Tag Archives: salvation

Second Sunday of Advent: Year C

A Highway for Our God

John the Baptizer was special. He was spoken about in the Book of Isaiah:

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.   (Isaiah 40:3-4)

His father, the priest  Zechariah, prophesied over him when he was born:

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.   (Luke 1: 76-79)

John’s ministry was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah promised of old. Israel had not heard the voice of a prophet of God for four hundred years. There was a longing to hear from God. There was a longing for a savior that would save the nation from its enemies. But were they ready for John the Baptizer?

The Lord spoke through the Prophet Malachi concerning John:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

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.   (Malachi 3:1-3)

John the Baptizer was like a refiner’s fire. Israel needed purification. They were looking for someone to subdue their enemies, but like many of us, their real enemy was themselves. Are we ready to receive the Christ into our hearts today? Israel was not. They were living in a wilderness apart from God, though they were careful to observe their traditional religious practices. These practices were not necessarily wrong, but they were often empty.

God wants to build a highway in the wilderness which leads directly to him. Whether people consciously realize it or not, they are looking for God. God is offering them a highway on which to travel. What is that highway? Or who is that highway? The children of Israel were that highway. And today we are that highway.

The modern way of road building is to smooth out the terrain underneath. That was not always the case for Virginia before the interstates. I was once driving up and down the many hills from Richmond to Charlottesville, Virginia. My young daughter, who was riding in the back, got very sick. I won’t go into all the details. The highway we were riding was faithfully tracing out the contour of the land and it was very hilly.

What does it take to build a highway? A lot of heavy earth moving equipment. God is building his highway and we are the earth he is moving around.

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. e level,
    and the rough places a plain.”

God is refining us. He is reshaping us. If we will allow him to have his way the world around us will see a different terrain. Through us God will “shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide them into the way of peace.” We are living in a terrible darkness today. People need to see the light of Christ.

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Church in Philippi:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.   (Philippians 1:9-11)

God is preparing his Church for the final harvest. He needs us to help produce that harvest. We must be pure and blameless. We must be the light of the world. That can only happen when we abide in our Lord Jesus Christ. This Advent season, will we allow God to use us as part of his highway. There may be some pain as God rearranges the earth. But if we bask in the love of Jesus all the while, not losing his peace, we will pave the way for a great harvest, both within the Church and the world around us. Amen.

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First Sunday of Advent: Year C

Your Redemption is Drawing Near

We begin a new liturgical year. Happy New Year! Advent is season of expectation. We await the coming of the Christ Child. Advent is a season of preparation. We prepare ourselves to receive him deeper into our hearts. As we move through the season we look at the prophecies and preparations for the Incarnation – God with us – the first coming of Christ.

At the beginning of Advent, however, our focus is on the second coming of Christ. This is a subject that, to me, seems often neglected in many of our churches. The lectionary readings in the beginning of  the season emphasize the second coming. We are reminded that our spiritual preparation is not only for the first, but also for the second coming.

Non liturgical churches may wonder why the need for us to prepare ourselves spiritually. Has not the cross of Christ redeemed us from sin and death? What more can we do?

We need to look at the Early Church. Believers lived in a season of Advent continually. They lived in expectation that Jesus would be returning soon. That was a primary theme of their preaching and teaching, and especially for the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote:

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.   (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Jesus taught instructed his disciples about his second coming:

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”   (Luke 21:25-28)

He said that we should be able to read the signs which foretold of his soon return:

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.   (Luke 21:29-33)

Not only did Jesus speak about his return, but he emphasized that his disciples must be prepared for his return:

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”   (Luke 21:24-36)

If we are true disciples of Christ, then we must heed his words. What are the signs Jesus was talking about? The fig tree stood for the nation of Israel. From the Prophet Hosea we read:

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree,
    in its first season,
    I saw your ancestors.
But they came to Baal-peor,
    and consecrated themselves to a thing of shame,
    and became detestable like the thing they loved.   (Hosea 9:10)

We live in the time when Israel is sprouting leaves. It was given up as dead, but then it was refound. We live in a season when Israel will be fully redeemed. As disciples of Christ, we are the ingrafted branches of Israel. Are we ready for the return of our Lord?

Our lifestyles and interests tell us that we are not ready. Jesus said: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Look how we observe this season. There is the frenzy of black Friday. There is little recognition of the season of Advent. Christmas shopping is here in full force.

We desperately need a season of Advent. We need a time of spiritual reflection. We need a season of self examination. But God has not left us alone in this task. Jesus is coming. But Jesus is Immanuel. He is still with us. He is ready to help us. He is our source for examination and preparation. Paul wrote: “May Jesus so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

In this busy season, let us take time to be with Jesus. Yes, he has paid the price for us. What are we prepared to do for him? Will we put him first? Will be love him with all our hearts? Will we spend time with him in prayer – in his Word – in his healing and deliverance?

Yes, we are seeing signs of the end times. Jesus said: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

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The Season of Easter

Unlike any other faiths or religions, Christianity is about the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too, who believe in Him, shall be raised.

For the Christian the prophetic fulfillment of the Passover occurs when Jesus died on the cross for our sins:

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:4-6)

The judgment of God the Father has passed over us and had been placed on God the Son. The resurrection of Jesus is proof that,  by His sacrifice, He has defeated sin, Hell and the grave:

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?   (1 Corinthians 15:55)

How do we participate in the resurrection of our Lord? We participate in His resurrection by first participating in His death:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.   (Romans 6:3-11)

We  participate in the resurrection by faith in the completed work of our Lord who atoned for all our sins:

Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   (Romans 10:5-13)

While it is true that Jesus died for all the sins of the world, we must choose to participate in His sacrifice and resurrection. Have we called on the name of Jesus? He is calling us. Jesus said that if we profess him before the world then he will profess us before the Father. The Easter faith is a joyous faith, one that we should share with others.

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. We must be prepared to grow in our faith. The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Thessalonica:

We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus He will guide us by His Holy Spirit.   (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)

There will probably be some unchurched people attending Easter services who may be hearing the Gospel for the first time or have not heard it for quite some time. Do we preach a salvation formula for them? I believe that would be a mistake. The best approach is always to preach the word inspired by the Holy Spirit since he knows who will be in the service and what each person might need to hear. This will offer the greatest invitation to salvation and discipleship as well.

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Holy Saturday

8940635-largeO Grave Where Is Thy Victory?

Job was a good man, but he was aware of his sins. He realized that God had every reason to pass judgment on him:

“I wish you would hide me in a grave!
    I wish you would cover me up until your anger passes by!
I wish you would set the time for me to spend in the grave
    and then bring me back up!
If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard work
    I will wait for the time when you give me new life.   (Job 14:13-14)

Jesus died and hid in a grave for us:

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden. A new tomb was there. No one had ever been put in it before. That day was the Jewish Preparation Day, and the tomb was nearby. So they placed Jesus there.   (John 19:41-42)

Jesus bore our shame. He suffered the consequences of our sins, even to the extent of descending into Hell. His ministry did not stop there. His mission remained the same: “To seek and to save those who are lost.” The Apostle Peter makes it clear that the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.  (1 Peter 4:1-6)

We must be judged in the flesh in order to live in the Spirit. The good news is that Jesus has been judged for us. The good news is that Jesus does not leave us in our flesh, but lifts us high into the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul writes:

Therefore it says,

“WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH,
HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES,
AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”

(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)   (Ephesians 4:8-10)

Are we ready to come out of the grave? Are we ready to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are we ready to become citizens, no longer of this earth, but in heaven?

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