Warrior Angels

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 28, 2014, Pentecost XVI

Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Psalm 103:19-22, Revelations 12:7-12, Luke 10:17-20

From the book of the Prophet Daniel:
The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.

From The Revelation to St. John:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

“We’re at war!” Those are horrible words. But for millions of people around the world they are true. Jesus warned us about these wars! He told us that there would be wars and rumors of wars until He comes again. And so it is. We live in a world that seems to be at war all the time, at least somewhere in the world.

There was World War I, which was called the war to end all wars; that had over 37 million casualties. Then twenty years later, World War II made WWI look like child’s play; over 60 million people perished. Since then, we have witnessed wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, just to name a few. And that’s just the recent wars that the United States was involved with.

And who could forget September 11, 2001, that forced us to realize that we are at war with Muslim extremists – Terrorists. They are known by many names: Al-Qaida, ISIS, Khorasan, Taliban, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbollah, just to name a few. War is no stranger to our world.

“We’re at war!” We see war, not only in our world, but also in our personal relationships. Jesus warned us about these wars too! We have marriages ending in divorce; children rebelling against their parents; and neighbors not always neighborly.

“We’re at war!” Sometimes we are at war with ourselves: a battle rages within our hearts and souls; some people battle addictions, depression, doubts and fears. These wars are perhaps the scariest, because they often stay with you your entire life, and no one knows about them except you.

Behind every one of these wars, stands Satan. His long war against God plays itself out in our world, in our homes, and in our hearts. World War II pales in comparison to the cosmic battle between the devil’s forces of darkness and the Angelic Army of Light – led, Scriptures teaches, by the archangel Michael. Human hatred at its vilest is child’s play compared to the devilish disgust that Satan has for the Lord and His church. The darkness in our hearts that fights against saving faith is child’s play compared to the devilish darkness of hell!

Do I have your attention? Good. Because God wants you to know something: We’re at war and the enemies are awful; we’re at war, and our allies are awesome; we’re at war, but fear not, because our victory it total!

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:7-9)

Every war has an enemy. Who is our enemy today? Is it Muslim extremists? Is it poverty or global hunger? Is it global warming? Is it addiction or divorce? The Bible pulls no punches and names who is responsible: The devil is the great enemy who stands behind evil thought, word, and deed.

Do we think of the devil that way? Often the devil is pictured in some cartoon, dressed in red holding a pitch fork. Who would take that man seriously? Well-meaning people may scoff at the idea of demonic forces and good and evil angels, but the fact remains that this is biblical. The Holy Scriptures depict him as a dragon, a serpent and even a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. When Satan rebelled against God and was judged, some of the angels fell with him and became the demonic evil angels that oppose Christ and obey Satan (Matt. 25:41). One thing is certain, he wants you; and he wants your soul. The devil and his demons are enemy number one and he is awfully good at what he does!

But God is even better at what He does! The devil is an awful enemy. But we have the Lord and His protecting angels as our allies. Who is our ally? God himself is in our corner. God Himself went toe to toe with the devil and He won! Salvation, power, and authority are ours in the name of Jesus Christ. The devil may be good at pointing out our sins, but the Lord is even better at forgiving our sin and soothing our hearts with the Lamb’s precious blood. That’s God’s SALVATION.

The devil may be good at stirring up trouble in this sinful world as the prince of darkness, but the Lord is even better at ruling heaven and earth for the good of His people, for the good of His church. That’s God’s POWER.

The devil may be good at pushing people around to get his dirty work done, but the Lord is even better at equipping and sending His people out with His Good News to accomplish His saving work. That’s God’s AUTHORITY.

Jesus says in Matthew: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:18:20)

How did Jesus win the battle? He won big – through what seemed like a big loss. Jesus came to us as a simple infant boy; grew up and spent 40 days in the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan. Jesus didn’t waver. The people rejected Him, and when Jesus hung on the cross, the devil must have thought that he had won. But the cross and empty tomb became the final two Holy-nails in the devil’s coffin. Through Jesus, the Lamb, our sin has been paid for; our death has been defeated, and the devil’s power has been destroyed.

We’ve got other allies too. The Bible calls them the angels! And their leader is the archangel Michael. And what humorous caricature do you picture when you think of angels? You probably think of a cute pudgy smiling baby-faced creature with wings. Michael’s warrior angels are holy, spiritual creatures of God that shout His praises in heaven’s throne room. At times, angels have served as the Lord’s messengers at key points in salvation’s history. Do you remember an angel called Gabriel, who brought the good news that Mary was going to have a son named Jesus? Angels are powerful spiritual creatures that the Lord created to assist Him in protecting mankind. And God used His warrior angels to defeat Satan for good!

We’re at war, but the future is looking bright, because we have awesome allies – Christ and the whole company of heaven – in our corner!

I am not sure who said it first, but you need to identify your enemy, before you can defeat him. Satan is the terrorist; Satan is the home-wreaker; Satan destroys people’s lives.

The Bibles says: And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:11-12)

The devil’s power is broken through the blood of the Lamb. No one doubts that we have lost our battles with temptation and have plenty of sin stored away. If it came to winning the crown of life by ourselves, we would have burned up in the fires of hell long ago. But because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, that’s not going to happen. We aren’t going to share in the devil’s destruction, because our victory in Jesus Christ is total. Total forgiveness. Full forgiveness. Free forgiveness. A forgiveness that is poured out upon each and every one of us through the blood of the Lamb.

John says it well: “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

Christ’s shed blood gives us our perfect standing before God (1 John1:5-2:2). But our witness to God’s Word and our willingness to lay down our lives for Christ defeats Satan as well. Satan is not equal to God; he is not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. His power is limited and his tactics must fail when God’s people trust the power of the blood and of the Word. Nothing Satan does can rob us of “salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ’ (Rev. 12:10), if we are yielded to Him. God’s great purposes will be fulfilled!

The devil’s power is broken. And his pitiful little kingdom takes a pounding, each and every time God’s Word is put to use. Let no one say that the Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t powerful. Faith comes from hearing the message of Jesus Christ – the word of their testimony. And where faith is, the devil must retreat. Every time a child is baptized, Satan looses a slave. Every time a sermon is preached, the devil’s lies are exposed. Every time a Bible is read, doubts are subdued. Every time a “Glory be to God on High” is sung, the devil is exposed to be a pitiful creature of darkness – a cowardly, weak, sniveling terrorist. Hang onto the Word of God, because when you hang onto that true Word of testimony, the devil must let go!

We’re at war. Sin and temptation is still around us. Don’t let the devil fool you! He’s the one who is suffering, not ruling. The war has already been won! Jesus sits securely on His throne. The Lord’s angels protect us. The Lord’s testimony is proclaimed to you – right here, right now.

Believers in any age or situation can rejoice in this victory, no matter how difficult their experiences may be. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of the wicked one; and these have been defeated by our Saviour (Eph. 6:10ff).

May Jesus Christ bless you on this St. Michael’s and all angels Day, as together we join Michael and all the hosts of heaven in celebrating Jesus’ victory! Hosanna in the Highest!

Let us pray:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of
angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship
you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one
God, now and forever. Amen. †

Gracious Gift of Eternal Life

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 21, 2014, Pentecost XV

Exodus 16:2-15, Psalm 105:1-6, Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16

From the Book of Exodus:
And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Yesterday, our church had a fundraiser on the city common for Waltham Days. Once again we sold popcorn, soft drinks, water, and juice boxes. As with other fundraising events, some people worked hard all day; some came in the morning and had to leave; others came in the afternoon; while others just came to help clean up and take down the tables and other equipment. Regardless of how long a person helped on the fundraiser, everyone got the same “reward.” Everyone who helped on the fundraiser will be thanked and mentioned during announcements in the worship service. Is that fair?

This is similar to the parable that’s mentioned in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus used parables when describing something that was almost incomprehensible to the people around Him. Jesus used parables to teach about heavenly realities. When you read a parable that Jesus taught, there is always one main teaching behind that parable. Jesus used today’s parable to focus people on His grace and on His mercy.

When Jesus tells this parable to those around Him, He continually focuses His discussion around the wage. In this parable, the wage that He gives is not based upon what you do, but upon what He wants to distribute. And there were actually two kinds of workers hired that day: those who wanted a contract and agreed to work for a penny a day, and those who had no contract and agreed to take whatever the Landowner thought was right.

For instance, the wage He discussed with the workers early in the morning was presented to the workers and agreed upon. The Landowner states that the wage, or payment, for working in the vineyard is a denarius, which is a standard day’s wage. In the morning, these men were quite happy with that agreement, but as the day went on the agreement began to sour. At nine o’clock in the morning, noon, and three o’clock in the afternoon, the Landowner again went out into the marketplace and offered a wage that the Landowner would decide. One last time, at five o’clock in the afternoon, the Landowner goes into the marketplace and seeks workers for His vineyard. Again, He tells them that He will pay them a wage that is right. In other words, the Landowner tells the workers hired from 9:00am through 5:00pm that the wage will be right, but the wage is up to my discretion.

At the end of the day, the Landowner told His steward to call the laborers, starting with the ones hired last, and pay them all one denarius. From an outsider looking in, we can plainly see that this landowner is very generous. However, when He paid all of the workers the same wage, even though some of them put forth more effort, He angered the ones that had been there longer. Even though Holy Scripture does not provide us with the response from all of the workers, it is not difficult to imagine that each group hired earlier than another (and therefore laboring more) were somewhat envious of that earlier group and dissatisfied with their payment. However, the Landowner paid to each group hired what He believed was just and right. This really hits home for all of us today.

For example, think about the lives of the apostles. Jesus came to them and said, “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19). They dropped what they were doing to be with Jesus. Some of the apostles walked away from a prosperous, family fishing business. When Jesus called, they dropped their nets and followed Him. Still, other apostles had occupations and livelihoods, which they walked away from just to be with Jesus. They gave up everything they had and yet when it comes to the Kingdom of heaven, who is raised higher? Who is mightier? Who receives the better wage, the apostles or the thief on the cross? Did the thief being executed for living a horrible life, worthy of punishment by crucifixion, receive greater wages than the apostle that walked with Jesus after walking away from the family business?

