WHY CELEBRATE THE SAINTS?

By Rev. Canon Robert Wills

 

The Calendar of “saint days” is a traditional Christian method of organizing the liturgical year by associating each day with one or more saints, and referring to the day as that saint's feast day. The system arose from the very early Christian custom of annual commemoration of martyrs on the dates of their deaths, or birth into heaven (and thus referred to in Latin as dies natalis, "day of birth"). As the number of recognized saints increased during Late Antiquity and roughly the first half of the Middle Ages, eventually every day of the year had at least one saint who was commemorated on that date. Eventually, some saints were moved to another day in some traditions, or completely removed; thus, some saints do have more than one day.

Around a fourth of the CEC calendar celebrates “Saint Feast Days”, that are largely ignored by many of our parishioners and even by our clergy. As someone interested in theology and history, I personally believe that we have much to learn from the “saints” of the Church and that our churches can benefit from a greater recognition of the lives of the saints, their contributions to our worship, and the examples that they set for us. But the average church member may still wonder why, in the midst of the business and tribulations of life, we should be interested in celebrating dead saints. For those of us who were formerly Protestants, observing saint days may seem unneccessary, or even inconsistant with what we had been taught in our Protestant churches. The following question then often arises. Of what value, to our society and to our churches, is the calendar of saint days? To answer this question, we must first look at why we even have saint days in our calendar.

Saint” is a term applied to (1) a person eminent for piety and virtue; (2) a consecrated or sanctified person or (3) those who are in fellowship with God and with His Holy Catholic Church. Saints are persons distinct because of their relationship to God. In the Old Testament, two different Hebrew terms are commonly rendered by this English expression. One, derived from the word meaning ‘covenant faithfulness,’ suggests that those who are so designated are bound closely to their God in love.

 

Psalm 31:23 Oh; love the Lord, all you His saints! For the Lord preserves the faithful, And fully repays the proud person.
Psalm 148:14 And He has exalted the horn of His people, The praise of all His saints— Of the children of Israel, A people near to Him. Praise the Lord!

 

The other, derived from the word for ‘holy,’ identifies those so described as set apart and dedicated to the service of God (e.g., Dan. 7:27). In both cases, the faithful of Israel are in view, and their ‘sainthood’ consists in the relationship they bear to the God who has destined them for righteousness and salvation.

 

Daniel 7:27 Then the kingdom and dominion, And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’
Psalm 16:3 As for the saints who are on the earth, “They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”
Psalm 132:9 Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, And let Your saints shout for joy.
Psalm 132:16 I will also clothe her priests with salvation, And her saints shall shout aloud for joy.

 

The same associations are present in the New Testament, where ‘saints’ always translates the Greek term for ‘[the] holy ones’ and where it refers to Christians in distinction from nonbelievers (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:2). Thus, in Rom. 1:6-7, the phrases ‘called to belong to Jesus Christ,’ ‘God’s beloved,’ and ‘called to be saints’ are virtually synonymous.

 

Romans 1:6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
Romans 1:7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

In Acts and the Pauline Letters, the term most often refers to Christians resident in particular places, such as Jerusalem (e.g., Acts 9:13; Rom. 15:25, 26, 31), Lydda (Acts 9:32), and Corinth (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:2). In 1 Thessalonians 3:13 the word is also used of those who are purified and sanctified by the Holy Spirit; and as this is assumed of all who profess the name of Christ, are called saints (Acts 9:13, 14, 32, 41; 26:10; Romans 1:7; 8:27). Occasionally, however, Paul gives it a broader reference (e.g., Rom. 16:2), the normal usage of later writers (e.g., Heb. 6:10; Jude 3). In Revelation, it is a frequent term for the Christian martyrs.

 

1 Thessalonians 3:13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.

Romans 16:2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.

Hebrews 6:10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
Jude 3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

 

Historically, there are two categories of saints: martyrs and confessors. Martyrs are regarded as dying in the service of the Lord, and confessors are people who died natural deaths. Confessors were not initially considered for saint's days. The term confessor is now less common and those who are not martyrs are usually now referred to as a Virgin, Pastor, Bishop, Monk, Priest, Founder, Abbot, Apostle, Doctor of the Church or a combination of these.

Because the early Christians were then especially dedicated to God’s service, in separation from the Jews and pagans, as the Jews had been before the “holy people” separated from the Gentiles. During the era of persecution, the martyrs were considered as dignified saints in the same rank as the apostles — i.e. saints by profession and office, as distinguished from the saints, or holy and pious by character and conduct, such as have been eminent for religion and virtue, but not canonized. After some time canonization was extended also to confessors — that is, persons who during the persecutions against the Christians had made a resolute avowal and defense of their faith, and had suffered torture, banishment, or confiscation in consequence, but not actual martyrdom. For some centuries there was no regular canonization in the Christian Church. By a tacit consent of the clergy the names of martyrs, etc., were inserted as saints in a kind of ecclesiastical register. It was not till about the 9th century that solemn and formal canonization, with its particular procedures and various ceremonies, began to be regularly practiced. Protestants, in applying this term to the sacred writers, are very inconsistent; for though they say St. John, St. Peter, St. David, they never use St. Isaiah, St. Habakkuk, etc. The practice has even extended to naming churches after certain saints.

In the Apostles Creed, we confess that we believe in the communion of saints. The Latin phrase, communio sanctorum, can be translated either as “the communion of saints” or as “communion in holy things.” Thus for those of us who believe in the Creeds of the Church, one reason for observing saint days is that they are supported by the ancient creeds of Christianity.

The Greek word koin?nia, translatable as “communion” or “fellowship,” designates a common sharing or participation in something. It describes the fellowship of true believers with their Lord and with one another. Communion arises out of new birth (Jn 3:1–12), and is therefore restricted to those who are “in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17). Their common spiritual paternity makes them one common brotherhood (Heb 2:11–13).

 

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 3:4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
John 3:6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Hebrews 2:11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,
Hebrews 2:12 saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”
Hebrews 2:13 And again: “I will put My trust in Him.” And again: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.”

 

From these scriptures we can see that there is a spiritual unity that binds believers to Jesus Christ and to each other. This unity transcends natural bounds (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11), although it does not thereby abolish providential differences between believers (I Cor 7:20–24; Eph 6:5–9).

Historically, it was not until the end of the fifth century that communio sanctorum (“Communion of Saints”) became part of a Christian creed. This insertion apparently begins in the West, particularly in southern Gaul. Faustus of Riez (d. 490) and Caesarius of Arles (d. 542), both of southern Gaul, clearly attest to it as part of the creed in their area. In the seventh century it is found in Ireland; the Gallican Sacramentary of the same century evidences it, and traces of it are found in England in the ninth century. Nicholas I (856–867), it seems, brought about the adoption of communio sanctorum in Rome. Nonetheless, even in the twelfth century some creeds in Italy do not have communio sanctorum as an article. Eastern creeds do not contain communio sanctorum, so that one must conclude that it is clearly a western addition to the creed.

In spite of the absence of this phrase in Eastern Christian Creeds, Orthodoxy has always believed in a “communion of saints”. The Orthodox tradition teaches that the Church transcends death, because Christians have eternal life in Christ. Therefore, when worship takes place, it includes those on earth and those in heaven with Christ. They see the communion of saints as being made up of everyone who has been a part of Christ’s Holy Church. Through the grace of God, ministered through the sacraments, and through personal faith in Jesus Christ, Christians are to be a holy people, set apart unto God. As such, all Christians could rightly be called saints. When worship occurs, it involves those who continually worship in heaven and those who enter into worship on the earth. We call this joint group of worshippers the communion of saints.

One aspect of the communion of saints is our faithfulness to God. This is measured by one’s fellowship with the rest of the Church. The basic meaning conveyed by the Greek term koinonia, is that of participation. Both fellowship and communion, as translations of this term, are to be understood in this light. As we participate in fellowship and communion, we are participating in the koinonia with the saints of previous generations.

Therefore, the second reason that we celebrate saint days is that we should begin to see ourselves in unity with the whole Church (past and present). To be in unity with the Church is to be in unity with God, who rules the Church. To have fellowship or communion with other believers in our churches and in the larger Church, we usually look for things that we share in common (such as: our hopes, fears, aspirations, common experiences, visions for the church, and especially our faith. A common faith, a common liturgy of worship, and a common sense of the Will of God for our lives also come into play as we establish fellowship with other believers. Such things promote unity. If we are to have fellowship or communion with saints of the past, and if we are to be in a spirit of unity with those who have served God before us, we must know something about them, their lives, their aspirations, their spirituality, and the commonality of faith that they share with us. Celebrating the saint days in our calendar help us, who live in the Church of the present, to know and experience significant participants in the Church of the past.

A third reason to celebrate the saints is that a familiarity with the lives of the saints will teach us, by their example, how to be faithful to God. This faithfulness is a part of the Communion of Saints in which we claim to believe. By faithful participation in the life of the Church, including celebrating the Christian year, the true believer has fellowship in (i.e., participates in the implications of) the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:13); the sufferings of the apostles (2 Cor. 1:7); and the sufferings of other people in the Body of Christ (Heb. 10:33). We see these qualities exemplified in the lives of the saints throughout the Christian Year. From them we learn the importance of faithfulness, including the importance of identifying with other believers of both the past and present.

Many children growing up in the 21st century live in single parent households with less understanding of fatherhood than previous generations. That, coupled with the failure of our secular-progressive society to promote Christian values, has resulted in a lack of godly values and behaviors in a modern society where church attendance is on the decline. When this trend is coupled with the lack of godly role models, we see rampant immorality, self-centeredness, and addictive behaviors in people’s increasingly dysfunctional lives. A fourth reason for remembering the saints of the Church is that these holy men and women exhibit and exemplify the godly attitudes, values, morals, and behaviors that are lacking in our society.

Celebrating the saints can help us to develop these attitudes and values:

-A love of nature and a passion for solitude in remote places
-A love and respect for liturgy, worship of God, art and poetry.
-A love and respect for the great stories and "higher learning".
-A sense of God and the saints as a continuing, personal, helpful presence.
-An appreciation of theological orthodoxy, with heavy emphasis on the

Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, and Liturgy.
-A Christian lifestyle characterized by a love for penitential acts, vigils,

pilgrimages, and sacred locations.
-Belief that there are no boundaries between the sacred and the secular
-A unique Church structure to life where the focus of life is on what God

is doing in the earth and centered around the activities of the Church.

A fifth reason for learning about and celebrating the saints is the direction and focus in life that can come from patterning our lives after specific saints, in whom we have and interest. It is uncanny how often saints of our birthdays, ordination days, anniversaries, etc. share attributes and personality traits with us. It is also surprising at how personal saints can help us to clarify our own places and heritage in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we can even get spiritual direction and clarity of purpose from examining and celebrating the lives of the saints. Some of my own personal examples may clarify this point.

Many years ago when I was a Pentecostal Minister, it was prophesied that I would have a ministry similar to Jeremiah. Over the next several years, as I began to study the ministry and writings of Jeremiah, I found that there were some parallels in the ministry to which God called me. As I started to read the Fathers of the Church (in preparation for my Doctoral Thesis), I began teaching that the worship of Charismatic/Pentecostal Church, as we knew it, was far different than the worship of the historical Ante-Nicene Church. This teaching was rejected by the circle of Christians in which my ministry operated, just as Jeremiah’s ministry was rejected by the religious leaders of his society. This became especially true when I started to tell people about the importance of the sacraments (of which I barely had any personal understanding at the time) and government of the early church.

After being asked never to again attend a church after I told the leadership that I would not serve as an elected elder, because I felt it was unscriptural to elect church leaders, I felt like Jeremiah. I could further relate to Jeremiah, when the Seminary, with which I was the vice-president in charge of curriculum, told me not to bring up anything from church history prior to the Reformation. The President and Directors of the school thought the church went off the rails after the death of the Apostle John and didn’t come back on line until Martin Luther. My feelings, at the time, were nearly identical to Jeremiah’s that were expressed in Jeremiah 20:8-11.

 

8For when I spoke, I cried out; I shouted, "Violence and plunder!" Because the word of the LORD was made to me A reproach and a derision daily. 9Then I said, "I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name." But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.

10For I heard many mocking: " Fear on every side!" " Report," they say, "and we will report it!" All my acquaintances watched for my stumbling, saying, " Perhaps he can be induced; Then we will prevail against him, And we will take our revenge on him."

11But the LORD is with me as a mighty, awesome One. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail. They will be greatly ashamed, for they will not prosper. Their everlasting confusion will never be forgotten.

 

The writings of Jeremiah, and how he dealt with those attacking him, helped me through many years of seeking God’s will for my life and ministry. This and other experiences helped me, to understand that I could learn how to cope with the problems of life and ministry by emulating behaviors and spiritual principles revealed through the lives of Biblical and Church Saints.

Like Jeremiah, I was called before birth to be a priest in the Kingdom of God. I was ordained on the Feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria. My bishop chose this date for my ordination, but I have since found that I have a lot in common with Cyril. Like Cyril, God has called me to be a theologian and defender of the Church’s traditional theology. Cyril became embroiled in the Nestorian Controversy, and I tend to want to weigh in on controversial matters.

St. Cyril taught the personal, or hypostatic, union in the plainest terms; and when his writings are surveyed as a whole, it becomes certain that he always held the true view, that the one Christ is both fully divine and fully human. In the richness and depth of his philosophical and devotional treatment of the Incarnation we recognize the disciple of Athanasius. He argues that Christ is truly life giving in the Holy Eucharist. All of these teachings were prevalent in my own teaching over the years. I have come to admire Cyril as a man of great courage and force of character. We can often discern that his natural vehemence was repressed and he listened with humility to the severe admonitions of his advisor, St. Isidore. Thinking back upon my past spiritual development, I too had to learn to respond out of love and respect for authority, overcoming a propensity to be motivated by anger. As a theologian, Cyril is one of the great writers and thinkers of early times. Yet the troubles that arose out of the Council of Ephesus were due to his impulsive action; more patience and diplomacy might possibly even have prevented the vast Nestorian sect from arising at all. I also enjoy writing and I have learned that patience and diplomacy can prevent many problems in life and ministry. St. Cyril’s feast was a very appropriate date for my ordination into the Priesthood of the CEC. His icon hangs in the meditative corner of my home, right outside of my office. It reminds me of the qualities that I should embrace in ministry and of some of the negative things that I should seek to avoid.

Sometimes people choose a patron saint, whom they feel best emulates their aspirations, hopes, dreams, ministry and character. In this light, I have for the past dozen years been drawn to St. Columba of Iona. St. Columba was not only a great missionary saint who won a whole kingdom to Christ, but he was a statesman, a scholar, a poet, and the founder of numerous churches and monasteries. Wherever he went, he established the altar of the Eucharist. His name is dear to Scotsmen and Irishmen alike. And because of his great and noble work all Christians hold his memory in veneration. He inherited the ardent temperament and strong passions of his culture and times. It has been sometimes said that he was of an angry and vindictive spirit not only because of his part in the battle of Cooldrevny, but also because of other irritants related by Adamnan, his biographer. But the deeds that roused his indignation were wrongs done to others, and the retribution that overtook the perpetrators was rather predicted than actually invoked. Whatever faults were inherent in his nature he overcame and he stands before the world as an example of humility and charity not only towards has brethren, but towards strangers also. He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His chastity of body and purity of mind are extolled by all his biographers. Adamnan assures us he was beloved by all, "for a holy joyousness that ever beamed from his countenance revealed the gladness with which the Holy Spirit filled his soul". (Praef., II.)

I am of Scottish descent on both my mother and father’s side of the family. He was born in December, as was I. He died in June, the month in which I was ordained and died to my previous life, as I lay prostrate before my bishop. My natural temperament is similar to Columba’s, and like him, I become indignant when other people are wronged. Like him, I desire to live a life of humility and charity, while being assertive in promoting the Kingdom of God. Like Columba, I want to see the altar of the Eucharist established in every community in the state and region in which God has called me to be a priest. His fortitude and accomplishments, among hostile and pagan people, have been a great inspiration to me, as I face the challenges of ministering in an environment that is somewhat hostile to sacramental worship. That is why his icon is also on the wall in the meditative corner of my home.

Some people find that the saint of their birthday can be an inspiration to them. My wife, Sharon, for example was born on St. Ignatius’ saint day. Sharon has many of his qualities and has found him to be an inspiration for her life. For those reasons, his icon is beside that of Cyril and Columba on our wall.

Thus from the lives and struggles Jeremiah, Cyril and Columba I have found encouragement and direction for the ministry to which I have been called. Because I see that other people my also benefit from studying and learning from the saints, I have become an ardent supporter of celebrating saint days with the congregation of St. Luke Church.

This brings us to a sixth reason for celebrating the days of the saints. Saints can give us, or validate in our ministries, specific direction for our churches and congregations.

When our bishop commissioned the start of a mission church in Manchester, Georgia he chose the name of St. Luke because we were commissioned to be a place of healing, prayer, and Eucharistic Worship. We have a banner in our church that says: “Christ the healer; St. Luke the Physician”. When, after two years of meetings on Tuesday evenings, we started Sunday services in our own rented building, we kept the name. We have seen many healings, offer the Eucharist twice a week, and have seen our people become devoted to prayer. In fact, during the prayers of the people in most services, it is usual for most of the congregation to personally pray. Our services also include prayer for healing, in which many members of the congregation participate. St. Luke does, in many ways, inspire and exemplify the ministry of this church. The prominence of prayer and healing in the writings of St. Luke are numerous. That St. Luke may have been one of the first iconographers, and our church’s use of icons in worship is not coincidental. Both the Feast of St. Luke and the Baptism of Christ (the day our church was started in 2001) are important feast days to our congregation.

In 2002, a year and a half after the founding of St. Luke Mission, my wife and I took a trip to the United Kingdom. It was both a vacation and a pilgrimage. After visiting Cathedrals in Salisbury, York and Durham; and after partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey and Lindesfarne Abbey, we made our way to Iona. This is one of the birthplaces of Celtic Christianity in northern England and Scotland. While there, I spent one whole afternoon walking around the island in prayer and seeking God’s direction for our church and for the ministry to which God has called me.

