Keyword Search




  • Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company
    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company


    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company


    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company


    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

LectionaryScriptureNotes.com is a free website that provides brief yet probing exegetical commentary for:

  • Pastors who need inspiration and idea starters for their sermons
  • Church musicians who want to coordinate music and hymn selections with scriptural themes
  • Anyone who wants deeper insight into each week’s lectionary passages

These background notes cover every assigned text in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday and major observance throughout the year.

 


Writer Mark Ellingsen

Mark Ellingsen, Pastor, Theologian, AuthorMark Ellingsen, author of Lectionary Scripture Notes, is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and a professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated magna cum laude from Gettysburg College and has received four degrees from Yale University. He has authored many titles, most recently Lectionary Preaching Workbook for CSS Publishing Company….read more

 

Passion Sunday, Cycle B

THEME OF THE DAY
God’s love shines through the cross and changes us. Sermons on our sinful condition and how through the cross God overcomes and changes our condition (Justification by Grace and the Atonement) are what this Sunday’s theme is all about.

 

Psalm 31:9-16
This is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies, attributed to David. Since it is not likely that David is the author or even the agent in collecting this and other psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512), it seems appropriate not to contend that the song is only about David, but rather to read it as a pertaining to the Davidic line, to pertain to Jesus as a prophecy of his sufferings. The psalmist begins by articulating his distress and grief/anger [kaas] while pleading for Yahweh’s graciousness/mercy [chanan](v. 9). The reference to soul [nephesh] in this verse is not an embrace of the notion of soul in Greek philosophy or as most of us understand the term, but a mere reference to the life-source. The psalmist proceeds, claiming to be in sorrow — scorned, a broken vessel, and the object of schemes (vv. 10-13). He prays for vindication that we may be saved [yashad, also translated, “given safety”] by God’s steadfast love or mercy [chesed]. Awareness is expressed that our whole life is in God’s hands [yad] (vv. 14-16).

Application: One possible sermon direction with this text is to read it prophetically as referring to Jesus, to highlight the suffering Christ endured for us to save us (Atonement). Another possibility is to highlight God’s love and mercy for us, illustrated in his giving us Christ but in his kindness to us in the trials we face (Justification by Grace).

Get Your FREE 30-day Trial Subscription to SermonSuite NOW!

Isaiah 50:4-9a
This lesson probably has its origins in the second oldest of the three distinct historical strands of prophecy that comprise the book. It seems quite clearly not to have been the work of the eighth century BC prophet Isaiah who worked in Judah (the Southern Kingdom), but to have emerged soon after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 539 BC and so during the Babylonian Captivity. The text is taken from the Book of Consolation, a series of eschatological prophecies. It is the so-called Third Servant Song. There is much dispute about the identity of the servant in these songs (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:1-6; 52:13–53:12). Historically the church has claimed the referent of these texts is to an individual (the Messiah, and specifically to Jesus). But many scholars understand them to refer the role the nation of Israel would play in propagating God’s mission.

The servant says that God made him a teacher, to sustain the weary (exiled Israelites) (v. 4). The servant is said to do the Lord’s bidding and accepts the insults received (vv. 5-6). Using a law-court image, the servant expresses unshakable confidence that God will vindicate him. The one who justifies [tsadaq , declare right ] the servant will come near, so none will condemn [rasha] the psalmist (vv. 7-9).

Application: Sermons on this text will proclaim God’s long-standing plan to overcome sin and evil in Jesus (Atonement) and in the lives of the faithful (Justification by Grace).

 

Philippians 2:5-11
This letter was written by Paul while a prisoner to Christians in a province of Macedonia. There is some debate about whether the epistle in its present form might be a combination of three separate letters (for an early theologian of the church named Polycarp spoke of several of Paul’s letters written to Philippi [Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 33]). Its immediate occasion was to thank the Philippians for their gifts, by way of the return of Paul’s co-worker Epaphroditus to Philippi (2:25-30), the church member who had brought these gifts to Paul. The main purpose of the apostle is to urge persistence in faith in face of opposition.

After urging the faithful to love and be concerned with the interests of others (vv. 2-4), Paul exhorts them to have the mind of Christ Jesus (v. 5). Christ is depicted (in hymn form, probably of pre-Pauline origins) as divine (in the form [morphe] of God), but also as one emptying [ekenose] himself into humanity in the form of a slave [doulos] and to death on the cross (vv. 6-8). In turn, God has exalted [huperupsose] him. The confession that Christ is Lord [kurios] is central to this letter (vv. 9-11; v. 29; 3:8, 20; 4:1, 2, 4). It is possible that the hymn is inspired by the Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah 52:13–53:12).

