Tag Archives: the cross

Second Sunday in Lent

Unshakable Faith

Peter was crestfallen. He had just proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ. Jesus said that he would build his Church on the testimony Peter. But shortly after this statement Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” What had happened? From Mark’s Gospel we read:

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Mark 8:31-33)

Peter could not accept what Jesus was saying. He lacked something. It was early in his discipleship. Later he would grow, but for now he was missing the essential ingredient of discipleship. He lacked unshakeable faith. To understand this type of faith we need to look to Abraham. From Genesis we read:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.   (Genesis 17:1-4)

What is this unshakable that Abraham had? Abraham believed what God said to him, no matter how unlikely it might seem and no matter what obstacles appeared to stand in the way. The Apostle Paul wrote about Abraham’s faith in Romans:

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”   (Romans 4:18-22)

Abraham had unshakable faith because he believed God no matter what circumstances he found himself in. Even when God, as a test, asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Abraham remembered that God would make him a great nation through his heir. Abraham held on to that promise.

If we believe in Jesus, then we will trust him in all things. Peter already had in his mind what he thought Jesus would do to establish the kingdom of God on the earth. He could not understand why Jesus would do anything else. When Jesus spoke about his suffering and death this did not make any sense to Peter. Peter’s way was better to Peter’s way of thinking.

Have we ever been like Peter in our thinking? Do we always need to figure things out? Perhaps we need to “faith” things out instead. Jesus offers this wonderful illustration in Mark’s Gospel:

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?   (Mark 8:34-38)

Unless we are able to deny ourselves we will never be able to understand what God is doing. We will handicap what God can do for us. God wants to do great and mighty things in our life and within our souls. Will we let him, or will we oppose him because he just is not doing what we want, the way we expect? Who knows better?

Unshakable faith is the path to righteousness. God honors such faith. When we exercise this faith God counts it as righteousness. Our sins have been forgiven through the blood of Jesus and our spiritual growth is assured when we put our whole trust in his blood.

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The Presentation

bellini2Purification

Today we celebrate The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. From the Gospel of Luke we read:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  (Luke 2:22-24)

Let us look at this event as if it were part of a three act play. This was the first act of purification – a ceremonial purification. Mary was considered unclean on the birth of her child, according to Jewish law. After a waiting period of about forty days, she and Joseph were required to offer up their son to God. Mary would then be considered pure and her child would be declared holy before God.

A ritual of ceremonial purification was not without meaning or significance. It was a rehearsal of a spiritual purification which was to come. Today, in many churches, parents present their children to God with the expectation that these children will be raised in the Christian Faith.

At the time of Jesus’ presentation the prophet Simeon blessed the family of Jesus and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

This prophecy foretold the second act of purification – a purification of the Law of God. Simeon prophesied that Jesus will bring about major changes in Judaism. Jesus said that he did not come to set aside the law but to fulfill it. The essence of the Law had to do with loving God and neighbor, but it had become merely an elaborate set of rules to follow. As the Word made flesh Jesus demonstrating by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our works.

Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus to God in the Temple. Jesus would soon change the whole temple worship by becoming the temple himself. He would become the new Temple by satisfying all the requirements of the old Temple. His blood, spilled on the cross, would become the atoning sacrifice for all our sins once and for all.

From Hebrews we read:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The last act of purification has to do with the purification of the saints. We read in Malachi:

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. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.   (Malachi 3:3-4)

The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus, by his atoning sacrifice, is able to present us pure before the Father:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

Paul makes it clear that we must continue in the Faith. Jesus makes this promise for those who do:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.   (Matthew 10:32-33)

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus holy to God. Jesus turned the tables. He presents Mary and Joseph and all saints as holy to God. Mary and Joseph offered up their son before God. God, the Father, offered His Son as a sacrifice to us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus is our presentation as well.

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First Sunday after Christmas: Year B

Sons and Daughters of God

Should God be called our Father? Jesus got into a dialogue with the Pharisees over this question. He was explaining to his disciples that they must continue in the Word of God in order to know the truth and then be set free:

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”   (John 8:31-32)

Jesus was speaking about being set free from the power of sin. The Pharisees objected to what Jesus was saying because, in their minds, they were already set free. After all, they were descendants of Abraham. Jesus challenged their statement by telling them they had another father all together:

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”

Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.   (John 8:39-44)

Sin separates us from God which precludes God from being our spiritual Father. We broke away from God as Father when we chose to serve the god of this world. At the beginning of his Gospel John explains what is required to get back to God being our Father:

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 1:10-13)

God, through drastic measures, adopted us as his sons and daughters. The Apostle Paul writes about this adoption:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.   (Galatians 4:4-7)

In order to be adopted by God we must be willing to received the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The adoption process takes us out of the world on sin and places us in a new home created by his Son. This process is carried out over time. Jesus said that we must continue in his word. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to become the children of God. Becoming is a process.

We need to understand how this adoption works. God has chosen us. We must be willing to choose the One who gave himself up for our adoption. We must continually choose Jesus over the god of this world. That is something the Pharisees were unwilling to do. In their minds, they had already arrived. How many Christians believe this same thing today? How many churches teach it.

Are we still a slave to sin? If we are then we must continue to cry out: “Abba! Father!” God will change ours hearts when we cry out to him. Jesus said:

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”   (Luke 11:9-13)

God gives us power to overcome sin. He gives us power to become the children of God. He gives power to those who continue in his Word. If we call him Father, then we must go to him and not the god of this world. He has adopted us through the blood of his Son. Have we received his adoption?

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First Sunday of Advent: Year B

Tear Open the Heavens and Come Down

We begin a new liturgical year this Sunday. We start with a new season – Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. Others may rush into Christmas with all the early shopping and decorating, but let us spend the time to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.

Are we in trouble as a nation today? The psalmist of old was aware that the nation of Israel needed God’s help. He prayed:

Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
stir up your strength and come to help us.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.   (Psalm 80:1-3)

The Prophet Isaiah realized that Israel had forsaken their God. He prayed:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence —

as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil —

to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!   (Isaiah 64:1-3)

For Israel, God dwelled behind a curtain within the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Only the high priest could enter and that was once a year in order to make the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. The enlightened Prophet Isaiah knew there must be more. He wanted God to be strongly present all the time. His prayer was ultimately answered with the birth of Jesus. God did tear open the heavens and come down. God came in the flesh and dwelt among us. The Apostle John writes in the preamble of his Gospel:

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.   (John 1:14)

There was another tearing of the heavens when Jesus hung on the cross. God removed the requirement of the annual atoning sacrifice made by the high priest when Jesus became that atoning sacrifice once and for all. At the moment of his death the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. God opened the way for all of us to experience his presence. This was preface to God pouring out his Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

God wants intimate fellowship with us. He is waiting on us. Are we too busy? Are we too distracted by the things of this world. He did not go to such great lengths on our behalf only to have us sit idly by.

We are living in very dark times. Only Christ can break through the current darkness that surrounds us. Jesus warned his disciples that this such a time would come:

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.   (Mark 13:24-27)

How are we to prepare for the coming of Christ in glory. We need a spiritual revival in our churches, our nation, and in our own hearts. This must be our focus. This must be our prayer.

The Apostle Peter was on the Mount of Transfiguration when he saw a glimpse of Jesus in his glory. He writes:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.   (2 Peter 1:16-19)

Though we are living in dark times we are to keep the lamp of God shining in our hearts for the world to see. Advent is a time for us the fan the flames of this lamp. Let us echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Stir up your strength and come to help us.”

When God tears open the heavens and come down one more time, will we be ready?

 

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