I found myself beside a tidal pool and the Spirit of the Lord told me to reach down and pull out a handful of stones. I pulled out five small round stones. The Spirit of the Lord told me that the first one was for St. Columba and represented the ministry of St. Luke in establishing the altar of God and His Sacraments, in a town that had no tradition of sacramental worship. The second stone represented St. Aidan. He had a great pastoral ministry that reached out to meet the needs of the people in the community. This, God indicated, was to be something that St. Luke Church was to provide for our community. The third stone was for St. Cuthbert. He was a man of prayer. St. Luke Church was to be a place of prayer and we were called to teach other people to pray. The fourth stone was for the Venerable Bede. He was a prolific writer, teacher, historian, and expositor of scripture. St. Luke church was to produce writings and teachings based upon the scripture, for the purpose of providing instruction to our community and beyond, as have the writings of Bede. The fifth stone represented St. Peter and his confession of faith. St. Luke Church was to instill in its members the importance of confessing Christ and of confessing the creeds of the Church.

I returned to our lodgings, showing my wife the stones and telling her what God had told me. To my amazement Sharon pulled out icons of Columba, Aidan, Bede and Cuthbert. She had felt led to purchase these icons, while shopping in the gift shops on the island. This was a great confirmation that I had truly been hearing from God. Those icons, along with two that we later acquired concerning the ministry of St. Peter, now hang on the wall in our small church. The stones reside in a cabinet in our church. Every year we pay special homage to these saints’ days, which have an important significance to the ministry of St. Luke Church. Studying the lives and ministries of these saints has enhanced our congregation’s understanding and appreciation of the ministry to which we have been called in Manchester, Georgia.

At our Tuesday evening service, I usually teach the people about any saints that are celebrated during that week. I relate the lives of those saints to the scripture and to the ministry of our church. The use of icons can greatly enhance one’s experience of studying about and observing the feasts of the saints. Through studying the specific saints that God has chosen for our church, our members are reminded of the several aspects of our ministry and calling. This is an example of how a church’s direction and ministry may be influenced by the examples of specific saints. In answer to the question that I posed at the beginning of this article, there are many reasons why saint days should be observed. We have not even looked at all of the reasons for saint days being in our calendar, or at the rich liturgy associated with some of these feast days. Nor have we examined the intercessory role that many people believe the saints play in our lives. But we have examined some very valid reasons for keeping the feasts of the saints.

 

At St. Luke Church we celebrate the saints primarily because:

1. They are supported by the historic creeds of the Church.

2. They give us a sense of unity with the church of the past and present.

3. They help us to learn how to be faithful servants of God

4. They teach us Godly values, attitudes, attributes and behaviors.

5. They are role models that give us direction and focus in our lives

6. They validate our ministries and give a sense of direction for our churches.

 

The saints can become like old friends. Like looking at old photos of friends and remembering the good experiences had with those friends, looking at icons of the saints can stimulate us to remember our spiritual heritage. By remembering the saints, we are reminded of who we are in Christ and what we are called by Him to do in this world. It is my hope that this article will inspire you to begin studying and celebrating the saints. Doing so will enhance your spiritual experience throughout the Christian Year.

THE SEASON OF ADVENT

Nativity Icon

The season of Advent (from the Latin word, adventus, denoting a coming or arrival) is the season of the ecclesiastical year when the church prepares to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (Christmas) and engages in self-examination in expectation of his second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead. The collects and Scripture readings embrace these two themes. It begins in the West on the Sunday nearest to and before St. Andrew's Day (Nov. 30) and after Christ The King Sunday. Advent always includes four Sundays. If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown. In the East the period of Advent is longer, beginning earlier in November.

In the Church, each season has it's own color. Historically, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is Purple, the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. Christians believe that Jesus is the "King of kings and that at the appointed time, "every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." However, many churches, including my own church, now use blue to distinguish the Season of Advent from Lent. Royal Blue is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty. Some churches use Bright Blue to symbolize the night sky, the anticipation of the impending announcement of the King's coming, or to symbolize the waters of Genesis Chapter 1, the beginning of a new creation. Red and Green are more secular colors of Christmas, although they derive from older European practices of using evergreens and holly to symbolize ongoing life and hope that Christ's birth brings into a cold world.

The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than remembering a 2,000+-year-old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent will reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.
In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God's people. So, as the church celebrates Christ’s Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."

St. Paul says that it was through the grace of Jesus Christ, sent by God in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4-5). God's eternal design was to send His own Son into the world to redeem the human race, broken and bruised by sin. This is the masterpiece of His wisdom and love.

God willed to prepare the human race for the revelation of this mystery during some thousands of years. Why did God choose to delay the coming of His Son amongst us for so many centuries? Why such a long period? We cannot fully understand the depths of the reasons why God accomplishes His works under such or such conditions.

The revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation and the majesty of the Redeemer was given by degrees. After the first hint of promise made in Genesis 3:18, all the religion of the human race became concentrated around this "seed of the woman," Throughout the years as they pass by, and as the centuries advance, God makes His promise more precise; He repeats it with more solemnity. He assures the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that it is through them that the blessed seed shall come forth.

During Advent, we are reminded of the prophesies of God concerning the coming of the Messiah. God prophesied that one day a Virgin of the family of David would bring forth a son. King David contemplates Him "in the brightness of the saints," begotten eternally; a supreme High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedech" (Ps 59:3-4). He would be anointed to reign over us because of His " truth and meekness and justice" (Ps. 44:5). David contemplates too the pierced Hands and Feet, the garments divided among the soldiers who cast lots upon His coat (Ps 22:17-19); He beholds Him given gall and vinegar to drink (Ps 68:22). He will not be touched by the corruption of the tomb, but, victorious over death, He will sit down at the right hand of God (Ps 15:10).

This contrast is not less striking in Isaiah, so precise and full of detail is he that he might be relating accomplished facts rather than foretelling future events. "His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, God the mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6). Born of a Virgin, "His name shall be called Emmanuel" (7:14), God with us. And yet this Redeemer, is to be overwhelmed with sufferings, and humiliations. When, therefore, we read the prophecies that the Church proposes to us during Advent, let us in the fullness of our faith, say like the first disciples of Jesus: "We have found Him of Whom... the prophets did write" (Jn 1:45). During Advent we want to “find” Jesus anew in preparation for making Christ the central focus of our lives for the new year.

 

SAINT DAY OF ST. NICHOLAS—DEC. 6

St. Nicholas—Dec. 6

 

Saint Nicholas is one of the most popular figures of the Advent Season. Nicholas was the 4th century saint who inspired our modern figure of Santa Claus. He was born near Myra, a port on the Mediterranean Sea serving the busy sea-lanes that linked the seaports of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Ships sailing these waters, laden with grain and all kinds of goods, found safety in the port from raging storms and menacing pirates.

Nicholas came from one of the city's wealthy merchant families, but he was not spoiled by his family's wealth. His mother and father taught him to be generous to others, especially those in need. So Nicholas came to see that helping others makes one richer in life than anything else.

One day, by chance, Nicholas heard about a rich man in Myra who lost all his money when his business failed. The man had three lovely daughters, all wishing to get married, but he had no money for their marriage. Besides, who would marry them, he thought, since their father is such a failure? With nothing to eat, the man in desperation decided to sell one of his daughters into slavery. At least then the rest of them might survive.

That night before the first daughter was to be sold, Nicholas, with a small bag of gold in his hand, softly approached their house, and, tossing the gold through an open window, quickly vanished into the darkness. The next morning, the father found a bag of gold lying on the floor next to his bed. He had no idea where it came from. "Maybe it's counterfeit," he thought. But as he tested it, he knew it was real. He went over the list of his friends and business associates. None of them could possibly have given him this.

The poor man fell to his knees and great tears came to his eyes. He thanked God for this beautiful gift. His spirits rose higher than they had been for a long time because someone had been so unexpectedly good to him. He arranged for his first daughter's wedding and there was enough money left for the rest of them to live for almost a year. Often he wondered: who gave them the gold?

But by the end of the year, the family again had nothing, and the father, again desperate and seeing no other way open, decided his second daughter must be sold. But Nicholas, hearing about it, came by night to their window and tossed in another bag of gold as before. The next morning the father rejoiced, and, thanking God, begged His pardon for losing hope. Who, though, was the mysterious stranger giving them such a gift?

Each night afterwards the father watched by the window. As the year passed their money ran out. In the dead of one night he heard quiet steps approaching his house and suddenly a bag of gold fell onto the floor. The father quickly ran out to catch the one who threw it there. He caught up with Nicholas some distance away and recognized him, for the young man came from a well-known family in the city.

 

"Why did you give us the gold?" the father asked. "Because you needed it," Nicholas answered. "But why didn't you let us know who you were?" the man asked again. "Because it's good to give and have only God know about it."

When the bishop of Myra died, the priests and leading people of the city along with the neighboring bishops came together in their cathedral to select a new bishop. They prayed and asked God to point out who it would be. In a dream, God said to one of them that they should all pray together the next morning. Someone would come through the cathedral door as they prayed. He should be their choice.

It was Nicholas who entered the cathedral the next morning. Immediately, the people of the city named him their bishop, for they knew that God meant this unassuming person, to lead them.

As bishop of Myra, Nicholas seemed more aware than ever of people's needs. He would appear all over the city offering help to anyone in difficulty, and then quietly disappear without waiting for thanks. He shunned publicity. Still, his reputation as a holy man grew and grew, even spreading to distant cities that had never seen him.

He was especially interested that families had enough to eat and a good place to live, that children got ahead in life, and that old people lived out their lives with dignity and respect. And he always loved the sailors living so dangerously on the sea. Without their ships, people everywhere would be without food and other goods they carried for trade.

Yet it is as a lover of children that Nicholas is best remembered today. While he lived, he gave the little ones he met small gifts-- some candy, a toy. His kindness, which always managed to surprise them, touched their hearts, and they learned from this holy man what a beautiful thing giving is.

In the figure of Santa Claus, whose name and activity Nicholas inspired, we have this saint with us today.

 

THE PRESENTATION OF CHRIST IN THE TEMPLE

AND

THE HOLY FAMILY

According to Jewish tradition, a male child was named and circumcised on the 8th day of his birth. Jesus would likely have been taken to the Temple (around 6-7 miles from Bethlehem) for this important ceremony. Interestingly, the 8th day after our celebration of the Birth of Jesus is January first—the beginning of our new calendar year.

Imagine what it would have been like to be the parents of Jesus Christ. The revelation that God gave to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds soon became a public revelation that caused Herod to seek to kill the Christ child. Herod did kill all male children under two years of age. In response, God led the Holy Family to Egypt until the death of Herod. But what was Mary and Joseph’s response to the things that they were told surrounding the birth of Christ?

Luke 2:17 Now when they (The Shepherds) had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.

Luke 2:18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Luke 2:19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Mary, the ideal recipient of God’s word and the model (after Jesus) of Christian prayer (8:21; 11:27–28), reflects on God’s words and deeds in her heart.

Luke 8:20 And it was told Him by some, who said, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You."

Luke 8:21 But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it."

Luke 11:27-28 And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!" But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

In Luke 2:21–40 Jesus comes to the temple. Jesus’ parents obeyed imperial law at the time of his birth; now they are portrayed as observant Jews, fulfilling the prescriptions of the religious law concerning circumcision and the presentation of the first-born to the Lord. The scene at the temple is slightly confused because Luke has entwined two separate ceremonies.

Luke 2:21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord

The Book of Exodus required the presentation and redemption of the first-born son because the first-born sons "belong" to the Lord who saved them when the Egyptian first-born were destroyed at the Passover (Exod 13:15).

Exodus 13:15 'And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.'

Leviticus described the ceremony for the ritual purification of the mother forty days after giving birth (Lev 12:1–8). On this occasion she was to offer a lamb and a pigeon or a turtledove, but a poor couple was permitted to bring only two pigeons or doves.

Lev 12:2 "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean.

Lev 12:3 'And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

Lev 12:4 'She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.

Lev 12:6 'When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting.

Lev 12:7 'Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.

Lev 12:8 'And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons; one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'"

The emphasis in Luke 2:21-40 is less on the purification of Mary than on the presentation of Jesus in the temple, where he will receive a more official recognition as the promised Savior of Israel. The temple symbolizes for Luke the continuity between Judaism and Christianity. The first announcement of the definitive act of salvation takes place in the temple (1:11), Jesus teaches in the temple (19:47), and the disciples continue to worship in the temple well into the new age (24:53; Acts 3:1).

Simeon and Anna are faithful, humble Israelites waiting in the temple for the revelation of God’s salvation. Just and pious, they are open to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. Simeon recognizes Jesus as the Anointed of the Lord and in his Nunc Dimittis (2:29–32) further prophesies that Jesus will be a "light for revelation to the Gentiles."

Luke 2:25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Luke 2:26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

Luke 2:27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,

Luke 2:28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

Luke 2:29 "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word;

Luke 2:30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation

Luke 2:31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,

Luke 2:32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel."

In blessing the parents, Simeon warns that this child will be a sign opposed and that Mary will be pierced with a sword. With these two utterances of Simeon, we are given a foreshadowing of the universal salvation that will be proclaimed in Jesus and of the necessity of suffering in the mission of this Messiah. The shadow of the cross falls across the Holy Family.

Luke 2:33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.

Luke 2:34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against

Luke 2:35 "(yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

The later followers of Jesus are not to be surprised that suffering is encountered in their life. Even families and friendships will be broken up as "the thoughts of many hearts" are laid bare, because the peace Jesus brings will not be a counterfeit covering secret divisions.

Luke 12:51-53 "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."

In Luke 2:39–52, Jesus returns his Father’s house. The story of Jesus’ origins seems to be complete with the family’s return to their hometown after his birth and the fulfillment of the law’s prescriptions. But a unique story has been added. It serves to illustrate the wisdom and grace with which this boy is said to be endowed and makes even more evident his special mission and destiny. Like many childhood stories of famous people, this one is recalled because it shows glimmers in Jesus’ boyhood of the qualities that will emerge in a superior way in his manhood.

Luke 2:39 So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.

Luke 2:40 And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Luke 2:41 His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.

Luke 2:42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.

Luke 2:43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it;

Luke 2:44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.

Luke 2:45-46 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.

Luke 2:47-48 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously."

Luke 2:49 And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"

Luke 2:50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.

Luke 2:51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.

Luke 2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Jesus and his parents journey to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. The next time Luke portrays Jesus on his way to Jerusalem it will be for the Passover again; it will be his final trip to Jerusalem, and the Jewish feast will coincide with his own Passover. Jesus is also "lost" then for three days before he reappears as the victorious risen Lord.

At his first presentation in the Temple, Jesus was unable to speak for himself; others interpreted his identity and mission for him. Now he proclaims the meaning of his life. He states the priority of God’s claim in his mission. His life has a meaning that transcends the relationships of his human family. Thus he confirms the sword prophecy of Simeon.

THE FEAST OF EPIPHANY

 

In western Christian tradition, January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany. It goes by other names in various church traditions. Today, most of the Eastern Orthodox traditions follow the western church calendar. The exceptions are some Greek Orthodox Churches and related traditions (for example, Russian and Serbian Orthodox) that still follow the older calendar and celebrate Epiphany as the Theophany on January 19th.

Epiphany is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are usually counted from the evening of December 25th until the morning of January 6th, which is the Twelfth Day. In following this older custom of counting the days beginning at sundown, the evening of January 5th is the Twelfth Night. January 6th is the Twelfth Day, and the evening of January 5th is counted as the Twelfth Night.

In the Anglican tradition the Epiphany season begins at Evening Prayer on the Eve of the Epiphany (which may be celebrated on 6 January or the Sunday between 2 and 8 January) and ends at Evening Prayer (or Night Prayer) on the Feast of the Presentation (which may be celebrated on 2 February or on the Sunday between 28 January and 3 February).Depending on the timing of Easter, the Season of Epiphany that we celebrate includes from four to nine Sundays. Other traditions, especially the Roman Catholic tradition, observe Epiphany as a single day, with the Sundays following Epiphany counted as Ordinary Time. The term epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal."

Epiphany is a remembrance of the coming of the wise men or Magi, bringing gifts to visit the Christ child. By doing this they "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King. Epiphany is also about the Baptism of Christ (the first Sunday of Epiphany) denoting how Christ was the Bridge between Heaven and Earth in Traditional Iconography. The Angels came down to the Earthly Realm to announce the Incarnation of Christ (reddish garments = divine influence; blue background = natural realm of mankind). John the Baptizer is influenced by the heavenly realm (blue = humanity; reddish background denotes the divine). In other words, heaven and earth merge and become interchangeable through the Incarnation and Baptism of Christ. Theologically, everything is now changed. Christ is revealed to be both God and Man, and God shows or reveals his plan of Salvation from heaven to earth in the person of the Christ—the Messiah and Son of God/Son of Man.

 

 


 

The colors of Epiphany are usually the colors of Christmas, white and gold, the colors of celebration, newness, and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year. In our tradition, the colors are changed after the Day of Epiphany to the green color of Ordinary Time.

Epiphany has theological significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few.

The day is now observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by "showing" Jesus as the Savior of all people. It is also a time of focusing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children.

EPIPHANY: THE COMING OF THE MAGI

What is the scriptural basis for the “wise men” or Magi?

 

Mat 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

Mat 2:2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."

Mat 2:3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Mat 2:4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Mat 2:5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

Mat 2:6 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'"

Mat 2:7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.

Mat 2:8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also."

Mat 2:9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

Mat 2:10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

Mat 2:11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Mat 2:12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Mat 2:13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him."

Mat 2:14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,

Mat 2:15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."

Mat 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

Mat 2:17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:

Mat 2:18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."

Mat 2:19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

Mat 2:20 saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life are dead."

Mat 2:21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.

Mat 2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.

Mat 2:23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

 

Who were the wise men spoken of by Matthew?

The MAGI were Eastern wise men, priests, and astrologers expert in interpreting dreams and other "magic arts." Their interpretation a celestial phenomenon led them to Palestine to find and honor Jesus, the newborn King (Matt. 2). The term has a Persian background. The earliest Greek translation of Daniel 2:2,10 uses "magi" to translate the Hebrew term for astrologer (compare 4:7; 5:7). The magi who greeted Jesus' birth may have been from Babylon, Persia, or the Arabian desert. Matthew gives no number, names, or royal positions to the magi. Before A.D. 225 Tertullian called them kings. From the three gifts, the deducation was made that they were three in number. Shortly before A.D. 600, the apocraphal “Armenian Infancy Gospel” named them: Melkon (later Melchior), Balthasar, and Gaspar. The visit of the magi affirms international recognition by leaders of other religions of Jesus' place as the expected King.

 

What Happened to the Holy Family after the departure of the Wise Men?

 

Now when they (The Magi—Wise Men) had departed (Mat 2:13-14), behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,

Some Christian theologians believe the gifts had significance by reflecting on the character of this Child’s life. Gold might represent His deity or purity, incense the fragrance of His life, and myrrh His sacrifice and death (myrrh was used for embalming). These gifts were obviously the means by which Joseph took his family to Egypt and sustained them there until Herod died. The wise men were warned by God not to return and report to Herod, so they returned to their homes by another route.

