Come, Take, Learn

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 6, 2014, Pentecost IV – Independence Day Sunday

Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Psalm 45:10-17, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

From the Song of Solomon:
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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.

There were a group of children, boys and girls, playing in the backyard of their home. They began to argue with each other to the point where they finally had annoyed their parents. The parents came out and said to the children, “stop fighting.” The children looked really surprised. One of the children said, “But we weren’t fighting, we were playing.” The parents looked at each other in surprise and said to the children, “well it sure sounded like you were arguing.” The children said, “oh no, we were playing church.”

Now why would a group of children think that playing church would mean that people would be arguing with each other? I am sure we can all think back over the years and recall some issue or issues that caused arguing and fighting in the church. We are dealing with some important issues ourselves: Whether we should sell the building and whether we should stay open or close. These are very emotional issues for everyone. I think we can all understand why there are times when conflict happens in a church, especially if we look at the larger world.

Is our time, any different from the time that Jesus lived and walked among us? Jesus says to the crowd, “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another. ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating or drinking, and they say, ‘he has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is indicated by her deeds.”

All of the evidence had been presented. John the Baptist had introduced the King to the nation. Jesus had revealed His person, principles, and power. It was now up to the leaders of the nation to make their decision. Instead of receiving their King, they began to rebel against Him.

Bickering, taunting one another, nothing suits these children, they cannot play together happily. And so it has been generation after generation. It is important to realize that by the 11th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has preached to the multitudes, he has instructed his disciples and sent them out to do their missionary work. But Jesus has tasted the bitter cup of rejection and unwelcome. After sending out his disciples, he himself went out on a mission to the cities teaching and proclaiming his message by healing the sick, raising the dead, and bringing good news to the poor. And they closed their hearts and minds to him.

Why did the religious leaders rebel against John and Jesus? It was because the religious leaders were intellectually and spiritually proud and would not become little babes in humility and honesty. There is a vast difference between the spoiled children of the parable and the submissive children of this statement of praise.

In today’s Scripture passage the real point of the parable about the children is that no one can agree on who God is. They see John the Baptist as a loser, he doesn’t eat or drink normally, and he dresses in a camel hair shirt and eats only locusts and honey, he behaves like a madman or worse an animal, as if he has a demon inside of him. Surely he cannot be the one who has been promised.

And that other one, the one called the Son of Man, that Jesus character, he eats and drinks like a glutton and a drunkard. He hangs out with all the wrong people, like tax collectors, not the good people, like us. Surely he is not the promised one. Perhaps what these people want is for the dour John to dance, and, Jesus, the preacher of joy, to mourn.

Nothing satisfies this generation, and just like children who cannot respond positively to any suggestion, they end up playing nothing. In this parable Jesus is addressing those who wait on the sidelines to critique the newest disciple or prophet who has come to town. The response to John, to Jesus, and to the early Christians by “this generation” is a response of passive critics, bystanders, and dilettantes who sit and call to one another about the shortcomings of those whom God has sent to serve, while they await the Messiah that they have in mind.

The Father reveals Himself to the Son, and the Son reveals Himself and the Father to those who are willing to come to the Son in faith. These verses indicate both the sovereignty of the Father and the responsibility of the sinner. There are three commands summarized in this invitation:

The first one is “Come.” The Pharisees all said, you must do this or that according to the Law. They tried to make the people follow Moses and the traditions. But true salvation is found only in a Person, Jesus Christ, to come to Him means to trust Him. This invitation is open to those who are exhausted and burdened down. That is exactly how the people felt under the yoke of legalism – the Law of Moses (Matt. 23:4; Acts 15:10).

The character of the Law is described in four words: holy, just, good, and spiritual. That the Law is holy and just, nobody can deny, because it came from the holy God who is perfectly just in all that He says and does. The Law is good. It reveals God’s holiness to us and helps us to see our need for a Saviour. The Law is spiritual, and deals with the inner man, the spiritual part of man, as well as with the outer actions.

The old nature , knows no law and the new nature needs no law. Legalism makes a believer wretched because it grieves the new nature and aggravates the old nature! The legalist becomes a Pharisee whose outward actions are acceptable, but whose inward attitudes are despicable.

The second command is “Take.” This is a deeper experience. When we come to Christ by faith, He gives us rest. When we take His yoke and learn, we find rest, that deeper rest of surrender and obedience. The first is “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1); the second is “the peace of God” (Phil. 4:6-8). To “take a yoke” in that day meant to become a disciple. When we submit to Christ, we are yoked to Him. The “easy” means “well-fitting”; He has just the yoke that is tailor-made for our lives and needs. The burden of doing His will is not a heavy one (1 John 5:3).

The third command is “Learn.” The first two commands represented a crisis as we come and yield to Christ; but this step is into a process. As we learn more about Him, we find a deeper peace, because we trust Him more. Life is simplified and unified around the person of Christ. This invitation is for “all” – not just the people of Israel (Matt. 10:5-6).

This parable of the children in the marketplace nails every generation that has claimed to know who and what God is and what God ought to be like. We need to recognize our own voices and the voices of our world in these childish arguments. The people in the marketplace were more concerned with how Jesus lives His life, then the wisdom and the words that He preaches.

The Christian life of discipleship, of which we are all a part, bears no resemblance to the role of the bystander. Those who claim from the sidelines to know God or how His messengers ought to act, miss our God who comes to us, not as we want, but as we need.

Jesus begins to pray, saying, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants: yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Sometimes we make things more complicated than they are. Instead of just accepting, like “infants” the great gifts of God, we spend our time trying to figure things out.

Thus, God’s self revelation is totally in God’s hand. Then how can we ever know God? What Jesus prayer says, underlines for us that God’s love is first for His Son and the Son in turn knows the Father and it is through the Son that God is revealed to us. So where does this leave us?

At the heart of revelation, of knowing God is not knowledge that has to do with certainty but a knowledge that has to do with a total relationship of trust and discipleship. So why do we come to church? We come in faith seeking to feel God’s presence in our lives. We come with our questions trying to understand the message of Jesus and to incorporate that message into our lives. We come knowing that by seeking God rather than defining God we have emptied ourselves of our preconceptions and our judgments, so that we may be filled with God’s grace.

We open ourselves to knowing that nothing escapes God’s purposes. For Jesus has sent us this invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

There are many burdens in this world, but one of the saddest, “in this generation,” is the burden of being right in order to be wise – especially when it comes to God and God’s will. The wisdom that can save us from standing on the sidelines is through the message of Jesus Christ. If we follow, we enter into a life of participation, a discipleship, whose burden is easy and yoke is light, because it has already been borne for us – in all rightness and righteousness – by Jesus. This friend of tax collectors and sinners frees us from the burden of being right or righteous, frees us from the sidelines or the casual associations, and grants us the rest needed for all, who by grace, would put their complete trust in him and follow.

Come to His Sacred Table prepared for you. Take and eat of His broken body and shed blood. And Learn from His Holy Word; that through His sacrifice on the cross; His death, resurrection and ascension; He has paid the price in full for all who believe, to have eternal life, in His heavenly kingdom.

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. Amen. †

The School of Faith

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 29, 2014, Pentecost III

Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

From the Book of Genesis:
After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.”

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

An inscription on a cathedral clock reads:

When, as a child, I laughed and wept, Time crept.
When, as a youth, I dreamed and talked, Time walked.
When I became a full-grown man, Time ran.
And later, as I older grew, Time flew.
Soon I shall find, while traveling on, Time gone.

At the age of 75, Abraham enrolled in the “School of Faith.” Now he was over 100, and he was still having soul-stretching experiences. We are never too old to face new challenges, fight new battles, and learn new truths. When we stop learning, we stop growing; and when we stop growing, we stop living.

Arthur Schopenhauer, a German philosopher wrote: “The first forty years of life give us the text and the next thirty supply the commentary.” For the Christian believer, the text is Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by his faith.” The “commentary” is being written as we listen to God and obey His directions a day at a time. Sad to say, some people understand neither the text nor the commentary, and their lives are ended before they have really started to live.

Our Old Testament reading this morning is from Genesis 22, and it records the greatest test that Abraham ever faced. True, it also presents a beautiful picture of our Lord’s sacrifice at Calvary; but the main lesson is obedient faith that overcomes in the trials of life. Abraham teaches us how to face and handle the tests of life to the glory of god Consider five simple instructions.

In the “School of Faith” we must have occasional tests, or we will never know where we are spiritually. Abraham had his share of tests right from the beginning. First was the “family test,” when he had to leave his loved ones and step out by faith to go to a new land (Gen. 11:27-12:5). This was followed by the “famine test,” which Abraham failed because he doubted God and went down to Egypt for help (Gen. 12:10-13:4).

