A Sacrificial Lamb

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 4, 2011 Pentecost XII

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

From the Book of Exodus:
The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother.”

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.
Amen. †

Our Old Testament reading today was on the Passover. We don’t usually talk about the Passover during the summer months; we think of the Passover at Maundy Thursday, followed by Good Friday and Easter. But it is very appropriate to talk about the Passover for the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Passover marked a new beginning for the Jews and bound them together as a nation. When the Lord liberates you from bondage, it’s the dawning of a new day and the beginning of a new life. Whenever you meet the words “redeem” or “redemption” in the New Testament, they speak of freedom from slavery. There were an estimated 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. Jewish believers would immediately think of Passover and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt through the blood of the lamb.

The Jewish nation in the Old Testament had two calendars, a civil calendar that began in our September – October, and a religious calendar that began in our March – April. New Year’s Day in the civil year or Rosh Hashanah fell in the seventh month of the religious calendar and ushered in the special events in the month of Tishri:
the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. But Passover marked the beginning of the religious year, and at Passover, the focus is on the lamb. Our sacrificial lamb is Jesus Christ.

Isaac’s question “Where is the Lamb?” when he was about to be sacrificed, introduced one of the major themes of the Old Testament as God’s people waited for the Messiah. The question was ultimately answered by John the Baptist when he pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). That the Passover lamb is a picture of Jesus Christ is affirmed in the New Testament by the Evangelist Philip (Acts 8:32-35; Isa. 53:7-8) as well as by the Apostles Paul (1 Cor. 5:7), Peter (1 Peter 1:18-20), and John (Rev. 5:5-6; 13:8).

The lamb was chosen and examined on the tenth day of the month and carefully watched for four days to make sure it met the divine specifications. There is no question that Jesus met all the requirements to be our Lamb, for the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). During the days preceding Passover, our Lord’s enemies questioned Him repeatedly, waiting for Him to say something they could attack. During His various trials and interrogations, Jesus was repeatedly questioned, and He passed every test. Jesus knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), did no sin (1 Peter 2:22), and in Him there was no sin (1 John 3:5). He’s the perfect Lamb of God.

On the fourteenth day of the month, at evening, the lamb was slain (Ex. 12:6a-7; 12-13, 21-24). And its blood was applied to the lintel and side posts of the doors of the houses in which the Jewish families lived. It wasn’t the life of the lamb that saved the people from judgment but the death of the lamb. “Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11). Some people claim to admire the life and teachings of Jesus who don’t want to deal with the cross of Jesus; yet it’s His death on the cross that paid the price of our redemption (Matt. 20:28; 26:28; John 3:14-17). Jesus was our substitute; He died our death for us and suffered the judgment of our sin (Isa. 53:4-6; 1 Peter 2:24).

However, to be effective, the blood had to be applied to the doorposts; for God promised, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). It isn’t sufficient simply to know that Christ was sacrificed for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). We must appropriate that sacrifice for ourselves and be able to say with Paul, “The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20), and with Mary, “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46). Our appropriation of the Atonement must be personal: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

The Jews dipped flimsy hyssop plants into the basins of blood and applied the blood to the doorposts (Ex. 12:22). Hyssop was later used to sprinkle the blood that ratified the covenant (Ex. 24:1-8) and that cleansed healed lepers (Lev. 14:4, 6, 49, 51-52). Our faith may be as weak as the hyssop, but it’s not faith in our faith that saves us, but faith in the blood of the Savior.

The lamb was roasted and eaten and the eating was done in haste, each family member ready to move out when the signal was given. The meal consisted of the roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, each of which symbolized an important spiritual truth.

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 appropriate the spiritual nourishment of Jesus Christ and grow in grace and knowledge.

Along with the lamb, the Israelites ate bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Tasting the bitter herbs would remind the Jews of their years of bitter bondage in the land of Egypt. For us, it reminds us of the bondage of sin and death. Their bread was unleavened or without yeast for two reasons: there wasn’t enough time for the bread to rise (Ex. 12:39), and leaven was a symbol of impurity to the Jews.

Yeast is an image of sin: it’s hidden; it works silently and secretly; it spreads and pollutes; and it causes dough to rise or be “puffed up.” Both Jesus and Paul compared false teaching to yeast (Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15; Gal 5:1-9), but it’s also compared to hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) and sinful living (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Paul admonishes local churches to purge out the sin from their midst and present themselves as an unleavened loaf to the Lord.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother” (Matt. 18:15). When sin is not dealt with honestly, it always spreads. What was once a matter between two people can grow to involve four or five people. This is why both Jesus and Paul compared sin to leaven, because leaven spreads.

If any meat was left over from the feast, it had to be burned. The lamb was so special that is couldn’t be treated like ordinary food. In a similar way when the Israelites were in the wilderness, the manna was special and couldn’t be hoarded from day to day, except for the day before the Sabbath (Ex. 16:14-22).

Though there were many Jewish households in the land of Goshen, God saw all of them as one congregation. When local Christian congregations today meet to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, God sees each individual assembly as part of one body, the church. That’s why Paul could write about “the whole building.. the whole family..the whole body” (Eph. 2:21; 3:15; 4:16). Israel was one nation because of the blood of the lamb, and the church is one fellowship because of Jesus Christ.

“Love one another” is the basic principle of the Christian life. It is the “new commandment” that Christ gave to us (John 13:34). When we practice love, there is no need for any other laws, because love covers it all! If we love others, we will not sin against them. 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.

We have come a long way in our reasons for obeying the law: from fear to conscience to love to our devotion to Jesus Christ! As His servants, we want to be found faithful when He returns. The completion of our salvation is near! The light is dawning! Therefore, we must be ready! The Christian wears the armor of light, not the deeds of darkness.

