Advent 2. Prepare the Way                                                                                                   Dec.06,2020

Isaiah 40:1-11    Psalm 85   2Peter.3:8-18   Mark 1:1-8

The opening couple of verses of our Gospel passage this morning reveal a number of context things that are immensely important for a complete understanding of what follows in verses 3 thru 8. The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet. First, it says this is the beginning of the "good news". The people of Israel had literally, because of their persistent sin and idolatry, been subject to hard service for many years, as one conquering nation after another had held them in bondage. As I said last week, Mark was writing 30 years after Jesus death and resurrection. He declared that this moment, when Jesus the Messiah appeared, was the opening scene of Israel's restoration.

The name Jesus in Hebrew means "Yahweh saves". Messiah or "Mashiach" in Hebrew is translated as "the Anointed One". So, Israel (and the church which follows) are to be saved or rescued by God through the one that he, that is Yahweh, has set apart and marked (anointed) for the task. This Saviour is not a human construct, but God's Son! Mark, the writer of this gospel, wants his audience to know that he isn't making these things up. They had been prophesied many years before. The things that he was reporting are a fulfilment of those prophesies.

That kind of begs the question. What does that prophesy actually say? Flip back with me to our OT passage from Isaiah and look at vs 1 & 2. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. The NIV Quest Study Bible notes that, Although these words sound like the exile was over and past, Isaiah actually penned them before the exile to Babylon. So, he used the past tense in a prophetic sense, looking forward to when the captivity to Babylon would be over. In a broader sense, when Mark refers the "hard service" he was not only including the Babylonian exile, but also Persians, followed by the Greeks and finally the Romans. So, Mark is referring to all the time of the nation's sin-sparked consequences up until the coming of the Messiah.

Look back at the Gospel. Mark could well have been answering a question or challenge to his Jerusalem ministry in AD 60. How can you be sure that what you are saying is true? What proof do you have? So, Mark says, "Have a look at this." He makes a direct reference to Isaiah 40. " it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way...a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him." And then he points immediately to John the Baptist and his amazing ministry. Why would he do that?

David Garland notes that, "By cross-referencing Scripture Mark makes it clear that the gospel is bound fast to the promises of God in the Old Testament. It is a continuation of the story of God's saving activity. Long before the promise-filled preaching of John the Baptizer, there was the promise-filled preaching of Isaiah, which shows that God had planned things out long before John appeared on the scene. It was Yahweh who initiated the action. The prophets' hope was not a pipe dream."[1]

Mark makes this point because John, himself, claimed to be the one that Isaiah was speaking about and John's claim was affirmed by none other the Messiah, Jesus. When he was asked if he was the expected Messiah, this is John the Baptists answer. John 1:20b-23, "I am not the Christ." 21 And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." 22 So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 23 He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord', as the prophet Isaiah said." By quoting these verses, Mark certifies that the Torah (Exodus), the Major Prophets (Isaiah), and the Minor Prophets (Malachi) all confirm what he is about to tell.

When John had been imprisoned, and his disciples sent back to give him news of the Messiah, Jesus turned and spoke to the crowds concerning John. Matthew 11:9-10, What then did you go out to see? A prophet Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, "'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.' So, Mark is affirming that all he has to say is the fulfilment of prophesy written 740 years before the birth of the Messiah, and affirmed, as Luke also testifies, by many witnesses.

So, lets look at Mark 1:4 for a moment. John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. "John appeared" Seems a simple statement, but it really isn't. William Barclay, in his commentary on this passage notes that, "The people of Israel were well aware that for three hundred years the voice of prophecy had been silent. They were waiting for some authentic word from God." In John they finally heard it once again.

Next, look at the reference to Baptism. When we read Holy Scripture, we bring a couple thousand years of biblical reflection and learned assumptions to the text. For instance, when I say the word, "Baptism", our immediate interpretation is normally formed by our 21st century experience of the Christian ritual. However, when Baptism was spoken about to an early first century Jewish audience, like those addressed by John the Baptist in the wilderness, it carried another meaning entirely.

In the Hebrew tradition, immersion in natural source water, flowing water was called "mikveh". It was only required when a person became ritually impure, that is defiled by coming in contact with a dead body, for instance...or when a non-Hebrew person converted to Judaism. It was never required of Jewish people. So, when John challenged the surrounding crowds to repent, that wouldn't have seemed strange, because their society was, like our own, rife with sin! However, asking them also to submit to immersion mikveh, as a sign of that repentance was an entirely new and radical idea. It would actually have caused huge offense, particularly with any Pharisees or Sadducee's who might have been in the crowd. In their minds, sin was forgiven by ritual sacrifice, not Baptism, not mikveh!

Now have look at the next verse. John wasn't just causing a little bit of a stir. He was creating big trouble for the temple officials. (5) And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Let me put some perspective on this. When we hear this story, we picture a small up to 50, maybe even 100 people who might have wandered by and stopped to hear the preacher. But was that really the case?

