Being filled with the Spirit of God’s Love.

“. . . that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19, ESV)

In Ephesians 2 Paul had revealed to his audience that Christ has made all men one by His sacrifice. Thus, all those who are in Him are members of His church, His Kingdom. In the light of this revelation, Paul goes on to pray for them. He wants them as members of this heavenly kingdom to act in its interests, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and experience unity with Christ. He wants them to experience the full love of Christ, to be rooted and grounded in it. In this way all they do will come forth from an undergirding of love.

I have spent some years in the Charismatic and evangelical branches of the church. There was much emphasis on being filled with the Spirit in the former and being grounded in the truth of God’s word in the latter. While obviously we believers need both the Spirit and the Word, there was disagreement as to how these were achieved and for what purpose. In these words from Paul, he indicates that the fullness of Christ and the Spirit are based in love. This love is not the emotional, romantic or physical feelings so emphasized in our culture. The love which Paul speaks about is the love of Christ who sacrificed Himself for all mankind to atone for our sins, to reconcile us to God. If we want to be filled with the Spirit, if we want to know and proclaim the truth of God’s Word, we do not need to do anything esoteric or speak in tongues or dance around like whirling dervishes. If we want be filled with the Spirit we must act with words and deeds of love. We must love not only our brethren in the Lord, but also those outside the Church with deeds that spring forth from the love and compassion He imparts to us. When we act in love we are filled by the loving presence of God who is acting in and through us.   

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The Awesome Love of Jesus.

“And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” (Mark 6:56, ESV)

In our reading from Mark’s gospel, we see that the disciples were fighting heavy winds as they struggled to cross the Sea of Galilee. In the midst of this struggle they spotted Jesus walking on the water, quite calmly and with no trouble despite the winds. This is probably why they thought He was a ghost or spirit though such an admission reflects a superstition that is not supported by the Scripture. Such a belief indicates the naiveté of the disciples at this point even despite all that Jesus had done and taught up until this time to show that He was not only the promised Messiah, but God Himself. In any case, they were relieved that it was Jesus and that He calmed the wind and waves, but at the same time they were greatly disconcerted and troubled as to who He was.
This awesome picture of Christ as Almighty God frightened the disciples who were confused about the nature of Jesus. It scares many people, and if we are honest it scares us when we think about how sinful we are and yet are in the presence of such a Person. What does He think of us? What will He do to us? And yet, we see in our reading that He is a God of love and compassion. He healed the sick merely by allowing them to touch the hem of his garment. There is great and awesome power that should make us tremble, but there too is great and awesome love that should send us to our knees to ask for mercy and then rise up knowing that we have it because the Lord always keeps His covenant. He loves us even though we stray and delights to grant us mercy in spite of our failure and sin.

The Strength to Endure.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV)

As we have noted in some of our past reading in Mark’s gospel, the Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be like Moses. Like Moses, the Messiah would lead the Jews out of slavery. He would also have power over natural forces just as Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea so the people could pass through and escape the forces of Egypt. But Jesus is Lord of the sea. He did not need to part it. Jesus walked on the surface of the water. He showed the apostles, as He shows us, that He is no mere man like Moses. He is greater than Moses. And He shows us He is no mere man, no mere political or military leader. He is the Creator and sustainer of all life. He is the Sovereign God who rules the universe.

Most of us would rejoice greatly if the Lord worked a miracle in our lives, healed us or a loved one of a deadly illness. We would rejoice too if He suddenly changed the hearts of all our countryman and political leaders or humbled all the terrorists and dictators in the world so that they would throw down their arms, repent of sin and turn to Christ. Perhaps we would like this because we think the Christian life should be smooth sailing. Many Christians feel that we should never have to suffer persecution, that when we preach the gospel everyone will accept it and everyone will love us. 

Perhaps for that reason, many in the contemporary church have softened the gospel so as to attract non-believers. They tell others to come to Jesus and experience self-esteem, self-fulfillment, health, riches, fame and a life of ease. Yet Paul was only too happy to suffer for the cause of the Gospel as well as for the freedom of the Gentiles believers. He did not want anyone to come under the slavery of the Law. He therefore refused to change the gospel to appease his opponents or to make things easier for himself. The culture had to change to submit to the gospel of God’s kingdom, not the other way around. This Paul noted, God is doing through His Church a fellowship of redeemed men and women that seeks to proclaim the truth in love so that others may experience God’s love and mercy and thereby enter into His Kingdom.  

God’s Rainbow.

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.'” (Genesis 9:12-13, ESV)

In this week’s reading from Genesis we find God’s covenant to Noah and his family following the great flood which wiped out all life on earth except for the eight men and women and all the animals on the Ark. We do not know how Noah and family felt about what had happened although they must have had a greater appreciation for the serious nature of sin. They knew how much the Lord hated sin and had experienced the awesome power of His judgement that went to such great lengths to eradicate it, something we in the modern world should take note of. He is indeed serious about the evil nature of sin. We should be also.