Do the apostles have a right to be upset? After all, they gave up everything they owned and worked longer in the mission field with Jesus. The answer is, NO. The apostles received a just and right wage. You may say that the apostles worked harder than the thief on the cross. Yet, it is Jesus who decides what the payment is, and in this case the payment is extremely generous.

The lesson for Christ’s disciples is obvious. We should not serve Him because we want to receive an expected reward, and we should not insist on knowing what we will get.
God is infinitely generous and gracious and will always give us better than we deserve. We must trust Him unreservedly and believe that He will always give what is best.
Some of you have been Christians all of your life. Some of you have been brought into the fold much later in your lives. However, the Holy Spirit found you all standing in the marketplace, idle, and invited you into the vineyard to receive a just and right wage. That wage is the gracious gift of eternal life, which is not based upon how long you worked or how hard you worked, because the gift is nothing other than grace and not based upon your works.

Another interesting point of this parable concerns the sovereignty of God. In the parable, the Landowner pays wages, not only in the amount, but also to whomever He pleases. Of course the Landowner has a concern for having His vineyard tended to, but the Landowner also persistently goes out again and again inviting workers into the vineyard. Even at the very last hour, the Landowner seeks workers for His vineyard. This is precisely how God works in our day and age. He never gives up on seeking workers for the Kingdom.

As we pray for the people in our community; we pray that the Holy Spirit will one day break their hearts and we will see these people at worship. We grow frustrated with the task. However, God does not! He continually sends His Holy Spirit into the marketplace and the community seeking workers for He has a wage of eternal importance to the people. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to break the hearts and minds of unbelievers and He is very persistent. As a matter of fact, we ought to thank the Holy Spirit on a daily basis that He did not give up on any of us. Actually, once we are in the vineyard, the Spirit continues to work in our lives driving each worker to become, even more so, a child of God.

This parable contains another important message. The workers who came early in the morning, as well as those who came later in the day, worked. They did not simply come to the vineyard and stand around. They worked and I am certain they worked hard. Have you ever considered how difficult it is to work in a vineyard? How easy it is for us to purchase a bottle of wine and not realize all the man-hours that went into producing it.

The soil needs to be tended and the grapes need to be planted. Once the plants grow, they must be trained to grow up the trellis and then pruned occasionally. The grapes need to be picked at a certain time before the cold rains or hot sun rays destroy the flavor. The grapes must be pressed and crushed and then mixed with the correct ingredients to cause fermentation. Once the fermentation process has completed, the wine is bottled and aged before a single bottle is ready. Each and every bottle has a great deal of work upon it and the labor is not easy. In fact, it is quite intense.

The labor in the kingdom of God is also not easy. It is difficult. In fact, it also is quite intense. God’s kingdom needs people to plant seeds and He needs people to water and help the vines grow. All of this labor is difficult and each of you has been given certain gifts from our Creator that is perfect for a particular job in the growing Kingdom.
Matthew writes in his gospel that Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). How true it is for our small congregation. As a congregation, we are all workers called into the vineyard and the Landowner, Jesus, has an expectation that each of us will work at different jobs while we are in the vineyard.

Lastly, Christ points out in His parable that envy will not be tolerated. Be happy with what you have received. Beware of the danger of watching other workers and measuring yourself by them. “Judge nothing before the time,” Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 4:5. We see the worker and the work, but God sees the heart.

I appreciate how the Landowner of the parable has a very friendly tone towards His ignorant workers. The workers who came first expected something more. Perhaps they were standing in line expecting a bonus for the hard and lengthy work they contributed. That is not what they received. They received exactly what they agreed upon with the Landowner. When they became angry and quarrelsome, we hear these beautiful words, “Friend.” It is so lovely the way the Landowner begins the conversation with the angry workers. Friend, what is the problem? Am I being unfair? It is very easy for us to say here today, no. Of course, in our place of employment, I would expect to hear you all say, “Yeah! I worked my tail off! You have given the other workers the same wage you have given me, this worker arrives later than I do and he leaves earlier. In fact, he does not put the same amount of effort in that I do.”

We cannot allow ourselves to think in this manner, especially about the work in the Kingdom. In the Kingdom, our wages are not based upon what we do. In fact, praise God that we are not given what we deserve. Instead, we have a generous Landowner in Jesus Christ. In the parable, Jesus tells us that the wages He has He gives freely to whom He desires. His payment comes from His grace and if the Landowner desires to give freely, who are we to question His generosity?

We must beware of criticizing God and feeling that we have been left out. Had the early morning workers trusted the Landowner and not asked for an agreement, the Landowner would have given them much more. He was generous, but they would not trust Him. They did not rejoice that others received more; instead, they were jealous and complained. The goodness of the Landowner did not lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). It revealed the true character of their hearts.

Our payments will be received, each and every one of us, paid in full upon our death. We will be welcomed into that beautiful vineyard, the gates of heaven, and we must receive generously the gifts that Jesus has given to us and rejoice in the same generosity shown towards others.

Let us pray:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †

Seventy Times Seven

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 14, 2014, Pentecost XIV

Exodus 14:19-31, Psalm 114, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35

From the Book of Exodus:
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So, each of us shall give account of himself to God.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him, as many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

How many of you have been to your college reunion? Well, two guys, who were college roommates, sat in the reception hall of the hotel all night talking, drinking and reminiscing. They knew they would be in trouble with their wives, but at the time it didn’t matter. The next day they happened to see each other. One asked: “What did your wife say when you got to your room last night?” The other said, “I walked in the door and my wife got historical.” “Don’t you mean hysterical?” “No, historical; she told me everything I ever did wrong since she met me.”

Have you ever met people like that; ones who seem to rehash the past forever? The ones who can’t seem to get past some issue, some hang-up, some roadblock in their past? It’s as if they are still chained to something that happened years ago. I am sure that all of us have been hurt or wronged by someone in our past. And because of this we know firsthand how easy it could be to stay angry and to grow bitter to a person. The question is: did you resolve the matter with forgiveness or does it continue?

When we start living in an atmosphere of humility and honesty, we must take some risks and expect some dangers. Unless humility and honesty result in forgiveness, relationships cannot be mended and strengthened. Peter recognized the risks involved and asked Jesus how he should handle them in the future.

But Peter made some serious mistakes. To begin with, he lacked humility himself. He was sure his brother would sin against him, but not he against his brother! Peter’s second mistake was in asking for limits and measures. Where there is love, there can be no limits or dimensions (Eph. 3:17-19). Peter thought he was showing great faith and love when he offered to forgive at least seven times. After all, the rabbis taught that three times was sufficient.

Our Lord’s reply: “Until seventy times seven” (490 times) must have startled Peter. Who could keep count for that many offenses? But that was exactly the point Jesus was making: Love “keeps no record of wrongs” (Cor. 13:5). How many marriages would be saved, if we didn’t keep score? By the time we have forgiven a brother that many times, we are in the habit of forgiving.

But Jesus was not advising careless or shallow forgiveness. Christian love is not blind (Phil. 1:9-10). The forgiveness Christ requires is on the basis of the instructions He gave in our Gospel reading. If a brother is guilty of a repeated sin, no doubt he would find strength and power to conquer that sin through the encouragement of his loving and forgiving brethren. If we condemn a brother, we bring out the worst in him. But if we create an atmosphere of love and forgiveness, we can help God bring out the best in him.

The parable in our Gospel reading illustrates the power of forgiveness. It is important to note that this parable is not about salvation, for salvation is wholly of grace and is unconditionally given. This parable deals with the forgiveness between brothers, not between lost sinners and God.

There are many misconceptions about what Biblical forgiveness really is. Many people’s ideas of forgiveness have been shaped by the world and not by the Word; therefore there is a grave danger that many Christians are unfairly holding onto anger or bitterness that they should have let go of.

The first misconception is that “I will forgive, but not forget.” Many people say they will forgive, but they make sure that people know that they will never forget! Remember the wife at the college reunion. She was “historical” when her husband finally came to bed. She probably forgave her husband over the years for the things he did wrong, but she never forgot them. That is not healthy in a marriage or in any relationship; and it’s not healthy for you. If you do not forget the wrong, then it is not true forgiveness. Every Sunday we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We are told to forgive, as we want to be forgiven, and the Scriptures tell us that not only does God remove our sins, but also He forgets them and He remembers them no longer.

How would we like God to tell us upon our repentance that He will forgive, but not forget? What chance would we have in entering heaven and receiving eternal life? Fortunately for us, He does; He wipes the slate clean! And He expects us to do the same. Biblical forgiveness keeps no record of wrongs and does not hold a person’s sins over their head.

The second misconception is that “I have a right to be angry!” Many people, who have been hurt, feel they have a right to be mad and stay that way. We want to remain the victim; we want sympathy. There may be no doubt that what someone did to you may have hurt you, but to believe that you have a right to be mad and stay mad is a lie from the Devil. If we are to forgive, as we want to be forgiven, we do not have the right to remain mad no matter what someone has done to you. I am not suggesting that it is always easy to let go and forgive people that have caused you pain, but the Scriptures make one thing clear and that is that we do not have the right to stay mad and hold a grudge.

The third misconception is that “things will never be the same.” Again, we say the words, “I forgive,” but things will never be the same. There is one problem with that, the purpose of forgiveness is not just forgetting and overlooking someone’s faults, but it is restoring a relationship back to the way it was before the wrong took place, it is reconciliation. This is what we talked about last week. This is exactly what God does with us, not only does He forgive our sins, but He restores our relationship to the way it was intended to be. As a matter of fact, after we have sinned and wronged God; and after we receive His forgiveness, we are placed in a better relationship than before.

I am not saying that naturally some trust may have been lost, but if we are going to forgive than we need to forgive. The slate needs to come clean, otherwise there is not true forgiveness. We cannot hold a person’s wrongs over their heads and use their mistakes against them. If a person comes to you and asks for your forgiveness, you have a duty to attempt to restore that relationship that may have been damaged.

