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Friday, August 28, 2020

Promise Made, Promise Kept


Rev. Stephen E. Stults

St. Paul’s Anglican Church

13th Sunday after Trinity

Sept. 6, 2020

 

Galatians 3:16  6 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.”

 

What is a promise?

Promise (Noun): “A declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen.”

As a verb: “assure someone that one will definitely do, give, or arrange something; undertake or declare that something will happen.

 

When thinking about promises, we must consider a couple of things. First, who is giving this promise? Are they trustworthy? Can they keep their word?  Second, are they able to keep this promise?  Can they do it?

 

We know from Scripture that God made Abraham a promise. This type of promise is called a covenant, which is very solemn and serious. Not that any of our promises should be taken lightly, but a covenant is a real, binding type of situation.  Both parties agree to adopt and perform the covenant terms.  In this case, God commanded Abraham to depart from his people in Ur of the Chaldees and to go to place God would send him.  If he did so, God would prosper him and make his seed as plenteous as the stars in the sky.  Here is the language God used with Abraham, (then Abram): Genesis 12:2-3  2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

 

That is quite a promise.   Let’s consider it in light of our two considerations.  First, God gave the promise to Abraham. There can be no other, surer, promise-giver than Him. Second, can God fulfill His promises?  These questions are surely rhetorical to people of faith.

 

This being the case, how is this promise important to us?  How does it affect us and our lives? Simply this: “…in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

Once again, we say, “how?”

 

It may depend on how views Holy Scripture.  Reading recently a book by a contemporary Bible scholar, Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence, we learn about the ways the early Church fathers, among them Origen, St. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and others, read the Bible. Although some of the early commentators on the Bible, ranging from the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, were accused of being overly allegorical in their approach to the Bible, that is, they were always looking for a symbolic meaning of the text, we learn that many of the these early Christians also took a serious literal interpretation of it as well.

 

What this means is that they plainly saw Christ in the Old Testament as well as the new. To their mind, there was no great chasm between the Old and the New.  Many of us growing up in the Protestant Episcopal Church of America (PECUSA), like I did, had a sense of two testaments that weren’t really connected. There was the wrathful, vengeful God of the Old Testament vs. the loving, caring God of the New, as expressed in Jesus Christ. One really didn’t  need the Old Testament, except to explain the creation of the Earth, or those parts of the Prophet Isaiah we read at Christmas.

 

This was the result of an early 20th  Century theological movement called Dispensationalism, which claimed God made “dispensations” , or that He “dispensed” His Will to mankind at certain times.  Thus, the theory went, the great difference between the Testaments.

Looking at the early Church Fathers, nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible is one book in which Christ is plainly seen.  He is evident in both Old and New Testaments.  One of my favorite quotes from Bishop Lightfoot goes: “In the Old, the New concealed; in the New, the Old revealed.”

 

At this point, you may say, “Great, Father Stults, but what has any of this to do with the promise made to Abraham?”  Everything.  Why are all the families of the world blessed in Abraham? Who descended from Abraham through the House of David?  Joseph, whose earthly caregiver and caretaker Jesus was.  In the real sense, Jesus is the Son of God, immaculately conceived in the womb of the Blessed Mary. In the worldly sense, Jesus is of the house and lineage of David, a direct descendant of Abraham.

 

How then, are modern-day Christians blessed through this?  Do we really have to ask?  Yes, we do. Sometimes, perhaps we fail to recall that our blessings, temporal and eternal, rest in Christ.  Because Jesus is the descendent of Abraham, born of Mary and protected by Joseph, He grew up a Jew. It was fitting that one of God’s chosen people should be offered as the Spotless Lamb of God, “..slain from the  foundations of the world.”[i]   From this, all our blessings flow.

 

Just how are Christians blessed?

We are blessed with eternal life through Him.

We are blessed with the daily, immanent presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. From this, we know that we are never alone.

We are blessed in the peace of God that passes all understanding.

We are blessed because we have joy in life despite our circumstances.

We are blessed with purpose because we are seeking God’s Will for our lives.

We are blessed to have the Holy Scriptures to lead us in our walk with God.

We are blessed because God loves us, and we love God.

 

If we have a right mind with God, what more could we want?

Yes, we could say material things are desired. Certainly. Yet, didn’t Jesus say, (Matthew 6:33)  33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”?  Yes, He did.

 

When we seek the will of God for our lives first, all else is truly added to that.  All blessings flow to him that wants to want what God wants for him.  It’s a strange paradox that in giving up, we gain, and by losing ourselves, we find ourselves.

 

Yet, that is how it is.

 

May we all find our truest purpose in Him, and in so doing, may all God’s richest blessings be poured upon us.

