Thru Ephesians: a sermon series
Ephesians 2:11-22; Jeremiah 23:1-6
We are now in our third week into our sermon series through the book of Ephesians. So far, we talked about discovering God's Plan and Purpose in our redemption, our union in Christ; and finding life through dying to self, as Christ exemplified by his death and resurrection.
Last Sunday, we concluded our sermon with Scripture exhortation to live our new life as we are called; a life filled with conscious understanding of the love of God. The life that discerns the love of God as his fullness fills in us. We were reminded of our secret co-existent nature with Christ. In that, through God's unyielding love, believers have constant fillings and never run out of hope, strength, and gratitude even in their state of fragility. We are called to experience and exercise "True love" like those in the Kingdom of Arendelle where everyone was giving space to exercise their true selves including Olaf the Snowman (Frozen).
Picking up from where we left off last Sunday, we will now move on to the last passage of chapter two and the beginning of chapter three. In this chapter, Paul makes a dramatic turn of discourse. In chapter one and half of chapter two, Paul's emphasis has been to layout the relationship between God and humankind. He spoke of redemption and God's love that is beyond comprehension. He states that believers have received the immense blessings and God's gracious richness of heaven (1:3, 17). Paul maintains a better description of the vertical actions of God and expectations of believers to praise and glorify him.
Now Paul turns the table to the horizontal trend as the outcome and the fruits of the vertical actions of God. It is to say that after God had finished the first chapter and created relationship through adoption, he has now come to express the purpose of such actions. Paul reminded Ephesians once again; that they were dead and were far away from the knowledge of God's promise. However, through Christ, they were brought near and called children of God. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 3:6
The promise of the physical sign of covenant through circumcision has now ceased and been replaced. And in this later day, God makes universal Covenant through the Cross, fulfilled in Christ, and effective only through faith. The work of the cross was accomplished in the blood of Jesus Christ and has brought oneness and formed a new humanity in Christ. This was the divine plan! God's eternal purpose was to "create in himself one new humanity" through the blood of Christ (v.14-15)
God's initiative has brought down the wall of hostility. In this new assembly, the old humanity has no place. God himself has desired to create a renewed assembly in the body of Jesus Christ. Thus, "it is Jesus' death that brings down the "dividing wall, that is, the hostility between Jew and Gentile" and that enables the creation of "one new humanity."
This passage describes ways in which the new life of believers differs from their old life (Richard Cousar):
What unites us is bigger and more real than whatever divides us. We are divided over who makes Good Pizza. Between the giant New York Pizza with no topping and Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. We are divided over how we call soft drinks whether it is Soda or popes (as BodoJwok would always refer to diet Pepsi as white Soda). We are divided between the coasts. We treat ourselves as the left and the right, republicans, and democrats or maybe those in between. But at the end of the day, we are all members of God's family. We all showed up on funerals and experience sympathy over indecent treatment of others.
Today as Presbyterians, we are observing this Sunday as Mathew 25 and Criminal Justice Sunday and in the Spirit of MLK's Birthday, the social justice icon. Today many Presbyterian pastors will be preaching on dismantling racism, encouraging Race Relations and justice to enhance our efforts toward a shared identity. The words of MLK are now alive and remain truthful to what he had preached and predicted many years past. He believed that there will be a time in America where racial divides are no more and America will see "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of [Unity] brotherhood." Even if this is partially fulfilled in our lifetime, we are encouraged to work consciously until we see the church and human beings cherish their unity over diverse differences. We are growing to the realization of our oneness and are exhorted to exercise such unity Now on earth. We find the meaning of life when we discover the deep meaning of our unity in Christ. Christians are encouraged to strive to do good work as the fruits of their faith and stay strong in faith. We are built in the house of the New Humanity whose cornerstone is Christ Jesus. "In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God" (vv. 21-22).
We are called to peace, to care for one another as it is preached by Christ (Matthew 25:35). That horizontally all of us can treat one another as ONE and vertically come to the Father in praises through the "same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us" (17-18)"
As Paul urges the Ephesians, this message speaks to us today to remind us of our unity; "I urge you to behave with all humility, and gentleness, and patience. I urge you to bear with one another in love. I urge you eagerly to preserve that unity which the Holy Spirit can bring by binding things together in peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called with one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all. " Eph 4:2-6
I leave you with Paul's calling to the Romans when he exhorts them how to exercise their love and said, "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not rise. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position" (Romans 12:9-16)
As the humanitarian icon, Audrey Hepburn says, “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” Therefore, friends let us hold on to what is "Good" as God continues to renew us unto eternal sanctification. We are one, voyaging to one destination and Christ is our best friend who springs strength in our weary paths. He promises, to keep us united until he comes again! Amen
Thru Ephesians: a sermon series
Ephesians 2:1-10; Luke3:10-18
Today we are continuing with our exploration and discovery to learn the many important aspects of our reunion with Christ. We are not, however, on a "Bear Hunt" 😊 nor on an adventure to discovering a fairytale of the frozen girls when the gift of snow magic went wrong in the kingdom of Arendelle (Frozen Movie).
Rather we are trying to understand and be reminded of the Divine plan in our redemption; the will of God to bring us to life from our dead-selves. It is about God’s love and how privilege us with the gift of adoption makes us equal with Christ. Lastly, this sermon series reminds us of our spiritual endeavor to discern the transcendence power of God invested in the church and in the believers. How do we know? God himself has made known to us this mystery by the "wisdom and insight" that he "lavished" on us through Christ Jesus.
In chapter one and in our introduction last Sunday, Paul talked about our union with Christ and the great blessings that come because of our adoption to God’s family. That, in his gracious love, God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world to make us holy and blameless. And God has fulfilled his own good plan during the right time (v.4) Today, in chapter two, Paul assures the Ephesians, that our union with Christ is perfected through dying to Sin and making conscience disjunction with self trespasses.
"You were dead through the trespasses and sins…" (NRSV), Paul said. Paul used a Greek verb that literally means being dead, ("νεκροὺς— nekrous") when he compares the state Ephesians before they were believers. Paul's assertion and exhortation are inclusive by nature. When he talks about "You," he refers to the Ephesians (the Gentiles), and when he says "Us," he means his fellow Jews. For Paul, every ethnic group, and everyone etc., whether slave, the free, or the masters, the rich and the poor etc., were all dead spiritually and needed God's salvation. Everyone has sinned, has trespassed, has fallen short and does not meet the demands of God (Romans 3).
Paul reminded the Ephesians that they were spiritually dead before they were called and included into God's family. God has willed to rescue them from the state of destruction and disobedience. Now, Ephesians are alive through the power of God at work in them. The same power that has raised Christ from the dead, has resurrected them from their Spiritual death.
This Spiritual resurrection comes a result of conversion and believers are able to discover the new life in Christ apart from the past life. Paul said that now of conversion, a believer becomes a new creation, the old self is gone, and things becomes new (2 Cor. 5:16-17). Yet, the journey to perfection continues in Christian living unto sanctification.
But what is sin and trespasses that Paul keeps mentioning in this chapter and in most of his letters? Sin is missing the point, the mark, and the intended core of divine purpose. It is an offense against God. For Paul, Ephesians were living in the state of conformity to the worldly manner before they became Christians. They were against God, missing the intended divine law. They were slaves to Satan and sin of the world.
Trespasses in another hand, (Hebrew—"asham"), means willful debt by going beyond the required limit. This means willfully and consciously choosing "to pass beyond a limit or boundary. To go too far; to put any one to inconvenience by demand or importunity; to intrude; … to trespass upon the time or patience of another. " Easton's Bible Dictionary
In our corrupt state, scripture describes unbelieving soul as:
Paul said Ephesians were once departed from God and went too far and beyond God's boundary to the worshiping of Artemis. They were lost and needed help. They were like all of us because we had gone too far in our disobedience and suppress the truth about God (Romans 1:18-19). Like them, we went out of God's presence and from God's circle and died of spiritual death like Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:17).