Jesus Christ is the sacrificial lamb! He is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. As we remember the Passover, let us remember the body of Jesus Christ, broken for you; let us remember the blood of Jesus Christ shed for you. May the precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, assure us of His grace and a place in His everlasting kingdom.

Let us pray:
O Lord, most merciful and gracious God, who art the strength of all who put their trust in thee. May we love others as you have loved us. Give us the courage to proclaim your saving grace which has been made possible in the broken body and blood of your only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we live and pray.


Serving Faith – Following Christ

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 28, 2011 Pentecost XI

Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105:1-5, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

From the Book of Exodus:
God said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’; this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up the cross and follow me.

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.
Amen. †

Imagine for a moment that God actually spoke to you; what would your reaction be? Would you say, “Sure God, whatever you want.” Would your response be “Are you talking to me?” Perhaps you would be in denial and say, “I must be dreaming” or “God, you must be mistaken. You have the wrong guy.”

This might help you to understand what Moses was going through when God spoke to him. Remember, Moses was of Jewish birth and was saved from the slaughter of innocent children that Pharaoh had ordered. Then ironically, Moses was saved and adopted by Pharaoh and lived a life of luxury and royalty. When the truth was discovered, he was banished and went to live in Midian as a shepherd for 40 years. During those many days and nights in the field, he no doubt meditated on the things of God and prayed for his people who were suffering in Egypt.

We need to remember that anything is possible with God. So when God decided that the time had come to put Moses into action, He took an insignificant bush, ignited it, and turned it into a miracle; and that’s what He wanted to do with Moses. Some see in the burning bush a picture of the nation of Israel; they are God’s light in the world, persecuted but not consumed. But the burning bush was also a picture of what God had planned for Moses: he was the weak bush but God was the empowering fire; and with God’s help, Moses could accomplish anything.

God spoke to Moses and assured him that He was the God of his fathers and that He felt the suffering of the Jews in Egypt. He was now ready to deliver them out of Egypt and lead them into the Promised land, and Moses would be His chosen leader. God’s statement “Behold, I will send you” must have astonished Moses. Why would God choose me?

Moses should have rejoiced because God was at last answering prayer, and he should have submitted to God’s will saying, “Here I am! Send me!” But instead, he argued with the Lord and tried to escape the divine call to rescue Israel from slavery. Many questions must have been going on in Moses’ head like: “Why me, Lord?” or “I am too old” or “I am a lowly shepherd, surely there must be someone else more qualified.” These are very human questions that perhaps all of us might have if God were to choose us to follow Him. It’s an indication of where a person is, with their relationship with God; an indication of how strong our faith is in God. When God calls us to do something, we need to walk with faith, that He will be there with us every step of the way and providing us with the tools to accomplish His plan.

In our Gospel reading today, we continue where we left off last week. Simon, now Peter, had just declared Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God and Jesus confirmed it! Having declared His person, Jesus now declared His work; for the two must go together. He would go to Jerusalem, suffer and die, and be raised from the dead. This was His first clear statement of His death, though He had hinted at this before (Matt. 12:39-40; 16:4; John 2:19; 3:14, 6:51).

Peter’s response to this shocking statement certainly represented the feelings of the rest of the disciples; “Pity Thyself, Lord! This shall never happen to Thee!” Jesus turned His back on Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me! Peter the “stone” who had just been blest (Matt. 16:18) became Peter the stumbling block who was not a blessing to Jesus! Peter reacted just like any one of us would if we were told that our loved one was going to die. We wouldn’t want it to happen; we wouldn’t want to let go. We would want our loved one to stay with us. Peter’s mistake was that he was thinking like a human being and not understanding God’s plan. Peter has enough faith to declare Jesus is the Son of God, but he did not have the faith to believe that it was right for Jesus to suffer and die.

Today the cross is an accepted symbol of love and sacrifice. But in that day the cross was a horrible means of capital punishment. No Roman citizen could be crucified; this terrible death was reserved for their enemies.
Jesus presented to His disciples His expectations:

Deny yourself Take up your cross follow Christ
Forsake the world keep your soul lose your life for His sake
Share His reward and glory

To deny self does not mean to deny things. It means to give yourself wholly to Christ and share in His shame and death. To take up a cross does not mean to carry burdens or have problems. To take up the cross means to identify with Christ in His rejection, shame, suffering, and death.

But suffering always lead to glory. This is why Jesus ended this short sermon with a reference to his glorious kingdom (Matt. 16:28). This statement would be fulfilled within a week on the Mount of Transfiguration.

If we are to follow Jesus Christ, we need to have a right relationship to God and with man. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans it says, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” The emphasis here is on the attitudes of those who exercise the spiritual gifts that God has given us. Love is the circulatory system of the spiritual body, which enables all the members to function in a healthy, harmonious way. This must be an honest love; and it must be humble, not proud (Rom. 11:10). “Preferring one another” means treating others as more important than ourselves.

Serving Christ usually means satanic opposition and days of discouragement or challenge. Paul encouraged his readers to maintain their spiritual zeal because they were serving the Lord and not men. When life becomes difficult, the Christian cannot permit his zeal to grow cold. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).

As children of God, we must live on the highest level – returning good for evil. Anyone can return good for good and evil for evil (an eye for an eye). The only way to overcome evil is with good. Even if our enemy is not changed by our love, we have still experienced the love of God in our own hearts and have grown in grace.

Finally, Paul reminded them that they must enter into the feelings of others. Christian fellowship is much more than a pat on the back and a handshake. It means sharing the burdens and the blessings of others so that we all grow together and glorify the Lord. If Christians cannot get along with one another, how can they face their enemies? A humble attitude and a willingness to share are the marks of a Christian who truly ministers to the body.