 

In Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18)

 

After the visit of the Magi, Joseph was warned by an angel of the Lord to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. This warning was given in a dream (the second of Joseph’s four dreams: 1:20; 2:13, 19, 22). The reason was Herod would be searching for the Child to kill Him. Under cover of darkness, Joseph obeyed, and his family left Bethlehem (see map) and journeyed into Egypt. Why Egypt? The Messiah was sent to and returned from Egypt so that the prophet’s words, Out of Egypt I called My Son, might be fulfilled. This is a reference to Hosea 11:1, which does not seem to be a prophecy in the sense of a prediction. Hosea was writing of God’s calling Israel out of Egypt into the Exodus. Matthew, however, gave new understanding to these words. Matthew viewed this experience as Messiah being identified with the nation. There were similarities between the nation and the Son. Israel was God’s chosen “son” by adoption (Ex. 4:22), and Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son. In both cases the descent into Egypt was to escape danger, and the return was important to the nation’s providential history. While Hosea’s statement was a historical reference to Israel’s deliverance, Matthew related it more fully to the call of the Son, the Messiah, from Egypt. In that sense, as Matthew “heightened” Hosea’s words to a more significant event—the Messiah’s return from Egypt—they were “fulfilled.”

As soon as Herod learned that the Magi had not complied with his orders to give him the exact location of the newborn King, he put into action a plan to kill all the male children in Bethlehem. The age of two . . . and under was selected in compliance with the time . . . the Magi saw “the star” in the East. Perhaps this time reference also indicated that when the Magi visited Jesus, He was under two years of age.

Herod’s infamous crimes were many. He put to death several of his own children and some of his wives whom he thought were plotting against him. Emperor Augustus reportedly said it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son, for his sow had a better chance of surviving in a Jewish community.

This event too was said to be the fulfillment of a prophecy by Jeremiah. This statement (Jer. 31:15) referred initially to the weeping of the nation as a result of the death of children at the time of the Babylonian Captivity (586 b.c.). But the parallel to the situation at this time was obvious, for again children were being slaughtered at the hands of non-Jews. Also, Rachel’s tomb was near Bethlehem and Rachel was considered by many to be the mother of the nation. That is why she was seen weeping over these children’s deaths.

There were substantial Jewish communities in Egypt. In them the Holy Family would be safe. Also, God wanted to reveal the Messiah to some of these expatriate Jewish communities. During the Babylonian Captivity the few scattered people who remain in the country flee to Egypt. The prophet Jeremiah, who had witnessed all the tragedies and prophesied for more than fifty years, is forcibly taken along to Egypt (cf. Jer. 41–43).

 

Mat 2:14-15 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."

 

Hosea 10:15 Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, Because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel (Jesus Christ) Shall be cut off utterly.

Hosea 11:1 "When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.

 

Isa 19:1 The burden against Egypt. Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, And will come into Egypt; The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, And the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.

Isa 19:2 "I will set Egyptians against Egyptians; Everyone will fight against his brother, And everyone against his neighbor, City against city, kingdom against kingdom.

Isa 19:3 The spirit of Egypt will fail in its midst; I will destroy their counsel, And they will consult the idols and the charmers, The mediums and the sorcerers.

Isa 19:4 And the Egyptians I will give Into the hand of a cruel master (The

religion of Islam), And a fierce king will rule over them," Says the Lord, the

LORD of hosts.

Isa 19:18 In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear by the LORD of hosts; one will be called the City of Destruction.

Isa 19:19 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border.

Isa 19:20 And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them.

Isa 19:21 Then the LORD will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know

the LORD in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a

vow to the LORD and perform it.

 

For Isaiah goes on to prophecy: "in that day there Will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt; and a pillar to the Lord, at its border. And it will be for a .sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt". (Isaiah 19: 19 & 20). According to the traditions of the Coptic Church, 'the altar' mentioned is that of the Church of Virgin Mary in Al-Muharraq Monastery, a site where the Holy Family settled for a period of more than six months; and the altar-stone was the ‘bed’ upon which the Infant Savior lay.

The Al Muharraq Monastery, in Egypt is located, literally, "in the midst of the land of Egypt"....standing at its exact geographical center. As for the "pillar at its borders.... which will be for a sign and for a witness..." surely there can be no more demonstrable, concrete proof of the fulfillment of the prophecy than that the Patriarchal See of the Apostolic Church in Egypt, established by St. Mark himself, is situated in Alexandria, on Egypt's northern borders.

The trails they followed in their passage across Sinai, and their subsequent travels within Egypt, are chronicled by Pope Theophilus, 23rd Patriarch of Alexandria (384 - 412 AD). He testifies, in his celebrated annals, that on the eve of the 6th of Hathor (the Coptic month corresponding roughly with November), after long prayer, the Holy Virgin revealed herself to him and, after relating the details of the Holy Family's journey to, in, and from Egypt, bade him record what he had seen and heard. It is a source, which no Christian believer would question. Besides, it is a virtual certainty that, at a time when happenings of a momentous or historical nature were transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to the next, the account of Pope Theophilus's vision confirmed the oral tradition of supernatural occurrences that accompanied the arrival of a wondrous Child in the towns and villages of Egypt.

 

Return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23)

After Herod died . . . Joseph was again instructed by an angel of the Lord. This was the third of four times an angel appeared to him in a dream (cf. 1:20; 2:13, 19, 22). He was made aware of Herod’s death and told to return to the land (v. 20). Joseph obediently followed the Lord’s instruction and was planning to return to the land of Israel, perhaps to Bethlehem. However, a son of Herod, Archelaus, was ruling over the territories of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. Archelaus, noted for tyranny, murder, and instability, was probably insane as a result of close family intermarriages. (He ruled from 4 b.c. to a.d. 6. See the chart on the Herods at Luke 1:5). God’s warning to Joseph (again in a dream, Matt. 2:22;) was not to return to Bethlehem, but instead to move back to the northern district of Galilee to the town of Nazareth.

The fact that the family moved to Nazareth was once again said to be in fulfillment of prophecy (Matt. 2:23). However, the words He will be called a Nazarene, were not directly spoken by any Old Testament prophet, though several prophecies come close to this expression. Isaiah said the Messiah would be “from [Jesse’s] roots” like “a Branch” (Isa. 11:1). “Branch” is the Hebrew word nes?er, which has consonants like those in the word “Nazarene” and which carry the idea of having an insignificant beginning.

Since Matthew used the plural prophets, perhaps his idea was not based on a specific prophecy but on the idea that appeared in a number of prophecies concerning Messiah’s despised character. Nazareth was the town which housed the Roman garrison for the northern regions of Galilee. Therefore most Jews would not have any associations with that city. In fact those who lived in Nazareth were thought of as compromisers who consorted with the enemy, the Romans. Therefore to call one “a Nazarene” was to use a term of contempt. So because Joseph and his family settled in Nazareth, the Messiah was later despised and considered contemptible in the eyes of many in Israel. This was Nathanael’s reaction when he heard Jesus was from Nazareth (John 1:46): “Can anything good come from there?”

This concept fit several Old Testament prophecies that speak of the lowly character of the Messiah (e.g., Isa. 42:1-4). Also the term “Nazarene” would have reminded Jewish readers of the similar-sounding word “Nazirite” (Num. 6:1-21). Jesus was more devoted to God than the Nazirites.

 

EPIPHANY: THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST

 

The Baptism of Christ is celebrated on the first Sunday of Epiphany. (It was on this day in 2001 that St. Luke CEC Church in Manchester, Georgia began Sunday services in its current building.) Because it was seen as the entrance into covenant relationship with God and the church, baptism was one of the most important aspects of early church worship. The Greek word baptizein has come to mean simply “to wash” or “to purify with water” is indicated by certain occurrences of the term in the Septuagint and New Testament where baptize cannot mean immerse (Luke 11:38; Acts 1:5; 2:3-4, 17; 1 Corinthians 10:1-2). Hebrews 9:12-23 is a reminder that the purification water rites of the Old Testament, the biblical antecedents of baptism, were washings and never immersions.

The words hold no magical significance. It is the act of baptism, as a sign of being in covenant with God that is important. This was a sign of sanctification and a token of the New Covenant that, once entered, was renewed with each partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

When we come to the action itself, there are many different but interrelated associations. The most obvious is that of washing (Titus 3:5), the cleansing water being linked with the blood of Christ on the one side and the purifying action of the Spirit on the other, so that we are brought at once to the divine work of reconciliation. A second is that of initiation, adoption, or, more especially, regeneration (John 3:5), the empha­sis again being placed on the operation of the Spirit in virtue of the work of Christ. The presbytery of the early church saw Baptism as representing the work of God in the substitutionary death and resurrection of Christ.

In the third chapter of the Gospel of John Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be “born again” of the water and spirit to be a part of the Kingdom of God.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 3:6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

John 3:7 "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'

This remains true today, and that is why Baptism is associated with entrance into covenant with God. The true church has always viewed baptism as the entrance into the Everlasting Covenant that provides the mechanism to run God’s Kingdom. Because it was seen as the entrance into covenant relationship with God and the church, baptism was one of the most important aspects of early church worship. The Greek word baptizein has come to mean simply “to wash” or “to purify with water”.

When a person is baptized into covenant, he is placed under the sovereign care of God and the Church. The child’s parents, moreover are obligated to raise the Child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Water baptism is the sign or seal that the believer is in covenant relationship with God. Those who received the Word were baptized. Through this act we are reminded that we are dead and alive again with him and through him (Romans 6:4,11).

 

Rom 6:3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

Rom 6:4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Rom 6:5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,

Rom 6:6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

Rom 6:7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Rom 6:8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,

Rom 6:9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.

Rom 6:10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

Rom 6:11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rom 6:12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.

Rom 6:13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Rom 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

 

Entire households were baptized once they believed, and infant baptism became the normal rule from the first century to around the seventeenth century, when the post Reformation churches abandoned the traditional practice. The early church saw baptism as the introductory rite of Christianity. Infants of godly Christian parents were baptized into covenant with God. This practice came to replace circumcision as an important covenant rite. The only debate among the Ante-Nicene Fathers was over whether or not baptism should occur on the third or on the eighth day of the child’s life. There was never a debate as to whether or not this practice was scriptural or covenantal. Under the New Covenant it was simply accepted as the norm. Confirmation around age 12, following lengthy instruction into the precepts of the faith confirmed the covenant, after the child confessed faith in Christ. This completed the sealing process of establishing a covenant between God and the Christian child.

 

 

ASH WEDNESDAY AT THE START OF LENT

 

Lent is based upon the prayer of repentance made by Daniel the Prophet.

Dan 9:3 Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.

Dan 9:4 And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, "O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments,

Dan 9:5 "we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments.

Dan 9:6 "Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land.

Dan 9:8 "O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You.

Dan 9:9 "To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him.

Dan 9:10 "We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets.

Dan 9:11 "Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your voice; therefore the curse and the oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against Him.

 

Ashes were used for two purposes in the Old Testament. One was to make a form of Holy Water for cleansing people from their sicknesses and from their ritual uncleanness.

Num 19:9 'Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin.

Num 19:10 'And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them.

Num 19:17 'And for an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel.

Num 19:18 'A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave.

Num 19:19 'The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, wash his clothes, and bathe in water; and at evening he shall be clean.

Num 19:20 'But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean.

 

The second usage of ashes was for a public sign of repentance. Notice how Mordecai reacted.

Est 4:1 When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.

Est 4:2 He went as far as the front of the king's gate, for no one might enter the king's gate clothed with sackcloth.

Est 4:3 And in every province where the king's command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Job 42:5-6 "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes." Repenting in dust and ashes was normal behavior.

Jer 6:26 O daughter of my people, Dress in sackcloth And roll about in ashes! Make mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation; For the plunderer will suddenly come upon us.

Ezek 27:30 They will make their voice heard because of you; They will cry bitterly and cast dust on their heads; They will roll about in ashes;

Jonah 3:6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.

Jonah 3:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.

Jonah 3:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

Jonah 3:9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

Jonah 3:10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

 

The Prophet Joel shows us what our attitude and focus should be upon during this time of Lenten Repentance. This is a time to examine our lives and let God remove all that is not pleasing to Him.

Joel 2:12 "Now, therefore," says the LORD, "Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning."

Joel 2:13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.

Joel 2:14 Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him; A grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God?

Joel 2:15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly;

Joel 2:16 Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room.

Joel 2:17 Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, "Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"

Joel 2:18 Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, And pity His people.

Joel 2:19 The LORD will answer and say to His people, "Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.

 

What Is Lent?

Lent is the most common name for what is chronologically the first part of the paschal cycle, a cycle that in its entirety extends from Ash Wednesday to the Sunday of Pentecost. Lent, or the time of preparation for the paschal celebration, runs from “?Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive?”, ending with the beginning of the Easter triduum on Holy Thursday evening. The three days of the Easter triduum include this celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and continue through evening prayer on Easter Sunday. The Easter triduum in turn is followed by the Easter season of fifty days, concluding on Pentecost Sunday. In addition to these official calendar divisions within the paschal cycle, the last part of Lent and the first part of the Easter triduum are also traditionally referred to as Holy Week, which “?has as its purpose the remembrance of Christ’s passion, beginning with his Messianic entrance into Jerusalem?”

 

This fast was an imitation of the forty days’ fasting of Jesus in the wilderness, which itself was put in typical connection with the forty days’ fasting of Moses?733? and Elijah,?734? and the forty years’ wandering of Israel through the desert. At first a free-will act, it gradually assumed the character of a fixed custom and ordinance of the church. Respecting the length of the season much difference prevailed, until Gregory I. (590–604) fixed the Wednesday of the sixth week before Easter. On this day the priests and the people sprinkled themselves with dust and ashes, in token of their perishableness and their repentance, with the words: "Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou must return; repent, that thou mayest inherit eternal life." During lent criminal trials and criminal punishments, weddings, and sensual amusements were forbidden; solemn, earnest silence was imposed upon public and private life; and works of devotion, penances and charity were multiplied.

 

This breaking up of the Easter time is not an historical description of what actually happened chronologically in the life of the risen Jesus. Rather it is the richness of the paschal mystery, so that the various facets of this mystery can be incorporated into Christian living. Then, during the fifty days means joyous thanksgiving with the new members of the community as well as a recovered sense of one’s own happiness with being a Christian. The liturgy is clear that Easter time is a single period of rejoicing in Christ’s passage from death to glory. Ascension and Pentecost are also Easter celebrations. Pentecost is not an isolated feast of the sending of the Holy Spirit; it is the crowning feast of the church’s Easter Season.

 

PROPHETIC MESSAGE FOR LENT: FOUR JUDGMENTS OF GOD ON NATIONS

 

Sword (War), famine (of the Word of God), pestilence (disease), beasts (leaders who want to go to Egypt—a type of world-view without the true God)

 

Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Heb 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

 

Ezek 14:12 The word of the LORD came again to me, saying:

Ezek 14:13 "Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it.

Ezek 14:14 "Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness," says the Lord GOD.

Ezek 14:15 "If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they empty it, and make it so desolate that no man may pass through because of the beasts,

Ezek 14:16 "even though these three men were in it, as I live," says the Lord GOD, "they would deliver neither sons nor daughters; only they would be delivered, and the land would be desolate.

Ezek 14:17 "Or if I bring a sword on that land, and say, 'Sword, go through the land,' and I cut off man and beast from it,

Ezek 14:18 "even though these three men were in it, as I live," says the Lord GOD, "they would deliver neither sons nor daughters, but only they themselves would be delivered.

Ezek 14:19 "Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out My fury on it in blood, and cut off from it man and beast,

Ezek 14:20 "even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live," says the Lord GOD, "they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness."

Ezek 14:21 For thus says the Lord GOD: "How much more it shall be when I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem; the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence; to cut off man and beast from it?

 

Ezek 14:22 "Yet behold, there shall be left in it a remnant who will be brought out, both sons and daughters; surely they will come out to you, and you will see their ways and their doings. Then you will be comforted concerning the disaster that I have brought upon Jerusalem, all that I have brought upon it.

Ezek 14:23 "And they will comfort you, when you see their ways and their doings; and you shall know that I have done nothing without cause that I have done in it," says the LORD GOD.

 

Rev 6:1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, "Come and see."

Rev 6:2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

Rev 6:3 When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come and see."

Rev 6:4 Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.

Rev 6:5 When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come and see." So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.

Rev 6:6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine."

Rev 6:7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come and see."

Rev 6:8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

 

Sword (War), famine (of the Word of God), pestilence (disease), beasts (leaders who want to go to Egypt—a type of world-view without the true God)

Amos 8:11 "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD.

Amos 8:12 They shall wander from sea to sea, And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, But shall not find it.

Jer 42:17 'So shall it be with all the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to dwell there. They shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. And none of them shall remain or escape from the disaster that I will bring upon them.'

Jer 42:18 "For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: 'As My anger and My fury have been poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so will My fury be poured out on you when you enter Egypt. And you shall be an oath, an astonishment, a curse, and a reproach; and you shall see this place no more.'

Beasts 3 As a pejorative term for human beings (Titus 1:12). In Daniel 7 four different beasts symbolize four kingdoms. In Revelation a beast from the sea symbolizes the Roman Empire (13:1), a beast from the earth represents the leaders of the province of Asia (13:11)

 

Titus 1:10 For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision,

Titus 1:11 whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.

Titus 1:12 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons."

Titus 1:13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,

Titus 1:14 not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.

Titus 1:15 To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.

Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.

 

Sword (War), famine (of the Word of God), pestilence (disease), beasts (leaders who want to go to Egypt—a type of world-view without the true God)

 

EASTER

 

EASTER id the special celebration of the resurrection at Easter is the oldest Christian festival, except for the weekly Sunday celebration. Although the exact date was in dispute and the specific observances of the festival developed over the centuries, it is clear that Easter had special significance to the early generations of Christians. Since Christ's passion and resurrection occurred at the time of the Jewish Passover, the first Jewish Christians probably transformed their Passover observance into a celebration of the central events of their new faith. In the early centuries, the annual observance was called the "pascha," the Greek word for Passover, and focused on Christ as the paschal Lamb.

Although the New Testament does not give any account of a special observance of Easter and evidence from before A.D. 200 is scarce, the celebrations were probably well-established in most churches by A.D. 100. The earliest observance probably consisted of a vigil beginning on Saturday evening and ending on Sunday morning and included remembrance of Christ's crucifixion as well as the resurrection. Evidence from shortly after A.D. 200 shows that the climax of the vigil was the baptism of new Christians and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. By about A.D. 300 most churches divided the original observance, devoting Good Friday to the crucifixion and Easter Sunday to the resurrection.