Our Gospel reading today has another parable for us to learn from. The main character in this parable went through three stages in his experience of forgiveness: he was debtor; he was a creditor; and he became a prisoner.

This main character, a servant, was brought before the king. This servant owed 10,000 talents, which was probably equivalent to over $10 million. That same servant begged for a chance to pay back the debt, and the king forgave him. That servant then went out and saw one who owed him about 100 denarii or less than $20. He had the man put into prison for the small debt that he owed. Then when the king learned of this he was not happy because he expected that the servant should be willing to show mercy to someone else since he was shown mercy. The same should be said of us, shouldn’t it? What right do we have to hold onto anger and to hold a grudge since we have been forgiven by God; we too should forgive others who wrong us.

It is inevitable that we will be wronged at some point in time, but we do have a choice in how we will respond. The same is true of our attitude. There are many circumstances, which we cannot help, or control, but we can choose our response and our attitude. How will you respond when someone wrongs you? There are several different options, which many people choose. Some people choose to retaliate; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Ex. 21:24). They forget the call from the Word of God to not repay evil for evil, but to repay evil with good (Matt. 5:38-42). They forget that vengeance is the Lord’s. Other people may choose to harbor malice, hatred and anger in their hearts towards someone that has wronged them. The longer you harbor bad feelings in your heart the harder it is to remove them from your heart and the more hardhearted a person becomes.

It almost goes without saying that Jesus is the best example of forgiveness. He not only preached it, but He also lived a life of forgiveness. Some of His last words before His death on the cross was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The parable that Jesus taught explained it well. It taught that since we have been relieved of such a great debt, then we should be willing to forgive. We owed a debt that we could not pay and Jesus paid a debt that He did not owe. When you read this parable you think, how ridiculous that this man who had just had a debt removed would refuse to do the same on a lesser level with someone else. This is exactly what we do when we refuse to forgive and hold onto bitterness and a grudge. We sometimes fail to realize how greatly we wronged God and what we deserve. The forgiveness that is shown to us is so great, however, if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:12-15).

We read in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So each of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:10-12).

Holding onto an offense against someone is like being a jailer, while the offending party is in the jail. You’re keeping them in there for good. You alone have the key to let them out, but you just won’t, because of what they did to you. The problem is, since you’re the jailer, you’re stuck there too. Oh, the person might be behind bars, but you can’t go anywhere either. So, in a sense, you are a prisoner too. The only way to set yourself free, is by letting them go, too.

I believe that many people are carrying around burdens upon themselves that they do not need to carry. People are bearing spiritual and emotional burdens that Jesus offers to relieve. People also are carrying around the burden of anger and bitterness that they simply should let go of. Bitterness is a burden. When you are angry or bitter at someone, you are carrying around an awful burden that is going to hurt you in every way. We are called to run the race with perseverance, but it is hard to run a race held down by a great burden.

We are called to carry our cross daily, but it is hard to carry a cross when we are bogged down with bitterness. It takes more effort to stay mad than it does to forgive. It is amazing how much time and energy one can spend nursing bitterness towards someone, and the longer we hold onto it the stronger it gets and the harder it becomes to forgive. Many people are carrying an unnecessary burden around in the sin of un-forgiveness.

In Ephesians 4:26-27 we read, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” In other words un-forgiveness is giving the Devil a foothold in your life for other things. As a person harbors bitterness and anger in their heart, their heart begins to become hard.

Un-forgiveness can also hinder your relationships with other people. We learn in Scripture that not only is God concerned with our relationship with Him, He wants and expects us to be in good relationship with others. “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Our Lord’s warning is serious. He did not say that God saves only those who forgive others. The theme of this parable is forgiveness between brothers, not salvation for lost sinners. Jesus warned us that God cannot forgive us if we do not have a humble and repentant heart. We reveal the true condition of our hearts by the way we treat others. When our hearts are humble and repentant, we will gladly forgive our brothers. But where there is pride and a desire for revenge, there can be no true repentance; and this means God cannot forgive.

In other words, it is not enough to receive God’s forgiveness, or even the forgiveness of others. We must experience that forgiveness in gentle and forgiving toward others. The servant in the parable did not have a deep experience of forgiveness and humility. He was simply glad to be “off the hook.” He had never really repented.

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). “Forbearing one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13).

Let us pray:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †

Reconciliation Through Love

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 7, 2014, Pentecost XIII

Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 149, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

From the Book of Exodus:
“This day shall be for you a memorial day and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance forever.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
The commandments are summed up in this sentence: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

I am going to tell you about another Peanuts comic strip. In this one, Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels and threatens him with her fist if he doesn’t. “What makes you think you can walk in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys organize like that?”

You and I are connected in covenant and relationship with one another through Jesus Christ. Our connection with the Father affects and governs our relationship with each other, and our relationships with each other affect our relationship with God.

In our Gospel reading today, notice in verse 15 the word “brother.” This is addressed to Christians. This is dealing with believers who are in conflict.

It is so important that you and I have a right relationship with each other that Jesus said in Matthew 5:23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” In fact, the last thing that Jesus prayed for His church was that the Father would make us one as Jesus is one with the Father!

We are all familiar with the many beautiful scripture verses on love such as: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) or “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8) or “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 10:12). As believers, we do not live under the Law; we live under grace. Our motive for obeying God and helping others is the love of Christ in our hearts.

How are we to “walk in love” or “love one another” if there is conflict with each other? What conflict? Certainly not in the church! We are human and from time to time there is conflict. Whether it is intentional or unintentional, we can have conflict. It is how we handle conflict that determines the level of our spiritual maturity.

The truth of the matter, is that relationships can be strengthened through conflict, if we handle them correctly. What makes or breaks relationships; and what makes or breaks churches, is what they choose to do in conflict. We must learn how to walk in love while dealing with conflict. We must have the right attitude.

At the beginning of the 18th chapter of Matthew, Jesus sets the stage for His teaching on resolving conflict by saying that we need to become as little children. Granted we’ve all seen Christians act like little children when it comes to getting their way. Over the years, I have attended many church meetings; and I have even seen someone stand up, stomp their feet, bang on the table, yell and scream, and threaten to leave the church if they didn’t get their way; but that is not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about humility. We are to humble ourselves like a little child.

To humble means to bring low. And that is the opposite of what the flesh wants to do in conflict. The flesh seeks to exalt itself, to justify itself, to prove itself right. If that is how we approach a conflict, the conflict will only grow.

When we are dealing with conflict with another person, the goal is reconciliation, not justification. In other words, our hope is to mend the relationship, not to choose sides and declare a winner. If only one person wins, everybody loses.

We must ask the Lord to search our hearts before we ever deal with a conflict. We must ask ourselves, “Am I walking in and motivated by love?” If not, get your heart right first, and then deal with the problem at hand.

Jesus gives us a very simple four step plan on how to handle conflict. Sometimes we make things so complicated, but Jesus makes it SIMPLE! We would save ourselves a lot of heartache and would show Jesus to the world much more effectively if we would simply: Follow the Directions!

The first step is to go to the person who you feel has sinned against you. This means that we do not go to our friends, our church family, our pastor, but rather to the person with whom there is a problem. It is possible that he does not even realize what he has done. Or, even if he did it deliberately, your own attitude of submission and love will help him to repent and apologize. Above all else, go to him with the idea of winning your brother, not winning an argument. It is possible to win the argument and lose your brother.

You need to do this as soon as possible. Don’t put off the conflict for weeks or months in the hopes that it will go away. It won’t. It will only get worse as the anger and bitterness takes root in your soul. The offense tends to get blown out of proportion the longer it sits unaddressed. Remember what Jesus said about leaving your gift at the altar. The reason it is so urgent to the Lord is because of the damage it can create if gone untreated. If we had a broken leg, wouldn’t we want the injury repaired as soon as possible? Offenses are far more devastating to the soul and spirit, and eventually to the body, than a broken leg. We must have a spirit of meekness and gentleness when we seek to restore a brother or sister (Gal. 6:1). We must not go about condemning the offender, or spreading gossip.

If someone comes to you, and tells you of a problem they have with another person, the first thing you need to ask them: “Have you addressed this problem with that person?” If not, you need to encourage them to do so. It has been my experience, people will either come to you for advice, which is wise or they want your sympathy and for you to take their side in the matter.

So, you need to meet with the person face to face. Jesus said, “Go and show him his fault.” Conflict resolution should not be done by an email, or a phone call or a letter. Anything less than a face to face conversation places a barrier between the people involved. This can be very hard and could require a lot of courage, depending on the situation and the people involved.

You need to affirm your relationship with the individual. Let the person know that you are seeking to resolve the matter and not assign blame. Let the person know just how much they mean to you.

Once you have given your side of the matter, allow the other person to respond. There may be things that you are not aware of. Nine times out of ten this is where the problem lies. When the other person is responding, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. Don’t interrupt! Let them finish.

If this first step does not resolve the conflict and bring reconciliation, you should ask for help from someone else; someone who both parties trust and respect. We are talking about a mediator; A neutral person. Someone who can keep emotions in check and help clarify the issues. It is possible that you are both wrong.

When sin is not dealt with honestly, it always spreads. What was once a matter between two people has now grown to involve four or five people. No wonder Jesus and Paul both compared sin to leaven (yeast), because leaven spreads. Yeast is an image of sin; it’s hidden; it works silently and secretly; it spreads and pollutes; and it causes dough to rise.

If the second step does not work or the parties are not interested, then the third step is the most drastic. Jesus says to take it to the church. This does not mean that the pastor is going to “make an announcement from the pulpit,” although if the matter is splitting the church, it may be necessary. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, we are to gather some wise men from the church. This is where the Deacons, the saints, the people from the church should get involved. Let’s remember, the goal is reconciliation.

What if these three steps don’t work? There are some conflicts that will never be resolved. If that is the case, step four is to break off the relationship. If you cannot reach agreement or even agree to disagree, then separation is called for.

