Evil’s Destruction

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
February 24, 2013 – Lent II

Genesis 15:1-12, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

From the book of Genesis:
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

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.

“One who truly fears God, and is obedient to Him, may be in a condition of darkness, and have no light; and he may walk many days and years in that condition…”

So wrote the Puritan Thomas Goodwin (1600-1679), and the Prophet Isaiah agrees with him: “Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God” (Isa. 50:10).

At times even the most dedicated Christian feels “in the dark” and wonders why God seems so far away. During the Boxer Rebellion, the China Inland Mission suffered greatly; and its founder, J. Hudson Taylor, said to a friend, “I cannot read; I cannot think; I cannot even pray; but I can trust.” It was a dark time, but God eventually gave light.

Abraham had an experience of what spiritual directors call “the dark night of the soul.” The term comes from a sixteenth-century spiritual classic of that title by St. John of the Cross. Based on the night scenes described in the Song of Songs, the book tells how the child of God enters into deeper love and faith by experiencing temporary darkness and seeming separation from God. It is not an easy thing to experience, but sometimes necessary.
People with faith are also people with feelings, and feelings must not be discredited or ignored. Many orthodox Christians are prone to emphasize the mind and will and minimize the emotions, but this is a grave error that can lead to an unbalanced life.

We are made in the image of God, and this includes our emotions. While it is unwise to trust your emotions and bypass your mind, or let your emotions get out of control, it is also unwise to deny and suppress your emotions and become a religious robot. In the Psalms, David and the other writers told God honestly how they felt about Him, themselves, and their circumstances; and this is a good example for us to follow. Jesus was a real man, and He expressed openly His emotions of joy, sorrow, holy anger, and love.

You certainly ought to “listen to your feelings” and be honest about them. “When a person assumes responsibility for his feelings,” writes psychiatrist David Viscott, “he assumes responsibility for his world.” But don’t stop there: Take time to listen to God, and receive His words of encouragement. The faith that conquers fear is faith in the Word, not faith in feelings.

God’s remedy for Abraham’s fear was to remind him of who He was: “I am thy shield, and thy exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15:1). God is our shield and our reward, our protection and our provision.

Protection and provision are blessings that the world is seeking and the politicians are promising whenever they run for office. Candidates offer voters protection from war and danger on the streets as well as provision for jobs, health care, education, and old age. Some of the promises are kept, but many of them are forgotten. Almighty God is the only One who can offer you protection and provisions and keep His promises.

Our Gospel reading today has Jesus in Perea, which was ruled for Rome by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. The terrain of Perea was one of the most picturesque in Palestine, marked by rugged highlands and secluded and fruitful valleys. The Pharisees wanted to get Jesus back into Judea where the religious leaders could watch Him and ultimately trap Him, so they tried to frighten Him away.

Herod had been perplexed by our Lord’s ministry and was afraid that John the Baptist, whom he murdered, had come back from the dead (Luke 9:7-9). In fact, at one point, Herod wanted to meet Jesus so he could see Him perform a miracle! But it appears that Herod’s heart was getting harder, for now he threatened to kill Jesus. The warning the Pharisees gave was undoubtedly true or Jesus would not have answered as He did.

Our Lord was not afraid of danger. He followed a “divine timetable” and nothing could harm Him. He was doing the will of God according to the Father’s schedule. It had been decreed from eternity that the Son of God would be crucified in Jerusalem at the Passover (1 Peter 1:20; Rev. 13:8), and even Herod Antipas could not hinder the purposes of God. Quite the contrary, our Lord’s enemies only helped fulfill the will of God (Acts 2:23; 3:13-18).
Jesus used a bit of “holy sarcasm” in His reply. He compared Herod to a fox, an animal that was not held in high esteem by the Jews (Neh. 4:3). Known for its cunning, the fox was an apt illustration of the crafty Herod. Jesus had work to do and He would accomplish it. After all, Jesus walked in the light, and foxes went hunting in the darkness!

Our Lord’s heart was grieved as He saw the unbelief and rebellion around Him, and He broke out in a lamentation over the sad plight of the Jewish nation. It was a sob of anguish, not an expression of anger. His compassionate heart was broken.

