Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

The Baptism of Our Lord: To Fulfill All Righteousness

“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:13–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

The baptism of Jesus. Image by Ananth Subray, published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Church commemorates the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. For some time, John the Baptist had been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). People came and confessed their sins to him (Matthew 3:6). They did not merely admit that they were sinners: “Nobody’s perfect” is not a confession. The confessed specific sins, and John gave explicit instructions about changes they should make (Luke 3:10-14). In many cases, those sins were common activities: Roman soldiers normally used their power to coerce, manipulate, and rob people; tax collectors used their authority to demand more money from people than the government required. We still excuse our sins by saying “Everybody’s doing it,” but that pretense did not satisfy John the Baptist or God.

Amid John’s ministry, Jesus came for baptism. John immediately recognized Him as the Messiah and realized, “I have need to be baptized by You.” John admitted that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ shoe (Matthew 3:11), but Jesus was here asking to be baptized. Why? “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The Contemporary English Version phrases it this way: “we must do all that God wants us to do.”

Why would Jesus need baptism for repentance? He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Perhaps this verse points to an answer:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Jordan River. Photo by Jean Housen, published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many think that Jesus fulfilled His entire ministry of atonement on the cross. However, His entire life was a sacrifice for our sins. As John the Baptist immersed people in the Jordan River, they could imagine their sins being washed, like dirt from their bodies, into the water. Now, here came Jesus: He did not have the dirt of sin on Him. As He went into the water, He began to symbolically take the sins upon Himself. I can imagine Him confessing the sins of all the people present, knowing that He would die for those sins three years later.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:1–7).

He was baptized as one of us. He identified with us, accepted our human nature, and joined us in the waters or repentance in baptism. Now, we join Him in a baptism of repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection. His baptism in the water began a ministry that culminated in His baptism in death upon a cross. When we come to Him in faith, we receive baptism into His death and resurrection. We accept His death upon ourselves, receive His forgiveness and the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit, and live a new life in resurrection power as we continue to walk with Him.

2020 was a challenging year for all of us, and the insanity did not end with the beginning of a new year. We will continue to face challenges and tests. Are we willing to be fully immersed in the life of Christ as we face the uncertain times that lie ahead? While our world remains uncertain, Jesus’ life-giving power remains trustworthy and certain.

How are you experiencing baptism into the life of Christ on a daily basis? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Epiphany: Finding Jesus in Unlikely Places

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
“Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.’ After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1–11; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo from PxHere. Published under a Creative Commons license.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the wise men’s visit with Jesus. The word “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “appearance,” and the feast reminds us how God manifested Jesus to “the nations of the world” for the first time.

The magi’s persistence and faith grab my attention. They followed the star to the most likely place to find a future king of the Jews. If you are looking for a future king, you go to the capital and speak to the current king.

However, this was not the correct place. King Herod probably did not have any young sons. He suspected it could be the Messiah. So, he sent them to the place where the Bible said the Messiah would be born—Bethlehem.

The Magi followed the star to Bethlehem, and it led them to a small home. (Contrary to most depictions of Jesus’ birth, the Magi did not arrive until some time after Christmas; the holy family was living in a house and Jesus was no longer in a manger. He may have already been a toddler.) Upon finding this poor, working-class family with a very little boy, they worshiped Him, confident that they had found the future King whom they sought, giving extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They kneeled in a radical leap of faith. How could they know that this child was the King of the Jews, being raised by a poor young mother whose husband was a mere carpenter? It could only be faith: Logic and reason were eclipsed by the wisdom of certain faith—they just knew in their hearts that they had come to the right place and the correct child, even if they would never be able to explain this to the other magi back home.

When they did not find Jesus in the place of power, Jerusalem, they sought Him in the house of simplicity and necessity: Bethlehem (the city’s name means “house of bread”).

Are we willing to keep seeking God when He does not manifest Himself in the most obvious place or when we do not find Him in the circumstances that are most convenient for us? Do we insist on seeking the Lord’s presence only in the places of glory, drama, excitement—only where it feels good and exciting? Are we willing to keep seeking Him until we find Him in the mundane, simple, ordinary parts of life—miles from places of power, hidden in houses of bread?

Many of our lives changed drastically in 2020. We had to live, travel, socialize, work, and worship differently. We had to pray and fellowship in new ways. Social distancing separated us from expressions of faith that were familiar, comfortable, or exciting. Now, our small-group fellowships meet over Zoom or other virtual-meeting platforms. Many people attend worship services via online live-stream. We must worship God in new ways, and they might not be comfortable or entertaining.