Isaiah said "All of us are like sheep. We have wandered away from God. All of us have turned to our own ways. And the Lord has placed on his servant, Christ the Messiah, the sins of all of us" (Isaiah 53:6) Peter echoed Isaiah and said all of us have trespassed like sheep that continually wandered away, but through Christ Jesus, now we have returned to the true Shepherd of our lives— to the “kind Guardian who lovingly watches over your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
Paul exhorts Ephesians and all of us that, though we are now alive in Christ, we must therefore be dead to sin, to the need of the body, and to the will of trespassing. This is because you are no longer spiritually "Nekus", nor in the period of apnea, or have bradycardia, neither experiencing asphyxia (please allow me to use my medical terminology lesson😊). In Christ you are not unconscious, but dead to sin. Yet fully alive, with full heartbeat, sufficient of oxygen and breathing normally. God did this by grace through faith when we believed—"Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ!” (vv. 8-9)
Paul's message to the Ephesians and to us today is clear. He believes that through the saving power, God has expelled death that has occupied Christians before our conversion. Now God has instilled in us the undying life of Christ. Thus, Christians are alive because the fullness of God's grace is an unyielding stream of mercy flowing and keeps streaming in Christian's living daily.
Friends, it's true that the corruption was in us from birth and we expressed our disobedience through our actions and desires of our hearts. We have "lived by whatever natural cravings and thoughts our minds dictated, living as rebellious children subject to God’s wrath like everyone else."
However, God the father of love has shown us mercy despite of our degradation and deprivation, falling short of God demands. God did this through Christ, in Christ, by Christ and with Christ as he himself is filled with grace and mercy. You are made alive with Christ grace been saved through faith as a gift from and of God and " not the result of works, so that no one may boast (v 9).
Some may ask how a renewed person continues living in the newness state with Christ. In another place, Paul presented his rhetorical question to the baptized Roman Christians how to exercise their Christian freedom. He asked, should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 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"(Romans 6:1-4). This is Paul's best answer to the question of our Christian freedom to all believes in centuries.
Christians must never forget where we had come from, who we are, our present state and where we are going. The person who is in Christ is rightfully child of God and is dead to sin and are free from punishment because of the death of Christ (Romans 6:23). We discover life through death; dying spiritually to the desires of the world and obtains personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Therefore, in our new life in Christ, comes an extended lists of God's heavenly blessings to sustain us (Eph 1-2):
Therefore, let us remain determined to our calling and committed to our journey to perfection. Let us be reminded that we have been raised with Christ and spiritually “ascended with him into the glorious perfection and authority of the heavenly realm, for we are now co-seated as one with Christ!" God's plan is to fill us with grace, because "He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things" (Ephesians 4:10).
We are all like Olaf the snowman, but with God's grace pouring from above, we are made strong and surviving. The snow/cloud of mercy is following and covering us our spiritual paths. The kingdom of Arendelle was a place for everyone and represents the Kingdom of God and the Church universal. We Christ raised on high, we will not runout of hopes, faith, joy, and strength, because the almighty Father, brings unyielding filling through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Last Sunday, we concluded our last sermon for 2020, and we reflected on God's covenantal assurance and deliverance for Israel from Isaiah 61:10-62:5. We also touched on Paul's message to the Galatians when he assured them of God’s comprehensive plan through Christ. Paul stated that God's divine plan and covenantal purpose was manifested through Christ whom God himself has sent. Jesus was born; and made his dwelling among us; and became one of us in order to make friends of us. The reason he was born through a woman was to draw us near to himself and to redeem us from our fallen humanity.
The dawning light of hope was shone on Christmas when the Savior was born, and the light of salvation keeps shining throughout the world. In this process, Paul said, God adopted us in Christ and has blessed us with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In the renewed nature, a union with God is established, and Christians are now made confident to call God their Father and freely appeal on his name. This means Christians are considered God's valued family members. Through this mystical adoption, God accept Christians as children and no longer strangers. Therefore, Christians have access to God and have equal status with Christ (Galatians 4:4-7).
So, based on this conclusion, we are going to pick up from the book of Ephesians and explore this process of adoption in detail. In the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul lays out God’s plan, purpose and how this mystical interweaving transformation process takes place. This is an important topic and has substantial elements about the mystery of our redemption. But for now, we will leave more details to the future sermons where we will be digging deeper as we continue with the sermon series—"Discovering Divine Plan and Purpose thru Ephesians."
Today, we will see Luke’s report about the City of Ephesus and Paul’s missionary journey to Asia Minor. Let us get to the historical background and then we will move on to the theological piece of the Epistle in the coming Sundays. As Max Turner said, “Ephesians is breathtaking in its theological grasp of the scope of God’s purposes in Christ…”
Max is right. The city of Ephesus has a significant place in the first century Roman Empire. Ephesus was the capital city of the Roman province in Asia, present day Turkey. It was a bridge city between the Western and Eastern Roman Empire and was counted among the best cities in the first century. Ephesus was also a wealthy city, home of the main port and market center in Asia, said John L. McKenzie, S.J. It was the hub for religious, commercial, and political ground in her time.
There were incredibly special things in Ephesus that made the city noticeable in ancient time. Ephesus was the home for the temple Artemis. This temple was covered with marvel, and it looked brightly shining, representing the goddess of fertility Artemis. People flocks to Ephesus for rituals and feasts. The statue of Artemis was sacred and business booms for the sale of statues of the god Artemis.
Luke would describe an incident around the controversy between the followers of Artemis and Paul in the city of Ephesus in Acts 19:23-49. The followers of Artemis feared that Paul was going destroy their businesses by the new teaching he was bringing to the city and that people would turn away from the Artemis to follow Jesus. The business leader of the city by the name Demetrius called together a meeting to address the issue, and said, “as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province!7 Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”
Another noticeable feature in Ephesus was the "Great Theater of Ephesus" which was said to have a capacity of thousands of spectators during events. The theater was spectacularly rich, adorned with statues of great Roman emperors and famous citizens. People would come from all over the province to attend music performances, religious and political events, sports, including fights with animals and major celebrations carried out in the theater (1 Corinthians 15:32).
Therefore, Ephesus was an important city for mission and has a great place in Paul’s heart. Paul stayed in the city for two years, an unusual practice for Paul to stay in one place for such a long time. He saw the need and opportunity in the city of Ephesus and the whole province. Paul rent a hall called “Hall of Tyrannus” and taught people every day for two years (Acts 19:10).
Due to this extensive work of Paul, Ephesus became known to many Christians. While Jerusalem was the birthplace of Christianity and Antioch the mission center, Ephesus was considered the city of Christianity and evangelism for the churches in Asia. The 7 Churches of Revelation were founded because of the work done in Ephesus as the Spirit confirms through John. That “I know all that you’ve done for me—you have worked hard and persevered" (Revelation 2:1-2).
According to Luke, Paul briefly visited Ephesus during his second Missionary Journey when the team including Priscilla, Aquilla and Timothy left Corinth for Ephesus. Paul did not plan to stay in the city nor hoped to do any extensive evangelism on that trip, but his mind was faced to Jerusalem and visiting churches he planted in his first journey. Staying for a short period of time and once reasoning in the Synagogues with Jewish leaders, Paul left Ephesus. Yet “on taking leave of them, he said, “I will return to you if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus” to Caesarea” and then to Jerusalem (Acts 18:18-23).
However, during his third Missionary Journey, as he prayed, Paul went back to Ephesus and stayed there for two years, between A.D 56-58 as detailed in Acts 19 through 21:14. On this trip, Paul left Antioch taking routes through the interior regions of Asia minor to Ephesus. In his two year stay, Paul carried out extensive evangelism and teaching activities “that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:20). John McKenzie says the Church of Ephesus was "praised for its orthodoxy and its perseverance in the faith…"
I know these are boring historical details, but I hate to leave them out of our series as well. I also don't want us to go home without getting out of the word of God this Sunday. I promise, I will not be preaching an African sermon today. So please bear with me 😊.
Regarding the epistle, Paul sent this letter as an encouragement while Paul was now in the Roman prison room. The letter is believed to be written by Paul himself and between A.D 60-62 along with Colossians and Philemon. And Paul’s love for the Ephesians has been detailed in his last speech when he invited the elders to meet him in Miletus. “You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:18-21).
