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The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity — Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost — is October 17, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:35-45

10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

10:36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

10:39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;

10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading about pride and humility would have been more powerful had the Lectionary editors added the preceding verses, which follow last week’s reading, about the rich young ruler. It ended with Mark 10:31:

But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Here are verses 32-34, where, for a third time, Jesus tells His disciples what will happen to Him (also see John MacArthur’s sermon):

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

After hearing that, it is incredible that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, would have the utter brass neck to ask that He do whatever they ask of Him (verse 35). Well, early on, Jesus had called them the ‘sons of Boanerges’, the sons of Thunder:

a name signifying sons of thunder , given by our Lord to the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, probably on account of their fiery earnesty. (Mark 3:17) See (Luke 9:54; Mark 9:38) comp. Matt 20:20 etc.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that, in Matthew 20, their mother petitioned on their behalf and they seconded it:

This story is much the same here as we had it Matthew 20:20. Only there they are said to have made their request by their mother, here they are said to make it themselves; she introduced them, and presented their petition, and then they seconded it, and assented to it.

Note, 1. As, on the one hand, there are some that do not use, so, on the other hand, there are some that abuse, the great encouragements Christ has given us in prayer. He hath said, Ask, and it shall be given you; and it is a commendable faith to ask for the great things he has promised; but it was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their Master; We would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. We had much better leave it to him to do for us what he sees fit, and he will do more than we can desire, Ephesians 3:20.

So Jesus asked what it was they wanted Him to do for them (verse 36).

Henry says this was a way of putting them in check so that they might realise the folly of what they were doing:

He would have them go on with their suit, that they might be made ashamed of it.

They continued in their conceit and pride, asking that Jesus place one of them on His left and the other on His right in glory (verse 37).

Henry explains the two brothers’ reasoning:

James and John conclude, If Christ rise again, he must be a king, and if he be a king, his apostles must be peers, and one of these would willingly be the Primus par regni–The first peer of the realm, and the other next him, like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court, or Daniel in Darius’s.

John MacArthur has more:

Now as we look at this incident with James and John coming to Jesus and making their request, I want you to see how this breaks out into three characteristics of self-promotion, three characteristics of self-promotion, the path to greatness through self-promotion.

First of all, it’s motivated by self-ambition, or its defined by selfish ambition. Verse 35: “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.’” James and John called the sons of thunder, they were brash, bold men. They were the inner circle. They were with Jesus intimately with Peter, the most intimate of all the disciples and apostles. They were close to Him on a regular daily basis, and they think they have gained some ground by that because of their intimacy, because of their participation in the transfiguration, because they have been privy to so many private conversations in times with Jesus. They are sure that they are certainly above and beyond the rest of the men, and so this has come to the place in their minds where they’re bold enough to ask for privilege in the coming kingdom.

MacArthur tells us why their mother petitioned on their behalf in Matthew’s version of the story:

Now this is important. Why would you bring your mother? Come on, be a man. What, you bring your mother? Well, it’s not just that they brought their mother, it’s who their mother was. When you study the crucifixion of Christ in the account of Matthew, Mark, and John, you see three women at the cross: Mary the mother of our Lord, Mary Magdalene, and a third woman. The third woman who is at the cross is identified in three different ways. Matthew calls her the mother of the sons of Zebedee; so it’s this woman, which means she hung in there. When the apostles had fled she hung in there, she was at the cross. So, strong faith there.

Matthew calls her the mother of Zebedee. Mark calls her Salome; so that was her name. John calls her the sister of Jesus’ mother. So their mother is Jesus’ aunt. So this is now a family deal. They’re going to play the family card here, okay. “Not only were we at the transfiguration, not only are we intimately involved with You in the inner circle, but Your mother is our mother’s sister. That’s got to be good for something big, really big.”

She bought into it. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, she didn’t ask if she could have a seat on the dais, she would find her proud fulfillment through her children, like unsuccessful people with bumper stickers, and others on the Internet. She comes worshiping proskuneō. She comes bowing low, and Mark – Matthew says she’s desiring a certain thing of Jesus, and what she’s desiring is exactly what they asked.

So they’re really – this is serious ambition. This is not just personal ambition, this is not whimsical ambition, this is family ambition. Everybody’s in on this deal; and they’re going to come and they’re going to gang up on Jesus thinking they have the right

There’s another feature of pride that rears its ugly head as well, and we could call it arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence. This is so much a part of people’s life and attitude today, it’s just absolutely everywhere. They say, “We want to sit one on Your right hand and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

Jesus tells James and John that they do not understand what they are asking; can they drink the cup that He will drink and can they be baptised with His baptism (verse 38).