In this lament, Jesus was addressing the whole nation and not just the Pharisees who had tried to provoke Him. The people had been given many opportunities to repent and be saved, but they had refused to heed His call.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he is filled with joy, but he is also weeping. Perhaps he is weeping over himself and his difficult situation, being in prison. No, he is a man with a single mind, and his circumstances do not discourage him. Is he weeping because of what some of the Roman Christians are doing to him? No, he has the submissive mind and will not permit people to rob him of his joy. These tears are not for him at all; they are shed because of others. Because Paul has the spiritual mind, he is heartbroken over the way some professed Christians are living, people who “mind earthly things.”

We are not sure who Paul is weeping for. He may be referring to the Judaizers and their followers. Certainly Paul is writing about professed Christians and not people outside the church. The Judaizers were the “enemies of the cross Christ” in that they added the Law of Moses to the work of redemption that Christ wrought on the cross. Their obedience to the Old Testament dietary laws would make a “god” out of the belly; and their emphasis on circumcision would amount to glorying in that about which they ought to be ashamed.

To refer to the Judaizers as “enemies of the cross Christ” might be a bit harsh. These were Jews who converted to Christianity, but did not want to give up the Jewish laws and traditions. They also expected all converts to take on the Jewish laws and traditions in order to be considered Christian. This included circumcision and dietary laws. This must have been hard for the Jews; all their life they were taught to obey the Old Testament laws; laws that Moses gave to the Jewish people from God. Now they were told that many of those laws were not important. This brought about the conflict in the church and Paul’s sadness for the people in Philippi.

In what sense, were the Judaizers the “enemies of the Cross of Christ”? For one thing, the Cross ended the Old Testament religion. When the veil of the temple was torn in two, God was announcing that the way to God was open through Christ (Heb. 10:19-25). When Jesus shouted, “It is finished!” He made one sacrifice for sins, and thus ended the sacrificial system (Heb. 10:1-14). By His death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished a “spiritual circumcision” that made ritual circumcision unnecessary (Col. 2:10-13). Everything that the Judaizers advocated had been eliminated by the death of Christ on the cross!

Furthermore, everything that they lived for was condemned by the Cross. Jesus had broken down the wall that stood between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-16), and the Judaizers were rebuilding that wall! It is the Cross that is central in the life of the believer. He does not glory in men, in religion, or in his own achievements; he glories in the Cross (Gal. 6:14).

These men were not spiritually minded; they were earthly minded. They were holding on to earthly rituals and beliefs that God had given to Israel, and they were opposing the heavenly blessings that the Christian has in Christ.

The spiritually minded believer is not attracted by “things” of this world. He makes his decisions on the basis of eternal values and not the passing fads of society. Lot chose the well-watered plain of Jordan because his values were worldly, and ultimately he lost everything. Moses refused the pleasures and treasures of Egypt because he had something infinitely more wonderful to live for (Heb. 11:24-26). “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain he whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

The Judaizers were living in the past tense, trying to get the Philippian believers to go back to Moses and the Law; but true Christians live in the future tense, anticipating the return of their Saviour (Phil. 3:20-21). It is this anticipation of the coming of Christ that motivates the believer with the spiritual mind.

There is tremendous energy in the present power of a future hope. Because Abraham looked for a city, he was content to live in a tent (Heb. 11:13-16). Because Moses looked for the rewards of heaven, he was willing to forsake the treasures of earth (Heb. 11:24-26). Because of the “joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2), Jesus was willing to endure the cross. The fact that Jesus Christ is returning is a powerful motive for dedicated living and devoted service today. “And every man that hath this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 2:28-3:3).

The time is coming when our Messiah will return and be recognized and received by both Jews and Gentiles. They will shout, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35). There can be no peace on earth until the Prince of Peace is seated on David’s throne (Isa. 11:1ff). “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

Let us pray:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Into the Wilderness

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
February 17, 2013 – Lent I

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

From the book of Deuteronomy:
And you shall make response before the Lord God; a wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.

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

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil.

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.

Every day of every year, we are presented with choices and temptations; we have to make decisions. Some decisions are easy, some might be hard. Some decisions may not involve sin, while others may. Some decisions might fall into that gray area of right or wrong.