In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul introduced himself to his readers and claimed his apostleship -that he was called by God's will - sent in Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to brush off any doubts about his authority and calling. He claimed that he was indeed called by God, and he has the right to address and encourage the Ephesian Church. In the first three chapters, Paul presented the union of Christians in God through Christ. Later, in chapters 4-5, he describes how this divine union is exemplified in human and familial relationships. In chapter 6, Paul exhorted Ephesians to put on the armor of God as they continue to live a Christian life in Ephesus.
This is our takeaway from this tedious introduction. That the book of Ephesians brings to us a rich meaning of God's secret mystery and the process of redeeming humanity in Christ. God’s divine plan is choosing for himself people of whom to bear his name, worship him as Lord and bear witness of his glory (Ephesians 1:12). Jesus exclaimed this truth in the book of John 15:16—"you did not choose me, I chose you…" And in this selection, God blesses us with union in Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and God makes Christians grow both in knowledge and strength (Eph. 1:17).
Second, Paul claims Christians are called to walk with God wholeheartedly in their Christian living. And our unity with Christ is exemplified by the mystical relationship between the church and Christ and just as a marriage between a husband and wife. Paul also encouraged the Ephesians to receive this mystery by faith and in continued seeking, he believes that Christians shall come to the full knowledge of God's love and grace in saving them.
Lastly, God did not set up Christians for a failure. Rather, God equips Christians with spiritual gifts to help fight the devil. Paul encouraged Christians in Ephesus and around the world to utilize God's armor. To stand tall and strong, Christians ought to fasten the belt of truth to support our back (waist) and breastplate of righteousness tightened to guard our hearts from deceit (Ephesians 6:14). Like Roman soldiers who were in a constant struggle to keep or advance their empire, believers are in constant fight. Therefore, they must be ready at all the times so that they are able to withstand all "strategies of the devil” and are able to rescue many for Christ
Friends, we are called to believe in this truth and remain in believing. God's redemptive work is a mystery that can only be perceived in the hearts and through the eyes of faith. We cannot see our inner transformation through the sanctification in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians are convinced and convicted of this renewing process. They can feel it, they can sense it, but because we cannot touch it, it does not make it untrue as countless deny this fact in this world. This process of union in Christ is not and never has been a tale, nor a parable, neither a joke. Rather, it is God's mysterious practical work. Even if we cannot logically prove our co-existence with Christ, we can perceive it by faith.
Reformed theology recognizes this truth and believes that in Christ we have shared identity in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through our baptism. “Because believers are joined to Christ in his mystical way, they share not only his experiences but also his very identity, so that the Father looks upon believers as though they were Christ himself, accounting them Jesus’ status and rights (Galatians 3:26-29).
The big picture in Ephesians is God’s accessibility through Christ; that the church is God’s new humanity, a colony, established as a foretaste of the renewed unity and dignity of the human race. Therefore, the Kingdom of God is open for/to everyone who has faith and puts trust in God, both Jews and Gentiles.
Also, God sustains us in our struggle and Christian life as the chronicles claim "The LORD keeps close watch over the whole earth and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him…” 2 Chronicles 16:9). God, even at this moment, is still seeking for people to receive his grace and invite Christ into their heart and make union with him. It is possible with God!
Let us know that God has destined Christians for adoption and calls us his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the beloved (Ephesians 1:5-6).
Isaiah 61:10-62:5; Galatians 4:4–7
Today, Sunday, December 27, is the first Sunday after Christmas. We've now returned to the real world - a world filled with danger, risk, hurt and evil. A world where children die senselessly; a world where parents live in fear and oppression; a world thirsting for peace and that can easily erupt in genocide at any moment; a world filled with massive storms and earthquakes and tsunamis.
Before we go further, let us look back and see what the Lord taught us in those darkest times of 2020. Let me remind you of a few themes of our sermons, and I do not expect you to remember all of these.
In our lectionary gospel reading, Luke reported that after Mary and Joseph completed the ceremony "required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him." Luke 2:39-40
This simple child is endowed with God's favor, God's power, might and wisdom. He came to the ones of his own. He came as a new beginning of God's purpose. He was the promise. He was the light that Isaiah called Israel to seek after Israel dwelled in the shadow of slavery. In Isaiah 60:1, an astonishing voice of mercy was heard inviting Israel to rise above circumstance, because the light of God has come toward them—to Arise and shine! Israel was in its weakiest moment. Israel was called a rejected, desolate land, forsaken by their own God, and there was no hope for the remnants either. Yet, God broke the dawning light and broke the good news of God's reclaiming Israel. God brings a fresh restart of partnership. Therefore, Israel must recognize the light and make its own little light shine forth to meet the divine offer. God has remembered his commitment and showed his love to Israel once again.
We can see this love manifested through the example of Hosea's marriage to the unfaithful partner. For the sake of the covenant, God has promised to keep loving Israel despite Israel's untrustworthiness character. In the fullness of time, after Israel experienced a period of slavery, God comforted and promised a double reward for the cause (Isaiah 40:1-2). This happened not because of Israel's goodness or any merit, but only that God's love compelled God to have compassion on Israel. The author of Lamentations recalls the experience and said: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends; His mercies never cease.” (Lamentations 3:22)
Scholars agreed on one thing, that Isaiah 60-62 is believed to be a proclamation of the good news to Israel. When we read these chapters, we can see voices of a speaker and of the receiver while God remained silent in the background. Israel expressed gratitude for God's mercy and deliverance and said, — "I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10-11).
God, on the other hand, broke his silence and promised to remain Israel's defender and that he won't rest until his full purpose is accomplished— "until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch (Isaiah 62:1). As Charles Cousar says, 'the exuberant joyfulness in the face of so much present and future hardship is quite remarkable." What has been the old experience is now and will be the future hope that rests and source from within.
This hope is to be "born of a woman" says Paul, making many friends, and making their deliverance possible. This promise has been fulfilled with Jesus's Birth as the light to the world and in his ministry as he claimed on a Sabbath when he was given the scroll and read from Isaiah. That the promises of God have been fulfilled and that he had come (Luke 4:14-19).
In his daily study commentary, William Barclay, describes security with God both inward and outward: Inwardly, he says, "The inward characteristic is the awareness of the love of God, the deep awareness that we cannot drift beyond his care, the sense that the everlasting arms are underneath us. One of the basic needs of life is security, and we find that need met in the consciousness of the unchanging love of God." God never changes and his love is an endless ocean to us. In the moment of despair, God promises to shoot up a new beginning, a new way that helps us look into the matters of the world around us. God puts himself in position for your cause. God will not take rest until a messenger is appointed and you're informed of God's great news. This can be hearing a scripture on Sunday, reading the Bible, chatting with a friend, or even hearing the whisper of God's voice into our hearts.
God promised Israel a new beginning. He also tells us he will robe us with RIGHTEOUSNESS and it will be a perfect robe— (not like mine). God's robe is God's presence, renewal, and close relationship with us. God will bring springs of joy in time of sorrow. In those moments, where God seems distant, the whisper of the Holy Spirit wakens our covenant relationship and our commitment to God. You and I are given a new name and will be called: Chosen, Forgiven, Delight, and God's own crown. No more will you be called rejected, desolate, old, and powerless. But in God's newness, you will be young in heart, renewed in hope like Abraham; and let this be true to us in the year 2021.
As the bridegroom finds joy in his union with his bride, so will your God take joy in his union with you! (Isaiah 61:11). A new day is about to dawn in the relationship between God and the people. As the end of captivity brought Joy to Israel, may the new year end the pain and suffering of our people and the whole world through this virus.
This message is personal to me as well, you have accepted and shown me love through my ministry. And thank you for accepting me in my filthy robe today and in our struggles to make the service possible throughout this year. Thank you to many of you who, behind the scenes, have been helping and making the service, our newsletters, and websites possible and better. Thank you for your love and acceptance of me, even in my crazy moments of losing the entire PowerPoint or adding hymns to the PowerPoint sometimes. Your patience has made my weakness turn to strength and fear to greater confidence. In my wants, needs and despair, you reach out with great support and your generosity has brightened our Christmas this year.
