Tag Archives: baptism

Resurrection Sunday: Easter Early Service

Freedom from Fear and Death

One of the following readings from the Old Testament:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation] 
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood] 
Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac] 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea] 
Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all] 
Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Learn wisdom and live]
Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]
Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones] 
Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God’s people] 

Romans 6:3-11 
Matthew 28:1-10 
Psalm 114

Alleluia!  The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The good news of the Gospel is that his resurrection is also our resurrection. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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.   (Romans 6:3-11)

Jesus died for us so that we will no longer be slaves to sin and death. Again, Paul wrote:

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 6:3-11)

Slavery to sin and death engenders fear. Fear had taken over the disciples of Jesus after his crucifixion, In their minds all had been lost. The miracle worker was with them no more. It took his resurrection appearance to change their fear and sorrow into joy.

The women had gone to Jesus’s tomb on the first day of the week. They were the first to see the resurrected Lord. We read in Matthew:

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”   (Matthew 28:9-10)

We live in a fearful world today. But as Christians, we do not have to live in fear. The resurrection changes everything. If we are still living in fear we need is a resurrection appearance of Jesus.We may or many not see him in his physical person now, but we can see him through the eyes of faith, provided that we have allowed his Spirit enter into our hearts. If we are still clinging to the old self which refuses to die then we will probably not encounter him. It is time to turn away from our flesh. It does not satisfy us.

In fact, our flesh enslaves us through fear. We cannot find the Lord with our mind. It is much too limited. God wants us to have the mind of Christ.

Isaiah wrote:

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
    and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:6-9)

The flesh cannot thrive in the joy of the resurrection. God will give us a revelation of the resurrection when we seek him alone. When he does all fear is dispelled.

Jesus came to earth and shared our flesh and blood. He was like us in every way but did not sin. By his death he destroyed sin and death. From Hebrews we read:

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he 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)

Jesus did not die for us to remain as we are. He has gifts for those who believe. The psalmist wrote:

You ascended the high mount,
    leading captives in your train
    and receiving gifts from people,
even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
Blessed be the Lord,
    who daily bears us up;
    God is our salvation.

Today, Jesus is saying to us: “Do not be afraid. I have risen.” Let us listen for his voice. We will say to us as he said to the women: “Go and tell others that you have seen me.”

Alleluia!  The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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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

The Baptism of Our Lord

This Sunday we have another major epiphany in the life of Jesus. The Wisemen spoke about Jesus being a King. Today we learn about the Sonship of Jesus through his baptism by John as told in the Gospel of Luke.

John was preaching a baptism of repentance. Nevertheless, Jesus, who was without sin, asked to be baptized by John. From the Gospel of Luke:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”   (Luke 3:21-22)

If our baptism is like the baptism of Jesus then God tells us that he loves us and has chosen us. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
    and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth —
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”   (Isaiah 43:5-7)

We are not to be fearful, but, rather, to put our trust in God. We are assured by the Apostle Paul that our baptism is linked to the baptism of Jesus:

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.   (Romans 6:3-5)

Is baptism a onetime occurrence in the life of a believer? Or is it an ongoing process? Perhaps that depends on who does the baptism. From Luke we read:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Luke 3:15-17)

Jesus baptizes with the Spirit and fire. Baptism apparently has something to do with purification. That purification is the fire of God burning in our hearts.

Do we accept our baptism the way Jesus did? Do we value it? Are we willing to fully participate in it? God has forgiven us for our sins through the blood of Jesus. He also wants to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we believed that God loves us then we will not hide from him. We will hide in him. That is one of the primary meanings of our baptism.

Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus. He needed baptism because he needed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and his power while he was here on earth. We, too, need the assurance of God. God tells us he loves us. We need his guidance by the Holy Spirit. And we need the power of God in our lives to sustain us as we struggle in a fallen world.

What about the baptism of fire? God the Father does not condemn us. Our condemnation occurred on the cross of Christ where Jesus bore our sins. God does convict us of sin. From we read:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

The psalmist told us that we “should not fear for God is with us.” If we believe that then we will fully submit ourselves to him in faith, knowing that he has our best interests at heart. We have his promise: “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). The Apostle Paul writes:

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.   (Philippians 1:6)

Thus, we see that our baptism is the beginning of God’s work in us. We are to live in the promise of our baptism so that God can complete his work in us. We are a work in progress. Let us continue in faith, knowing that God is completing the work of the cross. The blood of Jesus removed our condemnation. That is true. The blood of Jesus is also continually cleansing from all unrighteousness. We are being reformed in the image of Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Third Sunday of Advent: Year C

What Must We Do?

We are living in troubling times. We need a breakthrough that only God can provide. Such a breakthrough could help change our conditions; and also our lives, if we respond to it.

The early English colonies in American were experiencing what seemed to them an increasing tyranny from the home country. People were losing hope. Then the Spirit of God broke through. During the 1730s to the 1740s a spiritual revival ushered in bold changes. The period was called The Great Awakening. One of the event that was a great catalyst for this awakening was a sermon by Jonathan Edwards. He preached a sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It emphasized God’s coming judgment on sinners who refused to listen to abide by his commandments. At the end  of the sermon Edwards made one final appeal: “Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.” He was interrupted many times during the sermon by people moaning and crying out, “What shall I do to be saved?”.

The Jewish people were living in troubling times. A prophet of God had not spoken to them for four hundred years. They were under the tyranny of Roman rule. People were hungry for change. John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance. He warned of God’s coming wrath against those who continue to break his commandments. From today’s Gospel reading:

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”   (Luke 3:7-9)

An awakening has to do with the exposure of sin by the Spirit of God and a warning of God’s coming wrath against unrepentant sin. A number of John’s listeners heeded his message:

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”   (Luke 3:10-14)

Notice that an awakening elicits a response from the people. The common question appears to be: “What must we do?”

Are we experiencing an awakening in America today? Perhaps an awakening in the world at large? What we can say is that evil is being exposed. If we are truly awake then our response should be: “What must I do?”

When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost he told the people that they had crucified their Messiah:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.   (Acts 2:37-38)

We need to see the evil around us, but we also need to see the evil within our own hearts. The good news is that God is ready to take that evil away. In today’s Old Testament reading God speaks through the prophet Zephaniah:

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
    he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall fear disaster no more.   (Zephaniah 3:14-15)

An awakening is not a spectator sport. Each one of us is called to do specific things. We must get involved. Getting our hearts right with God through the cross of Christ is just the beginning; We need his daily guidance and strength. We live in very unsettling times. If is difficult to know just where to begin. The Apostle Paul reminds us that our “doing” must always begin with prayer and rejoicing:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

We need a peace that passes all understanding. Only the Prince of Peace can provide this. He wants to change our world, but first he must change our hearts.

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