But in addition to God’s judgement, we also see His mercy and grace. Once the flood has receded, life had to begin anew. God knew that mankind would be wondering if He would ever do this again. If so, how could they live without great fear, how could they go on or why? Therefore the Lord made a covenant. He pledged to Noah and to all mankind and all other living creatures that He would never again destroy the world by flood. His pledge is the rainbow that we see after a rain shower. Now, every time we see a rainbow, we should rejoice as we remember God’s trustworthiness and love. The rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness to His covenant. It reminds us that He always keeps His promises even when we do not. Therefore we can trust Him to truly forgive our sins and carry us through all the storms of our own lives.

Peace With God.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,. . . ” (Ephesians 2:14-15, ESV)

In Ephesians, Paul addressed a group composed of Gentile believers. He reminded them that at one time, they were all excluded from God’s Kingdom. They had no hope of eternal life, no hope of reconciliation with the Father, of being included in God’s Kingdom. This separation is represented by the wall in the Temple that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the main Temple area. This wall kept Gentiles out of the inner courts especially the Holy of Holies where God dwelt. This wall barred them from full participation in the blessings of God’s covenant.

But the wall also represented those external characteristics that separated the Jews from everyone else; those things that they felt showed that they were superior to all other human beings: their ceremonial law, the rules and regulations for sacrifices, feasts, circumcision, diet, and ritual cleanness and uncleanness in personal and social life. These regulations reminded the Jews of their favored status as God’s chosen people, that they were set them apart from the rest of humanity and unto God. And so, the Jews alone were the only ones who had access to the promises of God, the sole beneficiaries of His covenant. 

But then Jesus came. Jesus gives us peace with God but He Himself is that peace. If we are in Him, we are united with God regardless of our national, ethnic, racial or even religious roots and origin. If we are now in Christ, we have this peace with God. Those who are not in Christ, have never submitted themselves to Jesus, they do not have such peace. This is because only Jesus broke down the wall of hostility and separation with the sacrifice of His life and blood, thereby reconciling us to God Almighty.

Unity in Christ

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,” (Ephesians 2:14-15, ESV)

The wall of separation that Paul speaks of refers not just to the Mosaic ceremonial law, but also to God’s moral law. This law separates everyone from God, even Israel. To have fellowship with God, to be in His presence, one must be holy, perfect, free from sin. Of course, when the Jews sinned, they could offer sacrifices to God to make themselves right with Him. The Gentiles, on the other hand, excluded from the Temple, had no access to sacrifice, no way to atone for sin. So they could never approach God. 

The ceremonial laws and the moral laws were designed to make Israel holy, separated from evil and unto God so they could worship Him as He requires. But Israel was also separated as holy to do good works. When the Lord first called Abraham back in Genesis 12, He told him that the nation which would come from his offspring would be a light and a blessing to all people. All nations, all families of earth were to be blessed through Abraham’s descendants.

But Israel neglected her responsibility. She became proud, unrighteous, faithless and selfish. At the time of Jesus, the law promoted racial elitism. The leaders of Israel used it to foster a sense of national and religious superiority, for though they were under the rule of Gentile Roman conquerors, they were still God’s chosen. The unclean Gentiles were still barred from the kingdom of God, denied full citizenship in Israel and excluded from participation in her covenants and blessings. Thus the law created only animosity, not peace.

Jesus broke down the wall of the law. When He died on the cross, His blood did not just cover over sin. His blood paid the full penalty for the sin of all mankind. His blood redeemed us from the condemnation of the law so now we stand justified and righteous before God. The law cannot condemn those who are in Christ, those covered by His blood. To be in Christ means to have repented of sin, that is to say, those in Christ have acknowledged their sinfulness to God. They have admitted that they are powerless over sin and have surrendered control of their lives to Christ. Those in Christ, though not perfect or sin-free no longer live with sin or self as their main focus in life. Now they live to give glory to God.

The Bread of Life, Part II

“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34 ESV)
Some years ago I was walking to work in a terrible deluge of rain and wind. My umbrella was no help and I was quickly soaked. To top it off, I had to follow a sanitation truck up the street. I pitied those poor sanitation men, not just for the rain but for the fetid odor that came from that truck. The stink combined with rain made me feel like I was being assaulted and beat up. So I told the Lord so. He responded. “That that’s what happens to my people during the week, they get beat up and assaulted by the world, other people, governmental authorities, the media, the devil and by the daily hardship of life.”

In this week’s gospel reading from Mark we see Jesus dispensing bread to a crowd of people, people who were needy, people who were assaulted by the hardship of life in their day from their brutal Roman rulers as well as their oppressive religious authorities.

In this miracle Jesus reveals that He is the bread of life. He shows us that He provides for all our physical needs. He is almighty God. He is able to transcend the laws of the world He created. He is able to do the impossible and create bread and fish in abundance out of practically nothing. By this miracle He shows us He is the source of spiritual life and truth. He dispenses grace the same way He dispensed that bread, abundantly, without us asking, and more than enough for everyone.

Our calling as Christians is to dispense the bread of life, Jesus, the gospel of God’s grace. This does not mean we ignore sin, but Jesus wants people to know that He loves them. He died for them. He is not out to get them and toss them into hell. He wants to take them into heaven. And only He is the way to eternal life.