Ephesians 2:11-22 – Included

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (New International Version)

There is perhaps no better explanation in the entire New Testament about what the Church truly is than here in today’s lesson.

The redemptive events of Jesus – especially the crucifixion of Christ – has completely changed everything. The cross is the mid-point of history, the fulcrum in which all things in heaven and on earth hinge.

The cross has totally transformed our status from being:

  • in Adam (fallen and separated from God) to being in Christ (now lifted and in union with God)
  • in the flesh (driven by our immoral and unethical impulses) to being in the Spirit (now driven by moral and ethical desires)
  • a Jew or a Gentile (defined by race, ethnicity, etc.) to being one people of God, a new egalitarian society, the community of the redeemed, the Church.

We were once far from God. Now we are brought near through the blood of Christ.

We are included, not excluded; graced and loved, not shamed and shunned.

And our status isn’t based on physical circumcision but on circumcision of the heart, that is, by faith.

There was a time when we were estranged from God, as if we were migrants from another country, or aliens from another world. We were strangers with no visible hope in anything or anyone.

But now, because of Christ’s cross, we have become near to God, gained an inheritance in Christ, and are seated in the heavens as royalty. Everything has mercifully changed. All is incredibly different – a good different.

Jesus Christ himself is our peace. He is the superglue who has bonded us to God and to one another as the one people of God. Because of this gracious union, there is no more anger and malice toward each other. There is, instead, peace.

The Lord Jesus has torn down the walls of separation between people, stripped the armor off of those who used it to keep a distance, and obliterated all obstacles to genuine relational connection – including the obstacle of the Law.

By his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Christ Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the Law. Therefore, the Law of Moses is no longer needed. Those who love one another and carry one another’s burdens are the ones who fulfill the Law of Christ.

The reason for abolishing all the laws and layers of separation is so that Christ could create one new people from the disparate groups – thus making peace through the cross.

Just as two people come together in marriage and create an entirely new relationship – one new person from the two – so Christ has joined Jew and Gentile together and formed an entirely new society of unity and one-ness.

We are, then, on equal footing with one another. One group is no longer privileged over another. There is no such thing as an underprivileged people-group in God’s new society.

The Church is to be the one place on earth where all are privileged, all are included, and none are left behind.

There is reconciliation. The situation isn’t of people simply not fighting with each other, not at one another’s throats and sitting with a grumpy affect and arms folded. Quite the opposite. It is a restored relationship, harmonious interactions, and working together in loving fellowship.

Christianity is distinct from all other religions and all other ethical systems because everything is based, tethered, and moored in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. In Christianity, enmity, hate, and rage aren’t managed; they’re put to death – nailed to the cross and done away with.

Unfettered access to God, through Christ and the Spirit, means that we have an open channel to receiving the faith, hope, and love needed to address the darkness of this world and those still stuck in chaos, disconnection, and shame.

Christ himself is the cornerstone to the superstructure of peace and love which has been erected – the very things we have longed for throughout our personal lives and throughout history.

Jesus is the King who brought radical amnesty and hospitality to the entire country by making us all fellow citizens, enjoying all the rights and privileges thereof.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son who welcomed us into God’s family, embracing our adoption and making us full-blooded brothers and sisters, and giving us a prominent place at the Table.

All of these things about Christians and the Church aren’t ideals; they’re reality.

Anytime we are spiteful, ignorant, prejudiced, or unkind, we are not living in reality – we’re living in an old evil world that isn’t ours.

Therefore, we are called to fully live into God’s new society – a community of equals – loving and leading like Jesus, living into his words and ways, embracing our new status as children of God, offering radical mercy and grace because that’s exactly what our Lord did for us.

Creator God, who made us different from one another in myriad ways, yet all made in your image: Fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom so that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 2:1-11 – Relying on Spiritual Power

Brothers and sisters, when I came to you, I didn’t speak about God’s mystery  as if it were some kind of brilliant message or wisdom. While I was with you, I decided to deal with only one subject—Jesus Christ, who was crucified. When I came to you, I was weak. I was afraid and very nervous. I didn’t speak my message with persuasive intellectual arguments. I spoke my message with a show of spiritual power so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.

However, we do use wisdom to speak to those who are mature. It is a wisdom that doesn’t belong to this world or to the rulers of this world who are in power today and gone tomorrow. We speak about the mystery of God’s wisdom. It is a wisdom that has been hidden, which God had planned for our glory before the world began. Not one of the rulers of this world has known it. If they had, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory. But as Scripture says:

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
the things that God has prepared
for those who love him.”

God has revealed those things to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches everything, especially the deep things of God. After all, who knows everything about a person except that person’s own spirit? In the same way, no one has known everything about God except God’s Spirit. (God’s Word Translation)

We need the Holy Spirit of God.

Without the Spirit’s help, Jesus is just one guy out of thousands who were crucified in history – merely an example of someone martyred for his faith. Yet, Jesus was infinitely more. Christians discern Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world. 

