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    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company 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


Easter 4

Jesus is our All-In-All.

The theme of God and Christ as Shepherd underlies the texts, and so sermons stressing God’s grace and how in all we do and have we are dependent on Him (Justification By Grace and Sanctification) should be prepared.


Psalm 23
The famous Psalm is a Psalm attributed to David. We are again reminded that references to David in the Psalms are not likely indicative of the famed King’s authorship of the piece. Rather such identifications like this one may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.521). In that sense this song is about how we can say that all the faithful like us may share the Psalmist’s confidence in God the Shepherd’s [raah, literally “feeder of the sheep”] protection. It extols the comfort of Providence. God is said to lead us in the paths [magal] of righteousness [tsedeq] (v.3). It is good to remind ourselves again that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral norm. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.370-371). As a result, the Psalm continues, we need fear no evil [ra] (v.4). Surrounded by goodness [tob] and mercy [chesed], the Psalmist pledges regular worship in The Temple (v.6). This is a Psalm about gratitude to God.

Application: Sermons on this Psalm can stress how there is no food for the flock without God, that living in right relationship with Him only happens because of His mercy and action (Justification By Grace and Sanctification). These themes link with The Good Shepherd Parable of the Gospel. Gratitude to God will certainly reflect in any sermon on the text.

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Acts 4:5-12
Again we turn to the second half of the two-part early history of the Church attributed to Paul’s Gentile associate, Luke (Colossians 4:14; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24).  It is particularly concerned to affirm the universal mission of the Church (1:8). This story is an account of Peter and John appearing before the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council) after their arrest in Jerusalem. The author recounts Peter’s response to questions with a sermon.

First the gathering before the Sanhedrin is reported. The presence of the High Priest Annas is noted. Others mentioned include his subsequent high priest successors (vv.5-6). Actually by the time of the incident (after 33 AD) his son-in-law Caiaphas probably had succeeded him.

The question posed to the prisoners is by what power or name [onoma] they undertake their preaching (v.7). Peter is said to be filled [pletho] with the Holy Spirit [pneumatos hagios] in responding. He questions if the arrest was on account of the healing of the lame man before The Temple (v.8-9; cf. 3:1-10). The Apostle proceeds to claim that the healing was done in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom the Jewish powers crucified and who was raised from the dead (v.10). Jesus is identified with the reference in Psalm 118:22 of the stone [lithos] rejected (counted worthless) [exouthenhetheis] which has become the head [kephale] of the corner [gonia] (v.11). And the claim is made that there is no salvation [soteria, also connoting safety] save in His Name (v.12).

Application: With this Lesson, sermons can be developed to affirm that Christ is the cornerstone of faith and life (Justification By Grace and Sanctification). The concept of salvation as safety could also be developed.


1 John 3:16-24
Once again, this Lesson emerges in a treatise or sermon by an unknown teacher of the Johannine tradition, probably aiming to clarify the proper interpretation of the Gospel of John. It may have been written to oppose a movement which had departed from the community’s beliefs about Jesus (2:24). Since the end of the 2nd century the Epistle has been recognized as written by the author of the fourth Gospel or by another member of his circle. The Lesson is a discourse on love. Its very definition is said to find that the Son of God laid down His life for us, and so we ought to lay down our lives for each other (v.16). The focus on Christ is in line with the Book’s efforts to address doubts about whether Jesus was truly a human being and whether His death on the Cross was a sacrifice for sin (1:1-3,7; 2:2; 3:16; 3:2,10; 5:6).

The author challenges the possibility that one could claim to have God’s love [agape] abide if unwilling to share with [lay down our souls for] bothers (v.17). Love is known through Christ’s love in laying down his life for us (v.16). The Johannine author proceeds to exhort such love in action, not just in works (v.18). By this we can be reassured that we are in the truth [aletheia] (v.19). When we feel condemned, the author notes the comforting Word that God is greater than our hearts, and knows [ginosko] everything (v.20). And if our hearts do not condemn/accuse [kataginoske], we may have boldness/ confidence [parrhesia] before God (v.21). Elaborating on such boldness, the author notes that we receive from God whatever we ask because we obey His Commandments [entole] and do what pleases Him (v.22). The Commandment is that we should believe in the Name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love [agapao] one another as commanded (v.23). The Son is said to abide/remain [meno] in all who obey His Commandments and abide in Him. We know that the Son abides in us by the sign of the Spirit [pneuma] that He gave (v.24).

Application: Sermons on this Lesson highlight that God’s love gives us boldness and confidence even when we feel guilty and condemned (Sin and Justification By Grace). But Sanctification issues are also addressed. The spontaneity of good works is suggested by the fact that Christ dwells in the faithful, brought to us by the Spirit and that this leads to love each other. However, these works depend on Christ, Who is All-in-All.


John 10:11-18
Again we note that this Book is the last of the four Gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. In fact it is probably based on these earlier Gospels. The Book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the Disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early Church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, p.414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John. Hints of that possibility are offered by the first post-Biblical Church Historian Eusebius of Caesarea who claimed that the Book was written on the basis of the external facts made plain in the Gospel and so John is a “spiritual Gospel” (presumably one not based on eye-witness accounts of the author) (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol.1, p.261). More recently, as we have observed, scholars have rediscovered the assessment of another early writer of the Church, Papias, who claimed that John was an eyewitness. This has led such scholars to suggest that this Gospel may have been eyewitness testimony after all (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, pp.423ff.; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, pp.154-155). Its main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

The Lesson is the Parable of the Good Shepherd, appearing only in John. Identifying Himself as The Good Shepherd [poimen ho kalos], Jesus says He is not like the hired hand, for He is willing to lay down His life for the sheep (vv.11-12; for Old Testament precedents, see Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 23:1-6). He knows [ginosko] His own and they know Him, just as the Father knows Him, and He the Father. Jesus then stresses again how He lays down His life for the sheep (vv.13-15). He notes that there are other sheep not belonging to this fold (perhaps a reference to Gentiles). Jesus says that He must bring them too, so there will be just one flock/fold [poimne] and one Shepherd (v.16). The Father loves [agapao] Him, He adds, because He lays down [tithemi] His life for the sheep (v.17). No one takes His life from Jesus, He adds, for He lays it down of His own power/authority [exousia]. But He can take it up again (v.18).

Application: To preach on this Parable will entail proclamation of the unconditional love of God that never forsakes us (Justification By Grace). But the text also testifies to how Jesus creates community (Sanctification, Church, Social Ethics), that without Him and His sacrifices for us (Atonement) we are not fed (see Psalm of the Day).

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

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