John was preaching and Baptising at the Jordan River. The Jordan is 32 km from Jerusalem, about the same distance between Chilliwack and Abbotsford or half the distance between Smithers and Houston! So, a 64 km intentional walk, a minimum of a 3-day journey...perhaps 4. Jerusalem is also 1220 Meters above the Jordan River. So, 4000 feet in elevation gain on the way home!

Also, please note the word "all" is used twice in this verse. In 30 AD the population of Jerusalem and the surrounding Judean countryside was reported by the Roman historian, Tacitus, to be approximately 600,000 people. Other historians estimate much more, but let's use this figure for our discussion. So, when Mark reports that "all" Judea and "all" Jerusalem were climbing down off the mountain, submitting themselves to a ritual not normally required of Hebrew believers and then climbing back up that 32 km and 1220 meter road to their homes... that is a very, very big deal indeed! In fact, it is almost inconceivable, even by today's standards. Something eternally important had to have been going on.

It is no wonder he ends up arrested. John is not only causing the temple official's great distress; his declaration of the imminent coming Messiah is a direct challenge to the whole religious and political structure of the society of the day. It was to literally to become the beginning of Judean civil unrest that would eventually bring about the destruction of the Temple and much of the city in which it stood.

John 1:6, Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt round his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. Why would Mark include a description of how John dressed and what he ate? There are a number of reasons. Turn with me for a moment to 2Kings 1:8. Elijah is described this way, "He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist." Hence the questions to John asking him if he was Elijah? However, that reference isn't the only reason. Sackcloth was frequently worn in OT times as a sign of mourning or a public demonstration of repentance for sin. John was in mourning for the nation and repentant himself. His dress was a symbol and example of that for others. Locusts and wild honey were the typical diet of a Nazarite desert dweller. A humble meal for a humble person as opposed to the decadent feasts enjoyed by the temple officials and Judean rulers of the day!

And all that I have said up to now is context, foundational support for verses 7 & 8. Verse 7 says this, And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. In this ancient world a disciple would complete any task except the tying or untying of his master's sandals.On the other hand, the most menial task that a slave could be told to do was to tie and untie his master's street-infested & filthy sandaled feet. By his own subservience, his own declaration of worthlessness, John... this holy and righteous man of God, is demonstrating that he will do anything for Jesus, unworthy as he feels, including untying his sandals. However, John is also elevating Jesus to a place unattainable to any human being, regardless of who they think they might be or how they might deserve to be treated.

Again, John is offering himself as an example to the others. There is, I believe, a spiritual starting point here, a beginning in any believer's journey of faith. That moment where real understanding and faith begins is marked as he/she recognizes that they are not worthy to untie Jesus sandals. Until that realization happens, we are still too full of ourselves to actually get it.

(8) I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." William Barclay, in his commentary on this passage noted that John's message was effective because he pointed to something and someone beyond himself. He told them that his baptism drenched them in water, but one was coming who would drench them in the Holy Spirit; and while water could cleanse a person's body, the Holy Spirit could cleanse their life and self and heart. Craig Keener, in his commentary on this verse states, Some passages in the Old Testament speak of the Spirit being poured out like water. These passages refer especially to the time of God's kingdom, when he would cleanse his people and endow them with power to speak for him. We can see that in Isaiah 44 Ezekiel 36 & Joel 2. Jewish tradition in Jesus' day still stressed that the Spirit would cleanse and provide prophetic anointing in the end time. This is what John was declaring.

So, what do we do with all this in 2021? How does this story impact our lives?

John's self-knowledge of his place in God's wider plan for creation is a lesson, I believe, for all of us. In his commentary on this passage, Donald English notes that, "In that wider sweep of God's purposes, we need to learn to play our limited-yet vital-part. History is his. The universe is his. The mission to the world is his. We are spiritually fulfilled, not when we seek self-driven gratification, but when we seek to find our proper place in his never-ending purposes for this world, for his creation. John was able to do that. He knew his place and he was not only completely committed within it, he was willing to accept whatever result it engendered, knowing that his place in the kingdom was assured. We can't just make it up as we go along. God is working to a plan!

Secondly, our religious life isn't divorced from reality. It isn't just something we can just have online or on Sunday mornings. It isn't, as English also suggests, independent of the history, social life and politics of our day. They are all connected. John's commitment, his ministry, dovetailed with the history of the Hebrew people which is found in the prophetic; the contemporary life of his society which was full of sin and in need of repentance; and the future hope that was to be found in the Messiah, Jesus. Even in these Covid restricted days, we have to discover and pursue ways in which the faith we have in Jesus can be lived out inside the reality of our struggling society.

Finally, our so-called fact-driven & empirical society has for the last 2000 years done everything it could possibly do to hold down and close out the work and empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christian believers. True, every once in a while, the Spirit escapes and causes havoc amongst those for whom absolute control is a necessity. However, for the most part, while we quite often tell a good story about the Holy Spirit, we are deathly afraid that what Joel spoke about will come and mess with our well-ordered lives. The question is...Do I really want to be Baptized, buy Jesus with the Holy Spirit? Or... Am I willing to allow the radical power of the Spirit to empower and enable me to live as Jesus would have me live and minister the way that Jesus would have me minister in this suffering and needy society? Please pray with me....

