Friday, January 17, 2020
OR the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.15And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. (Matthew 25:14-25)
Our God is a God of wise and frugal economy. He provides all things necessary, but He does not lavish His people with opulence. True, there are Christians who are wealthy in treasures, but these are dependable stewards of that wealth in helping the poor and in supporting missionary enterprises.
Too often, we are not satisfied with the one, two or five talents the Lord has blessed us with; but there is much more to a talent than meets the worldly eye. This is not a devotion on the above parable per se; however, it provides a good introduction to our study of the talent God gives.
I had a friend in Iran named John Naser (Nasseroleslam, for short). He was commander of the International Airport at the city of Isfahan. When the Islamic revolution occurred, Colonel Naser defected by flying a US Army CH-47 (left behind by the US Military) to Turkey with his entire family.
I discovered that John was living in Enterprise, Alabama, quite by happenstance. We renewed our friendship though John claimed to be a devoted Muslim. He prided himself on being ‘broad-minded’ – able to discuss the Holy Bible as well as the Koran. We had many discussions in his place of business. We were dinner guests often in his home. His wife (Simin) was a charming and well-educated lady; and an excellent cook of fine pastries, I might add. Simin harbored an intense interest in the New Testament. During our visits in her home, she showered me with constant questions about the New Testament. She cared little for the Old Testament since she was unable to see how the Law related to free Grace.
I asked her once why she did not accept Christ. Here answer: “Oh, I could never do that. In Islam Allah cannot forgive a trespass unless the party trespassed against first forgives.” Well, that led to a seemingly fruitless discussion on the topic. I acquired a complete Bible for her in Farsi which she read with admirable determination.
The Nasers’ finally moved to Birmingham and opened a small French restaurant. I had to co-sign their note since they had not yet been granted a permanent residence permit. The lease was for five years and one-quarter million dollars. I sweated that little indiscretion on my part for the next five years, praying that they would make a go of it. They DID! At the end of the five year period, they opened a large and beautiful French restaurant in the Japanese Botanical Gardens in Birmingham. The building was of marble exterior with guest attending in tuxedo’s with violin being played at the tables. The governor of the state and other dignitaries were in regular attendance.
The Nasers had three children – a son and daughter in high school – and a ten year old son (Benji) who suffered from Downs Syndrome. Benji was constantly making weird noises and unable to read or carry on intelligent conversation. The two older children attended church regularly every Sunday, but John refused to admit knowledge of the fact.
One day, Benji saw David Ring on TV and identified with him insisting on going to the revival at Landmark Church to see David Ring. Since the entire family was drawn together in love around Benji, the father relented and they attended the Ring Revival. They were, however, concerned Benji might act up with strange noises and disrupt the service, but this did not happen. He was as silent as a church mouse throughout.
After David Ring departed Birmingham for other engagements, Benji insisted on returning to Church every Sunday. This the family did and, in the process of time, the father and mother were converted to Christ. They even hosted a Bible study in their fancy French restaurant every Saturday morning.
One Sunday evening, my wife and I visited the Nasers in Birmingham for dinner. Before the meal, as John and I sat in the den, Benji came out of his room with the Bible. He stood near the center of the room and announced that today’s sermon would be taken from the text of the Sower in Matthew 13, beginning at the 1st verse. I could not believe my ears since I had never heard Benji speak with such clarity and purpose. He began to read (which he cannot do) the text – “A sower went forth to sow and as he sowed……” He then preached a very powerful sermon from the text. I glanced at John in amazement. He signaled for me to wait. When Benji finished the sermon, he quietly closed his Bible and returned to his room.
Dying of curiosity, I asked John how was such a thing possible? John responded, “We do not know, but every Sunday, when we return home from church, Benji recites the sermon text and sermon of the day verbatim. AMAZING!
Benji has only one cardinal talent, but how amazing is his employment of that one talent! He was able to lead his parents to Christ by that ONE Talent. His brother, David, serves as Campus Pastor and Senior Vice President of Spiritual Development at Liberty University; I am told his sister served as medical missionary in Africa. An amazing family.
You will recall the poor widow of Luke 21 who cast in her only two mites. That was her sole possession, and she cast it all into the treasury of the Temple. Jesus observed as the wealthy cast in their golden coins of great value; but He was not impressed with those coins given out of great wealth. Those wealthy men and women would scarcely miss that sum; but the widow attracted our Lord’s attention and affection. She gave her all – her ONE talent so to speak!
We all possess some God given talent – He leaves no one out! Some have a multitude of talents. But do we use the talent, or talents, that we have?
