moses).

Exodus 17:1-7

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.

17:2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”

17:3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

17:4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

17:5 The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.

17:6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

17:7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Psalm

This Psalm encourages us to glorify God and not to test Him as the Israelites did in the wilderness, e.g. over water.

Psalm 95

95:1 O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

95:2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

95:3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

95:4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

95:5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

95:6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

95:7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!

95:8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

95:9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

95:10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”

95:11 Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Epistle

Paul gives us lessons on justification by faith through grace as well as endurance on our Christian journey.

Romans 5:1-11

5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

5:7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.

5:8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

5:9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

5:10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

5:11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Gospel

This is John’s account of Jesus’s two-day stay in Samaria, which lay between Galilee to the north and Judea to the south. Samaria was considered the land of infidels, as over the centuries they had created a syncretic form of Judaism mixed with pagan beliefs, Assyrian customs from the days of captivity. This is the story of the living water that Jesus provides, the fulfilment of the temporal water that God gave the Israelites (see the first reading).

John 4:5-42

4:5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

4:6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

4:8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

4:11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

4:12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

4:14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

4:17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;

4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

4:20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

4:22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

4:25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

4:26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

4:27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

4:28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people,

4:29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

4:30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

4:31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

4:32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

4:33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”

4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.

4:35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.

4:36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.

4:37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’

4:38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

4:39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”

4:40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.

4:41 And many more believed because of his word.

4:42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

It is instructive that Jesus told His disciples that the time for the harvest of souls was at that very time (verses 35, 36).

From that, we should learn that, when it comes to gathering souls for the Kingdom of God, it is always harvest time, and no one wastes a moment.

Readings for the Second Sunday in Lent — March 9, 2020 — follow.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First Reading

Abraham receives the Lord’s instruction to leave his family homestead. He was thought to have been 75 at the time. Abraham’s extended family were pagans, so Abraham obeyed with a blind faith in God. His wife Sarah and his nephew Lot accompanied him. Abraham’s story is utterly amazing, as demonstrated by his unquestioning faith and his unwavering obedience to God.

Genesis 12:1-4a

12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

12:2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

12:4a So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm

This is known as the Soldier’s Psalm or the Traveller’s Psalm. Regardless, its words are uplifting and should be prayed wherever one is, even at home.

Psalm 121

121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?

121:2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

121:3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

121:4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

121:5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.

121:6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

121:7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

121:8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Epistle

Paul addresses Abraham’s righteous faith, an example for us all, as we are his spiritual descendants.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

4:1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?

4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

4:3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

4:4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.

4:5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

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.

Gospel

There are two suggested Gospel readings for this Sunday. One is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, which was read two weeks ago on Transfiguration Sunday. Therefore, I will only include the reading from John, which concerns Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus.

John 3:1-17

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.

3:2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

3:11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.

3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

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.

Nicodemus pops up two more times in John’s Gospel. The next time is in John 7:50-51, when he reminds his fellow Pharisees that they must hear Jesus out before condemning him. He appears a third time in John 19. We have reason to believe that Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus, because he helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare His body in the tomb. He brought with him 75 pounds of a myrrh and aloe mixture (John 19:39-40).

The following are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2020.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the story of Original Sin, elaborated on in Paul’s letter to the Romans in the Epistle.

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;

2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;

3:3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”

3:4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;

3:5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

3:7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Psalm

It has been said that this Psalm might have been sung on the Day of Atonement. It sets forth how to repent and place one’s trust in the Lord.

Psalm 32

32:1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

32:2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

32:3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

32:4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

32:5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

32:6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.

32:7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

32:8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

32:9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

32:10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.

32:11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Epistle

It would have been appropriate had the Lectionary compilers included the preceding three verses to Paul’s description of justification and salvation through the living Christ:

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Matthew Henry has an excellent commentary on this rather complex chapter in Romans, particularly this sentence:

We are reconciled by Christ humbled, we are saved by Christ exalted.

In any event, this refers back to the first reading about Adam, Eve and Original Sin.

Romans 5:12-19

5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned

5:13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.

5:14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

5:15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

5:16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.

5:17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

5:18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

5:19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Gospel

This is Matthew’s account of the forty days that Jesus fasted and prayed. Those forty days are the reason Lent lasts this amount of time.

Matthew 4:1-11

4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

4:2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

4:3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

4:4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,

4:6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;

4:9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

4:11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

In the oldest denominations the celebrant will be wearing purple (or dark blue), as on Ash Wednesday. This continues until Easter Vigil Mass for Catholics or, for Protestants, Easter Day services. There are two exceptions: Laetare Sunday, when the celebrant may wear pink as Easter draws near, and on Palm Sunday, when celebrants wear red in remembrance of the coming Crucifixion which took place days later.

