Third Sunday of Easter

Restored to Glory

Peter had betrayed the Lord Jesus, the one he loved more than anything in the world. Saul, who was truly zealous for the house of God, had betrayed the real house of God, the body of Christ. How could these men get so far off?

Peter and Saul were very dissimilar. Peter was following Jesus and Saul was persecuting Jesus. Yet they were alike in some ways. Both fell under the tyranny of an hierarchical power structure of church or state. There was little difference between these two structures. They demand that we follow them or they will punish us. Peter knew that he might be destined for punishment, maybe even tortured like Jesus. Saul was on the side of punishers. That was the best insurance policy against punishment.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”   (John 21:1-19)

Christian discipleship is not about pleasing people or the power structure. If we are receiving any opposition to our faith, then perhaps we should examine our our hearts.

The destinies of both Peter and Saul were about to change. Peter would become the leader of the true Church, the body of Christ. Saul would become Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, and author of two-thirds of the New Testament. Both were hit received forgiveness from God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Peter had the teaching and preparation directly from Jesus. Jesus would tell him he would no longer be in control of his life. Rather, he would feed the sheep at all costs. Saul was not have the same history. But he had a great zeal for Judaism and the interpretation of the Jewish leadership. He was a brilliant student of Torah, but he was misguided by his teachers. Jesus confronted him:

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”   (Acts 9:1-6)

Saul was physically blinded. But when his sight was restored he received his spiritual sight. Saul became Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament.

Do we live under fear of corrupt authority, often motivated by evil intentions? Jesus said:

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.   (Luke 6:26)

If that is our hope for protection from harm, must realize that these authorities do not have our best interests in mind. The psalmist wrote:

I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

O Lord my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.

You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.   (Psalm 30:1-3)

God is our source of protection. But Christians are are in a war zone. We need to put on the full protection of God:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.   (Ephesians 6:10-11)

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   (Ephesians 6:13-17)

Tye Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him:

7God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

We are not called to live in fear. In John’s First Epistle we read:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

God is our protection. He is o9r source of strength. He is the one who builds us up in love so that we may not live in fear. We no linger have to hide ourselves in falsehood and tyranny of this fleeting world. Let us lead a life hidden in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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

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Saint Mark, Evangelist

saint-mark-1621Repent and Believe

The evangelist Mark was a traveling companion of Peter. He recorded Peter’s sermons and stories found in the Gospel of Mark. It is clear that Mark’s Gospel was written by a masterful storyteller. Though short, this Gospel has great impact and clarity. In the opening of his Gospel he gets right to the point:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15)

Notice that Mark’s Gospel is an action Gospel. It moves quickly and it asks us to move along with it.

Mark was an evangelist who got right to the point. The Apostle Paul gives us a perspective on the importance of evangelism when he lists God’s gifts to the Church:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.   (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The evangelist follows the apostles and prophets in importance. Often times they are thought of as shallow or not very sophisticated. For Mark, the Gospel was simple: Repent and believe. That was the message of John the Baptist. That was the message of Jesus on the earth. It is the starting point for every Christian and should be the essential message of the Church. Too many of today’s “seeker” churches have forgotten the repentance part of the message.

Mark was willing to risk everything for the sake of telling the Gospel message. Ultimately, he paid the price with his life. What are we willing to risk today? Jesus told His disciples:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mark 16:15-20)

Are we prepared to join Mark? What will the Lord say about our feet?

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:7-10)

We are living in the last days. Evangelism is of paramount importance. There is little time for frills. At the very least we can earnestly pray for the rescue of all lost souls. The rescue of souls was Mark’s ministry because it is the ministry of Jesus, then and now.