Talents are not all denominated in precious metals or government seals. There are talents of art, music, science, mathematics, engineering, and a thousand more. If we are gifted with the talent of music, for example, we need to invest that talent and not bury it in the ground. Talents invested increase phenomenally.
Several years back, I read of a banker who calculated the value of the widow’s mite at that contemporary period and computed the present-day value at 4% interest compounded semi-annually. The result in increase was more than all the money in circulation in the world today. I have not worked that progression, but believe the result would definitely be a large amount.
The young lad with the five loaves of bread and two fishes likewise gave all that he had to satisfy the hunger of multitudes. His talent was in sharing, perhaps among many other talents. What talents do you have and are you investing them to comfort the elderly with beautiful music, the depressed with wonderful art of natural beauty in Creation, or your neighbor with your example of the Christian witness?
Thursday, January 16, 2020
ND Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. 19:20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. 19:21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. 19:22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. 19:23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. 19:24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which says, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. (John 19:19-24)
Have you considered the significance of the seamless Robe of our Lord? In reading the Gospels, we often skip over the parts which we consider mundane (none is mundane) and miss deeper meanings even in the passing reference above in John, Chapter 19.
Jesus is our High Priest. In fact, He was High Priest for all time and eternity, but His priestly office required a blood sacrifice to be offered as an intercessory offering for the people. There was only one such blood sacrifice that could truly atone for sin. The sacrifices of the Old Testament Church of goats and other animals could not suffice as a worthy offering – these were merely a foreshadowing of the true sacrifice required. In order to better understand the role of the High Priest in His Office, it will be profitable to read the following passage from the Book of Hebrews 9:1-18. I will cite particular verses from this text, but best if you read them all.
From the first death of an innocent lamb in Genesis (to cover the nakedness of our early parents) to the last Temple sacrifice before the Lord’s crucifixion, all these animal sacrifices pointed to that greater sacrifice to come. The Office of High Priest prefigured the intercession of the true High Priest in Christ. The High Priest of old was the only person allowed in the Holy of Holies where the veil of the curtain separated the Holy Place from the Holiest which contained the Ark of the Covenant inside of which was the rod of Aaron, the Manna, and the Ten Commandments:
HEN verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. 9:2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread ; which is called the sanctuary. 9:3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; 9:4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 9:5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. 9:6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tab ernacle, accomplishing the service of God. 9:7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people.
Remember how the High Priest, Caiaphas, confessed unwittingly to the Sonship of our Lord: And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, All of you know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spoke he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that n ation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. (John 11:49-52)
You may recall from Leviticus that the High Priest was NEVER to rend his garments: And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes (Leviticus 21:10) Should he do so, he would forfeit his office as High Priest. (see also Lev 10:6) Did Caiaphas not rend his garments at the charges against our Lord? And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answer you nothing? what is it which these witness against you? But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus says unto him, You have said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall all of you see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest (Caiaphas) rent his clothes, saying, He has spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now all of you have heard his blasphemy.” (Matthew 26:62-650 There had not been want for a High Priest in Israel for those many centuries, but now, suddenly, that priesthood among the Jews was coming to an end!
Now consider the Robe of Christ which the Roman soldiers cast lots over. “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which says, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. This was in fulfillment the prophecy in the Messianic 22nd Psalm the opening verse of which Christ cited from the cross: They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. (Psalm 22:18) The soldiers did not part the robe was of whole cloth and seamless. It was woven from top to bottom, so they cast lots for this prized possession.
This seamless garment is consistent with the Office of High Priest: And you shall embroider the coat of fine linen, and you shall make the turban of fine linen, and you shall make the girdle of needlework. (Exodus 28:39) Jesus' garment was "woven in one piece from top to bottom" (John 19:23), and the temple veil was "torn in two from top to bottom" (Mark 15:38). The "top to bottom" parallel is interesting, as is the contrast of weaving together into one and tearing apart into two.
At the very moment of His giving up the Ghost, the Lord became the uncontested High Priest of His people. The Temple Veil was ripped top-to-bottom symbolizing that salvation comes from above and not by our own making. As our Lord assumed His rightful Office as High Priest, the Temple Veil that only the High Priest could enter was rent in twain. Why? Because Christ, being our High Priest, is our Door and Way to the Father. We may come boldly to the Throne of Grace and Mercy Seat standing just above the Ark of the Covenant. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes now to the Father but through Him.