It's true that God's intention and greater purpose for our lives is transformation and rebuilding. It's about restoration and reunion with him and it takes on personal responsibility. “In the Jewish world, on the first Sabbath after a boy had passed his twelfth birthday, his father took him to the Synagogue, where he became A Son of the Law. The father thereupon uttered a benediction, ‘Blessed be thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility for this boy.’ The boy prayed a prayer in which he said, ‘O my God and God of my fathers! On this solemn and sacred day, which marks my passage from boyhood to manhood, I humbly raise my eyes unto thee, and declare with sincerity and truth, that henceforth I will keep thy commandments, and undertake and bear the responsibility of mine actions towards thee.’ There was a clear dividing line in the boy's life; almost overnight he became a man.” William Barclay
Alluded to this experience, Paul told Galatians that they are in union with God as faithful adults when they accept Christ Jesus. They do not belong to the laws or the legal codes that had served as guardian until the coming of the gospel. The gospel, then, has brought us deliverance from the law. This deliverance is the gift of God and God's only love that bring us unity. This unity is compared to the best Robe, only made prefect by God through Christ and its God's salvation which we receive by faith. As Paul states, "…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God." Galatians 4:4–7
Therefore, we are heirs of God with full rights to access God, and God's goodness and possession. As children, we have full confidence to approach God and ask of him everything we need. And God has and will cause your deliverance. He has and will transform you from within. He will remain as your "glory within” to guide, as you continue your journey with him to the new year—2021! The secret to keeping the joy of Christmas and to maintaining our union with God, is to keep finding and seeking the face of God! So, may it be true for you now and through 2021!
Here's the link to the Youtube service. All photos, videos, and pictures are from our church. A little taste of home and Christmas! Peace to you and your family!
Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
4th Sunday of Advent
Today, the gospel of Luke brings us a terrifying announcement to a young girl. An angel appeared to Mary to break a strange news to hear; a news that was out of context; but the news was about an extraordinary gift of a child. She was frightened as she encountered an angelic being. Imagine that a strange creature appeared to you at night. What would you do? How would you react? More surprisingly, this obscure being is talking to you in your own language! Think how terrifying a moment it might be!
I always remember a story of an old woman from my village when I read Mary's story. The woman saw herself in a mirror for the first time in her life. Her nephew had brought home a mirror from a nearby town and placed the mirror in the far end of the hut. The aunty had no knowledge about the strange object in the hut. One afternoon this woman, looking for an item, entered the hut and saw her reflection in the mirror. She had no front upper teeth in the past, and her lower teeth were removed due to our tradition. That afternoon what the woman saw was a monster with closed teeth staring at her. She ran out screaming, "lääy dagø yi øtø"—meaning, there is unidentifiable animal inside the hut. When the villagers came to her rescue, they found a mirror, everyone saw their own reflection, but there was no animal in the hut. Do not yield to your fear, is the message for our 4th Sunday of Advent today.
The text for today begins by reporting that Elizabeth was in her six-month pregnancy when the angel appeared to Mary. Let us take time and see the parallel context of the preceding passages. Luke 1:12-20—the angel appeared to Zacharias, while Luke 1:26-38 presents the same angel appearing to Mary breaking the news that the impossible can be possible, and the unimaginable is now conceivable. The story of Elizabeth and Mary breaks the trajectory of human experience—the old brings out anew and the young brings forth a new beginning. The stories appear to portray both Mary and Zechariah yielding to their fear as they were presented with the impossible. While Zachariah briefly was made mute until the birth of the child, Mary submitted to the sovereignty of God. She realized she was powerless but believed only God can do the impossible (Luke 1:12-20; Luke 1:26-38).
Also, when the angel appeared— “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear” (v. 12). Mary was "confused and disturbed” (v. 29). “But the angel said [to Zechariah], ‘Don’t be afraid’ (v. 13).” And to Mary, “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told her” (v. 30). “Your wife Elizabeth will give you a son,” said Gabriel, (v. 13). And the angel said to Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son” (v. 31); “you are to name him John” (v. 13),” you will name him Jesus” (v. 31).
While John “will be great in the eyes of the Lord,” (v. 15); Jesus “…will be very great and will be called the Son of the Highest” (v. 32). John "will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God (v.16); and Jesus will reign over Israel (v. 33). Both Zechariah and Mary, presented their doubts; “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years” Zechariah complained (v. 18). “But how can this happen? I am a virgin,” Mary presented her fear (v. 34).
Then Gabriel assured them, “I am Gabriel, [sent by God], my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time” (v. 19-20). To Mary, "The angel replied,” The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” (v. 35). This is to assure Mary that God’s presence, his protection, and the encouragement will rest upon her even when she cannot understand the whole plan of Yahweh. God will protect and strengthen Mary against all the shame, the name calling, the fear and all other cultural stigmas that might come as part of Mary's conception.
Unlike Matthew, Luke's focus lies on God's intervention with the human world when recording the birth story. Luke did not waste time on chronological order, biological connection, but his emphasis is on Jesus, the subject of his writing. He emphasizes Jesus is the son of God of the Most High; he is the Messiah; the promised one whose background traced back to Jesse and king David. His aim is to present the new acts of God in the new age and the long expecting hope. Luke wants to encourage his readers to stay firm in the hearing of this strange story of heavenly affairs to the human world. He brings “the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s saving purpose” Charles B Cousar.
Jesus is the promised Messiah and scriptures prove this promise. As Isaiah promised, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (Isaiah 1:1). A dead stump will shoot out a new beginning. You may think of a pruned tree giving out new leaves and branches. But it is impossible for a dead stump to bring out a new shoot of the same tree. There might be an algae, mushrooms or different organisms growing out of it. This biological and forestry logic is unheard of. The announcement of Gabriel has broken every logical thinking of this world order. God disclosed his love ‘TO” us in a mysterious way—on Christmas.
We can see two inconceivable facts: an old woman giving birth to a child and a virgin giving birth to a baby, are hard to reconcile and understand. Yet, the angel broke the news and strengthened his hearers, to "not yield to fear." It is possible for God. Yes, God has said in the past, that "In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples… the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people… (Isaiah 11:10-11). God has for the second time gave a chance for his people. His banner is not fear, nor a discouragement, but love and comfort over us. The announcement is to inform us how hopes can be fulfilled, impossible can be overcome when God intervenes in our story.
The women who were in cultural and unnatural despair were brought hope and love. The assurance was in the angel's identification and in the greetings, he offered saying, "you have found favor with God"; God's unmerited grace is in Godself—"the impassible things [are] accomplished by God." Charles B. Cousar.
What does this mean to us today? It is about God’s assurance of his presence; God’s encouragement; and God’s gift of love and mercy on us through the newborn child. Luke’s portrayal of his characters tells us that we are all passive objects of God's intervention. Mary responded, “let it be according to your word,” even if she could not fully understand God’s plan. God's action for humans’ salvation, is always a mystery.
It’s about human life experience and the gospel of hope and love. "Life can be difficult; sometimes a [person] is beaten to his[/her] knees by the battering that it gives to him [her]. Life can be perilous, sometimes a [person] is like to fall in the slippery places of temptation. The gospel is God's power to save; that power which keeps a [person] erect, even when life is at its worst and its most threatening.” William Barclay.
The angel confirms the miracle Elizabeth already had experienced. and “Mary quietly accepted the promise without any hint of the doubts …." I. Howard Marshall.
After that terrifying encounter, Mary, took a trip to visit her cousin. Therefore, do not yield to your fear, stay firm, and let it be according God’s own will.
It is about our relationship to Jesus. We are of Jesus and he is of us. We can all see our reflections in him because we are made heirs of God through him. We should not yield to our fear, because, like my villagers, Jesus is our mirror. We can see him in us (well not our teeth) 😊. The book of Hebrews says, “For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered; he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb 1:14-18).
We see our reflection in him, he is in us and one of us. He is our mirror; the savior is to be born and bring God’s favorable love to us. On Christmas, the Mystery of God is finally disclosed and encourages everyone to:
Therefore, Jesus comes as savior; he is Emmanuel who promises to remain and make his dwelling among us. Jesus is not a stranger but one of us; and if one of us, then there is no reason to yield to our fears. He will be beside us to guide and give us divine support in our faith journey.
Today Luke tells us of our faith. It is true that faith does not make things easy- but will make hard things possible. Like Mary, let us accept our calling and the love of God and say, “let it be with me according to your word.” Jesus the savior of the world is to be born to us; he is the Messiah, the Christ!
