Category Archives: Lent

Palm Sunday & the Passion, Year B

He Emptied Himself

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From John’s Gospel we read:

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.   (John 12:12-16)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the crucified. Of course, the chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty when it comes to tyranny. Little has changed over the years.

Nevertheless, such a quick desertion of Jesus was remarkable. Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold. We read from Mark’s Gospel:

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.’   (Mark 14:26-27)

Peter was no exception. We read again from Mark:

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.   (Mark 14:66-72)

In the face of such betrayal, Jesus seemed remarkably calm. The wonder of it all is that Jesus so willingly gave up himself. He endured such horrendous suffering. We read in Isaiah:

I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;

I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.   (Isaiah 50:6)

Let us place ourselves in the story. Have we ever gone from glorifying Jesus to denying Jesus in a short span of time? We celebrate him in church. What about outside of church? That is becoming increasing more difficult to do in our pluralistic society. Or should we say “atheistic society?”Have you noticed how the media looks upon Christians today?

If we are still concerned about what others may say about us, then it is time for us to die to ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

There is a price to pay in following Jesus. The chief priests were unwilling to surrender their gatekeeper positions. Pilate was unwilling to go against the crowd. It was too big a risk for him. At times, have we forsaken Jesus and been unfaithful to him because the price was too high?

Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins. He gave up his life on a cruel cross that we might become free from sin. God literally tore himself apart where the Son was separated from the Father for a moment, because our sins were on the back of Jesus. We read again from Mark:

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”   (Mark 15:33-39)

Jesus has promised us that he will never leave us or forsake us. He forgave Peter and restored his ministry. Do we need his restoration today? He surrounded his all for us. He was obedient even to the point of death on a cross. For this reason he is able to pour out his Spirit upon us all. Where we are weak he is strong. Walking together with Jesus in his Spirit. we will be able to stand for the truth of the Gospel no matter what the challenging might be. Amen.



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Saint Joseph

Faithful Stewardship

King David wanted to build a permanent house for God. Nevertheless, through the Prophet Samuel, God promised David to build him a permanent house:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.  (2 Samuel 7:12-16)

Joseph was a carpenter. He was not a rich man. He was a husband and a father. He was known in his village but his recognition probably did not extend much beyond it. He was devout as many good Jews were in his day. He cared for his family and was a faithful in following the Jewish traditions and customs. He lived for a season and then he passed away. Yet Joseph had a great deal to do with the building of the permanent house of David.

Joseph was a descendant of David. He was part of a very significant chain of events. He was given a commission by God the Father to be the earthly father and guardian of His beloved Son. Not fully understanding what God was asking him, Joseph accepted this commission. He accepted it under what, for him, were difficulty circumstances. Mary was already pregnant before Joseph married her. This would have been a disgrace in Judaism. He was asked to believe that her pregnancy was an act of God, something that was unheard. Joseph believed God and faithfully carried out his commission.

We, too, are part of an ongoing chain of events. We, too, have been given a commission by God. One of the ways in which we realize this may be true is through the difficult circumstances in which we often find ourselves, especially when we are required to make difficult choices. Faith, courage, and a trust in God are required. Life will test us. There will be obstacles and distractions. We will prevail only with God’s help.

What God asks us to do has great significance. We are part of an eternal plan of God. What we do now may seem fleeting or temporary. Nonetheless, God has established a permanent Kingdom that will not pass away and we a part of it. Our life and ministry are very much apart of that Kingdom.

What we do now is recorded in heaven. We may not understand the significance of what might seem like unimportant events, but we will when all is revealed to us. In the meantime, God needs us to be faithful. Let us take courage and follow the example of Joseph.

The psalmist wrote:

Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing;
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever;
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
‘I will establish your line for ever,
and preserve your throne for all generations.'”  (Psalm 89:1-4)

Joseph was an insignificant carpenter. But no one is insignificant in the eternal plan of God. Let us step into the ministry to which God has called us. One of our greatest ministries is watching over our children and bringing them up in the knowledge of the Lord. This Joseph did. Because of his faithfulness he was given the assignment to be the earthly guardian of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Cost of Covenant

God has given us a New Covenant to live under. It is better than the older one which governed the children of Israel. It is a covenant full of grace and mercy. But we must remember that it came out of the Old Covenant and is mentioned in the Old Testament of our Bible.

In Jeremiah we read:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

God was going to do something he had not yet done and then this covenant would be established. What was God going to do and what did he actually do? He poured out his unmerited favor. He offered such unconditional love that is beyond our human understanding. But it cost God something. It cost him a great deal.

As he was facing the cross, we read the Gospel of John, Jesus explained to his disciples what God was about to do and why it was necessary. He used an analogy of the grain of wheat and how it produces growth. He said:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.   (John 12:24-26)

What was Jesus saying? New life comes out of death. The old way has to die before the new can come. When the grain falls to the earth it must die so that new wheat is formed. Jeremiah prophesied that new life would be coming for the people of God. Jesus explained that this new life would be impossible without the death of the old.