We need to take on the role of a servant, by serving others. We need to submit our will to God and have faith that God will always be with us and will supply our needs: Serving faith. It is this serving faith, a humble and trusting obedience, that enables us to follow Christ wherever He leads.
Let us pray:
O Lord, You are the Christ! May our inner being proclaim Your Holy Name. May we experience Your love so that we may share it with others. Help us to realize the spiritual gifts that you have given us, so that we will use them for your church and your glory. Make us instruments of your peace. May we have the serving faith that enables us to follow You. Take us Lord and use us in Your plan. May we always trust in You and Your Holy Word; that through faith we may have the courage to answer the call. Transform us to be your disciples. May we always live according to Your will, until your coming again. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.


A Living Stone

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 21, 2011 Pentecost X

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

From the Prophet Isaiah:
“Hearken to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law.”

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:
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.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

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.
Amen. †

My sermon title today is “A Living Stone.” Now picture a stone in your mind. Do you think of a stone as being alive or dead? When you hear someone talk about a “rock garden” does this mean that you plant a rock in the dirt and a rock will grow out of the ground? A stone can be used for constructive purposes or destructive purposes. A stone could be used as a marker. It could be used for building a wall along one’s property line or just adding beauty to your property. My house is built on a foundation of stone and mortar. It usually takes the joining together of many stones in order to build something special and bring “life” to some structure, perhaps a church.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus took His disciples to Gentile territory, in 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.

It had been prophesied that Elijah would come again (Mal. 4:5), and some thought that this prediction was fulfilled in Christ. However, Jesus did not minister as did Elijah; it was John the Baptist who came “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:13-17). Jeremiah was the weeping prophet whose tender heart was broken at the sight of the decay of the nation. Certainly this attitude was seen in Jesus, the Man of sorrows.

One thing is sure, we should never make a decision about Jesus Christ by taking a poll of the people. Yet Jesus asked this of the disciples, “who do people say that I am?” 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 take the place of our own decisions. We are responsible for the decisions that we make.

Peter had the correct response: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” This response 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 revealed them to the humble disciples.

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. It must have rejoiced His heart to hear Peter’s words. 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.

From this confession of Simon, Jesus gave him a new name, Peter, which means “rock” or “stone.” These Jewish men, steeped in Old Testament Scripture, recognized the rock as a symbol of God. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and confesses Him as the Son and God and Saviour, is a “living stone.”

Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:4-6).

Jesus Christ is the foundation rock on which the church is built. The Old Testament prophets said so (Ps. 118:22,; Isa. 28:16), Jesus Himself said this (Matt. 21:42), and so did Peter and the other Apostles (Acts 4:10-12). Paul also stated that the foundation for the church is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). This foundation was laid by the Apostles and prophets as they preached Christ to the lost (1Cor. 2:1-2, 3:11, Eph. 2:20). In other words, when the evidence is examined, the total teaching of Scripture is that the church, God’s temple (Eph. 2:19-22), is built on Jesus Christ – not on Peter.

When Jesus spoke of building His church, He wasn’t just speaking of one building or local assembly, but a universal church composed of all who make the same confession of faith that Peter made.

When Jesus spoke about “My church” in contrast to these other assemblies. This was to be something new and different, for in His church, Jesus Christ would unite believing Jews and Gentiles and form a new temple, a new body (Eph. 2:11-3:12). In His church natural distinctions would be unimportant (Gal. 3:28), Jesus Christ would be the Builder of this church, the Head of this church (Eph. 1:22; Col 1:18).

Each believer in this church is a “living stone” (1 Peter 2:5). Believers would meet in local congregations, or assemblies, to worship Christ and to serve Him; but they would also belong to a universal church, a temple being built by Christ. 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).

We are the body of Christ and each one of us has a purpose and together we become alive in Christ. Before we trusted Christ, we used our body for sinful pleasures and purposes, but now that we belong to Him, we want to use our body for His glory. The Christian’s body is God’s temple (1 Cor. 6:19-20) because the Spirit of God dwells within him (Rom. 8:9). It is our privilege to glorify Christ in our body and magnify Christ in our body (Phil. 1:20-21).

Just as Christ had to take on Himself a body in order to accomplish God’s will on earth, so we must yield our bodies to Christ that He might continue God’s work through us. We must yield the members of the body as “instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13) for the Holy Spirit to use in the doing of God’s work. The Old Testament sacrifices were dead sacrifices, but we are to be living sacrifices.

Of course, our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect illustration of a “living sacrifice,” because He actually died as a sacrifice, in obedience to His Father’s will. But He rose again. And today He is in heaven as a “living sacrifice,” bearing in His body the wounds of Calvary. He is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16) and our Advocate (1 John 2:1) before the throne of God.

As believers we need to give Christ our mind. The world wants to control your mind, but God wants to transform your mind. It describes a change from within. The world wants to change your mind, so it exerts pressure from without. But the Holy Spirit changes your mind by releasing power from within. If the world controls your thinking, you are a conformer; if God controls your thinking, you are a transformer.

God transforms our minds and makes us spiritually minded by using His Word. As you spend time meditating on God’s Word, memorizing it, and making it a part of your inner being, God will gradually make your mind more spiritual.

Your mind controls your body, and your will controls your mind. Many people think they can control their will by “willpower,” but quite often they fail. It is only when we yield our will to God that His power can take over and give us the willpower that we need to be victorious Christians.

We surrender our wills to God through disciplined prayer. As we spend time in prayer, we surrender our will to God and pray, with the Lord. “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” We must pray about everything, and let God have His way in everything. Start each day by surrendering your body to the Lord. Spend time with His Word and let Him transform your mind and prepare your thinking for the new day. Yield to Him your plans and let Him guide you as He sees best. To have a right relationship with God, we must start the day by yielding to Him our bodies, minds and wills.

