Friday, February 26
Romans 8:1-11: Once again Paul begins with the “eschatological now” (verses 1,18; 3:26; 5:9; 7:6; 11:5; 16:26).
The “condemnation” of which we are free is the ancient “curse,” the finality of death and corruption (Galatians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:7,9).
This section, which climaxes with the promise of God’s victory over death and corruption at the final raising of our bodies (verse 11), introduces a more extensive meditation on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, hitherto referred to only five times in the previous seven chapters, will be named twenty-nine times in the present chapter, easily the highest concentration in all of Paul’s writings, and even in the whole New Testament.
The grace of justification, “this grace in which we stand” (5:2), comes from the Holy Spirit who abides in us. Unlike the Law, by which we can never be justified, the Holy Spirit is internal to us (verse 2). The indwelling Holy Spirit is the reason of our final salvation, which is the resurrection of our bodies.
If, however, we go back to “live according to the flesh” (verse 5), this flesh which is still destined to die (verse 10), we place ourselves once again under the reign of death.
Those who do so “cannot please God” (verse 8). And pleasing God is the summation of man’s moral duty (1 Corinthians 7:32; 2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 4:1). The grace of justification, therefore, places on the believer a most stern obligation to bring his mind and his conduct under “the things of the Spirit” (verse 5). Only thus will he be truly free of sin, death, and the Law (verse 4).
The word for “mind” in these verses is not nous, as in the previous chapter, but phronema, perhaps better translated as “mind set,” or “frame of mind.” Paul is contrasting two kinds of consciousness and intentionality (verses 6-7,27). Outside of the four times here in Romans 8, phronema is not found in the New Testament. Also the verb form of this noun, phroneo, which means “to think on,” or “to set one’s mind on,” is found in Romans several times (8:5; 11:20; 12:3,16 [twice each]; 14:6 [twice]; 15:5).
Man’s real problem was not the Law, but man’s indwelling sin (7:22-23). Inasmuch as it remained external to man, the Law was unable to take away sin (verse 3). Man could not be justified by something that remained external to being. The new, internal principle of his righteousness is the Holy Spirit, who dwells within him (verses 9-11; Jude 9). The requirement of the Law, that is to say, is “fulfilled in us”(verse 4) by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
God, therefore, does not simply declare the believer righteous; He makes the believer righteous. Because sin is internal to man; righteousness must be internal to man. Righteousness is not an act of God that remains only forensic and external. If that were the case, it would be no improvement over the Law.
Saturday, February 27
Romans 8:12-17: Hitherto we have considered how the Christian’s heart is sustained by his memory of the past, his recollection of what God has already done for him in Christ. Now, however, Paul will speak of the Christian’s encouragement by bearing in mind what God will yet do for him in the future. As we have had several occasions to observe, the vocabulary of salvation (such as “saved”) in the Epistle to the Romans tends generally to be in the future tense. Man’s definitive salvation consists in the resurrection of his body, the final victory over the reign of death.
It was in man’s body, after all, that sin “reigned in death.” Mortality was the essence of Adam’s legacy to us, the very embodiment of his sin. Salvation is not complete, therefore, until the resurrection of our bodies. Several years earlier Paul had argued that thesis in 1 Corinthians 15. He returns to it several times, as we have seen, in Romans, and he deals with it again in the present passage. The final object of the Christian hope, for Paul, is not even the soul’s departure to be with God in heaven. It is, rather, “the redemption of our body” (verse 23), this very body laid low by death, but from which the Holy Spirit refuses to depart (verse 11).
It is by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, or sonship (huiothesia—Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5), that we are made the children of God (verses 14-17). It is for this reason that the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father,” is supremely the prayer of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we can only pray it in the Holy Spirit. It is only the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, “Abba, Father,” just as it is only the Holy Spirit who gives us to say, “Jesus is Lord.” Only in the Holy Spirit do we know the identity of the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit both makes us the children of God and alters our consciousness so that we know ourselves to be the children of God (verse 16). The Holy Spirit, then, is the new, internal principle by which we are untied to the Father and the Son in knowledge and in love.