English, D. (1992). The message of Mark: the mystery of faith (pp. 37-38). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Mk 1:8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[1] Garland, D. E. (1996). Mark (p. 43). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Advent 1 November 29, 2020 - This Generation Will Not Pass Away

Is.64:1-9 Psalm 80 !Cor1:1-9 Mark.13:24-37

This morning we are going to deal with one of the most difficult passages in the gospels. As we look forward to our celebration of the birth of the Christ-child, this mornings gospel, in the same way that some of the others from the last few weeks have done, compels us to be watchful and ready for the day of his coming. However, this word of the Lord is not about the birth....but about his coming at the end of time. The principles of watchfulness and readiness apply as we prepare for Christmas 2020, but the warning for readiness in today's Gospel relates to two other events in history.

Let me deal with the difficulty first. Please look with me at verse 30... Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. We all know, living in the 21st century, that many generations have passed away....and that a least some of what Jesus was speaking of in chapter 13 of Marks gospel has not yet come to pass. So, what are the implications of that? Did Jesus evoke the truth and then lie to us? Was Jesus not omniscient, not God? Could he have been mistaken?

One explanation that I read reinterpreted the word generations...or at least attempted to saying that "this generations" means all those who will be alive when these things come to pass. However, that ignores the way in which that Greek word "genea" was used in every other instance it is found in the NT. Every other place it means the present generation.

The word can also be translated as race. The Interpreter's Commentary suggests that a multiplicity of interpretations have been given to "this generation." It could also be humankind in general, the Jewish people, Christians, unbelievers. However, Jesus is never reported as using it in that way and that kind of context. So, we are left with trying to find another way out of our dilemma.

The problem, I believe, is that we have keyed on the wrong word. The real issue here is not the idea of generation, but "all these things" that Jesus said would happen before that present generation passed away. You see, When Jesus utters these difficult words, it is actually in response to a question posed by his disciples. Look back for a moment at 13:1-4, And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." I mentioned these verses in the parallel passage from Matthew 25 a couple of weeks ago.

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be, So you see, "all these things" refers to Jesus comments about the temple. Mark combines that with the second question and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?" That is where we get into difficulty. But they are two separate questions which deal with two different issues that are separated by centuries of history.

So, we could ask, "How did this confusion come about?" Many contemporary scholars have come to the conclusion that Mark wrote his Gospel 4-5 years before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, so....AD 60, give or take. He was writing from memories 30 years after Jesus death. Mark was also not present for this conversation. Look at verse three....Peter, James, John & Andrew are with Jesus, not Mark. So, Mark has collated and recorded this narrative from stories that he has heard from one or all of those disciples who were present at the event. Given the probable date of his writing, Mark is doing so without knowing of the actual destruction of the temple. Please stay with me. This is important background.

Now Matthew, on the other hand, wrote his account after the destruction of the temple and the great persecution....knowing that part of the prophesy had been completed...but also that there was more to come. The question that he puts on the lips of the disciples is slightly different and helps us to see that these two things must be separated. In Matthew's account, the disciples ask, Tell us, when will these things be?(That is the same as Mark) But then they ask And what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age? In Mark the second question is recorded as and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished

Therefore, If we take Matthew's record into account, it allows us to separate the timing of the destruction of the Temple, from Jesus coming of the end of the age. And now we can read our passage from this morning in a different light.

I don't want to be seeming to detract from the importance of the Temple's destruction to the fulfilment of God's plan for humanity. The Temple had to be destroyed first. It was literally the sign and the symbol of the old covenant. The focal point of kingdom ministry had to be shifted from the Temple sacrificial system, from Jerusalem to the person of Jesus and encompassing the whole world. So, as the Lord predicted, the Temple was indeed destroyed.

With that context in mind, we can now turn to this morning's gospel passage, verses 28 through 37, which we are to read in the context of the end times events & destruction that Jesus teaches us about in verses 5-27. The disciples asked for a sign. Jesus gave it to them, but in far greater detail than they had asked for.

All of the events in verses 5-23 have taken place since the first century and are taking place presently in our world today. Some of them happened during the destruction of the temple...others are only just beginning to be fulfilled in these dark Covid troubled days. The verses from this mornings reading speak of the end times...they are in the future. How long we will have to wait for them or when they are to take place, we are not to know. It is not our place to attempt to predict. We are, instead instructed to watch, to be observant.

In verse 28, when Jesus says, From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. These things are what he refers to in verses 24-27. And these images would have been very familiar to his hearers.

They are direct references to OT prophesies. Joel 2:10 says, The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. Joel is referring to the destruction that will occur just before the day of the Lord, the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah 13:10 says, For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. And also from Daniel 7:13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

In Mark's day, the stars were thought to be heavenly powers that influenced human affairs. At the end of time it was believed that all such powers would be destroyed and obliterated. The picture presented here is of total cosmic collapse. Darkness and chaos will envelop everything. Then, they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds. The cosmic powers , those that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6, rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. All will be gone...and Godly power will reign for eternity in its place.