Should I get out of bed in the morning; should I get something to eat? Should I go to church? These are fairly easy decisions to make and would usually be the right thing to do. Should I call in sick to work because I want to go to the beach? Should I shout obscenities at someone who cuts me off in traffic? Should I miss church because I want to go shopping instead? These decisions would probably be the wrong thing to do. How about you see a dollar bill on the ground of the supermarket parking lot: Do you pick it up and put it in your pocket or bring it inside and turn it in? If your wife asks you your opinion on how the new dress looks on her: Do you answer her truthfully or tell her what she wants to hear? These decisions might fall under the gray area.
After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and by the Holy Spirit, he was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by Satan. Just as Jesus used those 40 days to prepare Himself for His ministry, we too use these 40 days of Lent: a time of prayer, fasting and abstinence in order to prepare us for the victory that we share in Christ; Christ’s victory over death.

Why was Jesus tempted? For one thing, it was proof that the Father’s approval was deserved. Jesus is indeed the “beloved Son” who always does whatever pleases the Father. Also, in His temptation, Jesus exposed the tactics of the enemy and revealed to us how we can overcome when we are tempted. This experience helped prepare our Lord for His present ministry as our sympathetic High Priest, and we may come to Him for the help we need to overcome the tempter (Heb. 2:16-18; 4:14-16). The first Adam was tempted in a beautiful Garden and failed. The Last Adam, Jesus, was tempted and succeeded.

You may think that of course Jesus was able to resist temptation. He was the Son of God, the Messiah. Perhaps you think that you are just a simple human being; your strength, faith and will power is not that strong. You feel you are no match for Satan’s devious ways.

We have at our disposal the same spiritual resources that Jesus used when He faced and defeated Satan: prayer (Luke 3:22), the Father’s love (Luke 3:23), the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:1), and the Word of God (“It is written”). Plus, we have in heaven the interceding Saviour who has defeated the enemy completely. Satan tempts us to bring out the worst in us, but God can use these difficult experiences to put the best into us. Temptation is Satan’s weapon to defeat us, but it can become God’s tool to build us.

During those 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus did not eat, so at the end, He was hungry. In the first temptation, Satan suggested that there must be something wrong with the Father’s love since His “beloved Son” was hungry. In years past Israel hungered in the wilderness and God sent them bread from heaven; so surely Jesus could use His divine power to feed Himself and save His life. Satan subtly used this same approach on Eve: “God is holding out on you! Why can’t you eat of every tree in the Garden? If He really loved you, He would share everything with you!”

But the test was even more subtle than that, for Satan was asking Jesus to separate the physical from the spiritual. In the Christian life, eating is a spiritual activity, and we can use even our daily food to glorify God (Rom. 14:20-21; Corr. 10:31). Whenever we label different spheres of our lives “physical,” “material,” “financial,” or “spiritual,” we are bound to leave God out of areas where He rightfully belongs. Christ must be first in everything, or He is first in nothing (Matt. 6:33). It is better to be hungry in the will of God than satisfied out of the will of God.

When our Lord quoted from Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” He put the emphasis on the word man. As the eternal Son of God, He had power to do anything; but as the humble Son of man, He had authority to do only that which the Father willed.
As the Servant, Jesus did not use His divine attributes for selfish purposes (Phil. 2:5-8). Because He was man, He hungered; but He trusted the Father to meet His needs in His own time and His own way.

You and I need bread for the body, but we must not live by physical bread alone. We also need food for the inner person to satisfy our spiritual needs. This food is the Word of God. What digestion is to the body, meditation is to the soul. As we read the Word and meditate on it, we receive spiritual health and strength for the inner person, and this enables us to obey the will of God.

The next temptation was when Satan took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and told Jesus that they would all be His, if only He would worship him. And Jesus answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”

The Father had already promised to give the Son all the kingdoms of the world (Ps. 2:7-8), but first the Son had to suffer and die (John 12:23-33). The suffering must come first, then the glory. The adversary offered Jesus these same kingdoms if He would once worship him, and this would eliminate the necessity of His going to the cross. Satan has always wanted to take God’s place and receive worship (Isa. 14:13-14).

As the prince of this world, Satan has a certain amount of delegated authority from God (John 12:31). One day he will share this authority with the Antichrist, the man of sin, who will rule the world for a brief time (Rev. 13). Satan’s offer to Christ was valid, but his terms were unacceptable; and the Saviour refused.