“Hearken to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law” (Isa. 51:7). To have God’s law in your heart means to belong to Him and be saved (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 10:16).

In our Epistle reading this morning, Paul was writing to Christians who were members of local churches in Rome. He described their relationship to each other in terms of the members of a body. The basic idea is that each believer is a living part of Christ’s body, and each one has a spiritual function to perform. Each believer has a gift or gifts to be used for the building up of the body and the perfecting of the other members of the body. In short, we belong to and need each other. Putting on and organizing a fundraiser could be a monumental task for one person, but many hands, working together makes the fundraiser a success.

Each Christian should take a self evaluation of his spiritual gifts and what ministry or ministries he is to have in the local church. If you are good in math, you may want to be the church treasurer or count the offering after church. However, if you can’t carry a tune, you shouldn’t join the choir. Perhaps you are a good cook and could feed the hungry with physical nourishment while someone else could feed the hungry with spiritual food.

The gifts that we have came because of God’s grace. They must be accepted and exercised by faith. Since our gifts are from God, we cannot take the credit for them. All we can do is accept them and use them to honor His name.

Each believer has a different gift, and God has bestowed these gifts so the local body can grow in a balanced way. But each Christian must exercise his or her gift by faith. Whatever gift we have must be dedicated to God and used for the good of the whole church, so that our gifts may bear fruit.

There is only one Saviour, Jesus Christ, and only one spiritual building, the church. Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone of the church (Eph. 2:20), binding the building together. Whether we agree with each other or not, all true Christians belong to each other as stones in God’s building.

Jesus Christ is a living stone because He was raised from the dead in victory. He is the chosen stone of the Father, and He is precious. Jesus Christ was chosen by God and rejected by men. He was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting, so they stumbled over Him. Of course, people today still stumble over Christ and His cross (1 Cor. 1:18ff). Those who believe on Christ “shall not be confounded or ashamed.”

Believers are living stones in His building. Each time someone trusts Christ, another stone is quarried out of the pit of sin and cemented by grace into the building. It may look to us at times that the church on earth is a pile of rubble and ruins, but God sees the total structure as it grows (Eph. 2:19-22). If we use the gifts, the spiritual gifts that God has given each one of us; if we work in unity and love, He will bless us and our gifts and we will become a living stone and bear much fruit for His glory.

Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, make us builders of your church. Mold us and use us for thy work. Help us to realize the gifts that you have given us, so that we will use them for your church and your glory. Make us instruments of your peace. May we share your love with others. Help us to surrender to your will. Take what we have Lord, bless it, and give it back to us so that we might feed your hungry people. Help us to grow in the knowledge of your Holy Word; that we may share this with others. Transform us to be your disciple. May we always look to you, until your coming again. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.


Compassion: Gracious Forgiveness

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 14, 2011 Pentecost IX

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

From the Book of Genesis:
And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

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:
And Behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon. … Jesus said to 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.
Amen. †

I am sure all of us can think of at least one instance where someone has hurt us in some way. Perhaps you have been lied to; perhaps someone stole from you; perhaps you weren’t given credit for some good deed; or perhaps someone said something to you that you found embarrassing or hurtful. How did you respond? A very human response would be to seek revenge. “I want to hurt him as much as he hurt me!” Yet God expects all of us to forgive.

What is forgiveness? Are Christians considered clean by God? And what should our attitude be toward others who have hurt us?

There are two types of forgiveness that appear in the Bible: God’s pardon of our sins, and our obligation to pardon others.

What is forgiveness by God?

Mankind has a sinful nature. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and humans have been sinning against God ever since.
God loves us too much to let us destroy ourselves in Hell. He provided a way for us to be forgiven, and that way is through Jesus Christ. Jesus confirmed that in no uncertain terms when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God’s plan of salvation was to send Jesus, His only Son, into the world as a sacrifice for our sins.

That sacrifice was necessary to satisfy God’s justice. Moreover, that sacrifice had to be perfect and spotless. Because of our sinful nature, we cannot repair our broken relationship with God on our own. Only Jesus was qualified to do that for us. At the Last Supper, on the night before His crucifixion, He took the cup of wine and told His disciples, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).

The next day, Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment due us, and atoning for our sins. On the third day, He rose from the dead, conquering death for all who believe in him as Saviour. John the Baptist and Jesus commanded that we repent, or turn away from our sins to receive God’s forgiveness. When we do, our sins are forgiven, and we are assured of eternal life in heaven.

What is forgiveness of others?

As Christians, our relationship with God is restored, but what about our relationship with our fellow human beings? The Bible states that when someone hurts us, we are under an obligation to God to forgive that person. Jesus is very clear on this point.

In Matthew 6:14-15 we read, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others for their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Refusing to forgive is a sin. If we receive forgiveness from God, we must give it to others who hurt us. We cannot hold grudges or seek revenge. We are to trust God for justice and forgive the person who offended us. That does not mean we must forget the offense, however; usually that’s beyond our power. Forgiveness means releasing the other from blame, leaving the event in God’s hands, and moving on. In a very practical sense, until you forgive the person and move on, that person will have a hold on you and continue to hurt you over and over again. Trust God to deal with that person and forgive him.

What better example do we have of someone who had been hurt and who showed forgiveness than Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. You know the story. I’ll give you the short version. Jacob, Joseph’s father, loved him more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age.
So, Jacob made his son a luxurious long robe with sleeves. This made Joseph’s brothers jealous and it caused them to hate him. One day while they were out in the fields, Joseph’s brothers grabbed him, stripped him of his robe and threw him in a pit.
He was later sold into slavery and eventually ended up in Egypt and sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Because God was with Joseph, he was blessed with the ability to make things prosper. Eventually, he found favor with Pharaoh because of his ability to interpret dreams and was put in charge of Pharaoh’s entire household.