If you have someone who has refused to reconcile with you, you need to ask yourself these questions, “Do I want the matter to be reconciled?” “Do I still act in love with this person?” If so, then you are doing your part. It is now up to the other person. The result will be the right atmosphere. If however, you say, “Well, he won’t apologize, so I won’t forgive him.” That is the wrong attitude and maybe you are the problem.

Some of you may feel that these four steps do not deal with reality. How many people,
who are in conflict, would willingly go through each of these four steps? Keep in mind that Jesus is talking about mature Christians: People who are in the will of God and not in the will of the flesh.

When we deal with conflict appropriately, we see positive results in our lives and in our church. There must be fellowship (Matt. 18:20). The local church must be a worshiping community, recognizing the presence of the Lord in their midst. The Holy Spirit of God can convict both the offender and the church, and He can even judge sin in the midst (Acts 5). Each step needs to be approached in an atmosphere of prayer.

Right after this teaching, Peter asks Jesus about forgiving others. That is the key to resolving most conflicts: Forgiveness. We have been forgiven much by God, and therefore we must forgive others who wrong us. Even if the conflict is not resolved, we need to forgive the person, turn the matter over to God, and move on; only then will we walk in love and be at peace.

It is said that Leonardo da Vinci, when painting the Last Supper, painted Judas’ face as the face of someone with whom he was angry. But he found that he could not paint the face of Jesus until he changed the face of Judas. Remember the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

We trust Christ that we might be saved from our sins by His sacrifice, but we must also feed on Christ in order to have strength for our daily pilgrim journey. As we worship, meditate on the Word, pray, and believe. We feed on the spiritual nourishment as we grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen. †

Thou Art The Christ!

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 24, 2014, Pentecost XI

Isaiah 51:1-6, Psalm 138, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20

From the Prophet Isaiah:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Life is full of questions. We deal with questions throughout our life. Some we ask of other people; some are asked of us; and some we just contemplate in our minds.

What am I going to do with my life?

What will tomorrow bring? Will my children turn out…all right?

Not only do these practical questions beg for an answer, but what about my spiritual life?

Am I saved? When I die will I go to heaven?

Why does God allow such tragedy to exist…on the earth? Why is there so much evil in this world?
How many have heard the Geico Insurance commercial where a person reads a statement: “Fifteen minutes can save you 15% on car insurance.” The response is: “Everybody knows that.” And then the question is asked: “Well, did you know that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it fall, it still makes a sound?”

All of these questions have one common element…which is illustrated by the following story: A college sophomore tried to prove how smart he was one day by asking his professor the following question: “Is the bird I’m holding in my hand dead or alive?” If the professor said the bird was dead…the boy…was going to free the bird…and let it fly away. If the professor said it was alive…the boy was going to crush the bird. The professor looked at the young man and said, “My boy, the answer is in your hands.”

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus once again took His disciples to Gentile territory. This time it was to the region of Caesarea Philippi. They were about 120 miles from Jerusalem in the northern part of Palestine. The region was strongly identified with various religions: It had been a center for Baal worship; the Greek god Pan had shrines there; and Herod the Great had built a temple there to honor Augustus Caesar. It was in the midst of this pagan superstition that Peter confessed Jesus as the Son of God. And it was probably within sight of Caesar’s temple that Jesus announced a surprise: He would not yet establish His kingdom, but He would build His church.

Jesus looked at His disciples and in a moment of reflection said: “Who do the people say that I am? The disciples began sharing with Jesus what they had heard: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

In the case of Jesus, a right confession of who He is, is basic to salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). His person and His work go together and must never be separated. It is amazing to see how confused the public was about Jesus, and even some of His disciples.

One thing is clear: We can never make a true decision about Jesus Christ by taking a poll of the people. The important thing is not what others say, but what do you and I personally say? The decisions of the crowd, right or wrong, can never substitute for personal decisions.

Not a lot has changed since Jesus walked amongst us. In our world today, you can speak of Jesus as a Prophet, a holy man, a teacher or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as the “Son of God” or “The Messiah” and people will line up to express their disapproval; sometimes even anger.

Muslims will say: “Prophet, Yes…God, No!”

Jews will say: “Teacher, Yes…Messiah, No!”

Even some “Liberal Christians” will say: “Exemplary man, Yes…Divine, No!”

In our secular, pluralistic society, we have been watering down the Gospel and the Name of Jesus, for quite some time. We quite often are afraid to offend people and their beliefs, so we choose to speak of Jesus very little, or not at all.

We accept the idea of God…and we admit to trusting Him…but then we go our separate way. We take the position that “religion” is a private affair…so don’t say anything.

Jesus then asks the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter had the correct response: “Thou art the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God!” This confession was Peter’s response to the revelation God the Father had given him. This revelation was not the result of Peter’s own investigation. It came as the gracious act of God. God had hidden these things from the proud Pharisees and Sadducees and had revealed them to “babes,” the humble disciples (Matt. 11:25-27). Peter saw past the man and saw the divinity hidden in Jesus, so he could cry out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

It should be noted that there had been other confessions of faith prior to this one. Nathanael had confessed Christ as the Son of God (John 1:49), and the disciples had declared Him God’s Son after He stilled the storm (Matt. 14:33). Peter had given a confession of faith when the crowds left Jesus after His sermon on the Bread of Life (John 6:68-69). In fact, when Andrew had brought his brother Simon to Jesus, it was on the basis of this belief (John 1:41).

How then, did this confession differ from those that preceded it? To begin with, Jesus explicitly asked for this confession. It was not an emotional response from people who had seen a miracle, but the studied and sincere statement of a man who had been taught by God.

Also, Jesus accepted this confession and built on it to teach them new truth. The Lord knew that Peter could now be led into new steps of deeper truth and service. Our Lord’s ministry to His disciples had prepared the way for this experience. Jesus’ ministry was also turning in a new direction; for He would be headed to the cross.

Once the Holy Spirit reveals Christ in our lives…and we make the confession of faith…this does not end our journey…it is just the beginning of being transformed. We are then called to read and study the scriptures; to develop a daily prayer life with God; to associate with other Christians, by worshiping together. We are called to spread the Good News to those that God puts into our lives. We are to be instruments of the Holy Spirit; to reach others for Christ.

Jesus also proclaimed that He was going to establish His church. Jesus said to Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” (Matt. 16:18). This church was formed on the Day of Pentecost, and composed of all true believers in Christ, both Jew and Gentile.

These Jewish men, steeped in Old Testament Scripture, recognized the rock as a symbol of God. “He is the Rock, His work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4). “The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress” (Ps. 18.2). “For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a rock save our God?” (Ps. 18:31). Jesus had given Simon the new name of Peter, which means “a stone.” Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and confesses Him as the Son and God and Saviour, is a “living stone” (1 Peter 2:5).

Jesus Christ is the foundation rock on which the church is built. We are called to be a distinct society known as the body and bride of Christ, with a unique heavenly calling and destiny. The church is not just Congregationalist, Methodist, Baptist or Episcopalians. The church is not just Protestants or Catholics, but true believers in Christ!
This church built by Christ is a universal church. There is a oneness to the people of God (Eph. 4:1-6) that ought to be revealed to the world by love and unity (John 17:20-26).

There was an organist practicing one day in a great church in Europe. A man came up to the organ and asked if he could play. The organist looked at him and thought to himself: I really should not let this man play. Just look at him: he is unshaven, his clothes are soiled, and he looks like a bum. So the organist told the man, “no.” But the unkempt man persisted and finally, the organist gave in and let him play. The man’s fingers danced over the keyboard in a way the organist had never heard before. The stranger played on and on. The organist didn’t want him to stop. Eventually, the stranger stopped playing and got up to leave. The organist could not contain himself and said, “Who are you; what is your name?” The stranger paused and looked over his shoulder and said, “My name is Felix Mendelssohn.” The organist couldn’t believe it. He said to himself, “And to think, I almost did not let the master play.”

Recognizing the Master is the first step; then you proclaim: “Jesus, thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ would conquer death; death would not hold Him, and death would not be able to hold any of His people. Christ would “storm the gates” and deliver the captives! “The gates of Hades” or hell is the final destiny of all unsaved people after the judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).

I was sent an email the other day and I would like to share this story with you: There was a pastor on an airplane flying from Dallas to Boston. When he sat down, he noticed that he was seated next to a well-known theology professor. He was eager to start a conversation with the professor about some doctrinal subject. But before he had a chance, the professor looked at him and told the pastor that he had just lost his little boy…through death.

The pastor listened as the professor told his story: He said his son had come home from school with a fever and we thought it was just one of those childhood things. He and his wife took the boy to the doctor and found out it was a virile form of meningitis. The doctor told them that we cannot save your little boy. So, they took their son home and put him to bed and made him comfortable.
And so this seminary professor, loving his son as he did, sat by his bedside to share those last moments with his son. It was the middle of the day and the little boy whose strength was leaving him and whose vision and brain were getting clouded said, “Daddy, its getting dark isn’t it?” The father of the boy said, “Yes, son, it is getting dark, very dark.” The boy said, “Daddy, I guess it’s time for me to go to sleep, isn’t it?” He said, “Yes, son, it’s time for you to go to sleep.”

The professor said his little boy had a way of fixing his pillow just so, and putting his head on his hands when he slept. So, the young boy fixed his pillow like that and laid his head on his hands and said, “Good night Daddy, I will see you in the morning.” He then closed his eyes in death…and stepped over into heaven. The professor turned away and looked out the window of the airplane for a long time. In time, he turned back with tears coming down his cheeks and said to the pastor, “I can hardly wait…until the morning comes.”

The morning is coming, my friends, when we will see our loved ones, who are in Christ. That is what Jesus is saying, “The gates of hell, the gates of DEATH, shall not prevail against HIS church!” Against us!

Remember our Lord’s words: “Who do you say that I am?” The important thing is not what others say, but on what…you say?

Are you ready? Are you truly ready? Do you know where you are going? If you were to die today, would you know Jesus Christ? Would He know you? Would you be absent from the body and go immediately into the presence of the Lord? (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:23).

