Tag Archives: forgiveness

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Path of Peace

When John the Baptist was eight days old he was brought to the temple to be circumcised as was the Jewish custom. His father the priest then prophesied over him:

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:75-79)
The path of peace theme is also echoed in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.   (Isaiah 40:1-2)

There is only one way to peace and Jesus is that way. He is the Prince of Peace. Today, we are hearing about another peace. It is said that a peace will be provided by a new world order and a one world government and a one world religion. How much should we trust this peace? Paul writes to the Church in Thessalonica:

For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.   (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)

When John grew into his ministry he preached that we must repent of our sins and seek the real Messiah. John prepared the way for Him. Jesus has prepared the way for us to approach God the Father.

Thomas, the disciple of Jesus was confused about the identity of Jesus:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.   (John 14:5-6)

There are no alternative ways of peace? John the Baptist’s message was very simple. Repent and seek Jesus. His whole ministry was to point us to Jesus. Nonetheless, in the world today there are many distracting voices. These distractions lead to dead ends, literally. Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.   (John 14:27)

The world promises peace but delivers persecution. Again Jesus said:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”   (John 16:33)

Peace will only come to the world during the millennial reign of Jesus. The message of John the Baptist was quite simple. He was not the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah and true path of peace. All we need to do is repent and believe.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

God Is with Us

There are various ways of thinking about God. Atheists believe that there is no God. Have they given the matter much thought? The Apostle Paul writes:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.   (Romans 1:18-21
A second way of thinking about God is that there might be a God, but we are not sure. This is the belief of agnostics. The Apostle Paul faced this type of thinking in the city of Athens:
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.   (Acts 17:22-23)
Having an unknown god left the door open to the possibility that there might be a real God. But who is this real God? Is he the and he has creator of all things? Many people believe this deep down in their hearts, whether they affiliated with a particular religion or not. But for some, God is a cold and distant God. He exists. He created the universe. But he is observing all that he has made from afar.
Paul continues his treatise on God:

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’   (Acts 17:24-28)

The disciples of Jesus were concerned because he had said that he would soon be departing them. In today’s Gospel reading

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”   (John 14:18-21)

This is another way of saying: “In him we live and move and have our being.” This is a thinking about God that is beyond simply that God exists. Can we move into this thinking? God wants to engage us. Jesus told his disciples:

”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 you.”   (John 14:15-17)

The prophet of old foretold this God:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”   (Matthew 1:22-23)

This God is with us. He is for us. He upholds us. The psalmist wrote:

Bless our God, you peoples;
make the voice of his praise to be heard;

Who holds our souls in life,
and will not allow our feet to slip.   (Psalm 66:7-8)

Do we know this God? This is the God who bled and died for us so that we might be with him forever. He has given us this assurance through the resurrection. Paul continues:

While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”   (Acts 17:30-31)

The Apostle Peter explains:

For 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.   (1 Peter 3:18)

Jesus wants us to be alive in the Spirit. If we have the Spirit then we have hope that, event hough we die,  God the Father will raise us up to eternal life just as he did his Son. Paul writes:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.   (Romans 5:1-2)

The current world around us is in such despair. Many people have lost hope. Do we have anything to offer them? Do we have any comforting message? We do if we believe the message that Jesus has given us. He is with us. He is in us. He has not left us. Do we know this God today? If so, let us offer hope to those around us. Peter writes:

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do  it with gentleness and reverence.   (1 Peter 3:15-16)

We have “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Let us tell the world. But if we do not have him, it is time to ask him to come into our hearts. We must acknowledge our sin and repent, sincerely from the heart. Then

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

God loves us. He is with us. He is for us. He has given us his Spirit. Let us show the world who this unknown God really is.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Greater Works Ministry

Today we read about the first martyr of the Christian faith:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.   (Acts 7:55-60)

Why were the people so agitated at Stephen? Stephen had been appointed as a Deacon or servant of the Church, to assist the Apostles in the ministry so that they would have more time to devote themselves to the study of God’s word. But Stephen was no ordinary believer:

