April 5, 2020. Passion Sunday. TLW12A
Sunday Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, shared across the denominations.
Theme: Jesus paid a high price for us to be able to call Him Lord
Read the passage first and let it speak for itself. The link takes you to the NIV text which combines accuracy with clarity. The order follows the sequence of the Bible, which is a progressive revelation from Old Testament, to a Gospel account, to the teaching of the early church who knew the perspective and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Following the Bible’s own sequence makes it much easier to grasp the overall thrust of what God is saying through it.
Then there are links to the verse-by-verse commentary and brief application.
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news knows God’s purpose will bring pain and shameful accusation – but also vindication
Matthew 27:11-54 — Following Pilate’s sentence, as Jesus surrenders His life on the Cross, an earthquake destroys the temple curtain
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus, the humble servant put to death under a curse and now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
And also read: Psalm 31:9-16
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news submits to God’s purpose
There will be pain, and shameful accusation – but also vindication
4-5 The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens Me morning by morning, wakens My ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign LORD has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“A well-instructed tongue” – in this third Servant Song the Messiah, submissive to God, is being perfected through unwavering persistence.
“The word that sustains the weary” – refers back to an earlier prophecy, that the Lord, “who will not grow tired or weary”, sends His messenger with the good news that “He gives strength to the weary”, Isaiah 40:28-31.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“I offered My back” – and other torment, what Jesus experienced at His crucifixion, Matthew 26:67, 27:30.
“Mocking” – see Matt. 27:27-31 (below).
7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Shame” – at first, but the servant foresees the God-ordained outcome.
8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
“Vindicate” – or justifies. Christ fulfilled this prophecy. As the human but sinless Saviour, He is uniquely empowered to cancel charges brought against those who choose to belong to Him.
9 It is the Sovereign LORD who helps Me.
This preview of what Jesus went through for us, helps us regain God’s perspective when we are wearied by the constant attacks of the enemy of our souls.
“Who is My accuser?” is the language of a legal victory in a courtroom. “Accuser” is similar in meaning to satan, adversary, reminding us that our spiritual enemy relies on finding legal grounds to oppress (our sin) and is stymied by the removal of those grounds (by finding grace, in Jesus).
When life is draining and we feel discouraged, where do those thoughts come from?
Matthew 27:11-54 — Pilate sentences Jesus to be flogged and crucified
As He surrenders His life, an earthquake rips apart the temple curtain
11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are You the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
“The governor” – the Roman historian Tacitus records Christ’s execution after sentencing by the prefect Pilate “in the reign of Tiberius”. The blasphemy accusation held little sway for a Roman official, so the Jews framed Jesus as a political rebel deserving of death.
12-14 When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against You?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor.
“Great amazement” – Pilate has not encountered a defendant who did not plead for mercy; if allegations of treason were true, Pilate would have been forewarned.
15-16 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.
17-18 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.”
“That innocent man” – a disturbing nightmare was a significant sign to people of that time, Roman law was clear that an innocent man should not be put to death, and Pilate’s judicial instinct told him the charges were constructed. Yet he was more influenced by fear of the crowd.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas, and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
23 “Why? What crime has He committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
“Why?” – Pilate clearly thought the crowd would want the release of a doer of good, rather than Barabbas, seen as a violent robber in Mark 15:7, John 18:40. The crowd that noisily acclaimed Jesus as He entered the city, now proved strangely fickle.
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
“His blood is on us” – the self-curse found fulfilment among those present in the Jerusalem’s bloodshed and destruction in AD 70 (but is not an indictment against Jews in general).
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
“Flogged” – Roman flogging was so brutal it sometimes killed the victim. The “By His stripes” quotation about our healing being in Jesus’ wounding sees this as part of the execution, Isaiah 53:5. 1 Peter 2:24.
27-29 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand. Then they knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.
“Mocked Him” – Isaiah 50:6 (above). His trial by the Jews, Matt. 26:67-68, mocked Him as a prophet; now He is mocked as king. See also vv. 37-44 below.
• For further study: Jesus’ unique spiritual authority combines that of prophet, priest and king, Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 10, and Hebrews 2:8.