Jesus asked the question of His disciples and now He asks each one of us: “Who do you say that I am?” The answer lies in your hands.

Let us pray:

Grant, O merciful God, that Your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

Great Is Thy Faith

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 17, 2014, Pentecost X

Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:21-28

From the Book of Genesis:
And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

What is faith?
Faith could be described as having confidence or trust in a person, thing, deity, view, or in the doctrines or teachings of a religion. It could be defined as believing something where there is no proof. In the Bible, the word faith always means trust, reliance, and confidence in someone or something, usually God. But that isn’t the only way the word is used.

If I was to take a hymnal and drop it, I have faith that it would fall to the floor. If I was to go outside and see the trees moving, I have faith that the wind is blowing. If I was to ask you if you believed in God – that would be a true test of faith, since none of us have seen Him.

Does it make a difference if we have faith?
How do we know when we’ve got it?
Is it contagious? Can anyone get it?

If we do have faith, is it like the faith of the woman mentioned in our Gospel reading today? Do you have great faith?

In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we begin to see signs of the tide turning against Jesus by the religious leaders of the country, and accordingly Jesus turning more to the Gentiles. In chapter fourteen of Matthew, John the Baptist was beheaded, a clear sign of the opposition to the movement. But Jesus fed the five thousand, showing that He could meet the needs of Israel; and as we talked about last Sunday, Jesus walked on water to show that He is Lord of creation. So, in chapter fifteen Jesus challenged the teachings of the elders because those teachings had been elevated to the status of Scripture. Jesus was also trying to control the timing of things. He did not want people to make Him king, and He did not want the growing confrontation with His enemies to come to a head too soon. So frequently He withdrew, or told people not to say anything about the miracles He did, or a number of other unexpected acts.

The latest confrontation was about washing of one’s hands before eating. Jesus says, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matt. 15:17-20). The Pharisees were offended by this. So, following that confrontation, Jesus went out of the country to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Tyre and Sidon were the two main Phoenician cities just north of Mount Carmel on the coast. In the Old Testament times this was the region of the Canaanites. Because of its seaports and corresponding trade, the Canaanite empire became a dominant power in the third millennium B.C. The Canaanites were thoroughly pagan and corrupt. Their presence in the land was a strong threat to the purity of Israel’s religion and morality. So there is a long history of spiritual and military conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanites.

This little story in our Gospel reading is essentially built around the conversation between the woman and Jesus. What do we know about this Canaanite woman that Jesus met? Mark’s Gospel gives us some information. Jesus came to the region and entered into a house and did not want anyone to know it. The woman heard that Jesus was in her village and came looking for Him. Mark explains that she was Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. This would be typical of the northern country, for it was ruled by Greeks for the period immediately before the time of Jesus. People in the region would be of mixed nationalities.

But the conversation gives the impression that Jesus was not willing to answer her request because she was a Canaanite. What is clear is that the woman was not going to give up, but kept pleading, even from her Canaanite background, so that Christ recognized her great faith.

The contrast is truly striking: in Israel Jesus was trying to convince people He was the Messiah, and was being challenged to prove it with signs. But here in Gentile territory He met a woman who was convinced He was the Messiah and He could not discourage her efforts. Jesus was not trying to destroy her faith, but to develop it.
Her own replies showed that she was growing in faith and unwilling to let Him go without getting an answer. His apparent attempt to put her off was therefore a test, and her great faith must have been gratifying to the Savior.

When this woman approached Jesus as “Son of David,” she was definitely putting herself on Jewish ground; and this she could not do, because she was a Gentile. She is well aware of the ancient rivalry between the Jews and the Canaanites. Of course, this title did reveal her faith in Him as the Messiah of God, for “Son of David” was a name for the Messiah (Matt. 22:42). As such, He is sovereign over her and her land, and all she can do is cry for mercy. Her words opened the old wounds.

The woman came crying out to Jesus, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Since she came to Him on Jewish terms, He was silent. Of course, He knew her heart, and even His silence encouraged her to continue asking.

Inpatient with her persistent following and crying out, the disciples said, “Send her away!” We are not sure whether they meant “Give her what she wants and get rid of her” or just “Get rid of her!” In either case, they were not showing much compassion for either her or her demonized daughter.

We cannot but admire the patience and persistence of this Gentile mother. This woman would not be put off, and so she knelt before His feet and begged, “Lord, help me!” was her next plea; and this time she avoided any messianic titles. She came as a sinner needing help, and she offered no argument. In His reply, Jesus did not call her a “dog” the way the Pharisees would have addressed a Gentile. The Greek word means “a little pet dog” and not the filthy animals that ran the streets and ate the garbage.

Jesus was not playing games with the woman, nor was He trying to make the situation more difficult. He was drawing out of her a growing response of faith, by reminding her of the historic distinction between the cursed Canaanites and the blessed Israelites. Basically, the Jews are the “children” and the Gentiles are the “dogs.” The children get fed first. She immediately seized on His illustration about the children’s bread, which was exactly what He wanted her to do. We may paraphrase her reply: “It is true that we Gentiles do not sit at the table as children and eat the bread. But even the pet dogs under the table can eat some of the crumbs!” She may not be able to sit down at the Messiah’s table and eat with the “children of Israel,” but she should be allowed to pick up some of the crumbs they drop. She wants some of the covenanted mercy of God, His general saving grace to all people. What a tremendous testimony of faith!

It was this faith that Jesus acknowledged, and immediately He rewards her faith by healing her daughter. Jesus honors the faith that seeks mercy. She had no resentment, no anger about her situation; she only knew that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who came to heal people, and for some reason He was in her town. She sought mercy from Him. And this time Jesus responded with emotion. Her faith was rewarded. And she became one of the early Gentiles to enter the kingdom.
It is worth noting that both of the persons in the Gospel of Matthew who had “great faith” were Gentiles: this Canaanite woman and the Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5-13). In both cases, Jesus healed the one in need from a distance. Spiritually speaking, the Gentiles were “afar off” until Calvary, when Jesus Christ died for both Jews and Gentiles and made reconciliation possible (Eph. 2:11ff).

“Because of the unbelief of the Jews, you Gentiles were saved,” said Paul. “Now, may it be that through your salvation Israel will come to know Christ.” The Apostle Paul repeatedly reminded the saved Gentiles that they had a spiritual obligation to Israel to “provoke them to jealousy” (Rom. 10:19; 11:11, 14).
God has included “all in unbelief” – Jews and Gentiles – so that all might have the opportunity to be saved by grace. “There is no difference.”

We must remember that God chose the Jews so that the Gentiles might be saved. “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” was God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). The tragedy was that Israel became exclusive and failed to share the truth with the Gentiles. They thought that the Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved. But God declared both Jews and Gentiles to be lost and condemned. This meant He could have mercy on all because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

We see this in our Old Testament reading today with Joseph and his brothers. This story encourages us to recognize the sovereignty of God in the affairs of life and to have faith and trust in His promises no matter how dark the day may be. “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand” (Prov. 19:21). God sent Joseph to Egypt so that Jacob’s family could be preserved and the nation of Israel be born and ultimately give the Word of God and the Savior to the world. Without realizing it, Joseph’s brothers were helping the Lord fulfill His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).

Keep in mind that this reconciliation was possible only because Joseph had suffered and triumphed, and it’s a beautiful picture of what the Lord Jesus Christ did for sinners in His death on the cross and his resurrection. Like Jesus, Joseph went from suffering to glory, from prison to the throne, and was able to share his wealth and glory with others.

This Gentile woman’s faith was great because she persisted in asking and trusting when everything seemed against her. Certainly her race was against her: She was a Gentile. Her sex was against her, for most Jewish rabbis paid little attention to women. It seemed that the disciples were against her, and Christ’s words might have led her to believe that even He was against her. But all of these obstacles only made her persist in asking for help even more.

But there is an even deeper faith in her. She has a saving faith. She is willing to say to Jesus, “I can’t save my daughter. Only you can. You and you alone can heal her. And I am casting aside all my pride in the confidant hope that not only can you heal her, but that you WILL heal her. Just a crumb of your power, Master, is all that I ask. Just a crumb is all it will take.”
This story teaches us that God’s mercy and grace is available to everyone: Jew or Gentile. Jesus went into Gentile territory and healed the daughter of a Gentile woman. This miracle showed that this Gentile woman had greater faith than the Jews who were rejecting and challenging Jesus’ claims. It teaches us about the grace of our Lord, about the faith of people who are in need, and about the coming advance of the kingdom to the Gentiles whose mission it is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world; that all may be saved and receive the salvation of His Son, Jesus Christ.

When you can say to Jesus: “Lord, I totally trust you with my life. I will do whatever you say. I surrender all.” Then Jesus will answer: “Great is thy faith!”

Let us pray:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

Storms of Life

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 10, 2014, Pentecost IX

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22; Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33

From the Book of Genesis:
Then Midianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt? And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Those of you who are Charlie Brown fans, I have a story for you. Charlie Brown is at the beach and he builds a beautiful sandcastle. He works on it for hours. Finally he stands back, looks at it. It’s wonderful! Just as he is admiring it, a storm comes up and blows over his beautiful sandcastle. Now, he’s standing where his beautiful masterpiece was, on level sand, saying to himself: “I know there’s a lesson in this, but I’m not sure what it is.”

Every one of us has our sandcastles blown away. Every once in awhile we take a step back and say: “Why am I being hit with this storm of life?” Now, sometimes these storms are caused by Satan, sometimes by other people, and sometimes by us. Sometimes they’re allowed by the Lord. They all come from different sources, but they do have a purpose in our life.

In our Gospel reading this morning, the Apostle John recorded the reason why Jesus was in such a hurry to dismiss the crowd and send the disciples back in the boat: The crowd wanted to make Jesus King (John 6:14-15). The Lord knew that their motives were not spiritual and that their purposes were out of God’s Will. If the disciples had stayed, they would certainly have fallen in with the plans of the crowd; for as yet, the disciples did not fully understand Christ’s plans. They were guilty of arguing over “who was the greatest,” and a popular uprising would have suited them perfectly.