1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
Has my joy been shaken? As the year comes to an end, this might be a question we could all ask ourselves whether our joys and hopes have been compromised during trying times in the year 2020. It is true that everyone of us has been touched by this adamant virus. The virus has brought fear, uncertainty, and confusion. It seems there is no end to this dreadful time. Many of us are asking when we could see better times again.
Year 2020 has been a different year and has brought on us overriding challenges. The question, now, is whether we still have confidence in God's protection and believe his deliverance? Do we see God's gift of hope? Are we certain that God would restore us again?
In the last three Sundays of Advent, scriptures have been talking about the anticipation of Jesus' return at the end of the ages not as an infant on Christmas. We expect Advent to offer something uplifting and promising. However, these past Sundays have been about Jesus return to judge and condemn, even today while we are praying and anticipating Joy.
As Paul comes to the conclusion of his first letter of Thessalonians, he took a greater interest to emphasize on the most important aspects of a Christian life. He needed the Thessalonians to be anchored on the foundation of Jesus Christ and maintain a faithful Christian living. Paul urged them to live lives filled with joy; encouraged by prayer and inspirited by thankfulness.
As Thessalonian believers expected an imminent return of Christ, Paul reminds them how "they are faced with a new kind of discernment as they are forced to determine the particularity of the will of God in the challenges of their everyday lives." Charles B. Cousar.
Paul describes God’s will for the Thessalonians with continued phrases; that they should Rejoice always, pray without ceasing despite their circumstance and often be thankful. Paul suggests life of service that is “characterized by delight, by gratitude and by confidence" (Charles B. Cousar). It is life marked with discovering joy in the mist of circumstances.
The word "joy" has been an important term from the announcement of the “Good News" to Mary until the ascension of Christ to the heavenly throne. The angel encouraged Mary to not be afraid “for you have found favor with God!" (Luke 1:30). "You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth," the angels announced to Zechariah (Luke 1:13-14). Then Elizabeth's baby "leaped for joy" to the greeting from Mary (Luke 1:44). The wise men "filled with joy" after the star had stopped where the baby was born (Matthew 2:10). The women were "filled with great joy" after they learned the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28:8). Also, disciples were "filled with joy and wonder" after Jesus was lifted from their eyes and ascended to his Father (Luke 24:41).
As we can see from these incidents, Joy has the character of awakening. Joy comes as sudden; it surprises in nature and it is arising to the fullness. No wonder the psalms says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).” Troubles and trials may linger, but God has promised a surprising joy. Tomorrow isn’t always the next day; tomorrow is a mystery and rests in the salvific correlation of God grace.
Take Israel for example after 70 years of exile. They remembered their experience and said, “It was like a dream come true when you freed us from our bondage and brought us back to Zion!” (Psalm 126). They could not believe their dark days have been expelled and the light of hope and the joy has prevailed. Therefore, joy comes on God’s own timing and not our own.
Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “Rejoice in the Lord always" (5:16). But you may ask whether someone can rejoice when they are engulfed in life circumstances, and can they rejoice always? Can we rejoice when our medical results return with surprising findings? Can we rejoice when we live in fear and the virus is lurking around? What about when we lose our loved ones? Can we rejoice when we are in the hospital beds? Can we rejoice when a health condition persists?
Paul seems to affirm his statement. That, yes, we can find hope and still rejoice. That we should not be mortified, confounded, and subdued by circumstance in our lives. Yet, let us not take Paul wrong and misunderstand his point. Paul does not suggest that we should be joyful, and thankful FOR our hardships and troubles. However, he encourages us, that IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, we remain confident in God’s promise. For Paul, our joy does not depend on the changes of the weather, or in the absence of troubles, or on our best wishes, our gain or wants.
Our joy is grounded on Christ, the giver and sustainer of our life. "Christians have grounds for joy in both their experience of salvation and their hope of what will do in the future, but they need to express that joy; there is a right and proper place for the expression of joyful emotion." (Howard Marshall)
Jesus prayed that the disciples “may have [his] joy made complete in themselves" (John 17:13). Also, Joy is one of Jesus' beatitudes. He encouraged the disciples to rejoice when enduring circumstance for righteousness. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12).
Therefore, in any situation, “Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything, be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.” God’s will for you and I is to have confidence in his promise, deliverance, and gift of a savior. We are called to the life of discernment as we walk by faith and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. With this determination we are able "to hold fast to what is good", what is encouraging and sustaining (1 Thess. 5:19-22).
John the Baptist gave a great testimony and helped his audience to look toward Jesus as the promised lamb of God, the Messiah, the light sent to expel darkness in every life. He proclaimed and said, “For the Light of Truth was about to come into the world and shine upon everyone.” The NIV translates this verse in a present perfect conditional tense. This means the incident has present effect and we see the result as we speak. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). The event of the light has taken place and the effect is seen in the present real life.
As we observe the season of joy and anticipating the birth of the infant Jesus, John the Baptist calls us to know Jesus as the gift of God for our darkness. With Jesus' coming, we will find purpose of life in him. We will not sit in our own darkness and will not carry our own burdens. Christ will heal us and carry our worries as we welcome him into our hearts. Like the people of Zebulun and those of Naphtali, we have been sitting for too long in hopelessness. Yet on Christmas and through the birth of Jesus, we will see and receive the light of hope and death will be no more after Jesus defeated death on Easter morning (Matthew 4:14-16).
God will finally bring forth his promise to remain in and with us. "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 ቃልም ሥጋ ሆነ ጽጋንና እዉነትንም ተሞልቶ በእኛ አደረ... Christians, even now as we speak, feel the presence of this word as the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The word teaches, guides, and exhorts us in our Christian living. He is our hope and brings our joy to its fullness.
Therefore, let your joy remain stable and always; remember each other in our prayers and be thankful to God for the gift of love to the world. Remember each and every one in your prayers so that your joy remains stable. Paul did not see himself higher over the Thessalonians, but he too, asked his followers to pray for him. As William Barclay said, “It is a wonderful thing that the greatest saint of them all should feel that he was strengthened by the prayer of the humblest Christians.”
After she was told by the angel that her cousin Elizabeth was in her 6th month of pregnancy, Mary did not deny her need to go visit her. Elizabeth had passed through the impossible and Mary saw the need to go talk to her and learn from her. Remember that there is always a friend, a relative, a church member or a neighbor who has gone through your pain and valley of your life. This encourages us that we should talk to and pray with others.
Most importantly, let us remember to spread joy, to make him known and proclaim that God has given the greatest gift to the world. Soon this baby of Bethlehem will challenge the world order, disperse religious egos, and proclaim God's salvation that is obtained only by faith and reconcile us to God.
Therefore, rejoice, pray, and give thanks always, knowing that it is the outpouring will of God for us as Christians. God will maintain your joy in trials until the appearing of our Lord Jesus. Remember that, "the one who calls you by name is trustworthy and will thoroughly complete his work in you"(1 Thessalonians 5:24). Amen!
ISAIAH 40:1–11, MARK 1:1–8
Today, the gospel of Mark brings a BIZARRE STORY about a man for the Second Sunday of Advent. While Isaiah spoke of this man as a "voice crying in the wilderness," the gospel of Mark identifies this person as John the Baptist. His story was strange to us today in many ways. First, John made his living in the wilderness and lived with wild animals. He was eating Locusts and wild honey for his diet. Lastly, John wore Camal's skin to cover himself—sounds primitive!
Both passages bring to us the message of readiness in our calling, comfort in our weary, deliverance in weakness, and peace in our distress and hope in our sorrows. Isaiah comforted Israel in the Babylonian exile, promising deliverance from God. That God has forgiven his people and now it is time for God to accomplish his divine purpose by taking his people back to their promised land. That, the messenger has been discharge to "break the good news" of restoration to his people.
The gospel message speaks of John the Baptist, who did not desire to live in big Manson, a nice house, or even in a tent. He was not interested in eating hamburgers, fries, and chicken sandwich. There were no hot wings for appetizer nor chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Yet, even in his uncomfortable situation, John was ready for the purpose to "break the news of the coming of the Messiah." He proclaimed a message of repentance, forgiveness and return to God.