• Read also Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
30-31 They spat on him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
32-34 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced Him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it.
“A man from Cyrene, named Simon” – Simon, from N. Africa, is named as someone later known in the community of believers.
The place of the skull” – either a skull-like rocky place, or where skulls remained from previous executions – or both. None of the gospels mentions a hill.
35-37 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
38 Two rebels were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
41-43 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
“Let God rescue Him” – “let God deliver Him”, an allusion to Psalm 22:8.
44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.
“Rebels… crucified with Him” – as predicted, He was “numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:12, Luke 22:37.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”).
“Why have You forsaken Me?” – Jesus had to experience the full extent of God’s wrath (holy requirement for justice) for the sins of humanity – possibly the bitterest blow of all. Matthew translates the Aramaic for us.
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48-49 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave Him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.
“Cried out” – not anguish but the victory shout of “It is finished!”, John 19:30. Jesus had completed His purpose in coming into the world and in this tortured death had settled the redemption charge for the sin of all mankind.
51-53 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
“Curtain” – the Holy of Holies in the Temple was divided off by heavy woven barrier; remarkably the earthquake ripped it. At this point, the order of priesthood was made redundant because through Jesus it was now possible for every believer to come into God’s presence, needing no other intermediary.
• For further study, see Ephesians 2:11-22; Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:1-10:25.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely He was the Son of God!”
“Terrified” – the earthquake, and the prisoner like no other, revealed the divine connection.
Any one part of what Jesus took on Himself is too much for us – false accusation, shame, brutality at the whipping post – and the horror of dying a cursed death on a cross taunted by mockers. Jesus knew it would be horrific. Yet He understood that He had to satisfy the wrath, the legal remedy of justice, for His Father. Only a sinless human being could pay the price for us to know Him as Savour and as Lord, – and Jesus did.
Given the enormity of what Jesus did for us, what inhibits us from joy and praise?
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus
The servant put to death under a curse is now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6-7 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“Being in very nature God” – this hymn of praise contrasts Jesus’ pre-existence and divinity with His incarnate existence in which “He made Himself nothing” in human likeness, but drew on the Holy Spirit’s empowering. We can live above ourselves with Jesus-like love for others, continuing His ministry, by the enabling of the same Holy Spirit.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
“Even death on a cross” – Jesus went voluntarily to the most shameful of deaths possible for a Jew. This divine exchange included coming under a curse from God on our behalf, Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13.
9-11 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Jesus Christ is Lord” – “Lord” refers to the right to rule. Disciples of Jesus “bow the knee” by acknowledging His Lordship of our lives, as well as all creation.
How do we go about having the same mindset as Jesus? This praise hymn to Jesus both raises the question, and ends with the answer, which is about celebrating His Lordship of us.
Like the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” When we hold someone in awe, we’ll want to do what they do and take on their values. This sets us wanting to live above ourselves – and welcoming the enabling of the Holy Spirit, the Helper, makes it possible.
Calling Jesus our Lord is not, ultimately about obedience. That is being a Pharisee. It is about loving who He is so much, that we WANT to grow like Him.
Which comes first, doing what Jesus says, or being with Him and wanting to grow more like Him?
Father God, we are so grateful for Jesus, making a way for us to You in such a horrific self-sacrifice, so we can have fellowship with Him as Lord of our lives.
We thank you, too, that in Jesus we have His authority to say ‘no’ to evils like the present pandemic, and a welcoming ‘yes’ to what we hear You saying.
Humbly we give You charge of our lives again — and volunteer again as junior partners in Your saving strategy. Amen.
Mothering Sunday — March 22 TLW11A
Previous week March 15 Following week March 29
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
1 Samuel 1:20-28 — Hannah’s motherly instinct is to put what is right before what she wants, and she gives up her son to fulfil her vow
together with Psalm 34:11-20
John 19:25-27 — in His dying breaths, Jesus honours His mother, trusting His disciple John to look after her
Colossians 3:12-17 — As people of joy in the Good News of Christ, we carry the kind of love that can let go and forgive
1 Samuel 1:20-28 — Hannah makes a great sacrifice on behalf of her son
This mother’s instinct is to put what is right ahead of what she wants
20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”
“Samuel” – sounds like “asked of God” or “heard by God” in Hebrew.