Application: Sermons on this text might focus on Christology, on Christ’s Atoning Work, or on the implications of Christ’s self-sacrificing ministry for the faithful to live this way (Sanctification).

 

Mark 14:1–15:47
Again we consider a text in the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, a book that was perhaps the source of other gospels, perhaps based on oral traditions of the Passion narrative and accounts of Jesus’ sayings (the so-called Q-source). Probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, this anonymous work is traditionally ascribed to John Mark, perhaps referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts 12:12-25, 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (1 Peter 5:13). Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians. This text is the oldest account of Jesus’ betrayal, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, his capture, trial, crucifixion, and death.

The lengthy lesson begins with the chief priests and scribes initiating a conspiracy against Jesus before the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (part of the commemoration of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt). They do so for fear of a popular expression of support for him (14:1-2). Mark reports a long-standing plot against Jesus (3:6; 11:18; 12:12). In an account omitted by Luke and portrayed by John (12:1-8) as prior to Palm Sunday, the story of Jesus’ anointing by a woman at Simon the Leper’s home in the town of Bethany (about two miles southeast of Jerusalem) is reported (14:3-9).

The fact that the woman poured ointment on Jesus’ head connoted a royal anointment (cf. 2 Kings 9:6), implying that Jesus is an authoritative king. Jesus defends her actions from those critiquing her for not using the money spent for the ointment (the value of one year’s wages in that economy) for the poor [ptochos]. Jesus defends her, claiming that the poor will always be with us (cf. Deuteronomy 15:11) and that she had done the right thing preparing his body for burial. The account then is a prophecy of Jesus’ Passion.

Judas Iscariot conspires with the chief priests to betray Jesus (14:10-11). The meaning of Iscariot could relate to the Semitic term for “fraud” or the Latin work for “assassin.” The account of the Last Supper on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (commemorating the escape of the Hebrews from Egypt) follows. We learn of how Jesus came to hold the meal in the house offered for his use (by virtue of Jesus’ prophecy to his disciples). They are to use for a room a house where a man carrying water enters (14:12-16). At the meal (which may have only been a meal on Passover Eve), Jesus prophesies his betrayal by one of the disciples while dipping bread into a bowl with that person. He refers to himself with the Messiah.

The actual meal and Jesus’ Word of Institution, consecrating the elements, are reported (14:22-24). The reference he makes to new covenant ways is necessary, for Jews would never drink blood (Leviticus 17:10ff). Never again, Jesus says, will he drink wine until he drinks in the kingdom of God (14:25). After singing a hymn (probably Psalms 115-118, typical in the Passover meal), Jesus and the disciples leave for the Mount of Olives. Citing Zechariah 13:7, he prophesies that all will desert him, the shepherd [poimain] struck and the sheep scattered (14:26-27). Jesus claims that after being raised up he will meet his followers in Galilee (14:28). Peter protests, insisting that he will not desert, but Jesus predicts that he will betray him before morning dawns (14:29-31). The disciples and Jesus go to Jerusalem, leaving all except Peter, James, and John behind as he prays. He becomes distressed, agitated, and grieved petitioning that the hour might pass from him (14:32-35). He refers to God as Abba in his petitions, a familiar title no Jew would dare attribute to the Lord, resolving finally to do his will (14:36). On three occasions he returns to select disciples finding Peter and the others sleeping. The flesh [sarx] is weak, though the spirit [pneuma -- God’s energizing power] is willing/eager [prosthumon], Jesus claims. The third time he speaks of the hour [hora] coming for the Son of Man’s betrayal (14:37-42). The man Jesus stands in stark contrast to other human beings.

The betrayal by Judas’ infamous kiss of Jesus to an armed crowd follows next (14:43-46). Kissing a rabbi as a greeting was a common sign of respect in this era. One of Jesus’ followers takes armed action against the high priest’s slave, but Jesus submits, noting he was not arrested previously when teaching in the temple (14:47-50). The story of a young man who followed Jesus’ followers is next narrated. The lad is captured, runs away naked from captors holding on to his clothes (a linen cloth) (14:51-52). The story may have been narrated in order to function as a contrast of Jesus’ calmness facing death and the fear of the follower. Others claim that the young man is Mark and that the Last Supper was held in his mother’s home (Acts 12:12).