The early centuries saw considerable controversy over the proper date for the Easter celebration. A minority, influenced by the Jewish origins of Christianity, insisted that the celebration should occur on 14 Nisan of the Jewish calendar, the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John. Most Christians rejected this practice because it meant that the special yearly celebration of the resurrection would usually not occur on Sunday, the weekly day of the resurrection. Since about A.D. 300, the date of Easter has been determined by a complex calculation using the lunar calendar. In general, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.

Since Easter occurs in the spring, many of the traditional non-Christian springtime symbols of the renewal of nature became attached to the Christian celebration. In some cases an attempt has been made to Christianize the symbols. Thus, for centuries many Christians have regarded the egg as a symbol of the resurrection. The English word "Easter" comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn.

 

 

THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION

 

 

14th Century Russian Icon of the Ascension

 

In the liturgies of the Church, The Ascension is generally the day is meant to celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and His entry into heaven glorified. The work of Christ is commemorated in our worship by celebrating His Incarnation (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany), His Passion and Resurrection (Lent, Holy Week, Easter), and His Ascension (Followed by Pentecost).

The Feast of the Ascension commemorates the elevation of Christ into heaven by His own power in presence of His disciples the fortieth day after His Resurrection. It is narrated in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

Although the place of the Ascension is not distinctly stated, it would appear from the Acts that it was Mount Olivet. Since after the Ascension the disciples are described as returning to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, within a Sabbath day's journey. Tradition has consecrated this site as the Mount of Ascension and has memorialized the event by erecting over the site a basilica. St. Helena is said to have built the first memorial, which was destroyed by the Persians in 614, rebuilt in the eighth century, to be destroyed again, but rebuilt a second time by the Crusaders. This the Moslems also destroyed, leaving only the octagonal structure which encloses the stone said to bear the imprint of the feet of Christ, that is now used as an oratory.

Not only is the fact of the Ascension related in the passages of Scripture cited above, but it is also elsewhere predicted and spoken of as an established fact. Thus, in John 6:63, Christ asks the Jews: "If then you shall see the son of Man ascend up where He was before?" and 20:17, He says to Mary Magdalene: "Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God." Again, in Ephesians 4:8-10, and in Timothy 3:16, the Ascension of Christ is spoken of as an accepted fact.

The language used by the Evangelists to describe the Ascension says that "He was raised up and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9), and entering into glory He dwells with the Father in the honour and power denoted by the scripture phrase. In the Eastern Church this feast was known as analepsis, the taking up, and also as the episozomene, the salvation, denoting that by ascending into His glory Christ completed the work of our redemption. The terms used in the West, ascensio and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by His own powers. Tradition designates Mount Olivet near Bethany as the place where Christ left the earth. The feast falls on Thursday. It is one of the Ecumenical feasts ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and of Pentecost among the most solemn in the calendar, has a vigil and, since the fifteenth century, an octave which is set apart for a novena of preparation for Pentecost, in accordance with the directions of Leo XIII.

History Of The Feast [1]

The observance of this feast is of great antiquity. Although no documentary evidence of it exists prior to the beginning of the fifth century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles.

Certain customs were connected with the liturgy of this feast, such as the blessing of beans and grapes after the Commemoration of the Dead in the Canon of the Mass, the blessing of first fruits, the blessing of a candle, the extinction of the paschal candle, and triumphal processions with torches and banners outside the churches to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven. Rock records the English custom of carrying at the head of the procession the banner bearing the device of the lion and at the foot the banner of the dragon, to symbolize the triumph of Christ in His ascension over the evil one. In some churches the scene of the Ascension was vividly reproduced by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar through an opening in the roof of the church. In others, whilst the figure of Christ was made to ascend, that of the devil was made to descend.

 

THE THEOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE OF THE ASCENSION

 

Why was it so important to our salvation for Christ to have Ascended? The Epistle to the Hebrews most clearly indicates the importance of the present-day ministry of Christ that commenced with His Ascension.

Heb 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

Heb 4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Heb 5:1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, (theosis) that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.

Heb 5:2 He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.

Heb 5:3 Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins.

Heb 5:4 And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.

Heb 5:5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You." (Incarnation)

Heb 5:6 As He also says in another place: "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek";

Heb 5:7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear,

Heb 5:8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. (Passion of Christ—Death, Burial, Resurrection)

Heb 5:9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,

Heb 5:10 called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek,"

Heb 5:11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

Heb 6:19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, (Ascension)

Heb 6:20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

 

Heb 7:28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.

 

Heb 8:1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,

Heb 8:2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.

Heb 8:3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer.

According to Hebrews, Christ offered his own blood on the Altar of God. As on the Day of Atonement Aaron went into the holy of holies and put the blood on the mercy seat (propitiatory covering—substitutionary judgment seat) and on the corners of the altar, so Christ sprinkled his blood on the judgment seat and on the altar in heaven, finishing the atonement that began with his incarnation. Then he sat down on his throne in heaven where we are seated with him, according to St. Paul in Ephesians chapter two. That is why Revelation says: They overcame him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony (confession of faith).

Heb 8:4 For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law;

Heb 8:5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."

Heb 8:6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

 

The writer of Hebrews sees a connection between the Ascension and Atoning work of Christ. Particularly for the author of Hebrews, the ascension bridges the gap between the earthly work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his heavenly ministry as high priest, offering his sacrifice on the altar before the throne of God. This high priest is now seated "at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (8:1), signifying that there is no more act of sacrifice necessary; he neither sacrifices perpetually in heaven, nor is there any sacrifice on earth that can add to his death on the cross (10:11-14). The ascension is, however, viewed in some respects as the completion of that atoning work: it was necessary for Christ to "enter heaven … to appear … once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (9:24-26). The author of Hebrews does not deny the significance of the historical crucifixion but argues that it is not complete until the blood is brought into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled in the appropriate way before the altar of God. Thus the ascension becomes an essential part of the atonement, allowing the historical Jesus who is now the reigning Priest/King to finish in heaven, the "true tabernacle, " the sacrificial work necessary to accomplish our redemption.

This event, suggested in the Epistle of Hebrews, is depicted in the Icon of the Trinity—the most famous Icon of Andrei Rublev, the great Russion Iconographer (1360-1430). Icon is based upon an earlier icon known as the "Hospitality of Abraham" (illustrating Genesis 18). Rublev removed the figures of Abraham and Sarah from the scene, and through a subtle use of composition and symbolizm changed the subject to focus on the Mystery of the Trinity.

 

 


 


Traditional Icon of the Ascension

Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity

 

In Rublev's art two traditions are combined: the highest asceticism and the classic harmony of Byzantine mannerism. The characters of his paintings are always peaceful and calm. After some time his art came to be perceived as the ideal of Church painting and of Orthodox iconography.

Clearly the greatest theological emphasis of the New Testament regarding the ascension is that Christ now regains the glory he had with the Father before the world began, is now able to send his powerful Spirit into the world, and reigns from heaven over every authority and power in heaven and earth. Thus, in John, Jesus connects attaining his glory and the sending of the Spirit with ascending to the Father (6:61-63; 7:39; 12:12-16; 16:5-11). Similarly, Acts 2:33-36 presents the ascended Jesus as the one who has been placed on the throne of David; the appearances of the ascended Christ are exclusively in Acts those of a powerful, enthroned Christ (Acts 7:56; 9:3-9; and pars. ). Paul writes that God put his "mighty strength" to work "in Christ when he … seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (Eph 1:20-21). It is from this exalted position that he "gave gifts to men" (Eph 4:8-10). Peter, too, emphasizes the power that is now Christ's because of the ascension: " [He] has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him" (1 Peter 3:21-22).

The author of Hebrews shows this in his unique analogy between the exalted Son of God (4:14) who has "entered the inner sanctuary" and the priest/king Melchizedek (6:16-20). Melchizedek blessed Abraham, was king of righteousness and peace, and was without father, mother, genealogy, beginning of days or end of life (7:1-3). Only the ascended Jesus is powerful enough as the one who, like Melchizedek, has the power of an indestructible life (7:16) to enter before the throne of grace as a high priest who is "exalted above the heavens" to offer himself once for all (7:26-27).

The theological emphasis of the ascension story itself also lies in the concept of the newly gained power of the risen Son of God (Ac 1:1-11). The story's setting is one in which Jesus has been speaking to his disciples of the kingdom (1:3). He now appears in Jerusalem, the Old Testament seat of God's power and presence, in order to take final leave of them. They ask him if this is the time that he will restore the kingdom to Israel. His answer is his commission to them to be his witnesses, followed by his ascension. His authority over them is emphasized by the abundance of imperatives and promises in his brief dialogue with them: Six times in four sentences he either commands them to do something or promises something will happen to them (1:4-5, 7-8), and his chief promise to them is one of power (1:8).

The actual event itself demonstrates his power at every turn. He ascends in a cloud, echoing Daniel 7:13 with its connotations of power (Ac 1:9). The "intense gaze" (atenizein [ajteNIVzw]) of the apostles emphasizes the awe of the moment and contrasts the power of Jesus with their humility (1:10), as does their rebuke by the two men dressed in white (1:11). Finally, the link with the second coming of Jesus both in the way Jesus ascends (in a cloud) and in the words of the two men ("This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way") describes the ascension of an exalted, seated King of heaven who will come back "in power and great glory" (Mark 13:26).

A little noticed aspect of the New Testament's theology of the ascension is the emphasis placed on Jesus' ascending for his people. This love manifests itself in the sending of his Spirit, an act dependent upon Jesus' ascension. Thus, in John, he tells the disciples that he goes to prepare a place "for you" (14:3) and that "it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (16:7). The references to the ascension in Acts 1 and 2 both come in the context of a giving Christ who bestows the Spirit on his people, as does the reference in Ephesians 4:8-10. Hebrews emphasizes that his going into the "inner shrine" was "on our behalf" (6:20; 9:24 NRSV), and that since we have "a great high priest who has passed through the heavens … let us hold fast to our confession" (4:14 NRSV). These references to Jesus ascending "on our behalf" further connect the ascension with Jesus' atoning work, implying that, far from being a self-oriented, power-seeking act, the ascension is to be viewed as flowing from the same self-sacrificial love Jesus demonstrated for his people in his incarnation (2 Cor 8:9) and crucifixion (Rom 5:6-8).

 

OTHER SCRIPTURES relating to

The Atoning Work Of Christ’s Ascension:

 

The Old Testament The Old Testament contains several stories of, and references to, "ascension" that may prefigure the ascension of Jesus. The Old Testament contains stories of ascension that take place in dreams or visions.

 

Genesis 28:10-21

10 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.14 “Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

18 Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it.19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; (House of God).

 

Luke 24:45-51

45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,47 “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 “And you are witnesses of these things.49 “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.

 

Acts 1:1-11

4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me;5 “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,

 

John 3:13; 6:62; 14:3-4; 16:5-7

3:13 “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

6:62 “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?

14:3-4 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. “And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

16:5 “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’6 “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.7 “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.

 

1 Peter 3:18-22

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

 

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

AND THE MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

The FEAST OF PENTECOST was named for the number of days from the offering of the barley sheaf at the beginning of the Passover. On the 50th day was the Feast of Pentecost. Since the time elapsed was 7 weeks, it was called ‘feast of weeks’ (Exod. 34:22; Deut. 16:10). It marks the completion of the barley harvest, which began when the sickle was first put to the grain (Deut. 16:9), and when the sheaf was waved ‘the morrow after the Sabbath’ (Lev. 23:11). It is also called the ‘feast of harvest’, and the ‘day of the first fruits’ (Exod. 23:16; Num. 28:26). The feast is not limited to the times of the Pentateuch, but its observance is indicated in the days of Solomon (2 Chr. 8:13), as the second of the three annual festivals (Deut. 16:16).

The feast was proclaimed as a ‘holy convocation’ on which no servile work was to be done, and at which every male Israelite was required to appear at the sanctuary (Lev. 23:21). Two baked loaves of new, fine, leavened flour were brought out of the dwellings and waved by the priest before the Lord, together with the offerings of animal sacrifice for sin- and peace-offerings (Lev. 23:17-20). As a day of joy (Deut. 16:16) it is evident that on it the devout Israelite expressed gratitude for the blessings of the grain harvest and experienced heartfelt fear of the Lord (Je. 5:24). But it was the thanksgiving and fear of a redeemed people, for the service was not without sin- and peace offerings, and was, moreover, a reminder of their deliverance from Egypt (Deut. 16:12) as God’s covenant people (Lev. 23:22). The ground of acceptance of the offering presupposes the removal of sin and reconciliation with God.

In the Inter-Testamental period and later, Pentecost was regarded as the anniversary of the law giving at Sinai (Jubilees 1:1 with 6:17). The Sadducees celebrated it on the 50th day (inclusive reckoning) from the first Sunday after Passover (taking the ‘Sabbath’ of Lev. 23:15 to be the weekly Sabbath); their reckoning regulated the public observance so long as the Temple stood, and the church is therefore justified in commemorating the first Christian Pentecost on a Sunday (Whit Sunday). The Pharisees, however, interpreted the ‘Sabbath’ of Leviticus 23:15 as the Festival of Unleavened Bread and their reckoning became normative in Judaism after ad 70.

In the New Testament there are three references to Pentecost: (1) In Acts 2:1, on this day, the disciples were gathered in a house in Jerusalem, and were visited with signs from heaven. The Holy Spirit descended upon them, and new life, power and blessing was evident, which Peter explained was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. (2) In Acts 20:16, Paul was determined not to spend time in Asia and made speed to be in Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost. (3) In 1 Corinthians 16:8, Paul purposed to stay at Ephesus until Pentecost, because an effectual door was opened to him for his ministry.

THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Spiritual Gifts are the skills and abilities, which God gives through His Spirit to all Christians, which equip Christians to serve God in the Christian community. These Gifts of the Holy Spirit are some of the “fruit” of the Kingdom of God of which Christians partake and benefit. Paul offers instruction on spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28-30; and Ephesians 4:7-12. Spiritual gifts were unusual manifestations of God's grace (charis) under normal and abnormal forms. Not every spiritual gift affected the moral life of the one who exercised it, but its purpose as always was for the edification of believers.

In the early church the use of spiritual gifts was considered to be a normal part of church services. These Gifts of God enabled the Christian to perform his (sometimes-specialized) service. There are several words in the New Testament used for spiritual gifts. Dorea and doma are so used but are rare (Ephesians 4:8; Acts 11:17). Paul calls these divinely given powers to serve charismata (gifts which are specific manifestations of charis or grace, God’s active and creative love, 1 Cor. 12:4), and also pneumatika (spiritual gifts as specific demonstrations of the energy of the Holy Spirit, God’s pneuma, 1 Cor. 12:1).

Except for 1 Peter 4:10, The term charisma (spiritual gift) is used only by Paul. Charisma signifies redemption or salvation as the gift of God's grace (Romans 5:15; 6:23) and a gift enabling the Christian to perform his service in the church (1 Corinthians 7:7), as well as defining a special gift ena­bling a Christian to perform his or her particular ministry.

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Lord was given to selected leaders rather than to all of God's people. These Old Testament accounts are the background for the Christian understanding of spiritual gifts. When the Spirit came to an individual, He brought with Him one or more gifts, which equipped the individual to serve God by serving Israel. Examples of this are:

1. Bezaleel, who was given the gift of craftsmanship (Ex. 31:2-3);

2. Othniel, who was equipped to be a judge (Judg. 3:9-10);

3. Gideon, who was given military skills (Judg. 6:34);

4. Samson, who was given physical strength (Judg. 14:6,19);

5. Saul, who was given political skills (1 Sam. 10:6);

6. Micah, who was given prophetic gifts (Mic. 3:8).

Subsequent to the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47), the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit have been available to all Christians, not just to selected leaders (Acts 2:3-4,17-18). Furthermore, the exercise of a spiritual gift implied service in the church. Certain gifted minis­tries or offices of the Spirit concern the ministry of the word of God. The bishops, elders, deacons, apostles, prophets and teachers were endowed with these gifts; and ministered to the people under the authority and power of the Holy Spirit.

Them most widely discussed list of Spiritual Gifts was written by Paul, and is found in 1 Corinthians 12-14. These three verses summarize Paul’s reasons for writing to the Corinthian Church about the Holy Spirit’s gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:1: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.”

1 Corinthians 14:1: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.”

1 Corinthians 14:12: “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”

Paul’s list is intended to be neither exhaustive nor hierarchical, but typical of the gifts that had been experienced at one time or another by Christians in Corinth (Rom. 12:6–8; Eph. 4:11). They include the “message of wisdom” and “message of knowledge,” faith and the gifts of healing, “miraculous powers,” prophecy and “the ability to distinguish between spirits” (rsv), the ability to speak in “different kinds of tongues” and the interpretation of tongues. It is then repeated that all of these are the product of the same Spirit, who distributes them to each person “as he determines” is best for the good of all. Paul illustrated the unity (12:12–13), diversity (12:14–20), and integrity (12:21–26) produced at the Spirit’s inspiration among those at Corinth who belong to the body of Christ.

Just as “the body is a unit though it is made up of many parts... so it is with Christ” (v. 12). The point is analogy, not identity. Christ dwells in the church after the resurrection, but possesses his own body as well. The basis for comparison lies in the fact that all Christians, despite the inequities of their former existence, have now been brought into one body (see also Gal. 3:27–28) by a common experience of the Spirit in baptism.

This does not mean, however, that all will now be given exactly the same gifts, for a body is not constituted of a single part, but of many. Thus the diversity among the parts of the body is no cause for concern about membership or status in the body. God has arranged the parts in the body with thought for the proper place and role of each, so that there are many parts, but one body (v. 20). Moreover, the unity of the body is not superficial but integral to its existence. Weaker parts of the body are indispensable, less honorable parts (i.e., those not usually receiving recognition) are given “special honor” (v. 23), and “parts that are unpresentable” accorded a modesty that witnesses to their importance. And all of this is by design (12:18). For God has now given greater honor to those members who before their incorporation into the body of Christ had little outside it, so that no cause for a division of honor, attention, status, or concern might exist within the body. Thus, if any part of the body suffers in its ability to function within the body, “every part suffers with it,” and when one part is honored, all will rejoice in the recognition of its capability (v. 26).

