Ascension Day

Clothed with Power from on High

There is much speculation in today’s Church concerning the date of Jesus’s return to the earth. Little has changed from the Early Church. This same concern was on the mind and hearts of the early disciples. From Acts we read:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”   (Acts 1:6-8)

Jesus did not answer his disciples directly. Rather, he told them that there was a more important consideration for his Church. They were to be witnesses to his resurrection. From Luke we read:

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”   (Luke 24:46-49)

There would be two essential ingredients to witnessing for Christ: 1) they were to proclaim the repentance and forgiveness of sins, and 2) that they would be clothed with power from on high. That does not sound like a seeker church with a watered down Gospel. Our church is not to blend into the world and thus, have little relevance. We need to be clothed with the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill our calling. The age of the apostolic faith is not over. We are now the apostles.

Are we excited about the message that has been entrusted to us? The psalmist wrote:

God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of the ram’s-horn.

Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.

For God is King of all the earth;
sing praises with all your skill.

God reigns over the nations;
God sits upon his holy throne.   (Psalm 47:5-8)

Are we equipped for ministry? If not, let us ask for power from on high. Jesus promises to baptize us in the Holy Spirit. He has called us to do his greater works. Now is not the time to shrink back or hide behind man-made doctrine or tradition.

The questions the angels asked the disciples on the day of ascension is still applicable to us:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”   (Acts 1:11)

We do not have time to waste. Let us get on with the true task of the Church. Jesus may come at any moment. We should be living holy lives with our lamps full all the time. But our concern must be for the lost. We were once lost and someone witnessed to us. If we love Jesus then we will obey him.

His great commission is all the more important today as we approach the close of the Church age. Jesus speaks to us today:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”   (Acts 1:8)

Jesus Christ in us is witness that the world needs to see. They need to see the Lord risen in us. Have we received his Spirit? If not, we need to ask Jesus now. He is the baptizer with the Holy Spirit. Let us not look up for Jesus. Let us look within.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Spirit Is the One that Testifies

We get our news from many sources today. Which one is telling the truth is another matter. We need a source that always tell the truth. I  can think of only one. The Apostle John rights in his First Epistle:

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.   (1 John 5:1-6)

John says the Holy Spirit is the truth. That should give us great comfort, The Spirit is always truthful. And it is the Spirit that testifies concerning Jesus. What incredibly important news the Spirit is tasked to tell, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To truly understand the Word of God and the Commandments of God, and especially the Gospel, we need the help of the Holy Spirit. This was true for the early apostles as well, as we shall see. Reading from the Book of Acts:

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.   (Acts 10:44-48)

Peter had been taught directly by Jesus. He had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. He was the leader of the Early Church. Yet, Peter was missing an understanding of the Gospel. For him it was still a set of rules.

When the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, and his assembled gathering, something happened. They began speaking in tongues and extolling God. Peter was not prepared for this. The Holy Spirit had fallen on Gentiles. The Spirit let Peter know that the Gospel was for everyone.  The Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. It is the Spirit that testifies to the truth.

What was missing in Peter? Perhaps this question could apply to some of us. Could it be that we misunderstand the love of God. When Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment of God, he answered:

“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’   (Mark 12:29-30)

Do we know, by our entire being, that Jesus loves us? Head knowledge is not enough. We must also exercise our heart, soul, and even our strength to fully understand the love of God. God’s love knows no bounds. It is not tied up in a set of rules. Perhaps we need to drop some of our rules. The Spirit has been know to break some rules. Peter must have wondered, for a moment, if the Spirit had broken even God’s rules.

Jesus spoke to his disciples concerning the Spirit:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.   (John 16:13-14)

The Spirit testifies to the truth. And what is that truth? In today’s Gospel reading Jesus said:

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”   (John 15:9-17)

God’s love is the entire truth. If we love Jesus, then we must accept and love everyone as Jesus does. Only then can we testify to the Gospel. The Apostle Paul wrote:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.   (Galatians 5:22-23)

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Evangelism

To be sure, some Christians are called and gifted to serve as an evangelist. But every Christian has a part in the ministry of evangelism. Some might say that they just do not know how to do it. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in. He is the greatest evangelist. Perhaps we should rely on him do the work of evangelism through us.