MacArthur tells us what Jesus was saying. The cup was one of God’s wrath and the baptism was not one of water but being submerged in something profoundly horrible, akin to what we would call a baptism by fire:

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” That’s an Old Testament idiom for taking in something, draining it. And it’s the cup in Isaiah 31 of God’s fury: “Can you handle, can you handle all that is to come?” Jesus was going to drink the cup of God’s fury. Remember in the garden He said, Matthew 26, “Let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done,” the cup of God’s wrath, He would drink it to the bottom. That was the image. Drinking the cup was literally imbibing it all in. It’s an Old Testament idiom meaning fully absorbing something, fully experiencing something, taking it all in.

Psalm 75, verse 8 talks about the ungodly drinking the cup of wrath. So that cup is very often associated with suffering. “Are you able to do that? Are you able to be baptized?” meaning not Christian baptism, but immersed into, plunged into, submerged. “Are you really able to go all the way under and suffer, to be, as it were, drowned in persecution, and ultimately martyrdom?” This is strong language. “Can you literally drink it all in and be submerged in it, because that’s what you’re really asking, because if you want the glory, the glory is the reward correspondent to the suffering.”

Naively, the brothers asserted that they were able, so Jesus agreed that they would drink His cup and be baptised into His baptism (verse 40).

Of the two, John was present at the Crucifixion and stayed until the end, with Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus. Jesus commended John to Mary before He died. In fact, John was the only one of the twelve Apostles to be there. Judas killed himself that day and the other ten, James included, hid themselves away in fear.

James and John had no idea what they were affirming and what lay ahead for them. Jesus granted their request about drinking His cup and bearing His baptism, as MacArthur tells us:

“Jesus said to them,” – verse 39 – ‘The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.’” That’s a prophecy, folks, that’s a prophecy. “Oh, the suffering? Yeah, you’ll have that. You will have that. Yes, you will drink the cup in full, and you will be submerged in suffering.”

For James, he’s the first martyr; for John, he’s the last martyr. James’ martyrdom – had his head cut off – came fast, soon, sudden, lightning quick. For John, his was a slow agonizing, disappointing death as an exile at the end of the century on the island of Patmos which was virtually a prison island. “You will, you will drink the cup.” Rejected, exiled, in John’s case; rejected, executed, in the case of James – the first and last who died because of the gospel.

Then Jesus said that He could not grant them a seat at His right hand or his left, because that status has already been prepared, and not by Him (verse 40). The implication here is that God determines who will sit right next to His Son in glory.

Mark tells us that the ten Apostles listening to this conversation became angry with the two brothers (verse 41).

MacArthur says this was not because they thought the two were prideful but because they got there before Peter and the rest did in asking the question about sitting next to Jesus in glory:

Ha, they got preempted; James and John got there first. They were furious not because they were spiritually offended, but they thought they were getting cut out of the deal. And this is the third aspect of this, and it is ugly competitiveness.

This argument about who will be first continued until the Last Supper, even though Jesus was constantly reminding them of the pre-eminence of service, such as in Mark 9:34-35:

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

MacArthur says:

Look, they’re still arguing about this at the upper room. They just had a hard time humbling themselves.

Jesus called the Twelve together and reminded them of the Gentile tyrants who lord themselves over their subjects (verse 42).

He said it would not be that way for the Apostles, because greatness lies in service; the one who wishes to become great must be the other’s servant (verse 43).

Jesus went further, saying that whoever wishes to be first must be the slave to everyone else (verse 44). Talk about radical theology: there it is.

MacArthur discusses the Greek words for ‘servant’ and for ‘slave’:

Here’s the path: Be a servant. Be a servant. Diakonos is the word. “Table waiter” was its primary meaning. “Be a waiter.” Don’t be the person that everybody serves, be the person who serves everybody. Big difference, you know. The fancier the restaurant you go to, the bigger the gap between the people eating and the people serving. You be the server, not the one served. You be the table waiter. That’s what it is to be a servant.

There are six words in the New Testament for servant, all of them Greek words. All of them describe a function: oikonomos, a house servant; hupēretēs, an under-rower in a galley ship pulling oars down in the bottom of a big trireme ship. Be a servant. Be somebody who does something for someone else. You’re not served, you are serving. Be a servant. He doesn’t say, “Be an archōn, be a ruler.” He doesn’t say, “Be a timē, a dignified official.” He doesn’t say, “Be a telos, possessing a powerful office. He doesn’t say, “Be a hiereus, a priest.” The word is, “Be a waiter. Be a waiter. Give your life giving people what they need. Spend your life giving people what they need.”

