Christ the King: Prepare the Way

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you.” Zechariah 9:9

Around 12 years ago, Queen Elizabeth came to Uganda to chair a meeting of heads of state of Common Wealth nations. Prior to her coming, everywhere you went across the country, it was obvious that the expected coming of the Queen had generated a great deal of excitement especially in the city. Old Testament prophecies express a similar sense of anticipation and excitement. It wasn’t the arrival of some foreign dignitary on a state visit or vacation. This was the king who had been part of their national consciousness for generations, the king who was going to bring peace, prosperity and fulfilled promises.

It is difficult to accept the news of a coming king because there is a sense in which all of us want to rule our own lives. But if a king starts trying to control every aspect of our lives – how we do business, how we relate to others, including our families, and even how we speak and think – we tend to resist! But Zech 9:9 says that this king is coming “for you” or “to you” (NIV). He was coming for their good, to benefit them and to ensure their safety and security.  There’s no doubt that the coming of this king was something worth looking forward to. And he is coming again! At the first coming, they rejected him because that’s not the kind of Messiah they were expecting. And many people still miss Jesus because of wrong expectations. They want a Savior who will instantly solve their problems, but those problems have not gone away. Or, they expect a Church where everyone always loves one another. But a church member treated them wrongly, so they dropped out in bitter disappointment.

To receive the benefits that this King brings, we need to recognize our need. Israel was under the domination of powerful foreign rulers. They were incapable of freeing themselves. But this King had the power to deliver them and He had their best interests at heart. Spiritually, we must admit that we are under the domination of sin that will destroy us and that we are unable to free ourselves. Then we will welcome the promised King and the benefits that He offers. Have you prepared the way?

How are we to prepare the way for the King in our own lives?  In Matt 3:2 John the Baptist says “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, The word “repent” in this text refers to far more than simply being or saying one is sorry for past sins; it means completely turning away from the past way of life. Today there seems to be no universal justice and righteousness in our world, and that could easily become a source of discouragement; but the fact that God has kept his promise in Jesus – His birth, death and resurrection, means that we can take heart and look forward to his coming as King of kings, to save us to life in eternity. God bless you.

 

 

“Great is thy faithfulness”

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.”

“Take heed that no one leads you astray.” – Lam 3:21-23, Mark 13:5

God’s faithfulness is proven by His comforting presence even in toughest of times, and His unfailing goodness across a long period of time. He is faithful in every step and faithful through the whole journey. He is faithful in the moment and faithful in the life-time. Such sweet words of hope are also found in the heart of the book that bears the ugliest name in the Bible! Deep in the Lamentations we find the God steadfast love, mercy and great faithfulness!

Celebrate God’s faithfulness in every step: Is it a tough assignment at work, or a course unit with a hard Lecturer, a wedding celebration, or a health condition that torments you? In the build up to World AIDS Day there have been many stories about positive living, and some of them can point to those moments when the person despaired and God picked them up!  Jeremiah celebrates God’s mercies, describing them from his daily experience: ‘they are new every morning’. That is the reality. However, many distractions come up and deceive us to see hardships and those tough times as drowning out the reality of God’s faithfulness. Learn from Jeremiah’s example and celebrate God’s faithfulness in every moment – in every step. Such many steps are what make a journey.

Celebrate God’s faithfulness through the journey: Is it a silver jubilee in marriage, or a birthday above our country’s life expectancy age? It could also be a loved one gone – recently a member of our church lost a grandmother at a full age of 103 years! These are all significant journey through which careful observation will notice evidence of God’s faithfulness, steadfast love and unfailing mercies.

The ultimate journey was fore-shadowed by Israel’s long trek from Egypt to Canaan – the Promised Land. The ultimate journey takes believers from today’s world to the eternal joy and fellowship in God’s presence. God is able to take all who trust Him through this journey.

As Jesus Christ prepared his listeners for the ultimate journey, He was aware of many fake teachers that would come up and deceive people using clever schemes in order to lead them to the wrong destination! ‘And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray’” (Mark 13:5). He even warned of tough moments of suffering along the journey; but insisted that the Gospel must be preached to all nations, and those who endure to the end will be saved. Those are the ones who will truly celebrate God’s faithfulness through the ultimate journey. Part of Thomas Chisholm’s legacy is in the great hymn that should mean volumes for one that reads this message with interest: ‘Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness; great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.’

 

 

Advent and the Kingdom: Are you ready?

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” – Matt 25:13, Amos 5:24

Learning never ends. As we revisit the question – ‘Are you ready?’ – we begin a learning series on the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ: it is not just a season in the Church Calendar, but a reality, that Jesus Christ came and is coming again. Charles Wesley’s musical announcement in the hymn ‘Lo! He comes’ is quite dramatic: with clouds descending, thousand thousands attending, robed in royal majesty… At His coming, some those who will be ready will join him in the clouds and ascend to enter eternal joy and peace. The Lord left us with the assignment preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God to get people ready for that Day. He told many stories to illustrate that the Kingdom is near, and we continue those stories. He used every possible opportunity to draw the attention of his listeners to the Kingdom message.