There are many kinds of spiritual gifts, which were manifested in the early church. In 1 Corinthians 12:10, and 28-29 we see the working of miracles. “Miracles” is the rendering of dynameis (powers). In Acts, this word refers to the casting out of evil spirits and the healing of bodily ailments (Acts 8:6-7, 13; 9:11-12). This may explain “working of powers,” but this gift is not synony­mous with “gifts of healing.” Probably the former was much more spectacular than the latter, and may have signified raising the dead (Acts 9:36ff.; 20:9ff.). Paul himself exercised this gift of working of powers, and it was for him proof of his apostleship (2 Corinthians 12:12), and authenticated both the good news he preached and his right to proclaim it (Romans 15:18).

Ministers in the early church spoke the Word and confirmed its divine origin with miracles (Mark 16:20). Where they preached, they conferred miracu­lous gifts upon individual Christians. This enabled them to teach and confirm the Lord’s Will. The gift of miracles fulfills and confirms the Word using a supernatural explosion of dunamis power. In addition to confirming the preaching of the Word, this gift provides a creative force that can heal, change circumstances, manifest the power of God, and enable the Christian to take dominion. Miracles draw crowds, opening doors to evangelism.

Gifts of Healing are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, and 30. As already suggested, gifts of healing resembled “working of miracles” (powers). Witness the ministry of Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:23-24), of the Twelve (Matthew 10:1), and of the Seventy (Luke 10:8-9). Gifts of healing were also prominent in the church after Pentecost (Acts 5:15-16; cf. also James 5:14-15). The term “Gifts” (plu­ral) indicates the great variety of both the sicknesses healed and the means used in the healings. The person who exercised the gift, and the patient who was healed, had one essential in common, faith in God. The writings of the Church Fathers prove that “the gifts of healing” were exercised in the church for some centuries after the ascension of Christ.

Since then, this gift has appeared intermittently in the church. Today there are recognized branches of the church which believe that the gifts are beginning to reappear. Unfortunately, the manner in which some act who claim to have received the gift has brought it into disrepute. Gifts of healings are a permanent gift of the Spirit to the church but are properly exercised only by Spirit filled people with humility and faith.

The gift of “faith” is among the gifts closely related to the practical life and development of the church. These spiritual gifts would naturally strengthen the believers in their faith, and convince the unbelievers of the authenticity of the church's message. The Spirit's gift of faith could effect mighty things (Matthew 17:19-20), and keep believers steadfast in persecution. These five spiritual gifts, then, had special refer­ence to the practical aspects of the church's life, the physical well being of believers, and orderliness of their worship and conduct.

The Gift of Speaking the Word of Wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8) was an important part of the Spirit's endowment so far as the Christian community was con­cerned. This gift would communicate ability to receive and explain “the deep things of God.” In God's dealings with men much is mysterious, and the ordi­nary Christian is often in need of a word that will throw light upon his situation; the person fitted by the Spirit to fulfill this ministry is given the word of wisdom. Because of the strong sense of revelation or insight implied in the phrase, perhaps this gift was akin to a revelational utterance by the Christian prophet. This gift can be used to apply Wisdom to any situation in such a way that an individual or the entire church is helped.

The Gift of Speaking the Word of Knowledge suggests a word spoken only after careful consideration. The Spirit gives knowledge, understanding, and insight, that might be described as supernaturally knowing things about an individual, a sickness, or circumstances that the person using the gift could not know. This gift provides practical infor­mation for daily life, information for meeting a specific need, or information so that God may be glorified. Since Paul points out that both the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge are given through or accord­ing to the Spirit, the emphasis is on the reception of the word, not on its interpretation.

Whereas the calling of a Prophet, is a gift of God bestowed upon certain indi­viduals, Prophesy is also one of the spiritual gifts given to the church. One doesn’t have to be a Prophet in order to operate in the Gift of Prophesy. This Gift of the Spirit is where one speaks a revelation from God to the church as a message that accomplishes God’s purposes and will. This gift can be used to edify a person or group, to interpret and apply the Word of God, or to speak directly to a person or group on God’s behalf. God sometimes makes his will known through the prophet, or reveals a future event, but this gift is primarily for the edification, exhortation, consolation, and instruction of believers.

The Gift of Discernment of Spirits is a guardian gift that arms the church against Satanic counterfeits, senses the presence of demons and angels, and is able to identify spiritual problems and their causes in individuals and groups. This gift specifically enables one to see into the spirit world (2 Kings 6:16), to detect evil spirits (Acts 16:16-19), to discern hypocrisy among God’s people (Ananias), to discern the cause of sickness and infirmity (Acts 10:38), and to identify spiritual causes to problems people face.

Tongues and Interpretation are prophetic gifts proclaiming a message from God in a language not understood by the person who is orally giving or speaking the message. There are three uses of tongues in scripture and in the Christian life. They are a sign of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). They are used in praying and singing praises to God (1 Corinthians 14:15). They are used pro­phetically, as a message from God to the church or to an individual. In that case, the tongue speaker or someone else should always interpret.

The Gift of Helps is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28. What spiritual gift was signified by “helps” may be gathered from Acts 20:35, where Paul exhorts the Ephesians elders to labor “to help the weak.”

The Gift of Governments or Administration is discussed in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Romans 12:8. The church's organization was still fluid. At that time, official positions of ministry had not been established, nor were duly appointed officials yet ruling the church­es. It was necessary, therefore, that certain members should receive and exercise the gift of ruling or governing the local assembly of believers. This gift would take the form of sound advice and wise judgment in directing church affairs. Gradually, of course, this gift of guiding and ruling in church affairs would come to be identified so closely with certain individuals (bishops and elders), that they would begin to assume responsibilities of a permanent nature. They would become recognized officials in the church, fulfilling well-defined duties in the administration of the Christian community. It was acknowledged that some Christians had received the gift of exercising authority. In addition to administration, practi­cal matters in the conduct of public worship would require wisdom and fore­sight, and here again those who had recognizably received the gift of ruling would be expected to legislate.

In instructing Christians on the exercise of these gifts, Paul is con­cerned to stress their practical nature. The Spirit bestows his charismata for he edification of the church, the formation of Christian character, and the service of the community. The reception of a spiritual gift, therefore, brought serious responsibility, since it was essentially an opportunity for selfgiving in sacrificial service for others.

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul outlined for the church some important duties from gospel principles. He entreated the Romans, as his brethren in Christ, by the mercies of God, to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to Him. This is a powerful appeal. We receive from the Lord every day the fruits of his mercy. Let us render ourselves; all we are, all we have, all we can do: and after all, what return is it for such very rich blessings? It is acceptable to God: a reasonable service, which we are able and ready to give a reason for, and which we understand. That reasonable service includes Body Ministry within the Church. Here are some of the service gifts which are to be used in the New Testament Church body.

Paul spoke of “contributing” as a gift (Romans 12:8). All are to give to the needs of the church, its ministry, and the poor, but a special gift ena­bles some to make joyous sacrifice in this area. Paul adds that this gift should be exercised “without grudging” or “in liberality.”

Gifts of Mercy (Romans 12:8) were always supposed to be performed with cheerfulness under the guidance of the Spirit. It might be wondered why such a noble act would require charismatic endowment, but the circumstances of the time explain it. To render aid was dangerous. Such identification with other Christians in need branded one as a Christian as well, opening up the possi­bility of persecution for oneself. The early church liturgies contained references to the asking of “mercy” from God, with the understanding that mercy must be shown to one’s brethren in Christ.

In addition to these Spiritual Gifts, Irenaeus felt that the church itself was the depository of Christian teaching. He felt that those in the succession of the episcopate (i.e. the heads of churches and groups of churches), had received the a “gift of truth.” This argument was not peculiar to Irenaeus, being held by many leaders of early church. The people were admonished to put their faith in the truth that was being revealed through Scripture, the traditions of the Church, and the revelation that comes through the Gifts of the Spirit.

Amid many obscurities and debated questions regarding New Testament charismata, two certainties stand out. First, a spiritual gift is an ability in some way to express, celebrate, display, and so communicate Christ. We are told that gifts, rightly used, build up Christians and churches. Secondly, there are prophetic gifts and practical gifts. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul’s list of gifts alternates between the categories: items one, three, and four (prophecy, teaching, and exhorting) are gifts of speech; items two, five, six, and seven (serving, giving, leading, and showing mercy) are gifts of helpfulness. The alternation implies that no thought of superiority of one gift over another may enter in. However much gifts differ as forms of human activity, all are of equal dignity, and the only question is whether one properly uses the gift one has (1 Pet. 4:10-11). No Christian is without gifts (1 Cor. 12:7; Eph. 4:7), and it is everyone’s responsibility to find, develop, and fully use whatever capacities for service God has given.

 

 

EVANGELICAL PERSPECTIVE: Evangelicals say that some of the Gifts of the Spirit were foundational (e.g., prophecies and knowledge; Eph. 2:20) and confirmatory (e.g., tongues; cf. 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4). Every gift is linked in some way to building up the church to maturity—some (prophecy, knowledge, tongues) functioning in the early years of the Church Age and others continuing on till the church is perfected. When that perfection is achieved, the gifts will have served their purposes and will be rendered obsolete. But this will not happen to love. With the possible exception of faith, all these gifts seem to have been confirmatory and foundational gifts for the establishment of the church (Heb. 2:4; Eph. 2:20) and were therefore temporary.

As Evangelicals explain it, the gift of knowledge, essential as it was, was not exhaustive. The ability to prophesy, however crucial for the church’s life, was of limited scope. The gifts were temporary blessings in an imperfect age. One day they would give way to perfection, toward which all the gifts pointed. One Evangelical suggestion is that perfection described the completion of the New Testament. But verse 12 makes that interpretation unlikely. A few have suggested that this state of perfection will not be reached until the new heavens and new earth are established. Another point of view understands perfection to describe the state of the church when God’s program for it is consummated at the coming of Christ. According to the Evangelical’s interpretation of Ephesians 4:11-16, the gifts were to be used to bring the church from a state of infancy to adult hood. In the Ephesians passage, maturity is defined as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Such a state will not exist until Christ’s second coming, according to Evangelical theologians.

It would appear that the same perspective developed into the idea that with the coming of the Church’s adulthood, such gifts were no longer needed. Evangelicals claim that there was a gradual obsolescence of certain gifts as the church progressed toward maturity.

Concerning Faith, Evangelicals say that it rests in God is unwavering trust in His omnipotent power and unfailing goodness. The one condition is, negatively, absence of doubt and positively, belief, unwavering trust in God, that the petition will be granted. Such faith contrasted with Israel’s lack of faith. Because believing prayer taps God’s power to accomplish the humanly impossible, Jesus exhorted His disciples to believe that they have already received whatever they request in prayer. Faith accepts it as good as done even though the actual answer is still future. Evangelicals have faith for the future accomplishment of God’s plan, when Christ returns, and consider many of the Gifts of the Spirit to be unnecessary in the present age. Their systems of theology tend to look to the past and to the future, rather than to the present.

 

PENTECOSTAL AND CHARISMATIC PERSPECTIVE: Modern Pentecostalism started as an evangelical charismatic reformation movement that began with numerous manifestations of tongue-speaking in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901under the leadership of Charles Fox Parham, a former Methodist preacher. It was Parham who formulated the basic Pentecostal doctrine of "initial evidence" after a student in his Bethel Bible School, Agnes Ozman, experienced glossolalia in January, 1901.

Pentecostals believe that the experience of the 120 on the day of Pentecost, known as the "baptism in the Holy Spirit," should be normative for all Christians. Most Pentecostals believe, furthermore, that the first sign of "initial evidence" of this second baptism is speaking in a language unknown to the speaker.

Although speaking in tongues had appeared in the nineteenth century in both England and America, it had never assumed the importance attributed to it by the later Pentecostals. For instance, glossolalia occurred in the 1830s under the ministry of Presbyterian Edward Irving in London, in the services of Mother Ann Lee's Shaker movement, and among Joseph Smith's Mormon followers in New York, Missouri, and Utah. The Pentecostals, however, were the first to give doctrinal primacy to the practice.

Other teachings that were overlooked by Evangelicals, became prominent in Pentecostalism. Most Pentecostals, along with the Charismatics who followed them, believe possibility of miraculous divine healing in answer to prayer and the expectation of the imminent premillennial second coming of Christ. A great interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit elicited the publication of many books and periodicals devoted to teaching seekers how to receive an "enduement of power" through an experience in the Holy Spirit after conversion.

From the earliest days of the Pentecostal Movement its teachers tended to emphasize the four cardinal doctrines of the movement. This way of thinking was formalized in A. B. Simpson's four basic doctrines of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which stressed instant salvation, baptism in the Holy Spirit, divine healing, and the second coming of Christ. All the other teachings and practices of Pentecostalism were adopted whole cloth from the Holiness milieu in which it was born, in the 1800’s. Pentecostalism took its style of worship, its hymnody, and its basic theology from the Holiness Movement, which can be traced to the Preaching of the Wesleys and subsequent Methodism. During the 1920’s Pentecostalism began systematizing its theology, much of which differed from that of Evangelicals. Ever since Pentecostalism formed a separate stream, until the end of the Twentieth Century, when God began to bring numerous divergent streams back together, as they were in the beginning.

 

LITURGICAL AND SACRAMENTAL PERSPECTIVE: Sacramental Churches tend to be more open minded to the supernatural than do many Evangelical Churches. They acknowledge the Gifts of the Spirit, with the qualification that the more spectacular gifts (tongues, healings, miracles) necessitated some degree of order that would prevent their indiscriminate use (1 Corinthians 14:40). Most Sacramental theologians insists that spectacular gifts were inferior to those that instructed believers in faith and morals and evangelized non-Christians. Tongue speaking has not been forbidden, but intelligent exposition of the word, instruction in faith and morals, and preaching the gospel were infi­nitely superior. Normally little or no opportunity is given in church services for the manifestation of the Gifts of the Spirit.

The criteria used to judge the relative values of spiritual gifts is usually doctrinal and practical. The greatest peril in “Catholic” Christianity may have been in overemphasizing certain gifts, which tended to exalt the offices that grew out of them. That led inevitably to institutional ecclesiasticism and the inevitable corresponding loss of the church's awareness of the Spirit's presence and experience of the Spirit's power in most liturgical Churches.

How miracles relate to the natural order? Sacramental Christian thinkers have responded in different ways throughout the centuries. Some hold that miracles are not contrary to nature (Augustine and C. S. Lewis, for instance). This harmony view contends that human knowledge with limited perspective does not fully understand or comprehend the higher laws that God employs in working the miraculous. Others (like Thomas Aquinas) have maintained miracles stand outside the laws of nature. This approach is called the intervention view, based on their belief that God intervenes in the natural order to do the miraculous.

In the Liturgical Churches, the contemporary philosophical and theological arguments over the possibility and definition of miracle reflect the altered worldview of the last several centuries--from a theistic to a non-theistic concept of the universe. The perceived tension between the natural and the miraculous is a by-product of a naturalism that is intent on squeezing out the supernatural realm of reality.

 

HOW DOES THIS ASPECT OF THEOLOGY RELATE TO THE MINISTRY AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH? One’s view of the miraculous is related to one’s view of the universe. A mechanistic perspective believes the world is controlled by unalterable natural laws and cannot allow for the possibility of miracles. Christians in every century have refused to have their universe so limited. They have affirmed that God created the universe, reveals himself through the universe, and continues to care for the universe with miraculous acts.

The people of the bible did not face this problem. The biblical perspective on the universe is that it is created, sustained, and providentially governed by God. The Bible makes no clear-cut distinction between the natural and supernatural. In the "natural" event the Bible views God as working providentially; whereas, in the miraculous, God works in striking ways to call attention to Himself or His purposes. In doing so today, God is restoring both miracle working faith and the Gifts of the Spirit to the Church. He is doing so in such a way that the Word of God, the traditions of the Church and the inner voice of the Holy Spirit are coming into harmony and bringing unity to the Body of Christ.

 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

ABOUT WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT

1. What does the ICCEC believe and teach about the Holy Spirit?

1.1 What is meant by the term: Holy Spirit?

It is important to understand that the Holy Spirit is portrayed, in the Bible, as both a spiritual force or power, (ruah or pneuma; wind or breath) and a personality who instructs and guides (Paracletos or Comforter). Godly teaching must be learned and applied by the learner. As Comforter, it is the Holy Spirit who brings to our remembrance the teachings of Christ, recorded in the Gospels. The Spirit also reminds us of the teachings of those who either spoke or wrote scriptural revelation; i.e. the Prophets and Apostles, historical and wisdom books, and apocalyptic pronouncements of God’s Kingdom. He reinforces what we have learned, keeping it in our thoughts. Then, the Spirit shows us how to apply what we know concerning the Kingdom of God and our role, our rights, and our responsibilities in that Kingdom. The Comforter’s application of spiritual truth is also validated with miracles done through the dunamis power of God’s wind or breath.

1.2 How is the Holy Spirit depicted in the Old Testament?

In one sense the Spirit of God is depicted as a mighty wind, Hebrew using the same word ruah for wind, breath, and spirit. During the time of the Exodus, God deployed this wind to part the sea thus enabling the Israelites to pass through safely and elude Pharaoh and his army (Exod. 14:21). God used this agent in two ways: as a destructive force that dries up the waters (Hos. 13:15), or as the power of God in gathering clouds to bring the refreshing rain (1 Kings 18:45). The spirit exercised control over the chaotic waters at the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:2; 8:1; Compare Ps. 33:6; Job 26:13). Of the eighty-seven times that the Spirit is described as wind, thirty-seven describe the wind as the agent of God, mostly baneful, and ever strong and intense. This property of the Spirit clearly reflects the power of God. An additional quality of the Spirit is that of mysteriousness. Psalm 104:3 demonstrates that the Spirit as wind is able to transport God on its wings to the outer limits of the earth. No one can tell where He has been or where He is going.

1.3 How does the Holy Spirit affect people’s lives?

Because God in Christ has initiated the messianic age with its outpouring of the Spirit, man's relationship to God has been forever changed. The Holy Spirit is the force or power that changes men’s hearts.

God's Spirit can be expressed as a powerful force, or it can manifest itself in individuals. The Old Testament has numerous examples when God inspired the prophets indirectly by the Spirit. The prime revelation of the Spirit in the Old Testament, in the personal sense, is by means of prophecy. The Spirit is also the ultimate origin of all spiritual gifts, as it is in the underlying inspiration of the men of wisdom (Exod. 31:1-6; Isa. 11:2; Job 4:15; 32:8). Not only did the prophets benefit from the influence of the Spirit, but also the Spirit will be shed upon the people of God (Isa. 44:3) and upon all the people (Joel 2:28). Ezekiel and Isaiah express the idea of the Spirit more than any other Old Testament source. Many of Ezekiel's allusions to the Spirit are in regard to Israel's restoration in the future. The reception of the new Spirit, prophesied in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, is dependent upon repentance (Ezek. 18:31) and is associated with the creation of a new heart (Jer. 31:31-34). This prophetic foreshadowing, in light of the individual, sporadic, and temporary manifestation of the Spirit in the Old Testament, looked forward to a time when the Spirit of God would revitalize His chosen people, empower the Messiah, and be lavishly poured out on all humankind.