And it doesn’t end there. Go down even from there, verse 44: “If you want to be first,” – prime – “then be the slave of all.” Wow! The slave of all? This is the word doulos about which you have heard much because of the book Slave. I cannot tell you, folks, how important it is that you read that book; it’ll change your entire understanding of what it means to be a Christian, slave. Slaves were inferior to servants. Servants did a job; slaves were owned, totally controlled. He’s saying, “Consider everybody a person to be served, and consider everyone to be your master.”

Jesus ended by telling them about His primary purpose: to serve and to give His life, ‘a ransom for many’ (verse 45). Notice that He said ‘many’ and not ‘all’. Not all will be saved, because God has already chosen whom He will save: past, present and future.

MacArthur says that Jesus was the slave of His Father:

The greatest service and the greatest slavery was exhibited in Christ, right? He didn’t come to be served. He’s not like other kings, He’s not like other rulers. We say He condescended. That’s one of the ways. He didn’t come like all kings to be served, He came to serve. He didn’t come merely to be Lord and Master, He came also be slave of His Father, and do His Father’s will. He came to be the servant – diakoneō is the verb – but to serve.

But it goes down from there. In giving His life He actually offered a level of obedience that could be deemed slavery. And that’s the language of Philippians. Listen to this: “Do nothing” – verse 3, Philippians 2 – “from selfishness or empty conceit.” This is the same kind of instruction coming from Paul that our Lord gave the apostles. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” That’s exactly what our Lord is saying.

And then, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but the interest of others.” And here is the model: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a doulos, the form of a slave. Humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

And what happened to Him? “For this reason God highly exalted Him.” He made the greatest sacrifice, so He was the most exalted. “God gave Him a name above” – what? – “every name.” So, He got the highest name because He made the greatest sacrifice. That’s the principle. The greater the sacrifice, the more the glory. The greatest sacrifice gets the greatest glory. That’s Christ; That’s the model, that’s the pattern.

We are slaves to sin. We cannot help it. Sin is in our nature and sin is our master.

Through His horrifying and humiliating death, Jesus paid our ransom in blood to God the Father, the only efficacious propitiation for our sin. We are redeemed in God’s eyes, and He welcomes us into His kingdom.

MacArthur discusses ‘ransom for many’:

You want greatness in the kingdom? It’s correlated to your selfless serving slavery on behalf of others in sacrifice. And what was the actual service that Christ rendered? End of verse 45: “He gave His life” – we know that; why? – “a ransom for many, a ransom for many.” Lutron is the Greek word; it means “the price paid for the release of a slave,” the price paid for the release of a slave. Only used here and in Matthew 20; parallel account. He gave His life as the price paid for the release of a slave.

To whom was the ransom paid? To God. To God. God is the judge who had to be satisfiedGod is the executioner who had to be appeased, propitiated. This has now today, gratefully and thankfully, become the dominant theme in our understanding of the gospel, that Jesus is the ransom, Jesus is the substitute. Jesus dies a vicarious, substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. That’s what it says. He gave His life to pay the price in full. The price of sin had to be paid to God, to His divine justice; His justice had to be satisfied. The price that Christ paid satisfied God, propitiated His anger, settled His justice. He did it for many. I love the, kind of, Hebraic way of saying this: “for many,” in exchange for many.

What does that mean? What’s the emphasis there? Why does the word “many” appear? Because it’s juxtaposed with “Son of Man.” The ransomed bought by the sacrificial death of Christ are the many in contrast to the one Son of Man. One Son of Man pays the ransom for many.

Somehow I doubt whether any clergy are going to discuss serving or slavery in their Sunday sermons about this reading.

Let us put away our pride and instead embrace humble service.

Blessings to everyone for a good week ahead.

Below are the readings for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, October 25, 2020.

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

The Church of England calendar calls this the Last Sunday after Trinity. Advent does not start for five weeks, but the C of E begins a countdown with four Sundays before Advent beginning next week. This seems to be a recent development. Perhaps they think people will have too much trouble these days with words like ‘twenty-first’, ‘twenty-second’ and ‘twenty-third’. I do not know. I will continue with the traditional numbering.

There are two options for the first reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading and Psalm — Option One

Readings from Exodus have finished for the year. We move to the final chapter of Deuteronomy this week for the story of Moses’s death. As Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible — the Pentateuch — he could not have written this chapter. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that either Joshua, Eleazar or Samuel wrote this account.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

34:1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan,

34:2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea,

34:3 the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar.

34:4 The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”

34:5 Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command.

34:6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day.

34:7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated.

34:8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

34:9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses.

34:10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.

34:11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land,

34:12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Moses wrote the following Psalm. It is called ‘A Prayer of Moses the man of God’.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

90:3 You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”

90:4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.