21-22 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.”
23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good His word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
“Make good His word” – an earlier, unrecorded word from the Lord or, possibly, Eli’s pronouncement, v.17.
24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh.
“After he was weaned” – much older than we would expect; he could have been five years old.
“Three-year-old bull…ephah of flour” – or three bulls, either way a substantial offering, indicating that Elkanah was prosperous.
25-26 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD.
“As surely as you live” – a way of emphasising the truth of words. Hannah exalts the Lord by her testimony of what He has done.
27-28 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshipped the LORD there.
“The LORD has granted me…” – following Eli’s earlier words; Samuel is the direct answer to that blessing.
“I give him” – honouring the Lord with sacrificial love. In turn, the Lord honours her with further sons and daughters, 1 Sam. 2:19-21
11 Come, my children, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12-13 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
“I will teach you” – like “Come My children”, the language of the Bible genre called wisdom literature. Wisdom here has three components:
- “fear of the Lord”, meaning awe and worshipful attitude;
- intentional avoidance of evil, especially evil speech; and
- v.14, doing good.
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
15-16 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.
“Turn from evil” – always be ready to change a behaviour and come back to God. These verses are quoted by Peter in his letter to summarise the loving and relational Christian lifestyle, 1 Peter 3:10-12.“The eyes of the Lord” – watching over and protective of those who are maintaining a relationship with Him; by contrast, those whose independence from the Lord leads to evil attract His attention in a different way.
17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
“Brokenhearted… crushed” – exaggeration for effect, of how “the righteous” have dealt with their human pride and stubbornness.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;
“Many troubles” – the psalm is clear that the prevalent evil that we must distance ourselves from, v.14, will bring trouble for both the wicked and the righteous. However there is a very different outcome for the wise and God-fearing who experience God’s love and attention, and can face difficulty with greater resilience.
20 He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
“Not one of them… broken” – the apostle John, commenting on the Roman custom not being fully followed for Jesus, alluded to this together with Exodus 12:46, making the connection between Jesus and the passover lamb, John 19:36.
Hannah’s ability to lay down her right to what she most wanted, a son to bring up, sets the bar high by any measure of sacrificial love. She was determined to do what was right by the Lord and what was best for the son she had been given.
The psalm brings out two related themes:
- how the Lord seeks out those who push through to do what is right by Him, and
- that doing what is right comes at a cost: “The righteous person may have many troubles…”
However, the psalm shows us that the person who persists in doing what the Lord wants, through troubles, sees a very different outcome from the “evil person” who is presented for contrast. There is real cost and difficulty, but with it comes the promise of deliverance: “The LORD delivers him…” One definition of an “evil person” might be one who gives, but with the motive of coercing the Lord into rewarding the action. Like Hannah, we trust the Lord with what gives us and give back to Him, without strings, what counts as His.
What are the similarities between Hannah as a mother, and Mary the mother of Jesus?
John 19:25-27 — Jesus honours His mother with His dying breaths
He trusts His disciple John with the responsibility to look after her
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
“Near the cross… stood” – a number of women, considered a low risk and not kept away as men were. “His mother’s sister” may have been Salome, wife of Zebedee, making the writer a cousin of Jesus, and giving greater reason for His assignment of Mary’s care to John, v.27.
“The wife of Clopas” – possibly the disciple that Luke named as Cleopas, who encountered the resurrected Jesus on the way to Emmaus, Luke 24:18.
• For further study, compare Matt 27:55–56; Mark 15:40; Luke 23:. Mark 16:1.
26-27 When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
“Took her into his home” – in Jewish family law Jesus as eldest son had provision to assign the care of his mother to another. Jesus’ brothers may not have believed in Him at this point, John 7:5. According to tradition, Mary moved with John to Ephesus and both are buried there.
John is teaching the wider point, that those witnessing the scene were the heart of the new community of believers gathered at the Cross (a fair definition of the Church) and Jesus wanted them to start putting into practice what He had commanded earlier, to love and care for each other.