Once he was back in the land, Abraham passed the “fellowship test” when he gave Lot first choice in using the pastureland (vv. 5-18). He also passed the “fight test” when he defeated the kings (Gen. 14:1-16) and the “fortune test” when he said no to Sodom’s wealth (vv. 17-24). But he failed the “fatherhood test” when Sarah got impatient with God and suggested that Abraham have a child by Hagar (Gen. 16). When the time came to send Ishmael away, Abraham passed the “farewell test” even though it broke his heart (Gen. 21:14-21).

Not every difficult experience in life is necessarily a personal test from God. Of course, any experience could become a test or a temptation, depending on how we deal with it. Sometimes our own disobedience causes the pain or disappointment, as when Abraham went to Egypt (Gen. 12:10ff) and to Gerar (A Philistine town; south central Israel – Gen. 20). Sometimes our hurts are simply a part of normal human life: As we grow older, friends and loved ones relocate or even die, life changes around us, and we must make painful adjustments.

We need to distinguish between trials and temptations. Temptations come from our desires within us (James 1:12-16) while trials come from the Lord who has a special purpose to fulfill. Temptations are used by the devil to bring out the worst in us, but trials are used by the Holy Spirit to bring out the best in us (vv.1-6). Temptations seem logical while trials seem very unreasonable. Why would God give Abraham a son and then ask Abraham to kill him?

All believers face similar temptations to sin (1 Cor. 10:13), but not all believers experience the same trials of faith. God’s testings are tailor-made for each child of God, and each experience is unique. God never asked Lot to face the tests that Abraham faced. Why? Because Lot was being tempted by the world and the flesh and never grew to the place of maturity that Abraham reached.
In one sense, it is a compliment when God sends us a test; it shows God wants to “promote us” in the “School of Faith.” God never sends a test until He knows you are ready for it.

“Life is difficult,” wrote psychiatrist M. Scott Peck. “Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.” This is from the book: “The Road Less Traveled.” That is the first lesson we must learn: Expect trials from God, because the Christian life is not easy.

“In the commencement of the spiritual life,” wrote French mystic Madame Guyon, “our hardest task is to bear with our neighbor; in its progress, with ourselves; and in its end, with God.” Our faith is not really tested until God asks us to bear what seems unbearable, do what seems unreasonable, and expect what seems impossible. Whether you look at Joseph in prison, Moses and Israel at the Red Sea, David in the cave, or Jesus at Calvary, the lesson is the same: We live by promises, not by explanations.

Consider how unreasonable God’s request was. Isaac was Abraham’s only son, and the future of the covenant rested in him. Isaac was a miracle child, the gift of God to Abraham and Sarah in response to their faith. Abraham and Sarah loved Isaac very much and had built their whole future around him. When God asked Abraham to offer his son, He was testing Abraham’s faith, hope, and love; and it looked like God was wiping out everything Abraham and Sarah had lived for.

When God sends a trial to us, our first response is usually “Why, Lord?” and then, Why me?” Right away, we want God to give us explanations. Of course, we know that God has reasons for sending tests – perhaps to purify our faith (1 Peter 1:6-9), or perfect our character (James 1:1-4), or even to protect us from sin (2 Cor. 12:7-10) – but we fail to see how these things apply to us. The fact that we ask our Father for explanations suggests that we may not know ourselves as we should or God as we should.

Abraham heard God’s word and immediately obeyed it by faith. He knew that God’s will never contradicts God’s promise, so he held on to the promise “in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Gen. 21:12). Abraham believed that even if God allowed him to slay his son, He could raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19). Faith does not demand explanations; faith rests on promises.

Abraham told the two servants, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Gen. 22:5). Because he believed God, Abraham had no intentions of bringing back a corpse! It has been pointed out that Abraham believed God and obeyed Him when he did not know where (Heb. 11:8), when he did not know when (vv. 9-10, 13-16), when he did not know why (vv. 17-19).

There are two statements in our Old Testament reading which reveal the emphasis of this passage: “God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (v. 8); and “The Lord will provide” (v. 14). As he climbed Mount Moriah with his son, Abraham was confident that God would meet every need.

On what could Abraham depend? He certainly could not depend on his feelings, for there must have been terrible pain within as he contemplated slaying his son on the altar. He loved his only son, but he also loved his God and wanted to obey Him.

Nor could Abraham depend on other people. Sarah was at home, and the two servants who accompanied him were back at the camp. We thank God for friends and family members who can help us carry our burdens, but there are some trials in life that we must face alone. It is only then that we can see what our Father really can do for us!

Abraham could depend on the promise and provision of the Lord. He had already experienced the resurrection power of God in his own body (Rom. 4:19-21), so he knew that God could raise Isaac from the dead if that was His plan. Apparently no resurrections had taken place before that time, so Abraham was exercising great faith in God.

According to Ephesians 1:19-20, believers today have Christ’s resurrection power available in their own bodies as they yield to the Spirit of God. We can know “the power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10) as we face the daily demands and trials of life. When the situation appears to be hopeless, ask yourself, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14) and remind yourself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

Where does the Lord provide our needs? In the place of His assignment. Abraham was at the right place, so God could meet his needs. We have no right to expect the provision of God if we are not in the will of God.

When does God meet our needs? Just when we have the need and not a minute before. When you bring your requests to the throne of grace, God answers with mercy and grace “in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Sometimes it looks like God waits until the last minute to send help, but that is only from our human point of view. God is never late.

How does God provide for us? In ways that are usually quite natural. God did not send an angel with a sacrifice; He simply allowed a ram to get caught in a bush at a time when Abraham needed it and in a place where Abraham could get his hands on it. All Abraham needed was one animal, so God did not send a whole flock of sheep.

To whom does God give His provision? To those who trust Him and obey His instructions. When we are doing the will of God, we have the right to expect the provision of God. God is not obligated to bless my ideas or projects, but He is obligated to support His work if it is done in His way.

Why does God provide our every need? For the great glory of His name! “Hallowed be Thy name” is the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), and it governs all the other requests. God was glorified on Mount Moriah because Abraham and Isaac did the will of the Lord and glorified Jesus Christ.

In times of testing, it is easy to think only about our needs and our burdens; instead, we should be focusing on bringing glory to Jesus Christ. We find ourselves asking “How can I get out of this?” instead of “What can I get out of this that will honor the Lord?” We sometimes waste our sufferings by neglecting or ignoring opportunities to reveal Jesus Christ to others who are watching us go through the furnace.

If ever two suffering people revealed Jesus Christ, it was Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. Their experience is a picture of the Father and the Son and the cross and is one of the most beautiful types of Christ found anywhere in the Old Testament. Jesus said to the Jews, “Your father, Abraham, rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was “glad” (John 8:56). In Isaac’s miraculous birth, Abraham saw the day of Christ’s birth; and in Isaac’s marriage (Gen. 24), he saw the day of Christ’s coming for His bride. But on Mount Moriah, when Isaac willingly put himself on the altar, Abraham saw the day of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Abraham did not withhold his son (Gen. 22:16), and the Father did not spare His Son but “delivered Him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).

Abraham carried a knife and a torch, both of them instruments of death. The knife would end Isaac’s physical life, and the fire would burn the wood on the altar where his body lay. In Isaac’s case, a substitute died for him; but nobody could take the place of Jesus on the cross. He was the only sacrifice that could finally and completely take away the sins of the world. God provided a ram, but Isaac had asked about a lamb. And John the Baptist answered the question: “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

The greatest thing that can happen as we experience the trials God sends is that we grow closer to our Father and become more like the Lord Jesus Christ. Calvary is not only the place where Jesus died for our sins, but it is also the place where He sanctified suffering and, by His resurrection, transformed suffering into glory.

Our children are in recess from public school for the summer. Tomorrow starts three days of Vacation Bible School, here at the church. But class is always in session for us in the “School of Faith.” We become the children of God through faith in Christ; we are His disciples as we faithfully follow Him and obey His will. We are never too old to face new challenges, fight new battles, and learn new truths. When we stop learning, we stop growing; and when we stop growing, we stop living; until we “graduate” and spend eternity with the One who made it possible, Jesus Christ!

Let us pray:
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostle’s 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. Amen. †

Flesh and Spirit

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 22, 2014, Pentecost II

Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

From the Book of Genesis:
But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

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

The Christian life is a land of hills and valleys,” said Scottish preacher George Morrison, basing his words on Deuteronomy 11:11, which reads, “but the land which you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by rain from heaven.” Solomon expressed the same idea when he wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that “[there is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” Heaven is a place of unending joy; hell is a place of unending suffering; but while we are here on earth, we must expect both joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. You cannot have hills without valleys.