90:5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;

90:6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

90:13 Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants!

90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

90:15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.

90:16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

90:17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands — O prosper the work of our hands!

First reading and Psalm — Option Two

This reading, which also features Moses, summarises God’s moral law and paraphrases the Ten Commandments.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

19:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

19:2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

19:15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.

19:16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

19:17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.

19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The Psalm is called ‘The Happy Man’. It is appropriately placed first among the Psalms.

Psalm 1

1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

1:4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Epistle

Readings from 1 Thessalonians continue. Last week’s described how holy they were. Here Paul recalls how he, Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy planted their church.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

2:1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain,

2:2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.

2:3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery,

2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.

2:5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed;

2:6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others,

2:7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.

2:8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Gospel

Readings from Matthew’s Gospel continue. Jesus gave the following lesson a few days before His death. He quoted Leviticus 19:18 (above) in verse 39. Verses 37 through 40 form part of an introductory prayer in the traditional Anglican liturgies which the priest may recite as an alternative to reading out each of the Ten Commandments.

Matthew 22:34-46

22:34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,

22:35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

22:36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

22:37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

22:38 This is the greatest and first commandment.

22:39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

22:41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:

22:42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”

22:43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

22:44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”‘?

22:45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”

22:46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Moses was what theologians call a ‘type of Christ’. He interceded on behalf of his sinful people, asking for God’s mercy on them by reminding Him of the covenant He made with them.

Below are the readings for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost — November 3, 2019.

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

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Some readers might recognise the following passage, which was an alternative reading nearly one month ago for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah’s. He, too, warned that the Chaldeans, God’s chosen instruments of judgement, would conquer Jerusalem. Habakkuk’s prophecy dates from 600 BC. In the first part of today’s reading, the prophet laments what he sees as evil winning over good, but, in the second half, the Lord answers Habakkuk by saying that He ends trials at the appointed time, therefore, we are not to lose heart in our suffering.

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

1:3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

1:4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

2:3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Psalm

We have more from Psalm 119, earlier verses from which were read two weeks ago on the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity. David intended for this lengthy Psalm to be memorised. It is said that each verse of it can either warm or censure our hearts.

Psalm 119:137-144

119:137 You are righteous, O LORD, and your judgments are right.

119:138 You have appointed your decrees in righteousness and in all faithfulness.

119:139 My zeal consumes me because my foes forget your words.

119:140 Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.

119:141 I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.

119:142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth.

119:143 Trouble and anguish have come upon me, but your commandments are my delight.

119:144 Your decrees are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.

First reading – alternate

Isaiah communicates what was given to him during a divine vision. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that it was customary for prophets to post their sermons on the door of the temple or another public place, as the Lord instructed Habakkuk to do (see the first reading above). How I wish the Lectionary compilers had not reworded the first part of verse 18, which reads much better in more traditional translations:

Come now, let us reason[a] together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

The Lord despised the hypocrisy of His people’s sacrifices, performed with false piety as they were in deep sin. Even so, with their hearty repentance, He would forgive them (verses 16-18):

Isaiah 1:10-18

1:10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!

1:11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.

1:12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more;

1:13 bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation– I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

1:14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.

1:15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,

1:17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

1:18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Psalm – alternate

This is another teaching Psalm, a maschil. Matthew Henry says that, although it does not speak of Christ in the same way as other Psalms, it has many Gospel messages upon which to meditate.

Psalm 32:1-7

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

Epistle

For the next three Sundays, readings are from 2 Thessalonians. Paul is deeply grateful for the faithfulness of the congregation. He and his companions in ministry offer continuing prayers for them. Note the mention of Timothy.

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:3 We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.

1:4 Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.

1:11 To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith,

1:12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel

This is the splendid story of Zacchaeus, a wealthy and despised tax collector, whom Jesus publicly calls upon to be His host. Interestingly, Jesus chose to pass through Jericho, and, by virtue of His presence, took away the lingering curse from that city. Although Jesus had earlier said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man enter Heaven, here we see that Zacchaeus became a believer that very day.

Luke 19:1-10

19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it.

19:2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.

19:3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.

19:4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.

19:5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

19:6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.

19:7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

19:8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

19:9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.

19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Matthew Henry points out that Zacchaeus pledged to give far more to the poor than Jewish law prescribed: one-half instead of one-fifth.

Also, even though Zacchaeus was a Jew, he had become a heathen in people’s eyes because of his profession. Hence, Jesus’s announcement that he was also ‘a son of Abraham’.

In conclusion, Jesus seeks the lost without their knowing it beforehand. If today, we hear His voice, may we harden not our hearts.

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