Even His seamless garment bore testimony of who He was. Caiaphas, too, unwittingly confessed His required sacrifice in redeeming his people and nation. When Caiaphas rent his own priestly garments, it was an overt signal that he had forfeited his Office as High Priest in deference to One to whom the title had belonged from the beginning. No more shadows and mysteries – Christ is our only intercessor wit, our Advocate and Counsellor with the Father.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
OW faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. 4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.(Hebrews 11:1-4)
What a wonderful legacy does the person of faith leave behind after their transport from this life! Imagine knowing that your spirit-filled faith calls out from the dust of the grave as an everlasting testimony of the truth of God. But what are the tokens of faith evinced by Abel that echo throughout eternity? As with all Biblical truth, we do not take the mysteries revealed by God from isolated text, or those taken out of context, but in the full revealed Word of God in which every stone is perfectly fit together.
Abel was the first prophet of God and his means of sacrifice is evidence of his faith and understanding of the great need of a Redeemer. 34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:34-35) Although his father, Adam, must have related the ordeal in Eden to his two sons after sin had cast the death shadow on all living, Abel seems to have had a knowledge of the Holy that exceeded any explanation Adam could have afforded. As with all prophets of God, mysteries of the Holy were revealed to Abel by means of the Holy Ghost.
Cain, being the first born, undoubtedly considered himself privileged in the first family. “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.” Yet, Abel , the second-born, was a good son, obedient in labor and to the expectations of God. He labored six days out of seven attending his flocks in the open fields of the Lord. Cain, on the other hand, was a tiller of the ground and gathering all of the fruits of his labor from that resource. But the life of vegetables, fruit trees, and vines do not possess the red blood of life which constitutes an acceptable sacrifice. In fact, the ground was a medium that was cursed at Eden. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; (Genesis 3:17)
God had established the shadowing plumb line for an acceptable sacrifice in the death of a perfectly innocent animal (likely a lamb) to provide skins to cover the nakedness (sin) of Adam and Eve. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21) The innocent animal, though the first to die on earth, was only the beginning of the sorrows of death upon every living creature. That creature was a prophetic example of a far greater sacrifice that had been foreordained from before the foundation of the world – the Lord Jesus Christ! This, Abel understood fully by faith in God’s Word.
Abel labored daily in tending his flocks. He set an excellent example of the first good son. His livelihood was the preservation of life in his flocks. He was honest, kind, and loving. These characteristics reflected his reliance upon God as his Benefactor and Redeemer. Though the lifeblood of his sacrificial lamb was important to Abel, nothing was as important as a proper sacrifice to God who would one day sacrifice His only Begotten Son for the sins of the world. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If any man have an ear, let him hear. (Revelation 13:8-9) Well, Abel had ears of faith to hear. (see Hebrew 9:22) He knew the suitable sacrifice must be the firstlings of the flock just as Abel himself became the firstling to see death among mankind.
Cain was a son of perdition. Whether his character derived from the dark side of Adam, or the Serpent of the Tree, we cannot tell. But he was filled with rage and envy. He worked hard in producing, from the sweat of his brow, the products of the soil. He had not witnessed the great dangers Abel faced in defending his flock from wolves and other predators. He had not seen Abel in the labors of helping to birth lambs, or providing shelter for them. The only thing Cain’s envious eyes beheld was the seeming leisure that Abel enjoyed while sitting alone keeping watch over his flock. “Why? What makes Abel so privileged when I must labor so painfully in the hot sun?” Cain may have asked himself. His heart was preparing itself for the fruit to which hate will always give way – murder! The visions that filled his eyes translated that hate to rage.
Now comes the day to offer an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord. “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.” Gen 4:3. Cain was aware for the need of a blood sacrifice, but he was not into doing those things needful, but those things most convenient and proper in his own mind – like many modern Christians. Had he not labored long and hard for his harvest of grains? Cain considered his fruit every whit as valuable a sacrifice as Abel’s lamb. Many today still consider the best means of their own salvation to be through good works, bypassing the requirement for the all-important blood sacrifice made by our Lord. Cain would show Abel who is better at the offering!
Now Abel carefully selects the firstling of his flock for the offering. We are not told that Cain brought the first fruits of his cursed offering or not. Now Abel loved his lambs, but he loved his Lord more! “And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering.” Gen 4:4. The Lord had respect to Abel’s offering for two reasons – the first, Abel gave the proper offering of blood sacrifice; and, second, Abel gave out of a heart of love – he offered in the proper ATTITUDE!
Cain had brought an offering from the fruit of the ground – was the ground not cursed? (Gen 3:17) But, in Cain’s logic, if the offering was good enough for Cain, it should certainly be good enough for the Lord. “But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” Gen 4:5. Again, there are two reasons that God had no respect for the offerings of Cain: 1) Cain knew that a blood offering was required, but he chose his own kind of offering; and 2) Cain made his offering out of a sinful heart. He had a bad ATTITUDE! Cain could well be the author of the Sinatra song, “I Did it My Way!”
