April Commentaries

 

Palm Sunday

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

 

In today’s reading, Isaiah, one of God’s prophets to the Southern Kingdom during the time of the Northern Kingdom’s demise, delivers a prophecy of the thoughts of the Messiah at the time of his torture and crucifixion 700 years later. Those thoughts include the following:

—Jesus is able to provide comfort to those needing comfort because his Father had taught him with similar trials and tribulations.

—The Father awoke him every morning with new projects, and Jesus did not rebel against his Father’s directions, even though it meant torture, disgrace, and death.

But then Jesus expresses His faith in the Father by stating that the Father is near him as he goes to trial because there is no one who can declare Jesus guilty.

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Epistle Lesson: Philippians 2: 5-11

 

St. Paul delivers a mini-sermon on humility by noting that Jesus, even though he was God, set aside his divine powers in order that he could become a true human being. But not only that, but he also humbled himself even further by allowing himself to experience death on a cross, possibly the most degrading and painful death that one can experience. But because of Jesus’ allowing himself to suffer that death on behalf of mankind, God the Father exalted him to the highest position in heaven next to Himself, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, whether in heaven or on earth, and every person should confess that Jesus the Messiah is indeed Lord and Savior, thereby bringing glory to God the Father.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 26: 1 - 27: 66

 

This reading reports many of the events that transpired as Jesus experienced what we now call Holy Week. Some key events include the following

—Jesus predicts to his disciples that within a few days he will be crucified.

—The Jewish religious and secular leaders plot to kill Jesus.
—Jesus is
anointed for his burial with very expensive perfume by a

woman in Bethany, and Jesus has to defend her action.
—Judas negotiates the
betrayal of Jesus with the chief priests.

—During the celebration of the Passover, Jesus identifies Judas as the one who would betray him.

—Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper.
—Jesus predicts that Peter will
deny him.
—Jesus spends his last free hours in
prayer in the Garden of

Gethsemane.
—Judas
betrays Jesus, who is arrested and brought for trial before the Jewish Council, during which Jesus testifies that he is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. On this basis, the Jews declare Jesus guilty of blasphemy (claiming to be God) and announce that he is guilty of death.

—Peter denies Jesus, then leaves the Council courtyard crying in bitterness.

—Judas has remorse for betraying Jesus but kills himself.
—Jesus is brought before Pilate, accused of being the
King of the Jewsto which Jesus readily admits is true.

—The Jews belligerently insist that Jesus needs to be crucified while the murderer Barabbas should be set free, to which Pilate relents.

—Jesus is crucified with two robbers, who along with the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the Jewish people, mock and deride Jesus by stating that if he really were the Son of God, then he should be able to come off of the cross and save himself from death. 

—From noon until 3 pm, there is darkness over all the land, at the end of which Jesus indicates that he has experienced the impact of the second death by asking why God the Father has forsaken him.

—Immediately after this, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Jesus yields his spirit to God the Father.

—The curtain of the temple, a symbol of the separation of mankind from God, is torn in two from top to bottom, indicating that God had caused the rent because Jesus’ death had appeased God the Father for the sins of mankind.

—This event is accompanied by a mighty earthquake as well as the rising from the dead of saints, who went into Jerusalem and appeared to many after Jesus’ resurrection.

—The sequence of events causes even the Centurion and others to exclaim that Jesus must indeed have been the Son of God.

—Joseph of Arimathea procures the body of Jesus from Pilate so that it can be entombed before the onset of the Sabbath Day.

—The next day the chief priests and the Pharisees implore Pilate to seal and guard the tomb of Jesus because they knew exactly what he meant when he had said earlier that if they destroyed this temple (i.e., Jesus’ body), he would raise it in 3 days.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson #1: Matthew 27: 11-66

 

It is now the morning after the Passover, at which celebration Jesus has instituted the Lord’s Supper. But since that supper, Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus was arrested and brought before the Jewish Council overnight and condemned to death for admitting that he was indeed the promised Messiah. Problem: the Jews had no authority under the Romans to administer the death penalty. So they have to come up with a scheme by which the Romans would do that for them. So the Jews bring Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, accusing him of being the King of the Jews, hoping that that accusation would cause Pilate to think that Jesus was an insurrectionist to Caesar. When Pilate does ask Jesus whether he is the King of the Jews, he must have been surprised that he answered that yes he was! (But elsewhere it is recorded that Jesus clarifies for Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world.)

Amazingly, Pilate accepts that answer and sees through the Jews scheme. So now he has to devise a way to save Jesus. He does this by offering the Jews a choice for the release of a prisoner at Passover time, a custom of the Romans to help keep peace with the Jews. He offers them a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a known insurrectionist and murderer. But the Jews had already considered this possibility and had instructed the Jewish people to demand the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. When Pilate questioned this choice, the Jewish leaders prompt the crowd to become boisterous, to the point that Pilate feared that a riot might develop, which would cause the Romans to question his ability to keep the Jews under control.

Pilate gives in but washes his hands ceremonially to indicate that it was not he but the Jews that required Jesus’ death. The Jews in turn fully accept the responsibility for Jesus’ murder. Then Pilate releases Jesus into the crucifixion process, which starts out with a brutal whipping, mocking and torture by the Roman soldiers, and crucifixion. The soldiers divide up Jesus’ clothes, and the Jews triumphantly mock Jesus repeatedly.

But after three hours, everything becomes pitch black, and after three more hours of this, Jesus cries out to the Father, asking why he has forsaken him, thereby indicating that Jesus has suffered the second death—separation from God. Shortly after that, Jesus commits his spirit to the Father, the curtain in the temple dividing the Most Holy Place where God dwells, from the Holy Place where priests make intercession, is torn from top to bottom, indicating that the sin separating man from God has been removed. In addition, there is an earthquake, and tombs are opened, causing the centurion in charge of the crucifixion to exclaim that Jesus truly was the Son of God. (Note that after Jesus’ resurrection, bodies of the saints who had been in the tombs now came out and walked around Jerusalem.) But Joseph of Arimathea, the member of the Jewish Council who was a disciple of Jesus, asks Pilate for the body of Jesus. He then places the body in his own new tomb and closes it with a large stone. But the next day, the Sabbath Day, the Jews come to Pilate to request a guard be placed at the tomb to prevent anyone from stealing the body because they remembered Jesus predicting his own resurrection after three days. Pilate tells them to place their own guard, which they do, and in addition, seal the tomb.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson #2: John 12: 20-43

 

Jesus has had a very eventful series of weeks, marked by the raising of Lazarus from the dead with the subsequent decision by the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus because they feared for their jobs with the Romans; the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary, the sister of Lazarus; and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is at this point that our reading for today begins. Some Greeks (in other words, Gentiles) who had come for the Passover wanted to see Jesus, causing Jesus to exclaim that, like a seed when planted dies to become something greater and more fruitful, so his death would result in a fruitful life for many others. Similarly, Jesus notes, whoever wants to serve him must be willing to lose his life, because by losing his life he will receive greater life.

When Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name, the Father responds by speaking from heaven. Jesus explains that this indicates that the hour is at hand when the current ruler of the world will be deposed as Jesus is lifted up on the cross. This prompts the crowd to start quibbling with Jesus, saying that the Christ lives forever, so how can Jesus say that Christ must die on a cross? Frustrated by their response and their refusal to believe him, Jesus warns that he, as the light of the world (John 1:5-6, 9-13; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5-6; Ephesians 5:8-14), would soon no longer be with them, bringing to remembrance the words of the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied that these people would not believe what was revealed to them and that they could not believe because they had hardened their hearts, like Pharaoh (Exodus 9:7, 12).

Interestingly, John makes a comment about the hypocrisy of some of the authorities who, although they believed in Jesus nevertheless would not admit to it because they did not want to be excommunicated from the synagogue, meaning that the accolades of man were more important to them than the accolades of God. 