Jesus came into a mundane, ordinary village. He meets us now in the ordinary, even the boring and uncomfortable, places of our lives. True worship is a sacrifice, so it is not always easy or fun. Let us continue to kneel before Him, offering extravagant sacrifices of praise and worship:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

The wise men offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Let us offer Him our bodies, souls, and spirits as living sacrifices, as we make a radical leap of faith toward the One who has manifested Himself to us.

In which unlikely places are you finding Jesus these days? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christ Is King: Are You Certain?

“Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Today is the last Sunday on the church calendar for the liturgical year. Next Sunday, we will begin Advent, which commences a new year for the church. In some denominations, the last Sunday of the church year is the Feast of Christ the King.

Statue of Christ the King in Świebodzin, Poland. Photo by Rzuwig, under a Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Feast of Christ the King (or Christ the King Sunday) is relatively new. It was introduced in 1925 within Roman Catholicism by Pope Pius XI and was later adopted by Anglicanism and some other Protestant traditions. The feast was proclaimed in response to the growth of secularism, nationalism, and other world views that could draw people from full devotion to Christ. When introducing the feast, Pius wrote:

“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”

In other words, since Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He is the king of everything, and we must yield our entire lives to Him. 2020 has challenged many to wonder if He is really in control.

On January 1, I encouraged readers to view 2020 as a “year of vision.” For many of us, our vision has been diffracted, distorted, and blurred this year. Christians who are willing to ask “Where is God in this situation?” have learned from 2020 that we need to put our faith in God. The coronavirus pandemic, followed by violent protests in response to instances of police brutality, mingled with one of the busiest hurricane seasons in memory, etc., have brought crises that test human wisdom. It is easy to criticize government responses to these issues. It is harder to offer viable solutions.

This year is culminating in a disputed presidential election. Almost three weeks after Election Day, Joe Biden has claimed victory (most media outlets agree with him); however, Donald Trump has not conceded the election but is contesting vote counts in several states.

A few weeks before Election Day, my brother-in-law John Cancemi asked on his Facebook page, “Will God allow Biden and the Democrats to win to teach us not to depend on Trump and the Republican Party?” (This was on his personal Facebook page; interested readers may want to check out his ministry page, “Deeper Word & Greater Power.”) It was a challenging question, but he made some important points:

“It seems like many of us Christians have subconsciously taken refuge in Trump and the Republican Party. We see them as our protectors from the anti-Christian leaning Democrats. Could it be that God will remove that protection in order to teach us to depend on Him?”

Some may not like to hear that. Many conservative Christians view the Democrats, especially with their pro-abortion and anti-traditional-values platform, to be agents of Satan. Many Christians will exalt a conservative prolife President, who at least verbally acknowledges some biblical values, possibly giving him the honor that should belong to Jesus alone. How many Christian leaders have called Trump “God’s chosen man for the office”? (Note that the words “Christ” and “Messiah” come from Greek and Hebrew words, respectively, meaning “the chosen one.”) How many will justify and defend him when he speaks in aggressive, hostile terms against his opponents as if he is exempt from Scriptural teaching how to speak to those with whom we disagree?

Image via pxfuel.com.

Do not get me wrong. I am proud to be an American. I was a member of the America First Party (its national press secretary, in fact) long before Trump adopted that slogan and announced his plan to Make America Great Again. I do not support the Democratic Party.

However, we have to ask ourselves hard questions: Do we allow the Bible to define our political positions, or do we try to reinterpret Scripture so that it matches our party’s platform or our favorite politician’s values? Are we willing to admit that a beloved leader makes mistakes, or will we make godless excuses when he or she does wrong? When we disagree with a politician, can we acknowledge that he or she may have some positive attributes? Perhaps they sincerely want to do what is best for our country and their constituents, but they are misguided about what is right.

Who is your God? Who is your Lord? Who is your Savior? Scripture tells us that God has given Jesus the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9–11). Let us give Him the honor He deserves. Too many Christians have assumed God cannot work without the Republican Party. That is idolatry, and God will not share His glory with anybody else.

Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weep With Those Who Weep: Thoughts for All Souls’ Day

“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for the one who has died is freed from sin.
“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him” (Romans 6:3–9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

A Christian cemetery in Bangladesh on All Souls’ Day. Photo by Nasir Khan, via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons license.

Today is All Souls’ Day in some churches. The Book of Common Prayer calls it the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.

Many of us have been touched by death and grief over the last eight months. As of November 1, 2020, at 3:20 PM EST, there have been 1,204,121 deaths worldwide caused by COVID-19. 236,349 of these occurred in the United States, 33,687 of them in my home state of New York, and 2,216 of them occurred in my home county, Nassau. The disease has hit home for many of us.