Next Jesus appears before Caiaphas, the high priest. Peter only follows at a distance, warming himself at the fire (14:53-54). While he is comfortable, Jesus is grilled. The trial proceeds before the high priests and the whole counsel (the Sanhedrin [suhedrion]), all conspiring with false witnesses. Jesus is accused of threatening to destroy the temple and rebuild it without hands (14:55-58). This is a charge of wizardry [yiddeoni] — a capital crime (Leviticus 20:27). It is noted that the witnesses did not agree (14:59). After failing to get a response from Jesus, the high priest asks Jesus if he is the Messiah [Christos]. In contrast to Matthew’s account, Mark has Jesus respond affirmatively and speaks of his glorification as Son of Man, sitting at the right hand of the power [dunamis](God) (14:60-62). The high priest responds in grief (tearing his clothes), accusing Jesus of blasphemy and deserving death. All (presumably the Sanhedrin) condemn Jesus as deserving death. He is tortured (14:63-65; cf. Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 110:1). Peter is then identified as one of Jesus’ followers and denies him three times before dawn. Remembering Jesus’ prophecy, he weeps (14:66-72).

Members of the Sanhedrin elect in the morning to hand Jesus over to the Roman prefect, Pilate. He asks Jesus if he is king of the Jews, and Jesus simply notes that that is Pilate’s confession (15:1-2). Hearing other accusations, Jesus gives no answer, astounding Pilate (15:3-5). There is no report of the death of Judas. That is only found in Matthew (27:3-10). In Luke (23:6-16), Jesus is passed on to Pilate. Though there is no historical evidence of such a practice, it is reported that it was common for Pilate to release a prisoner at Passover. He offers the crowd Jesus, king of the Jews (for he realized that the accusations against him had been trumped up over jealously) or Barabbas, who had committed murder during an insurrection [stasis] (15:6-10). The chief priests stir up the crowd to call for Barabbas’ release (15:11). The crowd, so stirred up, calls for Jesus’ crucifixion and wishing to please the crowd, Pilate complies (15:12-15). Pilate is here clearly portrayed as a mere pawn of manipulative Jewish leaders. According to Jewish law a curse was implicit in crucifixion (Deuteronomy 21:23).

The soldiers lead Jesus to a courtyard and mock him, making him wear purple, a crown of thorns, and calling him king of the Jews (15:16-20). Those outside the faith unknowingly witness to Jesus. On the road to the site of the crucifixion, Golgotha, Simon, from the African district of Cyrene (with a large Jewish population), is made to bear Jesus’ cross (15:21). It was standard practice in this era that condemned prisoners only carried the crossbar, not their crosses as a whole. In any case, Simon is given no credit for undertaking this task, as it is imposed on him. At Golgotha, Jesus refuses wine mingled with myrrh (15:22-23). When crucified, Jesus’ garments are divided by lot (15:24-25). This may be read as fulfillment of Psalm 22:18. An inscription of the charge “King of the Jews” [Ho Basileus ton Ioudaikon] is read. And many who pass by mock him (15:26-32).

Darkness envelops that land from noon until three. This may be a reference to Amos 8:9-10, where mourning for an only son is related to the sun going down in daylight. Jesus cries out, feeling forsaken by the Father (15:33-34). Some mistakenly say this call of anguish in Aramaic was a call to Elijah (15:35). (Later Jewish folklore regarded Elijah as a rescuer of the righteous [see 2 Kings 2:9-12].) Jesus is mockingly given a sponge with sour wine and dies (15:36-37), perhaps an allusion to fulfilling Psalm 69:21. At that time the curtain that closed off the Holy of Holies in the temple is torn (15:38). This symbolizes that in Jesus’ death God’s people have direct access to him (cf. Hebrews 10:19-20).

A centurion seeing Jesus breathe his last confesses Jesus to be God’s Son [huios tou theou] (15:39). The testimony by a Gentile completes the theme of the gospel — that Jesus is Son of God (1:1). The title Son of God was tied to the Messiah since 2 Samuel 7:12-16. The reference was to how this Son would reign on God’s behalf. Reference is made to some women, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother James, Joses, and Salome (15:40-41). The virgin Mary is identified elsewhere as the mother of James and Joses (6:3). A respected member of the council Joseph of Arimathea, expecting the immanence of the kingdom of God, asks for Jesus’ body. Pilate receives verification of the death and gives Joseph the body (15:42-45). Joseph takes the body from the cross, wraps it in linen, and lays it in a tomb with a stone at its door (15:46). Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus see where the body is laid (15:47).

Application: A number of sermon possibilities emerge from this text. Focus could be on the suffering of Jesus and his Atoning Work (like the Second Lesson), the hidden character of his ministry (that Jesus’ messiahship is better understood by outsiders than by his followers [Theological Method], or focus could be on what life looks like when we live it in the shadows of the cross of Christ (Sin, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification).

