High Standards

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 30, 2013 – Pentecost VI

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:13-25, Luke 9:51-62

From the Old Testament:
Then he took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two pieces. And he took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

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

This coming week we will be celebrating our nation’s birthday on July 4th and it’s also a time to remember the brave men and women that defend our nation and our freedoms on a daily basis around the world. Many come back with a loss of limb or other physical or mental illness. And then let us remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice; our prayers and gratefulness go out to them and their families.

In 2011, when Osama bin Laden was killed, we heard a lot about Delta force and our military’s Special Forces. Each branch of the military has Special Forces such as the Army Green Berets and the Navy SEALS. These very special brave men are tasked with six primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, and counter-terrorism. Each recruit requires intensive training in a wide variety of subjects and techniques, not to mention mental fortitude and physical ability far beyond most people’s capabilities. Less than 20% are able to complete the course; it is that rigorous.

There is some talk of allowing women to enlist in this very elite fighting force. There was an article back in January of this year that quoted Adm. William McRawen, the commander of U.S. special operations, who stated that he expects to see women in the elite commando forces now that the Pentagon is allowing them to serve in combat. In fact, he said he was “fully supportive” of the decision to lift the ban on women in combat.

He went on to say that, “What we don’t want to do is say, if you want to become a SEAL, then we’re going to have a female standard and a male standard.” “We’ve always had a standard and I guarantee you, there will be [the same] standard.”

We have seen in recent years in youth sports where all the children will receive a trophy regardless of whether their team won or not, so that no child’s feelings would be hurt. So the standard is lowered or eliminated. How do we teach our children to compete, “to be all they can be,” or how to deal with defeat, if we don’t have winners and losers? Think how this would go over in professional sports: we wouldn’t need the World Series or the Stanley Cup; everyone would be winners.

Back when I was in school, I can remember that on occasion when I took a test, the teacher stated that she was going to grade the test on a curve. When the test results came back, she had to lower the curve or the standard, because no one did very well.

Back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s standards of all kinds were being challenged. The dress code was basically eliminated; there was “open campus” where if you didn’t have a class you could leave school. In Newton, where I went to school, there was a special experimental school where the students didn’t receive grades, just a commentary from the teacher as to whether you mastered the material or not. There was a risk involved because it wasn’t known whether all colleges would accept this kind of “grading” system or not.

Jesus had very high standards for His disciples. In our Gospel reading, we have three men who could have become disciples, but they would not meet the conditions or standards that Jesus laid down.

The first man was a scribe (Matt. 8:19) who volunteered to go until he heard the cost: he had to deny himself. Apparently he was accustomed to a comfortable home and living. By today’s standards, this man would offer to go camping and show up in a RV; complete with a bed, kitchen and of course, in-door plumbing. “The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58); once Jesus started His ministry, He had no home. Jesus and His disciples were always traveling from town to town and would quite often just curl up under a tree for the night.

The second man was called by Jesus, but he was rejected because he would not take up the cross and die to self. He was worried about his father’s funeral when he should have been planning his own! Jesus is not suggesting here that we dishonor our parents, but only that we not permit our love for family to weaken our love for the Lord. We should love Christ so much that our love for family would look like hatred in comparison (Luke 14:26). It was to emphasize priorities: God must come first.
We are to worship God, love people, and use things, but too often we use people, love self, and worship things, leaving God out of the picture completely.

The third man also volunteered, but he could not follow Christ because he was looking back instead of ahead. He wanted to say ‘good-bye’ to his family before he left to follow Christ. There is nothing wrong with a loving farewell, but if it gets in the way of obedience, it becomes sin. Jesus saw that this man’s heart was not wholly with Him, but that he would be plowing and looking back. This man would always being wondering, how his parents are getting along without him; he would be wondering if his brother got married and whether he had any children. He would always be wondering how his family was doing instead of focusing on the ministry that Jesus had for him.

From our Old Testament reading: Elijah was a good model for believers to imitate when it comes to the inevitability of one day leaving this earth, either through death or the rapture of the church. He didn’t stand around and do nothing, but instead he kept busy until the very moment the Lord called him. Even more, he didn’t ask his successor to give him anything, because we can’t take anything with us from earth to heaven, but instead he offered to give Elisha a gift before the end came. One of the best gifts we can leave is a prepared servant of God to take our place!

