Tag Archives: atoning sacrifice

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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Good Friday

Painting by homilist

 

He Opened Not His Mouth

What price did Jesus pay for our salvation? He paid with everything in his being. He paid it all. From Isaiah we read:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.   (Isaiah 53:7-8)

By his own volition, Jesus allowed himself to be crushed like grapes to that we might have new wine. He was brought before Pilate by the Jewish authorities, having been cleared by the high priest Caiaphas. From today’s Gospel reading:

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.”   (John 18:28-31)

The authorities were asking Pilate for one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised. But Pilate realized that they had no real case against Jesus. He was reluctant to proceed beyond a certain point:

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”   (John 19:1-7)

As we can see, Pilate did not want to do what they asked. He suspected that the charges were trumped up. That is what lying people do to cover their own iniquity. He was shocked by the demand for crucifixion:

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”   (John 19:8-11)

The courts have become rubber stamps. They are manipulated and controlled by evil people with evil intents. Nothing has changed down to this day. God the Father allows this to expose this great evil.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.

When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;

through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;

he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;

because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.   (Isaiah 53:13-12)

The crushing had to take place. There is no redemption of our sins without the cross. Yet, some churches want to rush to the resurrection narrative. But there is no resurrection without the crucifixion:

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”   (John 19:16-22)

The execution was carried out only because God the Father required it and only because Jesus was obedient to the Father, even to death upon a cross. This terrible execution had to be done to atone for all of our sins:

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.   (John 19:28-30)

It was finished. The price for sin was paid. The opening of heaven was complete for all who would believe. Reading from Hebrews:

The Holy Spirit testifies saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:

I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”

he also adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.   (Hebrews 10:16-18)

We have looked towards the cross today. What is our response? The psalmist wrote:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

For kingship belongs to the Lord;
he rules over the nations.

To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust fall before him.

My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him;
they shall be known as the Lord‘s for ever.

They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn
the saving deeds that he has done.   (Psalm 22:26-30)

Our response to the cross determines whether or not this Friday is good. Such a high price was paid. Unless we are willing to reap the benefits, Jesus died in vain for us. He was crushed for us so that we might also be crushed. We can no longer live for ourselves. Our confidence before the judgment seat of God cannot be based on anything that we are or can do.

Satan is still our accuser. Who is defending us against this accuser? Are we still defending ourselves? Or are our mouths closed so that the Lord Jesus Christ can defend us? Mazy it be said about us in the courts of heaven: “They opened not their mouths.”

If we allow Jesus to defend us, then a whole new world is opened up to us. Reading from Hebrews:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.   (Hebrews 10:10-25)

Amen! Amen! Thanks be to God who gives us our victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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The Presentation

bellini2Purification

Today we celebrate The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. From the Gospel of Luke:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  (Luke 2:22-24)

Let us look at this event as if it were part of a three act play. This was the first act of purification – a ceremonial purification. Mary was considered unclean on the birth of her child, according to Jewish law. After a waiting period of about forty days, she and Joseph were required to offer up their son to God. Mary would then be considered pure and her child would be declared holy before God.

A ritual of ceremonial purification was not without meaning or significance. It was a rehearsal of a spiritual purification which was to come. Today, in many churches, parents present their children to God with the expectation that these children will be raised in the Christian Faith.

At the time of Jesus’ presentation the prophet Simeon blessed the family of Jesus and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

This prophecy foretold the second act of purification – a purification of the Law of God. Simeon prophesied that Jesus will bring about major changes in Judaism. Jesus said that he did not come to set aside the law but to fulfill it. The essence of the Law had to do with loving God and neighbor, but it had become merely an elaborate set of rules to follow. As the Word made flesh, Jesus demonstrated by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our “good deeds.”

Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus to God in the Temple. Jesus would soon change the whole temple worship by becoming the temple himself. He would become the new Temple by satisfying all the requirements of the old one. His blood, spilled on the cross, would become the atoning sacrifice for all our sins, once and for all.

From Hebrews we read:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The last act of purification has to do with the purification of the saints. We read in Malachi:

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.   (Malachi 3:3-4)

The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus, by his atoning sacrifice, is able to present us pure before the Father:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus holy to God. Jesus turned the tables. He presents Mary and Joseph and all saints as holy to God. Mary and Joseph offered up their son before God. God, the Father, offered His Son as a sacrifice for us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus becomes our presentation. Jesus presents us spotless before the Father. He is the only one who can do that because he is the one who paid the price for our sin.

Our cleansing is not a ceremonial cleansing. No, we must allow Jesus to change and direct our hearts. God gave us this promise through the Prophet Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.   (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

The Aposte Paul wrote:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.   (Romans 12:1-2)

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