Satan had said nothing about service, but Jesus knew that whatever we worship, we will serve. Service to the Lord is true freedom, but service to Satan is terrible bondage. God’s pattern is to start with suffering and end with glory, while Satan’s pattern is to start with glory and end with suffering. Satan wants us to sacrifice the eternal for the temporary and take the “easy way.”

There are no “shortcuts” in the Christian life, and there is no easy way to spiritual victory and maturity. If the perfect Son of God had to hang on a tree before He could sit on the throne, then His disciples should not expect an easier way of life either.

The last temptation was when Satan took Jesus up to the pinnacle and suggested He jump to prove that nothing would happen to Him. The pinnacle was probably a high point at the southeast corner of the temple, far above the Kidron Valley. Satan can tempt us even in the Holy City at the highest part of the holy temple! But Jesus responded, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”

When a child of God is in the will of God, he can claim the Father’s protection and care. But if he willfully gets into trouble and expects God to rescue him, then he is tempting God. We tempt God when we “force” Him or dare Him to act contrary to His Word. It is a dangerous thing to try God’s patience, even though He is indeed long-suffering and gracious.
Satan questioned the Father’s love when he tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. He questioned His hope when he offered Jesus the world’s kingdoms this side of the Cross.
Satan questioned the Father’s faithfulness when he asked Jesus to jump from the temple and prove that the Father would keep His promise. Thus, the enemy attacked the three basic virtues of the Christian life – faith, hope, and love.

St. Paul has told us that God’s way of salvation was not difficult and complicated. We do not have to go to heaven to find Christ, or into the world of the dead. He is near to us. In other words, the Gospel of Christ – the Word of faith – is available and accessible. The sinner need not perform difficult works in order to be saved. All he has to do is trust Christ. The very Word on the lips of the religious Jews was the Word of faith. The very Law that the Jews read and recited pointed to Christ.

Everything about the Jewish religion pointed to the coming Messiah – their sacrifices, priesthood, temple services, religious festivals, and covenants. Their Law told them they were sinners in need of a Saviour. But instead of letting the Law bring them to Christ, they worshiped their Law and rejected their Saviour.

Christ is “the end of the Law” in the sense that through His death and resurrection, He has terminated the ministry of the Law for those who believe. The Law is ended as far as Christians are concerned. The righteousness of the Law is being fulfilled in the life of the believer through the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:4); but the reign of the Law has ended: “For ye are not under the Law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

Paul made it clear, that salvation is by faith – we believe in the heart, receive God’s righteousness, and then confess Christ openly and without shame.

Paul quoted from the Prophet Joel to prove that God’s salvation is open to everyone: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Instead of the Jew having a special righteousness of his own through the Law, he was declared to be as much a sinner as the Gentile he condemned.

Jesus came out of the wilderness a victor, but Satan did not give up. He watched for other opportunities to tempt the Saviour away from the Father. And Satan does this on a daily basis with us. Let me remind you, that we have at our disposal the same spiritual resources that Jesus used when He faced and defeated Satan: prayer, the Father’s love, the power of the Spirit, and the Word of God. May we use this Lent season to develop these resources, so that we too may defeat Satan and claim the victory in Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

A Right Heart

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
February 13, 2013 – Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17, II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

From the book of the Prophet Joel:
“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”

From St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:
We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

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.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the 40-day period of preparation for Easter Sunday. The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness and are a sign of humility. Lent is a penitential season marked by prayer, fasting, and abstinence. This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however, it is also a call for us to take stock of our spiritual lives.

The righteousness of the Pharisees during the time of Jesus has quite often been brought into question as being insincere and dishonest. It was thought that they practiced their religion for the applause of men, not for the reward of God. But true righteousness must come from within. We all need to test ourselves from time to time to see whether we are sincere and honest in our Christian commitment.

The Pharisees were known for their giving alms to the poor, praying, and fasting. These disciplines were important in the religion of the Pharisees. Jesus did not condemn these practices, but He did caution us to make sure that our hearts are right as we practice them.

The Pharisees used almsgiving to gain favor with God and attention from men, both of which were wrong motives. No amount of giving can purchase salvation; for salvation is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). And to live for the praise of men is a foolish thing because the glory of man does not last (1 Peter 1:24). It is the glory and praise of God that really counts!