This is especially true of family life, for the same people who bring us joy can also bring us sorrow. Relationships can become strained and then change overnight, and we wonder what happened to a happy home. A Chinese proverb says, “Nobody’s family can hang out the sign “Nothing the matter here.”

The coming of Isaac into their home brought both sorrow and joy to Abraham and Sarah. As you look at the persons involved in this important event, you can learn some valuable lessons about basic Christian doctrine and how to live the Christian life.

Sarah had borne the burden of childlessness for many years, a heavy burden indeed in that culture and at that time; the importance of having a son to carry on the family name. People must have smiled when they heard that her husband’s name was Abraham, “father of a multitude.” He was the father of one son, Ishmael, but that was far from a multitude; and Sarah was not the mother. But now all of her reproach was ended, and they were rejoicing in the arrival of their son.

But the birth of Isaac involved much more than parental joy, for his birth meant the
fulfillment of God’s promise. When God had called Abraham, He promised to make him
a great nation that would bless the whole world (Gen. 12:1-3). Then He repeatedly
promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 17:7) and to
multiply them greatly (Gen. 13:15-17). Abraham would be the father of the promised
seed (Gen. 15:4) and Sarah (not Hagar) would be the mother (Gen. 17:19; 18:9-15). The
birth of Isaac reminds us that God keeps His promises, in His own way, and in His own
time. In spite of their occasional failures, Abraham and Sarah believed God; and God
honored their faith (Heb. 11:8-11).

Isaac’s birth also meant the rewarding of patience. Abraham and Sarah had to wait twenty-five years for their son to be born, because it is “through faith and patience [we] inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). Trusting God’s promises not only gives you a blessing at the end, but it gives you a blessing while you are waiting. Just as Olympic athletes develop their skills as they practice hard and long before the big event, so God’s children grow in godliness and faith as they wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Faith is a journey, and each happy destination is the beginning of a new journey. When God wants to build our patience, He gives us promises, sends us trials, and tells us to trust Him (James 1:1-8).

The birth of Isaac was certainly the revelation of God’s power. That was one reason why God waited so long: He wanted Abraham and Sarah to be “as good as dead” so that their son’s birth would be a miracle of God and not a marvel of human nature (Rom. 4:17-21). Abraham and Sarah experienced God’s resurrection power in their lives because they yielded to Him and believed His Word. Faith in God’s promises releases God’s power (Eph. 3:20-21), “for no word from God shall be void of power” (Luke 1:37).

Finally, the birth of Isaac was a step forward in the accomplishing of God’s purpose. The future redemption of a lost world rested with a little baby boy! Isaac would beget Jacob, and Jacob would give the world the twelve tribes of Israel; and from Israel the promised Messiah would be born. Down through the centuries, some of the “living links” in the chain of promise may have seemed insignificant and weak; but they helped to fulfill the purposes of God.

In Galatians 4:28-29, Paul makes it clear that Ishmael represents the believer’s first birth (the flesh) and Isaac represents the second birth (the Spirit). Ishmael was “born of the flesh” because Abraham had not yet “died” and was still able to beget a son (Gen. 16).
Isaac was “born of the Spirit” because by that time his parents were both “dead” (beyond child bearing age) and only God’s power could have brought conception and birth. Ishmael was born first, because that natural comes before the spiritual (1 Cor. 15:46).
When you trust Jesus Christ, you experience a miracle birth from God (John 1:11-13), and it is the work of the Holy Spirit of God (John 3:1-8). Abraham represents faith, and Sarah represents grace (Gal. 4:24-26), so Isaac was born “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9). This is the only way a lost sinner can enter the family of God (John 3:16-18).

It is worth noting that, in the biblical record, God often rejected the firstborn and accepted the second-born. He rejected Cain and chose Abel (Gen. 4:1-15). He rejected Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn, and chose Isaac. He bypassed Esau, Isaac’s firstborn, and chose Jacob (Rom. 9:8-13); and He chose Ephraim instead of Manasseh (Gen. 48). In Egypt, the Lord condemned all the firstborn (Ex. 11-12) and spared only those who were “twice-born” because they were protected by faith in the blood of the lamb.

Isaac pictures the child of God not only in his birth but also in the joy that he brought. Isaac means “laughter,” and this time it was not laughter of unbelief (Gen. 18-9-15). In the parables recorded in Luke 15, Jesus emphasized the joy that results when lost sinners repent and come to the Lord. The shepherd rejoiced when he found the lost sheep, and the woman rejoiced when she found the lost coin; and they both asked their friends to rejoice with them. The father rejoiced when his prodigal son came home, and he invited the neighbors to a feast so they could share in his joy. There is even joy in heaven when sinners turn to God (Luke 15:7, 10).

Nowhere do we read that Ishmael caused great joy in Abraham’s home. Abraham loved
his son and wanted the best for him (Gen. 17:18). From before his birth, Ishmael was a
source of painful trouble (Gen. 16); and after he matured, he caused even greater conflict
in the family (Gen. 21:9).The old nature is not able to produce the fruit of the Spirit, no
matter how hard it tries (Gal: 5:16-26).

Like every child of God, Isaac experienced persecution (Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29). Ishmael was apparently an obedient son until Isaac entered the family, and then the “flesh” began to oppose “the Spirit.” It has well been said that the old nature knows no law but the new nature needs no law, and this is certainly illustrated in Abraham’s two sons.

Jewish children were usually weaned at about age three, so Ishmael was probably seventeen years old at the time (Gen. 16:16). How unfortunate that a seventeen year old would torment a little boy of only three! Jealousy probably played a role. But God had said that Ishmael would become “a wild donkey of a man” (Gen. 16:12), and the prediction came true. The flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other and always will be until we see the Lord (Gal. 5:16-26).

When, like Isaac, you are born of the Spirit, you are born rich (Gen. 21:10). Isaac was the heir of all that his father owned, and God’s children are “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Abraham cared for Ishmael while the boy was in the home, but “Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac” (Gen. 25:5).

Finally, Isaac was born free while Ishmael was the son of a slave (Gal. 4:22). Freedom is one of the key themes in Galatians (5:1) and one of the key blessings in the Christian life (4:31). Of course, Christian freedom does not mean anarchy; for that is the worst kind of bondage. It means the freedom to be and to do all that God has for us in Jesus Christ. “No slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude,” said Phillips Brooks (An American Episcopal Priest; served many years at Boston’s Trinity Church and later Bishop of Massachusetts; He also wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem); and that “higher servitude” is personal surrender to Jesus Christ. No one is more free than the child of God who delights in God’s will and does it from the heart.

Sarah was wrong when she told Abraham to marry Hagar (Gen. 16:1-2), but she was right when she told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael out of the camp. The Apostle Paul saw in this event an allegory involving the Law of Moses and the grace of God (Gal. 4:21-31). Sarah represents grace (the heavenly Jerusalem), and Hagar represents Law (the earthly Jerusalem under bondage). The lesson is simply that God’s children are to live under the blessings of grace and not the bondage of Law.

The conflicts in Abraham’s home could have been solved four ways. Isaac could have been sent away, but that would mean rejecting the promises of God and all that God had planned for the future. Isaac and Ishmael could have lived together, but that would mean constant conflict. Ishmael’s nature could have been changed to make him more agreeable, but that would have required a miracle. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), and it always will be flesh. The only solution was to send Ishmael and his mother out of the camp and make Isaac the sole heir.

When you consider the facts about Hagar, you will better understand the relationship between Law and grace in the Christian life.

To begin with, Hagar was Abraham’s second wife. She was added alongside Sarah. Likewise, the Law was “added” alongside God’s already existing promises and was temporary (Gal. 3:19, 24-25). God did not start with Law; He started with grace. His relationship to Adam and Eve was based on grace, not Law, even though He did test them by means of one simple restriction (Gen. 2:15-17). The redemption of Israel from Egypt was an act of God’s grace, as was His provision, the sacrifices, and priesthood. Before Moses gave the Law, Israel was already in a covenant relationship with God (“married to God”) through His promises to the patriarchs (Ex. 19:1-8).

Second, Hagar was a servant. “Wherefore, then, serveth the Law?” Paul asks in Galatians 3:19, and gives the answer. The Law was God’s servant to keep the infant nation of Israel under control and prepare them for the coming of the Redeemer (Gal. 3:24-25, 4:1-5).
The Law was given to reveal sin (Rom. 3:20) but not to redeem us from sin. Grace does not serve Law; it is Law that serves grace! The Law reveals our need for grace, and grace saves us completely apart from the works of the Law (Rom. 3:20, 28).

