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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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Filed under Epiphany, homily, Jesus, John the Baptist, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

Third Sunday of Advent: Year B

The Year of the Lord‘s Favor

In this Season of Advent we seek a new understanding and realization of the presence of God in our lives. Advent is a season of expectation. God has intervened on behalf of his people many times. We have so many biblical examples of this. At times, his interventions were unexpected. God’s actions brought great surprise and joy. We have an example of this in today’s Psalm:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.   (Psalm 126:1-4)

The psalmist was recalling how God brought his people back from captivity from Babylon. Today, perhaps we as a people and nation feel captive by a different Babylon – a culture of inmorality and spiritual darkness. We need and intervention from God, do we not?

Are we ready for God to act? The people of Nazareth were not ready when Jesus got up to preach in the synagogue of his home town. He preached from this passage in Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.   (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus was telling the people of Nazareth that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. They did not believe him. What stopped them from receiving his sermon? Perhaps he was just a hometown boy to them and nothing more. He did not fulfill their expectation of the Messiah. Perhaps they were afraid of what the future might bring. They may not have liked wwhat was happening in their day, but would rather cling to that status quo than embrace an unknown future.

What may be keeping us from receiving a movement of God? If the people of Nazareth could only have been able to see the signs from God all around them. Jesus was performing the miracles mentioned in the prophecy of Isaiah. Can we see that God may already be moving in our midst?

God has a blessing for us – for each of us and for our nation. We need to be able to receive his blessing. Only he can prepare us for what lies ahead. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Thessalonica:

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.   (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

God is faithful. He is calling us to a greater purpose and a higher spiritual life. But we must be able to believe in him and accept his intervention. The enemy has his gatekeepers who could keep us from doing so. When John the baptize was preaching the coming of the Lord the Pharisees were there to oppose him. From today’s appointed Gospel we read:

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.   (John 1:19-23)

Who are today’s gatekeepers? Are we gatekeepers?

We are living in a spiritual wilderness. We are living in a wasteland. Immorality is being exposed. The sin behind the abortion explosion is being revealed. A colossal corruption in high places is staring to show.

We need to continue to cry out to God. We need to continue to pray. And above all, we must put our full trust in God because he is in charge of all that we see around us.

Again the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22)

God has made promises to his people. He is ready to act:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.   (Isaiah 61:10-11)

We are living in the year of the Lord’s favor. Let us embrace him and all that he has prepared for us.

 

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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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