 

Holy (Maundy) Thursday (Thursday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 24: 3-11

 

This evening’s fascinating lesson begins with the conclusion of what constitutes a marriage ceremony, a marriage between God and the Children of Israel. Although the agreement includes the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, recorded in Exodus 20:1-23:33, it can be summarized in the words of Ex. 19:5-6: Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, (then) you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

When Moses conveyed this proposal of God’s to the Children of Israel by the reading of the Book of the Covenant, their response was, “We’re in!” And so the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice mentioned here sealed the marriage agreement between God and the Children of Israel. And thereafter, God referred to himself as their husband, and to the Children of Israel as his wife (Isaiah 54: 5; Jeremiah 3: 8, 14; Ezekiel 16: 8; Hosea 2: 2, 16). But now, God invites Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of the Children of Israel to come part-way up Mt. Sinai to enjoy presumably a wedding dinner with God himself. And they not only see God but also the pavement under his feet! This is an amazing event since God had made it clear that if anyone saw his face, they were dead (Ex. 33:20).

Can you imagine sitting down with God for a meal? If not, why are you here tonight?

 

Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 9: 11-22

 

The author of Hebrews now reveals to us the mechanism by which our redemption was secured. We all remember that the prescribed sacrifices of the Children of Israel in the Old Testament were a picture of how our sins would be washed away by that perfect sacrifice. The problem has been that Jesus’ death on the cross just didn’t seem to fit the picture of the Old Testament sacrifice. But that is because we had the wrong picture. Here it is revealed that when Jesus shed his blood on the cross, he went into heaven with that blood and entered the original tabernacle, the one not made by human hands, sprinkling his blood on the altar as an indication that the blood of the perfect lamb of God, Jesus, made final and total satisfaction for not only the taking away of sins but also the purifying of our consciences.

That is why Jesus is the bringer of a new covenant, one that replaces the old covenant made with the Children of Israel. That first covenant also required the shedding of blood, but of calves and goats, which purified those who made the sacrifice. But those sacrifices of bulls and goats could not take away sins. That could only be done by the blood of the perfect lamb of God, Jesus.

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 26: 17-30

As Passover week begins, Jesus has two of his disciples go into Jerusalem, to the home of a certain but undesignated man, to prepare the Passover meal. While eating, Jesus remarks that one of the twelve apostles is going to betray him. When Judas asks whether Jesus means him, Jesus answers, yes, it is you. In essence, Jesus was reaching out to Judas to repent of his intentions, but we know from other gospels that this did not happen. Once Judas had left, Jesus instituted what is now known as the Last Supper, or the Lord’s Supper, where he identified the bread as his body, and the wine as his blood, establishing a new covenant with his believers. 

 

Alternate readings for

Holy (Maundy) Thursday (Thursday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 12: 1-14

 

The ninth plague, of thick darkness, has ended, and God has warned Egypt of the last plague to come. But first, he must arrange to save His people from that plague, the death of the first-born of both humans or animals. He then proceeds to give Moses instructions on how this is to be done. First of all, a one-year-old lamb or goat without blemish must be chosen. The families that eat the animal must be of such size that all the roasted meat must be consumed that evening. The blood from the killing of the animal must be splashed on the doorposts and mantle of the doorway of the house. The meal must be accompanied by bitter herbs and unleavened (made without yeast—hence flat) bread. And the entire family must be dressed for travel, ready to move out at a moment’s notice. Thus as God and the destroying angel passed through the houses, any home with the blood on the doorposts will be passed over, thus sparing any first-born there.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-32

St. Paul is giving the Corinthian Christians instructions on how to conduct their worship services in a way pleasing to God. In our reading for this evening, he gives instruction regarding the celebration of the Lord’s supper, noting that Jesus identified the bread as his body given for them, and the wine as his blood shed for them for the forgiveness of sins. And this meal is meant to help Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice.

But then St. Paul points out that this is not just an ordinary meal. It requires the participant to examine him/herself, recognizing and acknowledging his/her sins and truly repenting of his/her behavior. In other words, we are to judge ourselves so that God does not have to judge us. Then St. Paul points out that a number of the Corinthian Christians are weak, sick, or dead because they had not discerned the significance of this covenant meal.

Something for us to think about.

 

Gospel Lesson: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

 

It is Maundy Thursday evening (as we know it). To Jesus and the disciples, it is their last Passover celebration together, because Jesus knows that his suffering begins that night. Just prior to the meal, Jesus gets a basin of water, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes the disciples' feet. What’s this all about? Well, back in those days, there were no paved pathways, and people wore sandals. So whenever people entered a home, it was traditional for the very lowest servant to wash the peoples’ feet. Since this was a borrowed facility, and there were no servants to wash the disciples' feet, Jesus took up the chore. Peter apparently was the only one to grasp some of the significance of what was happening. If anything, one of the disciples should have washed the feet, and Peter recognized that he was one of those disciples. Hence he objected when Jesus was about to wash his feet. After an exchange of words, Peter submits. But then Jesus explains the significance of what he did. He held the highest rank, so to speak, of those in the room, yet he assumed the duties of the person lowest in rank. Thus this was an example of how God credits things: Those who are willing to be the lowest servant will be among the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, on this earth, pride has no place in the life of a Christian, only love and service.

Later that evening, Jesus announces that now he will be glorified by his Father, just as the Father will be glorified by the work of the Christ soon to be completed. Then he reminds them that, what he told the Jews earlier—that they would not go where he was going, so also now the disciples could not go where he was going—indicating that the unbelieving Jews would not go to heaven but the believing disciples could not follow Jesus to heaven now as he completes the ultimate sacrifice (see Hebrews 9 for what happened in heaven). But then Jesus gives his disciples an old but new commandment: they are to love each other with godly love, so much so that all people would immediately know that they were his disciples by the obvious love that they had for one another. 

 

 

Good Friday (Friday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 13—53: 12


Isaiah, as we will recall, was God’s messenger to Judah, the Southern Kingdom for about 40 years, starting around 740 B.C. His messages called for repentance, punishment for the lack of repentance, and restoration for those who repented. In today’s reading, however, we have a prophecy of the crucified Jesus. In particular, we see that Jesus will

—be lifted up,
—have a marred appearance, beyond human semblance, and —sprinkle many nations—presumably with his shed blood which makes 
them holy.

Then Isaiah compares the young Jesus to the bloody figure hanging on the cross, with no beauty or majesty, or even form. Furthermore, he is grieved and sorrowful over the crowd below him who has despised and rejected him. Why? Isaiah then tells us:

—he was pierced for our transgressions
—he was crushed for our iniquities
—he was chastised in order to bring us real peace, and —his wounds bring us healing.

Although it was we who as sheep lost our way, it was Jesus who suffered the punishment for our straying. And even though he was totally innocent of all the charges against him, he did not vigorously defend himself; instead, he remained silent. He then was killed for the sins of the people and buried in a borrowed tomb. But then Isaiah notes what Jesus accomplished: by Jesus bearing the sins of the many, the many will be declared righteous. Therefore his reward will be great.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 4: 14 -16; 5: 7-9


The author of Hebrews is undertaking to show just what Jesus is now doing for us. For example, he is our great high priest, interceding on our behalf before God the Father. But this is not just any old high priest, who does not understand our weaknesses. No, this is one who has been tempted in every way that we are being tempted but without sinning. So when we come to Jesus, we can receive mercy for our failures, and grace in our times of need. After all, when Jesus walked this earth, he too offered prayers to God the Father during his trials and tribulations, and as a true human son, learned obedience through his suffering. Thus he became the source of eternal salvation to all who serve and believe in him.

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Gospel Lesson: John 18: 1 - 19: 42

 

St. John records for us the events in the life of Jesus over the 24-hour period of his human life on earth:

—He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane,
—Jesus is
betrayed as Judas leads a mob into the garden to arrest him, —Jesus ensures that the remaining disciples are not also arrested, —Jesus heals the servant’s ear that had been cut off by Peter,
—Jesus is brought before Annas, the father-in-law to Caiaphas, the high

priest,
—Peter follows Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, and there

denies three times that he knows Jesus,
—Jesus is questioned, and is
assaulted when they don’t like his answers, —Jesus is brought to Pilate in the hope that he will kill Jesus on the behalf of the Jews,

—Pilate sees through the Jews’ scheme but is forced to condemn Jesus

in order to prevent a riot, an event that would be disastrous for his

career,
—Jesus is
mocked and then whipped to within an inch of his life by the

Roman soldiers,
—Pilate has Jesus
crucified outside of the city, between two robbers, —Pilate gets back at the Jews by posting the reason for Jesus’

crucifixion: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,
—The soldiers
cast lots for Jesus’ clothes,
—Jesus sees his
mother as well as St. John standing beneath the cross;

and in order to ensure that she is taken care of (since her first-born

son is being killed), he appoints John to take care of her,
—Having completed all tasks given to him by God the Father, Jesus
gives up his spirit, and

—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus retrieve Jesus’ body from Pilate,

and bury it in a new, nearby tomb, since the Jewish day of rest

was fast approaching, when no work was allowed.

