Tag Archives: salvation

Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His his Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul become the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

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Christmas Day: Proper III

The Word Made Flesh

The Gospel of John does not have an Infancy narrative as do the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, John speaks of a time before the birth of the Christ Child. He writes of the One who pre-existed the world and was the very agent of all creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

The reading from Hebrews echoes this same theme:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.  (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Do we know Jesus beyond the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? Many of His own Jewish people did not comprehend who Jesus was and is:

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.  (John 1:10-11)

The remarkable thing is that the creator God entered His own the world of His own creation on our behalf. In Jesus, God made himself vulnerable to humankind in order to reveal his true nature and heart:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

As prophesied by Isaiah, God made himself visible through demonstrations of his power and might. Lastly, he demonstrated his victory of the power of sin and death through the resurrection of his Son which brought the opportunity of salvation for the whole world:

The Lord has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:10)

God made himself visible that all the world might see his glory. However, we are now living in an ever darkening world. It has become incorrect to celebrate the birth of Christ. We are not to pray in our schools. We are told not to give testimony. Jesus must be folded into other religions in order to be acceptable. Why is that? The world wants us to hide the glory of God and his plan for salvation. We know that worldly people are hiding from God because they do not understand that he died for them. Are we to hide from God as well?

Now is the time for what may be the greatest missionary work of all. Are we up to the task? We are not alone in carrying out this mission. God is Emmanuel. He is with us in our struggles. God became flesh for us so that we might become part of his flesh. In the Incarnation, God took us our flesh. Now we are to take up his nature. John reminds us again:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

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Resurrection Sunday: Principal Easter Service, Year A

Do Not Hold on to Me

Hallelujah, Christ is risen. The Lord has risen indeed. Hallelujah!

Today we read about the first resurrection appearance that Jesus made which is unique to the Gospel of John. Mary Magdalene was heartbroken. She had gone to the tomb on the morning of the first day of the week and discovered that the body of Jesus was not there. When those who accompanied her had departed the scene she was left there standing alone. It is then that she has this encounter with the risen Lord. We read:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).   (John 20:11-16)

Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the resurrection. She knew Jesus as a teacher, deliverer, and friend. Jesus had, in fact, cast out seven demons from her. She was a sinner, someone with whom everyone of us can identify. Nonetheless, she was there at the cross when most of his followers had deserted him.

Jesus had an on going ministry with Mary, but the nature of that ministry was suddenly changing. Jesus said something very curious to Mary:

“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

“Do not hold on to me.” What could this mean? Naturally Mary wanted to touch Jesus. He was dead and now he was alive. She must have been overcome by joy! Jesus was telling her, however, that her relationship with him was changing.

We need to understand that the work which Jesus began on the cross for our sake is ongoing even to this day. His death paid the price for our sins and opened for us the gateway to heaven. The psalmist wrote

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

“This is the gate of the Lord;
he who is righteous may enter.”   (Psalm 118:19-20)

The moment that Jesus died the curtain in the Temple which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn from top to bottom. The way to God the Father was now established. This did not end Jesus’s ministry, however. Jesus told Mary Madeleine that he had to descend to his Father. His purpose was to present his followers to the Father before his throne of grace. Jesus, alone, can present us spotless before the Father.

Is Jesus telling us today, as he did Mary, not to hold on to him as we currently know him? We must not to limit his ministry in our lives. His ministry to us must be ongoing. He sends his Holy Spirit into our hearts, to direct us and rule us according to the will of the Father. He comforts us in all our afflictions. (The Christian faith will not eliminate all our tests and trials.) He is also our great high priest. He lives to ever make intercession for us. If we are attentive to our risen Lord he defends us from all error and leads us into all truth.

The Apostle Paul writes:

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.   (Colossians 3:1-4)

Yes, the cross has opened for us the way of eternal life. We must walk in that way, and that way is Jesus. Jesus is our friend and our deliverer. But he is much more than that. No one can go to the Father except through him. He will return to judge the quick and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end.

Our response to his great love is to say yes. And like Mary Magdalene, Jesus tells us to go and tell others what we have experienced.

Hallelujah, Christ is risen. The Lord has risen indeed. Hallelujah!

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Resurrection Sunday: Easter Early Service

Freedom from Fear

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

Hallelujah, the Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Hallelujah! 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 writes:

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 writes:

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. That is when they had an encounter with the risen 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. If we are still living in fear then what we need is a personal resurrection appearance. We may or many not see him in his physical person, but his Spirit has entered our hearts provided that we look to him alone for forgiveness and salvation.

A personal resurrection appearance can be blocked if we are still clinging to the old self which refuses to die. It is time to turn away from our flesh. It does not satisfy us. In fact, it enslaves us by fear. Isaiah wrote:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;

and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?   (Isaiah 55:1-2)

The joy of Easter is the old self cannot live when we worship the risen Lord. The flesh cannot survive the joy of the resurrection. Today, Jesus is saying to us: “Do not be afraid.” Let us listen for his voice. He will appear to us and will say: “Go and tell others that you have seen me.”

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