It appears that what Jesus taught His disciples and the multitudes had done them little good. He set a very high standard for them. They lacked power, love, and discipline, and they grieved His heart. If we today lack these spiritual essentials, we can never truly be His disciples, but they are available to us from the Lord. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).

We need another power within, and that power comes from the Holy Spirit of God. When we believe on Christ, the Spirit comes to dwell within us (Gal. 3:2). We are “born after the Spirit” as was Isaac (Gal. 4:29). It is the Holy Spirit in the heart who gives assurance of salvation (Gal. 4:6); and it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live for Christ and glorify Him. The Holy Spirit is not simply a “divine influence” He is a divine Person, just as are the Father and the Son. What God the Father planned for you and God the Son purchased on the cross, God the Spirit personalizes for you and applies to your life as you yield to Him.

In our Epistle reading, Paul begins by explaining our calling: we are called to liberty. The Christian is a free man. He is free from the guilt of sin because he has experienced God’s forgiveness. He is free from penalty of sin because Christ died for him on the cross. And he is, through the Spirit, free from the power of sin in his daily life. He is also free from the Law with its demands and threats. Christ bore the curse of the Law and ended its tyranny once and for all. We are “called unto liberty” because we are “called into the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6).

Having explained our calling, Paul then issues a caution: “Don’t allow your liberty to degenerate into license!” This, of course, is the fear of all people who do not understand the true meaning of the grace of God. If you do away with the Law, with its rules and regulations, then you create chaos and anarchy.

Of course, that danger is real, not because God’s grace fails, but because men fail of the grace of God (Heb. 12:15). If there is a “true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12), then there is also a false grace of God; and there are false teachers who “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4). So, Paul’s caution is a valid one. Christian liberty is not a license to sin but an opportunity to serve.

There was a man named Carl and one day he said to his wife, “I have an extra day off this week, so I think I’ll use it to fix Donna’s bike and then take Larry on that museum trip he’s been talking about. His wife responded, “That doesn’t sound like very exciting ways to spend your day off.” Carl answered, “It’s exciting if you love your kids!”

The amazing thing about love is that it takes the place of all the laws God ever gave. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” solves every problem in human relations. If you love people (because you love Christ), you will not steal from them, lie about them, envy them, or try in any way to hurt them. Love in the heart is God’s substitute for laws and threats.

On a much higher level, the Holy Spirit within gives us the love that we need. Unless the Holy Spirit of God is permitted to fill hearts with His love, selfishness and competition will reign.

The Holy Spirit does not work in a vacuum. He uses the Word of God, prayer, worship, and the fellowship of believers to build us up in Christ The believer who spends time daily in the Word and prayer, and who yields to the Spirit’s working, is going to enjoy liberty and will build up others and the church. The Holy Spirit writes God’s Law on our hearts, so that we desire to obey Him in love.

The characteristics or standards that God wants in our lives are seen in the ninefold fruit of the Spirit. Paul begins with love because all of the other fruit is really an outgrowth of love. This word for love is agape, which means divine love. This divine love is God’s gift to us (Rom. 5:5), and we must cultivate it and pray that it will increase (Phil. 1:9).

When a person lives in the sphere of love, then he experiences joy – that inward peace and sufficiency that is not affected by outward circumstances. This “holy optimism” keeps him going in spite of difficulties. Love and joy together produce peace, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). These first three qualities express the Godward aspect of the Christian life.

The next three characteristics express the manward aspect of the Christian life: long-suffering (courageous endurance without quitting), gentleness (kindness), and goodness (love in action).
The Christian who is long-suffering will not avenge himself or wish difficulties on those who oppose him. He will be kind and gentle, even with the most offensive, and will sow goodness where others sow evil. Human nature can never do this on its own; only the Holy Spirit can.

The final three qualities are selfward: faith (faithfulness, dependability); meekness (the right use of power and authority, power under control); and temperance (self-control).

Jesus has set some very high standards for us. He challenges us when we read His Word; He tests us to trust Him in dealing with the circumstances, situations and trials that we find ourselves in. People around us are starving for love, joy, peace, and all the other graces of the Spirit.