A third fact is obvious: Hagar was never supposed to bear a child. The Law cannot give what only Jesus Christ can give: life (Gal. 3:21), righteousness (Gal. 2:21), the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:2), or an eternal inheritance (Gal. 3:18). All of these blessings come only “by grace [Sarah]…through faith [Abraham]” (Eph. 2:8-9).

This leads to a fourth fact: Hagar gave birth to a slave. If you decide to live under the Law, then you become a child of Hagar, a slave; for the Law produces bondage and not freedom. The first doctrinal battle the church had to fight was on this very issue; and it was decided that sinners are saved wholly by grace, apart from keeping the Law of Moses (Acts 15:1-32).

Hagar and her son Ishmael were cast out completely and permanently. But God did not forsake them. Ishmael was Abraham’s son, and God promised him also that he would become a great nation. The Arab world is a force to be reckoned with today, and it all began with Ishmael. Most of the Arab world is Muslim and they believe in a god named Allah. This was brought about by choice or by conquest. Make no mistake. There is a war going on between those who believe in the One True God, and those who have rejected Him.

Once we have identified with Jesus Christ and confessed Him, we are part of this war. We did not start the war; God declared war on Satan (Gen. 3:15). The only way a believer can escape conflict is to deny Christ and compromise his witness, and this would be sin. Then the believer would be at war with God and with himself.

Each believer must make the decision once and for all to love Christ supremely and take up his cross and follow Christ. To “carry the cross” does not mean to wear a pin on our lapel or put a sticker on our car. It means to confess Christ and obey Him in spite of possible shame and suffering. It means to die to self daily. It may also mean to give your life for Him.

Let us pray:
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

Proclaim His Victory!

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 1, 2014, Easter VII – Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53

From the Acts of the Apostles:
Behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
According to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places…

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing 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.

Today is Ascension Sunday. The Feast of Ascension commemorates the bodily ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter.

Have you ever asked the question, why did Jesus leave when He did? He’d only been at His mission for about three years. He’d struggled to gather a nucleus of followers despite much opposition and ignorance. He’d gone through hell on a cross, dying, but then rising from the dead. And now when His resurrection from the dead had just provided the impetus for things to really get going; He decides to leave. Why would Jesus ascend into heaven? Was He fed up with the people of this world? Did He want to escape? Perhaps He wanted some time off – a vacation? What good could possibly come out of Jesus leaving this world and leaving His disciples to fend for themselves?

Did He actually leave? And did He actually leave His disciples to fend for themselves?

After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days and ministered to His disciples. He had already opened their minds to understand the Old Testament message about Himself (Luke 24:44-48), but there were other lessons they needed to learn before they could launch out in their new ministry. Jesus appeared and disappeared during those forty days, and the believers never knew when He might show up. It was excellent preparation for the church because the days were soon coming when He would no longer be on earth to instruct them personally.

Let’s deal with why He left. The fact is, Jesus had done everything He came to do; As He said on the cross: “It is finished!” Shortly before His ascension Jesus said to His disciples: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms..This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48)

He had completed His mission! He fulfilled the Scriptures. He did exactly what He said He would do, exactly what had to be done. He did what only God could have done. And when He was done He left. He didn’t hang around to clean up a few loose ends – there was no more for Him to do. Every sin had been paid for. The depths of the riches of love in the gracious heart of God had been revealed, and the door of the grave kicked open. So He ascended into heaven. And He was gone.

As believers, we know that He died and rose again. Eternal life and forgiveness of sins are very important. But every once in awhile, we ask the question, why does God allow bad things to happen in this world? That’s just like us, isn’t it? We look at things from a human perspective.

We read this morning in the book of Acts, Luke’s other Ascension account, when His disciples asked Jesus the question: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” This reveals an earthbound mindset; A self-centered worldview. They were still holding out for the conquering Savior who was going to rid them of the Romans and go back to the good old days when the Jews ruled.

We were born this way, with an inherited sinful nature. And we will die with that sinful nature still clinging to us. But we do not need die forever, apart from God. By the grace of our heavenly Father, through total victory gained by Jesus through His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, we have been set free. The Holy Spirit has torn away the trappings of sin and wrapped us in the beautiful robe of Christ’s righteousness. Daily, through Word and Sacrament He leads us to repent of sin and cling to Christ.

Christ left this world 40 days after His resurrection. The disciples saw Him leave with their own eyes. Here’s where the facts of Ascension, the doctrine of Ascension matters in our lives right now. He is gone, but not really. He is gone…but here more than ever. He is with us even more powerfully than if He could be seen with our eyes. We live in the presence of our ascended, ever-present, all-powerful Lord.
He is in control, in charge, working everything out for our good – everyone of us – wherever we are, wherever we go. There is no place we can go where Christ will not also be. There is no situation so complex or desperate of helplessness that Christ can’t work it out into something that benefits us. Ascension means we have His power, His presence, and His promise.

Ascension matters because it offers so much assurance in a world devoid of certainty and safety. Ascension means that Christ will come again. That was the message of the angels in Luke’s other ascension account in Acts 1: “This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Just before Jesus ascended He gave His disciples a mission and responsibility. In Acts we read, “You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” And in our Gospel reading: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

His disciples were to be witnesses of all that He had said and done. A witness is somebody who sincerely tells what he has seen and heard. As Christians, we also have a responsibility to be witnesses who point to Jesus Christ and tell lost sinners how to be saved. It doesn’t matter if you are pupil, plumber, preacher, police officer or pool cleaner, we all have the same ultimate purpose – to glorify God in all we think, say, and do and be witnesses where we live, work and play.

How could a group of common people ever hope to fulfill that kind of commission? God promised to provide the power (Luke 24:19; Acts 1:8), and He did. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the church and empowered them to preach the Word (Acts 2). After Pentecost, the Spirit continued to fill them with great power.

Witnessing is not something that we do for the Lord; it is something that He does through us, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. There is a difference between a “sales talk” and a Spirit-empowered witness. We go forth in the authority of His name, in the power of His spirit, heralding His Gospel of His grace.

For some reason, our Lord’s ascension is not given the prominence in the church that it deserves. Think of what it meant to Jesus to return to heaven and sit on the throne of glory! His ascension is proof that He has conquered every enemy and that He reigns supremely “far above all” (Eph. 1:18-23).

Our Lord’s ascension into heaven was an important part of His ministry, for if He had not returned to the Father, He could not have sent the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15). Also, in heaven today, the Saviour is our interceding High Priest, giving us the grace that we need for life and service (Heb. 4:14-16). He is also our Advocate before the Father, forgiving us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9-2:2). The exalted and glorified Head of the church is now working with His people on earth and helping them accomplish His purposes (Mark 16:19-20).

Of course, He is also preparing in heaven a home for His people (John 14:1-6), and one day He will return and take us to be with Him forever.

The last thing our Lord did was to bless His people, and the first thing they did was to worship Him! The two always go together, for as we truly worship Him, he will share His blessings. He not only opened their lips to witness, but He also opened their lips to worship and praise Him!

Dr. Luke opened his Gospel with a scene in the temple (Luke 1:8ff), and he closed his Gospel the same way (Luke 24:53). But what a contrast between the unbelieving, silent priest and the trusting, joyful saints! But Luke’s witness doesn’t end in Jerusalem. He continues his witness in his next book, The Acts of the Apostles, where the Gospel traveled from Jerusalem to Rome!

We need to grasp the reality and impact of Christ’s constant presence with us. Even more than that, Jesus wants an ongoing relationship with us. Matthew records these words in his ascension account: “I am with you always to the very end of the age”…to the end of time. Isn’t it ironic that with all of our communication resources today – internet, email¸ cell phones, text messaging – those very things may be keeping us apart from God. Making a phone call or sending a dozen tweets, two dozen emails, or 100 text messages a day does not make for a complete, fulfilling relationship.

A fulfilling relationship needs time, commitment, sacrifice – all of which Jesus offers. Jesus is here, here with you, always. You have the promise of His presence, actually the reality that He is always with you. And what is our part in this relationship? He gives us His Word so that we can keep in touch, to remain close to Him. Use it, study it, and pray over it. Cling to it. He may be gone from our eyes, but He is with us more than ever.

In the aftermath of the Ascension, notice what the disciples did. They didn’t mope around and act depressed because Jesus was no longer physically, visually with them. “They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” We need to do the same – worshipping, praising, witnessing at the temple or church, at home, at work – everywhere, all the time, knowing that Jesus is with us wherever we go, wherever we are. He may be gone, but not really. He is here with us more than ever. And soon, we will be there with Him – in heaven, that is, face to face.