Our sinful nature is so subtle that it can defile even a good thing like sharing with the poor. If our motive is to get the praise of men, then like the Pharisees, we will call attention to what we are doing. But if our motive is to serve God in love and please Him, then we will give our gifts without calling attention to them. As a result, we will grow spiritually; God will be glorified; and others will be helped. But if we give with the wrong motive, we rob ourselves of God’s blessing and reward, and rob God of glory, even though the money we share might help a needy person.

Does this mean that it is wrong to give openly? Must all giving be anonymous? Not necessarily, for everyone in the early church knew that Barnabas had given the income from the sale of his land (Acts 4:34-37). When the early church members laid their money at the Apostles’ feet, it was not done in secret. The difference, of course, was in the motive and manner in which it was done.

The second discipline that the Pharisees practiced was to have a meaningful prayer life. Jesus gave us four instructions to guide us in our prayer life. We should pray in secret before we pray in public. This means we should establish a personal prayer life with God, before we pray in public. It is not wrong to pray in public, such as in church, or even when blessing food or seeking God’s help. But it is wrong to pray in public if we are not in the habit of praying in private.

Prayers should be sincere and always in His will. The purpose of prayer is to glorify God’s name, and to ask for help to accomplish His will on earth. “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done in earth.” We have no right to ask God for anything that will dishonor His name, delay His kingdom, or disturb His will on earth.

We must pray, having a forgiving spirit toward others. Forgiveness belongs to the matter of fellowship. If I am not in fellowship with God, I cannot pray effectively. But fellowship with my brother helps to determine my fellowship with God; hence, forgiveness is important to prayer.

Since prayer involves glorifying God’s name, hastening the coming of God’s kingdom, and helping to accomplish God’s will on earth, the one praying must not have sin in his heart.

The last discipline that the Pharisees practiced was fasting. The only fast that God required of the Jewish people was on the annual Day of Atonement. The Pharisees fasted each Monday and Thursday and did so in such a way that the people knew they were fasting. Their purpose, of course, was to win the praise of men. As a result, the Pharisees lost God’s blessing. As with giving and praying, true fasting must be done in secret; it is between the believer and God.

One of the most important things in this life, is to be reconciled to God. Because of his rebellion, man was the enemy of God and out of fellowship with Him. Through the work of the Cross, Jesus Christ has brought man and God together again. God has been reconciled and has turned His face in love toward the lost world. The basic meaning of the word reconcile is “to change thoroughly.” It refers to a changed relationship between God and the lost world.

God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.

When Jesus died on the cross, He took our sins on to Himself. If we were to think of this in banking terms, the word is imputation. This simply means “to put to one’s account.” When you deposit money in a bank, that money is credited to your account. When Jesus died on the cross, all of our sins were imputed to Him – put to His account.

What was the result? All of those sins have been paid for and God no longer holds them against us, because we have trusted Christ as our Saviour. But even more: God has put to our account the very righteousness of Christ!

Reconciliation is based on imputation: because the demands of God’s holy Law have been fully met on the cross, God can be reconciled to sinners. Those who believe on Jesus Christ as their Saviour will never have their sins imputed against them again. As far as their records are concerned, they share the righteousness of Jesus Christ!

The Prophet Joel proclaimed over 2000 years ago to “Blow the trumpet!”; a call to the people to repent of their sins and seek the Lord’s help. But whatever we do in our relationship with God, we must be sincere. It’s easy to participate in a religious service, but quite something else to humbly confess your sins and bring to God a repentant heart (Matt. 15:8-9). May we use this period of Lent to do some soul searching and come to a deeper understanding and relationship with God through His Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting of our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


God’s Grace

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
February 3, 2013- Epiphany IV

Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

From the Prophet Jeremiah:
And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Na’aman the Syrian.

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 Prophet Jeremiah hesitated as he looked at the work before him and the wickedness around him, and when he looked at the weakness within himself, Jeremiah was certain that he wasn’t the man for the job.

When God calls us, however, He isn’t making a mistake, and for us to hesitate or refuse to obey is to act on the basis of unbelief and not faith. Its one thing for us to know our weaknesses, but it’s quite something else for us to say that our weaknesses prevent God from getting anything done.