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council.  (Acts 6:8-12)

“Spirit-filled” Christians are often considered controversial, even in today’s Church. Stephen spoke with a certain spiritual authority that may have been off putting to some. People were not able to argue with him successfully. On top of that, he performed signs and wonders which were only supposed to be done by apostles, prophets, and, perhaps, some elders.
Perhaps signs and wonders are still misunderstood to this day. Are we supposed to do them? What did Jesus say about them? We read in today’s appointed Gospel that:

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

There are counterfeit signs and wonders. Satan is able to produce them. They seem very strange and disconnected from any apostolic teaching of the faith. The people who perform them are clearly not grounded in the scriptures. Stephen.was firmly grounded to the point that no one could successfully argue against what he was teaching.

Have we been chosen by God to do the “greater works” ministry. The Apostle Peter quoted the Old Testament prophecy:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;

once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.   (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Yes, we are chosen. But there is a secret in doing this ministry. We do not do it. Stephen did not do it. Jesus did not do it. We cannot do it. It is God the Father who does the signs and wonders. Our task is simply to believe in Jesus, and listen intently and do as the Father directs us. God in us does this ministry if we are gifted by him.

How did the skeptic Philip end up doing the ministry that Jesus prophesied to him. When the words of Jesus sank in this same Philip became a great evangelist. He began performing the “greater works” which Jesus promised. The signs and wonders he performed made a great impact on the people of Samaria when he preached the word there:

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

Are we ready to step into the “greater works” ministry? We must first step into Jesus and the Father by faith. Then we must receive the promise from the Father which is the Holy Spirit. If a skeptic like Philip could answer the call then why should we remain a skeptic when there is an exciting ministry ahead. But let us remember to never take credit for such a ministry. All the praise and glory belongs to God.

Stephen stood out because of the works that he did by the Spirit. Nonetheless, perhaps his greatest achievement is that he forgave those who were stoning him. We need to grow into the character of Jesus just as much, if not more, as the ministry of Jesus.

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Second Sunday of Easter

The Covenant of Reconciliation:

The Apostle Thomas is remembered as “Doubting Thomas.” That may be a little unfair. To be sure, he was a skeptic concerning the resurrection of Jesus:

Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with the other disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”   (John 20:24-25)

On the other hand, Thomas had been faithful as a disciple. He was willing to sacrifice for what he believed was the cause of Christ. When Jesus spoke about going to Jerusalem, which proved to be his last trip there, Thomas was aware of the danger involved:

Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”   (John 11:16)

To be sure, Thomas was missing something. First, he missed being there when Jesus appeared to his disciples. He was also missing out on a new status which God had decreed from him, at   status made possible by the death and resurrection of his Son. Thomas was missing the new birth about which Peter would soon preach:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  (1 Peter 1:3-7)

From a worldly point of view, Thomas was a good man. Jesus said the greatest man was John the baptist:

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.   (Matthew 11:11)

Who could be greater than John the baptist? That could be you or me. John had not yet received the new birth because Jesus had not yet risen from the dead. But we have been born after the resurrection. We have an opportunity to enter into the kingdom of God. How do we do that? Let us see how Thomas did that:

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”   (John 20:26-31)

Having seen Jesus now after his resurrection, Thomas makes his affirmation of faith. That same affirmation is open to us. The Apostle Peter writes:

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.   (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Believing in the resurrection is the gateway to the new birth. The Apostle Paul writes:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NIV)

Before the resurrection the people of God were temporarily forgiven through their confession of sin and the making of sacrifices. But they were never reconciled to God. They did not have peace with God. They were still estranged from him.

Now our sins have been forgiven though the cross and resurrection. Jesus has paid the price for our sins once and for all. We are given a new status. We have the opportunity of living in an eternal relationship with God. Is Jesus our Lord and our God? That is what Thomas said after he believed. The Apostle Paul writes:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.   (Romans 10:9-10)

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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