You may ask whether John had indeed eaten Locusts? The Answer is a BIG YES! John the Baptist "ate Locusts and wild honey." Eating Locusts may sound disgusting. However, Locusts were prefect diets for John the Baptist. And YES, John did not wear a suit, or even a T-shirt, but what he wore were made of a camel skin and his belt was made from a fresh leather. This too, sound uncivilized.
John was ready and he has all the equipment for the task. The Camel skin helps protect from the severe heart of the wilderness and the leather belt support his back as he walks long ways. Honey has antioxidants and Locust has portion to build up strength.
Yes, it is primitive for us today in the 21st century. For ancient Israel, Locust was the type of insect allowed by mosaic law in the Torah-extract. "Every flying insect that uses four legs for walking shall be avoided by you. The only flying insects with four walking legs that you may eat are those which have knees extending above their feet, [using this longer leg] to hop on the ground. Among thee you may only eat members of the red locust family, the yellow locust family, the spotted gray locust family, and the white locust family. All other flying insects with four feet [for walking] must be avoided by you." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, ohr.edu: (Ask the Rabbi April 30, 1994, Issue #19)
How does Locust test? Served as are Kosher snacks, many people say Locusts test like chicken and crunchy in texture. This may not surprise you either. Take Africa for example, different kinds of insects are eaten by different ethnic groups all over Africa. As anthropologists/sociologist would say, the beauty of a culture/tradition is in the eyes of the beholder, say anthropologies.
Therefore, eating Locusts for John was normal. He was content with his lifestyle (Philippians 4:12-13). Even if his food and clothing seem uncomforting, John was buckled-up and was at peace with himself while in the wilderness. He was ready for the task given from God. And at the right time, John was discharged to remind people, exhort them, and call Israel to repent and return to God and the God of their fathers. He called for a new life in Israel. He led simple life but equipped to deliver a message from God.
John appeared, in the wilderness after 400 plus years of God's silence since the prophet Malachi. In those four hundred years, people had lost the meaning of life and tend to wander around over gods. Yet, Jehovah Adonai raised up a prophet to restore the fortune of Israel and bring back the nation to its path.
John the Baptist had the Spirit and zeal of the prophet Elijah as it was promised by prophet Malachi, saying, "Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" " (Malachi 4:4) (Luke 1:17). John came to draw attention to God. He was a hairy man like Elijah, “a hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). Elijah was a miracle worker, a messenger who encountered King Ahab and his wife. He prayed and there was no rain in Israel for three years because people chose to worship Baal over the God of Israel. After three years, Elijah defeated queen Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. He destroyed the worship of Baal at Mounty Carmel and led the people back to worship Yahweh (1 King 18).
One more thing, in the ancient days, there were no microphones, emails, Facebook, Tik-Tok, snapchat etc. to help spread their message to people. The messengers had to go around on foot announcing the message from one location to another, so that people could hear them. They use their voices, etc. to call attention to their message. A message could be a King's edict, public announcement for a special meeting or a call for war. People go out to listen to a prophet.
I remember back in Africa when a messenger would walk round my village from one location to another. They would repeat the message twice and people close to the road would ask him questions for a better understanding. Then when the messenger voice or the trumpet does not sound for the next five minutes, it would be understood that everyone had received the message. But people would continue asking others about the announcement. At that point, everyone is assumed to receive the message and are tasked to pass on the message.
This is similar with John experience and ancient Israel. People kept pouring to listen to John because the message has been passed on from one person to another. It was done human to human connection!
God's promise was fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3). John was a long-promised messenger to come and prepare the way for Christ's coming. When John emerged from the wilderness, people were interested to see, hear, and even talk to him (Mark 1:7).
Like Elijah, John asked people to repent and chose to live a life fit for repentance. His Baptism was for the change of hearts to God—as making a "U" turn when you make a wrong exit. His message meant to remind people of forgiveness and reconciliation. He compared this newness or change as of constructing a highway, where the valleys are filled-in and the hills made low. He called upon everyone to make such radical change, in that the whole world shall see the glorious salvation of God. A World at peace and everyone cares for one another.
John made it clear, that Messiah will be "baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire. Meaning people will be baptized into Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. As with fire, means everyone will be made accountable and responsible for their act of faith. He called people out of Jerusalem, back to the wilderness at the Jordan river. For many people, we may think John had lost his mind by asking people to leave behind their comfort life. But this was the prophetic model. Elijah too, had called queen Jezebel and his people out to Mount Carmel. There, Baal was defeated, and people entered the city with the rain pouring after three years of draught.
Here, John recreated Israel's entry to the promise land and to Jerusalem. Remember, Jordan was the last River the Israelites had crossed when entering the promise land. During the first entry, Joshua called out leaders and elders of the 12 tribes ad laid stones to help crossover to the new land.
Now John symbolized this event. By his call to baptism in the Jordan river, John the Baptist signified the spiritual reinter to the promise land. It was calling for new partnership with God and make people ready to receive the promised Messiah. He tasked people to go and "break the good news" they had just received. He had made it clear all-along to people, that he was not the Messiah. But he was the forerunner in the preparation for the coming of the promised One.
I can go on and on with literal background of this rich story. But let us turn to what it means to us today. First the location of John's activities present challenge to the temple practice, temple goers without real change and life of faith. His message exhorts to virtue and self-righteousness. He demands purity of heart, repentance of guilt and forgiveness. This too, is a call for us today to step out of our comfort zones in our ministry.
Second, John calls us for renewal; Isiah invites us to partner with God during this advent. As Israel returned to God when years of exile ended, we too, are remined the drawing new of the light of hope. We are called out to accept the message of God with pure hearts. The voice calling us to the church outside beyond the building walls. In every advent season we begin a new journey with God and reminded of our experience's wilderness/ of life circumstances. In his journey, the Lord assures us his presence. On Christmas Hope of new life is born again in our hearts. Yeshua, the savior confirms his indwelling among us—as Emmanuel—God with us!
Third, as John had his full armor of God, we are asked to do the same this time as we journey through Advent. You and I are demanded to "fasten the belt of truth" and "put on the breastplate of righteousness" and break the good news of God's grace (Ephesians 6:10-17). As John asked his attendees, the Lord asks us today to empty ourselves and to "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:13).
Fourth, we are strengthened and comforted in our darkness of life. "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40:1-2). This season, the Lord is taking us back to his intended purpose. He assures us of forgiveness, and gracious gift of salvation—it is accomplished through Christ! Our hope in Advent "…is not grounded in the possibilities we can see in the human community, but in the faithfulness of God that is not conditioned by human frailty or fickleness" Charles B Cousar.
Fifth, God is doing something new in our wilderness as we are reminded of our Baptism. God speaks anew into the silence and desolation of our lives when we repent, listen, and recognize his voice. The Lord brings assurance and solidarity to us—God is always faithful to his promises.
Take our current situation for example. We long for a time where everyone is set free; where no mask is required; where everyone talk to family member, a friend, a coworker freely without being cautious of contacting the virus. This time was like the exiles to whom the message of deliverance was first broken. They were anticipating a day when they were all set free and enjoy peace at last.
It is the same for us today during this season. We are all exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and weary spiritually and hope for a new day. We are anticipating Christ's birth. God's promise of care and concern for you, in your moments. “Like a shepherd the Lord will take care of his people. He will gather his children, carries them in his arms and leads nursing mothers through the long journey of the desert… " (Isaiah 40:11).
Therefore, as Israelites were tasked to prepare a road for the coming of Yahweh, now we are informed to make our hearts ready. Human heart is center of our change. It is the temple of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. From our hearts the spring of life and the living water flows (Prov. 4:23; John 7:38). In this season, make peace, love one another, take care of the poor, and feed the needy. In that, God comes and indwells in our hearts and make his living in midst. Then we will be blessed with the gifts, of compassion, and forgiveness, care, toward others and build unity with our neighbors.
Sixth, the work of evangelism is to show God and newness where none seemed possible. As messengers of the good news, we are dispatched to speak, break the news (mĕbaššēr"/ መስበር) loudly and clear calling people to be at peace, stable and ready in these trying times. You are called to break the news of the new season where light shines through the dense darkness and shall not overcome. A message of breakthrough, that gives future for those who has no future. Let us acquire a passion for the gospel message and bring comfort to the brokenhearted, of assurance of peace and a promising future.
