Third Sunday after the Epiphany

The Hearing of the Word

When the remnant people, in Persia, returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem, the book of the law of Moses was read publicly to encourage them. Reading rom Nehemiah:

All the people of Israel gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

The public reading often invokes a response from the listeners. It has a powerful effect on those who were returning to Jerusalem. They were receiving a blessing from God through Ezra and were in an attitude of worship. This helped open their hearts to the message. Again from Nehemiah:

Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.   (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6)

In many liturgical churches it is customary to read the appointed scriptures of the lectionary during the worship service. This was an ancient tradition in Judaism. It was true in the time of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading::

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   (Luke 4:14-20)

How did these two public readings of God’s word compare? Let us see. It is clear that the listeners in the synagogue were attentive to what Jesus read. From Nehemiah we read that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” But how did the response of the listeners compare between the two Group? Again, reading from Nehemiah:

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”   (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

The people wept when they heard the law. They understood that they had forsaken the law of Moses and they were grieved. The power of the word of God is beautifully addressed in the Book of Hebrews:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.   (Hebrews 4:12-13)

God’s Word is truth. God reveals our innermost being. He is a just God. But he is also loving and forgiving. The psalmist wrote:

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.   (Psalm 19:8-9)

How we respond to the Word is all important.

After Jesus read the appointed scripture from Isaiah, He made this bold statement to his hometown people of Nazareth who knew him as the carpenter’s son:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:21)

The word “today‘ jolted the listeners. It is one thing to hear scripture with piety and feigned reverence, but it is quite another to understand the scripture is always now. To be sure, Jesus proclaimed a powerful fulfillment of prophecy. His listeners were not prepared for this, but neither were they in worship as the exiles. We remember that they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff and kill him.

How do we respond to the reading of scripture? Or how do we respond to the sermon? This may make us feel uncomfortable. It often leads to sorrow, but also joy when we repent. Without repentance the Word of God cannot be fully active in our lives.

With an attitude of worship and humility before God great things can transpire. The returning exiles rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem and the new temple. Equally as important, if not more so, their faith in God was restored.

Reading from the Book of Acts, The Apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders:

And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.   (Acts 20:32)

What is our destiny?  What is our inheritance? It is dependent upon our hearing of the word. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.   (Romans 10:15-17)

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Confession of Saint Peter

The All Important Question

In today’s readings we examine the most important question in all the world. From the Gospel of Matthew:

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   (Matthew 16:13-16)

How fitting it is to have the Confession of Peter observed within the Season of the Epiphany. Peter was first among the apostles to confess that Jesus is the Messiah. The Apostle Peter’s earthly testimony compliments the heavenly one. At the baptism of Jesus God the Father spoke from heaven, testifying that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Peter’s testimony was quite remarkable. At a time when there was much confusion and speculation about who Jesus was, Peter had come to a clear and concise conclusion about Jesus’ identity. He did not do so by his own reasoning alone, however:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  (Matthew 16:17)

We remember that Peter not only confessed Jesus as the Messiah, but later he also denied Jesus. Just before the crucifixion Peter proclaimed that he would never leave or forsake Jesus. But Jesus knew better. He understands the frailties of human beings:

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  (Luke 22:34)

Jesus gives us this warning concerning our confession:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.  (Matthew 10:32-33)

Peter discovered that he could not continue in the Faith on his own strength. He needed the strength that only God could provide. We remember that Jesus forgave Peter and restored him after the resurrection.

Throughout his ministry Peter’s testimony was bold and clear:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

Today many people are confused about who Jesus is and what may be His place in history. Many biblical “scholars” have disputed the person and the ministry of Jesus. Yet, we have God’s testimony, Jesus’ testimony, and Peter’s confession recorded in Holy Scripture.

What will be our recorded confession? Our confession is all important in keeping the faith. Even more, our continued confession is all important. From the Book of Revelation:

 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God
    and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades[b] has been thrown down,
    who accuses them day and night before our God.
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.   (Revelation 12:10-11)

At a time when Christians are being persecuted we will need God’s help to build and strengthen our faith as He did for Peter. This will be all the more true for the troubling days ahead. But with God’s help we will remain faithful to our testimony. Just as we have benefitted from Peter’s bold testimony, so many others may benefit from ours. Salvation is at stake.