1.4 How did the early church understand and depict the Holy Spirit?

It is important to realize that for the first Christians the Spirit was thought of in terms of divine power. This power was clearly manifest by its effects on the life of the recipient; the impact of the Spirit did not leave individual or onlooker in much doubt that a significant change had taken place in him by divine agency. Paul refers his readers back to their initial experience of the Spirit again and again. For some it had been an overwhelming experience of God’s love (Rom. 5:5). For others of joy (1 Thess. 1:6) or liberation (Rom. 8:2; 2 Cor. 3:17). It was moral transformation (1 Cor. 6:9-11), or of various spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1:4-7; Gal. 3:5). In Acts the most regularly mentioned manifestation of the Spirit is inspired speech, speaking in tongues, prophecy and praise, and bold utterance of the word of God (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 10:46; 13:9-11; 19:6). This is why possession of the Spirit as such can be singled out as the defining characteristic of the Christian (Rom. 8:9; 1 John. 3:24; 4:13), and why the question of Acts 19:2 could expect a straightforward answer (cf. Gal. 3:2). The Spirit as such might be invisible, but his presence was readily detectable in the life of the believer (John 3:8).

1.5 How does the New Testament portray the Holy Spirit?

The New Testament teaching of the Holy Spirit is rooted in the idea of both the spirit of God as the manifestation of God’s power and the spirit of prophecy. Jesus, and the church after him, brought these ideas together in predicating them of the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to man. When Mary is “overshadowed” by the power of the Most High, we find echoes of the Old Testament idea of God’s spirit in the divine cloud which “overshadowed” the tabernacle so that the tent was filled with the glory of the Lord (Exodus 40:35.

At Jesus’ baptism the spirit came upon him (Mark 1:10; “the spirit of God,” Matthew 3:16 “the Holy Spirit,” Luke 3:21), and he received God’s confirmation of his sonship and messianic mission. Jesus went up from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), and after the temptation began his ministry “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Taking up the message of John the Baptist, Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17), a coming marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit as the sign of the messianic age.

In Acts 2:14, Peter interpreted the Pentecost phenomena as the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy of the outpouring of the spirit upon all flesh in the messianic age (Joel 2:28). The outpouring of the spirit upon all flesh was accomplished for the benefit of Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 10:45; 11:15ff.), and individual converts had access to this gift of the age of salvation through repentance and baptism into the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). This, according to Peter, put the converts in contact with the promise of Joel's prophecy, the gift of the Holy Spirit; "for to you is the promise..., for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:39; Joel 2:32). Paul taught that the Holy Spirit, poured out to the Church is the creator of new life in the believer and that unifying force by which God in Christ is "building together" the Christians into the body of Christ (Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:22; cf. I Cor. 6:19). Romans 8 shows that Paul identified the spirit, the spirit of God, and the spirit of Christ with the Holy Spirit (cf. the spirit of Christ as the spirit of prophecy in I Pet. 1:10), and that these terms are generally interchangeable. If anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9); but those who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God (Rom. 8:14). We all have our access to the Father through one spirit (Eph.2:18), and there is one body and one spirit (Eph. 4:4). We were all baptized by one spirit into one body, and we were all given the one spirit to drink (I Cor.12:13). The believer receives the spirit of adoption or "sonship" (Rom. 8:15), indeed, the spirit of God's own Son (Gal. 4:6), by whom we cry, "Abba, Father," that intimate address of filial relationship to God pioneered by Jesus, the unique Son of God (Mark 14:36).

1.6 Was the Holy Spirit the fulfillment of a prophetic promise?

Luke 24:44-49 gives us the fulfillment of a divine promise. Jesus promised his disciples that he would send the “promise” of the Father and that they would be “endued with power (explosive dunamis) from on high. This experience followed the exaltation of Jesus Christ and was for those who had been Born Again. The personal indwelling and endowment of the divine Spirit is among the greatest blessings conferred upon Christians. First conceived as the invisi­ble energy of God active in nature and in history, the Holy Spirit occasionally come upon Old Testament artists, prophets, leaders, or kings with enabling power. The Spirit of God was promised as the personal and permanent equipment of Messiah for his work (Isaiah 11:1-2; 61:1-3). Joel extended a similar promise to all God’s people (Joel 2:28-29). In Acts 2:14 Peter interpreted the Pentecost phenomena as the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy of the outpouring of the spirit upon all flesh in the messianic age (Joel 2:28). The outpouring of the spirit upon all flesh was accomplished for the benefit of Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 10:45; 11:15), and individual converts had access to this gift of the age of salvation through repentance in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). This, according to Peter, put the converts in contact with the promise of Joel's prophecy, the gift of the Holy Spirit; “for to you is the promise..., for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39; Joel 2:32). Paul taught that the Holy Spirit, poured out in the new age, is the creator of new life in the believer and that unifying force by which God in Christ is “building together” the Christians into the body of Christ (Romans 5:5; Ephesians 2:22). The believers are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the spirit (Ephesians 4:22). To each one was apportioned grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ, who has given different ones to be prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11) for the edification of the body.

When John the Baptist burst on the scene proclaiming the advent of the kingdom of God, the spirit-inspired prophetic voice returned after a 400-year absence. Zechariah and Elizabeth, John's parents, were informed that their son will "be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). John The Baptist contrasted water baptism with baptism in the Holy Spirit. This was given a deeper significance when his words were repeat­ed by Jesus (Acts 1:5). This idea was echoed by Peter (Acts 11:16), recalled again by the evangelist John (1:26, 33) and by Paul (Acts 19:4-6; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). Since for Judaism, for John, and for the apostolic church baptism by water was a rite of initiation into the people of God, the initial experience of the Spirit's indwelling and endowment came to be called a “baptism in” or “with” the Holy Spirit.

1.7 What was Jesus’ relationship to the Holy Spirit?

Luke records Jesus' power to cast out demons "by the finger of God," an Old Testament phrase for God's power (Luke 11:20; Exod. 8:19; Ps.8:3). This power is identified as the "Spirit of God" (Matt. 12:28), i.e., the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:32). At Jesus' baptism the spirit came upon him (Mark 1:10; "the spirit of God," Matt. 3:16 "the Holy Spirit," Luke 3:21), and he received God's confirmation of his divine sonship and messianic mission. Jesus went up from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), and after the temptation began his ministry "in the power of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14). Taking up the message of John the Baptist, Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God (Matt. 4:17), a coming marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit. as the sign of the messianic age of salvation (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38).

 

2. What do we believe about the Charismatic Power of the Holy Spirit?

2.1 Did the disciples of Christ experience the Power of the Holy Spirit?

As 120 disciples of Christ waited in unity for the promised pouring out of “power from on high,” the Holy Spirit was distributed or partitioned to them (cloven) along with the manifestation of speaking in supernaturally endowed languages (tongues). As they were suddenly immersed in the presence of the Spirit, they were all supernaturally influenced and empowered. They had a fullness of joy, a sense of the reality of God’s presence, a deepening of fellowship, and a continual desire to praise and worship God.

2.2 What is the “power” of the Holy Spirit?

An illustration will clarify this. Blow up a balloon and tie it off. Now suddenly pop it. That explosive force illustrates the power of the Holy Spirit within us. The Concept of Power in the Greek and Hellenistic World shows that all life in the cosmos is viewed dynamically. Dunamis (Greek for power) is a cosmic principle. This fact is linked with the Old Testament view of the Messiah, who is related to the strength of God. Establishing a Christian community that rests in God’s saving power is the goal. Believer’s power is grounded in Christ’s resurrection, and creates the hope of their calling to a glorious inheritance. Christians are to know this transforming power with a view to endurance and patience. By the power of the Spirit they abound in hope (Romans 15:13). Strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man, they grow in fellowship with Christ, in comprehension, and in love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14). Members of the community also have the spiritual gifts of performing dunamis in operation (1 Corinthians 12:10

2.3 Does the Holy Spirit empower us for service in the Kingdom of God?

The baptism of the Holy Spirit creates within us the realities of new authority (John 20:21-23), new (dynamite) power (Acts 1:8), new relation­ships (1 Corinthians 6:15), and new understandings of the scripture (1 Corinthians 2:14). The Holy Spirit also creates a new quickening of our spiritual life (Romans 8:11), a new beginning of God’s harvest in our lives, and a supernatural boldness (Acts 4) to testify of salvation and deliverance through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers us for every area of Christian service.

2.4 In what way is the Holy Spirit a “helper” or “advocate”?

In John 16:7-9 Jesus said, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me;” The Greek word Paraclete is translated as Comforter, in this passage. The word means “advocate” or “called to the side of” and refers to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The background of the Greek term lies in the law court where the Paraklete helped someone. The Holy Spirit is another "Helper" alongside Jesus for the believer. As Jesus helped disciples during His earthly ministry, so the Spirit helps them after the ascension as they face a hostile world. Meanwhile, Jesus is the Paraklete in the heavenly court (1 John 2:1). Because parakletos is difficult to translate with any single word, some interpreters opt for making "Paraclete" an English word and allowing the relevant Johannine passages to provide its meaning.

In line with the history of the term, 1 John 2:1 employs parakletos in a forensic sense, portraying a courtroom scene in which Jesus Christ, the righteous "Advocate," intercedes with God on behalf of sinners. Although forensic associations are present in the Gospel of John (15:26; 16:8-11), the Helper does not specifically function as "Advocate."

The Helper, who could not come until Jesus departed (John 16:7), functions as the abiding presence of Jesus among His disciples (John 14:16-18). Nearly everything said of the Helper is also said of Jesus in the Gospel, and the Helper actually comes as "another parakletos" (John 14:16), implying that Jesus had been the first (1 John 2:1).

2.5 How does scripture portray the Holy Spirit as a personality?

Jesus developed the idea of the Holy Spirit as a personality (John 15:26; 16:7), specifically as God working in the church. He described the role of the Helper primarily with verbs of speaking. The Helper would be sent by the Father to "teach" the disciples and to bring to remembrance all Jesus "said" to them (John 14:26; 16:14-15). Like Jesus, the Helper was "sent" to "bear witness" (John 15:26-27). The Helper's function in relation to the world involves "reproving" it concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). The Helper would also "guide" Jesus' disciples into all truth by "speaking" what He hears and "showing" what is to come (John 16:13). By so doing He would "glorify" Jesus (John 16:14). This comes out especially in John's Gospel, where the Spirit is called the Paraclete or the Comforter (Counselor, Advocate). Jesus himself was the first Counselor (Paraclete, John 14:16), and he will send the disciples another Counselor after he is gone, i.e., the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit (14:26; 15:26; 16:5). The Holy Spirit will dwell in the believers (John 7:38; 14:17), and will guide the disciples into all truth (16:13), teaching them "all things" and bringing them "to remembrance of all that [Jesus] said" to them (14:26). The Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus, as the disciples must also testify (John 15:26-27).

2.6 How do we obtain wisdom or guidance from the Holy Spirit and Word of God?

There are four steps to acquiring wisdom and guidance. The first step in acquiring guidance is an understanding of your relation­ship of right standing with God (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). Secondly, according to Matthew 5:6, one must have a hunger for the things of God to receive revelation (Psalm 27:4; Jeremiah 29:13). There must also be a sensitivity to what God wants to say to people through His Word (Proverbs 1:5-6; 18:15; 22:17-18). Obedience is an important step in acquiring wisdom and guidance. The obedient person may ask for wisdom and guidance, from God, and it will be given to that person (Proverbs 28:7; Deuteronomy 4:5-6; Joshua 1:7-8). We must be willing to immediately do the will of God as it is revealed to us.

In Acts 8:29 we read, “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” This shows us the importance of the inward witness of the Holy Spirit in the conduct of our daily lives. Being led by the inward witness is one way that the Spirit leads God’s people (see Romans 8:16). Although it is difficult to explain, the inward witness will always lead us to do that which is scripturally correct such as witnessing to someone, going to a place where God can use us, or doing something that we already know is the will of God for us to do. This inward witness should be compatible with scripture.

2.7 What is meant by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

The prophet John, seeking to prepare the Jews for the Messi­ah, emphasized one aspect of this remarkable prophecy. He warned of a radical inward and personal purification, accompanying an outward national purgation by judgment. The one alternative he offered to such an immersion (baptism) in “Spirit and fire” was to accept his baptism in water as a symbol of total repentance and reformation of life (Matt. 3:11-12; Luke 3:7-17).

In this way the promise of the Spirit first became associated with the language of baptism—a baptism with the Holy Spirit. But far more authorita­tive and compelling in establishing this connection of the coming of the Spirit with water baptism was the model experience of Jesus. In the moment of his baptism, all four Gospels insist, the Spirit descended like a dove and abode upon him (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32; cf. Acts 10:38). Thenceforth, water baptism and the reception of the Spirit became linked in the minds of some Christian as a somewhat controversial doctrine that John Wesley called Entire Sanctification.

Many early church ministers originally insisted that reception of the Spirit should accompany baptism in water or proceed at Confirmation, as a direct result of water baptism. When the Bishops lay on hands to confirm believers, the say “receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter’s clear instruction and promise at Pentecost was” Repent, and be baptized... and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38-39). Charismatics and Pentecostals portray this as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, by which Christians are empowered for Christian service.

3. What are the roles and ministries of the Holy Spirit?

3.1 What is meant by the term “Spirit of Truth”?

As the Fourth Gospel makes clear, the Paraclete is the Holy Spirit, called the Spirit of Truth (14:17, 26). In fact, the Fourth Gospel’s teaching about the Holy Spirit is set forth in terms of the Paraclete, who continues the work of Jesus himself (14:16-17), recalling things the earthly Jesus taught or revealing things he was unable to convey (14:26; 16:12-14). In John’s view, this spiritual knowledge or insight, unavailable until after Jesus’ death and resurrection, makes Christian faith and true understanding fully possible.

As the Spirit of Truth and divine advocate, the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth. This revealing of truth can be called conviction. Being convicted of sin, for example, is to God’s truth concerning sin. John 16:9 says that unbelief is the cause for the Holy Spirit’s convicting us of sin. Unbelief is a failure to accept God’s truth.

3.2 Does the Holy Spirit convict people of their sins?

There are 3 aspects of conviction. (1) The Holy Spirit illuminates God’s word and enlightens us intellectually as to our motives, attitudes, and actions. (2) The Spirit then shows us that our moral problem (sin) affects our relationship with God. (3) The Holy Spirit then prompts us to respond. Once convicted, we must respond with a choice; either to repent, seeking God’s forgiveness and being changed, or to continue in sin as an act of rebellion against God.

A truth revealed in John 3:18-21 is that there is no condemnation for those who are convicted of sin and repent, accepting the forgiveness of God through Christ. Several Greek words are translated “condemn” and “condemnation” with a meaning of either just making a distinction, or of making an unfavorable judgment. The word “condemn” was used in Jesus’ day in making personal judgments of others. For instance, Jesus said the men of Nineveh would condemn His own unrepentant generation (Matthew 12:41).

3.3 How does the Holy Spirit affect the life styles of believers?

There is a life-style which is dominated by sinful human nature; whose focus is self; whose only law are its own desires. It may be passion-controlled, or lust-controlled, or pride-controlled, or ambition-controlled. Its characteristic is being absorbed in the things that human nature, without Christ, sets its heart upon. In the most literal sense, such a person is getting further and further away from God. To allow the things of the world completely to dominate life, a person is making himself totally unfit to stand in the presence of God. This life-style gives little heed to things that are spiritual.

There is also a life-style that is dominated by the Spirit of God. As a man lives in the air, he lives in Christ, never separated from him. As he breathes in the air and the air fills him, so Christ fills him. He has no desires of his own, and the will of Christ is his only law. He is Spirit-controlled and God-focused. The Spirit-controlled life, the Christ-centered life, the God-focused life is daily coming nearer heaven even when it is still on earth. In this type of life there is such a steady progress to God, that the final transition of death is a natural stage on the way.

The New Testament makes it clear that the one who by faith is declared righteous. By faith the righteous person seeks to do the deeds of righteousness and grow in righteousness, by God’s grace and through the daily work of the Holy Spirit.

3.4 In what ways is the Holy Spirit our teacher?

John 14:25-27 tells us that the Comforter teaches us. Teaching is both the process and the content of instruction. As an oral teacher par excellence, Jesus presented teaching concerning the Kingdom of God. He used parables to illustrate his doctrine, and validated his teaching of God’s Kingdom with miracles. Parables are short stories or metaphors with multiple meanings. On the surface level, he spoke concerning things to which his audience could relate; sowing or fishing, for example. On a deeper level, these stories pointed to principles or truths of the Kingdom of God. The audience was challenged to discover the deeper meaning by close interpretation. The content of Jesus’ teaching dealt with virtually every area of life and related life in the natural world to life in the Kingdom of God, which includes both the natural and spiritual realms. To understand a parable, one must look for its relevance and its application to life. Those to whom he had imparted revelation of the reality of God’s Kingdom only understood both the process and the content of Jesus’ teaching. That revelation comes through the Spirit.

3.5 In what ways is the Holy Spirit our guide?

We see in John 16:12-15 that the Spirit guides us into all truth. God desires to reveal the reality or truth of his Kingdom to believers, so that they can cope with the problems and circumstances of life. Truth is a concept for which the Old Testament has no distinct word. The word generally used means constant, permanent, faithful, and reliable. God above all is true, that is, reliable (Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 10:10); people are to seek God’s truth (Psalm 25:5; 51:6; 86:11). People are admonished to judge truly, and the lack of truth is lamented (Isaiah 59:14-15). Reports and prophecies may be true or false (1 Kings 10:6-7). In all these instances, the emphasis is upon reliability. Something or someone true will stand up under testing. Through the teaching of his Word, God wants to impart his reliability and faithfulness to his children.

Christ sent the Comforter or Counselor, the Spirit of truth (John 15:26), to seal the relationship between believes and God. As a teacher guides students, the believer is led or guided into both the knowledge and application of truth (John 16:13) by the Holy Spirit.

3.6 Does the Holy Spirit confirm God’s will?

We must always remember that the Spirit of God and the Word of God agree. Whatever the Spirit speaks to a person will be in line with the Word. In determining God’s will for our circumstances, we must make sure that our decisions and actions also line up with the Word. We can and should judge whether spiritual experiences or personal decisions are right or wrong by what the Bible says. We should not accept any “revelation” or commit to any action without first looking to the Word of God for assurance and illumination. The Holy Spirit will confirm God’s will through the Word by bringing it to our remembrance.