Lastly, let us be content with our lives and run the race of faith as we prepare to receive the newborn Messiah (Philippians 4:12-13). May Christ finds a space in our hearts on Christmas Day, where our spiritual exile ends, darkness of our circumstances is dispelled and drought of desire for peace yields to springs of water of blessings through Christ. Life begins anew, whole, safe, protected. Everything comes anew after hearing the good news proclaimed and act on it. As we are reminded of our Baptism, know that we are renewed, revived and "…everything old [left behind]; everything become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Therefore, let us be ready and prepare our hearts for Christ’s return as a Baby born in Bethlehem. Let us welcome the Messiah and proclaim ["mĕbaššēr"] the good news to everyone. Peace to you and to the whole world!
Mark 13:24–37; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9
First Sunday in Advent
It is the first Sunday in Advent Season. A time of expectation, waiting and watchfulness. A time of prayer for hope, peace, joy, and love as the dawning light of the promised child approaches. This time of the year, once again, we feel the urgency to prepare for Jesus’ coming on Christmas day. So, let me ask you. How are you feeling in the wait? Are you anxious? Are you sitting or standing? How you wait matters.
Many people think that our tradition might have changed the concept and the doctrine of Advent and Christmas. This sounds convincing to me. Because narrowing down the Advent season to only four weeks’ counting in our culture, seems to shade the whole meaning of the season. Advent becomes more secular and money-oriented, as everyone buys Christmas gifts for loved ones. Then Advent becomes a four week and Christmas as onetime event every year. Also, church seems to pause from the watching and waiting when Christmas is left behind.
However, Jesus reminds us today and calls us to watchfulness and to be alert as we wait for his return (Mark 13:24–37). This means we are to observe the three phases of advent: The first advent (Jesus is born in Bethlehem), (the everyday Advent), the resurrected and the now present Jesus, and the Second Advent (the ascended and the returning King Jesus). If the scripture is true, then, any time before and beyond the season of Advent, is considered as the season of anticipation for the church. Our faith journey and everyday life is part of the Advent Season.
Our gospel today calls our attention to the Second coming of Jesus, not as a baby, but as a judge and King. King Jesus, as we learned last Sunday, will return with a multitude of angels. He will sit on his glorious throne and separate the sheep from the goat. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Jesus talks about his second coming and I agree it doesn’t sound promising. But let us remember that, there is no first Advent without the Second Advent. “By the same token, confidence in the Second Advent is possible only when the church recollects the fulfilment of the first advent” says Charles B. Cousar.
The old testament refers to this day as “the day of the Lord” and our passage today is dense with OT quotations. The prophets: Joel, Isiah, Jeremiah, Micha, Malachi, Daniel, etc. referred to this day as sudden, beyond our control and our predictions. The day of “tumult and trampling and terror,” a day of battering down walls, a day of tribulation. A day filled with darkness and awful crisis. For this reason, the prophets had been calling on the people of Israel to be prepared and be ready if they wish to be spared from the judgment of the Lord (Malachi 3:16-18). “Who can endure the day of his coming?” Malachi asked. This, indeed, doesn’t look like the day of Advent we are waiting for this season.
Like many of you, I would love to hear a more promising message this season as we are battling the Coronavirus pandemic. We can relate the Second Advent to our current situation and the hope for a vaccine. We are hopeful, as the news has been reporting that, soon, the scientists will deliver a vaccine to help contain the virus. But the vaccine will not help those who are not willing to be vaccinated. Only those who receive vaccination will have confidence in the protection of the vaccine, they will feel secure in the face of the virus. They will be careful but not fearful and terrified, even if there would be another wave of the virus.
This is true with the Second Coming of Jesus for those who believe. The PCUSA doctrine of the Christ’s Second coming affirms this fact. The doctrinal statement correlates to my theme for this first Sunday of Advent. That “The doctrine of Christ’s Second Advent is not intended to terrify. Rather, it is aimed at motivating faithfulness in time of tedium as well as in times of crisis. Believing in Jesus’ certain return provides encouragement when life seems purposeless or when evil seems to be too powerful to overcome. Rather than being anxious and pessimistic, God’s people trust hopefully and live joyfully because in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has revealed the divine purpose of well-being for all.” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
What an affirmative statement! I must stop here, I guess. This doctrinal statement says-it-all and provides us with the truth of the Second Advent. Besides its awfulness, tumultuous and terror, the Second Advent comes with rewards for those who believe. It provides healing and enlightens hope: The day of the Lord comes with hope and healing. Malachi says, “for you who revere [the name of the Lord], the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2. The day of the Lord, will elevate the desire for relationship. The Lord will appear to those who desire life, open their hearts, confess their trespasses, and repent from their past. This process is compared to a process of a refinery and washing with fuller’s soap. Then, the Lord they are seeking will come to the temple of their hearts and made a covenantal relationship (Malachi 3:1-3). And this day will bring New Life and New Beginning: The day of the Lord brings final restoration of God’s people to God’s Kingdom. And the dwelling of God will with men and God will live with them and God will be their King and their light forever (Rev. 21:3; Micah 4:1-2). A new partnership is established!
Therefore, “anticipation of Christ’s return enables us to enter this struggle as vigorously as if it were the eve of the last day. It exists in us as an expectation that God continues to redeem the world.” Charles Wiley. Charles tells us the truth, if I read that correctly. That we should live our lives as if we are in the eve of the day of the Second Advent. Jesus also cautioned us on how we are awaiting the second coming. He encourages us to be alert and patient because how we wait matters.
They said there was a man at one of the packed Delta ticket counters in one of our airports: All of ticket agents were doing their best to politely process each passenger as quickly as they could. Toward the end of the snaking line was a passenger obviously impatient and very frustrated at having to wait so long in the slow-moving line. He finally decided to march right up to the counter and demanded that he be given a boarding pass. The ticket agent turned, looked at him, blinked, took a shallow, deep breath and said, "sir, as you can see there are many passengers ahead of you. We are doing our best to process the passengers as fast as we can. I'm afraid you'll have to get back in line." Outraged and red in face, the man yelled at the ticket agent saying, "do you know who I am!!!? The ticket agent turned, looked at him, blinked, took another shallow, deep breath, picked up the public address system microphone and said calmly, "There is a man at the Delta ticket counter who does not know who he is. Anyone who may be able to identify this man is asked to please step forward and identify him. Thank you." (5jokes)
How are your feelings in your waiting? Are you getting frustrated? Many of us are impatient like the man at the Delta counter and think that the end is getting further away. We submit to the deceit of our emotions which unconsciously make burnt out like the "not-wise" virgins in parable of Matthew 25 :1-13. Then we forget "who we are." Some of us lose hope and stop moving in the line of faith; some of us want to skip the line overall and start to speculate about when the day of the Lord will come. Some of us become skeptics and reluctant when we are pressured by life circumstances. For this reason, Jesus warns us to “learn a lesson from the fig tree,” and remain alert and watchful because—the Second coming is “unknown and Sudden.” It comes with no warning and no one predicts it. Beware of the false teachers who will lead you astray from the truth, Jesus said.
The Scriptures do not deny the side-effects of the long waiting. We are informed that with the long wait, we will be facing numerous challenges. There will be:
The Son of Man, the owner of the house, the church, is coming back! He warns the church and the members to be alert. His warning helps us to avoid being trapped in what I termed the five Side-effects of waiting. You are advised to be alert but hopeful in his return. Yet, let us remember that, "Advent is neither a time of silly optimism nor an invitation to self-indulgent despair, nor even a hope built on the shaky foundations of experience. It is the hope, the only hope worth having, hope for the confidence that translates our dangerous impatience into expectant living in the here and now. It is the hope that aspires toward the future that is in God and for which the farmer is the example." Everett C. Goodwill.
However, the loving God did not leave us empty-handed in this waiting. God has blessed us with hope that rests on the conviction that we are destined for life-eternity, not for his wrath and destruction. God has enriched us with the blessing of heavens: we belong to Christ; God equips us with discernment and knowledge; he sanctified believers through the blood of Christ. Paul assured us of God’s promise, saying, "God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9).
