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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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The Presentation

bellini2Purification

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

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 demonstrating by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our works.

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 Temple. 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)

Paul makes it clear that we must continue in the Faith. Jesus makes this promise for those who do:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.   (Matthew 10:32-33)

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 to us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus is our presentation as well.

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First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

The Baptism of our Lord

The Apostle Paul was in the city of Ephesus where he encountered some new disciples of the faith. He asked them this question:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.   (Acts 19:1-7)

Notice that Paul recognized that these people were believers. Thus, he did not discount the baptism of repentance which had been instituted by John the baptizer. John’s message was: “Repent.” From today’s Gospel we read:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.   (Mark 1:4-5)

When Jesus began his earthly ministry his message was the same:

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”   (Mark 1:14-15).

There are some so-called “seeker” churches today who preach that God welcomes us into his kingdom with little talk of the need of repentance. The Gospel message is the good news that God loves us unconditionally. The cross has proven that. Nonetheless, repentance is an absolute requirement on our part to become disciples of Jesus.

Repentance is just the beginning, however. The Apostle Paul explained to the believers in Ephesus that there was another baptism. This baptism enabled believers to receive the Holy Spirit of God by taking on the name and character of the Lord Jesus. John the baptizer had foretold that this baptism was coming:

John proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”   (Mark 1:6-8)

Much canbe said about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There seems to be much controversy about it. Let us agree that this baptism is vitally important because Jesus, himself, received it. From today’s Gospel we read:

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)

Jesus needed the power of the Spirit to perform his earthly ministry. The Holy Spirit is a life-giving force. The Spirit was with the Father and the Son at the beginning of creation. We read from Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.   (Genesis 1:1-5)

The Spirit is the person of God who executes the commands of God. The power of Spirit was needed to bring all creation into being. The Spirit creates and the Spirit recreates. It takes the power of the Spirit for us truly to become the sons and daughters of God. From John’s Gospel we read:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.   (John 1:10-12)

Foregoing a lengthy theological discussion about Spirit baptism, let us focus on a simple question. It is the same question which Paul asked the converts in Ephesus. Have we received the Spirit of God?

Do we consider God to be our heavenly Father? If so, this is by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness[b] with our spirit that we are children of God.   (Romans 8:14-16)

Do we call Jesus our Lord and obey him? Is so, this is by the Spirit. Again, Paul wrote:

You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.   (1 Corinthians 12:2-3)

How we live out our Christians lives governed by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote about the works of darkness. He explained that it would take more than a set of laws are doctrines to destroy these works in our lives:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.   (Galatians 5:22-25)

All these things are accomplished by the Spirit, thus we need the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus is the baptizer with the Holy Spirit. He is the One we must go to in order to receive Spirit baptism.

If we do not first repent then we cannot participate in the transforming power of the Spirit. This transformation operates continually in our lives as we grow in Christ, thus our repentance must be continual. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

When Jesus received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God the Father spoke these words: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” What he said to Jesus he says to us as we submit ourselves to him in Christ” “With you I am well pleased.” He then pours out his Spirit upon us.

This is a promise which the Lord Jesus Christ made to each of us:

 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[h] you.   (John 14:15-17)

Jesus’ baptism is our baptism. Jesus’ power to serve is our power to serve. Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through[c] his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:10-11)

Did we receive the Holy Spirit? Do we live our lives in the Spirit? We do when we allow the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit to empower our lives and animate our faith. Jesus keeps his promises. Amen.

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Second Sunday of Advent: Year B

highwayA Highway for Our God

Last Sunday we talked about a revival for our nation and our churches. It takes the glory of God to bring about a true spiritual revival. We pray that God to tear open the heavens once more and show us his glory and presence.  Surely he has heard our prayers, but is he not waiting on us?

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed:

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”   (Isaiah 40:3-5)

We are asked by God to build a highway in the wilderness. The wilderness is our sin and the highway is our repentance. John the baptizer echoed this message:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.   (Mark 1:4-5)

Baptism was reserved for Gentiles who were jewish converts. Certainly not for the children of Abraham? John made it clear that Judaism was much more than a birthright. Unholy living was a guaranteed disqualification. What does that say about nominal Christians today?

We are living at the end of the Church Age. Advent reminds us of that. Our preparation is not only for a new encounter of the Christ Child within our hearts, it is also a preparation for the age to come when Jesus returns to this earth.

The Apostle Peter warns Christians disciples about the coming of the day of the Lord which will help usher in the second coming of Jesus:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.   (2 Peter 3:10)

Peter goes on to stress that holy living on our part is required if we are to be ready:

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.   (2 Peter 3:11-13)

Peter speaks of a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness will prevail:

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.   (2 Peter 3:14-15)

We cannot clean up our act on our own. But clean up we must. We need a revival. We need an act of God. We need the glory of God in our land.

How will this happen? The psalmist wrote:

You have forgiven the iniquity of your people
and blotted out all their sins.

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.   (Psalm 85:2, 8-9)

Do we fear God today? Are we listening to what God is saying? Are we turning our hearts to him? If so, God will do the rest. He has promised us. We could see the greatest revival in our churches than we have ever seen before. All we need is a highway of repentance for his glory to be revealed:

“Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”   (Isaiah 40:4-5)

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