The sordid end of this story is known quite well by all: And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. (Gen 4:6-10)
Jealousy and envy, like wine in a cask, ferments until its nature is fundamentally changed. It warps the logic and destroys the walls of inhibition. Cain entertained no restraints to his sinful intention. I do not say that he lacked faith altogether since he did at least bring an offering albeit the wrong offering; however, the faith of Abel was an efficacious, life-changing faith – strong, leading, and uncompromising. He died the first martyr of faith while his reprobate brother became a vagabond and outcast bound for the fires of the pit.
The whole difference in the two diverse natures demonstrated by Cain and Abel is described in the boundless faith of Abel, and the whining and compromising motives of Cain. God could see into the heart of Cain as clearly as through a glass pain. What he found in the heart of Cain is not rare in the hearts of many today – even those who believe their good works suit them for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Cain acted out of what he considered his free will which was not free at all, but in bondage to that old Serpent in Eden. Abel acted on the will of God whose will he had received as His hearts Temple when he surrendered his own self-will (free will).
Whose will do you believe drew you to Christ – your own, or God’s Will, as employed by the embrace of the Holy Ghost? All who die in faith leave a voice which cries out from the dust of the earth, and that voice will be magnified down the ages to come until the Trumpet sounds.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. (Revelation 14:13)
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
AM Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. 14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.. 15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. (Revelation 22:13-16)
The darkness of ignorance and superstition blinded the ages before Christ and smothered the people who sat in that thick darkness of doubt and fear. The first Advent of Christ signaled the end of a 400-year silence from the Throne of Heaven. Malachi pronounced the last word of the Old Testament prophets in 400 B.C., and that word typified the generations who erroneously believed they could be saved by the good works of their hands. The Old Testament Law, which they failed to keep, was a curse and an albatross around their necks. The darkness was intended to all the more contrast the brilliance of the coming Sun of Righteousness whom John the Baptist preached and whose Way he prepared.
This hymn is an old Lutheran hymn composed by Phillip Nicolai who also composed the tune in about 1597-98 and during the sorrowful days of the plague.
How Brightly Shines the Morning Star
How bright appears the Morning Star,
with mercy beaming from afar;
the host of heaven rejoices;
O righteous Branch, O Jesse's Rod!
Thou Son of Man and Son of God!
We, too, will lift our voices:
Holy, holy, yet most lowly,
draw thou near us;
great Emmanuel, come and hear us.
Though circled by the hosts on high,
he deigned to cast a pitying eye
upon his helpless creature;
the whole creation's Head and Lord,
by highest seraphim adored,
assumed our very nature;
Jesus, grant us,
through thy merit, to inherit
hear, O hear our supplication.
Rejoice, ye heavens; thou earth, reply;
with praise, ye sinners, fill the sky,
for this his Incarnation.
Incarnate God, put forth thy power,
ride on, ride on, great Conqueror,
till all know thy salvation.
Praise be given
evermore, by earth and heaven.
How bright appears the Morning Star, with mercy beaming from afar; the host of heaven rejoices; O righteous Branch, O Jesse's Rod! Thou Son of Man and Son of God! We, too, will lift our voices: Jesus, Jesus! Holy, holy, yet most lowly, draw thou near us; great Emmanuel, come and hear us. There is a particularly bright and wonderful star that illumines the twilight eastern horizon at sunset – it is the Evening Star. It trails across the sky through the long dark night and is viewed as the Morning Star just before the dawning of the Sun. It is the brightest star (planet) in the sky. Its beauty and presence give promise through the dreary night of the coming day. I suppose the Star which the Magi followed to Bethlehem was much like that Morning Star. Both the Star of Bethlehem and the Bright and Morning Star, represent our Lord’s coming. Born of a simple young virgin, our Lord came not by way of palaces and temples but was proclaimed by angelic hosts to the poor and humble shepherds on the hills overlooking sleepy little Bethlehem. In its circuit, Venus approaches nearer to earth than other planets just as our Lord is nearest to us among many brethren. He came from the glorious kingdom to inherit the crowns and scepters of all kingdoms.
Though circled by the hosts on high, he deigned to cast a pitying eye upon his helpless creature; the whole creation's Head and Lord, by highest seraphim adored, assumed our very nature; Jesus, grant us, through thy merit, to inherit thy salvation; hear, O hear our supplication. Coming as He did from the glorious Kingdom, leaving behind the close order companionship of His beloved Father, our Lord demonstrated a level of love that to us mortals is incomprehensible by coming among a world of sinners and reprobates, the enemies of the Father, to save us from ourselves – our sins. He was adored by the Father, by the Angelic hosts, by Seraphim and Cherubim, and daily was showered by the praise of Heaven. He left all of that to come among a vulgar and spiteful race – not to condemn, but to redeem. We can in nowise inherit the Kingdom of God by our own merits – only by His IMPUTED righteousness.
