Daniel 10:2-12, Matthew 4:1-11
Hello Church! It might sound weird to talk about fasting on a Valentine's Sunday. But I assume even during this day, people are filled with love and fast on other things to focus on their journey of love😊.
But what is fasting? If you have been in the church for a while, you have probably heard your friend, or your preacher talk about "fasting." I would assume someone might have preached about this during Lent season in the past.
However, have you ever asked why we fast? Have you ever tried it? This might be a boring sermon today as I will be going through Biblical passages, but I promise, I will not force you into fasting by preaching a longer sermon.
First and foremost, the Biblical purpose of fasting is to worship God as we humble ourselves before him and intentionally leave behind things that take away our attention. According to Myles Monroe, "Fasting is taking your normal life to another level it has never been before."
Fasting is a means by which a Christian person draws near to God through mediation and prayer while focusing on Him alone. In prayer we ask God to take us to his own realm and bring him close to our hearts. It is a way we bring ourselves, body, mind and soul to a fight, a wrestle and struggle.
All major world religions dedicate themselves to fasting during a time of the year or days of the week.
Hinduism—they meditate for days to get united with the unseen world (soul and body).
Buddhism—the fast to shakeup for spiritual awakening "makes my internal fire balance go over the top" Rev. Heng Sure
Islam— "O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may become righteous."—Surat al-Baqarah 2:183. Christians and Jews had been prescribed to hold fasting, according to this Surat (text). Therefore, Muslims are required to fast during "Ramadan," their holy season, as Christians and Jews do.
But--the purpose of fasting in Islam is "to develop the quality of righteousness (taqwa), inwardly and outwardly, but abstaining from sinful deeds and training ourselves to control our thoughts and desires… fasting acts as a shield which protects us from sin and ultimately from the punishment of Allah in the Hereafter."
That is the difference from Christian fasting. Christians do not fast and pray for a body/soul's awakening, neither to unite soul and body nor used it as a shield for punishment from God. Christians fast and pray to partner with God in his mission to the world. It's a time we come close to God and give time solely to God and worship him as such.
Scriptures both of Old and New Testaments testify about individual and corporate fasting. People come before God in prayer and abstinence from food and other forms of distraction. We see Moses' Fasting for forty days. He was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread, nor drank water. He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments (Exodus 34:28). David humbled himself with fasting before God (Psalm 109:24, 2 Samuel 12:16).
In the New Testament, Jesus was led into the wilderness and fasted from food and water for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11). As they imitated Jesus, the Early Church practiced fasting and prayer and, this has been handed down to us through the centuries.
Even if the 21st century believers ignore or are reluctant of fasting, Christians are implicitly called to fasting and prayer as part of the spiritual journey. Remember that prayer and fasting go together; prayer is a command for Christians, not doing it, is disobeying God.
How do we do fast? There are different ways to do fasting and the lengths of fasting varies. First, we learned about strict fasting where a worshiper abstained from solid food and drink. We learn this kind of fast from Moses and Jesus (Exodus 34; Matthew 4:1-11)—forty days. Second, there is partial fasting as in the case of our text today, where Daniel abstains from select foods—only eating vegetables (Daniel 10:3) for 21 days. Third, there is a hybrid fast where you can fast for a day, or two, three, seven, fourteen days, on special occasions as in the case of Ezra, Esther and Paul (Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Nehemiah 9:1; Saul Acts 9:9) etc.
In our contemporary setting, the church now considers other types of fasting—nonfood fasting. This would include fasting from--
If you wish to fast, and you've not fasted before, be aware that you'll have headaches and feel dizzy in the early states. Sam Storms says, "This is Part of the body's cleansing process and will pass with time. Be sure that you break the fast gradually with fresh fruit and vegetables. Do not overeat after the fast."
Why Fasting? "Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan son of Eliashib, where he spent the night. He did not eat bread or drink water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles" (Ezra 10:6). There are countless reasons why we approach God in fasting and prayer.
We commit to fasting to help break the chain of anything that has taken hold of us and our desires. “Fasting is a wonderful discipline and a habit that God has given to his people. There are many different spiritual purposes we see in Scripture: repentance, humility, devotion in worship, and seeking the Spirit’s guidance." Stephen Um
In fasting and prayer, we submit ourselves to God in humility and ask him to change our hearts and restore our confidence. When we take the joy of food and best drinks from our body, we do that in order to devote ourselves to his authority and focus our attention to him. We pray for forgiveness, for intervention and renewal.