The temple worship would have to die so that Christ might become the new temple. The sacrifice of the lamb for Passover would have to end so that he might become the spotless lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the whole world. Jesus was, in fact, the grain of wheat of which he spoke. He would have to die so that he might be resurrected from the dead.

The Book of Hebrews goes into great depth concern the cost of this new covenant:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.   (Hebrews 5:5-9)

This covenant cost Jesus his life. Hebrews also explains that it will cost our lives as well. If God is to write his law upon our hearts so that we can obey, something must happen. The Old must die before the new comes.

We are also the grain of the New Covenant. King David, in his prayer of repentance, spoke about his inner  being:

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.   (Psalm 51:7-11)

God looks for his truth deep within us. He must change our hearts. In order for him to change our hearts the old heart must die away. David said: “Create in me a clean heart.”

There is a price to pay for this New Covenant. I cost God the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. We, also, must die. Not a cruel death, but a liberating death which brings new life, and abundant life that only God can provide for those who put their trust in him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.   (Romans 6:1-11)

Has God written his law on our hearts? That depends on whether or not we are still holding on to our grain of wheat. Jesus tells us to let it go. He let everything go for us.

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Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Look on the Lord and Live

During this Season of Lent we are reflecting upon the wilderness experience. In typical Gospel of Mark, which is like a quickly moving short story, we are told that the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness. Angels ministered to him there. The serpent was also there to temp Jesus.

The children of Israel under Moses also had an encounter with serpents in the wilderness. In today’s Old Testament scripture we read:

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.   (Numbers 21:4-9)

The children of Israel sinned against God. This rebellion is what brought on the serpents. Many Israelites died when bitten by these serpents. God, however, in his mercy, provided an escape from the punishment of their sin.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of John gives an explanation of the serpent in the wilderness experience:

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”   (John 3:14-16)

God has provided a means of escape from the punishment of our sins, just as he did for the Israelites in the wilderness. We simply have to believe that he has. The Apostle Paul further explains:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.   (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Why would anyone choose not to believe? Maybe it is because people do not know that they are in the wilderness and they are not aware of the many serpents which have infested our culture. The children of Israel were very much aware that they had sinned and that they were dying. In desperation they followed the commandment of Moses to look upon the bronze serpent.

We must look upon the cross of Jesus. But are we desperate? Do we realize that our entertainment industry, popular music, movies, TV shows, and cultural norms are ruled by Satan. Abortion for convenience is perfectly acceptable. It is normal now not to have prayer in your schools. In fact, it is considered even in bad taste to have traditions and values taught in our schools. And what about our churches? Do we find any serpents there? Have they invaded our seminaries? How about our Board meetings? How about our theologies? Do the seeker churches say we all serve the same god, no matter what our religion might be?

The psalmist reminds us that God has shown us mercy:

He sent forth his word and healed them
and saved them from the grave.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.   (Psalm 107:20-22)

Are we ready as a people  once again to give thanks to call? Can we look upon the old rugged cross? Of are we just too busy with the cares and culture of this world? This world has been corrupted. Perhaps it is time, while we still have time, to separate ourselves from this world. It is quickly passing away before our very eyes.



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Third Sunday in Lent, Year B

Keeping the Law of God

The psalmist wrote:

The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:7-8)

There are advantages in keeping the law of God. The law is perfect and is given by God to help perfect us. Contrary to what many Christians believe, Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it in himself and in us.

How do we keep the law? By asking God for help. The psalmist again wrote:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.   (Psalm 19:14)

His prayer should be our prayer. We daily need to seek God for strength, guidance, and direction. But unfortunately, many of us failed to do that. Are we easily distracted? God understands these distractions of the enemy. That is why he begins the law with this statement:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.   (Exodus 20::2-3)

Our focus must be on God. That is primary if we are to keep the law. He is the law giver and he is the author and finisher of our faith. We should look no one else. The world’s message and Satan’s message is very confusing and designed to be that way.

Part of the good news is that God helps simplifies things. His message about keeping the law is also the message of the cross. The Apostle Paul wrote:

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.   (1 Corinthians 1:18-21)

God wants us to understand what he is asking. His message is clear and it is good news to all who believe. But we cannot accept it without faith. We must believe in God and his message. Unfortunately, the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day did not want to believe anything he said:

The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.   (John 2:18-22)

People look for a sign. They are really looking for a distraction. Anything to not focus on what is actually being offered by God. Signs and wonders do not always lead to faith. Jesus had performed many healings and miracles, yet many who saw these things refused to believe.

As Christians today, how do we keep the law? We focus on God. We focus on Jesus. We do not focus on the world. We allow the Holy Spirit of God to lead us into all truth. We allow the Spirit of God to direct our path. We pray daily. We remain in the Word of God. We read the Bible.

For many of us, however, there is still a hurdle to overcome. The Season of Lent highlights this hurdle. It is an awareness of our failures. It is an awareness of our sinful nature. Satan, the accuser of the brethren, constantly reminds us where we have failed, This is where the good news of the Gospel comes to our rescue. Without God’s help we will always fail. With his help we will be victorious. Jesus has won the victory for us.