But there are obstacles to the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and these must be resisted and overcome. The Christian must mortify, “put to death,” whatever in himself that is inimical and recalcitrant to the Holy Spirit (verse 13). This effort will involve a measure of suffering, which we unite, by intention, with the sufferings of Christ (verses 17-19,25).
Sunday, February 28
Romans 8:18-30: This suffering pertains to the very birth pangs of Creation, which awaits the revelation of God’s glory in the resurrection of our bodies (verses 18-23). Just as the sin of Adam left the mark of death on all of Creation (Genesis 3:17), Christ’s final victory over death is the object of Creation’s hope and longing. Creation itself will be delivered from its “bondage of corruption” (verse 21). This physical corruption, this decay, was not part of God’s original plan. It is the mark of the reign of death, and it will be removed forever when Christ, at the end of time, returns to claim the bodies of the redeemed (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).
This final salvation of all Creation, which Paul speaks of here in Romans 8, will become a major theme, the recapitulation of all things in Christ, in his letters to the Colossians and Ephesians, written during the two years that he will soon spend in prison in Caesarea (Acts 24:27).
Although manuscripts vary on the point, it appears that the words “the adoption” do not properly belong in verse 23 and should be left out. The expression is not found in the earliest papyrus copy of the text, and its insertion here, difficult to explain, seems at odds with the context.
Verse 24 is one of the few places in Romans where “saved” is in the past tense. Significantly it is qualified by “in hope.”
From his own experience as a man of prayer (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; cf. James 4:3), Paul knew that “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (verse 26). The reference to the Spirit’s “intercession” is literally hyperentygchanei, a verb which originally meant “to interrupt,” “to assume control of.” That is to say, the Holy Spirit interrupts, He breaks into our prayer. He takes over and guides our prayer. He becomes the divine “over-voice.” We do not hear Him, but God does.
The initial manifestation of this take-over by the Holy Spirit is found in the words “Abba, Father” and “Jesus is Lord,” the two dogmatic affirmations that we can make only in the Holy Spirit. God recognizes what the Spirit implores in our prayer (verse 27). The words “Thy will be done,” which are at least implicit in all Christian prayer, testify to our conviction that speaking to our Father in heaven invariably puts us in a realm beyond our comprehension. In Christian prayer there is always more going on than we know.
Paul brings to a close, and to something of a climax, the second part of the Epistle to the Romans (chapters 5-8), on the theme of the Christian existence of those who have been justified in Christ.
In verse 28 there is a textual problem respecting the word “God,” because the extant manuscripts are variant on the matter. Depending on which manuscripts are followed (and sheer antiquity is not an adequate guide here, because the manuscripts come from various ancient Christian churches, and some textural mistakes seem to have been introduced rather early), the meaning of the passage is either “in everything God works for good with those who love Him,” or “God makes everything work together for the good of those who love Him,” or “everything works together for the good of those who love God.” All of these readings testify to God’s providential control of events in the lives of those who love Him.
That is to say, this verse introduces the theme of divine providence, by which God brings mysterious influences to bear on the direction of history. Paul now inaugurates this theme. He will continue it through the rest of this chapter and then in chapters 9-11 apply it directly to the historical situation that the early Christians were facing, namely, the rejection of the larger masses of the Jewish people with respect to the Gospel. Why did that happen? Paul’s response will be: Because God had in mind some greater good that would ensue. God is the Lord of history. He knows everything ahead of time. Knowing everything ahead of time, He quietly and mysteriously arranges and prearranges circumstances in order to bring about the greater good.
Monday, February 29
Matthew 14:22-33: We know from John (6:14-15) that considerable messianic expectation among the crowd followed on the miracle of the loaves. Jesus, knowing the spiritual weakness and worldly ambition of His disciples, immediately sent them away by boat, so that they would not succumb to this dangerous enthusiasm on the part of the crowd (verses 22-23). Meanwhile Jesus himself went off to pray alone.
It had already been late in the day when the miracle of the loaves took place (verse 15), and it was well into the night when Jesus finished praying. The apostles were out in the middle of the lake, rowing against the wind (verse 24). Some time between three and six o’clock in the morning (verse 25), while it was still quite dark, they suddenly beheld Jesus walking to them on the water. Indeed, he was “strolling” (peripaton)! The disciples took Jesus for a ghost or mirage (phantasma) and reacted accordingly (verse 26).