Rejoice, ye heavens; thou earth, reply; with praise, ye sinners, fill the sky, for this his Incarnation. Incarnate God, put forth thy power, ride on, ride on, great Conqueror, till all know thy salvation. Amen, amen! Alleluia, alleluia! Praise be given evermore, by earth and heaven. Indeed did the Heavens rejoice at the incarnation of our Lord. “9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; All of you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a crib. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. The angels of Heaven are engrossed by the glory and beauty of God and His Creation. Can you imagine the wonder of the poor shepherds at seeing the whole sky filled with glorious angels! Christ is, indeed, the conqueror of every evil enemy. The tender Babe of Bethlehem would become the courageous victor of the Cross and Tomb, but the story does not end there. He shall come again leading the armies of Heaven to bring judgment upon the wicked: “11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. 12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word (o. logos) of God. 14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should strike the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And he has on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. 17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the m idst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; 18 That all of you may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.” Where shall you be standing on that day?
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Happy First Sunday after the Epiphany!
The AOC Sunday Report can be downloaded RIGHT HERE.
There are really great sermons from Bishops Jerry and Roy, as well as Rev Jack. Sadly Rev Brian is not providing a sermon as he is quite sick today.
As always there are many many people that would appreciate your prayers. Please take the time. Start with Shamu, Bob and Tricia, work out from there.
There's an awesome week ahead, but you won't find it without the help of the Holy Ghost.
Church of the Faithful Centurion
Sermon Notes - First Sunday after The Epiphany - 12 January 2020, Anno Domini (in the Year of Our Lord)
The First Sunday after The Epiphany.
LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ
to the Gentiles.
GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
¶ This Collect is to be said daily throughout the Octave
The Epistle for today came from the Twelfth Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans beginning at the First Verse.
BESEECH you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
We learn in today’s Gospel text that even the mother, and supposed father (for God was His true Father), of Jesus became separated from their son for three days or more:
The Gospel for today came from the Second Chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke beginning at the Forty-First Verse.
OW his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
The Star to which the Prayer of Collect for Epiphany refers is none other than that Bright and Morning Star which leads all, both believing Jew and Gentile, to God. There are no people of God apart from those who have placed their trust in God, the kingdom as a national edifice having been torn from the rulers of the Jews. Jesus told the Jewish rulers: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” (Matt 21:43) Now is that Faith of Abraham joined together into one Church of both Gentiles and Jews who believe. Neither the Muslim, the unbelieving Jew, Buddhist, or Hindu will be received into that Church – the Door is Christ.
Paul is preaching in the Epistle not only to the Gentiles of Rome, but to the believing Jew as well. Instead of the dead sacrifices of the Jewish Temple, God requires our LIVING sacrifice of love, compassion, and obedience. When we come to the Lord Jesus Christ, we are made new creatures in mind and soul. The process is not only abrupt, but continuing. We are to renew our minds daily to conform to the mind and will of Christ.
Before addressing the particular details of the Gospel found in Luke today, let us first examine what constitutes the nature of the saints of God as demonstrated in Mary, the mother of Jesus, John the Baptist, and others.
Mary inherited a special blessing in being privileged to carry in her womb the Son of God. Jesus is the only Man born to woman who had no earthly father. He was the only Man ever to be born who was also God. He came preaching the will of His Father, and representing His Father in all truth and purpose. No other can ever stand in the place of God because no man is God. The Roman Church pays much reverence to saints and exalts them to a pinnacle of divinity in praying for their intercessions; but the saints are not above the common level of mankind even if they led exemplary Christian lives. They still had shortcomings and sinned. Mary, too, was God’s perfect virgin Lady in a mortal and carnal body that was subject to sin and error. Yes, she was highly favored and blessed of God, yet she was imperfect in nature.
Though those who are saints (all who are loyal and obedient to God) are blessed with many graces by God, they are also put through many harsh and painful trials. Consider with me the plight of poor Mary. Being young lass at the time of Gabriel’s visitation, she had hopes and dreams like all young ladies have. She wanted a loving home, a loving husband, healthy children, and parents that would always love her. She desired to be socially accepted in the community as well, and the Jewish community at Nazareth was small in number of souls, but the number of gossiping tongues and prying eyes were as the constellations of heaven. So when Mary became pregnant out of season, though Joseph was obedient to God in taking Mary as his wife, the tongues doubtless waged and expressed unmentionable conjectures. The Christian saint of our day must suffer much libel and disapproval, too. The world labels us as freaks and malcontents. So we suffer in smaller scale the same degradations as did the precious young lady, Mary, and too often without justification. But the fruit of Mary’s womb would be a blessing to all peoples and men from the east, west, north, and south would come and sit at the feet of her Son and be blessed equally.