This experience of the disciples in the storm can be an encouragement to us when we go through the storms of life. When we find ourselves in the storm, we can rest on several assurances.

There’s one thing that all of us need to realize, and that’s everyone has storms. One or more of you this morning, the clouds may have already gathered. Perhaps it might be the worst storm of your life, but what I want you to realize is everyone has them. In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 5, “He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And He sends rain for the ones who do right and the ones who do wrong.” So you can see storms, problems, difficulties, trials come to all of us. There’s no exclusion. Just because you’re a believer, doesn’t mean you’re going to be excluded from the storms of life.

This storm that came upon the disciples, came because they were in the will of God and not (like Jonah) out of the will of God. Did Jesus know that the storm was coming? Of course He did! Did He deliberately direct them into the storm? Yes! They were safer in the storm in God’s will than on land with the crowds out of God’s will. We must never judge our security on the basis of circumstances alone.

As we read our Bibles, we discover that there are two kinds of storms: storms of correction, when God disciplines us; and storms of perfection, when God helps us to grow. Jonah was in a storm because he disobeyed God and had to be corrected. The disciples were in a storm because they obeyed Christ and had to be perfected. Jesus had tested them in a storm before, when He was in the boat with them (Matt. 8:23-27). But now He tested them by being out of the boat.

Many Christians have the mistaken idea that obedience of God’s will produces “smooth sailing.” But this is not true. Jesus promised: “In the world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). When we find ourselves in the storm because we have obeyed the Lord, we must remember that He brought us here and he will care for us.

This entire scene is a dramatic picture of the church and the Lord today. God’s people are on the sea, in the midst of a storm. Yet Jesus Christ is in heaven “making intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). He saw the disciples and knew their plight (Mark 6:48), just as He sees us and knows our needs. He feels the burdens that we feel and knows what we are going through (Heb. 4:14-16). Jesus went up the mountain by himself to pray. Jesus was praying for His disciples, that their faith would not fail.

If you knew that Jesus Christ was in the next room, praying for you, would it not give you new courage to endure the storm and do His will? Of course it would. However, He is not in the next room, but He is in heaven interceding for you. He sees your need, He knows your fears, and He is in control of the situation.

Often we feel like Jesus has deserted us when we are going through the hard times of life. In the Psalms, David complained that God seemed far away and unconcerned. Yet he knew that God would ultimately rescue him. Even the great Apostle Paul had gone through a shipwreck and was beaten. We see Paul who even dies a martyr’s death. But he’s a man of God, one of the great men in the history of the Christian church. He’s in the center of God’s will. He showed that it is possible to be obeying God, walking in all the light that you possibly could, be right in the center of God’s will and yet at the same time encounter a terrific storm. You can never look at a person and see what they’re going through. Just because one person seems to be enjoying a good life and another person is suffering hard times, does not mean one person is blessed and another person is cursed. It doesn’t work that way.

Jesus always comes to us in the storms of life. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isa. 43:2). He may not come at the time we think He should come (according our timetable), because He knows when we need Him the most. He waited until the boat carrying His disciples was as far away from land as possible, so that all human hope was gone. He was testing the disciples’ faith, and this meant removing every human lifeline.

When we go through a storm, we may ask, “Why me Lord?” We may say, “Okay, God, bail me out. Here I am. Find me. Rescue me.” But sometimes He doesn’t rescue me. Sometimes He doesn’t come. I have to have the assurance that He is the great silversmith and while I’m in the furnace, He focuses and watches. His job isn’t a quick rescue mission. His job is to purify me. So He waits until just the right moment and then He comes. He is never too early; never too late. Just on time.

Why did Jesus walk on the water? To show His disciples that the very thing they feared (the sea) was only a staircase for Him to come to them. Often we fear the difficult experiences of life (such as surgery, disease or bereavement), only to discover that these experiences bring Jesus Christ closer to us.

There’s a great passage of Scripture, Isaiah 43: “But now thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you go through the waters I will be with you; and through rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. [Why?] For I am the Lord, your God.’”

Why did the disciples not recognize Jesus? Perhaps it was because no human had ever walked on water before. Perhaps they were not looking for Him to come to them in this way. Had they been waiting for Him by faith, they would have known Him immediately.
Instead, they jumped to the false conclusion that the appearance was that of a ghost. Fear and faith cannot live in the same heart, for fear always blinds the eyes to the presence of the Lord.

The whole purpose of this storm was to help the disciples grow in their faith. After all, Jesus would one day leave them, and they would face many storms in their ministries. They had to learn to trust Him even though He was not present with them, and even though it looked as though He did not care.

Now our center of interest shifts to Peter. Before we criticize Peter for sinking because of fear, let’s honor him for his magnificent demonstration of faith. He dared to be different. Anybody can sit in a boat and watch. But it takes a courageous person of real faith to leave the boat and walk on water.

What caused Peter to sink? His faith began to waver because he took his eyes off the Lord and began to look at the circumstances around him. Jesus asked him, “Why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31) Peter started out with great faith but ended up with less faith.

We must give Peter credit for knowing that he was sinking and for crying out to the Lord for help. He cried out when he was “beginning to sink” and not when he was drowning. Perhaps this incident came to Peter’s mind years later when he wrote in his first epistle: “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). The Apostle Paul also reminds us of what the prophet Joel said, “for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

This experience was difficult for Peter, but it helped him to grow in his knowledge of himself and of the Lord. Perhaps the other disciples learned something too. The storms of life are not easy, but they are necessary. They teach us to trust Jesus Christ alone and to obey His Word no matter what the circumstances may be. It has well been said, “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence.”

If Jesus says, “Come,” then that word is going to accomplish its intended purpose. Since He is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2), whatever He starts, He completes. We may fail along the way, but in the end, God will succeed. Jesus and Peter walked on the water together and went to the ship.

Peter’s experience turned out to be a blessing to the other disciples as well as to himself. When they saw the power of Jesus Christ, in conquering and calming the storm, they could only fall down and worship Him. When Jesus calmed the first storm (Matt. 8:23-27), the disciples said, “What sort of Man is this?” But now their clear testimony was, “Thou art the Son of God!”

The disciples had helped to feed 5,000 people, and then God permitted them to go through a storm. In the Book of Acts, they won 5,000 to Christ (Acts 4:4), and then the storm of persecution began. No doubt Peter and the disciples recalled their storm experience with the Lord and took courage.

This miracle magnifies the kingship of Jesus Christ. Peter knew that Jesus Christ was King over all nature, including the wind and the waves. His word is law and the elements must obey.

Their ship landed at Gennesaret, near Capernaum and Bethsaida; and there Jesus healed many people. Did these people know that He had come through a storm to meet their needs? Do we remember that He endured the storm of judgment to save our souls? (Ps. 42:7) He endured the storm on the cross for us that we might never face the judgment of God. We ought to imitate the disciples, bow at His feet, and acknowledge that He is King of kings and Lord of lords! Take His hand, and follow Him.

Let us pray:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

Food of Faith

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 3, 2014, Pentecost VIII

Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

From the Book of Genesis:
Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.”

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they were all satisfied.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Chapters 14-20 of Matthew have sometimes been called “The Retirement of the King.” During the period of time recorded by Matthew in these chapters, Jesus often withdrew from the crowds and spent time alone with His disciples. There were several reasons for these withdrawals: the growing hostility of His enemies, the need for physical rest, and the need to prepare His disciples for His death on the cross. Unfortunately, the disciples were often caught up in the excitement generated by the crowds that wanted to make Jesus their King.

However, we must not think that these withdrawals, or periods of retirement from the crowds, were periods of inactivity. Often the crowds followed Jesus and He was unable to remain alone. He would unselfishly minister to their needs in spite of His own need for rest and solitude.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus and His disciples desperately needed rest (Mark 6:31); yet the needs of the multitudes touched His heart. Jesus was “moved with compassion” when He saw the needy multitudes. They were like sheep that had been lacerated from brutal fleecing – torn, exhausted, and wandering. Twice He was “moved with compassion” when he beheld the hungry multitudes without food (Matt. 14:14; 15:32).

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 14:31-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:4-13). It was definitely a miracle. Those who teach that Jesus only encouraged the people to bring out their own hidden lunches have ignored the clear statements of God’s Word. Think about it. Would the crowd have wanted to crown Jesus King simply because He tricked them into sharing their lunches? Not likely.

It takes little imagination to picture the embarrassing plight of the disciples. Here were more than 5,000 hungry people and they had nothing to feed them! Certainly the disciples knew that Jesus was powerful enough to meet the need, yet they did not turn to Him for help. Instead, they took inventory of their own food supply, which consisted of five barley loaves and two fish that a boy had and a limited treasury. When they considered that evening was upon them and that their location was isolated, they came to the conclusion that nothing could be done to solve the problem. Their recommendation to Jesus was to “Send them away!”

During their time with Jesus, His disciples had watched Him as He had, healed a Leper (Matt. 8:1), healed the servant of a Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5), healed Peter’s mother in law (Matt. 8:14), healed numerous people who had evil spirits and various diseases (Matt. 8:16) and raised a girl from the dead (Matt. 9:25). The disciples had seen all of this and they still didn’t come to Jesus for help.

Jesus watched His frustrated disciples as they tried to solve the problem, but “He knew what He was intending to do” (John 6:6). He wanted to teach them a lesson in faith and surrender. Jesus says: “They do not need to go away; YOU give them something to eat” (Matt. 14:16). And how did the disciples answer Jesus? We don’t have enough money; we only have five loaves of bread and two fishes donated by a boy. Wrong answers!

Jesus has given us some steps that we should take in solving life’s problems.

First, start with what you have. Andrew found a boy who had a small lunch, and he brought the lad to Jesus. Was the boy willing to give up his lunch? Yes, he was! God begins at where we are and uses what we have.