We do not bear fruit for our own consumption; we bear fruit that others might be fed and helped, and that Christ might be glorified. It takes patience, perserverance, an atmosphere of the Spirit, walking in the light, the seed of the Word of God, and a sincere desire to honor Christ. This will enable you to achieve the high standard that Jesus has set for us. May we become a member of God’s Special Forces and become a disciple of Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Hog Wild

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 23, 2013 – Pentecost V

1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a; Psalm 43, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

From the Old Testament:
And God said to Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians:
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Now a large herd of swine was feeding on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

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.

In our Gospel reading today, we have Jesus and His disciples arriving at Gadara, the country of the Gerasenes. They had just had a very traumatic boat ride across a lake and I think you all know the story: this is where Jesus had fallen asleep, and then a mighty storm came upon them and the disciples thought they were going to drown. They cried out to Jesus, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was calm. And He said to them: “where is your faith?”

So once on land, Jesus was greeted by two demonized men, but one of them was the more forward and did all the speaking. Both were pitiful cases: naked, living in the tombs, violent, dangerous, a menace to the area, and controlled by a legion of demons. Now just to put this into context, a Roman legion could have as many as 6,000 men. Now I am not saying that was how many demons possessed these two men, but let’s say there were a lot.
Satan is the thief (John 10:10) who robs his people of everything good and then tries to destroy them. No amount of man-made authority or restraint can control or change the devil’s servants. Their only hope is in the Saviour.

The prophet Elijah had a test of faith. God had chastened His people with drought and famine but had cared for His special servant Elijah. God had sent fire from heaven to prove that He was the true and living God. Now He had answered the prayer of His prophet and had sent rains to water the land. You would think that Elijah would be at his very best spiritually and able to face anything, but he still failed the Lord and himself.

For three years, the prophet had been hidden by God, during which time he “waited on the Lord.” When the Lord sent him to Mount Carmel, He enabled Elijah to “mount up with wings as eagles” and triumph over the prophets of Baal. Elijah had hoped that his courageous ministry on Mount Carmel would bring the nation to its knees; that Ahab and Jezebel would repent and turn from Baal to Jehovah, but they didn’t.

Now he was running away in order to save his life because Ahab and Jezebel had threatened to kill him. As a result he considered himself a failure. But the Lord rarely allows His servants to see all the good they have done, because we walk by faith and not by sight, and Elijah would learn that there were 7,000 people in Israel who had not bowed to Baal and instead worshiped Jehovah. Where was his faith?

We may not realize it, but demons have faith (James 2:19), but it is not saving faith. The demons of the two men that welcomed Jesus as He came ashore, knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God with the authority to command them. They believe in a future judgment (Matt. 8:29) and in the existence of a place of torment to which Jesus could send them; sometimes this is referred to as the abyss (Luke 8:31). They also believed in prayer, for the demons begged Jesus not to send them to the abyss. They asked to be sent into the pigs, and Jesus granted their request. When this happened, the pigs went wild, hog wild. And the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

Did Jesus have the right to permit the legion of demons to destroy a herd of 2,000 swine and perhaps put the owners out of business? God owns everything and can dispose of it as He pleases. Furthermore, these two men were worth far more than many pigs. The community should have thanked Jesus for ridding their neighborhood of these two menaces, but instead, they begged Him to leave! They were terrified when they saw what had happened. Where was their faith?

What a transformation in these two men! You would have expected the people who saw the miracle to ask Jesus to stay and heal others who were sick and afflicted, but they rejected Him. Perhaps it was the loss of money from losing the 2,000 swine that upset them; perhaps it was the fear of the unknown, that this was some kind of magic or sorcery that caused their anger. Jesus offered them mercy and salvation and they rejected Him and asked Him to leave.

One of the men that had been possessed by demons kept pleading with Jesus to be allowed to travel with Him and help Him. What a noble desire from a newly converted man! He had more spiritual discernment and faith than all the other citizens put together. The man was not yet ready to become a disciple, but he could serve Jesus as a witness, starting at home among his Gentile relatives and friends. Jesus did not want Jews who had been healed to say too much about it, because He was on a divine timetable, but it was safe for the Gentiles to tell others what Jesus had done for them, and this is what he did.