• For further study, see John 13:34, 15:12, 17.
Here we feel a mother’s grief and loss, although it seems impossible to put ourselves in Mary’s place, witnessing the horrific execution of her own son. However, this scene gives us a window to see the kind of relationships that Jesus wanted to be the hallmark of the new community of gathered believers.
- It is family. Some of those standing near the Cross were related, some were not, but they were all family in another way, through sharing a close relationship with Jesus.
- It is about relationships, not the kind that are measured by order of importance (hierarchy) or order of influence (authority), but the mutuality of belonging to one another – “Here is your son… your mother”.
- It is enduring, not transient. This was not an arrangement till Mary got over her grieving, but an adoption for Mary to make her contribution and receive from others as part of this koinonia community – the ‘communion’ or fellowship word that came to mean the gathering to break bread and remember Jesus together.
How good are we at the ‘belonging’ of fellowship? What can be difficult for people joining a close fellowship?
Colossians 3:12-17 — Put on the kind of love that can let go and forgive
Be people of joy in the Good News of Christ
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
“God’s chosen people” – a phrase from the law of Israel about the people of Israel, Deuteronomy 4:37, is now applied to the Christian community, 1 Peter 2:9. Being chosen by God (the theological word is ‘election’) is a common theme in the Bible but never separated from the other face of the coin, our choice and Christian responsibility: here, to live as God’s chosen people in loving attitudes.
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
“Forgive one another” – a central part of the Good News is that, in Jesus we can know we are completely forgiven by God, which brings “the peace of Christ”, v.15 below. But our being forgiven brings the expectation that we, on our part, will readily forgive, and treat others with the generosity of spirit we received from God.
• For further study, read Matthew 6:12, 14; 18:21-35.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
“Put on love” – another central part of the Good News, because knowing that we are loved by God, enables us to love in our relationships with others. Our imitation of God’s unconditional love for us, is the glue that binds together the distinctive values that witness to others, as in v.12 above.
• For further study, read Matthew 5:43-48; Mark 12:28-33; Romans 13:8–10; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
“Let the peace of Christ rule” – knowing Jesus brings us a wholeness, through freedom from bitterness and anger, because it empowers us to practice God’s grace in our relationships, vv.13-14. To paraphrase: ‘Let Christ rule your heart — and therefore Christ’s way be the umpire of all your actions.’
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
“The message of Christ” – specifically, let the Good News of Christ be the central, joyful core of discipleship and worship. More broadly, Jesus’ teaching generally.
“Hymns and songs from the Spirit” – a parallel thought to “be filled with the Spirit”, Ephesians 5:18, which results in singing and gratitude. “Hymns” refers to songs of praise, e.g. Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16 and “songs from the Spirit” singing in tongues and other freestyle, inspired and prophetic forms of worship.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” – not a formulaic saying but an intention to honour God and give glory to Him by Christlike speech and actions.
The third strand about learning God’s way and living it out, highlights the inner life we have. Mothers are given the ability to bring comfort – compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience sound like the mother most of us can remember crying out for at times.
But they are not just maternal or feminine attributes! This “peace of Christ” is what the Holy Spirit gives all believers who receive new life in Jesus. It comes from the love for others, that we find through knowing that we are loved ourselves, and this is at the heart of the Good News message of Christ.
That love for others, the unconditional kind that comes from the Holy Spirit, is what enables us to bear with the dysfunctions of others and go further – forgive them the way God forgave us. That is where we find inner peace.
Keep that truth fresh and central, the apostle seems to say, and you will find yourself being good news to others and bringing glory to God as you go.
Who has caused you hurt and distress, through being unfair, untrue, unkind and unappreciating? Have a trusted friend pray with you and help you apply v. 13 above to forgive from the heart and have the Lord’s peace.
Thank You, Father, that we can give, and also give up, knowing that You first gave. You give us love, joy, peace and every provision – and you also give us the generosity of spirit to forgive others and cancel out the moral debt they owe us, just as You forgave us our debts. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit to live trusting You, and giving glory to You, by the inner peace we carry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.