 

 

The Feast of Corpus Christi

 

One of the Minor Ecclesiastical Feast Days that is largely ignored today, may actually hold an important message for the Twentyfirst Century Church. The Sunday after Trinity Sunday is the Sunday of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ) is a Christian feast in honour of the Holy Eucharist. It was originally assigned to the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, thereby mirroring Holy Thursday, the Thursday of Holy Week, the day on which Christians commemorate The Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his apostles, seen as the first Holy Eucharist. Many English-speaking countries celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday — on the Sunday after the traditional Thursday celebration in other countries. The significance of this feast stems from the first time Jesus served the Eucharist to his disciples.

 

Mat 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."

Mat 26:27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.

Mat 26:28 "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

 

St. Paul pointed to the Eucharist as the primary reason for coming to Church. “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper” (1 Cor 11:20). Through the Body and blood of Christ, St. Paul indicated that we have communion (fellowship/interaction) with Christ.

 

1 Cor 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

1 Cor 10:17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

 

During the Middle Ages, the Eucharistic bread was perceived to be the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to remain always with his faithful (Matt 28:18-20).

 

Mat 28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Mat 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

 

The Eucharist was identified as the Church’s Celebration of the Passover by St. Paul, who wrote: “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:7-8).

In the Old Testament Tabernacle there were three articles of furniture in the Holy Place. There was the Lampstand, which represents the revelation of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God that was given to the Church. The Golden Altar Of Incense was also in the Holy Place. This reminds us of the prayers and praise of God’s people. Then, there was the Table of Shewbread—the Bread of the Presence, which reminds us of our Communion with God in the Body and Blood of Christ. On The Table of Shewbread were 12 loaves of Bread and a flagon of wine. These items were an integral part of God’s pattern of worship given to the Hebrew Nation. When the bread and wine were withheld from this Table of the Bread of the Presence, the consequences were dire to the nation of Israel.

 

Joel 1:9 The grain offering and the drink offering Have been cut off from the house of the LORD; The priests mourn, who minister to the LORD.

Joel 1:10 The field is wasted, The land mourns; For the grain is ruined, The new wine is dried up, The oil fails.

Joel 1:11 Be ashamed, you farmers, Wail, you vinedressers, For the wheat and the barley; Because the harvest of the field has perished.

Joel 1:12 The vine has dried up, And the fig tree has withered; The pomegranate tree, The palm tree also, And the apple tree; All the trees of the field are withered; Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.

Joel 1:13 Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; Wail, you who minister before the altar; Come, lie all night in sackcloth, You who minister to my God; For the grain offering and the drink offering Are withheld from the house of your God.

Joel 1:14 Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the elders And all the inhabitants of the land Into the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD.

 

Later in the history of Israel, Malachi says that the nation of Israel had disrespected the Table of the Bread of the Presence—The Table of the Lord. This complaint was part of a larger indictment of priesthood and leaders of Israel who were offering blemished sacrifices and failing to obey the Word of the Lord.

 

Mal 1:6 "A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, 'In what way have we despised Your name?'

Mal 1:7 "You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, 'The table of the LORD is contemptible.'

Mal 1:8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts.

Mal 1:12 "But you profane it, In that you say, 'The table of the LORD is defiled; And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.'

 

This kind of disregard for the Word of God and disrespect for the Table of the Lord has periodically been a problem in the Church. In the opening chapters of Revelation, St. John relates messages to seven churches in the Province of Asia. In chapter two, the people of the Church at Ephesus is said to have left their first love. Many people think that this is referring to Jesus, but a close study of the words indicates that this is not so.

 

Rev 2:1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:

Rev 2:2 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;

Rev 2:3 "and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.

Rev 2:4 "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

Rev 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place; unless you repent.

 

“First love” in the Greek is Protos Agape. Protos means above all in supremacy. Agape means love, but can also be translated “Love Feast.” This was a term used by the early church and many of the Church Fathers as synonymous with Holy Communion or, as we call it, the Eucharist. Acts 2:46 suggests that this was done daily in the Church, and Acts 20:7 indicates that it was at least done weekly. This was the covenant meal for the early Christians. It is very probable that the people of Ephesus had lost their love for the Precence of the resurrected and ascended Christ in the Eucharist—the Agape Love Feast. Perhaps the Church at Ephesus was not offering the Agape to its members on a daily or even weekly basis. The Church at Ephesus had lost its first love.

This has happened periodically throughout the history of the Church. During the Middle Ages many believers only receieved the Eucharist sporadically, in some places only a few times during the year. This was one of the things that caused the decline in the spirituality of the Church and led eventually to what we call “the Reformation”. In modern Protestantism, as well as among many “Catholics”, there is no real love of the Body and Blood of Christ—the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The appearance of Corpus Christi seems to have occurred during one of these times when the Church had lost its love of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The development of this feast in the Christian calendar was primarily due to the petitions of the thirteenth-century Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. From her youth she claimed that God had been instructing her to establish a feast day for the Eucharist and later in life petitioned the learned Dominican Hugh of St-Cher, Jacques Pantaléon (Archdeacon of Liège and later Pope Urban IV) and Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liège. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so in 1246 Bishop Robert convened a synod and ordered a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held each year thereafter.

The celebration of Corpus Christi only became widespread after both Juliana and Bishop Robert had died. In 1263 Pope Urban IV investigated and validated claims of a miracle in which blood had issued from a host. One alternate theory is that the blood was actually a clustering of Serratia marcescens, a reddish bacterium that often grows on bread. Regardless, in 1264 he issued the papal bull Transiturus in which Corpus Christi was made a feast day. A new liturgy for the celebration was written by Thomas Aquinas.[1]

Through the establishment of the feast of Corpus Christi, there gradually developed the practice of processions in honor of the Eucharist and then the rite of benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Eucharistic processions appear as early as the 11th century, at least in England. As devotion to looking upon the host grew, these became a way to honor Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

As the congregation processes, the community is not only reminded of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but is also reminded of a second spiritual truth. This truth, which the Church also periodically forgets, is that the Church itself is the Body of Christ. St. Paul wrote: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor 12:27). “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Corpus Christi retains its theological significance as a celebration of God’s gift of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to the church and world as the food and drink of everlasting life. Moreover, in the celebration of this feast, the Church, as the body of Christ, is reminded to let the Holy Spirit fashion it more and more into bread and drink for the world.

 

Eph 1:22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church,

Eph 1:23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Eph 5:30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.

 

St. Paul says that the Church is the Body of Christ. If His body and blood are a part of us and we embrace His love, then we become to the world His body. It is only through Christ in us that many people in the world will ever see or interact with God. We are all a part of the Body of Christ. No one person makes up His body. The corporate Church is the Body of Christ and each of us are organs or members of that body.

 

1 Cor 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

1 Cor 12:14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.

1 Cor 12:15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?

1 Cor 12:16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body?

1 Cor 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?

1 Cor 12:18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.

1 Cor 12:19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

1 Cor 12:20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.

1 Cor 12:21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

1 Cor 12:22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.

1 Cor 12:23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,

1 Cor 12:24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,

1 Cor 12:25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.

1 Cor 12:26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

1 Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

1 Cor 12:28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

1 Cor 12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?

1 Cor 12:30-31 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

That better way is to love God and to love one another in the same way that Christ loves us—total acceptance and love without any conditions.

1 Cor 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

1 Cor 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

1 Cor 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

 

Love is the most important glue that holds the Body of Christ (the Church) together. We all need to ask ourselves whether or not we love the presence of Christ in the Church, and whether or not we love the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Because we are all a part of the Body of Christ, God set in the Church leaders who would edify or build us up for the work of the ministry.

 

Eph 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

Eph 4:12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Eph 4:13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

Eph 4:14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

 

God does not want us to be tossed about or carried away. He wants us to be stable and consistent in our lives so that we can fulfill our destiny—the giftings or purpose for which each of us has been called. That is how we fulfill Christ’s commission that has for so long been identified as the purpose of our being a part of the Body of Christ.

 

Mat 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

 

Jesus’ own teaching on the importance of “eating His Body and drinking His Blood” is an indictment against those Churches and Christians today who do not reverence the importance of the Table of the Lord today.

 

John 6:48 "I am the bread of life.

John 6:49 "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.

John 6:50 "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.

John 6:51 "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."

John 6:52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"

John 6:53 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

John 6:54 "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:55 "For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.

John 6:56 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

John 6:57 "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

John 6:58 "This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."

 

Corpus Christi is a Minor Feast whose celebration would benefit our society and our churches. This feast reminds us that through Communion with His body and blood and by our embracing of the Love of Christ, we become identified with Him as members of His body and blood.

 

 

THE FEAST OF TRANSFIGURATION

 

 

On August 6th we will celebrate the Feast of Transfiguration. This Major Feast Day commemorates the transformation of Jesus in His appearance with Moses and Elijah before Peter, James, and John. This incident in the life of Christ appears in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13; Luke 9:28-36), but is omitted by St. John. For us in the CEC, this begins the Season of Kingdomtide (green clergy and altar vestments); a time for us to concentrate on the present reality of the Kingdom of God and our place in His Kingdom. The following selection of scripture relates the account of Jesus’ transformation before three of His disciples.

 

Luke 9:28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.
Luke 9:29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.
Luke 9:30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah,
Luke 9:31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Luke 9:32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.
Luke 9:33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
Luke 9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.
Luke 9:35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

Matthew 17:6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
Matthew 17:7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”
Matthew 17:8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Matthew 17:9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

 

We believe that Christ our Savior was Incarnate from birth as both fully human and fully divine, without any confusion or contradiction in His being. His humanity had been clearly revealed to his followers. Now, three of those that he was training to lead in the establishment of His Church, were given a startling glimpse of His Deity and Pre-incarnate glory.

This dazzling brightness that emanated from His whole Body was produced by an interior shining of His Divinity. False Judaism had rejected the Messiah, and now true Judaism, represented by Moses and Elias, the Law and the Prophets, recognized and adored Him. God the Father proclaimed Him His only-begotten and well-loved Son. By this glorious manifestation Jesus the Messiah, who had just foretold His Passion to the Apostles (Matthew 16:21), spoke with Moses and Elijah of the trials which awaited Him at Jerusalem .In doing so, He strengthened the faith of his three disciples, in preparation for the terrible ordeal of the Passion of Christ, of which they were to be witnesses.

 

WHO DO MEN SAY THAT I AM?

 

To fully understand the importance of the Transfiguration and to place it in context with the Ministry of Christ, we must think about a related scriptural and spiritual event that had directly preceded it. The Transfiguration took place about a week after one of the most significant revelations of Jesus to his disciples. The events leading to the Transfiguration began with a discourse with Jesus’ disciples near Caesarea Philippi. A question posed by Jesus culminated with the confession of St. Peter.

At this moment of Jesus’ ministry there was apparent confusion, even among the Twelve, as to who Jesus was. The significance and meaning of the Incarnation was not understood, but it was clear that Jesus was someone who was spiritually significant for that generation.

 

Mat 16:13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"

Mat 16:14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

Mat 16:15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Mat 16:16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Mat 16:17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

Mat 16:18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

Mat 16:19 "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

 

Back in the ‘70’s we used to sing a song that went:

Who do you say that I am?

Tell me, Who do you say that I am?

A prophet of old or the crucified lamb…

Who do you say that I am?

 

This is a question that all of us must answer, because that answer will determine what kind of faith (none, little, or great) that we have in Christ. In fact, the early church wrestled with that question in the first four Ecumenical Counsels, which ended in us reciting the Nicene Creed today.

Even in the early church age there was a heresy that revered John the Baptist above Jesus Christ. This group was called the Sabians, i.e. Baptists (from sâbi, to baptize, to wash). On account of their great reverence for John the Baptist, they were called "Christians of John." Their origin is uncertain. A remnant of them still exists, in Persia on the eastern banks of the Tigris. Their sacred language is an Aramaic dialect of some importance for comparative philology. At present they speak Arabic and Persian. Their system is very complicated with the prevalence of the heathen element and comes nearest to Manichaeism. A lot of their churches were destroyed in the bombing of Iraq during the Gulf War. Obviously, this heretical group was not under the protection and blessing of God.

Old Testament history ultimately placed Christ’s decisive question before Israel. “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question that only faith’s affirmation can answer. But all who read Israel’s history are confronted with it whether they know it or not, and do give answer—if only by their refusal to give answer—one way or another. The Christian, of course must reply: “Thou art the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God.” After he has said that—if he knows what he has said—Old Testament history assumes for him a new meaning as part of a redemptive drama leading on to its conclusion in Christ.

In the centuries before Christ, Jewish sages (rabbis, teachers of the Law) had concentrated on applying Old Testament Law to every aspect of Jewish life. Their goal was to “build a hedge” around the Law, explaining each command’s implications so thoroughly that no one would break it being unaware. This intent, motivated by deep respect for the Scriptures, seems commendable. But, in fact, it represented a dangerous approach to Scripture and created a legalistic attitude that distorted the Law’s intent.

Jesus draws attention to two flaws in the approach, which had been enthusiastically endorsed by the Pharisee party. First, traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees had taken on the authority of Scripture itself, so that the “commandments of men” were often substituted for—and even contradicted—God’s commands. Second, in focusing on what man must do to keep the Law rather than on what God graciously does for man, the hearts of the legalists became cold. Religion became a matter of externals rather than of personal relationship. Jesus’ focus on people and on servant-hood threatened the structure that tradition erected and so aroused the active hostility of the religious elite.

Jesus asked His disciples: "But who do you say that I am?" This was the point at which Christ was aiming His discussion. The emphasis is on the word “you.” “But you (in contrast to others), who do you say that I am?” Peter acted as spokesman for the disciples. His confession of Jesus as the Christ is more fully given in Mt 16:16, which adds the words, “the Son of the living God.” Jesus is both the promised Messiah and the unique Son of God.

Who is Jesus? (16:13–14) It is still an insult to call Jesus just a good man, or even a great man as many so-called scholars do today. Anything less than acknowledging Jesus as God the Son defames and denies Him.

Mat 16:16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." “Christ” is the Gk. translation of “Messiah,” meaning the Anointed One. Peter was saying that Jesus is the deliverer promised by the Old Testament. prophets.

The Nicene Creed is the confession or doctrinal formulation adopted by the first Council of Nicaea (Nicea), which met in A.D. 325 at Nicaea, the modern city of Iznik, Turkey, near Constantinople or New Rome. Some three hundred bishops attended. Athanasius of Alexandria was the great defender of Orthodoxy against Arius who believed that Jesus Christ was a created being—not the eternal God.

The Nicene Creed decisively rejects Arianism (think of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), which held that the Son of God was created, and that there was a time (therefore) when he was not. To affirm the essential unity of the Father and the Son, the Council used a non-biblical term in a creed for the first time, the compound word, Homoousion, meaning, in Greek, that the Son is "of the same substance" with the Father.

While the Council of Nicea produced a creedal statement that was a consensus of the Church’s basic beliefs, there were those who still did not accept Nicene Christology. Apollinarius pressed Christ’s deity to the exclusion of his human experience and left the church with a demigod. Nestorius exaggerated the two separate natures (human and divine), and so divided the unity of God's person. Eutyches went to the opposite extreme, and asserted only one nature in Christ (called monophysitism). Many Pentecostal groups today are still “Jesus Only” in their theology.

Antiochene theologians were instrumental in the condemnation of the Apollinarians in A.D. 381, at the Council of Constantinople. But fifty years later the Antiochene Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, was condemned at the Council of Ephesus for declaring that Mary was "bearer of Christ"--Christokos--and not "bearer of God"--Theotokos. Nestorius meant that the distinction between the divinity and the humanity of Christ does not allow one to speak as if the divinity had been borne by Mary.

When Simon Peter recognized that Christ was both God and Man—The Son of God and Son of Man, he said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Later, during the Transfiguration, this reality would become more apparent (Mat 16:17). Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Mat 16:18) "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

The meaning of “this rock” (16:18) has become a source of controversy. Three different interpretations have arisen in church history of Jesus’ statement, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.”

(1) Some take Peter as the rock and use the text to justify the belief that Peter was the “first pope” or “Papa” of the Church. “Peter” in Gk. means “little stone,” rock indicates a massive rock formation. Caesarea Philippi is about 1,150 feet above sea level, located on a triangular plain in the upper Jordan Valley along the southwestern slopes of Mt. Hermon. Behind it rise bluffs and rugged mountain peaks. The area is one of the most lush and beautiful in Palestine, with groves of trees and grassy fields abounding. Water is in abundance; one of the sources of the Jordan gushes from a cave in the bluffs. Jesus could have been metaphorically been referring to the nearby mountain (seen in the background of the pictures that follow this section) that may have been the mountain of the Transfiguration, which would occur a week later.

(2) Some take Peter’s confession of Christ as the rock and see the church as built on those who likewise confess Christ as the Son of God.

(3) There may be truth in both of these opinions. Peter recognized, that Jesus is God’s Son, as the reality that serves as the foundation for His church. Because Jesus is the Son of God, Satan can never prevail against those who are His own.

Jesus said that the “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Caesarea Philippi seems to have been a religious center from its earliest days. The Canaanite god Baal-gad, the god of good fortune, was worshiped here in Old Testament times. The entrance to this subterranean temple complex was the “Gates of Hell” by local people.

Later, in the Greek period, a shrine in the cave was dedicated to the god Pan. In addition, many niches in the cave held statues of the Nymphs. When Herod the Great was king of the Jews, he built a temple out of white marble near the same spot and dedicated it to Emperor Augustus.

At this spot, one tributary of the Jordon River disappears underground into Pan’s cave (a type of hell), and then reappears a few hundred feet away in the form of a spring (the first picture below). The Gates of Hell could not prevail over the River Jordon, nor could they prevail over the Church of God.

 

 



The Place where Peter made his confession.

Pagan Temple near Caesarea Philippi


 


Gates of Hell: Entrance to Pan’s Temple

Ruins of Caesarea Philippi (Photos by Fr. Wills-1995)

 

When Herod Agrippa II (grandson of Herod the Great) inherited the city, he renamed it Neronias in honor of the emperor Nero. But, after Nero's death the name was dropped. During the Jewish-Roman War of A.D. 66-70, the Roman general Vespasian rested his army here. After the war, Titus, who succeeded his father as general of the Roman armies, held gladiatorial shows here during which a number of Jewish prisoners were put to death. Here we see another failed attempt by the Gates of Hell to subdue the people of God. The Romans later changed its name back to Paneas in honor of their god of the underworld-- Pan.