Because of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, people can be redeemed from empty lives, saved from destructive life-patterns, and given the kind of security and purpose which God intended from the beginning. The Spirit’s role is to take these redemptive events of Jesus and apply them to our lives. 

Christian Trinitarian theology understands we are unable to see the truth about the cross of Jesus Christ unless God the Holy Spirit, sent by God the Father and the Son, breaks into our lives and does an intervention, showing us our denial about how we are really doing – as well as our delusions about who we really are.

Admitting we need the Holy Spirit of God means the power of Christianity and the Christian life rests with Jesus Christ and him crucified, and not with us.

We are, in many ways, powerless. I realize this is not a popular message, especially in Western society. Tell the average American they are powerless, and they’ll think you’re off your rocker. It sounds ridiculous. Some would argue that we have done quite well, thank you very much, on our own. We have a couple of cars, a house, a job, and a family. After all, we worked hard, and we did it.

However, any worldly success we gain, and getting the things we want, may lead us to the delusion we have the power to do whatever we want.

Oh, sure, we might reason, we have problems just like everybody else. After all, we cannot control everything.  But we are not completely powerless. Just because we have difficult circumstances and a few problem people in our lives doesn’t mean I am weak, right? God will step in a take-over where I leave off, right?…

Wrong. Apart from the Holy Spirit of God, we are unable to become Christians and live the Christian life.

If we believe we manage our lives fine, with some help from God, then we might be in denial about how much we place ourselves at the center of the world. Whenever our consistent response to adversity, or the realization we are not handling something well, is to try and fix ourselves, we are living the delusion we have the power to independently change.

A reflexive response in asking Google to find answers to our problems; or dealing privately with our personal issues; or expecting our willpower to be enough; or passively resigning ourselves to mediocre lives because we have tried to change or be different; then we are feeding the delusion we don’t really need the Holy Spirit of God. I just need more effort or information to overcome my problems, right?

Wrong. More won’t solve our issues. And when it doesn’t, we easily become discouraged. We might even chide ourselves for our inability to deal with problems.

Our real need is for the true power source of the Christian life. We need the Holy Spirit applying the work of Jesus Christ to our lives so that we can live a victorious life.

Unfortunately, it typically takes a tragedy or crisis to break our delusion of power – a bad marriage, a family member’s addiction, a runaway child, a terminal illness, a bankruptcy, a death.

How bad do you and I need to hurt before we will admit we are not managing our lives well, at all, and that the real power to change resides with the Holy Spirit?

There is power in the cross of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul believed this with all his heart. Although Paul was an intelligent and learned person, he did not rely on his abilities but on proclaiming the power of Jesus and him crucified.

The crucifixion of Christ was a past action with continuing and forceful ripples into the present time.

The cross of Jesus is more than an historical event; it is an ongoing reality to experience for victory over all the brokenness of this world and all the mess we have made of things putting ourselves at the center of the universe.

The Reformer, John Calvin, repeatedly instructed and encouraged his Geneva congregation that the Spirit joins us to Christ, assures us of salvation, and grows us in confidence through the Scriptures. Calvin, although a genius, did not rely on his intellect or abilities but insisted we need the Spirit’s witness to mature as followers of Jesus.

There are tough situations and incredibly sad realities which are mysteries beyond our comprehension. They defy simplistic answers and are greater than our attempts to explain them. Hard problems stretch our faith. And they ought to cause us to cry out to God and Christ’s Church for help because we are powerless to manage our lives.

We absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God. Without the Spirit, we are lost. But with the Spirit we experience the saving power of Christ’s cross to deal with everything in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that he will make all things right if I surrender to his will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with him forever in the next. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So, when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (New Living Translation)

“At his Ascension, our Lord entered Heaven, and he keeps the door open for humanity to enter.”

Oswald Chambers

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.” This is a hugely important event for followers of Jesus.

The Ascension means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand, offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion, who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell.

On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom that will never end. Yes, the Ascension of the Lord is a big deal.

So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation garner such scant attention from many churches?

Maybe the church has A.D.D. (Ascension Deficit Disorder).

Our clue to the inability to focus on such a grand redemptive event is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended.

The picture St. Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension, is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched.

It took a couple of angels to come along and ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds, the angels insisted. Jesus will come back when he comes back. You aren’t going to know when. So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you to do two minutes ago: Tell everyone about me.

Christ’s ascension to heaven is a deeply theological event. It’s freighted with major implications for our prayer lives. And it means Christ is the King to whom we must obey.

Jesus is coming again. In the meantime, there’s to be no cloud-gawking. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims the good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life.

Trying to peer into the future about how the end of history will shake-out is, frankly, not the job we are called to do. Believers in Jesus aren’t supposed to stand and gawk at the clouds waiting for the Lord’s return, as if we are in some earthly holding tank until heaven. 

Rather, we are to bear witness about the person and work of Jesus. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with deliverance from the realm of sin, and the hope of Christ’s coming again. The Church everywhere recognizes together the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus.