Jesus draws heavily on the apocalyptic imagery of the OT end-times prophesy to underscore the world-wide crisis that will herald the return of the Son of Man. It is a frightening image, but it is intended to be encouraging to Christian believers who are living in frightening times as we are today. So, in one sense, the Lord is saying that because the exact time is unknown...we cannot be complacent or lazy hoping to party our lives away and then become righteous at the last minute. But he is also saying that when it begins, we will know for sure that it is happening.

In Israel and Palestine, most trees are evergreen... except the olive and the fig trees. The olive blooms early in the year, but the fig blossoms and sets just as summer is coming. If this scene took place near Passover, as seems likely, Jesus was probably pointing to a blossoming fig as he said, soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. When you experience persecution like never before, betrayal from your own family, Christians hated and reviled by the whole non-believing society...false Christs, false prophets, false signs and wonders, the abomination of desolation, Satan standing where he ought to be (referring to the destruction of the temple, but could also refer to desecration of churches in the last days. By these signs, Jesus said, you will know that end of the age has come.

(33) Be on guard, keep awake" I heard a quote attributed, I believe, to an 18th century Anglican theologian named Herbert Mortimer Luckock. He said, the worst "ism" in the world was not racism or fascism or sexism, as evil & immoral as they all indeed are . The worst "ism" is spiritual somnambulism. Somnambulism is how someone is when they are sleepwalking. In the Roman army, in fact, in some modern armies, a guard would be executed for falling asleep on duty. And while it sounds and is is also a reality. A sleeping guard allows the enemy freedom to breech defences to kill and destroy. All the destruction that Jesus spoke about in the first part of this chapter comes about because of the spiritual somnambulism of the faithful, the sleepwalking of believers.

Our spiritual alertness, in this day and age, is just that important as it was then. We live in a world of soul-killing distractions and temptations. We are subjected daily to advertising that attempts to persuade us to trivialize our so-called friends who demand the loyalty that we owe to Jesus, to entertainment that glamorize drugs, alcohol and illicit sex. Even coaches, who once upon a time emphasised spiritual values as a part of team training, now schedule games and practices on Sunday morning...forcing our young people and their parents to chose between the sport or their faith. The list of tempters and temptations is endless. And we are lulled into a false sense of security because everyone is doing it and it doesn't seem to be causing any harm.

But that security is false. The thief, Jesus tells us, comes in the night because that is when our defences are weakest. The Redeemer comes in the night because that is when the need is the greatest. Right at the point where the spiritual destruction of the people of the world is at its worst...the Lord will come. And those who are found about their Master's business...waiting with expectation for his coming, fighting the darkness and evil that seeks to overwhelm them and declaring the blessings of the kingdom. Mark 13:13, But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

You see this Christmas that we wait for is not the end of the is only the beginning. There is a signpost at the manger directing our attention to the cross of calvary...and there is a signpost at the cross directing our attention to the empowerment of the Spirit at Pentecost and there is a signpost at Pentecost pointing us to the day of the Lord's coming. His call upon us, as faithful believers, is to walk the journey from one signpost to the other with awake, observant & expectant hearts, with steadfast faith, with unfailing resolve and absolute confidence in Jesus prophesy and his promises. Matthew 10:30-31 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

This Sunday we begin again that annual journey to Christmas...which is intricately designed to help us keep focussed and attentive to God plan of salvation. We are called to walk together...once again through the church year from one way-point to another, not bored because we have to do it once again....but expectant, willing and ready to be a part of God's divine and perfect plan. Please pray with me.

The Great Day of the Lord!

The Rev. Canon Barclay Mayo                                                               November 15, 2020

Zeph. 1:7-18       Ps 90       1Thess. 5:1-10       Mt 25:14-30

This morning, we are going to have a look at what both our Old Testament passage and Epistle call "The Day of the Lord". We are going to look at what the different scriptures tell us will happen on that day and what the implications may be for us who would call ourselves believers. There has been much speculation and much ink spilt over the last 2000 years trying to nail down the exact date and the circumstances of the last days of this era; most of it highly speculative. So, what I am not going to do this morning is offer up yet another version of those things.

Let it suffice to say that the signs have never been more prevalent than they are today, and we could well be living in the end times....but perhaps not. The Lord tells us not to speculate. I will leave determination of the imminence of these events up to you personally to decide, as you work with the Holy Spirit to read and understand the texts. I am not going to yell about the sky falling!

However the timing, it is plain from the biblical texts, if you are paying attention... that we do need to be ready because as we have been told by Jesus in Matthew 24:43, and then affirmed again by the Apostle Paul in today's Epistle, the "Day of the Lord" will come 1Thes. 5:1, "as a thief in the night!" If we are not prepared, it will not go well for us. Just at it did not go well for Israel and Judah.