Click here for future days.

Get LSN Delivered to your Inbox for FREE!
Email:
*
First Name:
*
Last Name:
*
  • SermonSuite Special
     
    SermonSuite
    Chris Keating
    Dean Feldmeyer
    Treading the Crimson Trail / No One Gets Out Alive

    This week we’re offering a pair of main articles -- one focusing on a Palm Sunday theme, and the other keyed to the Passion narrative (which can also be used for Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday). In his Palm Sunday piece, team member Chris Keating compares Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem to the lavish reception celebrities get on the red carpet or political dignitaries receive when they arrive in foreign capitals. But while we might secretly wish that we had that sort of cachet, we are often reminded that a typical byproduct of such treatment is an inflated sense of self-importance. Yet as Chris points out, Jesus is able to stay grounded and ignore the adulation of the crowd -- which he knows is the proverbial mile wide and inch deep. Of course, we know that in a matter of days those who now hail him will turn on him. So in the midst of celebration, Jesus offers us a bracing lesson in the value of humility -- and in the fleeting nature of the world’s plaudits. Even so, we still lust after the approval of others and the perks of worldly success. Chris suggests that we ought to ask ourselves: Can we, like Jesus, remain focused on the cross -- or will we be seduced by the roaring approval of a fickle fanbase?
         In his meditation on the Passion text, team member Dean Feldmeyer considers the manner in which Jesus approaches his impending death. Mark’s gospel reports that Jesus is burdened with many of the same anxieties and concerns that many of us have about our mortality, noting that when he went to Gethsemane with Peter and James and John, “he began to be distressed and agitated.... [H]e threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” But having accepted the burden of his Father’s will....more
    Passion/Palm Sunday
    As is well known, the text forms the third of the four Servant Songs that are found in the prophecies of Second Isaiah. Some scholars have maintained that the songs are later additions to the material, but rhetorical analysis has revealed that the songs are an integral and indispensable part of Second Isaiah's message. The whole, made up of Isaiah 40--55, was delivered to the Israelite exiles in Babylonia, sometime between 550 and 538 B.C. ...more
    Frank Ramirez
    The well-traveled path of suffering
    As I write this there have been some high-profile incidents in which Christians have been martyred for their faith on a wholesale basis. Because our collective memories are short, people need to be reminded that this is nothing new. Christians have been martyred for their faith from the beginning. If you are not familiar with The Martyrdom of Polycarp, the story of the seven brothers and their mothers in 2 Maccabees 7, or books like The Martyr’s Mirror (or if your congregation is not familiar with these), it might be well to incorporate a few stories at the least. Your denomination or congregation may have a special connection to suffering people in the past or present (for instance, the young women abducted in Nigeria by Boko Haram were almost all members of my denomination), and Holy Week is an appropriate time to remember these. Little purpose is served by demonizing their murderers. Christian history would show that most martyred Christians have been murdered by fellow Christians. The point is that the road of self-sacrificial love pioneered by Jesus has been well trod in all ages, including our own....more
    C. David McKirachan
    They all forsook him...
    Mark 14:1-15:47

    This whole season is about the faithfulness of our Lord. And it’s about our lack of it. The woman who anointed him was judged by our hard heartedness. We’re cheap. She was grateful. He lived by the spirit of God’s law. The Pharisees used the letter of the law to forsake God’s invitation to be a light to the nations. We squabble about inclusiveness using the label ‘Christian’ to mean our unwillingness to go in any direction that makes us uncomfortable, ignoring our Lord’s radical nature. He wept over Jerusalem, while we salute the flag of our nationalism. He offered his body and blood as a rock, a reminder of the cost of God’s grace and redemption. We run around in circles, not having the time to pray, study, and preach his good news....more
    Janice Scott
    He emptied himself...
    The postman regularly delivers a lot of junk mail to our house, but thoughtfully bundles it together with a rubber band. This means that we gain several thick, strong rubber bands each week. For some unknown and obscure reason, I hate to throw these rubber bands away, so I pack them into a little plastic bank envelope and throw them in a drawer, knowing they'll come in useful one day. When the little plastic envelope is full, I find myself stretching the rubber bands around anything that comes to hand, such as a jam jar....more
    Cynthia Cowen
    Our Hosannas became Alleluias
    The Point: Jesus knows our need for a Savior and answers our need with his life.

    The Lesson: Good morning, boys and girls. Thank you for joining me as we share the story of Jesus. I brought with me a special banner. It has a Hebrew word on it: "Hosanna." The Jewish people were about to celebrate God delivering his people from slavery in Egypt....more

Author of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

Great Links

Archives