Today’s appointed scripture gives us an excellent case study on evangelism. Beginning with the Book of Acts:

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.   (Acts 8:26-31)

To do evangelism we need to be put in position to do so. We need to be led by the Spirit of where He wants us to do evangelism. Next, we need to do evangelism in context. Evangelism by the numbers, following a set of rules, tends to be unproductive in most cases . If is is forced it can turn people off.

Philip did not have a preconceived plan. He simply responded to the leading of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit had already prepared the heart of the Ethiopian eunuch. Again, from Acts:

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.   (Acts 8:32-34)

The message of the cross is the core of evangelism. The Apostle Paul wrote:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.   (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

In his First Epistle, the Apostle John wrote:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.   (1 John 4:9-10)

Evangelism is not about asking someone to attend a church or a Bible study, That is all well and good. It is not getting someone to say the sinners prayer, especially if they do not understand the depth and breadth of their sin, Rather, evangelism is about converting souls. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But souls are not ready until they are aware of the magnitude of their sin and the price God has paid to cleanse them of all unrighteousness. Only the message of the cross will bring about this awareness.

Evangelism does not stop at the cross, however. It is also an invitation of come into union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Reading from today’s Gospel of John:

Jesus said to his disciples, ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.    (John 15:1-5)

The Christian faith asked for a commitment on our part. We are asked to live a new life of love and holiness. We cannot do this on our own. Jesus  cleanses us from our sins. He also calls requites  us to forsake sin.

As Christians, we are asked to produce fruit of the Holy Spirit. Part of that fruit is leading others to Christ by our words and example.

Are we excited about the kingdom of God? Are we excited about the good news of Christ that we want to tell others? Becoming of being a disciple of Christ is bearing fruit. Jesus makes this promise to all who commit their lives to him:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”   (John 15:7-8)

The days of superficiality are over. The Ethiopian eunuch was excited about the good news of Christ. He could not wait to be baptized. Reading from Acts:

As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip[c] baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.   (Acts 8:36-39)

Today, let us dwell on the awareness of what Jesus has done for us and the price he has paid. What are we willing to give to him?

Help us, dear Lord, to grow in grace, fully committed to you, so that we may bring forth lasting fruit in your name.  Amen.

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St. Philip and St. James

Greater Works Ministry

Today we celebrate the lives and ministries of the Apostles Philip and James, son of Alphaeus, often called “the Less.” James was called this name to distinguish him from James, the brother of John. Little is known about him. We know that he was chosen by Jesus and that he was among the twelve disciples on the Day of Pentecost. He was possibly an early witness to the resurrection if he is the James as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:7.

James the Less was martyred for the Faith because he would not renounce Jesus as required by the Jewish high priest. Thus, James was faithful to the end and serves as an example for us all. Without the commitment of James, and others like him, we would not have the Church today.

Let us now turn to the Apostle Philip. In today’s New Testament reading, he seems to be having doubts when he asked Jesus a very important question:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”   (John 14:8-14)

When the words of Jesus sank in this same Philip became a great evangelist. He began performing the “greater works” which Jesus promised. The signs and wonders he performed made a great impact on the people of Samaria when he preached the word there:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.   (Acts 8:4-8)

How did the skeptic Philip grow into such a powerful evangelist? He meditated on the teachings of Jesus. Jesus explained that the greater works that Philip and others were called to do would be fulfilled in the same manner in which Jesus had fulfilled them in his earthly ministry. Jesus said:

“The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”   (John 14:10)

Jesus could not do the works alone. God the Father, in him, did the works. This may sound strange to some. Let us we remember that the Son of God gave up all his divinity and spiritual power when he came to the earth. Jesus relied on prayer and his close relationship with the Father. He did as the Father directed him, with full faith and confidence in the Father.

Are we ready to step into the “greater works” ministry? We must first step into Jesus by faith and obedience. Then we must receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit and keep on receiving it. If a skeptic like Philip could answer the call then why should we remain a skeptic when there is an exciting ministry ahead waiting for us?

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