Isn’t it amazing that when people see the miracles first hand and don’t connect the dots. They can’t see who Jesus really is. The demons had the faith. They knew exactly who Jesus was and the power and authority He possessed. Even Jesus’ disciples were amazed at the calming of the waters and couldn’t figure out who He really was. And now these Gentiles witnessed the removal of the demons from these two men and yet told Jesus to leave. Where was their faith?

Since the coming of Christ, Jews and Gentiles, have struggled with their faith in Jesus. They have struggled to know who He is and what He has to offer: salvation through grace.

St. Paul uses an illustration that was familiar to all his readers – a child guardian. We read in Galatians: So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. In many Roman Greek households, well-educated slaves took the children to and from school and watched over them during the day. Sometimes they would teach the children, sometimes they would protect and prohibit, and sometimes they would even discipline.

By using this illustration, Paul is saying several things about the Jews and their Law. First, he is saying that the Jews were not born through the Law, but rather were brought up by the Law. The slave was not the child’s father; he was the child’s guardian and disciplinarian. So, the Law did not give life to Israel; it regulated life. The early Jewish converts taught that the Law was necessary for life and righteousness, and Paul’s argument shows that it wasn’t.

But the second thing Paul says is even more important: the work of the guardian was preparation for the child’s maturity. Once the child came of age, he no longer needed the guardian. So the Law was a preparation for the nation of Israel until the coming of the promised Seed, Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal in God’s program was His coming (Gal. 3:22), but “before this faith [Christ] came,” the nation was “imprisoned by the Law.”

The Law separated Israel from the Gentile nations; it governed every aspect of their lives. During the centuries of Jewish history, the Law was preparing for the coming of Christ. The demands of the Law reminded the people that they needed a Saviour.

The Law has performed its purpose: the Saviour has come and the “guardian” is no longer needed. It is tragic that the nation of Israel did not recognize their Messiah when He appeared. God finally had to destroy the temple and scatter the nation, so that today it is impossible for a devoted Jew to practice the faith of his fathers. He has no altar, no priesthood, no sacrifice, no temple, and no king. All of these have been fulfilled in Christ, so that any man – Jew or Gentile – who trusts Christ becomes a child of God.

The Law cannot change the promise, and the Law is not greater than the promise. But the Law is not contrary to the promise: they work together to bring sinners to the Saviour.

With the coming of Jesus Christ, the nation of Israel moved out of childhood into adulthood. The long period of preparation was over. While there was a certain amount of glory to the Law, there was a greater glory in the gracious salvation of God as found in Christ. The Law could reveal sin and, to a certain extent, control behavior, but the Law could not do for the sinner what Jesus Christ can do.

To begin with, the Law could never justify the guilty sinner. “I will not justify the wicked,” said the Lord (Ex. 23:7); yet Paul states that God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that the sinner is justified – declared righteous – before God.

Furthermore, the Law could never give a person a oneness with God; it separated man from God. There was a fence around the tabernacle and a veil between the holy place and the holy of holies.

Faith in Jesus baptizes us “into Christ (Gal. 3:27). This baptism of the Spirit identifies the believer with Christ and makes him part of His body (1 Cor. 12:12-14). Water baptism is an outward picture of this inner work of the Holy Spirit.

The Law created differences and distinctions, not only between individuals and nations, but also between various kinds of foods and animals. Jesus Christ came, not to divide, but to unite.

This must have been glorious news for the Galatian Christians, for in their society slaves were considered to be only pieces of property; women were kept confined and disrespected; and Gentiles were constantly sneered at by the Jews.

A Jewish religious leader of that day would pray each morning, “I thank Thee, God, that I am a Jew, not a Gentile; a man, not a woman; and a freeman, and not a slave.” Yet all these distinctions are removed “in Christ.”

This does not mean that our race, financial status, or sex is changed at conversion; but it does mean that these things are of no value or handicap when it comes to our spiritual relationship to God through Christ. The Law perpetuated these distinctions, but God in His grace has declared all men to be on the same level that He might have mercy on all men (Rom. 11:25-32).
Finally, the Law could never make us heirs of God (Gal. 3:29). God made the promise to “Abraham’s Seed,” and that Seed is Christ. If we are “in Christ” by faith, then we too are “Abraham’s Seed” spiritually speaking. This means we are heirs of the spiritual blessings God promised to Abraham. This does not mean that the material and national blessings promised to Israel are set aside, but that Christians today are enriched spiritually because of God’s promise to Abraham.