The second step is to give what you have to Jesus. Jesus took the simple lunch, blessed it, and shared it. The miracle of multiplication was in His hands! We’ve all heard the expression: “Little is much if God is in it.” Jesus broke the bread and gave the pieces to the disciples, and they, in turn, fed the multitudes.

The third step is to obey what He commands. The disciples had the people sit down as Jesus ordered. They took the broken pieces and distributed them, and discovered that there was plenty for everybody. As His servants, we are “distributors,” not “manufacturers.” If we give what we have to Him, He will bless it and give it back to us for use in feeding others.

The last step is to conserve the results. There were twelve baskets filled with pieces of bread and fish after the people had eaten all they wanted. But these pieces were carefully collected so that nothing was wasted (Mark 6:43; John 6:12). I wonder how many of the pieces the boy took back home with him. Imagine his mother’s amazement when the boy told her the story!

If we earnestly seek His involvement in our plans, and we have nothing much to bring to the table, He provides what we need. His strength makes up for our weaknesses. That is the essence of faith.

There are at least 3 lessons regarding faith in this passage:

The first is that God desires to stretch our faith. God wants us to mature in our faith and in order to get us to do that He often puts us in situations where there is NO way we could EVER possibly do what He’s asked on our own. That’s what Jesus is doing with the Disciples in this feeding of the 5,000. He had put them into a situation they could only accomplish if God did a miracle.

The second lesson in this story was that Jesus’ objective was not to feed the 5,000! The church does not exist to feed the poor, or to take care of the needy. The church exists to serve Jesus Christ and bring people to salvation. However, if the church serves Jesus Christ, IT WILL feed the poor and take care of the needy. If our center of attention ever gets off of Jesus and becomes focused on good works without Him being the center, we’ll have lost our very reason to exist. We exist as a church to serve Jesus Christ and to give Him glory. That was the purpose of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000: to glorify Jesus and build faith in God.

The third lesson in this story is that Jesus asked His disciples to be His PARTNERS in this miracle. Remember, up until this time, Jesus had been doing all the work and His disciples only observed. But now He tells His disciples: YOU give them something to eat!

A Godly faith should challenge us to do as much as we can for Jesus. You look around this church, although we are small, you’ll see men and women of faith investing themselves in ministry for Jesus; Everything from the prayer ministry, to visiting the shut-ins and nursing homes, to sending children to summer camp.

These folks realize that you don’t have to be a preacher to be a servant of God. They realize that they are a priesthood of believers. They don’t have to ask my permission (or anyone else’s) to be involved in any of these ministries. They have realized the privilege God has given them to allow them to be His partners.

God’s tests lead to realization that God really wants to use me, and that I have value and purpose in His service. And that’s the effect the miracle of the 5,000 had on Jesus’ disciples. Did you realize that this is the ONLY MIRACLE recorded in all 4 gospels. No other miracle has that honor. But this one did. This event was such a turning point in their lives that it became one of their greatest testimonies.

The Apostle John recorded a sermon on “the Bread of Life” that Jesus gave the next day in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:22ff). The people were willing to receive the physical bread, but they would not receive the living Bread – the Son of God come down from heaven. The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 was actually a sermon in action. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and only He can satisfy the spiritual hunger in man’s heart. The tragedy is, men waste their time and money on “that which is not bread” (Isa. 55:1-7). People today are making the same mistake.

Last week, Pope Francis issued 10 tips for a happy life (Jesus Christ was missing):
1) Live and let live
2) Be giving of yourself to others
3) “Proceed calmly” in life
4) A healthy sense of leisure
5) Sundays should be holidays; Sunday is for family
6) Create dignified jobs for young people
7) Respect and take care of nature
8) Stop being negative
9) Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs
10) Work for peace

God did not promise us a life of happiness on earth, only unending joy in heaven. Even our founding fathers did not guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps the Pope was trying to reach out to the secular world and missed an opportunity. In Exodus 20:8 we read, “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Sundays are not holidays, but should be set aside for worshiping God. Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). This is a command, yet the Pope says not to. Is Pope Francis sharing the food of faith; the Bread of Life – Jesus Christ or is he leading his sheep to the slaughter? You decide.

Jesus still has compassion on the hungry multitudes, and He still says to His church: “Give them something to eat.” How easy it is for us to send people away, to make excuses, to plead a lack of resources. Jesus asks that we give Him all that we have and let Him use it as He sees fit.
A hungry world is feeding on empty substitutes while we deprive them of the Bread of Life. When we give Christ what we have, we never lose. We always end up with more blessing than when we started.

Let us pray:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

The Kingdom of Heaven

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 27, 2014, Pentecost VII

Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

From the Book of Genesis:
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing?

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus said to His disciples: “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

The thirteenth chapter of Matthew records the events of a crisis day in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He knew that the growing opposition of the religious leaders would lead to His crucifixion. This fact He had to explain to His disciples. But their logical question would be, “What will happen to the kingdom about which we have been preaching?” That question is answered in this series of parables. So, He first explained the truth concerning the kingdom, and then later explained to them the facts about the Cross.

In this series of parables, Jesus explained the course of the Gospel in the world. If Israel had received Him as King, the blessings would have flowed out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But the nation rejected Him, and God had to institute a new program on earth. During this present age, “the kingdom of heaven” is a mixture of true and false, good and bad, as pictured in these parables. It is “Christendom,” professing allegiance to the King, and yet containing much that is contrary to the principles of the King.

The seven parables describe for us the spiritual course of “the kingdom of heaven” in this present age. The first two were covered in the last two Sunday sermons: The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.
The first parable in our Gospel reading today states: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in this field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

The mustard plant of Palestine was very different from the mustard plant which we know in this country. In the East, the mustard seed symbolizes something small and insignificant. It produces a large plant, but not a “tree” in the strictest sense. However, the plant is large enough for birds to sit in the branches.

Since Jesus did not explain this parable, we must use what He did explain in the other parables to find its meaning. The birds in the Parable of the Sower represented Satan (Matt. 13:19). Passages like Daniel 4:11-12 and Ezekiel 17:23 indicate that a tree is a symbol of a world power. These facts suggest that the parable teaches an abnormal growth of the kingdom of heaven, one that makes it possible for Satan to work in it. Certainly “Christendom” has become a worldwide power with a complex organization of many branches. What started in a humble manner today boasts of material possessions and political influences. The New Testament warns us of a growing decline in the ministry of the Gospel as the end of the age draws near.

The second parable states: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

The mustard seed illustrates the false outward expansion of the kingdom, while the leaven illustrates the inward development of false doctrine and false living. Throughout the Bible, leaven is a symbol of evil. It had to be removed from the Jewish homes during Passover (Ex. 12:15-19; 13:7). It was excluded from sacrifices (Ex. 34:35), with the exception of the loaves used at the Feast of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-21). But there the loaves symbolized Jews and Gentiles in the church, and there is sin in the church.

The kingdom of heaven began with the sowing of the Word of God in the hearts of men. Much of the seed did not bear fruit; but some was fruitful. Satan opposed the work of God by sowing counterfeit Christians, by encouraging a false growth, and by introducing false doctrine. It would seem that Satan is winning, at least in New England. But the test is at the end of the age, not during the age.

The next parable in our Gospel reading states: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

At the close of this age, God will have three groups of people: the Jews (the hidden treasure), the church (the pearl of great price), and the saved Gentile nations who will enter into the kingdom (the dragnet).

Once again, we need to look to the Old Testament to help us understand the symbolism in this parable. The treasure is the nation of Israel (Ex. 19:5; Ps. 135:4). That nation was placed in the world to bring glory to God, but it failed. It became a nation hidden, a treasure not being invested to produce dividends for God. Jesus Christ gave His all to purchase the whole world in order to save the nation (John 11:51). On the cross, Jesus died for the whole world; but in a special way. He died for Israel (Isa. 53:8). The nation suffered judgment and seeming destruction, but in God’s sight it is “hidden” and will be revealed again in glory.

There is, then, a future for Israel. Politically, the nation was reborn on May 14, 1948. But the nation is far from what it ought to be spiritually. God sees Israel as His treasure, and one day He will establish her in His glorious kingdom.

The next parable is known as the pearl of great price. It reads, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

The pearl represents the church. The Bible makes a distinction between Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Cor. 10:32). Today, the church, the body of Christ, is composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11ff). Unlike most other gems, the pearl is a unity – it cannot be carved like a diamond or emerald. The church is a unity (Eph. 4:4-6), even though the professing church on earth is divided. Like a pearl, the church is the product of suffering. Christ died for the church (Eph. 5:25) and His suffering on the cross made possible her birth.

A pearl grows gradually, and the church grows gradually as the Spirit convicts and converts sinners. No one can see the making of the pearl, for it is hidden in the shell of the oyster under the waters. No one can see the growth of His church in the world. The church is among the nations today, and one day will be revealed in its beauty.

So, in spite of Satan’s subtle working in this world, Christ is forming His church. He sold all that He had to purchase His church, and nothing Satan can do will cause Him to fail. There is but one true church, a pearl of great price, though there are many local churches. Not everyone who is a member of a local church belongs to the one church, the body of Christ. It is only through repentance and faith in Christ that we become a part of His church.

The next parable in this series states: “the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

The preaching of the Gospel in the world does not convert the world. It is like a huge dragnet that gathers all kinds of fish, some good and some bad. The professing church today has in it both true and false believers; good and bad.
Remember last week’s parable about the wheat and tares. At the end of the age, God will separate the true believers from the false and the good from the bad. When Jesus Christ returns to earth, to fight the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11ff), He will separate believers and unbelievers already on the earth. These are living people who are not a part of the church (which was already in heaven) or Israel. These Gentiles will be dealt with in righteousness: the saved will enter into the kingdom, but the unsaved will be cast into the furnace of fire.

When Jesus had completed this series of parables, He asked His disciples if they understood them, and they confidently replied, “Yes, Lord.” Understanding involves responsibility. To explain this, the Lord added a final parable (Matt. 13:51-52) to remind them of their responsibilities.

Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

The scribes began as a noble group under the leadership of Ezra. Their purpose was to preserve the Law, study it, and apply its truths to daily life. Over the years, their noble cause degenerated into a routine task of preserving traditions and man-made interpretations, and adding burdens to the lives of the people (Luke 11:46-52). They were so wrapped up in the past that they ignored the present! Instead of sharing living truth from God’s Word, they merchandised dead doctrines and “embalmed” traditions that could not help the people.

As believers, we do not search after truth, because we have truth in God’s Son (John 14:6) and God’s Word (John 17:17). We are taught by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) who is truth (1 John 5:6). We search into truth that we might discover more truth. We are scribes – students – who sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words (like Mary, sister of Martha). One joy of the Christian life is the privilege of learning God’s truth from God’s Word. But we must not stop there.

The scribe emphasizes learning, but the disciple emphasizes living. Disciples are doers of the Word (James 1:22ff), and they learn by doing.

It is difficult to keep our lives balanced. We often emphasize learning at the expense of living. Or, we may get so busy serving God that we do not take time to listen to His Word. Every scribe must be a disciple, and every disciple must be a scribe.

The scribes preserved the Law but did not invest it in the lives of the people. The treasure of the Law was encrusted by man’s traditions. The seed was not planted so it could bear fruit. The “spiritual gold and silver” was not put to work so it could produce dividends. As Christians we should be conservative but not preservative.

The steward guards the treasure, but he also dispenses it as it is needed. He dispenses both the old and the new. New principles and insights are based on old truths. The new cannot contradict the old because the old comes out of the new (Lev. 26:10).
The new without the old is mere novelty and will not last. But the old does no good unless it is given new applications in life today. We need both.

The Lord over and over again is showing us what the kingdom of heaven is like and those who will attain it. Imagine what could happen in people’s lives if they first sought the kingdom of God. Imagine what would happen in marriages, workplaces, and people’s lives, if they first sought the kingdom of God. Oh yes, it’ll start small (like the mustard seed) as we’ve learned, but grow into something magnificent and it’ll impact others.

He gives us victory and more victory! We need not fear life or death, things present or things to come, because Jesus Christ loves us and gives us the victory. This is not a promise with conditions attached. This security in Christ is an established fact, and we claim it for ourselves because we are in love! Believe it – and rejoice in it!

We are free from judgment because Christ died for us and we have His righteousness. We are free from defeat because Christ lives in us by His Spirit and we shall share His life. We are free from discouragement because Christ is coming for us and we shall share His glory. We are free from fear because Christ intercedes for us and we cannot be separated from His love.

No condemnation! No obligation! No frustration! No separation!
Only eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Let us pray:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

Time to Weed the Garden

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 20, 2014, Pentecost VI

Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139:1-12, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30

From the Book of Genesis:
And Jacob said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; an d not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
And his disciples came to him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Last week, I asked the question: How does your garden grow? It was about the Parable of the Sower, which begins with the preaching of the Word, the planting of the seed in the hearts of people. The seed is God’s Word; the various soils represent different kinds of hearts; and the varied results show the different responses to the Word of God.

Well, in today’s Gospel reading we once again return to the garden. And whether it’s a flower garden or a vegetable garden, we need to deal with weeds. So we have a farmer who plants a wheat field. He uses good seed and plants the crop expecting a good harvest. However, while he and his servants slept, his enemy entered his field and planted tares among the wheat. What are tares? Basically, they are weeds that go by the name “Bearded Darnel.” In the early stages of its development, it looks exactly like wheat. It is only when the plant has matured and the kernels have form in the head of the genuine wheat plant that the two plants can be distinguished one from the other.
The bottom line is this: The wheat has fruit in its head, while the head of the tares is filled with little black seeds. So, the field looks good, the farmer is getting excited about harvesting a bumper crop. However, as the harvest grew nearer, it became apparent that tares were among the wheat. The servants wanted to pull up the tare, but the master told them to leave them and wait until harvest. The master knew that if the tares are pulled up, that much of the wheat will be uprooted along with them. So, the wheat and the tare were allowed to grow together until the harvest, and then the reapers would come in and gather the tares first and bind them together to be burned. Then the wheat will be gathered and placed in his barns.

Jesus explained this parable to His disciples. The sower is Christ. The good seed is the Gospel of grace. The one who sowed tares is the devil. The wheat are those who are saved. The tares are those who are unsaved, but have the appearance of salvation. The tares are those in the church who look saved, act saved, sound saved, but who are in truth deceived about their salvation. The tares are those who expect to go to heaven when they die, but will, in fact, go to hell!

Satan opposes the kingdom of God by trying to snatch the Word from our hearts (Matt. 13:4). But when that fails, he has other ways of attacking God’s work. In this parable, Satan is primarily an imitator: He plants false Christians, he encourages a false growth, and he introduces false doctrine.

Satan cannot uproot the plants, which are true Christians, so he plants counterfeit Christians in their midst. In this parable, the good seed is not the Word of God. It represents people converted through trusting the Word. The field is not human hearts; the field is the world. Christ is sowing true believers in various places that they might bear fruit (John 12:23-26). But, wherever Christ sows a true Christian, Satan comes and sows a counterfeit.

We must also stay awake to make sure that Satan’s ministers do not get into the true fellowship and do damage (2 Peter 2; 1 John 4:1-6). This is probably what has happened in many of our churches in New England. It is when God’s people go to sleep that Satan works. Our task is not to pull up the false, but to plant the true. We are not detectives but evangelists! We must oppose Satan and expose his lies. But we must also sow the Word of God and bear fruit in the place where He has planted us.

The Apostle Paul commanded the Corinthians in 2 Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” and do what the Apostle Peter told his readers to do in 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if ye do this you will never fall.”

Some of you may think that it is the people who are not here today, that should hear this message, which may be true, but I don’t want any of you to go through life being deceived about your salvation and ending up in hell! I want you to be sure that you are saved by the grace of God!
Are you wheat? Or, are you tares? You may think that all of us here today are saved! We don’t need to hear this sermon. The truth is, only God knows for sure that you are saved, because He knows your heart. Think about this, there are over 200 million Americans who claim to be church members. If they are all saved, why is there so much crime, abortion, drugs, sexual immorality in our society? The truth of the matter is that people often think that they are wheat when they are in fact tares.

On a spiritual level, the “seed” is that thing that we have placed our faith in. For the genuine believer, the “seed” is the Gospel of Jesus Christ; trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. The tares, on the other hand, may be trusting in any number of emotional, spiritual or physical experiences for their salvation. It all comes down to where you have placed your faith. Who do you trust in for your salvation?

Why do you attend a church? Is it because the service makes you feel good? Is the service about love: love thy neighbor, love thy family and maybe love God, through His Son Jesus Christ? And how much time is spent on Jesus Christ and how much time is spent on emotions and relationships? Is the fellowship at the coffee hour more important to you than worshiping and praising God? Who do you love more, God or someone or something else?

What we need to understand is that salvation only comes to a heart that has been convicted of sin and after genuine repentance has taken place. The question that must be answered today is this: “Where is your faith?” On what do you base your hope of Heaven on? It must be in the Gospel, that is, in the death and resurrection of Christ’s atoning work at Calvary, or your faith is in vain!

Are you able to tell the wheat and the tares apart? They grow alongside each other and it’s only when they mature that we can tell them apart.

A lost person can certainly understand the Bible. They can memorize it and know the Bible stories. They can join in the activities of the church. Tares can sing in the church choir, serve as Deacons and Sunday school teachers, and they can attend prayer meetings. They can even stand in the pulpit and preach the Word of God. But just because they have all the appearances of wheat, does not mean they are real. There’s an expression: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. Right? Not necessarily. The main difference between wheat and tares is that tares cannot produce fruit; lasting fruit. Tares will lack the things that make the genuine believer special. They will lack the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). You may have all the external appearances of being a Christian, but don’t let what you look like and the things that you do, be the basis of your assurance. Be sure your faith is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone!

Only God can truly tell the wheat from the tares. Judging between the real and the false is God’s job and it must remain that way! All we see is the outward appearance, but God is able to look upon the heart.
We read in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Eventually the day of harvest arrived. The reapers were sent into the field to gather the tares first, and then the wheat. How could they tell the difference? It is easy at this stage, because as the wheat matures, the head becomes filled with kernels and the weight of the kernels causes the stalk of the wheat plant to bend toward the ground. The seeds in the head of the tare are light. This allows the tare to stand tall. The picture here is plain and clear. As a genuine believer grows in the Lord he tends to become more humble before the presence of God. The tare, on the other hand, will stand in his pride and go to hell clinging tightly to his false beliefs and foolishness. When the harvest time came, both the wheat and tare were both gathered, but they received vastly different ends.

Here’s what Jesus says: “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:40-43).

When this life has run its course, there are only two possible destinations for the human soul. Every person who lives and dies as a tare will find themselves cast into the fires of Hell, to be eternally separated from the presence of God (2 Thes. 1:8-9).

Jesus is giving us a solemn warning here about what lies ahead for those who are not his people. Harvest time is coming, at the end of the world, when time itself shall cease, and the judgment of all is at hand. Just as you wouldn’t want any weeds spoiling your gardens or window boxes, so there is no room in God’s kingdom for those who are evildoers. Sin and sinners would be out of place in that atmosphere of perfect holiness.

None of us are righteous by our own efforts. All of us deserve the fire of hell for our sins. But the good news is that Jesus endured our punishment; He died the death we deserved, and as we trust in Him, we have that great exchange – He takes away our sin, and gives us His righteousness. We are found to be His, to be that good seed – and so no longer face punishment, but paradise.

The genuine believer can look forward to going to Heaven to be gathered into the Lord’s House in Heaven (John 14:1-3). The question is, which will it be for you? It all depends on whether you are a tare or you are wheat. Friend, please examine yourself carefully this morning. Do not allow yourself to be deceived right into hell. Put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the gift of salvation and eternal life. Be the wheat that is used for His bread; His body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins. May you be part of His abundant harvest and bear much fruit.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †