Scripture Fulfilled

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
January 27, 2013- Epiphany III

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

From the Book of Nehemiah:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

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.

French author Victor Hugo said over a century ago, “England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare but the Bible made England.” Supporting that view, historians tell us that Elizabethan England was indeed a country of one book, and that book was the Bible.

When they arrived in America, the Pilgrim Fathers brought with them that same reverence for the Word of God. “The Bible came with them,” said American statesman Daniel Webster, “and it is not to be doubted that to the free and universal reading of the Bible is to be ascribed in that age that men were indebted for right views of civil liberties.” President Woodrow Wilson said, “America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”

Whether the Bible is “making” any nation today may be debated, but one thing is sure: The Scriptures helped to “make” the nation of Israel. They are a “people of the Book” as no other nation has been, and the church today would do well to follow ancient Israel’s example. When God’s people get away from loving, reading, and obeying the Word of God, they lose the blessing of God. If we want to be like fruitful trees, we must delight in God’s Word.

This explains why Nehemiah called for a “Bible conference” and invited Ezra the scribe to be the teacher. The walls were now finished and the gates were hung. The material needs of the city had been met; now it was time to focus on the spiritual needs of the people in the city.

It is important to note that Ezra and Nehemiah put the Word of God first in the life of the city. What happened in Jerusalem from that point on was a by-product of the people’s response to the Scriptures. “The primary task of the church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God,” said Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. “The decadent periods and eras in the history of the church have always been those periods when preaching had declined.” Could this be what happened to New England; that the Word of God was and is not being preached? Could this be what is happening across the United States? The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to cleanse and revive the hearts of the people of God. If God is to work in and through His people, then they must respond positively to His Word.

The Bible is not a “magic book” that changes people or circumstances because somebody reads it or recites it. God’s Word must be understood before it can enter the heart and release its life-changing power. In Nehemiah’s time, only those people old enough to understand the Scriptures were permitted to be in the assembly. When Jesus told the “Parable of the Sower” (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23), the emphasis is on understanding the Word of God. Jesus compared understanding and receiving the Word to the planting of seed in the soil, where it takes root and bears fruit.

Ezra was the ideal man to conduct this outdoor Bible school. He was a priest and scribe who “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). He came to Jerusalem about fourteen years before Nehemiah had arrived and had already sought to bring the people back to the ways of the Lord (Ezra 7-10).

It is interesting that the leaders chose the Water Gate for the site of the assembly. In the Bible, water for washing is a picture of the Word of God (John 15:3), while water for drinking is a picture of the Spirit of God (John 7:37-39). When we apply the water of the Word to our lives, then the Spirit can work and bring the help we need. It is refreshing to the soul when you receive the Word and allow the Spirit to teach you.

This so called “Bible conference” was on the first day of the seventh month, which was the Jewish equivalent of our New Year’s Day. The seventh month was a special time in the Jewish calendar because the Jews celebrated the Feast of the Trumpets on the first day, the Day of Atonement on the tenth day, and the Feast of Tabernacles from the fifteenth day to the twenty-first day (Lev. 23:23-44). It was a perfect time for the nation to get right with the Lord and make a fresh new beginning.

The Book that Ezra brought was “the Book of Law.” This was probably the entire scroll of the Torah, the five books of Moses, the very foundation of the Jewish religion and civil law.

Ezra stood on a wooden platform above the people so they could see and hear him better. He faced the public square where the people stood, and the wall and gate behind may have served as a sounding board to help project his voice to the vast assembly.

When Ezra lifted the scroll and unrolled it to the passage he would read, the people who were seated in the square honored the Word of God by standing up. They knew they would not be hearing a mere man speak his own ideas; they would be hearing the very Word of God. The people remained standing while the Law was read and explained (Neh. 8:7). Ezra started his reading and teaching early in the morning and continued through midday, which means the congregation stood and listened for five or six hours; and this continued for a week. Could any of us, withstand that kind of desire and devotion?

After he opened the Word, “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.” It was a united congregation that honored the Scriptures and was willing to devote half of their day to hearing it read and taught. They didn’t worship the Book; they worshiped the Lord who spoke to them from the Book.

St. Paul tells us that because of the gift of the Spirit, which is received at conversion, we are all united members of the body of Christ. Race, social status, wealth, or even sex are neither advantages nor handicaps as we fellowship and serve the Lord.

God’s desire is that there be no division in the church. Diversity leads to disunity when the members compete with one another; but diversity leads to unity when the members care for one another.

Our churches today have a desperate need in their public services to show more respect for the Word of God. We are commanded to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13); and yet in many churches, the only Scripture publicly read is the text of the sermon.

As Ezra read and explained the Word, the assembly’s first response was one of conviction and grief. They mourned over their sins, “for the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). The law can’t save us; it can only convince us that we need to be saved and then point us to Jesus Christ the Savior (Gal. 3:24).

Our Gospel reading this morning has Jesus returning to His hometown of Nazareth for a visit. Keep in mind that these were small villages; you actually knew your neighbors, not like today. The people knew Jesus when he was a boy; watched Him grow up; probably helped His father who was a carpenter and even learned the trade. By now, the news had spread widely about the miracle worker from Nazareth; so His family, friends, and neighbors were anxious to see and hear Him. Could this actually be the same Jesus that we knew and loved; who we watched grow up?

It was our Lord’s custom to attend public worship, a custom His followers should imitate today. He might have argued that the “religious system” was corrupt, or that He didn’t need the instruction; but instead, He made His way on the Sabbath to the place of prayer.
A typical synagogue service opened with an invocation for God’s blessing and then the recitation of the traditional Hebrew confession of faith. This was followed by prayer and the prescribed readings from the Law and from the Prophets, with the reader paraphrasing the Hebrew Scriptures in Aramaic.

This was followed by a brief sermon given by one of the men of the congregation or perhaps by a visiting rabbi. If a priest was present, the service closed with a benediction. Otherwise, one of the laymen prayed and the meeting was dismissed. If you think about it, it was very similar to our worship service today.

Jesus was asked to read the Scripture text and to give the sermon. The passage He read included Isaiah 61:1-2, which read, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” He also selected it for His “text.” The Jewish rabbis interpreted this passage to refer to the Messiah, and the people in the synagogue knew it. You can imagine how shocked they were when Jesus boldly said that it was written about Him and that He had come to usher in the “acceptable year of the Lord.”

The reference here is the “Year of Jubilee” described in Leviticus 25. Every seventh year was a “Sabbatical year” for the nation, when the land was allowed to rest; and every fiftieth year (after seven Sabbaticals) was set apart as this special year was the balancing of the economic system; slaves were set free and returned to their families, property that was sold reverted to the original owners, and all debts were canceled. The land lay fallow as man and beast rested and rejoiced in the Lord.

Jesus applied this to His own ministry, not in a political or economic sense, but in a physical and spiritual sense. He had certainly brought Good News of salvation to bankrupt sinners and healing to brokenhearted and rejected people. He had delivered many from blindness and from bondage to demons and disease. Indeed, it was a spiritual “Year of Jubilee” for the nation of Israel!

The problem was that His listeners would not believe Him. They saw Him only as the son of Mary and Joseph, the boy they had watched grow up in their own city. Furthermore, they wanted Him to perform in Nazareth the same miracles He had done in Capernaum, but He refused. That’s the meaning of the phrase, “Physician, heal thyself.” The people wanted Jesus to prove to them who He was and perform a miracle! Only then would they believe. Chances are the people assembled knew the Scriptures, but they couldn’t allow the boy to grow up into someone they didn’t expect: the Messiah, the Son of God!

At first, they admired the way He taught, but it didn’t take long for their admiration to turn into antagonism. What caused this? Because Jesus began to remind them of God’s goodness to the Gentiles! The Prophet Elijah bypassed all the Jewish widows and helped a Gentile widow in Sidon (1 Kings 17:8-16), and his successor Elisha healed a Gentile leper from Syria (2 Kings 5:1-15). Our Lord’s message of grace was a blow to the proud Jewish people who thought of themselves as God’s chosen people, and they would not repent. Imagine this hometown boy saying that the Jews had to be saved by grace just like the pagan Gentiles!

The congregation was so angry, they took action to kill Jesus! St. Augustine said, “They love truth when it enlightens them, but hate truth when it accuses them.” That applies to many of our congregations today, people who want “gracious words” but who don’t want to face the truth. People who want the preacher to make them feel good, without pointing out God’s expectations and the consequences of our actions if we fail to obey God.

Think for a moment how the Jews felt. They were God’s chosen people. As long as they kept the Law, they thought they were fine in God’s eyes. Now here comes Jesus, who tells them that they are sinners, just like the Gentiles, and are in need of a Saviour. Like the Jews and Gentiles of long ago, we Christians need Jesus Christ’s redeeming grace; for only if we believe in Him are we saved!

The Word of God brings conviction and leads to repentance, but it also brings us joy; for the same Word that wounds, also heals. The secret of Christian joy is to believe what God says in His Word and act upon it. Faith that isn’t based on the Word is not faith at all; it is presumption or superstition. Joy that isn’t the result of faith is not joy at all; it is only a “good feeling” that will soon disappear. Faith based on the Word will produce joy that will weather the storms of life.

In spite of the unbelief of the people in Nazareth, the Scriptures declared that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Son, the Messiah sent to fulfill His promises. People who do not want Him and who reject “the acceptable year of the Lord” will one day face “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2). The Scriptures have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ!

Let us pray:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all the people the Good News of his salvation that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

A Holy Gift

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
January 20, 2013- Epiphany II

Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

From the Book of the prophet Isaiah:
The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give.

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
Jesus was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water…Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from…This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

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.

Our Gospel reading today starts out by saying, “On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee.” “The third day” means three days after the call of Nathanael; three days after Jesus called Nathanael to be His disciple. Since that was the fourth day of the week recorded in the book of John, the wedding took place on “the seventh day” of this “new creation week.” Throughout his Gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus was on a divine schedule, obeying the will of the Father.

Jewish tradition required that virgins be married on a Wednesday, while widows were married on a Thursday. Being the “seventh day” of John’s special week, Jesus would be expected to rest, just of God rested on the seventh day. However sin had interrupted God’s Sabbath rest, and it was necessary for both the Father and the Son to work (John 5:17; 9:4).
At this wedding, we see Jesus in three different roles: the Guest, the Son, and the Host.

Our Lord was not a recluse, as was John the Baptist (Matt. 11:16-19). He accepted invitations to social events, even though His enemies used this practice to accuse Him. Our Lord entered into the normal experiences of life and sanctified them by His presence. It was very wise for this couple to have invited Jesus to their wedding!

He was accompanied by His mother and His six disciples. We don’t know why the wine ran out. Perhaps Jesus’ friends were not wealthy people. Were Jesus and His disciples invited to the wedding because of Mary or because of Nathanael? Our Lord was not yet well known; He had performed no miracles as yet. It was not likely that he was invited because the people knew who He was or who He really was. It was probably through His mother Mary that He and His disciples received the invitation.

Since Jewish wedding feasts lasted a week, it was necessary for the groom to have adequate provisions. For one thing, it would be embarrassing to run out of either food or wine; and a family guilty of such gaucherie could actually be fined! So, to run out of wine could be costly both financially and socially.

Why did Mary approach Jesus about the problem? Did she actually expect Him to do something special to meet the need? Certainly she knew who He was, even though she did not declare this wonderful truth to others. She must have been very close to either the bride or bridegroom to have such a personal concern for the success of the festivities, or even to know that the supply of wine was depleted. Perhaps Mary was assisting the family in the preparation and serving of the meal.

Mary did not tell Jesus what to do; she simply reported the problem. Jesus questioned His mother by asking her, “Why are you getting me involved in this matter? My hour has not yet come.” He was making it clear to His mother that He was no longer under her supervision, but that from now on He would be doing what the Father wanted Him to do.

At this point, John introduced one of the key elements of his book, the idea of “the hour.” Jesus lived on a “heavenly timetable,” marked out for Him by the Father. So, when Jesus said to His mother “My hour had not come,” it simply meant that His ministry had not officially started. He was just beginning to call His disciples; to form His team.

Mary’s words to the servants reveal that she was willing to let her Son do whatever He pleased, and that she trusted Him to do what was right. It would be wise for all of us to obey what she said! It was worth noting that it was Jesus, not Mary, who took command and solved the problem; and that Mary pointed, not to herself, but to Jesus.

Our Lord’s first miracle was not a spectacular event that everybody witnessed. Mary, the disciples, and the servants knew what had happened; but nobody else at the feast had any idea that a miracle had taken place. His first miracle was a quiet event at a wedding in contrast to His last miracle that was very public; His resurrection from the dead.