Look at the ordeal young Mary had to suffer when the Child was ready to be born. Circumstances, under the Providence of God, caused Mary to travel a three days journey to Bethlehem riding on a donkey. Mothers can scarcely imagine that discomfort she experienced, and men can never even slightly grasp it. Once arrived at Bethlehem, I am sure Mary was anxious to find suitable lodging at which she could rest her head and weary body; but no such lodging was available. Mary must have pondered God’s will in allowing her Child (and His) to be born in a stable among the beasts of the field. What utter degradation in her mind. It is true that those who give their lives as a living sacrifice to God often experience circumstances that always seem contrary to their purpose. Nothing good seems to come without a great struggle and much suffering. We are suddenly and without notice often required to go places where we desire not to go, and live in conditions that are not consistent with our expectations.
No sooner had Mary settled in a home with the Child then God ordered Joseph, in a dream, to flee into a foreign land – Egypt. Mary had never been further from her home in Nazareth than tiny Bethlehem. Now she must again pick up her scarce belongings and flee into a land of which she knew nothing. No sooner had Mary adapted to the new home in Egypt before the Lord ordered their return to Nazareth. Sometimes, the saint may begin to wonder if the world is right after all – perhaps we are more than a ‘peculiar people.’ Perhaps we are, as the world alleges, freaks. But just the opposite is true. No matter the inconvenience, the pain, the suffering – it is always the very best Way that leads the Way of Heaven.
I love to read the writings of the great Martin Luther. He is quite serious but, at the same time, allows his German disposition to evince itself in his writings. Here is a quote that Luther made about the sufferings of Jesus and John the Baptist: “Thus God reverses the order and acts in a contrary way, deals so harshly and offensively, according to human reason and opinion, with His dearly beloved Son as He would not deal with any man on earth, as if He were not the Son of God, or of man, but the child of Satan! In the same way He also dealt with His well-beloved servant, John the Baptist, of whom Christ says, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt 11:11), and yet upon him He conferred the honor of being beheaded by a knave.” A saint, like Mary and John the Baptist, is a good soldier who obeys orders from God without question – even if those commands make no present sense to him.
Finally, and this happens at the moment of death of many saints, Mary has her heart pierced by a spear at the foot of the Cross at Calvary. What agony was hers as she watched her beloved Son writhe in pain and struggle to breathe while suspended from the Cross by nails. Had not Gabriel warned the young woman of years ago, “(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,)”
(Luke 2:35) Imagine her great sorrow and anguish when all hope of life seemed to fade for her Son and, then, at last, a soldier comes along and thrust a spear into His beloved heart. Jesus was already dead, but Mary was not! That piercing wound hurt Mary far more than it did her Son. Evil abounds on all sides in our world. It has never been the will of God that the innocent are violently slain or abused, but the heart of man is full of wickedness and evil. He gave his heart over to the wrong Tree at Eden and rejected God. We must endure that evil, and oppose it always, until we close our eyes in the sleep of death.
Now let us observe some salient points revealed in today’s Gospel. 41 “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.” This was a spiritual duty, and the mother of Jesus, and Joseph, were good examples of a Christian home. They attended the religious services faithfully of their religion. While many today cannot muster energy to travel two blocks to church on the Lord’s Day, these traveled over harsh terrain a three day’s journey for the Passover. Little did Mary and Joseph realize that they carried the future and final Passover with them – “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor 5:7) Many years later, Mary and Jesus would make that same trip to Jerusalem at Passover, and Christ would be the Lamb to be sacrificed.
For these past several years, Mary and Joseph had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, and now Jesus was twelve years old – the age, presumed by religion, to be the age of moral consciousness. Jesus was more than morally conscious. He taught doctors in the Temple! We have, in this account, the only meager remnants of the young life of Jesus. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.” Just as He would do some twenty one years later, Jesus enters the Temple at Jerusalem and confronts the teachers of the Temple – this time as a Child, the last with a reed with which he beat the money changers and overturned their tables.
Since the annual Passover journey to Jerusalem was a Jewish national event, there were great numbers in the company of travelers from Nazareth – perhaps all of the village who were able to travel. 43 “And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.” It is very easy to have Jesus in our hearts, so very close as a beloved Child, yet lose His constant fellowship through neglect of attention. “44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.” How do you suppose poor Mary felt? She had been entrusted with a Child that was ONLY hers and that of God the Father – and she has lost Him. She did not lose Him for a few minutes, or for a few hours, but THREE days! What do you suppose went through Mary’s mind and heart? When we are separated from Christ owing to our own neglect to study and love Him, do we not suffer great sorrow? Mary had taken Jesus for granted. She believed He was among all of the other playful children on the journey, but she did not make CERTAIN! We must not take our fellowship with Christ for granted.