As we approach a Holy God we will be convicted of sin, but we will not be condemned. Jesus has eliminated the curse of sin by taking the curse upon himself when he hung on the cross. In return, he asks us to believe that he has. He also asks us to confess our sins when as discover them, He will then forgive us, provided that we are willing to forgive others.

Therefore, this is not a time for distractions. It is a time to focus our attention upon the saving acts of Jesus Christ. It is a time to give him all the praise and glory. It is a time to trust him in all circumstances. It is a time to seek him in prayer. It is a time to meditate daily on his Word. The psalmist wrote:

With my whole heart I seek you;
    do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
    so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes.   (Psalm 119:10-12)

We serve a loving God who gave us everything. He just wants us to remember him. God says:

“You shall have no other gods before me.”



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Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

Unshakable Faith

Peter was crestfallen. He had just proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ. Jesus said that he would build his Church on the testimony Peter. But shortly after this statement Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” What had happened? From Mark’s Gospel we read:

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Mark 8:31-33)

Peter could not accept what Jesus was saying. He lacked something. It was early in his discipleship. Later he would grow, but for now he was missing the essential ingredient of discipleship. He lacked unshakeable faith. To understand this type of faith we need to look to Abraham. From Genesis we read:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.   (Genesis 17:1-4)

What is this unshakable that Abraham had? The Apostle Paul wrote about Abraham’s faith in Romans:

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”   (Romans 4:18-22)

Abraham had unshakable faith because he believed God no matter what circumstances he found himself in. Even when God, as a test, asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, Abraham remembered that God would make him a great nation through his heir. Abraham held on to that promise.

If we believe in Jesus, then we will trust him in all things. Peter already had in his mind what he thought Jesus would do to establish the kingdom of God on the earth. He could not understand why Jesus would do anything else. When Jesus spoke about his suffering and death this did not make any sense to Peter. Peter’s way was better to Peter’s way of thinking.

Have we ever been like Peter in our thinking? Do we always need to figure things out? Perhaps we need to “faith” things out instead. Jesus offers this wonderful illustration in Mark’s Gospel:

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?   (Mark 8:34-38)

Unless we are able to deny ourselves we will never be able to understand what God is saying and doing. We will handicap what God can do for us. God wants to do great and mighty things in our life and within our souls. Will we let him, or will we oppose him because he just is not doing what we want, the way we expect? Who knows better?

Unshakable faith is the path to righteousness. God honors such faith. When we exercise this faith God counts it as righteousness. Not only that, but such faith frees God to the work in us that only he can do. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.   (Philippians 2:12-13)

Our sins have been forgiven through the blood of Jesus and our spiritual growth is assured when we put our whole trust in his blood. Thanks be to God.

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First Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Covenant of Baptism

As we begin the Season of Lent, we have an account in Mark’s Gospel of the baptism of Jesus:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”   (Mark 1:9-11)

Mark’s Gospel is short, direct, and to the point. Fortunately, we have some wonderful commentary on the baptism of Jesus from the other appointed scriptures. Someone has said that the scriptures make very good commentary on the Bible.

Let us examine baptism from both an Old Testament perspective as well as a New Testament one. Reading from Genesis:

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.   (Genesis 9:8-15)

God made a covenant with Noah and his family. What is the context of this covenant? The earth was full of evil people whom God has destroyed by the flood which covered the whole earth. He did so in order for humankind to have a fresh start in serving and worshipping their God. God gives something and God asks something from those who participate with him in the covenant. The covenant is a holy agreement with God and his people which must be honored by all participants.

How does this covenant with Noah and his family compare with the Covenant of Baptism? From 1 Peter we read:

Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.   (1 Peter 3:18-22)

Do we notice the similarities? God eradicated the sin in evil people by the flood. Now God has eradicated sin altogether by the blood of Jesus. We can now have a good conscience before God. Thus, we have access to God by our baptismal covenant.

Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan. It was more than a baptism of repentance because Jesus did not need to repent. It was a baptism of empowerment by the Holy Spirit. We may wonder why Jesus needed power from on high to begin his ministry. He had given up all his divinity and heavenly power to become one of us in every way.

Jesus set an example in his baptism for us to follow. In Romans, the Apostle Paul further illuminates the Covenant of Baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.    (Romans 6:3-8)

If we have confessed our sin and embraced Jesus as Savior and Lord of All, then our baptism is meaningful to us and to God. We have entered into a covenant with God. We have died to sin so that we might receive a new life, absent from sin. All this is by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us in baptism.

Have we now arrived? Mark’s Gospel did not elaborate on what baptism means, but it wasted no time in telling us that Jesus was immediately tested after his baptism:

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.   (Mark 1:12-13)

After Baptism we have begun a journey. Jesus had a wilderness experience right after his baptism. He was directed into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is ready to direct us as we observe a Holy Lent. Even though we go through difficult times, Jesus is still with us as he has promised to be. Lent is a dress rehearsal for those times. Thanks be to God that during such times we grow closer to God, empowered by his Spirit to serve him in newness of life.

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Ash Wednesday

ash-wed-pictureRemember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)


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