Romans 8L31-39: The purpose of these reflections, Paul says, is to bring hope and reassurance into our hearts. God will never back away from His grace and His call. For this reason, there is no force in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can separate us from the love of God in Christ (verses 31-39). God is permanently on our side. He will never betray us.
Moreover, if God has already given us His beloved Son, He will certainly give us everything else we need (verse 32; 1 Corinthians 3:22-23; Philippians 3:21). Paul has heard accusations brought against his Gentile converts, because the latter did not observe the works of the Mosaic Law. Paul will tolerate none of this criticism. These Christians have been justified through the grace of God received in faith, he says. Who dares to bring an accusation against them? (verses 33-34) And Paul’s defiance here includes Satan, that ancient accuser of the brethren.
Even less, then, will believers be accused by Christ Himself, whose blood purchased our redemption from the slavery of sin and death. Here Paul briefly mentions the Lord’s exaltation to the heavenly sanctuary, where He abides as our mediator and intercessor forever (verse 34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24; 1 John 2:1; Revelation 5).
Likewise, those sufferings that Christians must sustain in the maintenance of their faith (verse 36) will not separate them from the love of Christ. Paul’s tone here is exhortatory as well as declaratory. That is to say, he declares that God will never be unfaithful to us, and he gently exhorts that we be never unfaithful to God.
The situation of the justified Christian may be likened to that of a man in a poker game, who has been dealt the royal flush. He did nothing to gain the royal flush. He did not work for it. He received it on the deal. He holds it in his hand. As long as he holds on to those cards, he cannot possibly lose, for no hand is greater than the royal flush. The one thing he must never do is to discard. All he must do is sit tight and keep a firm grip on those cards. No one, in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, can take them away from him.
Tuesday, March 1
Matthew 14:34—15:20: When Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount, it was remarked that “He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” It did not take long for the scribes to take note of this, so there soon began a series of debates about Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah (9:10-15; 12:1-4). The series continues here.
This material is largely taken from Mark 7:1-23, but Matthew does not share Mark’s perceived need to explain Jewish purification rituals to his readers. Matthew’s readers, apparently having much closer social ties to Judaism, do not need such information. Consequently, this section of Matthew is much less detailed than the corresponding text in Mark 7.
The use of the expression “this people” to designate the Jewish opponents of Jesus reflects the actual situation at the time Matthew wrote. Alone among the four Evangelists, Matthew habitually refers to “their synagogues” (43:23 9:35; 10:17; 12:9, 13:54), a usage that testifies to the situation after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. After that date, the Jewish Christians, expelled from the synagogues controlled by the Pharisees, were obliged to establish synagogues of their own. It is striking that the only time James uses the word “synagogue” (in 2:2), he is referring to a Christian gathering.
The question about washing hands before eating bread (verse 2), we observe, follows closely on the story of the miraculous bread (14:13-21). In addition, it is soon followed by Jesus’ reference to the “children’s bread” (verse 26), a second account of miraculous loaves (verses 29-37), and another discussion about bread (16:5-12).
Whereas the scribes and Pharisees accuse the disciples of violating “the traditions of the elders” (verse 2), Jesus’ counter-question goes much further, indicting the accusers of violating the Law of God. This indictment elevates the seriousness of the debate. Indeed, Jesus sets that “tradition” in opposition to God’s commandment, and by reason of this opposition He calls the accusers “hypocrites” (verse 7), citing Isaiah (29:13 LXX) to enforce the point.
In making this argument, Matthew has recourse to prophecy as a means to interpret the Torah. It seems likely that this approach characterized the early Church’s polemic against Pharisaic Judaism.
Addressing those who heard this debate, Jesus summons them to “understand” (syniete–verse 10). We recall that “understanding” is the essential requirement for a profitable hearing of the Word (13:13,15,19,23,51).
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and scribes left unanswered the question of the washing of hands before eating. It is now taken up (verse 11), as it is a question of importance to Matthew’s Jewish Christians. The dominical principle is clear: Real purity is an internal reality, not a ritual compliance.