 

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 19: 17-30


Pilate has just ordered Jesus to be crucified. However, he is still smarting from the fact that the Jews forced him to condemn Jesus by organizing a riotous crowd. So when he posted the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion, he writes, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” We then see the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, followed by Jesus seeing his mother as well as St. John standing beneath the cross. Jesus recognizes that, as her first-born son, he will no longer be able to take care of his widowed mother, so he assigns St. John to do that for him. As the hours pass, Jesus recognizes that he as completed all the tasks given to him by his Father for the salvation of all mankind, so he gives up his spirit. 

 

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord / Easter Day

 

First Lesson: Acts 10: 34-43

 

Acts chapter 10 is one of the most fascinating chapters one can read because it not only addresses many principles of the Christian church, but it also reveals how God can direct the affairs of men. Although today’s reading starts in the middle of the story, let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter, where we find a Roman centurion, Cornelius, a man whose heart was seeking God and who was known for his charitable acts. One day God sent an angel to him and instructed him to send for Peter, who just happened to be in Joppa, about a long day’s journey from Caesarea. The next day, St. Peter, who is at the home of Simon, a tanner, becomes hungry around noon and goes to the rooftop to pray while his hosts prepare a lunch. Suddenly Peter has a vision of a large tablecloth coming out of heaven, filled with all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds of the unclean kind, accompanied by a voice from heaven that tells Peter to kill and eat. Peter responds by saying he will not eat anything unclean, but God answers with the statement that what God has made clean, Peter should not call unclean. And immediately the vision disappears into heaven. This episode is repeated twice more, to get the message across to Peter that Gentiles, as well as Jews, have been made clean by the blood of the Lamb.

It is then that the messengers from Cornelius arrive, and Peter admits the Gentiles into a Jewish home, where they stay the night before taking Peter back to Cornelius the next day. Upon arrival at Cornelius’ home, Peter and his colleagues from Joppa find a host of people waiting to hear the Good News. Peter then starts his mini-sermon with the words of today’s reading, explaining how God had just taught him that Gentiles had also been made clean, and continues with a concise history of Jesus’ ministry.

Although not included in today’s reading, God confirms Peter’s message by baptizing his audience in the Holy Spirit just like the disciples were baptized on the day of Pentecost. Peter and his colleagues are forced to conclude that this audience has been accepted by God as his children, and so they proceed to baptize Cornelius’ entire household with water.

 

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Alternative First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 1-6

 

It is around 600 B.C. The Northern Kingdom, or Israel, has already disappeared from the scene, the people dispersed throughout the Assyrian empire and replaced by citizens of Assyria. Back in the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, the last righteous king of Judah, King Josiah, is reigning, valiantly trying to bring his people back to God, only to be foiled by the four subsequent kings who turn the kingdom back to apostasy, subsequently resulting in the Babylonian Captivity.

It is at this time that Jeremiah is called by God to be a spokesman to Judah. Note that Jeremiah, at the time of his calling, is still a youth! And although Jeremiah calls the people of Judah to repent and warns of disaster to come if they do not, virtually no one listens to him. And sure enough, King Nebuchadnezzar arrives, and the Babylonian Captivity begins. But Jeremiah continues his prophetic ministry, advising the exiles that God intends to restore not only Judah but also Israel. It is in the middle of this message that our reading begins, with Jeremiah relaying God’s word that he loves His children with an everlasting love, and will remain true to his promises. In addition, he promises that he intends to restore all of Israel, turning all of Israel’s mourning into joyful dancing.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Colossians 3: 1-4

 

In the chapter prior to today’s reading, St. Paul clarifies for the Colossians what God has already done for them through Christ’s death and resurrection, using the following words:

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all your trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14.

Those are the benefits of being a child of God. In today’s reading, St. Paul addresses some of our responsibilities as children of God, including setting our mind on heavenly, not earthly, things. Thus, when Christ comes again, we will then appear with him in glory.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 28: 1-10

It is now the third day, the day after the Sabbath, and Mary with Mary Magdalene go to the tomb of Jesus to anoint the body. But a strong earthquake occurs, and an angel appears and rolls away  the stone from the tomb. At the sight, the battle-hardened guards become so fearful that they become like dead men. The angel, however, assures the women to not be afraid and advises that Jesus has risen and is going to Galilee, where his disciples are to meet him. The women start running back to where the disciples are gathered but run into Jesus instead. Upon receiving the worship of the women, Jesus again tells 

 

 

Second Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 5: 29-42

 

Following the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were emboldened to witness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The apostles, in particular, were noted for not only their teaching but also for the signs and wonders that followed, so much so that the priests and Sadducees (who do not believe in a resurrection) arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. So during the night, God sent an angel to open the prison doors for them, bringing them out and telling them to go back to the temple to teach the people, which they did. Thus the next morning, when the apostles were sent for, to appear before the priests, council, and senate, they were not found in the prison, although all the doors were still securely locked and guards were still in place. Eventually, the apostles were found in the temple and brought to the assembly. The assembly castigated the apostles for still teaching about Jesus when the apostles had been charged earlier never to teach about Jesus again. It is then that Peter is prompted to respond that one must obey God rather than men. The assembly becomes so enraged by these words and Peter’s accusation that the members of the assembly were responsible for murdering Jesus, that they want to murder the apostles also. But wisdom prevails when Gamaliel, a highly regarded teacher of the Law, reviews some recent history about groups that spring up while following a leader, only to disappear when the leader is killed. He then suggests that, if this were a human endeavor, it would eventually fail; but if it were of God, the assembly might find itself opposing God. So the apostles are merely beaten and released.

Today’s reading thus addresses some critical aspects of the Christian life. A Christian is supposed to be subject to the governing authorities since all governing authorities are instituted by God (Romans 13). But what happens when human authority is opposed to God’s authority? Peter answered that question in today’s reading. But note that when one defies human authority, there may be consequences, which the apostles accepted. Likewise, we must be willing to suffer the consequences of obeying God. Again note that the apostles left rejoicing that they were considered worthy to suffer for the sake of obeying Christ. And so should we, for Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 1: 3-9

 

St. Peter, first of all, praises God for his mercy by which we were born again to a heavenly inheritance through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But he also notes that we can still rejoice in this gift, even though we may be suffering under various trials These trials are God’s way of testing how genuine our faith is.

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Gospel Lesson: John 20: 19-31

 

Continuing the reading of last week, when Jesus appeared to the women at the tomb early on Easter Sunday morning, it is now the evening of that day. And despite having been told by the women, Peter, and John that Jesus has now risen, the disciples are still found cowering behind locked doors for fear of being arrested by the Jews for being Jesus’ disciples. Suddenly Jesus appears in their midst, assures them that it really is he, wishes them peace, and then tells them that he is now sending them out into the world with news of the Kingdom just as the Father sent Him into the world.

But Thomas was not there when this happened. So when he is told of this event, he refuses to believe it. Consequently, 8 days later, when we again find the disciples cowering behind locked doors, Jesus again suddenly appears in their midst, with Thomas now present. Jesus challenges him to believe, which Thomas does. And Jesus responds by saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That would be you and me. 

 

 

Third Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 2: 14a and 36-41

 

Today’s reading still finds us on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on the disciples, visitors to Jerusalem from all parts of the world are hearing the disciples praising God in the visitors’ native tongues, and St. Peter has risen to the occasion by preaching to the gathering crowd. Our reading begins with the end of Peter’s sermon, where he states that this all demonstrated conclusively that God had made Jesus both Lord and Messiah, whom his listeners had crucified. In contrast to the words of Hosea, Peter’s words find receptive hearts as he calls for them to repent, to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and to receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. Peter emphasizes that this promise of salvation is for everyone, including those who are “far off,” meaning Gentiles. As a consequence of Peter’s message, about 3,000 people accepted Christ as their personal savior.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 1: 17-25

 

Continuing to read from St. Peter’s first letter, Peter now addresses the attitude that Christians should have. He points out that the God we call on is the one who judges everyone according to their deeds. Being so, we should conduct ourselves with genuine fear, considering that the gift of our eternal life was at the expense of God’s only Son—his suffering, death, and resurrection. St. Peter, therefore, admonishes us to

—be obedient to the truth,
—love with brotherly love, and
—love from a
pure (i.e., not a scheming) heart,

because we have been born again through the living Word of God, which remains forever. 