Until then, seek Him in His Word, Body and Blood. Cling to His promises. And live each day as those disciples did, with “great joy.” Proclaiming His victory!

Let us pray:
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven; Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. †

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
May 25, 2014, Easter VI – Memorial Sunday

Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:8-20, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21

From the Acts of the Apostles:
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”

From the First Letter of St. Peter:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.”

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

A family was sitting in church and the sermon topic was on the Holy Spirit. Their youngest daughter tugged on her mother’s dress. Mom leaned to her side and the little girl whispered: “I know who the Father and the Son are, but what’s the Holy Spearmint?

The little girl was probably not the only one in church that Sunday who was uncertain about the third person of the Trinity. Of course, we’ve all heard the term Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. We’ve heard the expression, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” But how many of us truly understand who the Holy Spirit is?

So, who is the Holy Spirit? You might think that I should wait until Pentecost to talk about him, but God’s Holy Spirit is always with us, not just once a year. The Spirit of God is somewhat difficult to describe. The other two persons of the Trinity are much easier to characterize. God the Father created the heavens and the earth from nothing.
He spoke and the waters were parted and dry ground appeared. He hung stars and the moon in the heavens. He breathed life into man and woman. The works of creation enable us to understand God the Father.

We can also more easily understand, God the Son. He was the baby born of a virgin in Bethlehem; He lived and walked among us. He was the Son who obeyed His Father, even unto death on a cross. However, how does the Holy Spirit enter the equation? The famous preacher, Charles Spurgeon once said, the Spirit of God is “so mysterious, so secret his acts are so removed from everything that is of sense and of the body” that we struggle to understand and appreciate the third person of the Trinity. No doubt, the disciples did also.

So, the Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity. He is fully God. He is eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, has a will, and can speak. He is alive. He is a person. He is not particularly visible in the Bible because His ministry is to bear witness of Jesus (John 15:26). The truth is that the Holy Spirit is a person the same as the Father and the Son are within the Trinity.

We must remind ourselves of the time and setting of our Gospel reading. Jesus is at the table with His disciples. They are behind closed doors. The city of Jerusalem was preparing to celebrate the festival of the Passover meal. Judas has left the fellowship to arrange for his act of betrayal. Jesus has predicted Peter’s denial and the desertion by the other disciples. How much of His pending doom he specifically knew, remains a mystery to us, but from His recorded words, we can assume that He was expecting to die very soon. So, to prepare the eleven for His imminent death, He tells them about the role of the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit will empower them in a way that Jesus’ physical presence with them never could.

For apart from the help of the Spirit of God, we cannot live the Christian life as God would have us live it. We must know who the Holy Spirit is, what He does, and how He does it.

So, Jesus tells His disciples: “I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:16).

The Holy Spirit is given two special names by our Lord: “another Counselor” or “Comforter” and “the Spirit of Truth.” The Holy Spirit does not work instead of us, or in spite of us, but in us and through us.

Our English word comfort comes from two Latin words meaning “with strength.” We usually think of “comfort” as soothing someone, consoling him or her; and to some extent this is true. But true comfort strengthens us to face life bravely and keep on going. It does not rob us of responsibility or make it easy for us to give up.

Some translations of the Bible call the Holy Spirit an “Advocate.” An “advocate” is one who represents you at court and stands at your side to plead your case. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift from a generous and loving Father, given without conditions, independent of merit. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the source of a whole new relationship with God. And that’s because the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us.

As the “Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit is related to Jesus, the Truth, and the Word of God, which of itself is the truth (John 14:6; 17:17). The Spirit inspired the Word and also illumines the Word so we may understand it. Since He is the “Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit cannot lie or be associated with lies. He never leads us to do anything contrary to the Word of God, for again God’s Word is truth.

If we want the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, we must seek to glorify Christ; and we must make much of the Word of God. It is a life that is filled with joy, thankfulness, and submission. To be filled with the Spirit is the same as to be controlled by the Word. The Spirit of Truth uses the Word of truth to guide us into the will and the work of God.

The Holy Spirit abides in the believer. He is a gift from the Father in answer to the prayer of the Son. During His earthy ministry, Jesus had guided, guarded, and taught His disciples; but now He was going to leave them and dwell in them, taking the place of their Master. Jesus called the Spirit “another Comforter,” and the Greek word translated “another” means “another of the same kind.” The Spirit of God is not different from the Son of God, for both are God. The Spirit of God had dwelt with the disciples in the person of Jesus Christ. Now He would dwell in them.

Of course, the Spirit of God had been on earth before. He empowered men and women in the Old Testament to accomplish God’s work. However, during the Old Testament Age, the Spirit of God would come on people and then leave them. God’s Spirit departed from King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14; 18:12); and David, when confessing his sin, and he asked that the Spirit not be taken from him (Ps. 51:11). When the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, He was given to God’s people to remain with them forever. Even though we may grieve the Spirit, He will not leave us.

The way we treat the Holy Spirit is the way we treat the Lord Jesus Christ. The believer’s body is the temple of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20), so what he or she does with that body affects the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit wrote the Word of God, and the way we treat the Bible is the way we treat the Spirit of God and the Son of God.

The world cannot receive the Spirit because the world lives “by sight” and not by faith. Furthermore, the world does not know Jesus Christ; and you cannot have knowledge of the Spirit apart from the Son. The presence of the Spirit in this world is actually an indictment against the world, for the world rejected Jesus Christ.

And when Jesus says, “I will not leave you desolate,” He means “comfortless” or “orphaned.” We are not alone, abandoned, helpless, and hopeless! Wherever we go, the Spirit is with us, so why should we feel like orphans? There is no need to have a troubled heart when you have the very Spirit of God dwelling within you!

Orphans feel unwanted and unloved, but our Father shares His love with us. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5).

It would be very tempting of me to end this sermon on that wonderful promise that God would never leave us desolate. Our lives are marked by many unexpected events that create turmoil and distress. Our world is still plagued by wars, famine, terrorist attacks, death and destruction.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day – a day set aside to remember those who gave their lives for the freedom we as Americans all share. Tomorrow, all across America people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and faiths will join together to remember the sacrifice that our service men and women have made in wars past and present so that we can enjoy our freedom – those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that you and I could be here today. And we must also remember that Jesus Christ gave His life to guarantee our eternal freedom.

The last time the world saw Jesus was when Joseph and Nicodemus took Him from the cross and buried Him. The next time the world sees Him, He will come in power and great glory to judge lost sinners.

Jesus returned to heaven as the exalted Head of the church (Eph. 1:19-23); then He sent the Spirit at Pentecost so that the members of the body would be joined to their Head in a living union. Believers today, of course, did not see Jesus after His resurrection or in His ascension, but we are united to Him by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

When the sinner trusts Christ, he is born again and the Spirit immediately enters his body and bears witness that he is a child of God. The Spirit is resident and will not depart. But as the believer yields to the Father, loves the Word, prays, and obeys, there is a deeper relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Salvation means we are going to heaven, but submission means that heaven comes to us!

This truth is illustrated in the experiences of Abraham and Lot, recorded in Genesis 18 and 19. When Jesus and the two angels visited Abraham’s tent, they felt right at home. They even enjoyed a meal, and Jesus had a private talk with Abraham. But our Lord did not go to Sodom to visit Lot, because He did not feel at home there. Instead, He sent the two angels.

Our experience with God ought to go deeper and deeper, and it will as we yield to the Spirit of Truth and permit Him to teach us and guide us. If we love God and obey Him, He will manifest His love to us in a deeper way each day.

Jesus had been rejected by His own people, so He could not manifest Himself to them. In fact, it was an act of mercy that He did not manifest Himself to the world, because that would have meant judgment. He has revealed Himself to His church and left the church in the world to be a witness of God’s love. He is patiently waiting, still giving lost sinners opportunity to repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:1-10). One day He will return (Rev. 1:7) and the world will behold Him.

One of the best ways to ease a troubled heart is to bathe it in the love of God. When you feel like an “orphan,” let the Spirit of God reveal God’s love to you in a deeper way. Charles Spurgeon said, “Little faith will take your soul to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your soul.” Your heart can become a “heaven on earth” as you commune with the Lord and worship Him.

God the Spirit not only comforts us during the terrors of the night but He keeps pointing us back to the truth about the Son of God. He is our counselor who stands with us during a crises and He is also the one who guides us into the truth. He brings the security of God’s love but also teaches so that we might live as faithful disciples.