Although the reference to “blind guides” is also found in Luke 6:39, the context of this metaphor in Matthew 15:12-15 is proper to Matthew alone. The reference to their blindness will also appear in 23:16 (cf. 7:5), when the Lord once again takes up His case against the scribes and Pharisees at greater length. The irony of the metaphor has to do with the habit of the rabbis of regarding the Jews—because of their possession of the Torah—as the “leaders” of the blinded human race (cf. also John 9:40f; Romans 2:19).
Once again the disciples, observing the offense given by the teaching of Jesus (verse 12), need further instruction (verse 15). Are they, too, without understanding (asynetoi–verse 16)? Are they as blind as the Pharisees (verse 14)?
The problem, of course, lies in the condition of the heart. An evil heart, the radical source of all evil in man (verse 19), is the reason the disciples do not yet understand God’s Word (13:15,19). An evil heart is recognized by its infidelity to the Torah, of which the second tablet of the Decalogue receives special attention here (verse 19).
Wednesday, March 2
Matthew 15L21-28: Jesus now turns from the Jewish unbelievers to a Gentile whose faith will bring about the healing of her daughter. It is significant that in both Mark and Matthew this story follows the discussion about ritual uncleanness, a preoccupation of the Jews.
Matthew began his gospel by drawing attention to Jesus as “the son of David” (1:1). It was the name by which he was invoked by the blind men (9:27). Now it is by this title that the Canaanite woman addresses him (verse 22). Later on, this messianic designation will come more into evidence. It is the title by which He will be greeted in Jericho (20:29) and Jerusalem (21:9). The Lord’s acceptance of this title will rankle His enemies (21:15; 22:41-45). If it is striking to find “son of David” on the tongue of a Gentile, we should bear in mind Matthew’s earlier citation from Isaiah with respect to that Galilean border with Phoenicia (4:13-15; Isaiah 9:15).
In Matthew’s version of this story, the accent lies on faith: “Great is your faith” (verse 28; contrast Mark 7:9). The woman’s “great faith” is reminiscent of the earlier Gentiles in Matthew, such as the Magi and, more explicitly, the centurion in 8:10. This woman thus becomes a kind of first-fruits of Jesus’ final Great Commission to “all nations.”
Indeed, like the Magi at the beginning of this gospel and the disciples at the end of it (2:11; 28:17), this woman is said to adore Jesus (proskynein–15:25).
Psalm 81 (Greek & Latin 80): In the normal circumstances of our daily lives, the abrupt, loud blowing of a horn can serve as a notable stimulant to advertence, a feature that explains why we equip our automobiles, boats, and trains with such a device. This rousing quality of the horn is also the reason we sometimes introduce “events” with what is called a fanfare. Whatever the musical value of the thing, the shrill blast of a horn is likely to attract some measure of attention.
If, however, a number of other extraordinary, distracting phenomena are taking place at the same time, it is possible to miss even the loud sounding of a horn. Thus, when we read of all the marvels that accompanied Moses’ reception of the Law on Mount Sinai, it is altogether possible for us not to notice the sustained and sonorous wail of a ram’s horn. Nonetheless, it was not lost on the Israelites who were present (Ex. 19:16, 19) nor on the early Christian reader who commented on the “sound of a trumpet” that accompanied that event (Heb. 12:19).
This psalm, prescribing the blowing of this ram’s trumpet in the context of liturgical worship, links this context to the singular events of the Exodus: “Rejoice in God our helper, raise an ovation to the God of Jacob. Raise the song and roll the drum; strum the dulcet lyre and play the lute. Intone the trumpet of the New Moon, the famed day of your feast. For a command is ordained unto Israel, a decree of the God of Jacob. He made it a statute to Joseph, when he went out of the land of Egypt and heard a tongue he did not know.”
Thursday, March 3
Matthew 15:29-39: Like Mark, Matthew has a second account of the multiplication of the loaves. This account is often called “the multiplication for the Gentiles,” because of several elements in the story suggesting its transmission in a largely Gentile setting. For example, the Lord’s reluctance to send the people away suggests that they have come “from afar” (as indeed Mark 6:3 explicitly says), a common way in which the early Christians spoke of the calling of the Gentiles. Thus, Jesus is here portrayed as multiplying for the Gentiles the “crumbs” that the Gentile woman begged for in Matthew 15:27.