 

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 2: 42-47

 

Today’s reading gives us a peek into the life of the Christian community during the early New Testament period. We discover the following characteristics:

—they devoted themselves to God’s Word, receiving the Lord’s supper, and prayers,

—they treasured fellowship with each other,
—they took care of the
needy in their fellowship by selling possessions

and belongings in order to make the funds available to the needy

among them,
—they ate their meals
at home with gladness and generosity, and —they continually praised God.

As a consequence, the following needs to be noted:
awe came upon outside observers,
signs and wonders were being done by the apostles,

—they were viewed with favor by outside observers, and

—the Lord added to the number of saved daily.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 2: 19-25

 

St. Peter here addresses the various kinds of trials and tribulations which we may experience. The first kind is a result of our sinning. In this case, the trials and tribulations that are a consequence of that sinning cannot be considered to be unjust or unfair.

On the other hand, when we experience trials and tribulations because of our Christian faith, be it because of our words or deeds or even our chosen lifestyle, then God makes a special note of that. In fact, we should expect such suffering, since Christ suffered for us, even though he did nothing that was worthy of punishment. And we should take special note of his attitude and approach to this suffering: he entrusted himself to God. As a result, his suffering and death was accepted by God as payment for our sin, allowing us to become Children of God!

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 10: 1-10

 

In this passage, Jesus identifies God’s children not only as sheep but also as a very valuable asset, so much so that certain entities want to steal them away, either by deceit or violence. Then Jesus identifies himself as the shepherd of his sheep, and not only does he know his sheep individually but also the sheep know Jesus as their shepherd as well as his voice. And Jesus leads the sheep in and out of the sheep pen in order to find good pasture for the sheep. Jesus then notes that his sheep do not know the voice of a stranger and will not follow a stranger. Strangers come only to steal or kill or destroy. Finally, Jesus identifies himself as the door of the sheep pen also, and his sheep enter by that door, where they not only will have a life but have it abundantly in this life and the next!

Do you wonder whether you really have an abundant life here? We could not possibly know what all Jesus has spared us from already in this life. To get a hint, if you could, visit a hospital ward, or even better, a cancer ward. And no matter what physical illnesses and disabilities you have now, they will pale in comparison to what others are experiencing. We can indeed thank Jesus for an abundant life now! 

 

 

St. Mark, Evangelist (26 April)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 7-10

In the Old Testament period, when kings went to war, they would have designated messengers to send home, some designated to bear good news while others to bear bad news, of how the battle was going. Watchmen on the walls would continually search the surroundings, looking for the messengers. Even at a great distance, they could identify the messenger—and the nature of the message—by how the messenger ran. If good news, the watchmen would shout for joy, causing the people to break out in singing. This is the situation described in today’s reading.

Because of their forsaking God by their idolatry, the people of Judah have been taken into captivity in Babylon. There they gradually realize the error of their ways and cry out to God for help. In today’s lesson, God not only promises to deliver them out of their physical captivity but also to deliver all nations from their captivity to sin. Then God describes the reaction of the people to his salvation:

—even the feet of the messenger will appear beautiful,
—the messenger will bring peace and the 
good news of happiness,

—the city watchmen will shout for joy when they see the

messenger approaching,
—the people will break out into
singing, and

—the Lord will comfort and redeem his people.

But perhaps more important to us, the Lord’s salvation will be for all people, even us!

 

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 4: 5-18

 

Today’s lesson is a continuation of St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He, first of all, encourages Timothy

—to be sober-minded,
— to endure suffering,
—to do the work of an evangelist, and

—to fulfill his ministry.

Then he looks back on his life, noting that his departure is imminent, but knows that he will be with God in heaven because he has kept the faith. Hence he knows that a crown of righteousness awaits him.

He then laments the departure of some of his co-workers: Demas, who returned to his former way of life; and Crescens and Titus, who went to two provinces to continue their ministries there. It turned out that only Dr. Luke was still with him after he sent Tychicus to Ephesus.

 

 

He then pleads for Timothy to come to him, bringing his warm coat, some scrolls and parchments (presumably some of the Old Testament scriptures, or some of St. Paul’s writings), and Mark. Who is Mark? Mark, or John Mark, was a young Christian lad, a cousin of Barnabas, who Paul and Barnabas had brought to Antioch from Jerusalem, and who accompanied Paul and Barnabas for a short time on St. Paul’s first missionary journey. Later, when St. Paul started his second missionary journey, he took Silas along with him while Barnabas took Mark with him. Later on, when St. Paul was imprisoned, he wrote to the Colossians that Mark had provided him comfort, and he is sending him to them. (Incidentally, this is the Mark that wrote one of the four Gospels.)

Continuing his letter to Timothy, St. Paul warns him against Alexander the metalworker, who apparently opposed St. Paul and his message, possibly during his hearing in court. In addition, no one else was there to support him, so St. Paul felt abandoned at this point. Yet he expressed faith that the Lord would rescue him.

Our faith also should be as St. Paul’s when he concludes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 16: 14-20

 

St. Mark records for us the last few days of Jesus physically being on earth. He notes that Jesus appeared to the eleven remaining apostles while they were eating, and chastised them for their stubborn unbelief of the women on Easter morning who reported to them that Jesus had risen. Later, St. Mark records Jesus giving his disciples the Great Commission to go into all the world to bring the Good News to everyone. Jesus notes that miraculous signs will follow their evangelism work: demons will be cast out, they will suddenly be able to speak new languages, poisons will not hurt them, and the sick will be healed. Then Jesus ascends into heaven. And sure enough, the disciples’ evangelism is indeed accompanied by miraculous signs! 

 

St. Philip and St. James, Apostles (1 May)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 30: 18-21

 

Isaiah was God’s messenger for over 50 years to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, surrounding the time in 720 B.C. that the Northern Kingdom was conquered and dispersed throughout Assyria. This should have been a strong message to the Southern Kingdom, but sadly it fell on deaf ears. The messages of the need for repentance from their rebellious ways, and the need to depend on God instead of depending on neighboring nations, followed by God’s grace toward them and the restoration of their glory, marks the major themes of Isaiah.

In the passage immediately preceding today’s reading, God warns the people of Judah about doing things their way instead of God’s way. For example, they put their trust in nations that cannot help them, and demand from God’s prophets to tell them what they want to hear. Such an attitude, God warns, will only lead to sudden destruction. Then, just before our reading begins, God tries a different approach: he tells them that they can be saved if they return to him. There is still time to repent! If they do, the Lord will be kind to them, have compassion on them, and pity them. And through whatever troubles and hardships they may have, the Lord will be there to guide and teach them.

It sounds like something that we can take to heart today!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesian 2: 19-22

 

As St. Paul continues his letter of encouragement to the Christians in Ephesus, he notes that Gentiles, who had been driven away from God by the Jews who practiced a religion of exclusion instead of inclusion, have now been brought to God by the blood sacrifice of that great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus. Furthermore, since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, Gentiles who believe in Jesus have the exact same status as Jews who believed in a coming Messiah in Old Testament days and now believe in Jesus in this New Testament period. So Jesus brought peace with God to the Jews (those who were “near”), and also to the Gentiles (those who are “far off”), making the two groups fellow citizens and legitimate children of the same household of God. In addition, with Jesus being the cornerstone, the Old Testament saints based on the foundation of the prophets, and the New Testament saints based on the foundation of the apostles, are being built into a temple, a dwelling place for God Himself. Through the Holy Spirit, we are being built into a place where God lives.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 14: 1-14

 

Approaching the idea from a different perspective that we are the sheep of Jesus’ fold, Jesus now assures his believers that they should not be concerned with present circumstances, but rather to steadfastly believe in Him. Jesus then states that he is going back to Heaven so that he can build a room for each one of us, so that he can come back to take us to the house that he has built for us (recall that this sounds just like a Jewish wedding: the bridegroom was not allowed to fetch his bride until his father was satisfied with the room/house that the bridegroom had prepared for his bride).