In fasting, we pray for strength, for God to indwell in us, and build and restore our faith again. We ask God to whisper the tender voice of forgiveness in our hearts as we sincerely confess to him and act otherwise. When you are praying and fasting, open your heart and let the word of your God reveal your weakness in your mediation (1 King 19:9). Then you'll realize that it's better to reconcile than to regret old grudges we kept for years.
In fasting we repent, turn away from those things which suck us in and draw us away from God (Ezra 10:6). We humble ourselves; we recognize our need for God to meet us and change us (Esther4:16). We devote ourselves to worship (Matthew 6:16). We are seeking God’s guidance, intervention and leading through the times and the time yet still ahead of us (Ezra 8:21-23; Judges 20:26-28). In fasting we bring force in the court of heavenly realm, as Jesus said, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:29 NKJV)
Therefore, be sincere in your fasting because the Lord your God is not interested in your superficial religious rites like the Israelites worshipers. "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loosen the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed, go free, and to break every yoke? Isaiah 58:6. Do not show off because your exercise of fasting is not the indication of your piety (Matthew 6:16-18).
Fasting does not change God, yet we are called to exercise it and ask for God's will. However, "Fasting changes you and myself— us. we fast in order that all things that cling to our spirit, soul, and body can be stripped away and only Jesus remain (Scott Barber). That is the reward of fasting.
Therefore, let us draw near to God but not to the cell phones 😊. Take time during this season and worship God with fasting, meditation and prayer. Because fasting and prayer is feeding on God's word and having deep desire for God. Remember that God knows your heart more than you do. And the Lord God's is faithful to enrich your faith and speak to your heart tenderly. Amen
Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Friends, today Paul brings his letter to conclusion after he extensively talked about the plan of God when he adopted believers through Christ Jesus. Also, he talked about unity of the church and the reciprocal relationship between a husband and wife, children and parents and slaves and masters as something exemplified by Jesus. Paul's exposition was for Ephesians and every Christian to grasp how wide, how high, and how deep is the love of God toward them. Paul prays that Ephesians gained such wisdom so that they are filled with the fullness of God and in return they could come to the knowledge that surpasses all understanding of this world (Ephesians 3:18-19).
In conclusion, Paul instructs the believers to, finally, sink into God's armor. He needed Ephesians clothed, and be clothed by God's might as they continue living their lives. He understands that when believers live in the presence of God, they will have strength and are able to make a stand against "μεθοδείας" the deceit of the devil that falsely accuses them. The Greek 'methedias' refers to a process where someone employs methods, craftiness, and schemes to deceive, or falsely accuse the other. This means, Christians must stand watchful and beware of the deceitful methods of the devil.
Paul used basic objects and customs familiar to Ephesians. Elsewhere, he highlighted the idea of Christian struggle using theatrical practice where giants wrestled with animals or compete in a sport. He pictures a Christian running a race as in the Olympic race. The Greco-Roman world is known for dangerous sports. During Paul's time, the sportsmen were highly celebrated and revered. Their sweat would be collected in small bottles and sold to the fans. Paul also brings to mind the custom of a Roman Soldier. Everyone was familiar with the Roman soldiers as the could be seen everywhere. When Paul wrote Ephesians and Colossians, he was chained in the Roman prison. So many people believed that Paul might have been looking at a Roman guard with his full armor when he described the spiritual armor for Christians.
It is Paul's routine to interpret objects and add spiritual meaning to them. He had walked in their streets and was able to observe their various objects. In Corinth Paul saw an altar of an unknown god among the gods of Athens and declared that their unknown god, is Christ whom he was preaching (Acts 17:22-23).
Now Paul urged believers to sink-in and clothe themselves with the armor of God. He knew that wrestlers, guards, soldiers, and sportsmen, needed to equip themselves with the materials best for action and protection. The armor is used to protect, defend, and attack the challenger. The scripture encourages Christians to put on the armor and be clothed with it at all times, because we are WRESTLING with unseen forces. We are fighting against the competing forces of heaven and of this world.
Christian believers struggling against the forces of wickedness and the ideas that dare to darken our hearts. We wrestle to [ Πάλη]—sway away deceptions of Satan that use our weakness to create idols of our own. Israelites were tempted to create their own god, even if they were led by Yahweh in the desert. Satan doesn't sleep on tempting the people of God.
As Billy Graham said, "Our idols are not statues of gold and marble; our idols come from the things we love the most." For our struggle is not with objects that have physical appearances. Neither with humans, nor with animals, rather with spiritual forces. We can defeat evil by faith and by the strength that God is giving us but not on our own (Zechariah 4:6).