This section of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is valuable to us as we read the Old Testament Scriptures. It shows us that the spiritual lessons of the Old Testament are not for the Jews only but have application to Christians today. In the Old Testament we have preparation for Christ; in the Gospels, the presentation of Christ; and in the Acts through Revelation, the appropriation of Christ.

Your Christian life ought to take on new wonder and meaning as you realize all that you have in Christ. And all of this is by grace – not by Law! You are an adult son in God’s family, an heir of God. If demons can identify and know Christ, we certainly should be able to. May our faith not be determined by wonders and signs of miracles, but by our faith and trust in the sure promise of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through His Holy Spirit may we become excited and on fire; or should I say “hog wild” witnesses to the salvation and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us pray:
O Lord, we beseech thee, make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name, for thou never fails to help and govern those whom thou hast set upon the sure foundation of thy loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

The Resurrected Son

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 9, 2013 – Pentecost III

1 Kings 17:17-24, Psalm 30, Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17

From the Old Testament:
And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives!”

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians:
But when he was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up, and began to speak.

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 7th chapter of Luke is about Jesus’ compassion towards the people. Last week we heard about how Jesus marveled at the centurion’s faith and healed the Roman soldier’s servant from a distance. This time, there was no request for healing. Jesus simply had compassion on a grieving widow whose son had just died and it was an opportunity to bring glory to God.

Jesus journeyed to Nain, a small village about twenty-five miles from Capernaum, a good day’s journey away, yet Jesus went there even though He was not requested to come. Since the Jews buried their dead the same day, it is likely that Jesus and His disciples arrived at the city gate late in the afternoon of the day the boy died.

We can only marvel at the providence of God when we see Jesus meet that funeral procession just as it was heading for the burial ground. He lived on a divine timetable as He obeyed the will of His Father (John 11:9). The sympathetic Saviour always gives help when we need it most.
What a contrast between the crowd that was following Jesus and the crowd following the widow and her dead son. Jesus and His disciples were rejoicing in the blessing of the Lord, but the widow and her friends were lamenting the death of her only son. Jesus was heading for the city while the mourners were heading to the cemetery.

Spiritually speaking, each of us is in one of these two crowds. If you trusted Christ, you are going to the city (Heb. 11:10, 13-16); If you are “dead in sin,” you are already in the cemetery and under the condemnation of God (John 3:36). You need to trust Jesus Christ and be raised from the dead (John 5:24); a new life in Christ.

We have a contrast of two sons. One was alive but destined to die, the other dead but destined to live. The term only begotten as applied to Jesus means “unique, the only one of its kind.” Jesus is not a “son” in the same sense that I am, having been brought into existence by conception and birth. Since Jesus is eternal God, He has always existed. The title Son of God declares Christ’s divine nature and His relationship to the Father, to whom the Son has willingly subjected Himself from all eternity. All the Persons of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are equal, but the “economy” of the Trinity, each has a specific place to fill and task to fulfill.

We also have the contrast of two sufferings. Jesus, “the Man of Sorrows,” could easily identify with the widow’s heartache. Not only was the widow in sorrow, but she was now left alone in a society that did not have resources to care for widows. What would happen to her? Jesus felt the pain that sin and death have brought into this world, and He did something about it.

Jesus faced death, “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). When you consider the pain and grief that it causes in this world, death is indeed an enemy, and only Jesus Christ can give us victory. Jesus was tortured, scorned and hung on a cross and died. He conquered death by His resurrection and ascension. Through Him we can claim that same victory and have everlasting life. Through His power, Jesus had only to speak the word and the boy was raised to life and health.

The boy gave two evidences of life: he sat up and he spoke. He was lying on an open stretcher, not in a closed coffin; so it was easy for him to sit up. We are not told what he said, but it must have been interesting! He might have said, “What’s happening?” or “How did I get here?” or “Boy, do I have a story to tell you!” What an act of tenderness it was for Jesus to take the boy and give him to his rejoicing mother. The whole scene reminds us of what will happen when the Lord returns, and we are reunited with our loved ones who have gone to glory (1Thes. 4:13-18).