So the Holy Spirit is given to all who love Jesus Christ, to empower us for His work, to teach us all things, and to give us a real and lasting peace in the knowledge that Jesus has overcome the world.

How do you receive that gift of the Holy Spirit?
By being one who loves Jesus Christ.

How do you know if you’re someone like that?
By the way you desire to obey His commandments.

Let us pray:

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.

Amen. †

Holy Structures

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
May 18, 2014, Easter V

Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14

From the Acts of the Apostles:
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”

From the First Letter of St. Peter:
For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

And from the Gospel of St. John:
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may 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.

We all know the expression: “there are two things certain in life: death and taxes.” I suppose the only way to eliminate taxes would be to mount a revolution, but I don’t see that happening. And as far as death is concerned, well we all know that some day and at some hour, we are going to die. And the questions that everyone seems to ask are: What’s next? Where am I going? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell?

For answers to these questions, you only need to look at the Scriptures. In our Gospel reading today, we have the comforting words of Jesus: “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1, 27).

We are not surprised that the Apostles were troubled after Jesus had announced that one of them was a traitor, and then He warned Peter that he was going to deny his Lord three times. Self-confident Peter was certain that he could not only follow his Lord, but even die with Him and for Him. Alas, Peter did not know his own heart, nor do we really know our hearts until they are tested. One thing is certain, our hearts can easily become troubled.
Perhaps the heaviest blow of all was the realization that Jesus was going to die and leave them (John 13:33). Where was He going? Could they go with Him? How could they get where He was going? These were some of the perplexing questions that tumbled around in their minds and hearts and were tossed back and forth in their conversations at the table.

How did Jesus calm their troubled hearts? By giving them six wonderful assurances to lay hold of, assurances that we today may claim and thus enjoy untroubled hearts. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you may claim every single one of these assurances.

1) You are going to heaven 4) We have the Holy Spirit
2) You know the Father 5) We Enjoy the Father’s Love
3) You have the privilege of prayer 6) You have His gift of Peace

Jesus did not rebuke Peter for asking Him where He was going, but His reply was somewhat cryptic. One day Peter would “follow” Jesus to the cross (John 21:18-19), and then he would follow Him to heaven. Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified, though he asked to be crucified head-downward because he did not feel worthy to die as his Master died.

Just as Peter was beginning to feel like a hero, Jesus announced that he himself would soon become a casualty. The message not only shocked Peter, but it also stunned the rest of the disciples. After all, if brave Peter denied the Lord, what hope was there for the rest of them? It was then that Jesus gave His message to calm their troubled hearts.

According to Jesus, heaven is a real place. It is not a product of religious imagination or the result of a psyched-up mentality, looking for “pie in the sky by and by.” Heaven is the place where God dwells and where Jesus sits today at the right hand of the Father. Heaven is described as a kingdom (2 Peter 1:11), and inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), a country (Heb. 11:16), a city (Heb. 11:16), and a home (John 14:2).

A kingdom:“For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you;” An inheritance: “To obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you;” A country: “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them”; and a home, with many rooms, “if it were not so, I would have told you.”

Heaven is “My Father’s house,” according to the Son of God. It is “home” for God’s children! The poet Robert Frost said that home is the place that, when you arrive there, they have to take you in.

Jesus Christ is now preparing places for all true believers, and each place will be beautiful. When He was on earth, Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Now that He has returned to glory, He is building a church on earth and a home for that church in heaven.

In Peter’s first letter we read that there is only one Saviour, Jesus Christ, and only one spiritual building, the church. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of the church (Eph. 2:20), binding the building together. Whether we agree with each other or not, all true Christians belong to each other as stones in God’s building.

Peter gave a full description on Jesus Christ, the stone. He is a living stone because He was raised from the dead in victory. He is the chosen stone of the Father, and He is precious. Peter quoted Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 in his description and pointed out that Jesus Christ, though chosen by God, was rejected by men. He was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting, so they stumbled over Him. Jesus referred to this same Scripture when He debated with the Jewish leaders (Matt. 21:42ff). Though rejected by men, Jesus Christ was exalted by God!

The real cause of this Jewish stumbling was their refusal to submit to the Word (1 Peter 2:8). Had they believed and obeyed the Word, they would have received their Messiah and been saved. Of course, people today still stumble over Christ and His cross (1 Cor. 1:18ff). Those who believe on Christ “shall not be confounded [ashamed].”

In His first mention of the church, Jesus compared it to a building: “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). Believers are living stones in His building. Each time someone trusts Christ; another stone is quarried out of the pit of sin and cemented by grace into the building. It may look to us that the church on earth is a pile of rubble and ruins, especially in New England, but God sees the total structure as it grows (Eph. 2:19-22). What a privilege we have to be a part of His church, “a habitation of God through the Spirit.”

Peter wrote this first letter to believers living in five different provinces, yet he said that they all belonged to one “spiritual house.” There is a unity of God’s people that transcends all local and individual assemblies and fellowships. We belong to each other because we belong to Christ. This does not mean that doctrinal and denominational differences are wrong, because each local church must be fully persuaded by the Spirit. But it does mean that we must not permit our differences to destroy the spiritual unity we have in Christ. We ought to be mature enough to disagree without in any sense becoming disagreeable.

A contractor was building a house and the construction of the first floor went smoothly. But when they started on the second floor, they had nothing but trouble. None of the materials from the lumberyard would fit properly. Then they discovered the reason: they were working with two different sets of blueprints! Once they got rid of the old set, everything went well and they built a lovely house.

Too often, Christians hinder the building of the church because they are following the wrong plans or different plans. When Solomon built his temple, his workmen followed the plans so carefully that everything fit together on the construction site (1 Kings 6:7). If all of us would follow God’s blueprints given in His Word, we would be able to work together without discord and build His church for His glory.

In the Book of Acts this morning, we heard the very sad story of Stephen who was stoned to death and martyred. You wonder what kind of a world we live in when good and godly men like Stephen can be murdered by religious bigots! But our world has not changed in 2000 years.
We have similar problems in our “enlightened” age today: taking hostages, bombings that kill and maim innocent people, assassinations, and all in the name of politics or religion. The heart of man has not changed, nor can it be changed apart from the grace of God.

What were the results of Stephen’s death? For Stephen, death meant coronation (Rev. 2:10). He saw the glory of God and the Son of God standing to receive him into heaven. Our Lord sat down when He ascended to heaven (Mark 16:19), but He stood up to welcome to glory the first Christian martyr (Luke 12:8).

For Israel, Stephen’s death meant condemnation. This was their third murder: they had permitted John the Baptist to be killed; they had asked for Jesus to be killed; and now they were killing Stephen themselves. When they allowed Herod to kill John, the Jews sinned against God the Father who had sent John (Matt. 21:28-32). When they asked Pilate to crucify Jesus, they sinned against God the Son (Matt. 21:33-46). When they stoned Stephen, Israel sinned against the Holy Spirit who was working in and through the Apostles (Acts 7:51). Jesus said that this sin could never be forgiven (Matt. 12:31-32). Judgment finally came in A.D. 70 when Titus and the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. The Temple, the holy structure of the Jews, was destroyed because of their sin.

For the church in Jerusalem, the death of Stephen meant liberation. They had been witnessing “to the Jew first” ever since Pentecost, but now they would be directed to take the message out of Jerusalem to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and even to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19-26).

Finally, as far as Saul (Acts 7:58) was concerned, the death of Stephen eventually meant salvation. He never forgot the event (Acts 22:17-21), and no doubt Stephen’s message, prayers, and glorious death were used of the Spirit to prepare Saul for his own meeting with the Lord (Acts 9). God never wastes the blood of His saints. Saul would one day see the same glory that Stephen saw and would behold the Son of God and hear Him speak!

When Christians die, they “fall asleep” (John 11:11). The body sleeps and the spirit goes to be with the Lord in heaven (Acts 7:59). When Jesus returns, He will bring with Him the spirits of those who have died (1 Thes. 4:14), their bodies will be raised and glorified, and body and spirit will be united in glory to be “forever with the Lord.” Even though we Christians weep at the death of a loved one (Acts 8:2), we do not sorrow hopelessly; for we know we shall meet again when we die or when the Lord returns.

“And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).

This is a clear promise of our Lord’s return for His people. Some will go to heaven through the valley of the shadow of death, but those who are alive when Jesus returns will never see death (John 11:25-26). They will be changed to be like Christ and will go to heaven (1 Thes. 4:13-18).