45 “And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.” If we place too great a distance between our daily living and Christ, we may not so easily find Him again. Our lives, without Christ, become confused and disorderly and, though Christ is always accessible to us if we seek Him, the weeds may have grown over the trail of that access.
Though the Temple was the most likely place to find Jesus, it was perhaps the last place Joseph and Mary looked for they had been in Jerusalem some hours before they found Him. 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” Here is an important lesson regarding Christ and our prayers. He not only hears us, but also inquires. So, you want an opulent new home? “Why do you need such when your neighbor is living in a shanty?” Jesus may ask. It was completely contrary to reason that a twelve year old would be dialoguing with doctors of religion – listening to their highfalutin chatter, and then asking of them the meaning.
Jesus will astonish us with His remarkable solutions to our problems if we will only ask in humility. 47 “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” These were all lawyers and doctors of religion – teachers of the law; yet, they were astonished at the wisdom and understanding of a twelve year old Boy. Should we not be even more astonished at the Words and Wisdom of the Risen Lord? All that hear (many will refuse to hear) shall be astonished at Christ. Have you been astonished at His Words?
The human instincts of the mother in Mary overrode her understanding and memory of Gabriel’s message. 48 “And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” Perhaps Mary’s feeling of personal guilt at losing her Son caused her to shift the blame to Jesus. But Mary was no unaccustomed to suffering for the Child that she bore by Heaven’s decree.
It has been argued by many errant theologians that Jesus had no sense of identity until His baptism, but this verse disqualifies such a supposition: 49 “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” Christ clearly reveals Himself here to be the Son of God!
How often we fail to grasp the higher meaning of the teachings of the Bible! Even though we have read, and seemingly understood, just a while later, the meaning escapes us. Mary had been told by the Angel of Christ and His Life, yet Mary has long suffered many diversions and forgotten, for the present, the whole meaning shared by Gabriel. 50 “And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.”If we had a perfect understanding of all of the Words of Christ, how could we ever lose Him. We read the Scriptures through a lens of deception too often. We read and interpret the words of the Bible in such a way as to justify our own selfish notions. How often do ministers and theologians propose and theological doctrine, and then limit their reading only to those parts of Scripture that seem to justify that doctrine?
Jesus was an obedient Son. He knew His mother and Joseph did not understand fully what He was about, so He tarried for the perfect timing of His Father to continue His ministry. 51 “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” But Mary mulled over these events in her mind. Perhaps she began to recall the Words of Gabriel and compared them to her experiences with Jesus at Jerusalem and as He was growing up in Nazareth. Perhaps she even wondered about the sword that would pierce her own heart, but not fully knowing. We see now, as Paul says, through a glass darkly, but one day we shall see face-to-face!
52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” There one thing that God may have not known before Jesus became man – that is, how does it FEEL to be human? Though He knows our hearts well, God had never experienced physical pain, want, hunger, and thirst. But Jesus experienced all of the emotions and sensations of pain and patience we have experienced while in the flesh. He grew in wisdom, for wisdom cannot remain idle. The favor of the Father was showered upon Hi Son more and more as the years passed and the day of His Passion approached. It was undoubtedly a time of great joy for the Father in seeing His Son fulfill the measure of love, grace, obedience and trails of life; but it must have also been and agonizing period for the Father in anticipating the great abuse and torture that His Son would undergo at the moment of that Passion. The thought of all that Christ suffered for us should be a constant source of grief mingled with joy - grief to know that He did all for us, and joy to know that His sacrifice was sufficient even for our own sins. Could we withstand the grief and heartache of Mary, of John? We shall see in the moment of God’s own choosing.
Friday, January 10, 2020
The Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ
to the Gentiles.
GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
¶ This Collect is to be said daily throughout the Octave
OW when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. (Matt 2:1-12)
Monday was Epiphany at which time we observe the Lord’s introduction to the Gentile peoples. It represents the beginning of our own coming, as former Gentiles, into the inheritance of Israel through that Seed of Promise made known in Abraham and all of faith since his time. We were once, as the Wise Men were, a people afar off from the promises of God in Israel, but a great Light has appeared unto those of us who sat in darkness, and we have followed that Great beam of Light from God’s Light House to Christ.