Thomas appears confused by Jesus’ words and asks what the way is to get to where Jesus will be. Jesus explains that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one gets to the Father except through him. In response to a question from Philip, Jesus emphasizes that whoever has seen Him has seen the Father, and that Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus. Furthermore, the words that Jesus speaks and the works that Jesus does are the words and works of the Father done through Jesus.

Then Jesus challenges every believer: He states that whoever believes in Him will also do the works that Jesus is doing, and not only those works but even greater works. And then he challenges us even further by saying that whatever we ask in His name, He will do so that the Father may be glorified. Again, Jesus challenges us: Ask Him anything in His name! 

 

 

 

March Commentaries

 

First Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 3: 1-21

 

The temptation of Adam and Eve is a story well-known to almost everyone. Because it is so familiar, it is easy to skim over some details that can help us live a life pleasing to God. So let’s look at Satan’s approach to the temptation:

—he, first of all, raises doubt about what God said;
—then he implies that God
doesn’t really know what he is doing,

in this case, saying that what God said is untrue;
—next, he says that God is deliberately
withholding good things from them;

—finally, he appeals to their pride by encouraging them to pursue an ambition to be equal to God.

So when someone confronts you with this approach, you know from where, or from whom, they are coming!

The transformation wreaked by sin is immediate: what was once a body upon which to lavish true love and affection is now a body for which to lust. And the previous walks with God in love and companionship are now walking from God because of fear. And when God confronts Adam, we see the first case of narcissism—blaming others for what you have done wrong: Adam not only blames Eve for the situation, he also blames God, because God had given him Eve. Eve, in turn, blames the serpent. Of course, the buck stops at the serpent.

God pronounces judgment first on the serpent, and as part of that judgment, God announces the coming of a Messiah—to buy back humankind from Satan, to whom Adam and Eve had sold themselves as slaves (see Rom. 6:16); this Messiah would crush the authority of Satan but in the process suffer himself. Next, judgment on Eve would consist of pain during childbirth and being subject to her husband. Or, putting it bluntly, refusing to be subject to one’s husband is rebellion against God. Finally, judgment on Adam is preceded by a reprimand for Adam listening to his wife rather than listening to God, since Adam had not been deceived by Satan’s arguments (see 1 Tim. 2:14). The reprimand is followed by the judgment: work will now be a pain rather than a pleasure.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 5: 12-19

 

St. Paul here explains not only the consequences of that first sin but also the consequences of our redemption through Christ Jesus. First of all, remember that “death” means separation from God. That was the kind of death that God was talking about when he told Adam and Eve what the consequence of their disobedience would be. When they sold themselves into sin to Satan, they became separated from God. Remember that children born of slaves are by birth slaves, so children born to Adam and Eve and their descendants would also be slaves to sin—hence the concept of “original sin.”

By the same token, children born of free people are also free. Because Jesus was obedient throughout his life, including obedience to God by taking the punishment for our sins, He would be declared righteous, and therefore free. His righteousness can now be exchanged for our unrighteousness. So people who become children of God by grace through faith in Christ Jesus are judged to be righteous and therefore are free. Again, these people are declared righteous because of the obedience of Jesus.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 4: 1-11

 

Today’s lesson is the record of another well-known temptation, that of Jesus, the Second Adam (1 Corinth. 15:45-50). In this case, Satan is exerting his wiles against the Son of God. And like the temptation of Adam and Eve, Satan makes use of the same ploys. The bottom line is that Satan appeals to serving self and one’s pride and glory, whereas Jesus counters with the admonition to serve God and to give glory to Him only. 

 

 

Second Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 12: 1-9

 

Today’s lesson picks up from the last few verses of the previous chapter, where we find Terah, Abram’s father, taking his family and moving from Ur of the Chaldeans, believed to be in what is now Kuwait, to Haran, which is believed to lie between the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, near present-day southeastern Turkey. Abram’s brother, Haran, had died before the migration took place, so Haran’s son, Lot, Abram’s nephew, apparently was adopted by Abram.

Today’s story begins with God calling Abram to leave his family and go to a place that God would show him. There are two interesting features of this call. First is that the entire family, including Abram, worshipped idols. And secondly, God does not exactly tell Abram where he is supposed to go. Under these circumstances, it is amazing that Abram would respond to God’s call, but he does! And it is that obedience to, or faith in, God that results in God declaring Abram righteous. Still, God does provide some incentive. He promises Abram the following:

—I will make of you a great nation (singular);
—I will bless you and make
your name great;
—You will be a
blessing; and
—In you, 
all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

What is also amazing is that Abram was already a wealthy man, because they had to gather all their possessions and all the servants that they had acquired to go with them. Note that his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot also went with him. Now you wives, if your husband told you that some unknown God had told him to pack up everything he had and go somewhere, to be revealed after he hit the road, what would you think? Undoubtedly God credited Sarai with righteousness as well because she obeyed Abram, who had obeyed God. (See 1 Peter 3:5-6 for God’s perspective on this.)

In any case, the entourage heads toward present-day Israel, eventually traveling its length from north to south, ending up near the Negeb desert region—a total distance of around 500 miles. Near Shechem, in central Israel, God appears again to Abram. this time expanding on His previous promise by saying that God will give this land to Abram’s offspring. And so Abram builds an altar to God there, and then another one near Bethel, worshipping the Lord there before traveling on toward the Negeb.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 4: 1-8 and 13-17

 

St. Paul here takes up the task of explaining who are descendants of Abraham and therefore entitled to be his heirs. He starts out by noting that the promise of the Promised Land, made by God to Abraham, was not based on something that Abraham had earned by doing some work for God or by the keeping of the law; rather, it was a gift that God made to Abraham by grace. Thus the true descendants of Abraham are those who have the faith of Abraham—by believing God that he sent his son Jesus to die in our place. Again, since the promise of being an heir of all of the promises made to Abraham is based on faith in God, Abraham can indeed be the father of many nations—people of every tribe and race. Note that that faith is demonstrated by obedience to God, and by grace, God declares us descendants of Abraham.

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Gospel Lesson: John 3: 1-17

St. John records this well-known encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. Clearly Jesus’ miracles and teachings had caused Nicodemus to want to learn more from Jesus privately. Jesus, however, turns the discussion to the heart of the matter: anyone who wants to enter the Kingdom of God must be born again. Jesus clarifies that being born again is not a physical but a spiritual issue. In essence, faith must be placed in a person’s heart by the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus points out the most important truth: God is a God of love, and God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world of sin, but rather to save the world through Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

 

Third Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 17: 1-7

 

You will all recall the episode of the burning bush, where God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush while Moses was attending sheep in the Midian desert. God had told Moses that he had selected him to return to Egypt to lead the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey, the land 500 years earlier promised to Abraham. At the time that our reading for today begins, we find that the Children of Israel have crossed the Red Sea into Midian, leaving the army of Pharaoh drowned, as they headed to Mt. Horeb. From a census of fighting men taken later, it may be deduced conservatively that there are over 2.5 million people, plus flocks and herds headed toward Mt. Horeb. It should be no surprise, then, that they could not possibly have taken with them enough water to supply humans and animals during this journey. So Moses is blamed for this situation, accusing him—and God—of bringing them out of Egypt solely to let them die of thirst in the desert. What the people do not appreciate is that this situation is a test: a test that God is administering to see whether they really trust Him to keep his promise of bringing them to that Promised Land. But God has a plan already, instructing Moses to take with him the leaders of the Children of Israel and go to the foot of Mt. Horeb, there to strike a rock. When he does so, a river of water comes out of the rock, suppling the people and animals for over the next year as they met with God at Mt. Horeb. God provided, and God kept his promise.

But something for us to consider: If we had been in that group traveling toward Mt. Horeb and found ourselves without water, would we have believed God?

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 5: 1-8

 

St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, expands on the concept that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. Consequently, we not only rejoice in the hope of sharing in God’s glory, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, trials, and tribulations. Why? Because they produce endurance, which produces godly character, which in turn produces that faith and hope in God’s love. As we then look back at our Old Testament reading, we can now see clearly that through the trial of lack of water, God was trying to produce endurance, godly character, and hope in the love that God had promised to the Children of Israel that would sustain them in faith in the years to come.

St. Paul concludes his discussion here by pointing out that Jesus died for the ungodly, while we were still sinners. Or perhaps more bluntly, while we were an abomination in his sight and completely unloveable. Surely, if He did that for us, we should be able to trust Him in all things, even in the midst of our trials and tribulations.