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

A Celebration of Marriage

In Judaism, marriage is very special. (It should be for us as well.) There is cause for great celebration. Yes, Jews drank wine as part of the celebration. There is no reason to believe that Jesus did not join in. In fact, the Pharisees accused him of drinking with sinners and tax collectors.

From today’s Gospel reading we have an account of the first miracle performed by Jesus:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”   (John 2:1-10)

This miracle was performed at a wedding celebration. What did this mean? The Gospel of John often has  many levels of meanings. Let us see if we can go deeper into the significance of this celebration.

We read in the Book of Isaiah:

For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.   (Isaiah 62:5)

Isaiah compares God’ s affection for Israel to that of a young man’s love and desire for his bride. The wedding feast is illustrative of this affection. It is a celebration of lives coming together and forming one life. That is the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples:

And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.   (John 17:22-23

God the Father’s desire is that we would be married to him and his Son. Reading again from Isaiah:

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;

but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;

for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.   (Isaiah 62:4-5)

God wants to rejoice over us as his bride. He longs to be with us more that any bridegroom does for his bride. The psalmist wrote:

How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.   (Psalm 36:7-9)

Jesus miraculously kept the supply of wine from running out. God has so much more for us than wine. He will give us a drink from his “river of delights,” He is our well of life that never runs empty. Jesus told that Samaritan woman at the well:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”   (John 4:13-14)

The Church is said to be the bride of Christ. De we seek unity with him and the Father? We live in difficult times. Can we celebrate our marriage to God? Do we look forward to “the marriage supper of the Lamb?”

From the Book of Revelation we read:

Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready;
to her it has been granted to be clothed
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”   (Revelation 19:7-9)

John’s Gospel reveals the heart of God. Do we know his heart? Do we know how much he loves? Enough to send us his only eternal Son to pay the price for all our sins. All we need to do is believe in him and trust in his love.

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.   (John 2:11)

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The Baptism of Our Lord

The Holy Spirit and Fire

Baptism can be a controversial subject. Whole denominations are separated over their understanding of baptism. This is not something new. The baptism of John the Baptist was quite controversial. Baptism was required only for Gentile converts to Judaism. Circumcised “children of Abraham were already members of the faith. They were born into Judaism. John the Baptist command was: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Only then could Jews say that they were children Abraham.

John said that there was more to come. Repentance was just the first step. He spoke of the coming one more powerful than he:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.   (Luke 3:15-16)

Holy Spirit baptism is the controversial one in the church today. What is this baptism?

In his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus also talked about a a spring of living water:

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”   (John 4:9-14)

Jesus, on the day of the Festival of Booths in Jerusalem, further explained this living water:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

Jesus was glorified on the cross. He purchased for us forgiveness for our sins and salvation. He also purchased the right to baptize us in the Holy Spirit with fire. Do we have the fire of the Holy Spirit inside us today?

Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit merely a theological subject to be debated? Isaiah wrote:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.   (Isaiah 12:3)

This baptism is to be experienced. Jesus said that it would be like a spring of water gushing up within us.

Is that our experience? Maybe not if we believe that we were born into it. The Christian faith has to do with a new birth. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Are we thirsty for more of God? Do we desire to experience the refreshment of the Holy Spirit flowing within us?

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman:

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

How many of us need this living water today? Jesus is the baptizer with the Holy Spirit.and fire. Do we know him? Do we know the gift? And are we willing to ask for this gift?

The gift of the Spirit comes when we fully embrace Jesus as our Savior. He took our place on the cross so that we might take our place in him.

After Jesus was baptized by John, we have this remarkable account in Luke:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”   (Luke 3:21-22)

What God the Father said to his Son he also says us: “You are my beloved son and daughter, with you I am well pleased. He is pleased with us because when he sees us he sees Jesus.

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