So, let's turn first to our passage from Zephaniah. I am going to spend a lot of time here this morning. The lectionary only appointed a portion of this reading. However, as is my custom, I will have us look at the whole of the relevant passage from verses 7 thru 18. The first thing to note is that the prophet uses the city of Jerusalem as context. However, much of the prophesy of the Old Testament, has both immediate implications for the city & nation in those days, but also contains things that will not be completed until the Lord "comes again". So, this is indeed also end time prophesy which goes far beyond the walls of the holy city. (18) all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end, he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. That did not happen when the hammer fell in those days.

Let me just step back for minute and set some timing context, because it will help us understand why Zephaniah was a prophet at that time. The king during that period was Josiah. He is listed in both 2Kings 22 & 2Chronicles 34 as a righteous king, a king who "walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left" Josiah ruled from 640-609 BC, during the waning days of the Assyrian empire and before the Babylonians and then the Egyptians rose to power. As the Assyrians gradually lost control of Judah and Jerusalem, Josiah began what historians recognize as the last major attempt to reform the religion of the nation.

However, he ruled for 18 years before attempting major any reforms in the political and religious climate of Judah, much of that time as a minor, from the time Josiah was made king at 8 years of age until 26, mostly influenced by his courtly "advisors." Dennis Bratcher's 2018 article in The Voice, tells us that Josiah eliminated the practices instituted by Manasseh, his grandfather, and deposed, possibly executed, the priests of Ba'al and other deities (2 Kings 23:5). He abolished the outlying shrines at Bethel and Samaria that had always been a source of syncretism with Baal worship and then Josiah actively promoted centralized worship in Jerusalem. He outlawed magic and sorcery. In effect, Josiah had charted a new course for the nation by the old principles of the covenant. He was able to do that because, as they were refurbishing the Temple, the book of the Torah was discovered and then used to reshape their religious practices.

Chuck Swindoll tells us that Zephaniah probably prophesied between 622 and 612BC. In 2:13, the prophet predicted the fall of Nineveh, an event which occurred in 612 BC. Further, Zephaniah made frequent quotations from the Law, after the king discovered the scrolls of the Law in 622 BC (2 Chronicles 34:3-7). Therefore, Zephaniah more than likely prophesied in the latter part of Josiah's rule. It is obvious from the tone and condemnation found in this morning's Zephaniah passage, that while the king was working hard to change things, evil was still very much afoot in Jerusalem and therein lies the reason for Zephaniah's powerful words.

Another thing to note about this passage is that the prophet believes that this happening imminently. Both in verse 1 and 14 we are told that, For the day of the Lord is near. This prophesy was given after a long string of defiant and disobedient rulers and temple officials who had done what the OT record calls "evil in the sight of the Lord." We have been hearing it over and over in our daily readings as we have been plodding the last few weeks through First and Second Kings. The rulers of Israel and Judah and their sons were evil in the sight of the Lord and ended up exiled for their sin. They had been allowed to return and rebuild, but Josiah's own grandfather, Manasseh, was among the most degenerate rulers in Israel's history. That is the context of this mornings passage which speaks of both an imminent and future, destructive "Day of the Lord"!

In verse 7, Josiah says, Be silent before the Lord God! Our day, much like theirs, is marked by an incessant, unrelenting, clambering for our attention, that unless intentionally and constantly silenced, makes it utterly impossible to attend to the things of God. This call for silence is akin to the respect demanded by the court official when he commands 'All rise' at the approach of the judge to the bench. At that moment everything stops. Zephaniah is literally saying, "shut up and listen". Be quiet!

Next, he says, the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. The unrepentant evil of Judah has made them the sacrifice and the next Babylonians are the invited guests. Look at the next two verses, And on the day of the Lord's sacrifice- "I will punish the officials and the king's sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. Josiah's son, Jehoahaz, succeeded him, but neither he nor his brothers were as righteous as their father had been. This verse refers to them taking on the customs of the surrounding pagan nations. On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master's house with violence and fraud. They literally desecrated the temple with the violent sacrifice of Baal worship, and they paid for it in the end. Perhaps this principle is also a warning for the church in our day..

Look down at verse 12, At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, 'The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.' This judgement is not just for those who are blatantly evil. This is where, I believe, we also need to pay attention. The judgement will also come on the complacent; those who are content with the status quo, as it were. You know who I mean...those who would say, "Its not hurting anybody. Why draw attention to ourselves by challenging it?" And/or those who are so comfortable in their sin supported lifestyle that they would deny that God even exists, or if he does, isn't going to do anything anyway. Please note, that in this passage they get treated the same of those who are blatantly and violently evil.

Verses 13 thru 18 all speak about the futility of putting one's faith in material possessions. This is the third group. The first were blatantly & defiantly evil, the second complacent, even dismissive of God. The third probably talk the talk but have put the acquisition of wealth and power in the place of God in their lives. Please notice that all three responses result in the same condemnation. Just as there are no levels of holiness that make one person more acceptable with God than another, there are no graduations of evil which would result in greater judgement. In the assessment of the OT prophets you either do what is right before the Lord or you do what is evil. You are either welcomed into the kingdom or sent to the fires of hell.