However, people have continued to die of the usual causes as well. I had two uncles who passed away, one from cancer and the other after a few strokes. Several friends have lost parents or other close family members. I refer to these as the “collateral damage” of the pandemic, especially since some of the deceased may not have received the same level of care they would have at normal times. It has been a hard year for many of us.

Today, let us thank God for the ways our lives have been enriched by those who are no longer with us. Yes, we mourn and we grieve. But, we can think of those whom we have lost, whom we miss dearly, who have touched our lives in positive and powerful ways. We may be sad to know that they are gone, but we can rejoice that we have been blessed to know them. We can especially rejoice that for those who are now enjoying eternal life in the presence of God.

Today, let us pray for those who are in the depths of grief. The fact that two of my uncles died recently means that several of my cousins lost their fathers. Two of my aunts lost their husbands. One aunt and my mother lost their brothers. Several cousins’ children lost their grandfathers. Also, I have several friends whose mothers have passed. Grief hit home directly for each of them. I am sure most of you can add your own list of friends and family who are in mourning. Some of our friends and loved ones are grieving very deeply. Pray for them. Call them. Email or text them. Let them know that you care and that they are not alone.

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, thank God this day for the assurance of the resurrection and everlasting life. Death has been defeated. When our time in this world ends, we begin eternity in heaven where there is no grief, pain, or sorrow. Jesus has promised us:

“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

Let us always rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Sorrow assails us throughout the year, and all of us need the encouragement and love of others at all times.

Who are you mourning for this day? Who is grieving and would benefit from your compassion? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Called to Be Saints—1 Corinthians 1:2

Today, I am re-sharing a post that I published for All Saints’ Day in 2016. While the world calls us away from God to worship its idols, let us continue to recognize our calling to be saints, consecrated to God and His glory.

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…” (1 Corinthians 1:2, ESV, emphasis added).

Image from pxfuel.com.

As I am writing this, Halloween is ending. Children on Long Island have finished trick-or-treating, and most are no longer dressed like superheroes, cartoon characters, or any of the other alter egos they have adopted for the day. Now is the time to start eating all of that candy!

Like those who celebrate the day, Halloween wears a mask that clothes it in mystery. Some people choose to emphasize the “dark side” of Halloween. They talk about how October 31 was originally set apart to worship the Celtic god of death, Samhain. How evil or satanic their rituals were is a matter of debate; some authors will claim that our Halloween traditions are sanitized versions of abominable activities such as human sacrifice, while others claim that we know almost nothing about Celtic religious rituals.

Regardless of how the ancient Celts worshipped Samhain, the church adopted November 1 as All Saints’ Day, and thus October 31 became All Saints’ Evening. In older dialects of English, these would be “All Hallows’ Day” and “All Hallows’ Evening” (abbreviated as Halloween), respectively. Thus, while some seek to draw attention to the devil, the church traditionally focuses this day on those who lived and died by faith in Jesus (and, through them, to Christ Himself). While All Saints’ Day primarily honors heroes of the church, November 2 commemorates all who have died in faith and joined “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1); that day is known as All Souls’ Day (or, according to the Book of Common Prayer, the Commemoration of  All Faithful Departed).

So, why would we honor saints, or give them any thought? What is a saint? In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul tells the Christians at Corinth that they are “called to be saints.” They did not live up to the standard many of us associate with sainthood. First Corinthians is filled with reprimands for their immorality, divisiveness, pride, etc. They were far from perfect. Yet, Paul calls them saints.

A “saint” is simply  “one who is holy,” yet we tend to be confused about that term as well. A holy person is not perfect. Holiness, in both biblical Greek (hagios) and Hebrew (kadosh), implies that something or someone has been set apart for sacred use. For example, if we say that a church building is holy, we are not saying anything about the quality of its architecture or that it was built out of magic bricks; we are saying that the building has been set apart as a place to worship God. You don’t play volleyball on the altar! Likewise, if your body and mind have been set apart for God’s glory, you realize that these parts of your personality should honor Him.

A Christian is holy not because he or she is perfect, but because he or she has been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to Him. He has claimed us as His own. He has set us apart to live for Him. While perfection may not be realistic for us in this life, many of us are living below our spiritual privileges because we do not act like those who belong to Jesus.

As we take off the disguises of Halloween, let us remind ourselves on All Saints’ Day that we are called to clothe ourselves in the Christ, to mark ourselves as those who have been set apart for Him. “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14, NIV). When we think of the great saints of church history (such as Saint Patrick, Saint Francis of Assisi, etc.), let us remember our place in the body of Christ. We should not merely honor and commemorate the great saints of church history; we are challenged to imitate them, because we also are called to be saints.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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