This bread is food for a journey—“on the way,” en te hodo–verse 32). The Lord feeds His people “in the wilderness” (en eremia–verse 33), as He did after their deliverance from Egypt. This bread, then, is the equivalent of the Manna that fell from heaven.
We also observe that this food—which He “takes” and “breaks” with “thanksgiving” (evcharistesas)—Jesus “gives” to His disciples, that they may feed the multitude (verse 36; cf. 26:26). This format of activity is a paradigm of the Eucharistic rite of the Church, in which we perceive the importance of the apostolic ministry and mediation.
Psalms 86 (Greek & Latin 95): is another psalm of the Lord’s suffering and death. As such it contains His prayer to the Father for deliverance, especially from that “last enemy” which is death (cf. 1 Cor. 15:26). Thus Jesus pleads: “Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my soul, for I am holy. O God, save Your servant, who sets His hope on You. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to You all the day long. Gladden the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. . . . O God, transgressors are risen against me, and the assembly of the strong has sought out my soul, nor have they set You before them.”
Among the important themes in these lines, one will observe our Lord’s deliberate identification with the poor and needy. As a poor man, without wealth and the power that wealth can afford, Jesus is unjustly condemned by those who, for their own reasons, have decided that He must die. Sold and purchased for a price, found guilty by a fixed jury on the testimony of perjured witnesses, condemned by an intimidated judge, our Lord makes Himself one with all those myriad human beings who suffer persecution, even death, by those willing and powerful enough to inflict it.
However, even when He says of Himself that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20), it is important to remember that the poverty of Christ is more than a mere social and economic condition. Rather, it is integral to His being God’s servant: “O God, save Your servant, who sets His hope on You. . . . Gladden the soul of Your servant.” In various places in the Gospels Jesus refers to Himself as the servant, most especially in the setting of His sufferings: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is well known, of course, that in such statements our Lord was showing Himself to be “the servant of the Lord” spoken of repeatedly in the second part of Isaiah.
Friday, March 4
Matthew 16:1-12: The tension between Jesus and His antagonists rises to a new height in chapter 16, beginning with their renewed demand for a sign (verses 1-4; cf. 12:8). This demand is the occasion of the Lord’s criticism of them (verses 5-12) and the first prophecy of their role in the Passion (verse 21). In demanding this sign, these enemies copy the example of the devil (4:2,6). In contrast to the faith of the recent Canaanite woman (15:28), this demand indicates unbelief.
We likewise note here Matthew’s inclusion of the Sadducees among the enemies of Jesus (verses 1,6,11,12). Once again Matthew’s text here reflects certain concerns that arose in Judaism (and consequently among Jewish Christians) after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Foremost among the Jewish groups who lost credibility in the aftermath of that event was the party of the Sadducees. This group, it was generally believed, had been excessively compliant with the Roman powers for over a century, too compromising, too little disposed to speak up for the people as the Pharisees had done. Consequently, after the year 70 the Sadducees came into bad odor among rank-and-file Jews.
Moreover, this party was bound to lose power, because their power had been concentrated in the temple priesthood, which was put out of business by the destruction of the temple. In Matthew we observe (three times in these verses, and elsewhere in 3:7; 22:34) explicit criticisms of the Sadducees not found in the other gospels. Mark (12:18) and Luke (20:27) mention the Sadducees only once each.
The present encounter of Jesus and His enemies introduces a brief dominical discourse about bread (verses 5-12). This discourse summarizes the two occasions when Jesus multiplied the loaves.
It also contains some criticism of the apostles, who are described as “of little faith” (verse 8), in spite of having witnessed two miraculous provisions of bread (verses 9-10). These disciples of the Lord do not yet “understand” (verse 8) the implications of those miracles in the wilderness. The Lord’s reproach brings them to some level of understanding (verse 12). At least in some measure, the sown seed is beginning to fall on good ground. Nonetheless, this will not be the Lord’s last reproach against the apostles in the present chapter (cf. verse 23).