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Second Sunday of Easter

Seeing the God of Love

Jesus appeared, after his resurrection, to his disciples as they had gathered in one place. Although Jesus had taught them what would take place, they were still shocked. Thomas, who was missing, was no less prepared:

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”   (John 20:24-25)

We have heard the expression “seeing is believing.” Now let us explore “believing is seeing.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”   (John 20:26-29)

Today, God is calling us to see him. Thomas saw Jesus everyday of his earthly ministry, but did he really see Jesus? Did he understand the person and ministry of Jesus? When he saw the risen Lord, something changed for him. He declared: “My Lord and my God!” He could see, for the first time, the whole nature of Jesus.

Job was a man described by God as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and turns away from evil.” He was blessed by God in so many ways. But when those blessings were removed he began to question God, as many of us probably would have under similar circumstances.

Job’s questioning eventually turned into a dialogue with God. Job’s attitude toward God changed. He said:

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”   (Job 42:5-6)

Seeing God is understanding the nature of God, the character of God. Is God good? Is he good when difficulties come our way?” Job said:

Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me,
    and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
    I have no rest; but trouble comes.”   (Job 3:25-26)

Difficulties did come Job’s way. He feared that they might, even when he was blessed. He equated the blessings with God. But he did not know the God who holds us in his loving arms? What changed with Job? Job knew the God who blesses. Now he wanted to be the one who blesses God. He said:

For I know that my Redeemer[a] lives,
    and that at the last he[b] will stand upon the earth;[c]
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    then in[d] my flesh I shall see God,   (Job 19:25-26)

The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.   (Psalm 118:14)

“You are my God, and I will thank you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.”

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his mercy endures for ever.   (Psalm 118:28-29)

God is good. He loves us all. We know that through his Son.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.   (John 3:16)
He may test us. But he is the God who passes the test for us when we put our trust in him. He is there for us each day. He will never leave us or forsake us. From Lamentations we read:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”   (Lamentations 3:22-24)
Thomas and Job knew about God, but then they saw God. Who is the God that we see today?

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Resurrection Sunday: Principal Easter Service

A New Heaven and a New Earth

From the Gospel of John we have this wonderful account of the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus:

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.   (John 20:11-18)

It was fitting that Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, was the first witness to the resurrected. (Luke 8:2). Jesus said:

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”   (Matthew 9:13)

Mary was faithful to Jesus when many of his disciples deserted him. She had come to his tomb early in the first day of the week. She was not prepared for what she saw. She had a close relationship with Jesus. But he had changed. She did not recognize Jesus at first. When he spoke to her she wanted to reach out to him. Jesus, then said a curious thing: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

What did this mean? Something remarkable happened to change the whole world. Jesus had risen from the dead. He was not the same as before. He had a glorified body. And his mission had changed. He needed to ascend to the Father before he could meet again with his disciples.  Even his disciples would not be able to hold on to the Jesus they knew.

Jesus had changed. The whole world was about to change. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

For I am about to create new heavens
    and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
    or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
    and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
    and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
    or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
    an infant that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
    and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.   (Isaiah 65:17-20)

This surely does not sound like the world we live in now. We will never live in any utopia in this current world. God is preparing a new world, a new earth, a new heaven. We are destined to be a part of it. But we must choose to enter.

The psalmist wrote:

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

“This is the gate of the Lord;
he who is righteous may enter.”

I will give thanks to you, for you answered me
and have become my salvation.

The same stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord‘s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

On this day the Lord has acted;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.   (Psalm 118:19-24)

On the day of the resurrection Jesus opened the gates of righteousness. The righteous may enter but they must enter through the gate that God has provided.

Jesus said:

 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.   (John 10:9)

Our salvation comes through faith in the saving power of the cross. The Apostle Peter preached:

 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”   (Acts 10:39-43)

The message of the resurrection of is that the lives of all who believe have been changed. Not only that, but a whole new world awaits us, the Millennial Reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must no longer live as though we are a part of this world. This world is passing away. The Apostle John wrote in his Epistle:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.   (1 John 2:15-17)

Today, like Mary Magdalene. Jesus is calling each of us by name. He is telling us not to hold on to the past. This world is passing away. Walk through the gate that leads to a whole new world.

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