"The cosmic purpose of God involves the believer with the spiritual hierarchy of the unseen world organized under the power of Satan" (George E. Harper). Therefore, arming Christians for spiritual war is the best means to stay fit. The schemes and wiles of the devil as NRSV translates, are the strategies designed by the devil on how to destroy the Christian faith. It is the tactics to fool and trap a Christian believer.
Originally, Paul was referring to Greek and Roman mythological gods and their theories of unseen power and creations of heaven. There were multiple classifications of demon and cosmic gods in that Roman world. Due to these beliefs, first century Christians were squeezed from every side between the Greek and Romans gods, philosophers, and Judaism.
Paul was aware of many methods Satan utilizes to hinder the work of the gospel and Christian growth. He once said to the Thessalonians how he wanted to visit them, but Satan has blocked his way (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He understands that Satan can breakdown the most intimate relationships even by employing an idea that seems are for spiritual purposes (1 Corinthians 7:5). He believes that the devil could even take the form of an angel and lead believers away from the truth of God (2 Corinthians 11:3,14)."
Stand firm, therefore, that you can foil all the secrets and the whole enterprise of the devil from succeeding among yourselves. Stand firm against the cunning manner of the system of this world. Be strong in the faith and understand secrets and plans behind the acts of many around you. In this world, there are many gods, as Paul says, and we are wrestling against them as we live our lives as Christians. If any Christian does not believe in the force of darkness, we can assume that person is wired with the deceit because scripture has proven the existence of forces of this world.
You can ask why someone would plot the killing of his fellow human. Or what is behind placing a bomb that would slay many innocent people? Why people die by suicide? Why would friends lure their best buddies to alcohol and substance abuse? There are substances in the form of "bath salts," some called "K-2," and "spice." Why are such systems and business in place? They form deceptions and aim to destroy human lives. Friends know that the power of darkness has been put in place in different forms and methods to numb minds, to destroy and lead people from leading a normal life or from faith.
Paul said, "Stand therefor." This means we are not called on to attack, rather Christians are called to stay alert and pay attention, to foil every deceit and scheme of the devil when it hits hard—" in the days of crisis." We do not know when it hits, when he deploys the attack, but we are reminded to be watchful yet sink in God's armor.
We remain watchful, and as KJV translates, "having your loins girt about with truth." First thing that braces and gives a warrior a good grip of weapons is the belt. The Belt is part of the armor that holds together everything. Spiritually, is knowing the truth of God. Jesus said, knowing the truth will set free a believing Christian (John 8:32). Truth is hard but when believers come to the full knowledge of God, they will disregard self-doubt and be honest in their Christian living. This will foil the deceit of the devil that falsifies everything about God and Christ.
"Cover your chest with the breastplate of Righteousness." Your upper body is the center of your living. It's where your heart, your lung, your liver and your kidneys are stationed. This encourages a believer to use the large portion of the armor and cover the most vulnerable place of your body with righteousness of Jesus Christ. Stay protected while continuing in journey of sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We cannot be righteous in our own doing, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6). But "Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor"(Proverbs 21:2); "For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever" (Psalm 112:6). Jesus encourages his followers to "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given " (Matthew 6:33). Christ Jesus our source of "righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Righteousness is Tsedeq in Hebrew and means the right thing of God; the holiness that God has bestowed on his followers through the blood of Christ. It’s the conformity toward the demands of believers. This calls on us to open ourselves to God as we are made right with the Lord. To be right with God is to submit to God's whole authority.
Put on Shoes for the Gospel of peace and be ready to proclaim the gospel of love and peace toward harmony. We are called to imitate Christ in his calling. "The possession of the good news of the gospel involves the obligation to share it. That which is divinely given must be humanly passed on. Jesus Christ needs us to be the hands and feet and lips which will bring his gospel to those who have never heard it." --William Barclay. Isaiah saw this a long time ago and said, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation" (Isaiah 52:7).
Remember to shield yourself with faith to "quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one." Shield yourselves from the dividing languages, media schemes, and false theories as we try to bring back our unity and our dignity. Hold tight to your shield to dispel invisible deceits of the devil that come from all directions.
Take the helmet of salvation to protect our heads from flying objects. Be knowledgeable about your redemption. You are rescued from destruction to a new life with God. Nothing can be added to secure our salvation, but only Christ's salvific work which we receive by faith alone. We need caution to protect from doubts and sinning as we are reminded of the salvation of God. Keep your mind free from evil thoughts and set your mind on the cross (Colossians 3:1)
Last, but not the least, hold on to the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Now you have the weapon, and your armor is complete. Jesus defeated the devil and halt the cunning persuasion of the devil by quoting the Bible saying, "it is written" (Matthew 4). This does not mean that you must read scripture from cover to cover or know the Bible entirely. However, scripture instructs us to be knowledgeable of the best tool to fight against the false schemes of the devil during your time of crisis. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
No wonder the book of Ephesians is the most theological among the epistles of Paul. The knowledge of God and the necessity of the outfit is described in a fashionable way. How can we resist this Brand name. World's renowned designers cannot design this armor in its detailed manner. We are all required to obtain it because lacking to have one, a Christian person is naked, walking barefoot, no belt, bare-headed and empty chest and helpless when attacked.