Therefore, know that you are called to help one another by utilizing your gifts and offer encouragement to make everyone strong in faith as we keep watching and anticipating Christ’s Second Coming. Whether Jesus comes as a baby, on Christmas Day, or now as he is present in the Holy Spirit, or when he comes as King to judge and reward the elect, you and I are warned to wait and be watchful! Remember that “we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth [the Lord] has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).
ADVENT IS HERE!
We pray for Hope
MATTHEW 25: 31-46, EPHESIANS 1: 15-23
I once heard a joke about a king who sent his soldiers to an operation and his Knight was leading the operation. Then the Knight and his men returned to the castle after a long hard day of raiding.
“How are we advancing?” The king asked.
“Sire,” the Knight replied, “I have been robbing and plundering ruthlessly, burning the towns and farms of the enemies to the west.
“What?!” shouted the king. I don’t have enemies in the west!
“Oh, no…” says the Knight. “Well, you now do.” (5jokes)
After reading this passage, one would see Jesus having more enemies to the left when he returns to separate the Sheep from Goats on judgment day. While scriptures teach that salvation is by faith and not by good works, one may assume that this passage presents a reward for good works.
Here is the fact. The Protestant Reformation was built on the Biblical truth of salvation by faith and rejected any form of church systemic principles and concepts attributed to human salvation. Salvation is unmerited favor of God and it comes by God’s grace. Salvation cannot be earned, nor achieved on the basis of human endeavor, but it is solely a gift from God alone. It is God's initiative and action.
Yet, this passage seems to present something different when we read that the sheep are ushered to the Kingdom of God because they have done good to others. But is it true that the sheep are received in the Kingdom of God because of their charitable works? Did Jesus demand good works as the basis for our salvation? These are few questions anyone reading this story would struggle to understand--
Remember, Jesus used parables in most of his teachings. His Parables were based on life experiences, cultural practices, and allegories of his time. People understood, reflected on them, and applied them to their faith lives. In a few cases Jesus would tell the disciples what the parables means. Yet, parables are hard to comprehend, to find meaning and apply, mostly for us in the 21st century. Our trust is in the wisdom and knowledge of the Holy Spirit, the counselor— (John 14:26).
In Matthew 25 alone there are two parables and the third part of the passage, is the teaching of Jesus about his return. We learn about the parable of the ten virgins—(about saving faith); the parable of the talents— (about Service faith); and the story where Jesus put forward the kingdom future— (Gracious faith).
Let me refresh our memories for a few seconds and explore the background. Jesus was in the temple with his disciples in the prior chapter, (Matthew 24). They left the temple passing through the Kidron Valley to mount Olive. In the later chapters, this would be the same path for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and too, where he would be praying at Gethsemane, and then when he would be led to Golgotha.
The disciples lagged after church. They kept gazing at the temples’ beauty. When they came up, they tried “to call his attention” to the features of the temple and asked him of his return and the signs preceding his coming (Matthew 24:1-3)
Now, they were on the mountain top. They sat down and Jesus began encouraging the disciples to be alert and cautious of the false Christs who might come in “between” and the time when he would come back. Jesus exhorted them to remain faithful stewards of the gospel. “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns,” Jesus said (Matthew 24:45-51)
Then Jesus moved on and told them the parable of ten virgins and the talents and the last sermon he preached in his lifetime on earth. When you explore this passage, you will find it interesting that this story is not a mere parable. The story of the Kingdom and judgment is different from the rest of the parables Jesus had told and taught in the book of Matthew. It does not follow the features of a parable. Jesus began saying, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…” His desire was for the disciples to look back to the parables he had taught them for the last three years. That they would say Ah, ah… Jesus was the Bridegroom, the Master with talents, and now Christ is the King who is coming back from a distant county to subdue the authorities under his feet (1Corinthians 15:25-26).
This passage is the last sermon of Jesus on earth. He concluded his teachings with this simple passage. You may say Jesus left the best for last! — “I am returning, but to judge.” From this story onward, Jesus will be going through the last chapter of his life on earth. Matthew said, that when Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “as you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matt 26:1-3).
Today, Jesus tells us what is going to take place when he returns. When Jesus comes, the Kingdom comes with him; he comes to separate and judge. Just try to envision the court room and the proceedings. You can feel the intensity, the silence of the multitude around the throne and the smell of fear as the judge proceeds to sentencing. King Jesus will be sitting on his gracious throne. He will not be rude but gentle. Nations will gather anxiously for the hearing session. But you may ask, how would someone know who is a sheep and who is a goat? Good question, but I do not have a straight answer either. Yet, three things stand out in this passage and Jesus wants to convey that
1st Good works and charities do not have any place in our salvation— (the sheep did not know they did it to the Master)
2nd You and I were once goats, but when Son of man came:
a. He found us lost, naked, and he clothed us with love (Luke 15:1-10)
b. Jesus visited us while in our prison of sin and disobedience (Romans 5:8)
c. You and I were hungry and thirsty for truth and Christ gave us grace and mercy (Matthew 9:31)
d. You and I were strangers and refugees on earth, but Jesus called us friends (Ephesians 2:3)
3rd Transforming Grace—Though we were sinners, You and I are born again in Christ through the love of God. The good works in this passage are simply the outpouring of grace. We do good works freely and without expecting to receive a payback. Jesus did it first and now we are encouraged to pay-it-forward (not payback). Remember, the Sheep did not know when they had done so to the Master.
Therefore, your charity, love and compassion for others are the overflowing of grace. Your generosity springs from God who gave his son freely, from King Jesus who surrendered his authority to the cross and was humiliated for your sake and atonement (Philippians 2:5-11).
As Christians, the “Will” to serve others is in your loving DNA (Sheep). The sheep did so not for self-glory, neither for self-righteousness nor fame, but as an action of their faith. They did so as an outpouring of praise and thanksgiving to God. This simplicity of life and good works happens when we are created anew in Christ, renewed through the power of the Holy Spirit, and transformed in God’s love. In this new birth of our baptism, a new relationship is established, a new identity is formed, and a new name is given— a Sheep not a Goat.
What make sheep different from goats is not their features. You cannot distinguish between Christians and non-Christians based on their outfit or hairstyle. It does not depend on the fact that goats have beards, neither on sound of their voices. It is not because goats have ears sticking out and hear more. But because goats disobey. Goats run away. Goats are stubborn. They claim to be independent and active in their own world. They brag on their efforts and say they do not need any help from the master. Goats are sneakers and like to put their shepherd in trouble. There is a lot we can say about goats, which are non-believers according to our passage.
On the contrary, sheep listen and follow their shepherd; they depend on the provision and compassion of the shepherd—the shepherd leads to still waters (Psalm 23). Sheep cannot stay in the bush by themselves when they are lost and are easily attacked by enemies. Sheep trust their master, but goats do not. For this reason, eternity will be the last blessing for the sheep. For they have passed through hardships on earth (Revelation 7:10). The King will say to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” For those on the left, they “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
Therefore, Jesus tells us today not to “leave anyone behind” while he is returning. King Jesus encourages us to help, and support others with little things we can do. It could be a meal, a bottle of water, a warm blanket, lifting the spirit of a sick person and talking to a stranger on the sidewalk.
Help without expecting a pay back—those at the right, did not even think they were helping Jesus when they did so. They did it only because they could. Doing good works was natural to them and we should do the same from our hearts. Paul said to the Corinthians, “you must each decide in your heart how much to give. And do not give reluctantly [not with regret (GNT)] or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully” (2 Cor. 9:7). “Whereas on the other hand, the attitude of those who failed to help was; “if we had known it was you, we would gladly have helped; but we thought it was only some common person who was not worth helping,” said William Barclay.
Yahweh tasked his people Israel to look after the disadvantaged and foreigners among them and not to glean their harvest but to “leave [some produce on the ground] for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:22). You and I are given same responsibility to look after and be our fellow-human-keepers. We are called to love others as King Jesus first loved us. And when we give generously and freely, we are rewarded with the gift of joy. As Sheep we will rejoice in life eternally with Christ and with the angels of Heaven in the Kingdom of God.
Now, I leave you with this message as Paul said to the believing community in Ephesus: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Amen!