Each of the six stone water jars could contain about twenty gallons each. The quality of this new wine was so superior that the man in charge of the banquet highly praised it and, of course, the groom’s family basked in the glory of the compliments.

This first miracle also did something for the disciples. It revealed His glory and gave them a stronger foundation for their faith. Though miracles alone are insufficient evidence for declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, the cumulative effect of miracle after miracle should certainly convince them of His deity. The disciples had to begin somewhere, and over the months, their faith deepened as they got to know Jesus better.

But there is certainly more to this miracle than simply meeting a human need and saving a family from social embarrassment. The Gospel of John, unlike the other three Gospels, seeks to share the inner meaning – the spiritual significance – of our Lord’s works, so that each miracle is a “sermon in action.”

It was not enough for people to believe in Jesus works; they had to believe in Him and in the Father who sent Him. This explains why Jesus often added a sermon to the miracle and in that sermon interpreted the sign.

If our Lord had preached a sermon after He turned the water into wine, what might He have said? For one thing, He likely would have told the people that the world’s joy always runs out and cannot be regained, but the joy He gives is ever new and ever satisfying. The world offers its best at the first, and then, once you are “hooked,” things start to get worse. But Jesus continues to offer that which is best until we one day enjoy the finest blessings in the eternal kingdom.

Our Lord would certainly have a special message here for His people, Israel. In the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah, Israel is pictured as an unfaithful wife; “forsaken” by the Lord, but not “divorced.” Her trials will be forgotten when she receives the new name, “Hephzibah,” which means “my delight is in her.” God delights in His people and enjoys giving them His best. The old name “desolate” will be replaced by “Beulah,” which means “married.” In the case of Israel, she is already married to Jehovah, but she will get a new name when she is reconciled to Him.

The wine ran out, and all that Israel had left were six empty water jars! They held water for external washings, but they could provide nothing for internal cleansing and joy. In this miracle, our Lord brought fullness where there was disappointment, and something internal for that which was only external (water for ceremonial washings).

John’s Gospel doesn’t mention what gift or gifts Jesus, Mary or His disciples may have brought. I’m sure it wasn’t a blender, toaster or crock pot, but I am sure it was something useful.

What we do know, is that Jesus Christ brings us all gifts of the Spirit. The various gifts are named in 1 Corinthians, Romans and Ephesians. When you combine the lists, you end up with nineteen different gifts and offices. Some of the gifts are as follows:
Prophets were spokesmen for God whose messages came immediately from God by the Spirit. Their ministry was to edify, encourage, and comfort. Their messages were tested by the listeners to determine whether they were truly from God.

Teachers and/or pastors instructed converts in the doctrinal truths of the Christian life. They taught from the Word and from the teachings of the Apostles. Unlike the prophets, they did not get their messages immediately by the Spirit, though the Spirit helped them in their teaching.

The evangelist majored on sharing the Good News of salvation with the lost. All ministers should do the work of an evangelist and seek to win souls, but some men have been given evangelism as a special calling.

In the early church, miracles were a part of the credentials of God’s servants. In fact, miracles, healings, and tongues all belong to what theologians call “the sign gifts” and belonged in a special way to the infancy of the church.

Helps and governments have to do with the serving of others and the guiding of the church. Without spiritual leadership, the church flounders.

Giving and showing mercy relate to sharing material aid with those in need, as well as supporting God’s servants in ministry. The gift of faith has to do with believing God for what He wants to accomplish in the church’s ministry that He will lead and provide. The discerning of spirits was important in the early church since Satan tried to counterfeit the work of God and the Word of God. Today, the Spirit especially uses the written Word to give us discernment. Since there are no prophets in the church today, we need not worry about false prophets; but we do have to beware of false teachers.

Some people have categorized the various gifts as the speaking gifts, the sign gifts, and the serving gifts. However, we should not be so fascinated by the individual gifts that we forget the main reason why Paul listed them: to remind us that they unite us in our ministry to the one body. The Holy Spirit bestows these gifts “as He will,” not as we will. No Christian should complain about his or her gifts, nor should any believer boast about his or her gifts. We are many members in one body, ministering to each other.

We are all invited to the wedding feast. Our Saviour brought the best wine, His blood, as a Holy gift of His redeeming grace. May we bring the Holy gifts that have been bestowed on us, in order to bring sinners to Him and glory to Almighty God.

Let us pray:
Almighty God whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth. Change in us Lord from the simple water into the superior wine, that through the gifts of the Spirit which you have bestowed on each one of us, you may be given the glory through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

Holy Baptism

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
January 13, 2013- Epiphany I

Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

From the Book of the prophet Isaiah:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”

From The Acts of the Apostles:
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

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.

“If Socrates would enter a room, we should rise and do him honor,” said Napoleon Bonaparte. “But if Jesus Christ came into the room, we should fall down on our knees and worship Him.”

St. Luke or Dr. Luke would have agreed with the famous French general, for in chapters 3 and 4, he makes it clear that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is indeed the Son of God.

When John the Baptist appeared on the scene, no prophetic voice had been heard in Israel for 400 years. His coming was a part of God’s perfect timing, for everything that relates to God’s Son is always on schedule (Gal. 4:4; John 2:4).

John the Baptist resembled the Prophet Elijah in manner and dress (Luke 1:17). He came to the area near the Jordan River, preaching and baptizing. He announced the arrival of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 3:3) and urged the people to repent.
Centuries before, Israel had crossed the Jordan, which was like a national baptism, to claim their Promised Land. Now God summoned them to turn from sin and enter His spiritual kingdom.

John was son of the priest Zaharias and his wife Elisabeth. Both parents were of priestly families. Scriptures lead us to believe that his birth occurred about six months prior to Jesus birth. Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth were related. In the desert solitudes of Judaea, John fed on locusts and wild honey, and wore coarse garments of camel’s hair and a leather girdle.

Keep in mind that John did much more than preach against sin; he also proclaimed the Gospel. He was an evangelist; he preached the Good News. John introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and told people to trust in Him. John was only the best man at the wedding; Jesus was the Bridegroom (John 3:25-30). John rejoiced at the opportunity of introducing people to the Saviour, and then getting out of the way.

A unique feature about John’s ministry was baptism (Luke 20:1-8). Baptism was nothing new to the people, for the Jews baptized Gentile proselytes. Proselytes were Gentiles who had converted to Judaism and were living under the protection of Judah or Israel. They were given certain privileges and allowed to offer sacrifices to Yahweh (Num. 15:14ff). But not until a candidate was circumcised and cleansed (or baptized) and had offered sacrifices did he become a proselyte to Judaism and eligible to partake of the Passover. There were a number of Gentiles who were proselytes to Judaism; some of these were in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:10).

But John baptized Jews also, which was unusual. John’s baptism looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, while Christian baptism looks back to the finished work of Christ.

But there was something even beyond John’s baptism, and that was the baptism that the Messiah would administer. He would baptize believers with the Holy Spirit, and this began at Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:1ff). Today, the moment a sinner trusts Christ, he or she is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). John also states that Jesus will baptize with fire.

What is the “baptism of fire?” It does not refer to the “tongues of fire” at Pentecost, for tongues over a person’s head could hardly be called a “baptism.” John’s use of the symbol of “fire” indicates that he is talking about judgment and not blessing. In A.D. 70 the nation experienced a baptism of fire when Titus and the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the people. All unbelievers will experience a baptism of judgment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

There are several illustrations that St. Luke gives to help us understand the ministry that God gave John the Baptist.

To begin with, John the Baptist was a voice “crying in the wilderness” (Luke 3:4). He was like the herald who went before the royal procession to make sure the roads were ready for the king. Spiritually speaking, the nation of Israel was living in a “wilderness” of unbelief, and the roads to spiritual reality were twisted and in disrepair. The corruption of the priesthood and the legalistic hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees had weakened the nation spiritually. The people desperately needed to hear a voice from God, and John was that faithful voice.

Philip the Evangelist, was chosen as a deacon (Acts 6:5) and he grew in his ministry and became an effective evangelist. He preached and healed effectively at Samaria after the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:4-8). God directed him to evangelize in Samaria, an area that had been prohibited to the Apostles (Matt. 10:5-6). Both John the Baptist and Jesus had ministered there (John 3:23), so Philip entered into their labors (John 4:36-38). Philip was God’s commissioned herald to deliver His message to the people of Samaria. To reject the messenger would mean to reject the message and rebel against the authority behind the herald, Almighty God. How people respond to God’s messenger and God’s message is serious business.

Philip not only declared God’s Word, but he also demonstrated God’s power by performing miracles. The emphasis here is on the Word of God: the people gave heed to the Word because they saw the miracles, and by believing the Word, they were saved.

The Gospel had now moved from “Jewish territory” into Samaria where the people were part Jew and part Gentile. God in His grace had built a bridge between two estranged people and made the believers one in Christ, and soon He would extend that bridge to the Gentiles and include them as well.

It is important to note that the Samaritans did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they believed. It was necessary for two of the Apostles, Peter and John, to come from Jerusalem, put their hands on the converts, and imparts to them the gift of the Spirit. Why?

Because God wanted to unite the Samaritan believers with the original Jewish church in Jerusalem. He did not want two churches that would perpetuate the division and conflict that had existed for centuries. Jesus had given Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:13-20), which meant that Peter had the privilege of “opening the door of faith” to others. He opened the door to the Jews at Pentecost, and now he opened the door to the Samaritans. Later, he would open the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 10).

It was John the Baptist’s task to prepare the nation for the Messiah and then present the Messiah to them (Luke 1:16-17). He rebuked their sins and announced God’s salvation, for without conviction there can be no conversion.

Like some “religious sinners” today, many of the Jews thought they were destined for heaven simply because they were descendants of Abraham. It is the same with some Christians, who believe that “all roads” lead to heaven.
It doesn’t matter who you worship, whether it is the Goddess Sophia, Allah, Buddha, etc. they are all the same. Woe to the religious leaders who believe this and lead the “sheep” astray. John reminded them that God gets to the root of things and is not impressed with religious profession that does not produce fruit. In the last judgment, the true believers will be gathered by God, while the lost sinners will be burned in the fire.

How tragic that the religious leaders refused to obey John’s message and submit to his baptism (Luke 20:1-8). They not only failed to enter the kingdom themselves, but their bad example and false teaching kept other people from entering as well.

John was faithful in his ministry to prepare the hearts of the people and then to present their Messiah to them. He clearly stated that Jesus was “the Lord” and the Son of God. Because John rebuked Herod Antipas for his adulterous marriage to Herodias, he was imprisoned by the king and finally beheaded. However, he had faithfully finished his God-given assignment and prepared the people to meet the Messiah, the Son of God.

One day, after all the others had been baptized, Jesus presented Himself for baptism at the Jordan; and John at first refused to comply (Matt. 3:13-15). He knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the perfect Son of God who had no need to repent of sin. Why then was the sinless Son of God baptized?

To begin with, in His baptism He identified with the sinners that He came to save. Also, His baptism was the official start of His ministry (Acts 1:21-22; 10:37-38). He was “about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23), and the Jewish Levites began their work at age thirty. But our Lord’s words tell Us, the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit), that the main reason for His baptism: “for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). In what way was He talking about: In the way pictured by His baptism in the Jordan. Many Bible scholars agree that New Testament baptism was by immersion, which is a picture of death, burial, and resurrection. Our Lord’s baptism in water was a picture of His work of redemption (Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50). It was through His baptism of suffering on the cross that God “fulfilled all righteousness.”

When our Lord came up from the water, the Father spoke from heaven and identified Him as the beloved Son of God, and the Spirit visibly came upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Those who deny the Trinity have a difficult time explaining this event.

We acknowledge that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our Savior Jesus Christ said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” May the mercy and goodness of God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, grant that all of us here today, may receive the forgiveness of sins, be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and may acknowledge our membership in Christ’s holy Church.

Let us pray:
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.

Homage to the King

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
January 6, 2013- Epiphany Sunday

Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

From the Book of the prophet Isaiah:
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

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.

“Arise and shine!” is God’s “wake-up call” to Jerusalem, because a new day is dawning for Israel. This light is not from the sun but from the glory of God shining on the city.

God’s glory had once dwelt in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-38), only to depart because of Israel’s sin (1 Sam. 4:21). God’s glory then came into the temple (1 Kings 8:11), but it departed when the nation turned to idols (Ezek. 9:3; 10:4, 18; 11:22-23). The glory came to Israel in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14), but the nation nailed that glory to a cross. Today, God’s glory dwells in His church (Eph. 2:20-22) and in His people individually (1 Cor. 6:19-20); but one day His glory will be revealed to the earth when He answers His people’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come.”

If a man suddenly appears and claims to be a king, the public immediately asks for proof. What is his background? Who pays homage to him? What credentials can he present? What is his heritage? Does he come from a long line of royalty? Anticipating these important questions, St. Matthew opened his book with a careful account of the birth of Jesus Christ and the events that accompanied it.