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Gospel Lesson: John 4: 5-26 (27-30, 39-42)

 

The story of Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well is familiar to many. But what is unfamiliar to almost all is why the Jews avoided dealings with Samaritans. We have to go back to approximately 720 B.C. when the King of Assyria attacked and conquered the Northern Kingdom, whose capital was Samaria. He captured all the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom and dispersed them throughout his empire, which included parts of present-day Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. He then planted citizens of his empire, Assyrians, into the Northern Kingdom to replace the Israelites. When God allowed lions to attack these foreigners, the King sent an Israeli priest to teach the foreigners how to worship the true God. This they did, although they continued the worship of their own idols. Obviously, the citizens of the Southern Kingdom, the Jews, refused to accept these people —now called Samaritans—as true worshippers of God.

With this background, it can now be appreciated why, when Jesus asks the woman of Samaria for a drink of water, she responds rather testily. A discussion ensues, in which Jesus offers the woman living water that will result in eternal life. He then reveals that he knows a lot more about her personal life than she would have liked anyone to know, and in response, she offers that she knows the Messiah would tell people all things. It is then that Jesus clearly identifies himself as that Messiah.

Although our lesson for today ends here, we have to note that this discussion brought about faith in the Samaritan woman, who returned to her town to bring her townspeople to hear Jesus as well. As a result, many of these Samaritans believed that Jesus was indeed that Savior of the world, and put their faith and trust in Him. 

 

Fourth Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 42: 14-21

 

Recall that Isaiah was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, from around 740 to 695 B.C., surrounding the time of the dispersion of the Northern Kingdom throughout Assyria. He began his ministry during the reign of King Ahaz, the Southern Kingdom’s version of the Northern Kingdom’s evil King Ahab. In today’s reading, God charges the people of the Southern (and Northern) Kingdom of being blind, but he then states that he will lead and guide them, making the rough places plain before their feet (remember that phrase from Handel’s Messiah?). But despite God reaching out to his messenger (referring in this case to God’s chosen people, the Children of Israel), they still refused to open their eyes and ears so that they could be saved—and consequently save others, and went back to their idols.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 5: 8-14

 

St. Paul observes that the Ephesians were once spiritually blind (in darkness), but now are able to walk in the light of God. But he also notes that walking in faith is not a single event but rather a way of life in which their deeds reflect all that is good, right, and true. He, therefore, admonishes the Ephesians (and us!) to avoid and reprove all the works of darkness (the desires and works of unbelievers), so that unbelievers can arise from the dead through one’s witness, and the light of Jesus may shine in their hearts as well.

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Gospel Lesson: John 9: 1-41

 

The disciples (and many people today!) operate on the assumption that if someone is sick or has some kind of infirmity, it must be due to his/her sin, or maybe their ancestors’ sin. Jesus quickly dispenses with that idea when he and his disciples encounter a man who has been blind from birth. When Jesus heals the man by making some mud, placing it on the man’s eyes, and having him wash his eyes in a nearby pool, the Pharisees immediately insist that Jesus must be a sinner, since he healed on the Sabbath day (violating the Pharisee’s rules). When the (formerly) blind man suggests instead that Jesus must be a prophet of God, the Pharisees excommunicate him. Jesus, aware of this, tracks down the man and asks him whether he believes in the Messiah (i.e., the Son of Man). When the man asks who this man is so that he can believe in him, Jesus clearly identifies Himself as that Messiah, but then comments that He came into the world to make blind eyes see but to cause seeing eyes (those who have heard the Gospel message but still refuse to believe) to become (spiritually) blind.

 

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 9: 1-7, 13-17, 34-39

While Jesus and his disciples are moving around Jerusalem, they encounter a man who was born blind. To satisfy their curiosity, the disciples ask Jesus whether it was the man’s or his parent’s sin that caused him to be born blind, revealing the supposition that every sickness, disease, or malady is the direct result of some specific sin. In other words, there was a cause-and-effect relationship: if you have some problem, it is because you sinned. The same argument was presented to Job by his three “friends.” And the image left is that of a vindictive god. Jesus straightens out the disciples’ thinking.

But then he stops to makes some mud, puts it on the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to wash it off in a nearby pool. Remember, now, that this is a Sabbath day. So when the man washes as instructed and regains his sight, the Pharisees are quick to pick up on that, since Jesus obviously had to do work to make the mud that somehow resulted in the healing of the blind man. The Jews then begin an investigation, first interrogating the man, who tells them what happened; and then calling in the man’s parents to verify that he indeed had been born blind. When asked how he received his sight, the parents prudently defer, saying that the man is of age to speak for himself. This is because the Jews had already agreed to excommunicate from the synagogue anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. It is the old story: those in power exclude from their company anyone who does not accept their beliefs. And today that can mean not just exclusion from a church, but denying of tenure, loss of a job, and many other penalties.

Next, the Jews call in the healed man again, this time prompting him to tell a different story. When he persists in his original story and then lectures the Jews on their hypocrisy and unbelief, the man gets excommunicated. But when the man encounters Jesus soon afterward, he is rewarded by having Jesus announce to him that he is seeing his Messiah with his new seeing eyes. 

 

Fifth Sunday in Lent


Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

 

Ezekiel was a member of the priestly family (descendants of Aaron, Moses’ older brother), and a prophet of God to the citizens of the Southern Kingdom who had been taken into Babylonian captivity. After being displaced from their homeland for many years, it is easy to see how they would have despaired of ever being able to return to their homeland, of enjoying the peace and prosperity accorded to the nations that loved and served God. That deep despair could be described as dry bones, as the bones of those who had died and been bleached by the sun for decades.

This is the picture that God presents to Ezekiel, a valley filled with dry bones. God’s question to Ezekiel is whether these bones can become living people again. God then instructs Ezekiel to command the bones to live again, and when Ezekiel does so, the bones assemble themselves into skeletons which then take on flesh, resulting in a large army of people. God then instructs Ezekiel to command breath to cause these people to come back to life, and it happens! God then explains what this all represents: these bones that come back to life are the whole house of Israel—which may refer to the Old Testament Children of Israel being restored to their homeland, or it may refer to all believers being raised from the dead to live in God’s heavenly kingdom. The bottom line is that God gave life in the beginning, and He can bring back to life anyone any time He wants. There is a resurrection of the dead!

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 8: 1-11

 

In this reading, St. Paul explains the legal basis for believers being declared righteous, or innocent. He starts out with a simple statement that whoever is in Christ, that is, accepts the fact that Jesus lived a righteous life and subsequently took God’s just punishment for our sins, that person is not condemned by God. How does this work? St. Paul explains that there are two classes of people: those who have not accepted God’s provision for our sinful condition and are therefore subject to the law of sin, which states that sinners receive eternal death; and those who have accepted God’s free offer to have Christ’s death be a substitution for our deserved death, and are therefore subject to the law of the Spirit, which gives us eternal life.

Then St. Paul tries a different approach. He again describes two classes of people: those who live according to the flesh, who are focused on self and their own pleasure, and who believe that they are capable of deciding what are or are not righteous deeds; and those who are focused on God and his will, and tune their minds to the voice of the Spirit who directs their thoughts, words, and deeds. St. Paul then makes clear that those who live according to the flesh, or worldly ways, are hostile to God, will not submit to God’s will, and are incapable of pleasing God. The only end available to them is eternal death.

If, on the other hand, we listen to the Spirit of God, even though our body still yields to sin, our spirit is now alive in Christ; consequently, since that Spirit raised Christ’s body from the dead, so that same Spirit will also raise our mortal bodies from the dead on the last day because we have in effect exchanged our own righteousness for Christ’s righteousness, and Christ has accepted our guilt for his innocence.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 11: 1-45 (46-53)

 

Today’s reading is the familiar story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Now, Jesus knew several days earlier that Lazarus was dying, yet he delayed coming to him to ensure that Lazarus was dead by the time Jesus did arrive. In his ensuing conversation with Mary, Lazarus’ brother, Jesus elicits from her not only a confession of faith in the resurrection of the dead but also a confession that she believes that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. As a follow-up to that conversation, Jesus commands the tomb to be opened. And when he prays to the Father, he points out that he delayed coming so that the people standing around him would also believe that he was the Messiah sent by the Father. Upon Jesus’ command, Lazarus is raised from the dead, and many standing around do believe. But others hurry to the Pharisees to report Jesus’ most recent miracle. The Pharisees are worried that Jesus will become the leader of the Jewish people, displacing them from their lucrative positions. But Caiaphas, the high priest, comes up with a plan: murder Jesus so that the people cannot follow him any longer, rather than have the Romans dispose of the Pharisees and priests from their positions. But note why Caiaphas said that: even though he was unrighteous and a murderer, God spoke this prophecy through him that Jesus would die for all people because God was honoring the office that he held. Thus Jesus’ coming death and resurrection would make possible the resurrection to the eternal life of all who believe that Jesus is the promised Savior. 