The response of the people was to glorify God and identify Jesus with the Prophet the Jews had been waiting for (John 1:21; Acts 3:22-23). It did not take long for the report of this miracle to spread. People were even more enthusiastic to see Jesus, and great crowds followed Him (Luke 8:4, 19, 42).

I wonder how many of us realize that this was not the first time in Scripture that someone was brought back from the dead. God, through the Prophet Elijah did just that. Elijah means “The Lord (Jehovah) is my God,” an apt name for a man who called the people back to the worship of Jehovah. Elijah wasn’t a polished preacher like Isaiah and Jeremiah, but was more of a rough-hewn reformer who challenged the people to abandon their idols and return to the Lord.

The scene takes place at Zarephath of Sidon, a coastal town located between Tyre and Sidon in the territory ruled by Jezebel’s father Ethbaal. Elijah is commanded to go and reside in the heart of the very land from which the Baal worship now being promoted in Israel had come. God commanded a widow in town to supply him with food and lodging. Elijah, as the bearer of God’s Word, was now to be sustained by human hands, but they were the hands of a poor widow facing starvation. She was, moreover, from outside the circle of God’s own people, a Gentile, in fact, she was from the pagan nation that at that time represented the forces arrayed against God’s kingdom.

The evidence seems clear that the widow’s son actually died and didn’t just faint or go into a temporary sleep. He stopped breathing and his spirit left the body. According to James (James 2:26), when the spirit leaves the body, the person is dead.

The mother’s response to her son’s resurrection was to feel guilty because of her past sins. She believed that her son’s death was God’s way of punishing her for her misdeeds. It isn’t unusual for people to feel guilty in connection with bereavement, but why would she point the finger at her guest? She recognized Elijah as a man of God, and perhaps she thought his presence in the home would protect her and her son from trouble. Or maybe she felt that God had informed her guest about her past life, something she should have confessed to him.

Elijah’s response and compassion was to carry the lad to his upstairs room, perhaps on the roof, and to cry out to the Lord for the life of the child. He couldn’t believe that the Lord would miraculously provide food for the three of them and then allow the son to die. It just didn’t make sense. Elijah placed the boy down and then stretched himself out on the boy. He didn’t do this in the hope that he could transfer his life to the lad, for he knew that only God can impart life to the dead. Certainly his posture indicated total identification with the boy and his need, and this is an important factor when we intercede for others. It was after Elijah stretched himself on the child for the third time that the Lord raised him from the dead, a reminder that our own Savior arose from the dead on the third day. Because He lives, we can share His life by putting our faith and trust in Him.

The result of this miracle was the woman’s public confession of her faith in the God of Israel. She now knew for sure that Elijah was a true servant of God and not just another religious teacher looking for some support. She also knew that the Word he had taught her was indeed the Word of the true and living God. During the time he lived with the widow and her son, Elijah had shown them that God sustains life (because the food didn’t run out) and that God imparts life (by raising the boy from the dead).

Jesus used this same story in the sermon He preached in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). During the first part of the sermon, the listeners approved of what Jesus said and complimented Him on His “gracious words.” But then He reminded them of the sovereign grace of God that reached other nations besides the covenant people of Israel. The great Jewish prophet Elijah actually ministered to a Gentile widow and her son and had even lived with them, and yet he could have ministered to any of the many widows in the nation of Israel. This is because God’s saving grace is available to everyone: Jews and Gentiles.

Our Lord’s emphasis was on the grace of God. He wanted the proud Jewish congregation in the synagogue to realize that the God of Israel was also the God of the Gentiles and that both Jews and Gentiles were saved by putting their faith in Him. Elijah’s ministry to the widow and her son was proof that God is no respecter of persons and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Whether a person is a religious Jew or a pagan Gentile, the only way of salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul was called by God to bring the Word of God to the Jews and the Gentiles. In a way, Paul had a “resurrection” experience. Saul was a Jewish rabbi who was persecuting the Christians. He “consented” to the murder by stoning of Stephen, and then proceeded to “make havoc of the church” by breaking up families and putting believers in prison.

Paul actually thought that Jesus was an imposter and His message of salvation a lie. Everybody knew that this brilliant student was well on his way to becoming an influential leader of the Jewish faith. His personal religious life, his scholarship, and his zeal in opposing alien religious faiths, all combined to make him the most respected young rabbi of his day. Then something happened: Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the church “died,” and Paul the Apostle, the preacher of the Gospel was “raised.”

