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Sunday, April 16, 2017
Sermon - Rev Hap Arnold
Church of the Faithful Centurion - Descanso, California
Today’s sermon ties together the propers, that is to say the prayer and Scripture readings for this week.
Today is Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The central event of not only the Christian Year; but of Christianity and the entire world. Witness the terms AD and BC. Anno Domini (the year of our Lord) and Before Christ. Even the politically correct BCE - CE (that is to say, Before Common Era and Common Era) divides time at the birth of our Lord. Even those who fall in that trap must recognize Him!
When you google images for the term Easter, you find 95 percent of the images, eggs, bunnies and chocolates. That is NOT our celebration. That is NOT what Easter is about. Easter is not about finding goodies inside plastic shells. The Christian year has four main celebrations. Christmas celebrates the incarnation or human birth of Jesus, the Christ of God. Epiphany celebrates His revealing to the Gentiles, that would be us! Good Friday remembers, the word celebrate hardly fits here, the one time sacrifice for all mankind for all time by our Lord and Savior (that is where the word savior comes in) that we might be accounted as perfect when we stand before Him at the final judgment day. Today, Easter is, in Spanish La Resurreccion, in English The Resurrection, The Return to Life of Jesus, Christ of God, who returned from death, from Hell, to deliver His promise of eternal life in person!
Consider these words from the Collect:
… Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; We humbly beseech thee that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect…
In the Collect, we acknowledge by the sacrifice made on Good Friday by the One and Only Perfect Man, a single sacrifice, made one time, for all mankind, for all time by our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ of God, we have eternal life. We no longer our bound to the rules of the Old Covenant whereby animal sacrifices were required. These sacrifices have never worked, as they could not provide what Christ provided in His Sacrifice. He provided a body free and unblemished from the tarnishes of sin. He was truly the perfect Lamb without blemish or spot. This would allow Him to stand in our place. He truly took our place upon the cross of sin literally and figuratively. By Jesus Christ overcoming death, we through Him, are no longer under the threat of death of our eternal soul in the Pit. No longer can anyone condemn us to death, they may destroy our bodies, but we live on in Him and through Him in Heaven. With an acknowledgement of the fact God sent His Son to be our Savior giving us eternal life, we go on to ask His Help so our hearts might desire good and with that Help put those desires into action so that we might accept that eternal life offered us by that same Jesus Christ. That is what that preventing is all about. Today we think of the word as meaning stopping something, but it also means going before one, as in this case God’s special or particular grace preparing the way for us by changing our hearts to desire what is good for us rather than things we often want that are bad for us in the end. Without Him to smooth the road, we will not make it.
Paul then tells us, if we say we are with Christ, we must act with Him. The Sacrifice He made for us is not free. There is no free lunch, nor in this case is there a free ticket to Heaven. There is a continual debate in many denominations whether we are saved by faith alone, or by good works. Our answer to this debate must make it clear that only the faith of Jesus can save us, His faith, not ours; then our faith in Him, our belief, our trust, in Him, not in our own selves. If we have faith, we have to firstly believe, and if we truly believe, we will of necessity back up that claimed faith with actions or works so to speak. So, we are saved by our faith, but our faith requires operative action upon our part. We must continually seek to better ourselves by setting our sights on Him in Heaven and guiding our actions by Him, by associating with others likeminded. We must turn our backs on this earth if we truly face heaven. We must use Jesus as our compass, for looking to ourselves results only in confusion. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:24, “One cannot serve two masters.” We must choose Him or Mammon. I know which one I choose, hopefully you do as well.
When we come to Holy Week, we find a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, triumphant in the eyes of the beholders, beholders who really have no clue what this is all about. The crowd, with some of the same people who later condemned Him, welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with the expectation He came to free them from the Roman yoke, to hold them up, to put their feet on the Romans’ necks. Yet, He knew where He was going and what would happen. He was in control of the situation. He knew what was going to happen. He would not have set the plan in motion if He didn’t know it would work. He knew that the end result would be a success, but He also knew that there would be incredible pain and suffering involved on the road to His resurrection.
As He saw the road ahead was filled with obstacles, the pain and suffering, so too, do we know that it will be filled with hard times and suffering also. But like He, we must persevere on the straight and narrow path, refusing to ever give up. He never gave up on us, why would we give up on Him? When we are in trying and very difficult circumstances let us remember Our Lord’s circumstances. When those who had followed Him abandoned Him, including Peter who denied him three times. Add to this being betrayed by one of those He had included in the ranks of the Apostles, who had been seduced by the greed of earthly treasures. Then on top of this, His unfair trial, then His painful death upon the cross for us all. Then He had to descend into Hell and do battle with the Devil.
Compared to all of this, are any of our circumstances even close? Can any of them truly compare to the sadness, despair and agony our Lord felt in Holy Week, with the Dramatic Conclusion on Good Friday. The answer is no, no matter how hard and trying our circumstances are, we cannot even come close to the magnitude of pain He felt. We must remember how hard things were during this week for Him, especially as He knew precisely what would happen to Him.
The week built towards the First Day of the First Week of the New Covenant. Jesus knew what He was doing.
Reflect on this, during World War II on D-Day, the first waves were National Guard and new recruits. No veterans of Torch, Norway or Dieppe. Why? Because all the soldiers were patriots and all were ready to defend their country; but like Peter, the new guys did not know what that really meant.
Crucifixion, a cruel painful death. Painful beyond our comprehension. Think about the mechanics of being nailed to a cross. Think about that. Then think about the descent into hell to do battle with the devil. Think about that. No matter what you imagine, like D-Day the reality exceeded the expectation.
Yet Jesus, being God, knew exactly what He was volunteering for. And He rode towards the sound of gunfire with full and certain knowledge of His Death and also of His Resurrection. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15.13
Jesus went with full knowledge aforethought where no one would go – FOR YOU, FOR ME, FOR US. That is Good Friday’s lesson.
Today, The Resurrection, Easter or as it is called in Spanish, Dia de la Resurreccion, is the day that the promise of everlasting life was delivered. It is the completion of the sacrifice He made for us on Good Friday, it is His triumphant return from the depths of Hell, having procured an eternal victory for all of those who would truly follow Him and act upon His name. He went for us with full knowledge of where no one but Him would go, so that we may have eternal life. Dwell on that and think of how much love He truly has for us, that he went and endured significant and terrible emotional pain for us.
This one perfect sacrifice, one time, for all time and for all mankind was made for YOU. All you need to do to get the benefit is follow Christ. So, what does that mean? See John 14.23: Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
It is not attending church that makes you a Christian, it is doing what He asks of you. Going to church just gives you help and encouragement. It makes you part of a team, part of a coherent unit. After all, the more people there are in a group like the church, the more stable it will be. And more stable also will our spiritual lives be if we have friends and family involved in it as well, to keep us on that straight and narrow path.
Today, you have a choice, just like every day. Today you can be a Chreaster, that is one who celebrates Christmas and Easter and does not live the life or you can be a Christian. One who follows Christ. There is a difference between the two and it is big. The key in the difference is actions and faith. You have to have faith in Our Lord and you have to act for our Lord. This will determine if you are a Christian truly or only one in name.
If you choose being a Christian, be prepared for constant failure and shortfall of goal. So long as you do your best and never give up Christ will account you as perfect when it counts.
Today, the first day in Eternity or another day off your life towards death. Your choice. Jesus made His, you make yours.
When the time comes, how will you ACT?
It is by our actions we are known.
Be of God - Live of God - Act of God