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 11: 17-27 and 38-53

 

As our story begins today, we find Jesus and his disciples on the east side of the Jordan River, in the area where John the Baptist had his ministry, because the Jews were again after Jesus to arrest and kill him. While there, they receive word from Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ two sisters, that Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, is deathly ill. Implicit in the information is a request for Jesus to come and heal him. But Jesus defers for two days, then announces that he is going to awaken Lazarus. But Jesus has to clarify for the disciples that Lazarus is already dead, but that he is going to “awaken” him. Remembering Jesus’ last encounter with the Jews in Jerusalem, and recognizing that Bethany is less than two miles from Jerusalem, the disciples agree to go with Jesus and die with him. By the time Jesus gets over the intervening mountain range to get to Bethany, Lazarus has already been dead for four days. But Martha expresses her faith in the resurrection, to which Jesus responds that he is the resurrection and the life.

Martha then calls Mary, who also expresses her faith by saying that if Jesus had been there earlier, Lazarus would not have died. Jesus then has the sisters lead him to the tomb and instruct them to not only have the tomb opened but also to continue to believe in him. And following a short conversation of Jesus with the Father, Jesus commands Lazarus to come out, which he does, resulting in many of the people in Bethany—and elsewhere—believing in Jesus. But this poses a serious problem for the Jews in Jerusalem. If the people follow Jesus instead of them, the Romans will fire them. The solution is provided by God himself. God honors the office of the high priest by putting his words into the mouth of Caiaphas, the high priest, that Jesus should die for the people. Little did he know that that was God’s planning from the very beginning, that Jesus would die not only for the Jews but also for all people. 

 

St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord (19 March)

 

Old Testament Lesson: 2 Samuel 7: 4-16

 

Let’s, first of all, set the stage for this lesson:
King Saul has died during a battle with the Philistines,
—David has become king of Judah, while Saul’s son
Ishbosheth has become king of Israel (the Northern Kingdom),

—7.5 years later, upon the assassination of Ishbosheth by some of his subjects, David is chosen king of all Israel,

—David defeats the Philistines,
—David captures Jerusalem, makes it his capital, and brings the
Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and

—with the help of King Hiram of Tyre, he builds for himself a magnificent palace of cedar.

King David now finds himself sitting on his throne, pondering all that God has done for him. He decides to show his appreciation to and love for God by building a temple for Him. But when he passes his intent by God’s representative, the prophet Nathan, God instructs Nathan to tell David that he has it backward. God is going to demonstrate his love for David and all mankind by building a house for David. And not only a house, but an eternal kingdom. And this eternal kingdom will be ruled by a descendant of David. Furthermore, that descendant will be God’s Son, and God will never stop loving him. Thus the House of David will remain in God’s presence forever, and David’s throne will be established forever.

Thus Nathan prophecies that the Messiah will come from the line of David.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 4: 13-18

 

St. Paul here takes up the task of explaining who are descendants of Abraham and therefore entitled to be his heirs. He starts out by noting that the promise of the Promised Land, made by God to Abraham, was not based on something that Abraham had earned by doing some work for God or by the keeping of the law; rather, it was a gift that God made to Abraham by grace. Thus the true

descendants of Abraham are those who have the faith of Abraham—by believing God that he sent his son Jesus to die in our place. Again, since the promise of being an heir of all of the promises made to Abraham is based on faith in God, Abraham can indeed be the father of many nations—people of every tribe and race. Note that that faith is demonstrated by obedience to God, and by grace, God declares us descendants of Abraham.

Most folks do not appreciate the faith that Abraham demonstrated. God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Yet his wife Sarah was barren, and the years went by but still no heir. But Abraham refused to be swayed by the circumstances; he still hoped for what God promised, believing that God would honor his promise.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23

Politics! It’s everywhere: in our government, in our business, in our academic institutions, even in our churches. But who would have thought that politics would determine where Jesus lived during his lifetime? You see, King Herod was very paranoid. He was so fearful that he would be displaced as king by someone, that he killed anyone who he thought might be an adversary. He even killed his own relatives. So when he hears from the wise men that they are looking for the king of the Jews, he is determined to nip this apparent competitor in the bud immediately. So he sends out his soldiers to kill all infants in Bethlehem that fall within the time period mentioned by the wise men.

Fortunately, God is already privy to his plan and sends an angel to warn Joseph in a dream of the immediate danger to Jesus. Joseph responds with the alacrity of one who believes God and flees to Egypt with Mary and Jesus that very night. A few years later, after King Herod’s death, an angel again appears to Joseph to let him know that it is now safe to return to the land of Israel. But since King Herod’s son is now the king in Judea, Joseph wisely leaves Judea (after being warned in a dream) and heads north, to the district of Galilee, setting up residence in Nazareth—all predicted by God centuries earlier! (Isaiah 9:1-4) 

 

The Annunciation of Our Lord (25 March)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 7: 10-14

 

King Ahaz of Judah, the subject of today’s lesson, was the son of the righteous King Jotham. King Ahaz, who started to rule around 740 B.C., unfortunately, did not follow in his father’s footsteps: not only did he follow the idolatress worship of the kings of Israel, but he also sacrificed his son by burning him alive. When God allowed the kings of Syria and Israel to attack him, he and his people began to be fearful. It was at this point that God sent Isaiah to King Ahaz to tell him that God would fight for him and defeat these two armies—another example of God reaching out to this ungodly king in order to encourage him to repent. To reassure him even more, God asks King Ahaz to ask for a signanything he wanted—that God should do to convince him that God would indeed defeat the armies of Israel and Syria. Amazingly, King Ahaz refuses! It is then that God says that He will provide a sign—a sign for all people: a virgin will conceive and bear a son who will deliver all people from their slave master—sin, thereby bringing freedom that had not been experienced even during the days of Kings David and Solomon. Furthermore, the name of this son would be Immanuel, meaning God with us!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 10: 4-10

 

In chapters 8 and 9 of Hebrews, the author has explained how Christ offered his blood on the altar in heaven to redeem the souls of all mankind, provided that the individual accepts Christ’s sacrifice. As we begin chapter 10, the author indicates that all of the sacrifices (the blood of bulls and goats) required by The Law did not actually take away sins. In fact, these sacrifices and offerings were not even desired by God but were instead merely a picture of the sacrifice that had to be made by Jesus. Consequently, a body for that sacrifice was prepared for Jesus. Why a sacrifice? Because Hebrews 9:22 tells us that without the shedding of blood, no sins can be forgiven. Thus Jesus came into the world specifically to do God the Father’s will, as written in the Book, or Bible (here called a scroll) long before the Creation (see Ephesians chapter one). When Jesus made that sacrifice of himself, he in effect did away with the first covenant, as represented by the Law, and replaced it with a second covenant, as represented by faith, in which an individual is forgiven and declared sinless when he or she accepts Christ’s sacrifice, which sacrifices needed to be made only once, since that one sacrifice covered all sins of all time.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 26-38

 

Today’s lesson presents an interesting contrast between the announcement of the angel Gabriel to the priest Zechariah of the forthcoming birth to him of John the Baptist and the announcement of Gabriel to Mary of the forthcoming birth to her of Jesus. Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, is now in her sixth month of pregnancy when Gabriel appears unannounced to Mary. Remember that Mary is engaged to Joseph, which in God’s eyes meant that they were married but had not yet consummated the marriage by living with each other. So when the angel announces that she will be the mother of the Messiah (“the Son of the Most High”), Mary, of course, is wondering how this is to happen; what is she supposed to do? The angel explains that the Holy Spirit will implant in her the fertilized egg which would represent the Son of God, or the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). Then he tells her that her relative Elizabeth, considered barren, was now in her 6th month of pregnancy, noting that with God, nothing is impossible. And what is Mary’s response? So be it!