 

AMEN

 

 

 



[i] Rev. 13:8


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Time of thy Visitation

 

Rev. Stephen E. Stults

St. Paul’s Anglican Church

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity, 2020

 

Our Gospel selection for the day is quite chilling.  It is completely prophetically accurate, and it has ramifications for the present day as well.

 

Let us examine its prophetical aspects.  Christ foretells the destruction of Jerusalem as he predicts accurately, the events to come: “For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”  Jesus is describing the devastation the Romans would inflict on the city in 70 a.d., after the Jews revolted again under Roman rule.  It is completely accurate, for we know from history that the Romans built fortifications around Jerusalem and besieged it for about four months. The future Roman Emperor Titus led the campaign personally.

 

Flavius Josephus, the Roman-Jewish historian, acted as mediator when talks were attempted between the warring parties. Problems arose when the Zealots wounded one of the diplomats with an arrow, adding to an already chaotic situation inside the city.  In addition, the Zealots suffered from a lack of cohesive leadership.  At one point, they even destroyed their own food stocks to solicit divine aid and to motivate their own followers. 

Josephus recorded the dire events: “[Titus] Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited.”[1]

 

In short, the destruction was complete.  Jerusalem was destroyed again.  The revolt was put down.  The final idolatry of the Jews was finished, it seemed, as the bitter fruit of their rebellion came forth.  Thus, Jesus’ words were prophetic and exact. The Jews’ rejection of Him meant they would attempt to handle affairs on their own, as the Zealots sought earthly power and independence on their own terms.  We must ponder, is there a consequence of rejecting Jesus?

 

This is a vital question for all ages.  If we are not aware of the “time of our visitation”, do we run the risk of losing our fellowship with Christ.  It would seem so.  It is a progressive process. 

If one rejects Christ (God), one becomes ruled by self-will. Self-will is absent guidance of the Holy Spirit, and thus the moderating effects on our riotous natures. There is no “bridle” on us, so to speak.  Thus it was with the 1st century Zealots.  So, it is with the radicals of Antifa and BLM today. Watching a live broadcast of “demonstrating” (rioting) in Beirut earlier this week, it seemed as if a lot of Lebanese kids were just interested in tearing something down.

 

Human nature and human will without the regulation of God always falls in the ditch on one side or the other.  The Zealots sought autonomy and freedom at any cost. They were immoderate and disorganized.  They fought fiercely, yet without any real results except their own destruction.  In the end, their efforts and sacrifice were futile.  Antifa and BLM share similar characteristics yet are different in some respects.  Whereas the Zealots lacked cohesive leadership, there is some organization behind today’s radical groups.  For example, while claiming to be “spontaneous, peaceful” protesters, evidence has been found that shows just the opposite.  Piles of bricks and inflammatory devices have been found at many “protest” sites.  The group in Portland, Oregon has been rioting for over 65 days.  As a result, we are seeing a housing boom as many families flee to the suburbs nationwide, further eviscerating the inner cities. 

 

We must ask, who is funding these groups?  How can these people survive without jobs or income? What are their goals? Unlike the Zealots, who wanted freedom from Roman rule, what do Antifa and BLM want?  It is not clear, except to foster anarchy. 

 

What might have been a better course of action for the 1st century Zealots?  It is, as Christians know, to submit to earthly authority until God changes the situation or creates a godly revolt.  For example, the American Revolution was certainly not peaceful.  It involved arms and great sacrifice of life and property.  Yet, its underpinnings were godly. 

 

The Declaration of Independence clearly states the source of all liberty is God, and that under Him, all men are created equal. It also states that all men are “endowed by their Creator” with certain “unalienable rights”, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It was always clear that God was at the center of things and from His Power comes all earthly power.  One must wonder if the Zealots held similar beliefs, or if they felt they could seize power in the name of Zionism alone.

 

The same can be said for Antifa and BLM.  There is no allegiance to God in their charters.  They are controlled by forces much darker, even Satanic. As Christ once told us, “Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.”[2]  We realize that their aims are not godly.

 

Beloved, there is a lesson here for us as well.  We are fortunate to have a constant reminder of the “time of our visitation.” That is, we can know Christ and fellowship with him weekly, daily, and moment-to-moment through the Holy Spirit. 

It the blessing of Pentecost that God has poured Himself out on all mankind.  Let us always be cognizant of our blessings and give thanks for them. Let us not ignore the time of our visitation.

 

It is the precious gift of God, and a foretaste of our blessedness to come.

 

AMEN

 



[1] Wikipedia, “Roman Destruction of Jerusalem, a.d. 70

[2] Luke 7:20