What follows are the readings for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, February 16, 2020.

This particular day is also Sexagesima Sunday, 60 days before Easter. Centuries ago, Lent would have already begun a week earlier, the Monday after Septuagesima Sunday.

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

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Moses reveals God’s rewards and penalties with regard to the Ten Commandments. Matthew Henry calls our attention to the number of times Moses says ‘the Lord your God’, a clear indication that He had made a covenant with His people. One of my favourite verses is the second half of verse 19.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.

30:16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

30:17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,

30:18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,

30:20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

First reading – alternate (Catholic)

This alternate first reading about the Ten Commandments is from the Book of Sirach, found in the Catholic version of the Bible.

Sirach 15:15-20

15:15 If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.

15:16 He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.

15:17 Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given.

15:18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything;

15:19 his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action.

15:20 He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

Psalm

Matthew Henry says that David gathered all of his praises of the Lord that he had written during the course of his life and placed them in this magnificent Psalm. Henry describes Psalm 119 as a ‘chest of gold rings, not a chain of gold links’.

Psalm 119:1-8

119:1 Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.

119:2 Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,

119:3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.

119:4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

119:5 O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

119:6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

119:7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.

119:8 I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.

Epistle

Readings from 1 Corinthians continue. We are now on 1 Corinthians 3. Paul explains that the converts of Corinth were still ‘infants in Christ’, needing spiritual milk rather than meat. They were dividing themselves up into factions, based on the church leader who baptised them. He wanted them to remember that they were all followers of Christ, therefore, all servants of God.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

3:1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.

3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready,

3:3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?

3:4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.

3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

3:7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

3:8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.

3:9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Gospel

Readings from the Sermon on the Mount continue. Jesus discusses reconciliation, temptation, divorce and idle oaths. N.B.: Jesus did not mean verses 29 and 30 literally; He means for us to walk in the Spirit and not be tempted by what we see. Walking in the Spirit will cut off our carnal appetites.

Matthew 5:21-37

5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’

5:22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

5:23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,

5:24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

5:25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.

5:26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

5:30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

5:31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’

5:32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

5:33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’

5:34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,

5:35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

5:36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.

5:37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Those were hard words for people to hear then. They are just as difficult these days.

The following are the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 9, 2020.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This passage from Isaiah, whilst meant for the captives in Babylon in his time, has timeless wisdom for us all.

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)

58:1 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

58:2 Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

58:3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.

58:4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

58:5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

58:9a Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

58:9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

58:10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

58:12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Psalm

This Psalm lists the many blessings God confers on those who fear Him and obey His commandments.

Psalm 112:1-9 (10)

112:1 Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments.

112:2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.

112:3 Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.

112:4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

112:5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.

112:6 For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.

112:7 They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.

112:8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

112:9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.

112:10 The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

Epistle

Readings from 1 Corinthians continue. We are now on 1 Corinthians 2. Paul makes a distinction between worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom.

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)

2:1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.

2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

2:3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.

2:4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

2:5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

2:6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.

2:7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

2:8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

2:9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”

2:10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

2:11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.

2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

2:13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

2:14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

2:15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

2:16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Gospel

Last Sunday, the Gospel reading was that of the Beatitudes. This week, we have another passage from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, in which He exhorts us to righteousness and tells us He came not to abolish the law of the prophets, but to fulfil it.

Matthew 5:13-20

5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.

5:15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

5:18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

5:19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We have much to ponder this week, especially from our Lord’s teachings in the powerful Gospel reading.

UPDATE: I forgot to add that this is, in old money, Septuagesima Sunday, 70 days before Easter and the beginning of Shrovetide. If we were alive not so long ago, Lent would have started on Monday, February 10. As it is, we have around two weeks to go.

The following readings are for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany — February 2, 2020.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Micah tells God’s people that they must take stock of their sins and repent. As did the other prophets, Micah, also prepared the way for the Messiah.

Micah 6:1-8

6:1 Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.

6:2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.

6:3 “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!

6:4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

6:5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

6:6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Psalm

This is one of my favourites. We can find God only when we ask Him for directions — and follow them.

Psalm 15

15:1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?

15:2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;

15:3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

15:4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

15:5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Epistle

Readings continue from 1 Corinthians. Paul makes a highly important argument that is still relevant today. Whereas some people are too clever to believe in God, the foolish among us will be blessed forever.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

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.

1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

1:28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,

1:29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

1:30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

1:31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Gospel

The Beatitudes are perfect choice from the Lectionary compilers and tie in brilliantly with the readings above.

Matthew 5:1-12

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Even early on in His ministry, Jesus told us that persecution would be our lot in our Christian journey.

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