Cornelius: Anyone Can Be Saved

Cornelius

A historical reenactor in Roman centurion costume. Note the transverse crest on the Galea (helmet).It was worn to indicated the wearer’s rank in regimental ‘triumph’ and honorific parades. It purpose was purely symbolic. In ordinary events, it was not part of the standard battle-dress of Roman soldiers in the field.

Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Matthew 28:20, he specifically said to “make disciples of all nations.”

It took a while for them to understand that he meant for more than just Jews to become disciples. Finally, God prepared a very special person, Cornelius, to become the first gentile Christian.

The Jews had long suffered under Roman occupation. So isn’t it just like God to choose a Roman centurion to hear the gospel first? Continue reading

Apart from God, nothing

man readingAs one of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his arrest, he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Nothing.

He didn’t mean apart from him we can’t bear fruit. He meant we can do nothing.

He didn’t just mean his followers. He meant anyone at all.

Consider the simple act of sitting in a chair reading a book. “Through him [Jesus, the Word of God who is God] all things were made; without him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). What all did God have to make for me to sit in a chair and read a book? Continue reading

Jesus and Judas in Holy Week

judas receives silver

Judas receiving silver for betraying Jesus. 16th century fresco painting on the vault in the Saint Sébastien Church, in Planpinet. Clarée valley, Hautes alpes département, France.

I wrote of Jesus’ trial before Pilate a couple of years ago and noted that Jesus had to work very hard to keep from being acquitted. Studying the Last Supper and events leading up to it, I notice that Jesus had to work just as skillfully to orchestrate his betrayal.

Judas went secretly to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus. Luke’s account (Luke 26:3) specifically says that Satan entered him. Once the conspirators agreed on the fee, He kept his eyes open for an opportunity.

He had to act at just the right time, without the rest of the disciples understanding what was happening, in order for the divine plan to work. Jesus was firmly in control. Continue reading

Remember God

Moses Pleading with Israel

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 8:11-20, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company

Lent is a time of repentance and preparation for Easter. That Jesus died for our sins and rose again to take them away means nothing if we don’t recognized ourselves as sinners. For all our individual differences, we all have one sin in common. We forget God.

Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised Land. and they refused to enter.

They had forgotten God’s power, protection, and provision. When they heard the report of fortified cities, they wailed and declared it would have been better if they had died in Egypt.

So God granted them the next best thing. They would die in the wilderness. To everyone counted in a recent census 20 years and older, God said they would wander for 40 years until every one of their carcasses fell—an average of 140 deaths every day.

The younger generation

Moses addressed their children, again on the doorstep of the Promised Land and called them, begged them, to remember God as they began to prosper and thrive. Deuteronomy 8:11-14 especially provides a Lenten reminder. Continue reading

First Things First: Jesus’ Miracle at Cana

Miracle at Cana
Miracle at Cana

Turning Water into Wine at the Wedding at Cana / Fernando Gallego, 1480s

Are you ever offended at Jesus? He upset people from the very beginning. Some of us in the church haven’t liked everything he did for 2,000 years–least of all his sense of timing.

Jesus’ first miracle took place at a party, much to the consternation of those who think religion ought to be dignified and serious.

He brought the wine, much to the consternation of Christians who believe that anything alcoholic is evil. What was Jesus doing there in the first place, and what does it all mean?

According to John 2:1-11, Mary was at a wedding in Cana. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited, apparently some time later than Mary. Either the bride or groom may have been Jesus’ and Mary’s relatives.

In any case, Mary must have been an important enough person to them that when a problem arose, she knew about it and took responsibility for doing something about it. Continue reading

Mary: After the Angel Departed

Mary, Simeon, Jesus

Simeon Receives Jesus in the Temple / Simon Vouet, 1640-41

Have you ever had a vivid encounter with God? What happened a day or two later? A week? Years?

Quite often Christians have reported an overwhelming spiritual high followed by a deep spiritual low.

God’s presence can be so vivid that it seems like what he says is bound to happen in the next 15 minutes, but it never does.

A cherished promise never seems as far off and distant as it does after vividness of the divine presence fades.

Does that mean perhaps that we had no genuine spiritual experience? Did we get carried away by feelings? Was it all a lie?

Hardly.

It follows a biblical pattern. This post will explore it in Mary’s life, but first, consider: Continue reading

Who Were the Magi, and Why Should We Care?

Magi

Detail from: “Mary and Child, surrounded by angels”, mosaic of an Italian-Byzantine workshop in Ravenna, completed within 526 AD by the so-called “Master of Sant’Apollinare”.

Did the three wise men really visit the manger in Bethlehem on that first Christmas day bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

The town and the gifts are right. At best, the rest of the familiar scene is dubious. Who were the wise men (magi), and what does it matter?

The Bible (Matthew 2:1-12) simply says wise men (it’s plural, so there were at least two) followed a star from the East (a vague enough reference that only rules out other directions). Eventually they got to Bethlehem, entered “the house,” presented their gifts, and rode out of history. Continue reading

Preparing for Christ’s return

Last Judgment / Lochner Jesus' return second coming of Christ
john the baptist

John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695

The church sets aside the season of Advent to prepare for Christ’s coming. It is a season of penitence to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, the first coming of Christ. He entered the world by stealth, being born in an obscure village.

But the New Testament proclaims in many ways that Christ will return in triumph. Advent prepares us for that event, too.

Regarding John the Baptist, Luke 3:4-6 quotes a passage from Isaiah that has not yet seen its entire fulfillment: Continue reading

Benedictus: Zecharaiah’s song

Zechariah--annunciation

Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah / Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490) Fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence

Zechariah’s song (known as the Benedictus) doesn’t get nearly the attention as Mary’s (the Magnificat) earlier in the chapter, but it is the first recorded prophetic word since the Book of Malachi some 400 years earlier.

Its outpouring of praise culminates a long life of both piety and disappointment. After years of waiting and hoping, Zechariah, an aging priest, drew the lot for the once-in-a-lifetime assignment of burning incense in the temple.

The angel Gabriel appeared to him and said his prayer was answered. What prayer? The one he had been praying longer than he had waited for the honor of burning incense. He and his wife Elizabeth wanted a son. Gabriel instructed that he name the son John.

Unfortunately, the pious and righteous Zechariah chose that moment to show unbelief by asking Gabriel how he could know the promise was true. He never spoke another word until after John was born. Continue reading

Is God a light switch?

light switch

light switchHow does a person find God? Someone suggested it’s like leading them into a dark room and encouraging them to find a light switch on the wall.

I have some experience going into total darkness and finding the switch, but I’ll only enter if I know where the switch is. Can a believer tell or show someone else where the switch is?

I think that’s the wrong question. God is the light of the world. There is no darkness in him, and he is not in darkness.

Where, then, does darkness come from? The simple answer is that darkness comes from Satan, and if people are looking for a switch, then the switch must be the light of God in a believer.

But I don’t particularly like the metaphor. Let me rephrase the question: how does an unbeliever find the light, and what role do believers have in the process? Continue reading