A famine engulfed the region and Joseph’s family came to Egypt for help and in search of food. His family came before him and it was time for Joseph to reveal to his family who he really was. Since this was an official meeting, other Egyptian officers were present; but now that he was about to settle a long-standing family matter, Joseph wanted his brothers all to himself. His interpreter, and perhaps other officials present, would understand Hebrew, and everybody would be able to witness the brothers’ tears and expressions of love. It was time for family privacy.

The simple statement “I am Joseph” exploded like a thunderclap in their ears and brought terror to their hearts. All kinds of confused thoughts suddenly began to tumble about their minds. How could this Egyptian ruler know the name of their deceased brother? Why is he claiming to be somebody they know is dead? But if he truly is Joseph, why has he been treating them this way and what will he do to punish them for their sins? They were speechless. Every mouth was stopped as they stood guilty before their judge (Rom. 3:19).

There were two things that should have encouraged them: he was asking them to come closer, something Egyptians didn’t do with the Hebrews (Gen. 43:32), and he was weeping uncontrollably. This is now the third time Joseph has wept because of his brothers, but this is the first time publicly. He spoke to them again and not only identified himself as Joseph but also told them what they had done to him! The family secret was a secret no more.

Since Joseph could see his brothers’ mixed responses of fear and bewilderment, he encouraged them with words that came from a loving and forgiving heart. He had compassion and demonstrated gracious forgiveness. Yes, they had done wrong and were guilty; yet he told them not to dwell on their sins but on what God had done for all of them. God overruled the brothers’ hateful attitude and cruel actions and worked it all out for good. His brothers were responsible for Joseph’s sufferings, but God used them to accomplish His divine purposes.

The story of Joseph and his brothers encourages us to recognize the sovereignty of God in the affairs of life and to trust His promises no matter how dark the day may be. In Proverbs 19:21 we read, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand.” 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 Saviour to the world. Without realizing it, Joseph’s brothers were helping the Lord fulfill His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).

Since there were five more years of famine ahead of them, Joseph instructed his brothers to hurry home, give the good news to their father that he was alive, pack whatever belongings they needed, and come to Egypt to live permanently.
He promised to protect them. The land of Goshen was a fertile area of Egypt where Jacob’s family and their descendants could live close to one another without fear.

It wasn’t a time for explanations and excuses but for honest expressions of love and forgiveness. Joseph embraced his brothers and kissed them, especially Benjamin, and they all wept together. Because a hidden sin was exposed and dealt with, and forgiveness had been granted, mercy and truth met together, and righteousness and truth kissed each other (Ps. 85:10).

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 the prison to the throne, and was able to share his wealth and glory with others. In his defense before the Jewish council, Stephen took pains to point out that Joseph revealed himself to his brothers “the second time (Acts 7:13). This too is a picture of Christ’s experience with His own people Israel: They rejected Him when He came the first time (John 1:11; 5:43), but they will recognize Him and receive Him when He comes the second time, and they will weep and repent (Zech. 12:10-13:1).

When Joseph was a teenager at home, his brothers so hated him that they couldn’t even speak to him (Gen. 37:4), but now that they have been reconciled and forgiven, communication is possible. The reconciliation of estranged brothers and sisters ought to lead to restored fellowship and joyful communion (2 Cor. 2:1-11). Joseph didn’t put his brothers on probation; he freely forgave them and welcomed them into his heart and his home.

For centuries people have been puzzled by the nation of Israel. The Roman government recognized the Jewish religion, but it still called the nation “a nefarious or evil sect.” St. Paul spent the entire eleventh chapter of Romans presenting proof that God is not through with Israel.

If you want another example of God’s forgiveness, look at Paul. Paul was travelling around the countryside persecuting and killing Christians; until he was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4)

If God has cast away His people, then how can the conversion of the Apostle Paul be explained? The accounts of Paul’s conversion tell very little that parallels our salvation experience today. Certainly none of us has seen Christ in glory or actually heard Him speak from heaven. We were neither blinded by the light of heaven nor thrown to the ground. Paul’s conversion is a picture of how the nation of Israel will be saved when Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth. The details of Israel’s future restoration and salvation are given in Zechariah 12:10-13:1.
The fact that Paul was saved does not prove that there is a future for Israel. Rather, what is important is the way he was saved.

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 that He could have mercy on all because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

In our Gospel reading today, we are reminded that faith and repentance lead to healing and forgiveness. We have a Canaanite woman crying out to Jesus for mercy; that her daughter is severely possessed by a demon. It was the woman’s faith that Jesus acknowledged, and immediately He healed her daughter. 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 the Jews and Gentiles and made reconciliation possible (Eph. 2:11ff).

In order to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation, we need to put God in the equation through prayer. What better prayer is there, but the prayer that our Lord Jesus gave us: “Our Father who art in heaven… forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you.”

If someone has wronged you, yes, turn the other cheek. Have compassion on the person; turn the matter over to God; and offer gracious forgiveness to the person. Receive the blessings and cleansing power of God and through His Son Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, cleanse us with your saving power. There is so much evil and pain in this world; help us to confront evil with good; hate with love. May we have compassion on those who need our gracious forgiveness. May we share your love with others. Help us to surrender to your will. Take what we have Lord, bless it, and give it back to us so that we might feed your hungry people. Help us to grow in the knowledge of your Holy Word; that we may share this with others. Put us on the road to salvation and transform us to be your disciple. May we always look to you, until your coming again. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.


Mercy, Faith and Goodness

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts
Pentecost VIII – 7 August 2011

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22; Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-44

From the Book of Genesis:
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his children….when his brothers saw that their father loved him more…they hated him….