Since heaven is the Father’s house, it must be a place of love and joy. When the Apostle John tried to describe heaven in the Book of Revelations, he almost ran out of symbols and comparisons! (Rev. 21-22) Finally, he listed the things that would not be there: death, sorrow, crying, pain, night, etc. What a wonderful home it will be – and we will enjoy it forever!

The disciple Thomas wanted to know where His Lord was going. The question revealed his keen desire to be with Jesus, and this meant that he had to know where the Master was going and how he himself would get there. The Lord made it clear that He was going to the Father, and that He was the only way to the Father. Heaven is a real place, a loving place, and an exclusive place. Not everybody is going to heaven, but rather only those who have trusted Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not simply teach the way or point the way; He is the way. In fact, “the Way” was one of the early names for the Christian faith (Acts 9:2; 19:9). Our Lord’s statement, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Wipes away any other proposed way to heaven – good works, religious ceremonies, costly gifts, etc. There is only one way, and that way is Jesus Christ.

How would this assurance of going to heaven help to calm the disciples’ troubled hearts? Dr. James M. Gray, a pastor in the Reformed Episcopal Church and hymn writer, put it beautifully in a song (1933) entitled “The Road Leads Home.” It went like this:

O pilgrim, as you journey, Do you ever gladly say,
In spite of heavy weather and the roughness of the way,
That it really does not matter, all the strange and bitter stress,
Heat and cold, and toil and sorrow, Will be healed with blessedness!

O safe and blessed shelter, Heavenly mansions of content!
There are the holy kindred from our hearthstones early rent;
And our precious, loving Savior, who our sins on Calvary bore –
Who would ever mind the journey, with such blessedness in store?

O who would mind the journey, when the road leads home?

The assurance of a heavenly home at the end of life’s road enables us to bear joyfully with the obstacles and battles along the way. It was this assurance that even encouraged our Lord, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Paul had this truth in mind when he wrote, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
We do not have to wait until we enter heaven to get to know the Father. We can know Him today and receive from Him the spiritual resources we need to keep going when the days are difficult. The very Lord of heaven and earth is our Father (Luke 10:21).There is no need for us to have troubled hearts, for He is in control.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know
your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow
his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.

Amen. †

I Am the Door

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
May 11, 2014, Easter IV

Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10

From the Acts of the Apostles:
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

From the First Letter of St. Peter:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

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.

Any of us who travel by airplane can relate to this story: His plane had just landed, and he had a very tight window of time to catch his connecting flight. He jumped out of his seat to grab his carryon from the overhead bin. He hurriedly tried to squeeze by others to get off the plane as quickly as possible, apologizing to others that if he didn’t hurry, he’d miss his connecting flight. The other passengers parted like the waters of the Red Sea and graciously allowed him to get to the front of the plane. The door popped open and he took off through the jet way, spilling into the airport, where the mad dash was on to catch his flight. He was the guy who scrambles by and everyone turning their heads to watch him knows he’s trying to catch his connecting flight. As he neared his gate, he glanced down at his watch and felt a sense of relief, realizing he had just made it in time.

Or, he would have made it in time, except for one thing: arriving at what he thought was the gate of his connecting flight, he looked up at the board and saw that he was at the wrong gate. Sure enough, just as soon as he realized it, he heard over the loudspeaker that there was a gate change, and that his flight was departing from another gate; in fact, a gate on the other side of the airport from where he had just come. At that moment the reality had settled in that he wouldn’t make his connecting flight. It wasn’t because he hadn’t tried. It wasn’t because he didn’t rush as quickly as he could have to make it to his gate. Rather, it was because he was at the wrong gate, and finally, the thing that matters most in catching a connecting flight is making sure you’re at the right gate.
And it just so happens that having the right gate is the thing that matters most for each of us for eternity as well. The gate or door which we’re focusing this morning though is much more than a matter of airplanes and airports, though I suppose this gate does determine one’s final destination – his “arrival” flight, so to speak. There is only one gate or door that is the difference maker for eternity, and Jesus is it.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who come before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

In the 10th chapter of John, John focuses on the image of sheep, sheepfolds, and shepherds. It is a rural and Eastern image, to be sure; but it is an image that can say a great deal to us today, even in our urban industrialize world. Paul used this image when admonishing the spiritual leaders in the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:28ff). The truths that cluster around the image of the shepherd and the sheep are found throughout the Bible, and they are important to us today.

This particular teaching or sermon grew out of our Lord’s confrontation with the Jewish leaders, following the excommunication of the beggar (John 9). As you might recall, this beggar was blind from birth and Jesus healed him. This beggar stood up to the religious leaders and was cast out. Jesus had briefly spoken to the people about light and darkness, but now He changed the image to that of the shepherd and the sheep. Why did He do that? It was because to the Jewish mind, a “shepherd” was any kind of leader, spiritual or political. People looked on the king and prophets as shepherds. Israel was privileged to be “the flock of the Lord” (Ps. 100:3).

Jesus opened His sermon with a familiar illustration (John10:1-6), one that every listener would understand. The sheepfold was usually an enclosure made of rocks, with an opening for the gate or door. The shepherd or a porter would guard the flock, or flocks, at night by lying across the opening. It was not unusual for several flocks to be sheltered together in the same fold. In the morning, the shepherds would come, call their sheep, and assemble their own flocks. Each sheep recognized his own master’s voice.

The true shepherd comes in through the door, and the porter recognizes him. The thieves and robbers could never enter through the door, so they have to climb over the wall and enter the fold through deception. But even if they did get in, they would never get the sheep to follow them, for the sheep follow only the voice of their own shepherd. The false shepherds can never lead the sheep, so they must steal them away.

The question we should be asking is, “How can I know the voice of God?” Knowing the voice of God, results in finding the Will of God. God wants you to know His will:

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

It is clear that the listeners did not understand what Jesus said or why He said it. The occasion for this lesson was the excommunication of the beggar from the synagogue (John 9:34). The false shepherd did not care for this man; instead, they mistreated him and threw him out. But Jesus, the true Shepherd, came to him and took him in (John 9:35-38).

Quite often, this passage of scripture is used to teach that the sheepfold is heaven, and that those who try to get in by any way other than Christ are destined to fail. While the teaching is true (Acts 4:12), it is not based on this passage. Jesus made it clear that the fold is the nation of Israel (John 10:16). The Gentiles are the “other sheep” not of the fold of Israel.

When Jesus came to the nation of Israel, he came the appointed way, just as the Scriptures promised. Every true shepherd must be called of God and sent by God. If he truly speaks God’s Word, the sheep will “hear his voice” and not be afraid to follow him. The true shepherd will love the sheep and care for them.

Since people did not understand His symbolic language, Jesus followed the illustration with an application (John 10:7-10). Twice He said, “I am the Door.” He is the Door of the sheepfold and makes it possible for the sheep to leave the fold, which is the religion of Judaism, and to enter His flock. The Pharisees threw the beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism and into the flock of God!

Jesus doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t say that other religious leaders are merely misguided or misunderstood; he doesn’t sympathize with them; reasoning that they mean well. When eternity of souls hangs in the balance, Jesus does not care about being politically correct and tolerant of those who hold different views on religion; he called them “thieves” and “robbers,” who came “to steal and kill and destroy.” How could Jesus state it any more clearly? Those who deny Jesus as the Saviour and guide others to do the same are hell-bent on the destruction of souls.

But the Shepherd does not stop with leading the sheep out; He also leads them in. They become a part of the “one flock” which is His church. He is the Door of salvation (John 10:9). Those who trust Him enter into the Lord’s flock and fold, and they have the wonderful privilege of going “in and out” and finding pasture. When you keep in mind that the shepherd actually was the “door” of the fold, this image becomes very real.

As the Door, Jesus delivers sinners from bondage and leads them into freedom. They have salvation! When Jesus was talking about “thieves and robbers,” He was talking about the religious leaders of the day. They were not true shepherds nor did they have the approval of God on their ministry. They did not love the sheep, but instead exploited them and abused them. The beggar was a good example of what the “thieves and robbers” could do.

It is clear in the Gospel record that the religious rulers of Israel were interested only in providing for themselves and protecting themselves. The Pharisees were covetous (Luke 16:14) and even took advantage of the poor widows (Mark 12:40).
They turned God’s temple into a den of thieves (Matt. 21:13), and they plotted to kill Jesus so that Rome would not take away their privileges (John 11:49-53).

The true Shepherd came to save the sheep, but the false shepherds take advantage of the sheep and exploit them. Behind the false shepherd is “the thief” (John 10:10), probably a reference to Satan. The thief wants to steal the sheep from the fold, slaughter them, and destroy them.

Peter stated in his Letter, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (John 2:24-25).