Scripture urges us to always pray in the Spirit in every form of prayer and supplications. It is as if Paul is saying to you and myself today, that polish your armor with all kinds of prayers in all seasons. Pray when you persevere, when you are discouraged and when things and everyone around you seems to have gone away. Above all, remember everyone in your prayers, because your intercession helps strengthen your brothers and sisters in their struggle.
Let us draw near to Jesus the source of our lives because without him we are lost and powerless (John 6:56-69). Amen!
Ephesians 17- 32; Exodus 16:9-16
Welcome back to our sermon series thru Ephesians. We are left with one week to conclude our discovery theme. Paul claims, as we heard last Sunday, that God has planned to make peace and create one new humanity in place of the two and would do this in the body of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:14-15). He managed to unify the dividing humanity by tearing down the wall of hostility among them and bring peace and harmony. God fulfilled his promise through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now in chapters four through five, Paul encourages the Ephesians to be mindful of their calling and take the responsibility Christ has given them when he ascended to heaven. He called on the new converts to abandon the previous way of life and begin to exercise their newness. If the church wanted to survive and carry on the task of the gospel, it should remain united, pray for one another, and break from the past so that they bring about the needed reconciliation and unity with God and one another.
Regarding the gifts, Paul claimed that Christ did not leave the church emptyhanded. He believed that Ephesian are rich in gifts to maintain the unity and continue the work entrusted to them.
Paul said, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph 4:11-15).
Few things remain true in this passage as we have been learning from this book of Ephesians. Many converts from Ephesus, Colossae and throughout the province of Asia minor, were saved from temples and handful of them were priests, priestess, and temple attendants. They used to worship other gods.
In Ephesus, many of them were followers of Artemis, goddess of fertility. It was a custom for Men and Women to go seek fertility from the goddess when they fail to bear children. They would go and lay with priestess and priests, believing that they would be made fertile after such encounter and able to bear children. There was no shame but was considered part of worship practice. Taking someone's belongings in public bathing places was widespread and people are known to fail to tell the truth. There was so much bragging as the society rallied around sports. As the church grows, as we have learned in many epistles, there was constant conflicts, disagreements and even quarrelling on how to deal with the matters of faith and the church.
As we can imagine, believers were filled with countless questions and looking for answers. We've left temple worship, now what? What shall we eat and not eat? What laws shall we keep? etc. The question remains how to live as Christians, how to worship, and how to maintain such changes. There were also more critical issues the new converts had to deal with. Sadly, there were no established church institutions, let alone denominations like in our time today.
The church, then and now remains thankful for the gift of Paul. He remained a resourceful person in those hard times, and his letters had given better guidance for the new converts.
In his responses, Paul said new converts “must no longer live as the Gentiles live in the futility of their minds.” This is because, even if what there is to be known about God has been disclosed to them, Gentiles chose to darken their own understanding, harden their hearts and their ignorance had alienated them from God. As a result, they gave themselves over to dissolution and lost all sensitivity of life. Paul went on and warned the new converts to avoid bragging and deceptions to transitioned into the new way of living. They do so by getting rid themselves "of all such things because that is not the way you learned Christ! (Eph. 4:20; Colossians 3:7-10).
As William Barclay said, “Paul has dealt with the great and eternal truths of the Christian faith, and with the function of the Church in the plan of God. Now he begins to sketch what each member of the Church must be if the Church is to carry out her part in that plan.”
Paul reminds Ephesians the purpose of their calling and now must discover their new way of life in their new selves " created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23-24).
Paul took a universal norm where, when a person is initiated into certain group, or decides to join a different society, such a person is mandated to oblige with the way of life such a society requires of them. Otherwise, as William Barclay says, if such a person fails that obligation and hinders the aim, such failure brings discredit on the name of the group. Paul tells the Ephesians the kind of life they must follow when they become Christians and experience the new life in the church of Christ.