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
The apostle summarizes the essence of the Christian faith and religion in these simply words, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified and he confesses with this lips and so is saved.

From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water…but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, Lord, save me.

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 account of Peter’s attempt to walk on water has to be one of the most telling of all the stories about the chief disciple. It reveals so much not only about Peter, but also about human nature in general. And most importantly, it tells us about the Divine Nature – about how God works in our lives.

First of all, there’s humor in the story. Peter’s name in Greek means rock. His original name had been Simon. But Jesus gave him a new name when he first confessed that Jesus was the Son of the living God. Jesus said, Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven….

Peter’s faith made him solid as a rock – so solid that the Lord established boldly expressed faith in Him as the foundation of the church. Peter the rock of faith. So when he saw Jesus walking on the water out to the fishing boat, Peter, in his perpetual enthusiasm, walked out to meet the Lord.

He successfully walked on the water – walking by faith and in faith – to meet his Lord, but then he got scared. Momentarily, this most devoted man lost his faith and sank like a stone. Faithful, the rock could walk on water. Faithless, Peter – the rock – sank like a stone; a little sardonic humor here.

The lesson though is clear – by faith and in faith, one can do anything – even walk on water. But without faith, one sinks.

Now faith has power. Any faith has power – good faith or bad faith – both have power. Miraculous faith healings exist in every religion. Miraculous works happen among the Buddhists and Hindus as well as among Christians and Jews. Miraculous goodness even blesses atheists who neither believe in miracles nor in the author of miracles. That simply testifies to God’s great goodness. But it’s also true that great accomplishments can be achieved – even virtually impossible accomplishments – by persons of bad faith who have placed their faith in evil powers.

Many have believed in evil men – or evil women for that matter. And yet they accomplished great things. My job is not to recount these bad faith accomplishments other than to say that great empires have been built, huge obstacles have been overcome and even great goodness has resulted – from people who have placed their faith even in bad things. The point is that faith is powerful for better or for worse.

But I do want to say that any of these great accomplishments – and most certainly the miraculous accomplishments – by and through men and women of faith who believed in the wrong persons, philosophies of life or any other evil always bears witness to God’s great goodness – to His redeeming mercy. The power of God’s goodness can be manifested even in the greatest of evils – so great and so good is our God in His mercy – in His redeeming mercy. And redeeming mercy is the key.

We have one of the Bible’s most magnificent stores that bears witness to God’s redeeming mercy working through sinful man. The account of Joseph and his brothers has inspired believers for millennium for the account manifests the redemptive power of the Divine mercy.

We read the passage this morning that tells of how Israel loved his son Joseph more that he loved his other children. We should stop right there and comment on this. All of us are sinners. Even great men like Israel through whom God had established a great nation, sinned – in fact, sinned greatly. He loved some of his children more than the others. He loved Joseph the best and showed that by giving Joseph the best of everything.

It’s no wonder that all the rest of Israel’s children were jealous. That, too, is just a part of being human – a dangerous part, but a part of our human condition nonetheless. It leads to great evil. In fact, jealously is so bad that being covetous – covetousness being jealously on steroids – is condemned in the Ten Commandments. God tells us – unequivocally, Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor. Yet we do. And when we do, bad things happen.

In their jealously, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told their father that the boy had been killed by wild animals. The brothers believed in their lie and placed their faith in deception. And they got away with it – for a while.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Even though Joseph had been betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery and cast into prison, he kept the faith. In his faithfulness, God redeemed the evil done to him. Blessed with interpretative powers, Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. So very impressed was the King, he made him the prime minister of all Egypt.

When famine hit his homeland, his brothers went to Egypt where there was ample food due to Joseph’s wise administration. Although the brothers failed to recognize Joseph, Joseph eventually revealed himself to them – forgave them of their offenses against him and established his entire family in a good life in Egypt. God manifested His redeeming mercy in and through the faithful Joseph – a mercy extended even to sinners – men of bad faith who had done great evil. Joseph, in great goodness, showed the miracle of mercy and life was restored in its fullness even to his sinful brothers.

Now, just a few moments ago, I said that redeeming mercy is the key. It is. God’s redeeming mercy is the key to eternal life.

Our job as Christians is to bear witness to this great saving truth – that God’s redeeming mercy is the key to eternal life. Our job would be so much easier if God’s mercy were shown only to those who believe in Jesus Christ and not to others. We could simply point this advantage out to non-believers and, just out of self-interest, they would believe. But that’s not the case. God is just too good not to show His mercy even to non-believers as well as to those who even believe in actual evil.

But scripture bears witness to a reality – a harsh reality – that His great goodness, His redeeming mercy – must be received if one is to inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

Hence, when Peter confesses his faith in Jesus as the Son of the living God, so that bold confession becomes the foundation for the church – the church being the company of those who believe in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind – who boldly confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead.

This bold confession of faith becomes our justification. It’s the key that unlocks the kingdom. As Jesus blessed Peter with the keys to the kingdom, so also by faith in God’s mercy, we too are blessed. We too can walk through that unlocked gate into the perfection of eternal joy.

When people boldly confess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the whole world, evil cannot prevail. As our Lord said to St. Peter, even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Brothers and sister in Christ – we are so wrong to compromise this great revealed truth. We are so wrong to say, as we sometimes do, that all roads lead to God or that all religions result in salvation. They do not. Only faith in Jesus Christ, boldly confessed, can open the gates of heaven. Faith in God’s redeeming mercy is the key that opens the gate. Simple as that.

Our job is to proclaim it boldly even in this day and age in which – at least in this part of the world – you may be ridiculed for your faith. So be it. Even in that evil, God’s great goodness will prevail. It did for Joseph. It did for Peter. It did for Paul and it will for you and for me.

When Jesus instituted His Great Sacrament of Eternal life, he said of the broken bread, This is my body, broken for you. And He said of the wine, Drink ye all of this; for this is my blood of the New Testament shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Remission and redemption. Synonyms meaning forgiveness. My blood shed for you and for many for the redemption of your souls through the forgiveness of sins.

So we come to this memorial of the sacrifice of our Lord for the sake of our salvation. We come to receive His broken Body and to drink His shed blood knowing that He and He alone is the gate of heaven and that by faith, we hold the key of His redeeming mercy.

One last word. As it has become popular to say that everyone is saved regardless of their faith – that all go to heaven when they die – well, we as Christians cannot say that. Our Lord said, This is my blood of the New Covenant shed for you and for many for the remission of sins – shed for you and for many – not for you and for all.
By our faith we receive God’s redeeming mercy – and His redeeming mercy is the key to the kingdom. And by faith, even the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.

Let us pray.
Deliver us, Good Lord, from the temptation to compromise your Word or our faith in the face of those who do not believe. Bless us with the courage of our conviction that we may boldly proclaim the saving mercy of your saving grace revealed in and through your Son,
our Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Savior of the whole world
in whose holy name we both live and pray.

God’s Blessing

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 31, 2011 Pentecost VII

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

From the Book of Genesis:
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 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.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

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 all ate and were 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.
Amen. †

What does it mean, “To be blessed?” It means to be favored by God. Blessings therefore are directly associated with God and come from God. Therefore to express a blessing, is like bestowing a wish on someone that he will experience the favor of God. “May you have a blessed Christmas”, could be translated as: “May you experience the favor of God during the Christmas season.”

In Judaism, a blessing or berakhah is recited at a specified moment during a prayer, ceremony or other activity, especially before and after partaking of food. The function of these blessings is to acknowledge God as the source of all blessing. A berakhah typically starts with the words, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe..”
Judaism teaches that food ultimately is a gift of the one great Provider, God, and that to partake of food legitimately one must express gratitude to God by reciting the appropriate blessing. We refer to the blessing before the meal as saying “grace.”

In the Christian church, liturgical blessings are performed over people, objects, or are given at specific points during worship services. A service might be started with a blessing such as the call to worship and end with a blessing, such as the benediction.

When we look at St. Paul, he was considered a traitor to the Jewish nation. He ministered to the Gentiles and he taught freedom from the Law of Moses. He had preached in many synagogues and caused some trouble, and no doubt many of the Jewish believers in Rome had heard of his questionable reputation.

In the book of Romans, Paul showed his love for Israel and his desire for their welfare. In Romans 8:28-30 we read: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

St. Paul argued that the believer is secure in Jesus Christ and that God’s election would stand. But someone might ask, “What about the Jews? They were chosen by God, and yet now you tell us they are set aside and God is building His church. Did God fail to keep His promises to Israel?” In other words, the very character of God was at stake. If God was not faithful to the Jews, how do we know He will be faithful to the church?

In the 9th chapter of Romans, Paul defended the character of God by showing that Israel’s past history actually magnified the attributes of God. He specifically named four attributes of God: His faithfulness (Rom. 9:1-13), righteousness (Rom. 9:14-18), justice (Rom. 9:19-29), and grace (Rom. 9:30-33).

When Paul looked at Christ, he rejoiced; but when he looked at the lost people of Israel, he wept. Like Moses (Ex. 32:30-35), he was willing to be cursed and separated from Christ if it would mean the salvation of Israel. He was willing to stay out of heaven for the sake of the saved (Phil. 1:22-24), and willing to go to hell for the sake of the lost.

The theme of this chapter was God’s election of Israel; and the first thing he dealt with was the blessing of their election (Rom. 9:4-5). Israel was adopted by God as His own people (Ex. 4:22-23). He gave them His glory in the tabernacle and the temple (Ex. 40:34-38). The Glory of Moses bestowed on Mount Sinai came to dwell with Israel (Ex. 24:16-17). God gave Israel His covenants, the first to Abraham, and the additional covenants to Moses and to David. He also gave them His Law to govern their political, social, and religious life, and to guarantee His blessing if they obeyed. He gave them the promises and the patriarchs. The purpose of all of this blessing was that Jesus Christ, through Israel, might come into the world. All of these blessings were given freely to Israel and to no other nation.
But in spite of these blessings, Israel failed. When the Messiah appeared, Israel rejected Him and crucified Him. No one knew this better than Paul, because in his early days he had persecuted the church. Does Israel’s failure mean that God’s Word has failed? Of course not! God is faithful no matter what men may do with His Word.

I would like to read a little bit further into the 9th chapter of Romans, verses 6-8: “But it is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” This means that it is not the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants.”

There is a difference between the natural seed of Abraham and the spiritual children of Abraham. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael by Hagar and Isaac by Sarah. Since Ishmael was the firstborn, he should have been chosen, but it was Isaac that God chose. Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. As the firstborn, Esau should have been chosen, but it was Jacob that God chose. And Esau and Jacob had the same father and mother, unlike Ishmael and Isaac who had the same father but different mothers. God did not base His election on the physical. Therefore, if the nation of Israel – Abraham’s physical descendants – has rejected God’s Word, this does not nullify God’s elective purposes at all.

As we go to our Old Testament reading this morning, we have a very troubled and fearful Jacob. Two decades before, Jacob had fled from Esau to Laban; and now he was fleeing Laban only to be confronted by Esau! After twenty years, Jacob’s past was catching up with him; and he was afraid. It’s strange how we convince ourselves that we can escape the past and not reap what we’ve sown. We try to forget our sins, but our sins don’t forget us. What Jacob did to his father and brother was forgiven by God, but neither time nor geography could change the consequences of those acts.

As you study Jacob’s actions during this crisis time in his life, you can see the conflicts all of us occasionally experience between faith and fear, trusting God and scheming, asking God for help and then acting as though we don’t even know God. A crisis doesn’t make a man; it shows what a man is made of.

Instead of remembering the encouraging vision of God’s angelic army, Jacob divided his camp into two bands so that if one group was attacked, the other group could escape. It was a poor strategy against four hundred men, and Jacob would have been better off to maintain the original two bands – his company and God’s army of angels – and trust the Lord to see him through.

With Esau and his forces fast approaching, Jacob wanted to get his family to safety, which meant crossing the ford of the Jabbok. It was dangerous to ford the river at night, but Jacob would rather hazard the crossing than risk losing his loved ones; so he moved his family to what he hoped was a safe place. Having forgotten about God’s army, he wanted something between his family and his brother’s army. Jacob devised his own “two camps.”
Now Jacob was left alone, and when we’re alone and at the end of our resources, then God can come to us and do something in us and for us.

Twenty years before, Jacob had met the Lord when he was alone at Bethel; and now God graciously came to him again in his hour of need (vv. 28,30).

God meets us at whatever level He finds us in order to lift us to where He wants us to be. To Abraham the pilgrim, God came as a traveler (Gen. 18), and to Joshua the general, He came as a soldier (Josh. 5:13-15), Jacob had spent most of his adult life wrestling with people – Esau, Isaac, Laban, and even his wives – so God came to him as a wrestler.

At Bethel, God had promised to bless Jacob; and from a material point of view, the promise was fulfilled, for Jacob was now a very wealthy man. But there’s much more to the blessing of God than flocks, herds, and servants; there’s also the matter of godly character and spiritual influence. During that “dark night of the soul,” Jacob discovered that he’d spent his life fighting God and resisting His will, and that the only way to victory was through surrender. As A.W. Tozer said, “The Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has first conquered him.” God conquered Jacob by weakening him.

More than anything else, Jacob wanted the blessing of the Lord on his life; and for this holy desire, he’s to be commended. But before we can begin to be like the Lord, we have to face ourselves and admit to who we are inside. That’s why the Lord asked him, “What is your name?” If you recall, the last time Jacob was asked that question, he told a lie. His father asked, “Who are you, my son?” and Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn” (Gen. 27:18-19).

The Lord didn’t ask the question in order to get information. God knew his name and God knew that Jacob had a reputation of being a schemer and a deceiver. “What is your name?” meant, “Are you going to continue living up to your name, deceiving yourself and others; or will you admit to what you are and let Me change you?” In the Bible, when one receives a new name, it signifies a new beginning and this was Jacob’s opportunity to make a fresh start in life.

Jacob had gained power because he prevailed. He lost the battle but won the victory! By seeking God’s blessing and finally being weakened and forced to yield, he had become a “God-empowered prince.” Like Paul, who had his own battle to fight, Jacob became strong only when he became weak (2 Cor. 12:1-10).

When God rules our lives, then He can trust us with His power; for only those who are under His authority have the right to exercise His authority. While at home, Jacob had served himself and created problems; and for twenty years he served Laban and created further problems, but now he would serve God and become a part of the answer.

When we think of blessings, we can’t help but think of Jesus blessing the five loaves and two fishes and feeding the 5,000. During this time, Jesus often withdrew from the crowds and spent time alone with His disciples (Matt. 14:13).
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 future 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 (John 6:15).

However, we must not think of 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.

Jesus and His disciples desperately needed rest; yet the needs of the multitudes touched His heart. Jesus was “moved with compassion” when He saw the needy multitudes (Matt. 9:36). 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). The two blind men (Matt. 20:34) and the leper (Mark 1:41) also stirred His compassion, as did the sorrow of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:13).

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is recorded in all four Gospels. It was definitely a miracle! Imagine what it was like for the disciples. They had more than 5,000 hungry people and nothing to feed them. They obviously knew that Jesus was powerful, yet they did not ask Him for help. Instead they took inventory and found a lad with five barley loaves and two fishes and a limited treasury. When they considered that it was getting late and the place was isolated, their solution to Jesus was to send the people away.

Jesus watched His disciples as they tried to solve the problem, but “He himself knew what He was going to do” (John 6:6). He wanted to teach them a lesson in faith and surrender.

Start with what we have – the boy’s lunch. God begins with where we are and uses what we have.

Give what you have to Jesus – Jesus took a simple lunch, blessed it, and shared it. The miracle of multiplication was in His hands!

Obey His commands – The disciples had the people sit down as Jesus had asked. They took the broken pieces and distributed them, and discovered that there was plenty for everybody. As His servants, we are “distributers,” 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 Apostle John recorded a sermon on “the Bread of life” that Jesus gave the next morning 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).

Jesus still has compassion on the hungry multitudes, and He still says to His church: “Give them something to eat.” I say this in all humility that Pastor Howard and myself try very hard, through God’s Holy Spirit to provide you with a worship service that is meaningful to you, contains sound doctrine and brings glory to God. We offer you “meat and potatoes;” something to sink your teeth into and not a “Fluffernutter sandwich.” Although the sandwich might be sweeter, you don’t grow from it except in the waistline.

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, so we need to introduce them to 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:
Heavenly Father, bless us and Your church oh Lord. As we wrestle with Your will and the distractions of this world, slow us down Lord with the touch of your hand. Help us to surrender to Your will and have faith that you will honor your promises. Take what we have Lord, bless it, and give it back to us so that we might feed your hungry people. Help us to grow in the knowledge of your Holy Word; that we may share this with others. Lead us to the path of righteousness and eternal life. May your Holy Spirit transform our inner being to be more like you. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.