Please turn with me now to today's Epistle from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Paul is speaking to one of his church plants, devoted Christian brothers and sisters who were beginning to suffer persecution for their faith. They have no further need of teaching about the end times because Paul has taught them previously on the subject. He had shown them the things that Jesus had said, as in Mat. 24:43/Luke 12:39, about staying awake so that the thief, Satan can't break in. He taught them from Zephaniah 1 & Psalm 90 about the coming day and the wrath of God upon the wicked.

They know that the complacent inattention of the society around them is a mirage. While people are saying, "There is peace and security", then sudden destruction will come upon them as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. Paul affirms that they indeed know better. They should not be surprised by this, by anything, in fact. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. He could, just as easily, be speaking to us. We, like the Thessalonians, certainly know better. But we do, as they did, need to pay attention.

Look at 5-7, For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. This is not an admonition to stay up all night! This, like the admonishing prophesy in Zephaniah, is about paying attention!

They had given their lives to Jesus, so are designated & affirmed as children of the light of Christ, as opposed to children of the darkness of Satan. Paul repeats the light and darkness metaphor just to ensure that they understand to whom they belong, then calls upon them not to get lulled into complacency. The word interpreted here as sober, comes from the Greek work "nephos" which has many meanings depending upon the context in which it is used. It also means temperate, modest, not extravagant... sane, rational, quiet & peaceable, unaddicted and of serious mind and purpose. All of which add up to an admonition for Christians to be attentive, wise and watchful. The Apostle Peter even says succinctly, 1 Peter 5:8, Be sober-minded; be watchful. (Why?) Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Or as the Psalmist also admonishes us from this morning's reading, Psalm 90:12, So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. This is a plea for help by a person who knows his/her limitations and seeks God's wisdom to overcome them.

Back to 1 Thess.5 and look at verse 8, But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. And again, we are looking at what it takes to be ready for the "Day of the Lord". Paul again uses the word sober, which could indeed be referencing the over-consumption of wine and strong drink. However, in this context it may also be a call for purposeful and attentive focus to three things. Faith, love and Hope.

What else can we note from this verse? Paul employs a Metaphor that initially comes from Isaiah 59:17a, which says, He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; which he had also used in his previous letter to the Ephesian church, (13-17) Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Then in verse 18 he says, To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. Literally, be attentive & observant...stay awake and pray.

The first three of today's assigned readings all speak about what is coming and the attitude that each believer should have as we wait, for the Day of the Lord. In the gospel, Jesus takes this preparation or readiness one step further. However, we need to back up a couple of verses to see what question Jesus might be answering in this parable.

Just before that last Passover, Jesus had been leaving the temple and headed up to the Mount of Olive, presumably to pray. The disciples had commented on the magnificence of the temple buildings. Jesus's response was, (24:2) "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down."The disciples then asked Jesus about when it would happen and what would be the sign? When they asked this question previously, he told them it wasn't their place to know. However, this day, Jesus speaks about the signs that will allow them to know it is near and what will happen to believers in the midst of it. Each of the parables that follow are told to help them both understand the gravity of those days and what they must to be prepared for them.

In today's gospel, the Bridegroom represents Jesus, and the Virgins, represent the church that has been made holy through his sacrifice... some of whom were ready when he returned...and others who were not. Some of whom were just playing at church and others who were serious about their faith. To those who had not really committed their lives, Jesus says, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'And to his disciples he says13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

You can almost hear the wheels turning with the disciples. So, they say, "OK...we understand that we need to be ready. How do we do that?" This morning's Gospel parable is Jesus' answer to that question. As each of us comes to faith and gives our lives to him, we are gifted through the power of the Holy Spirit, with "talents", some in the non-biblical sense of the word. We are literally given abilities, situations, opportunities, strength...power, both spiritual and physical, and yes, wealth or "talents" as well, so that we can prepare ourselves, our families and the community around us for the Day of the Lord.

In this morning's parable, two of the servants, according to the gifting, situation and abilities they had been given, in his understanding of his love for them and according to their recognition of who is really in charge, have taken the master's wealth and invested themselves in it to increase it. The third, who because he was only marginally committed to his master and who did not truly understand his relationship to him, acted out of fear and suspicion.

The Expositors Commentary, speaking on verses 24 & 25 says, "The third servant accuses his master of grasping, exploiting the labour of others, and putting the servant in an impossible position." What this servant overlooks, is his responsibility to his master and his obligation to discharge his assigned duties. Such failure betrays his lack of love for his master, which he masks by blaming his master and excusing himself." It actually sounds to me exactly how many defiant unbelievers behave when Jesus is even mentioned or there is any talk of the Christian faith.

So, what have we learned this morning? First, although there are many who would like to nail down the date and the time of the second coming, the Day of the Lord, it will come when least expected. In fact, it may well be near, be soon and we should believe and behave accordingly. Secondly, the earth, as we know it will be consumed. This age will come to an end for all and a new age will be ushered in. Things will change, one way or another, for everyone! Thirdly, we are called to not fill our lives with the cacophony of the worldly, but instead focus and attend to holy things.