 

KEYS GIVEN TO THE CHURCH

 

There is one more important aspect of Jesus’ teaching near the Gates of Hell. In Matthew 16:19 Jesus continued his discourse with his disciples saying: "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” God controls even the keys of hell.

 

Rev 9:1 Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.

Rev 20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

 

This reference to “Keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19) is another important metaphor. According to the New Testament, some keys belong to Christ, but three keys have been given to the Church for use by the leadership of the Church, of which Peter was the forerunner.

1. Key of Knowledge-- Luke 11:52-- Revelation of all things pertaining to life is given to us in the Word. Peter had a great revelation.

2. Key of Binding-- Matt. 16:19-- Key to bind evil from affecting people and restoring them to covenant with God.

3. Key of Loosing-- Matt. 16:19-- Key to loosing from sin and spiritual bondage. Keys were symbolic in Old Testament. times of a chief steward’s position, Jesus clearly is speaking of some significant role in the Church Age to come. That role is made more clear by how the keys are used, to “bind and loose.”

Christ is the foundation of all authority. Peter has confessed Christ. Peter and the disciples were then commissioned to confess Christ before others. That confession, and how men respond to it, is truly the key to heaven. A response of faith opens the door to new life in Christ. A rejection closes the door on life and confirms ultimate judgment.

Binding and Loosing are technical terms for the exercise of disciplinary authority bestowed by Christ in conjunction with the keys of the kingdom, first to Peter in Matthew 16:19, then to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18. This means that they are empowered to hand down decisions in matters of conduct; that is, in prohibiting or permitting specific duties or moral func­tions. What is implied is the authority to free people from spiritual bondage, as well as to reinstate them in the community of believers.

This discourse is also important because for the first time Jesus predicted His coming arrest, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem. That Peter and the other disciples did not fully understand the nature of Jesus being the Messiah is evidenced by Peter's rebuke of Jesus. This marked the turning point in Jesus' ministry. After this He confined His ministry mostly to the twelve trying to teach them the meaning of His identity as “The Messiah” who was prophesied in the Old Testament.

 

Mat 16:20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.

Mat 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.

Mat 16:22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"

Mat 16:23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."

 

St. Peter, the same person who had the revelation a few minutes before, now argues with Jesus, refusing to accept the prediction about his impending Passion. Jesus rebuked him before the other disciples and then began talking about the cost of discipleship for those He had chosen to be His Apostles. The Apostles had no idea that they would eventually change the course of history and face martyrdom for their faith in Jesus Christ. They would soon have glimpses into the Kingdom of God, but it would not come to pass in the way that they would have expected it to be established.

 

Mat 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Mat 16:25 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Mat 16:26 "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Mat 16:27 "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.

Mat 16:28 "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

 

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS CHRIST

 

(Photo of an icon at St. Luke Mission Church)

 

The transfiguration occurred about a week after the confession and teaching at Caesarea Philippi. It gave the Apostles a glimpse of the “Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” and in the glory, of which Jesus had talked about a week earlier. Once we understand the background of what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples, the Transfiguration assumes greater significance and seems like a logical conclusion to St. Peter’s confession and Jesus’ discourse at Caesarea Philippi.

The location of the Transfiguration was probably also in the area near Caesarea Philippi. The Place of the traditional site is Mount Tabor in lower Galilee, but it is not a high mountain (only 1,850 feet) and was probably fortified by the Romans and inaccessible in Jesus' day. A much more likely site is Mount Hermon (9,100 feet) to the north of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus and His disciples were already in the area, with Mount Hermon towering above the Jordon River, the “Gates of Hell” and Caesarea Philippi.

There is a lot of important symbolism in the scriptural accounts of the Transfiguration. A mountain in the Bible is often a place of revelation. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets respectively, which testify to but must give way to Jesus. This is the reason why Peter's suggestion of building three booths (tabernacles) was improper. Moses and Elijah themselves were heralds of the Messiah (Deut. 18:15; Mal. 4:5-6). The three booths suggest the Feast of the Tabernacles that symbolizes a new situation, a new age. Clouds represent divine presence. The close connection of the transfiguration with the confession and passion prediction is significant. The Messiah must suffer; but glorification and enthronement, not suffering, is His ultimate fate. These involve resurrection, ascension, and return in glory. The disciples needed the reassurance of the transfiguration as they contemplated Jesus' death and their future sufferings.

There are some minor differences in wording in the three Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration. Mark alone states that Jesus' garments became so white that no bleach could brighten them and that Peter did not know what to say. Also, Mark alone has no reference to a change in Jesus' face. Matthew alone indicates that God expressed His pleasure with Jesus, that the disciples fell on their faces, and that Jesus touched them to get them up. Instead of the six days of Matthew and Mark, Luke has about eight days. He alone indicated that Jesus and the disciples were praying, that Moses and Elijah conversed with Jesus about His coming death, that the disciples were sleepy, and that they saw Jesus' glory. Luke alone has "chosen" rather than "beloved Son." In Matthew, Jesus is addressed as Lord, in Mark as Rabbi, and in Luke as Master. In truth, He embodied all three of those titles.

St. Peter makes reference to the Transfiguration in his second epistle.

 

2 Peter1: 16-21: 16?For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17?For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18?And we heard this voice, which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19?And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20?knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21?for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

 

St. Peter was an eyewitness to the Glory of God, revealed on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Later in his life, this experience helped him to face persecution and difficulties in the ministry. Such experiences are awesome and fearful (Deut. 5:25). Such revelation does not, however, reveal all of God, for no person can see the entirety of the divine glory. The Apostles did not seek glory for themselves (Matt. 6:2; John 5:44; 1 Thess. 2:6). They only looked to receive praise and honor from Christ (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 1 Thess. 2:19; Phil. 2:16).

Clearly, the “GLORY” that Peter, James, and John experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration impacted their lives. The basic meaning of the Hebrew word kabod (translated as “glory”) is heavy in weight. (Compare 1 Sam. 4:18; Prov. 27:3.) Thus, it can refer to a heavy burden (Ex. 18:18; Ps. 38:4; compare more idiomatic uses in Gen. 12:10; 47:4; Ex. 4:10; 7:14). When Jesus taught on the cost of discipleship a week before His Transfiguration, he was trying to prepare his disciples for the heavy weight of ministry to which they were called. The weighty importance and shining majesty that accompany God's presence is, according to Origin available for “those who go up… and not to those below” who are not willing to climb the mountain.

Origin continued talking about the impact of the Transfiguration experience when he wrote: “When he is transfigured, his face shines as the sun, that he may be manifested to the children of light, who have put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.?? They are no longer the children of darkness or night but have become the children of day. They walk honestly as in the day. Being manifested, he will shine to them not simply as the sun but as he is demonstrated to be, the sun of righteousness.” (Origen Commentary on Matthew 12.37). ??

Origin also shows the importance of the Transfiguration for us. “Do you wish to see the transfiguration of Jesus? Behold with me the Jesus of the Gospels. Let him be simply apprehended. There he is beheld both “according to the flesh” and at the same time in his true divinity. He is beheld in the form of God according to our capacity for knowledge.”

About the Gory of God revealed, Jerome said: “The preview of the future kingdom and the glory of his triumph had been shown on the mountain. So he does not want this to be told to the people in case it should be deemed incredible because of its greatness and also so that after such great glory the event of the cross that follows should not cause untaught minds to stumble.” (Commentary on Matthew 3.17.9)

 

THE APPEARANCE OF MOSES AND ELIJAH

 

Luke 9:30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah,
Luke 9:31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

 

Why did Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus? There are at least four reasons that these Old Testament saints were present on the Mountain of Transfiguration. St. Jerome wrote about one of these when he said this: “Thereupon Elijah descended from the place to which he had ascended. Moses rose from the lower regions.” (Commentary on Matthew 3.17.3) Moses had died and was in the abode of the Old Testament saints, a compartment of Hades (the Bosom of Abraham mentioned in Luke 16:22). Elijah had never died and was abiding in the presence of God (heaven). Thus heaven and earth, death and life, and the natural and spiritual are united in the appearance of Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration event.

Secondly, Moses and Elijah both encountered God in all of his glory and majesty on Mount Horeb, as the following scriptural passages show.

 

Exo 19:9 And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever." So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD.

Exo 19:20 Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Exo 24:9-10 Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.

Exo 24:12 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them."

Exo 34:28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

 

1 Ki 19:8 So he (Elijah) arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.

1 Ki 19:9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

1 Ki 19:10 So he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."

1 Ki 19:11 Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;

1 Ki 19:12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

1 Ki 19:13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

1 Ki 19:14 And he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."

1 Ki 19:15 Then the LORD said to him: "Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria.

1 Ki 19:16 "Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.

 

After these encounters both men had a renewed zeal and understanding of the ministry to which they were called. Likewise, a greater understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and the ministries about to be given to Peter, James and John was revealed at the Transfiguration. Both Moses and Elijah had their lives transformed by encountering the Glory of God. A third reason for these two saints appearing with Christ at the Transfiguration was to remind us that there is transforming power in the Glory of God. This can be seen in the miraculous translation of Elijah to heaven and in the tradition of Moses’ shining face.

 

Exo 34:29 Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses' hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him.

Exo 34:30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.

Exo 34:31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them.

Exo 34:32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.

Exo 34:33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.

Exo 34:34 But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded.

Exo 34:35 And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.

 

According to the tradition, Moses must veil his face when he is not performing his official duties (vv. 33–34). The radiant face of Moses insofar as it derives from God and is the symbol of his authority before God. The man who was rejected by the people (Exodus 32:1, 4) is the man who restored them in covenant and who now fittingly wears the symbol of his divine office.[1] The radiance of Moses’ face marks a reflection of the divine glory he has confronted on the mountain.

The Apostle Paul talks about this in Second Corinthians chapter three. He relates the fear and lack of understanding of the people who saw Moses shining face, with the fear and lack of understanding of the Jewish people in relation to Jesus Christ. This same fear and lack of understanding of the Glory of God still affects our society today.

 

2 Cor 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

2 Cor 3:6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Cor 3:7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,

2 Cor 3:8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?

2 Cor 3:9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.

2 Cor 3:10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.

2 Cor 3:11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

2 Cor 3:12-13 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech; unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.

2 Cor 3:14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.

2 Cor 3:15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.

2 Cor 3:16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

 

The minds of the people were hardened through unbelief, and this will not change until they convert and believe in Christ. Why should we be surprised that the people of Christ’s day did not believe in Him, since they did not believe in the Law of Moses either? When Moses talked with the Jews, he had his face covered, but when he talked with God, the veil was removed. Likewise when we turn to the Lord, we shall see the glory of the law and the face of the true Lawgiver uncovered. The Disciples of Christ saw this and were afraid. Look at what some of the Church Fathers said about this.

 

Chrysostom: Paul is saying that there is no need for us to cover ourselves as Moses did,?? for we are able to look at the glory with which we are encircled, even though it is far brighter than the other one. (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 7.2.??)

 

Cyril of Alexandria: Yet the shadows bring forth the truth, even if they are not at all the truth themselves. Because of this, the divinely inspired Moses placed a veil upon his face and spoke thus to the children of Israel, all but shouting by this act that a person might behold the beauty of the utterances made through him, not in outwardly appearing figures but in meditations hidden within us.?? Come, therefore, by taking off the veil of the law and by setting the face of Moses free of its coverings, let us behold the naked truth. (Letter 41)?

 

While example of Moses’ encounter with the Glory of God can teach us how we should respond to the God’s incarnate presence, Elijah also figures prominently in the Incarnation of the Messiah. It was widely believed that Elijah would appear prior to the coming of the Messiah. In fact, at the Passover meal, there was a seat for Elijah. On the way down the mountain after the Transfiguration, Jesus was asked about Elijah being a forerunner of the Messiah. Theodore of Mopsuestia: (one of the early Church Fathers) summarized the popular belief about Elijah appearing before the Messiah. He said: “Therefore there will be a forerunner of his second coming about the time of the consummation. Also this time he is to restore all to true knowledge, restoring everyone who obeys him. The scribes deceived the people when they said that Elijah comes before the advent of the Christ. And this word was reported also among the ignorant crowd; that is what the disciples now ask. How then does he resolve it?” (Fragment 94)??

Unless we know the reasons why the disciples asked about the name of Elijah, their questioning seems irrelevant. The Pharisees’ tradition, following the prophet Malachi, is that Elijah comes before the end.?? He turns the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers and restores everything to its proper state. Now, with greater insight, after the Transfiguration, the Disciples came to realize that John the Baptist was a type of Elijah and the forerunner of Jesus as the Messiah.

 

Mat 17:10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"

Mat 17:11 Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.

Mat 17:12 "But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands."

Mat 17:13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

 

About this revelation to the Disciples, of the importance of Moses and Elijah, John Chrysostom said: “And not only did Jesus elevate their understanding, but also he brought their virtues to a higher level, so that they could meet the requirements expected of them. He had just said, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’?? He then set before them Moses and Elijah, who were ready to die ten thousand times for God’s decrees and for the people entrusted to them. Each of them, having lost his life, found it. For each of them both spoke boldly to tyrants, the one to the Egyptian, the other to Ahab. They both spoke on behalf of heartless and disobedient people. Both desired to lead people away from idolatry. These were not eloquent men. Moses was slow of tongue and dull of speech.?? Elijah had the crudest sort of appearance.?? Both were strict observers of voluntary poverty. Moses did not work for worldly gain. Elijah did not possess anything more than his sheepskin.” (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 56.3)

A fourth reason for the presence of Moses and Elijah was that Moses represented the Law and Elijah embodied the Prophets. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. The Law and writings of the prophets are prominently featured in the New Testament. “Through their speaking together it shows that the old prophets also spoke the same things as Jesus, even if enigmatically. The law has its proper glory, but the people were unable to behold it” (Cyril of Alexandria)

 

Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

Rom 3:22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;

Luke 16:16 "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

Luke 16:17 "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.

 

Jesus called Himself a prophet (Luke 13:33). His miracles and discernment were rightly understood as prophetic (John 4:19). He taught not by citing expert rabbis, but with His own prophetic authority (Mark 1:22; Luke 4:24). The prophets played a foundational role in the early church (1 Cor. 12:28-31; Eph. 4:11; 2:20). Due to the presumed prophetic silence in the time between the Testaments, the coming of Jesus is seen as renewal of the Holy Spirit's work especially visible in prophecy. For example, after an angelic visitation to the shepherds, the prophet and prophetess declared Jesus to be the redemption for which Israel awaited (2:10-12,25,36-38). John the Baptist also predicted that Jesus would baptize in the Spirit (Matt. 3:11).

Jesus certainly knew the Law and often referred to it. He was critical of one "the tradition of the elders" or the oral laws that had grown up around the written Law. The enemies of Jesus frequently accused Him of violating the Law. It is clear that keeping the letter of the Law had become more important to some of the Jews than the purpose behind the Law. On several occasions Jesus set His own teachings over against those of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:21-6:34). The Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of not following the law with regard to "unclean" things (Matt. 15:1-20), and they accused Him of eating with tax-gatherers and sinners (Matt. 9:11). Jesus' greatest conflict came over the Sabbath. He rejected their interpretation of the Sabbath Law and said that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8). He also said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

Jesus inaugurated a new era in which the Law as understood by the Jews of His day would no longer be the guiding principle for the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:16). Nevertheless, Jesus claimed not to have come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20). That is, Jesus moved the understanding of the Law from its external, legalistic meaning to its spiritual one. He moved to a deeper level of meaning, to the spirit behind the Law that God had intended from the beginning. The appearance of Moses with Jesus was a reminder that it was God who gave the Law. It did not come from the hand of Moses. Therefore, the divine Jesus could teach that the Law was no longer to be viewed legalistically. The Law is still the revelation of God, and it helps us to understand the nature of our life in Christ (Rom. 8:3; 13:8-10; Gal. 3:24), but it must be viewed a gift of God and not become a God..

 

THE VOICE OF THE FATHER IN THE TRANSFIGURATION

 

A voice from the cloud of God’s glory said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” What did the Father mean by this? Leo the Great analyzed this statement quite well. According to Leo, God the Father could have been saying: “I am manifested through his preaching. I am glorified through his humility. So listen to him without hesitation. He is the truth and the life.?? He is my strength and wisdom. Listen to him, whom the mysteries of the law foreshadowed, of whom the mouths of the prophets sang. Listen to him, who by his blood redeemed the world, who binds the devil?? and seizes his vessels, who breaks the debt of sin and the bondage of iniquity. Listen to him, who opens the way to heaven and by the pain of the cross prepares for you the steps of ascent into his kingdom.” (Sermon 38. 7) ??

In great awe the disciples fell on their faces, and the Savior raised them up. Jerome gives some insight into why people always fall on their faces in the presence of the Father. “For three possible reasons they were petrified with fear: either because they knew they had sinned or because the bright cloud covered them or because they had heard the voice of God the Father speaking. Human weakness is not strong enough to bear the sight of such great glory but trembles with its whole heart and body and falls to earth. And then Jesus came up and touched them. Because they were lying down and could not rise, he mercifully came up and touched them so that through his touch he might put to flight their fear and strengthen their weakened limbs. Those whom he had healed with his hand, he heals with his command, ‘Have no fear.’ First fear is expelled so that afterwards doctrine may be imparted. (Commentary on Matthew 3.17.6-7)??

The disciples understood that the Son of God had been speaking with Moses. It was Moses who had said of God, “No one shall see my face and live.”?? The Disciples understood the testimony of Moses about God. They were not able to endure the radiance of the Word. They humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God. But after the touch of the Word, they lifted up their eyes. They saw Jesus only and no other. Moses, the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet had become one with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the Transfiguration we see the Father validating the ministry of the Son. We see the Deity and Humanity of Jesus the Son of God. We see the principles and words of the Law and the Prophets united in the person and ministry of Jesus. And we get a glimpse of the Glory of God, as heaven opens and reveals the real nature of Jesus Christ. These are revelations that need to be understood by Christians in the modern world, and so the Feast of Transfiguration should indeed occupy an important place in our calendar of Sacramental worship.

 


[1]Bergant, D., & Karris, R. J. (1989). The Collegeville Bible commentary : Based on the New American Bible with revised New Testament. Previously published in 36 separate booklets. (112). Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press.

 

 


[1] There is another Minor Feast on the Friday after the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus The theological significance of this feast consists, fundamentally, in the worshipful celebration of the divine and human mystery of love revealed in Christ. The specific focus on the heart of Christ amounts to a focus on his freely chosen love for sinful humanity, taking the physical heart as the real symbol of his love for us.

 

 

 

 


[1] Catholic Encyclopedia