He died as the sinner’s Substitute. Jesus did not die as a martyr; He died as a Saviour, a sinless Substitute. It is not Jesus the Example or Teacher who saves us, but Jesus the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

In the Old Testament, the sheep died for the shepherd; but at Calvary, the Shepherd died for the sheep (John 10). Every lost sinner is like a sheep gone astray; ignorant, lost, wandering, in danger, away from the place of safety, and unable to help himself. The Shepherd went out to search for the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). He died for the sheep!

Now that we have been returned to the fold and are safely in His care, He watches over us lest we stray and get into sin. Just as the elder-bishop oversees the flock of God, the church (1 Peter 5:2), so the Saviour in glory watches over His sheep to protect them and perfect them (Heb. 13:20-21).

Here is the wonderful truth Peter wanted to share: as we live godly lives and submit in times of suffering, we are following Christ’s example and becoming more like Him. We submit and obey, not only for the sake of lost souls and for the Lord’s sake, but also for our own sake that we might grow spiritually and become more like Christ.

When you go through “the Door,” you receive life and you are saved. As you go “in and out,” you enjoy abundant life in the rich pastures of the Lord. His sheep enjoy fullness and freedom. Jesus not only gave His life for us, but He gave His life to us right now!

People who enjoy the abundant life will possess all of these qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, compassion, character, wisdom, honesty, salvation, and a relationship with God. You can get everyone of these things from God, who is the giver of all good things. The Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change…” (James 1:17).

To have life abundantly starts with Jesus’ promise that my eternity is safe because it is in His hands, and has already been bought and paid for with His blood. Then, with the certainty of Jesus, the Door, guarding my heart, my eyes see my life in this world in a different light. Fear and trepidation have been cast aside; they don’t need to follow me or haunt me, for all is well with the Door. Guilt and regret don’t hang around my neck like a noose, for all is well with the Door. Failure and folly don’t disqualify me, for all is well with the Door. Loving and serving are not obligations, but opportunities; for all is well with the Door. I have abundant life, for I have Jesus, the Door.

Let us pray:

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

Amen. †

Broken Hearts to Burning Hearts

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
May 4, 2014, Easter III

Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-27

From the Acts of the Apostles:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

From the First Letter of St. Peter:
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

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 Emmaus road experience is a well-known story; it is such a gripping story because it is in many ways our own story; when we lose hope and the desire to move on because our dreams have been crushed.

This story highlights the living hope that we have in the Resurrection of Jesus. Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth, “If we have hope in Christ in this life only, we are the most miserable of all men. But now Christ is risen from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:19-20).

But on that first Easter day that living hope was all but snuffed out for the two disciples on their way back home to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

Emmaus was a small village eight miles north-west of Jerusalem. The two men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus were discouraged disciples who had no reason to be discouraged. They had heard the reports of the women that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive, but they did not believe them.
They had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21), but their hopes had been shattered. We get the impression that these men were discouraged and disappointed because God did not do what they wanted Him to do. They saw the glory of the kingdom, but they failed to understand the suffering.

Have you ever noticed that some of the saddest words in our language begin with the letter D? For example: disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, despair and death. All of these are summed up in the words of Cleopas and his companion to the unrecognized stranger on the road to Emmaus.

They had left the demoralized and confused group of disciples with the events of Good Friday fresh in their memories. We can understand their confusion and grief; can’t we?
The Master they had loved and followed had been horribly put to death on a Roman cross. Death by crucifixion was the most shameful of deaths; the victim was made a public spectacle, exposed to the jeers of all that passed by.

Only a week before, on Palm Sunday, the hopes of the disciples had risen to fever pitch when the excited crowds had hailed their Master as the longed-for-deliverer from the tyranny of Roman occupation…but now He lay dead in a sealed tomb!

The hopes were dashed…the dream was over! The followers of Jesus were without a leader and they were falling apart quickly…These two were already on their way home. Peter and his fishing partners had returned to their former life as fishermen.

What else was there left to do? Life goes on…Life must go on…

The reports that Christ’s tomb was empty had only confused the disciples more. Their entire world had come apart. The two downhearted disciples summed up the situation when they said, “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

As the travelers made their weary way to Emmaus, a stranger fell alongside them. It was going to be one of the most wonderful walks in history! We know, of course, that it was the risen Jesus, but somehow they didn’t recognize Him. In fact, Luke tells us “they were kept from recognizing Him.” Maybe they were too preoccupied to look him in the eye. Maybe they didn’t care. What difference did it make who was walking with them…They were grieving a great loss in their lives! And along comes a chatty stranger, who hasn’t a clue about the things that happened in Jerusalem.

Jesus graciously walked with them and listened to their “animated heated conversation” (Luke 24:17). No doubt they were quoting various Old Testament prophecies and trying to remember what Jesus had taught, but they were unable to put it all together and come up with an explanation that made sense. Was He a failure or a success? Why did He have to die? Was there a future for the nation? Would God send someone else?

There was a touch of humor in this passage when Jesus asked these two disciples what had happened in Jerusalem; why were they so unhappy? He had been at the heart of all that had happened in Jerusalem, and now He was asking them to tell Him what occurred! How patient our Lord is with us as He listens to us tell Him what He already knows (Rom. 8:34). But we may come “boldly” to His throne and pour out our hearts to Him, and He will help us (Heb. 4:16).

The longer Cleopas, the disciple talked, the more he indicted himself and his friend for their unbelief. What more evidence could they want? Witnesses had seen the tomb empty. Angels had announced that Jesus was alive. Witnesses had seen Him alive and heard Him speak. The proof was there, but they wouldn’t accept it!

“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). This explains why Jesus opened the Word to these two men as the three of them walked to Emmaus. Their real problem was not in their heads but in their hearts. They could have discussed the subject for days and never arrived at a satisfactory answer. What they needed was a fresh understanding of the Word of God, and Jesus gave that understanding to them. He opened the Scriptures and then opened their eyes, and they realized that Jesus was not only alive but right there with them!

What was their basic problem? They did not believe all that the prophets had written about the Messiah. That was the problem with most of the Jews in that day: they saw the Messiah as a conquering Redeemer, but they did not see Him as Suffering Servant. As they read the Old Testament, they saw the glory but not the suffering, the crown but not the cross. The teachers in that day were not unlike some of the Christian preachers today, blind to the total message of the Bible.

If you think about it, that was some Bible conference on the road to Emmaus, and I wish I could have been there! Imagine the greatest Teacher explaining the greatest themes from the greatest Book and bringing the greatest blessings to men’s lives; eyes open to see Him, hearts open to receive the Word, and lips open to tell others what Jesus said to them!

Perhaps Jesus started at the fall of man and the first promise of the Redeemer, and traced that promise through the Scriptures. He may have lingered at the story of Abraham (Genesis 22), which tells of Abraham placing his only son on the altar. Surely He touched on Passover, the Levitical sacrifices, the tabernacle ceremonies, the Day of Atonement, the serpent in the wilderness, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, and the prophetic messages of Psalms 22 and 69. The key to understanding the Bible is to see Jesus Christ on every page. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; and also in between. He did not teach them only doctrine or prophecy; He taught “the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).

These men had talked to Jesus and listened to Jesus, and when Jesus motioned that He was going to leave them, they asked Jesus to come home with them. They had been won by the Word of God, and they did not even know who the Stranger was. All they knew was that their hearts were “burning” within them, and they wanted the blessing to last.
Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, and then He opened their eyes so that they recognized Him. Now they knew for themselves that Jesus was alive. They had the evidence of the open tomb, the angels, the witnesses, the Scriptures and now their own personal experience with the Lord. The fact that Jesus vanished did not mean that He abandoned them, for He was with them even though they could not see Him; and they would see Him again.

A simple two hour walk turned into a life-transforming experience. Now their hearts were burning with passion to share with everyone what they had seen and experienced. The two men immediately left Emmaus and returned to Jerusalem to tell the believers that they had met Jesus. I am almost certain that the two-hour journey back to Jerusalem took these two men a mere 45 minutes. They were on a Mission! Their hearts were burning! They had some Good News to share! They couldn’t keep it to themselves. Their broken hearts had been transformed into hearts that were on fire for their Lord!

You see, Hope has that powerful effect on us. It transforms ordinary people, like the Emmaus Disciples…like you and me…into passionate witnesses of the risen Lord!

As we journey along life’s road, and as we experience defeat, despair and disappointment in our daily life, let us welcome the stranger that joins us on our journey. May our hearts also be warmed by His presence and may our lives be ignited with passion to share with all, that we have seen the risen Lord!

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.

Amen. †