We must consider the three names assigned to God’s Son. The name Jesus means “Saviour” and comes from the Hebrew name, Joshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation.” There were many Jewish boys with the name Joshua, but Mary’s Boy was called “Jesus the Christ.” The word Christ means “anointed”; it is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. He is “Jesus the Messiah.” Jesus is His human name; Christ is His official title; and Immanuel describes who He is – “God with us.” Jesus Christ is God!

The King, then, was a Jewish male who is also the divine Son of God. But, did anybody acknowledge His kingship? Yes, the magi from the East came and worshiped Him.

We must confess that we know little about these men. The word translated “wise men” refers to a group of scholars who studied the stars. Their title connects them with magic, but they were probably more like astrologers. However, their presence in the biblical record is not a divine endorsement of astrology.

God gave them a special sign, a miraculous star that announced the birth of the King. The star led them to Jerusalem where God’s prophets told them that the King would be born in Bethlehem. They went to Bethlehem, and there they worshiped the Christ Child.

We do not know how many magi there were. Since there were three gifts mentioned in scripture (i.e. gold, frankincense and myrrh), some people assumed there were three kings from the Orient, though this is not certain. But when their caravan arrived in Jerusalem, there were enough of them to trouble the whole city.

Keep in mind that these men were Gentiles. From the very beginning, Jesus came to be “the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). These men were also wealthy, and they were scholars – scientists in their own right. No scholarly person who follows the light God gives him can miss worshiping at the feet of Jesus. In Jesus Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). In Him dwells “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).

The magi were seeking the King, but Herod was afraid of the King and wanted to destroy Him. This was Herod the Great, called king by the Roman senate because of the influence of Mark Antony. Herod was a cruel and crafty man who permitted no one, not even his own family, to interfere with his rule or prevent the satisfying of his evil desires. A ruthless murderer, he had his own wife and her two brothers slain because he suspected them of treason. He was married at least nine times in order to fulfill his lusts and strengthen his political ties.

It is no surprise that Herod tried to kill Jesus, for Herod alone wanted to bear the title “King of the Jews.” But there was another reason. Herod was not a full-blooded Jew; he was actually an Idumaean, a descendant of Esau. This is a picture of the old struggle between Esau and Jacob that began even before the boys were born (Gen. 25:19-34). It is the spiritual versus the carnal, the godly versus the worldly.

The magi were seeking the King; Herod was opposing the King; and the Jewish priests were ignoring the King. These priests knew the Scriptures and pointed others to the Saviour, but they would not go to worship Him themselves! They quoted Micah 5:2, which says: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” But they chose not to obey it. They were only five miles from the very Son of God, yet they did not go to see Him! The Gentiles sought and found Him, but the Jews did not.

When the magi resumed their search for the King and headed toward Bethlehem, they saw the star again; and it led them to the house where Jesus was. By now, Joseph had moved Mary and the baby from the temporary dwelling where the Lord Jesus had been born (Luke 2:7). The traditional manger scenes that assemble together the shepherds and wise men are not true to Scripture, since the magi arrived much later.

Jesus chose St. Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 26:13-18), and he was not disobedient to that call. Wherever Paul ministered, he founded local churches composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, all “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

God made Paul a steward of “the mystery” of the church with the responsibility of sharing it with the Gentiles. It was not enough simply to win them to Christ and form them into local assemblies. He was also to teach them their wonderful position in Christ as members of the body, sharing God’s grace equally with the Old Testament Scriptures.

God hid this great plan for the church “from the beginning of the world,” but now He wants “the mystery” to be known by His church. And this is why He made Paul a “steward” of this great truth. Now all believers are to be faithful stewards of this great truth! This “sacred secret” that was so important to Paul, and to the Gentiles, is now in our hands!

Matthew cites in his book a second fulfilled prophecy to prove that Jesus Christ is the King. How He was born was a fulfillment of prophecy, and where He was born was a fulfillment of prophecy. Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and this was where the “Bread of Life” came to earth (John 6:48ff).

Jesus Christ, the Bread, his body, broken for you. As we come to your most sacred table Lord; we remember Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ; we remember His birth, death and passion; we are partakers of His most blessed Body and Blood; that this Bread and Wine are signs of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us, until His coming again.
Let us pray:
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.