You may think that this is no big deal. But Mary is fully aware that if she shows up pregnant, and Joseph is not the father, then it would be considered that she had committed adultery (remember that in God’s eyes she is already married to Joseph), which is punishable by stoning to death. So by agreeing to God’s announcement, she could be getting a death sentence. If you had been Mary, would you have readily agreed, or would you have asked for more time to think about it?

 

Palm Sunday

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

 

In today’s reading, Isaiah, one of God’s prophets to the Southern Kingdom during the time of the Northern Kingdom’s demise, delivers a prophecy of the thoughts of the Messiah at the time of his torture and crucifixion 700 years later. Those thoughts include the following:

—Jesus is able to provide comfort to those needing comfort because his Father had taught him with similar trials and tribulations.

—The Father awoke him every morning with new projects, and Jesus did not rebel against his Father’s directions, even though it meant torture, disgrace, and death.

But then Jesus expresses His faith in the Father by stating that the Father is near him as he goes to trial because there is no one who can declare Jesus guilty.

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Epistle Lesson: Philippians 2: 5-11

 

St. Paul delivers a mini-sermon on humility by noting that Jesus, even though he was God, set aside his divine powers in order that he could become a true human being. But not only that, but he also humbled himself even further by allowing himself to experience death on a cross, possibly the most degrading and painful death that one can experience. But because of Jesus’ allowing himself to suffer that death on behalf of mankind, God the Father exalted him to the highest position in heaven next to Himself, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, whether in heaven or on earth, and every person should confess that Jesus the Messiah is indeed Lord and Savior, thereby bringing glory to God the Father.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 26: 1 - 27: 66

 

This reading reports many of the events that transpired as Jesus experienced what we now call Holy Week. Some key events include the following

—Jesus predicts to his disciples that within a few days he will be crucified. —The Jewish religious and secular leaders plot to kill Jesus.
—Jesus is
anointed for his burial with very expensive perfume by a

woman in Bethany, and Jesus has to defend her action.
—Judas negotiates the
betrayal of Jesus with the chief priests. —During the celebration of the Passover, Jesus identifies Judas as the one who would betray him.

—Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper.
—Jesus predicts that Peter will
deny him.
—Jesus spends his last free hours in
prayer in the Garden of

Gethsemane.
—Judas
betrays Jesus, who is arrested and brought for trial before the Jewish Council, during which Jesus testifies that he is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. On this basis, the Jews declare Jesus guilty of blasphemy (claiming to be God) and announce that he is guilty of death.

—Peter denies Jesus, then leaves the Council courtyard crying in bitterness.

—Judas has remorse for betraying Jesus but kills himself.
—Jesus is brought before Pilate, accused of being the
King of the Jewsto which Jesus readily admits is true.

—The Jews belligerently insist that Jesus needs to be crucified while the murderer Barabbas should be set free, to which Pilate relents.

—Jesus is crucified with two robbers, who along with the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the Jewish people, mock and deride Jesus by stating that if he really were the Son of God, then he should be able to come off of the cross and save himself from death. 

—From noon until 3 pm, there is darkness over all the land, at the end of which Jesus indicates that he has experienced the impact of the second death by asking why God the Father has forsaken him.

—Immediately after this, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Jesus yields his spirit to God the Father.

—The curtain of the temple, a symbol of the separation of mankind from God, is torn in two from top to bottom, indicating that God had caused the rent because Jesus’ death had appeased God the Father for the sins of mankind.

—This event is accompanied by a mighty earthquake as well as the raising from the dead of saints, who went into Jerusalem and appeared to many after Jesus’ resurrection.

—The sequence of events causes even the Centurion and others to exclaim that Jesus must indeed have been the Son of God.

—Joseph of Arimathea procures the body of Jesus from Pilate so that it can be entombed before the onset of the Sabbath Day.

—The next day the chief priests and the Pharisees implore Pilate to seal and guard the tomb of Jesus because they knew exactly what he meant when he had said earlier that if they destroyed this temple (i.e., Jesus’ body), he would raise it in 3 days.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson #1: Matthew 27: 11-66

 

It is now the morning after the Passover, at which celebration Jesus has instituted the Lord’s Supper. But since that supper, Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus was arrested and brought before the Jewish Council overnight and condemned to death for admitting that he was indeed the promised Messiah. Problem: the Jews had no authority under the Romans to administer the death penalty. So they have to come up with a scheme by which the Romans would do that for them. So the Jews bring Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, accusing him of being the King of the Jews, hoping that that accusation would cause Pilate to think that Jesus was an insurrectionist to Caesar. When Pilate does ask Jesus whether he is the King of the Jews, he must have been surprised that he answered that yes he was! (But elsewhere it is recorded that Jesus clarifies for Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world.)

Amazingly, Pilate accepts that answer and sees through the Jews scheme. So now he has to devise a way to save Jesus. He does this by offering the Jews a choice for the release of a prisoner at Passover time, a custom of the Romans to help keep peace with the Jews. He offers them a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a known insurrectionist and murderer. But the Jews had already considered this possibility and had instructed the Jewish people to demand the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. When Pilate questioned this choice, the Jewish leaders prompt the crowd to become boisterous, to the point that Pilate feared that a riot might develop, which would cause the Romans to question his ability to keep the Jews under control.

Pilate gives in but washes his hands ceremonially to indicate that it was not he but the Jews that required Jesus’ death. The Jews in turn fully accept the responsibility for Jesus’ murder. Then Pilate releases Jesus into the crucifixion process, which starts out with a brutal whipping, mocking and torture by the Roman soldiers, and crucifixion. The soldiers divide up Jesus’ clothes, and the Jews triumphantly mock Jesus repeatedly.

But after three hours, everything becomes pitch black, and after three more hours of this, Jesus cries out to the Father, asking why he has forsaken him, thereby indicating that Jesus has suffered the second death—separation from God. Shortly after that, Jesus commits his spirit to the Father, the curtain in the temple dividing the Most Holy Place where God dwells, from the Holy Place where priests make intercession, is torn from top to bottom, indicating that the sin separating man from God has been removed. In addition, there is an earthquake, and tombs are opened, causing the centurion in charge of the crucifixion to exclaim that Jesus truly was the Son of God. (Note that after Jesus’ resurrection, bodies of the saints who had been in the tombs now came out and walked around Jerusalem.) But Joseph of Arimathea, the member of the Jewish Council who was a disciple of Jesus, asks Pilate for the body of Jesus. He then places the body in his own new tomb and closes it with a large stone. But the next day, the Sabbath Day, the Jews come to Pilate to request a guard be placed at the tomb to prevent anyone from stealing the body because they remembered Jesus predicting his own resurrection after three days. Pilate tells them to place their own guard, which they do, and in addition, seal the tomb.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson #2: John 12: 20-43

Jesus has had a very eventful series of weeks, marked by the raising of Lazarus from the dead with the subsequent decision by the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus because they feared for their jobs with the Romans; the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary, the sister of Lazarus; and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is at this point that our reading for today begins. Some Greeks (in other words, Gentiles) who had come for the Passover wanted to see Jesus, causing Jesus to exclaim that, like a seed when planted dies to become something greater and more fruitful, so his death would result in a fruitful life for many others. Similarly, Jesus notes, whoever wants to serve him must be willing to lose his life, because by losing his life he will receive greater life.

When Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name, the Father responds by speaking from heaven. Jesus explains that this indicates that the hour is at hand when the current ruler of the world will be deposed as Jesus is lifted up on the cross. This prompts the crowd to start quibbling with Jesus, saying that the Christ lives forever, so how can Jesus say that Christ must die on a cross? Frustrated by their response and their refusal to believe him, Jesus warns that he, as the light of the world (John 1:5-6, 9-13; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5-6; Ephesians 5:8-14), would soon no longer be with them, bringing to remembrance the words of the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied that these people would not believe what was revealed to them and that they could not believe because they had hardened their hearts, like Pharaoh (Exodus 9:7, 12).

Interestingly, John makes a comment about the hypocrisy of some of the authorities who, although they believed in Jesus nevertheless would not admit to it because they did not want to be excommunicated from the synagogue, meaning that the accolades of man were more important to them than the accolades of God.