I have been following that Star which lighted the path of the Wise Men from the first moment that it appeared to me. It is the Bright and Morning Star of my, and your, salvation. There have been times in my life, just as did the wise Men, that I detoured from following that constant Light and wound up in Jerusalem, or the city made with hands, instead of following the constant Star to Christ. The false lights of the city will often distract us, for they appear bright and many. We mistakenly suppose that Christ will always be found in the seat of great worldly power; but we err greatly in that supposition. He is more likely to be found along the road to Damascus, or along the path leading to Jericho, or along the quiet, still waters of Galilee. The great multitudes do not seek Christ and His Light among humble shepherds on the dark slopes of little Bethlehem; or in the rude, wooden frame of a manger for cattle. Most will not seek Him in the lonely little Mount of Olives, the Gethsemane Garden, nor even at Calvary. They seek Him, as at first the Wise Men sought Him, in the palace and lights of Jerusalem – the center of power! Though we may be wise, God is always the wiser. If we will disregard our own frail, human reason and follow that Light which God provides, we shall never go astray.
It is interesting to note in our text today that the Wise Men had followed the glorious Star, which they had seem hundreds of miles away, to Palestine. As they drew nearer, they disregarded the Light of the Star and began to lean upon their own understanding. They reckoned that the King of Israel should be born in the King’s Palace at Jerusalem, - but they were wrong. Their wisdom was interrupted by a moment of foolish self-reason. Once they departed the gates and false lights of Jerusalem, they saw the Star again and were glad. It happens sometimes that, as we undertake to serve God with open mind and heart, we begin, as the Wise Men, to follow the Light of Christ. But as our labors grow constantly more fruitful in building a work for the Lord, we are distracted by some false and cheaply glittering worldly light. It may be that our ambitions for a church of great size has blinded us to the purity of truth and worship upon which we at first embarked in our labors. BIG is always better, isn’t it? NO – a resounding NO! It is NOT always better. Witness the millions who follow the false prattle of Joel Osteen and his ilk in our day! If the foundation is build well and measures four-square, so shall the structure which is built upon it. Our foundation in the Church is Jesus Christ and His Word.
It is a curious thing to note that When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. I am less surprised at the troubling effect the birth of Jesus had on Herod than I am to see that ALL JERRUSALEM as well were troubled. It is not surprising that governments despise Christ because His government is perceived by them to usurp their own power. But the government of God can only bolster and secure the rightful powers of government. It is the greed for power, and more power always, of men that cause their hatred of Christ. But all of those who surround the king were also bewildered at the news of the birth of Jesus. It is true today that the government wishes to extinguish the Star of Christ from the minds of men; and it is also true that the great merchants and commercial interests likewise wish to be complicit with what they ignorantly consider to be the greater power. As long as the merchants make Caesar happy, they are free to trade in lewd pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, drugs, and every other evil influence imaginable in the minds of men.
Let us examine the possible cause for all of Jerusalem being troubled at the news of Christ’s birth:
1. There was nothing of the nature of alarm in the news. There was a baby born whom the Wise Men simply came to worship. There was no armed military at His command – He was but a baby! Herod was a ruthless king. Why would the inhabitants of Jerusalem not have been overjoyed that a king, as innocent as a baby, were exalted to some political throne over them?
2. The news was of a wonderful nature – it was GOOD NEWS! Do not men usually celebrate the birth of a pretender to the throne?
3. The news was such as had been prophesied by the prophets. Even the Scribes and Jewish leaders knew of it; yet, they sided with Herod. It was the elders of the Jews that informed Herod, at his inquiry, as to where the Child should be born – Bethlehem!
Christ came to Bethlehem, and mighty Jerusalem was troubled by it without cause. Christ came to Asia Minor, to Rome, to Spain, to Europe and England – and they were troubled by His coming. He came into MY heart, and I was, at first, so troubled that I could scarcely rest until I had discovered that He would abide in my heart. It is also quite profound to learn that not everyone sees that Light of the Star that was so visible to the Wise Men, just as has all others who have met the Bright and Morning Star. If the eye is not trained to see the value of a ruby, a diamond, or an emerald, it will easily be deceived by the false stone made of dough. If the eye is full of Light, then the whole body shall be full of light. But if the eye is darkened, the whole body will be full of darkness and oblivious to the resplendent Light without!
Man will not foil God’s purpose. Herod desired to destroy even a Baby who was rumored to be King. So the wise Men were warned of God not to return to Herod with the news of their discovery. They departed “another way.” Notice that they came to Bethlehem by way of the manmade city – Jerusalem; but once you have come to Christ, your life will continue on “another way.” No longer will you be drawn to seats of worldly power and commerce, but by another way governments and men do not understand – and they cannot follow. Consider how blessed you are by this wonderful fact!