Tag Archives: Sin

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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Resurrection Sunday: Easter Early Service

Do Not Be Afraid

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

Do we believe that we are living in difficult times? Our whole way of life is under attack? The future appears to be uncertain? This was true for the disciples of Jesus, after his crucifixion. Fear had taken over most of the disciples. In their minds all had been lost. The miracle worker was no longer with them. The promise of Israel’s had been dashed. Governmental and church authorities were breathing down their neck.

But the scene was about to change. The women went to Jesus’s tomb on the first day of the week. 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)

Jesus is risen. As Christians, we do not have to live in fear. On this resurrection Sunday, we celebrate the triumph of our Lord over sin, the grave, and Hell. What we could never accomplish on our own, Jesus has won for us, through his death and resurrection. He paid the price of sin on the cross and opened, for us, the door to heaven,

The good news of the Gospel is that our Lord’s 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 6:3-5)

Does this sound too good to be true? 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 6:6-11)

Today, Jesus is telling us, as he told to the women at the tomb: “Do not be afraid. I have risen. Go and tell others that you have seen me.”

Are we still so focused on the world around us that we miss what he is saying? The disciples of Jesus were, at first. They had not yet encountered the risen Lord. But when Jesus appeared to them their whole world changed. If fact, the whole world changed for everyone, but especially for those who believed.

Have we encountered the risen Lord? If we have let us encourage those who are in despair with little hope. From the Old Testament reading of 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.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you[a] in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.   (Zephaniah 3::14-19)

If we have not had an encounter with the risen Lord, it is not too late. Today is our day of salvation. Today is the day of our deliverance. All we need to do is to look away from our present circumstances for a moment and look to Jesus. Let us listen to the voice of the Lord:

Peace I leave with you; my own 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)

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.   (John 11:25-26)

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 2Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.   (Matthew 11:28-30)

If any of us have never embraced Jesus as our Lord and Savior, now is the time to do so. He has been raised up so that he may raise. us up. Let us cry out to him for forgiveness. He wants to give us newness of life. He wants to pour out his Spirit upon us. He wants to impart to us the hope of glory.

Tribulations are very much a part of this world we live in. But this world is passing away. Jesus said:

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.   (John 16:33)

His victory is our victory. The Apostle Paul writes:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   (Romans 8:37)

Let this be our joyful refrain:

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

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Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Crucified with Christ

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From Matthew’s Gospel we read:

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”   (Matthew 21:6-11)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the criminal whom they crucified.

How could the people change so quickly we ask. In defense of those who got caught up in the frenzy, we must remember that chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty with tyrannical leaders. Propaganda and lies were used to sway the people. The government, and even the synagogs, were the last places to discover what was actually happening. In fact, both church and state were perpetuating a false narrative on purpose, Their agenda was to obscure what was really true.

When manipulation and control supplant faith and proclamation, the people are deceived and confused. Betrayal of God’s purposes becomes the order of the day. Does this apply to our day as well?

Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.   (Matthew 26:31-35)

We remember that Peter did portray his Lord as Jesus predicted:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.   (Matthew 26:69=75)

Where did Peter go wrong? Why did he betray his Lord when Jesus said that Peter would be the rock? Perhaps if we can understand this we might also understand why we might betray our Lord. Peter did not understand the crucifixion. We remember when Jesus foretold his death on the cross:

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.   (Matthew 16:22-25)

Is our mind still set on human things? Our flesh does not want to understand the cross. The cross is where we die to the flesh. We need the mind of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Have we humbled ourselves before the Lord? Have we given up our ways to take on the way which is Jesus Christ. He is the only way to the Father. 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. 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.   (Romans 6:3-8)

We are freed from sin only by the extent that we have died to our flesh. Yes, we are made righteous by faith in Jesus. But where is our faith if we do not trust him enough to die to ourselves. Psalm Sunday is a celebration. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But Psalm Sunday is also about the crucifixion. We may say that we have died to the Lord. Paul said that he died daily.

Who is in charge of our life today? Is it Jesus, or are we still gratifying the flesh and doing our own thing? We need to have victory over our flesh, but we cannot not do it on our own. Let us declare, as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:19-20)

The new creation in Christ only comes through crucifixion. Otherwise, we will be ruled by our flesh, and as Paul wrote:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.   (Romans 7:18)

The flesh is easily manipulated and controlled. If we do not take up our own cross and follow Jesus, we will soon deny him in so many ways, as many Christians are doing today. Let us declare as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.    (Galatians 2:19-20)

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First Sunday in Lent

Naked before the Lord

As we move into the Season of Lent, let us go back to the beginning. From today’s Old Testament reading:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ut the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.   (Genesis 3:1-7)

The goal for many of us in this season is to grow closer to God. How do we do that? To answer that question, perhaps it is best to try to understand why we may feel apart from God. Adam and Eve disobeyed God. They felt naked and ashamed for what they had done. God still wanted to commune with them, but they hid from God. It was not that God was hiding from them. They wanted to distance themselves from God.

God is a holy God. He is perfect, without fault. We are unholy. The Apostle Paul said that his righteousness was like filthy rags. When the Prophet Isaiah was called by God he said:

“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”   (Isaiah 6:5)

The children of Israel came came before God at Mount Sinai. From Exodus we read:

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid[d] and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”   (Exodus 20:18-20)

God is calling us to himself. He wants us to come as we are. Too often we are looking for a covering, rather than exposing ourselves to God. As part of our Lenten discipline, may fast certain things in an attempt to move closer God. Will that impress him? Is that what he wants from us? We recall the words of the prophet:

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?   (Amos 5:23-25)

There is nothing wrong with spiritual disciplines, but God is looking for more from us. Our sacrifices may just be a way of avoiding what he is asking of us. He is looking for righteousness. And we are reluctant to go before him naked. But that is what he wants. He, himself, will provide the covering that we need. The psalmist wrote:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.   (Psalm 91:1-4)

Do we trust God’s covering? In the wilderness, Satan tested the trust of Jesus in the covering of God the Father:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   (Matthew 4:5-7)

Satan was saying: “Take the short cut. Test God and see if he is there for you.” He does the same with us. He wants us to question our faith in God. He knows that our faith is part of the covering of God. Our faith has to do with our nakedness before God. That is how we are to approach him. When we do, we discover that God has provided for us. Jesus waited on the Father. He did not need to test God.

Today, what is our covering? Who is our covering? Is it the Lord Jesus Christ? In the Garden of Eden, God the Father made garments of skins for Adam and Eve by sacrificing animals (Genesis 3:20). God has made a covering for us by the shed blood of Jesus. Jesus has paid all our debt to God. If we believe that, we will need nothing more.

The Lent, are we ready to approach the throne of God boldly? Is our righteousness by faith in Jesus, or is it based on something else? God wants us to come before him, naked, with only our faith in Jesus. He will cover the rest. In fact, scripture tells us:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 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 1:5-9

Let us be transparent before God. He may reveal to us some sin that we have even hidden from ourselves. However, whatever God shines his light upon he is able to cleanse, if we let him. Thanks be to God who covers us with the blood of his Son.

The psalmist wrote:

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile!   ()Psalm 32:1-2)

 

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