I am reminded of the initiation ceremony of the tradition of the Anuak people and other African tribes. Among the Nuer tribes in Ethiopia and South Sudan, when a young man's face is cut with six marks both sides (twelve in total), that young man becomes a full man, earning "manhood" as soon as the initiation is completed. This practice was/is done without any anesthesia. The boy would be expected not to cry, shed tears, and even move his body during the procedure. It's hurting and blood keep pouring as the tip of the knife goes deep to the skin.
Also, when a group of the Anyuwaa young men are sprinkled with oil, they would be required to obtain a new name, vowed to achieve a goal. For example, the group would commit to catch a young lion by hand, or a tiger, or an elephant etc. and bring the young animal home alive. They would abide by certain terms. Failure to achieve such goal would discredit the family and was a disgrace to the village.
All these remind us of how people leave a form of life and commit to lead a new way of living. Paul calls on Christians then and now to “put on the new self (Colossians 3:10). This new life is not easy to tend to. It requires leaving behind something dear to us in our previous life. It's painful and hard to follow but we're encouraged to attain to, like the Nuer boys and the Anuak young groups strive to fulfill the demand of initiation. Yes, Christ has accomplished the salvific act on the cross. The new living requirement does not add to our salvation, rather fulfils the purpose of unity as we imitate Christ Jesus.
As a new group seeking to build up itself, Paul encourages Ephesians to put forth Christian virtues to avoid separation and dissension in the church of Christ. That the Christian church must cloth itself with the newness and get rid of their old humanity, which was subject to rage, falsehood, anger, theft, etc.
For Paul, what is required of Christians and the Christian church, first, is the virtue of humility. Humility is the most important aspect of faith, that they obtain from Jesus himself. It's about giving way to God to work through us, in us and with us. It is the virtue by which we are made conscious and acknowledge our calling. It describes a course of action where a person looks to oneself see where one has fallen short and needs to give way to progress. "True humility comes when we ace ourselves and see our weakness, our selfishness, our failure in work and in personal relationship and in achievement," William Barclay. Humility also is echoing our dependency on God in whom we now have hope (Ephesians 2:12).
Paul added on saying, a Christian person must be gentle. The Greek term for "gentle” is being domesticated. This refers to an animal that has been trained and comes under control of the owner. Americans would understand Paul's intention in using their verb because Americans are good at this. They train their dogs to sit, dance, roll and even jump. Paul says a person in a Christian church must not only be self-controlled but be domesticated by God and listen to the instructions of the Lord. Christians must exercise patience as we continue to explore and learn from and about one another. We learn patience from Christ himself as we are called to faith (1 Timothy 1:16. For the church to survive and continue in the work of gospel, such virtues are important to keep for the sake of the unity. Paul said because Christians are called to "one hope, one body, one faith, one baptism and one God" (4:4).
Lastly, Ephesians and the Christian Church must exercise agape—a love that does not depend on anything less than putting others before us. "Agape, is that quality of mind and heart which compels a Christian never to feel any bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek the highest good of every [person] no matter what he may be." William Barclay
Friends, Paul encourages us today as he urged the Ephesians to clothe ourselves with truth, speak tenderly to our neighbors and put away falsehood. That everyone should strive to work to have something to share with the needy.
Paul addressed theft, immorality, falsehood, etc. in this passage because they were practiced in the Greco-Roman world, and Paul knew that such way of life was not healthy for the new body. For example, stealing was a major problem in the Roman bathing places. Clothes and sandals were grabbed without any excuses.
Now even if we do not exercise the 1st century practices, scripture reminds us of our weaknesses and be mindful of such flaws as might lead us astray and not attain our Christian living. Paul encourages his readers to change such habits and live as they were taught. He urged Ephesians to make Christ's love and Christian virtues spring from their hearts to prefect the church of Christ.
We are encouraged to listen and be patient with one another and maintain right anger, because the anger of a Christian person does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20 ESV). Let this be clear. Paul does not deny anger. It is something we are born with.
However, anger must not define us, and we should not be overflowed with it. Rather, we must get rid of bitterness and resentment and clothe ourselves with patience, gentleness, humility and choose to discuss and not let the anger last forever.
In doing so, we discover our Christian living in our mutual understanding. As one body, we are encouraged to take care of the body as we take care of ourselves. The love of Christ to the church is compared to a love between a husband and wife. That Christians should love one another dearly; “For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body (Eph. 5:29-30)
We can only succeed in our Christian living by committing to prayer, and we are asked to keep praying. I also leave you with Paul's prayer when he tells them in his letter saying, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:16-19
Friends, Christ has left us a great gift to sustain our unity and enrich our Christian living. Let us utilize such virtues as we continue to live our lives in the Church of Christ. Let us "BE kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us" (Eph4: 32). Amen!
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!