Fourth, it won't just be blatant violence and evil subject to judgement. Complacency towards & dismissiveness of the things of God, which reveal an actual lack of faith, will receive the same punishment. Fifthly, Paul not only calls us to the same attentiveness found in the Zephaniah reading, to intentional vigilance, he also exhorts us to prayer, perseverant supplication for the saints. Prayer is a demonstration of our vigilance and attentiveness.

Finally, Jesus reveals that mark of a true servant is a willingness, a yearning, to employ the spiritual gifts & skills that we have been given by our salvation and through our sanctification, to bring glory to God and participate in the ushering in of the new kingdom. That is, to bring hungry souls to the throne of heaven grace. These beliefs, understandings, attentions and actions will garner for us a , "Well done, good and faithful servant" and the crown of glory!

My hope and prayer today is that each of us will be able to say along with the Apostle, Paul as he speaks to Timothy, 2Tim.4:7-8, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Please pray with me...

O Lord our heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served, but to serve: We ask you to bless all who, following in his steps, give ourselves to the service of others and the glory of your kingdom. Endue us, we pray with wisdom, patience, alertness and courage, that we may strengthen the weak and raise up those who fall. Being inspired by your love, may we worthily minister to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy and so bring them to also kneel before you. We pray these things for hope of glory and the sake of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

If You Love Me

November 08, 2020

This morning I would like to speak to you about sacrifice. Contained in the gospel is familiar material that we all have heard about before. However, it is so important that it bears revisiting. It deals with one of those issues that that many of us would probably like to skim over, to skip, so that we don't have to deal with the nasty bits. We just love the good stuff in verses 1-17. However, many of us are quite unprepared for what follows in 15:18 through 16:4. In the first part of chapter 15, the word most on Jesus lips is love. In fact, the first part of this chapter is a promise that if we remain in Jesus, and are obedient to his call on our lives, then we will bear fruit and be in receipt of abundant blessing. We remain in his love, Jesus tells us, through obedience to his will.

Also, we are promised that if we love each other as he has loved us, we love each other sacrificially, even unto death, then the Father will acknowledge our needs.... and as verse 16 says, give us whatever we ask in Jesus name. Because we love him and are loved, we will be able to pray in Jesus will, that is....we will be given the knowledge and authority to pray in Jesus name...and our prayers will be answered by the Father.

Now, I would like to contend that what follows in this morning's gospel reading is a logical consequence of that loving & sacrificial obedience. I would also like to suggest to you that if you are not, as Christians in this society, experiencing opposition and/or persecution because of your faith then one of two things is probably happening. Either you are so completely surrounded and encapsulated by the Christian community that you have little contact with the outside world and, therefore, no possibility of persecution...or you have "sold the farm", as it were, and are so in tune and influenced by the secular society in which we live as to be indistinguishable from it. Both of these are the direct result of, not obedience, but disobedience to the revealed will and purposes of God.

Let me explain. Just before he was taken up to heaven, Jesus last words to his disciples and the crowd around them were these. Matthew 28:18-20a, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Therefore, it seems to me, that the prime purpose of the Christian community is to go and make disciples. Go and make are both action verbs, not conditions or state of being. That commission appears in all four gospels, including the call from John 15 to bear reproduce. It is an imperative, not an alternative, not an option.

I believe that, we have, as a consequence of our relationship with Jesus and as a requirement of our remaining in him, have been given a divine appointment to bear go and make disciples. There is nowhere that I can find in the Bible where Christians are instructed just to belong to the body, just to be live a "good Christian life" separate from the call to evangelism. In Matthew 7:17, Jesus said, "So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit." And... in 17:19, he said, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." We are all going to bear fruit of some kind, either good or bad. But we all will bear fruit.

In our gospel reading this morning John.15:1-2, Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." So, from what we have been reading in the Gospel, there is no possibility of just belonging, for just being a Christian. It is the responsibility of every committed Christian believer to be obedient to this call. To abide in Jesus, to be one with Jesus, is to be a maker of disciples. Bearing fruit is an intentional activity of a righteous believer. Jesus said in verse 16 that he has chosen us, and he has appointed us. And I would contend that bearing fruit and making disciples are one and the same thing.

Just a moment's aside. As I said a minute ago, I also contend that we will bear fruit of one kind or another. Either it will be righteous fruit born of our spiritual union with Christ Jesus and acceptable to our Father, or it will be the fruit of unrighteousness and disobedience. There is no grey area in between. When we are so completely indistinguishable from the society in which we live, what kind of fruit do we bear? Do your neighbours know you are a Christian? Do people know what answer you will give to ethical questions before they ask?

Being a witness to Jesus is about having integrity in all things, in all areas of our lives. It means being willing, when we fall, to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. It means being not only transparent, but radiant witnesses in our community. It means putting our lamp on the hill for all to see...not just parading with it around the church, at high feasts and festival days.