The world, as we know it, shall eventually come to an end. Until that time, Christians since the time of the ascension have been proclaiming Christ crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming again.

This is a day of joy and celebration for us. Jesus is our ascended and glorified king! The fate of the earth is with the benevolent and mighty Ruler of all. Jesus is Lord, and no other human leader is. Thank you, Jesus.

The great Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, states:

Q: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?

A: First, he is our advocate

            in heaven

            in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven

            as a sure pledge that Christ our head

            will also take us, his members,

            up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth

            as a corresponding pledge.

            By the Spirit’s power

                        we seek not earthly things

                        but the things above, where Christ is,

                                    sitting at God’s right hand.

Amen.

Psalm 93 – Ultimate Power Belongs to the Lord

Psalm 93 by Bernard C. Winter

Our Lord, you are King!
Majesty and power
    are your royal robes.
You put the world in place,
    and it will never be moved.
You have always ruled,
    and you are eternal.

The ocean is roaring, Lord!
    The sea is pounding hard.
Its mighty waves are majestic,
but you are even more majestic,
    and you rule over all.
Your decisions are firm,
and your temple will always
    be beautiful and holy. (Contemporary English Version)

God is bigger than any threat of chaos or destruction. That’s because the Lord is sovereign over all things. The Lord is King. From a Christian perspective, today’s psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in the ascension of Jesus Christ.

When we talk about kings, there are a few things a ruler needs: a realm (a kingdom); and the ruled (the subjects) of the realm. In reflecting on Christ’s ascension, the three elements which make up a rule are: King Jesus as Ruler; God’s people as the ruled; and the entire world as the realm of Christ’s lordship.

Rule, glory, and kingship were given to him;
    all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him.
His rule is an everlasting one—
    it will never pass away!—
        his kingship is indestructible. (Daniel 7:14, CEB)

Now, as soon as I state that all the world is Christ’s realm, it is quite understandable to at least be curious about this, as well as perhaps be outright doubtful of it.

After all, this old fallen world is filled with all kinds of catastrophes like pandemics and natural disasters; myriad human vices; and potent spiritual foes. Sometimes, it appears that if Jesus were King, he is either sleeping on the job or just indifferent to our plight.

I’ll reframe this by putting it in military terms. The battle and the war has been won – there are, however, some clean-up or mop-up operations still taking place. Pockets of resistance to God’s rule and reign still very much exist. And they unfortunately lead to casualties.

Every Memorial Day weekend in the USA, Americans remember and pay homage to our fallen men and women in uniform. Many of those soldiers were lost from mopping up resistance after a battle achieved and a war won.

For example, the Battle for Okinawa in the Pacific theatre toward the end of World War II resulted in an American victory. However, in securing the island after the Japanese defeat, small groups of Japanese soldiers still mounted resistance resulting in hundreds of American deaths.

In a 1944 article from the Stars and Stripes, an interview of one patrol leader from the battle said, “It’s a tough, methodical grind, this mop-up operation. Here, the Japanese have gotten together, organized, and are carrying out a planned guerilla warfare, even though the battle is won…. I wish a mop-up was as easy as people think it is.”

We live between the two advents of Christ, his ascension to heaven and his coming again. That means we live in the already/not yet kingdom and realm of God. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell has been achieved through the cross of Christ – yet that achieved salvation will not be here in its complete fulfillment until Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Meanwhile, Christians everywhere continue to pray that God’s kingdom spreads and is realized in the hearts of humanity – the true place where war begins and ends.

There is no power in heaven or on earth which can circumvent or overcome the plans and purposes of an almighty God.

Ocean waves are a powerful force. The United States Energy Information Administration Ocean states that ocean waves contain one-thousand times more kinetic energy than wind. They estimate that the annual energy potential of waves off the east and west coasts of the United States to be as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt hours. That’s about two-thirds of all American needs for electricity in a year. 

And yet, the incredible strength of ocean waves are no match for the might of God.

“Your rule is eternal, and you are king forever. The Lord is faithful to his promises; he is merciful in all his acts.”

Psalm 145:13, GNT

Even though we might worry about the power and influence of human governments, systems, and institutions, the actual weight they carry is infinitesimal compared to the glory of God. Since God has fixed the earth in place, there is no conglomeration of people who can move this planet off its axis, even a millionth of a degree.

The Most High God is firmly in control, even when it seems otherwise. The Christian tradition is consistent in proclaiming that the throne of Jesus Christ has been established forever. It shall not be moved. Love has won the day and will have the eternal day forevermore.

“Entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” (2 Peter 1:11, NRSV)

Sovereign God, you reign over all things! Robed in majesty and armed with strength, you hold our world and our lives securely. Your throne has been established. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.

Even when waves of grief, disease, and hardship rise-up—when surging seas threaten to overwhelm me, and a pounding storm crashes around me—I know that you are mightier and more powerful than any threat. Wash over me with your own cleansing flood. Grace me with your mighty presence. Refresh me with the water of life, for I know, Holy God, that your decrees are firm and unshakeable and will last forever. Amen.