This change was not gradual; it happened suddenly and without warning (Acts 9:1-9). Saul was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians; a few days later he was in Damascus preaching to the Jews that the Christians are right. What caused this change? It had to come from God!

No matter how you look at it, the conversion of Paul was a spiritual miracle. It was humanly impossible for Rabbi Saul to become the Apostle Paul apart from the miracle of God’s grace. And the same God who saved Paul also called him to be an apostle, and gave him the message of the Gospel.

Paul’s experience reminds us of young Jeremiah (Jer. 1:4-10) and also John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-17). Salvation is by God’s grace, not man’s efforts or character. Grace and called go together, for whomever God chooses in His grace He calls through His Word (1Thes. 1:4-5). The mysteries of God’s sovereign will and man’s responsibility to obey are not fully revealed to us. We do know that God is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), and that those who do trust Christ discover they have been “chosen…in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
When a sinner trusts Christ and is born again (John 3:1-8), he is “born free.” He has been redeemed – purchased by Christ and set free. He is no longer in bondage to sin or Satan, nor should he be in bondage to human religious systems (Gal. 4:1-11). “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). May we all be resurrected in Christ and claim His power and victory over death and the sure promise of everlasting life.

Let us pray:
O God, from whom all good, proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

An Outsider’s Faith

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 2, 2013 – Pentecost II
Sacrament of Holy Communion

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Psalm 96:1-9, Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10

From the Old Testament:
“Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of thy people Israel, comes from a far country for thy name’s sake, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to thee; in order that all the peoples of the earth may know thy name and fear thee, as do thy people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name.”

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians:
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
The centurion said, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.

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

I am sure that we all have known someone or a loved one who has had to face a life-threatening illness. Each one deals with it in different ways. Some people will pray to God for healing, while others will cry out to the doctors: “you have to do something!” How many of you saw on TV this week the story of a ten year old girl that has multiple sclerosis and needed a lung transplant or else she would die. Unfortunately, child organs are rare and she needed to be twelve years old in order to qualify for an adult organ. For a brief moment we got to meet the little girl; we got to meet the little girl’s mom that was understandably concerned and was trying everything she could think of to get her daughter the life-saving organ. The mother contacted news outlets, contacted her Congressman and Senators to try to get the law changed. She also set up a web site for people to sign a petition. I don’t know if she prayed to God for healing.

Compassion has been defined as “your pain in my heart.” What pain our Lord must have felt as He ministered from place to place! In the 7th chapter of Luke, Jesus is confronted with the miseries of a dying servant, a grieving widow, a perplexed prophet, and a repentant sinner; and He helped them all. If a “hardship committee” had been asked to decide which of these persons was “deserving,” we wonder who would have been chosen. This probably goes on all the time in our hospitals, when they have one organ and there are several people that need it. Who is the most deserving?

Jesus, however, helped them all, because compassion does not measure: it ministers. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Justice seeks out only the merits of the case, but pity only regards the need.” It was compassion, not justice, that motivated the Great Physician who came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

In the four Gospels and the book of Acts, Roman centurions are presented as quality men of character, and this one mentioned in our Gospel reading this morning, is a sterling example. The Jewish elders had little love for the Romans in general and Roman soldiers in particular, and yet the elders commended this officer to Jesus. He loved the Jewish people in Capernaum and even built them a synagogue. He loved his servant and did not want him to die. This centurion was not a Stoic who insulated himself from the pain of others. He had a heart of concern, even for his lowly servant boy who was dying from a paralyzing disease (Matt. 8:6).

The centurion’s friends represented him to Jesus and then represented Jesus to him. When a newscaster reports that the President or the Prime Minister said something to Congress or Parliament, this does not necessarily mean that the message was delivered by them in person. It was probably delivered by one of their official representatives, but the message would be received as from the President or Prime Minister personally.

We are impressed not only with this man’s great love, but also his great humility. Imagine a Roman officer telling a poor Jewish rabbi that he was unworthy to have Him enter his house! The Romans were not known for displaying humility, especially before their Jewish subjects.