Jesus says that when we are obedient to this call, just as he was obedient to the Father's call, to a sacrificial love, we will be hated and despised just as he was. Therefore, it seems to me, that persecution and opposition are an indication of obedient faith. Why? Why is that necessary? It is because we have been chosen, as I said a couple of minutes ago, to be different. We have been chosen by Jesus to be different. The fallen world wants conformity. Conformity is comfortable. Conformity allows people to be invisible, to hide in the crowd. Conformity allows for sin to be shrouded and concealed.

When we are publicly different, others are seen over and against our differences. When righteousness and sin are in close proximity to each other, the sin is revealed for what it truly is. It can't hide comfortably, as it would in a like-minded group. And God desires for that to happen. He needs it to be revealed, so that the sin will be confessed, and the person can find redemption... Including us when we fall.

But when we deliberately blend in with society, that responsibility is abrogated. So, when you are a faithful witness, people will try very, very hard to compromise you as a Christian, to make you blend in, just so that they can remain invisible along-side you. If they can't do that, they will try to drive you out or find a way to discredit you.

Jesus warned us that this would be so. As his servants we are not greater than him. We cannot expect to take all the blessings of life of faith but avoid all of the pain of self-sacrifice that comes along with it. We have to take up our crosses and follow him. When we do that, he tells us that what happened to him will happen to us. John 15:21, But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. The unrighteous crucified him because of his righteousness and they are still crucifying him each day through those of us who dare to be called by his name...and who dare to live by his commands.

You see, we don't live in an unknowing world. We don't live in an ignorant world...we live in a disobedient world. The gospel of truth is available to anyone who wants it, who seeks it. There are very few adults in this society who have not been exposed to the truth. Many people, not all, but many... even the ones who might be described as "good" have made a conscious decision to live separately from the faith. Our very presence as faithful people is offensive to them. The name of Jesus is offensive to them. I have, like many of you, family members for whom that name of Jesus is offensive.

That is why such concerted efforts have been made to purge the school system of anything that even mentions Jesus name. My son Matthew once owned a shirt with two pierced and bleeding hands on the back. Some of the young people in the school were offended by it because it so graphically displayed what Jesus suffered for them....and they didn't want to know, because just to acknowledge it, means they might have to deal with it. So, the told him he shouldn't wear it to school.

Many Christians have allowed themselves to be sucked in by the live and let live philosophy of our contemporary much so that we are timid about sharing our faith, about making disciples. But we are not doing anyone any favours. True, it is easier for us, because we don't have to bear the pain of persecution. But think about this for a moment. In buying into that philosophy and participating in that process rather than the one that Jesus has called us too, we may actually be condemning people to death. There are hurting, suffering, dying people in our communities who need to hear that Jesus loves them, that Jesus forgives them. And you might be the only person who has the window opportunity and the access to witness to them. Don't let fear stop you. Accept the persecution, rejoice in it, welcome it because it means you are being faithful and obedient.

Finally, when we are obedient in this way, we will not be ultimately harmed. God's promises to us were affirmed in all four scripture readings this morning. In Joshua 24:16-18, we heard of God's protection, His provision, empowerment and miraculous blessing poured out upon his people as he brought them out of Egypt and into the promise land!

In the Psalm, we are told that, He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from (how much evil?) all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in (for how long?) from this time forth and forevermore. This is the word of the Lord! Thanks be to God! If we are obedient, we will not be harmed! Amen.

In the Revelation reading we hear this, (and I quoted this last week Rev.7:13-14 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. What happens in the great tribulation? Persecution and destruction of the church on a scale that we can only just begin to imagine! But...oh man! What is the result? They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Jesus not only redeems us, but protects us. And....they find themselves before the throne of God, a place where ... look at this. We heard it a minute ago, 16-17, They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

One more... from today's gospel. Jesus promises us if we abide in him...and abiding means also accepting his command to become bearers of gospel fruit, we will become happy, beyond our ability to conceive. John 15:11, These things I have spoken to you,(why?) that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be (a little bit?) full. The Greek word translated here as "full" means abounding in, totally occupied by, complete, no room for anymore, wholly satisfied! That is the result of our obedience and willingness to sacrifice ourselves, our reputation, our standing and status in the community... and perhaps even our lives on his behalf.

This week we are also called to remember & give thanks for the lives of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to counter the evil that has roamed in this broken world. Not all, but many of these service men and women would have been committed believers, who sacrificed their lives knowing that the God they believed in is completely faithful...God who keeps his word, God who will wipe away every tear from their eyes and give them a place before the throne of grace. The question is: Are you willing to make that kind of sacrifice yourselves?

Please pray with me...

Almighty God our Saviour, you desire that none should perish, and you have taught us through your Son that there is great joy in heaven over every sinner who repents:

Grant that our hearts may so ache for a lost and broken world, that we will be given a holy courage to stand in the midst of persecution.

May your Holy Spirit work through our words, deeds, and prayers, that the lost may be found and the dead made alive, and that all your redeemed may rejoice around your throne. We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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