God doesn’t save us, call us, or use us in His service because we’re deserving, but because in His wisdom and grace He chooses to do so. It’s grace from start to finish. “But by the grace of God I am what I am,” wrote Paul, “and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

It was Jonathan Swift, the satirical author of Gulliver’s Travels, who said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough religion to make us love one another.” Spiritual gifts, no matter how exciting and wonderful, are useless and even destructive if they are not ministered in love. In all three of the “body” passages in Paul’s letters, there is an emphasis on love. The main evidence of maturity in the Christian life is a growing love for God and for God’s people, as well as a love for lost souls. It has well been said that love is the “circulatory system” of the body o f Christ.

Note that all three of the Christian graces will endure, even though “faith will become sight and hope will be fulfilled.” But the greatest of these graces is love; because when you love someone, you will trust him and will always be anticipating new joys. Faith, hope, and love go together, but it is love that energizes faith and hope.

Last week in our Gospel reading we had Jesus returning to His hometown of Nazareth for a visit. The people knew Jesus since he was a boy. The news had spread widely about the miracle worker from Nazareth; so His family, friends, and neighbors were anxious to see and hear Him.

It was our Lord’s custom to attend public worship, so He made His way on the Sabbath to the place of prayer. 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.

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! Our Lord’s message of grace to all people was a blow to the proud Jewish people who thought of themselves as God’s chosen people, but God’s saving by grace is for everyone!

One of the scriptures that Jesus referred to was when the Prophet Elijah bypassed all the Jewish widows and helped a Gentile widow in Sidon (1 Kings 17:8-16). Elijah had lived in Cherith for probably a year, and then God told him to leave. God’s instructions may have shocked the prophet, for the Lord commanded him to travel northeast about a hundred miles to the Phoenician city of Zarephath.
God was sending Elijah into Gentile territory, and since Zarephath was not too far from Jezebel’s home city of Sidon, he would be living in enemy territory! Even more he was instructed to live with a widow whom God had selected to care for him, and widows were usually among the neediest people in the land. Since Phoenicia depended on Israel for much of its food supply (1 Kings 5:9; Acts 12:20), food wouldn’t be too plentiful there.

It’s probable that Elijah remained with the woman and her son for two years and during that time, the widow and her son surely turned from the worship of idols and put their faith in the true and living God.

The woman’s assets were few: a little oil in a flask, a handful of barley in a large grain jar, and a few sticks to provide fuel for a fire. But Elijah’s assets were great, for God Almighty had promised to take care of him, his hostess, and her son. Elijah gave her God’s promise that neither the jar of grain nor the flask of oil would be used up before the end of the drought and famine. God would one day send the rain, but until then, He would continue to provide bread for them – and He did.

The other scripture that Jesus referred to was when the prophet Elisha, Elijah’s successor, healed a Gentile leper from Syria (2 Kings 5:1-15). Elisha was a miracle-working prophet who ministered to all sorts of people who brought him all kinds of needs. “And many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27).

Naaman was a Gentile and the commander of the army of an enemy nation, so it’s no wonder the congregation in Nazareth became angry with the Lord, interrupted His sermon and carried Him out of the synagogue. After all, why would the God of Israel heal a man who was a Gentile and outside the covenant? He was an enemy who kidnapped little Jewish girls, and a leper who should have been isolated and left to die. These people knew nothing about the sovereign grace of God. Like Naaman, they didn’t humble themselves and trust the Lord. Naaman’s experience with Elisha illustrates to us the gracious work of God in saving lost sinners.

The king of Syria was Ben Hadad II, and as commander of the army, Naaman was the number two man in the nation. But with all his prestige, authority, and wealth, Naaman was a doomed man because under his uniform was the body of a leper.

Although Naaman didn’t realize it, the Lord had already worked on his behalf by giving him victory over the Assyrians. Jehovah is the covenant God of Israel, but He is also Lord of all the nations and can use any person, saved or unsaved, to accomplish His will.

Although there is no direct scriptural statement that leprosy is a picture of sin, you can see parallels. Like leprosy, sin is deeper than the skin, it spreads, it defiles, it isolates, and it is fit only for the fire.

Elisha told Naaman, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean (2 Kings 5:10, 14).

By his obedience he demonstrated his faith in God’s promise, and the Lord cleansed him of his leprosy. Naaman gave a clear public testimony that the Lord God of Israel was the only true and living God and was the God of all the earth.

Our Lord’s message of grace and love is to all people: Jews and Gentiles! The Holy Scripture has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. As we come to your most sacred table Lord; we remember Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ; that 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 Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.