But the characteristic that most impressed Jesus was the man’s faith. Twice in the Gospel record we are told that Jesus marveled. Here in Capernaum, He marveled at the faith of a Gentile; and in Nazareth, He marveled at the unbelief of the Jews (Mark 6;6). The only other person Jesus commended for having “great faith” was a Gentile woman whose daughter He delivered from a demon (Matt. 15:28). It is worth noting that in both of these instances, Jesus healed at a distance.

The centurion’s faith certainly was remarkable. After all, he was a Gentile whose background was pagan. He was a Roman soldier, trained to be self-sufficient, and we have no evidence that he had ever heard Jesus preach. Perhaps he heard about Jesus’ healing power from the nobleman whose son Jesus had healed, also at a distance (John 4:46-54). His soldiers may also have brought him reports of the miracles Jesus had performed, for the Romans kept close touch with the events in Jewish life.

In our Old Testament reading today, King Solomon prays for the “foreigners” who would come to Israel because they heard of the greatness of the Lord and His temple. It was the responsibility of Israel to be a “light” to the pagan Gentile nations and to demonstrate to them the glory of the true and living God. Solomon had this in mind when he asked the Lord to hear and answer the prayers of people outside the covenant, so that “all peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you” (1 Kings 8:43). Jesus Christ is that “light” and now the responsibility of witness has been passed to the true believers in Christ.

From the very beginning of the nation, when God called Abraham and Sarah to leave Ur and go to Canaan , God declared that He wanted Israel to be a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:1-3). God’s judgments against Pharaoh and Egypt were a witness to the nations, as was His opening of the Red Sea at the Exodus. His blessing on Israel in the land of Canaan was a witness to the pagan nations, and so was David’s victory over Goliath (1 Sam. 17:46). The Jews prayed, “God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations” (Ps. 67:1-2). The church today needs to pray that prayer and keep that purpose in mind.

The Roman officer saw a parallel between the way he commanded his soldiers and the way Jesus commanded diseases. Both the centurion and Jesus were under authority, and because they were under authority, they had the right to exercise authority. All they had to do was say the word and things happened. What tremendous faith this man exhibited! No wonder Jesus marveled.

True authority comes from God. In the early days of the church, God called special men to do special tasks. Among them were the apostles. The word means “one who is sent with a commission.” While He was ministering on earth, Jesus had many disciples, and from these He selected 12 Apostles. Later, one of the requirements for an apostle was that he have witnessed the Resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Of course, Paul himself was neither a disciple nor apostle during Christ’s earthly ministry, but he had seen the risen Lord and been commissioned by Him (Acts 9:1-18).
Paul pointed out that he had been made an apostle by Jesus Christ just as much as had the original Twelve. His apostleship was not from human selection and approval, but by divine appointment.

“The grace of God” is a basic theme in this letter to the Galatians. Grace is simply God’s favor to undeserving sinners. The words “grace” and “gift” go together, because salvation is the gift of God through His grace (Eph. 2:8-10).

We must never forget that the Christian life is a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A man does not become a Christian merely by agreeing to a set of doctrines; he becomes a Christian by submitting to Christ and trusting Him (Rom. 11:6). You cannot mix grace and works, because the one excludes the other. Salvation is the gift of God’s grace, purchased for us by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Keep in mind that God’s grace involves something more than man’s salvation. We not only are saved by grace, but we are to live by grace (1 Cor. 15:10). We stand in grace; it is the foundation for the Christian life (Rom. 5:1-2). Grace gives us the strength we need to be victorious soldiers (2 Tim. 2:1-4). Grace enables us to suffer without complaining, and even to use that suffering for God’s glory (2 Cor. 12:1-10).

If this Roman soldier, with very little spiritual instruction, had that kind of faith in God’s Word, how much greater our faith ought to be! We have an entire Bible to read and study, as well as nearly 2,000 years of church history to encourage us, and yet some are guilty of “no faith” or “little faith.”

I can’t tell you why someone is healed and someone else isn’t. If we were to have faith like this centurion, would we or a loved one, be automatically healed? I don’t think so. This is where faith and trust comes in: that God knows best, however the outcome.

It is through our Lord’s death, resurrection and ascension, that we are partakers of His most blessed body and blood; that as we come to His most sacred table, this bread and wine are signs of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that through Him we shall have eternal life; that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us, until His coming again.

Let us pray:
O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.