Readiness for the Advent means readiness for the Coming of the King Jesus Christ who will usher in the Kingdom of God per-excellence fully. When it comes to advent-readiness, there are many illustrations around us that make the point clearly to anyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see. Climate change offers one illustration – that dinosaurs failed to adapt to a fundamentally new climate, and they became extinct; and technological trends affecting business offer us many more such illustrations. Businesses that do not adapt to a new climate become extinct – whether it is in transport, marketing, banking, school… Kodak will suffice to illustrate the effects of these technological disruptions:

When Steven Sasson at Kodak introduced the very first digital camera in 1975 with 0.01 megapixels, everyone laughed at him. Kodak had all the patents for the digital camera, yet they went out of business because of it. They did not intentionally embrace and develop this new technology. How could this happen? Simple: short-term thinking instead of long term planning. It would have taken long term vision on behalf of the executives at Kodak, to beat the future and be a top player in the digital world. Their only focus during this time was selling more chemicals and paper (old technology) to fulfil the current film demand at the time. The short term thinking strategy failed them. The digital age overtook them and left them behind, lonely, broke and bankrupt!

The business lessons are greatly applicable to even longer term planning – into eternity; indeed, it only serves as an illustration. The warnings Kodak received and ignored are similar to what God’s prophets have spoken again and again to God’s people. Jesus himself called on us to keep watch, waiting eagerly, even when no one knows the day or the hour. His concern from start to finish of his ministry was the Kingdom of God – Kingdom-readiness. Oh be ready when He comes.

 

 

Serving by Faith

“Then he commanded them all to sit down by companies upon the green grass.” (Mark 6:39)
Readings: (1Kings 19:19-21, Mark 6:30-44)

Jesus and his disciples were due for a retreat, to eat and rest. They were tired and hungry, after a series of ministry activities. Mark brings us the story of how the much needed retreat Jesus proposed flopped! Many people saw them going away to the resort in a boat, ‘and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them.’ They were hungrier, they were more tired! Jesus saw the great throng ashore, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. I wonder how the disciples felt – arriving to rest only to get back to tough duty, led by the Teacher himself. Human strength was finished; they could only tap into divine strength – by faith, and they did. The teaching was crowned with eating that must have refreshed both camps – the ministry team and the crowds. Five loaves and two fish multiplied and served over five thousand people; the real source of food was also miraculous – by faith.

The story of Elisha’s calling points us, in another dimension, to serving by faith. In the three verses (1Kings 19:19-21), Elisha is found busy supervising and participating in a great farm business he perhaps was about to inherit. Approaching the zenith of his career, having acquired all training and experience required for his success at the business, having marshaled the equipment and personnel for the work, now the future is securely assured because the business is booming and growing. But then this interruption: Elijah threw a mantle that spoke volumes and defined a new path for Elisha. First, he injured the business a little in the name of making a party – the people ate and were ‘happy’; then he abandoned the business, and went to minister to Elijah. If questions about how he would survive lingered in his head, then the plausible answer is nothing else but ‘by faith’.

Today, someone needs to hear about trusting fully in the Lord and resting fully in his peace, even when all else around us and in the future may be uncertain. When you find yourself in Elisha’s situation – called to serve, in a short term or long term assignment, be sure God has already insured your future with something better than what your career could provide. And while you are serving, much needed times of rest may be rudely interrupted with more duty: in serving by faith, tap into the divine source of strength. This Collect for Peace reminds us that God is trustworthy; serve Him and enjoy perfect freedom:

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord,
to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom:
Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies;
that we, surely trusting in your defense,
may not fear the power of any adversaries;
through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God bless you all.

Suffering for Christ during the Protestant Reformation

Sermon Notes by Dr. Julius D. Twongyeirwe – October 21st 2018 – St. Kakumba Chapel, Kyambogo University

Christian history is our story and their story, those who have gone before us. It is a story of conflict, of war, of crusade, of blood, of sweat, of flesh and of faith. It is the history of the people of Jesus Christ in the crucible of life.

This history of Christianity liberates us from the tyranny of the present – and of the recent past. This history helps root out prejudice and foster sympathy and humility. Knowing more about the past, we gain insight into the practices and problems of Christianity in the present. Life is too short to have to learn it all by experience.

This story helps us become less critical of others. It helps us become more aware of our own shortcomings and limited perspectives, because it shows us how we got where we are today. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it. The questions that we struggle with today are not altogether new.

Getting to grips with this story gives us a sense of the communion of saints – the “cloud of witnesses” from the past which urges us to go on. The heroism, tears, toil, and triumphs of “dead Christians” get to inspire us who are living.

As of 2015, each month 322 Christians were killed for their faith. 772 forms of violence were committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages). 214 churches and properties of Christians were destroyed that year.

The Reformation gave us the Bible. The Reformers fought for the principles that Scripture alone is our final authority, Christ alone is the head of the Church and justification is by God’s grace alone, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, received by faith alone.

Few people today realize that the first Bibles printed into English had to be smuggled into England, and that the Bible translator, William Tyndale, was burnt at the stake for the crime of translating the Bible into English.

Seven fathers and mothers were burned alive at Coventry for teaching the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed to their children – in English.

The sacrifices made by the Reformers, and the far-reaching impact of their courageous application of the Word of God to every area of life, needs to be rediscovered.

William Tyndale

Tyndale was a priest, a scholar, and suffered as a Christian martyr. Tyndale was born about 1495 at Slymbridge near the Welsh border. He received his degrees from Magdalen College, Oxford, and also studied at Cambridge.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1521, and soon began to speak of his desire, which eventually became his life’s obsession, to translate the Scriptures into English.

It is reported that, in the course of a dispute with a prominent clergyman who disparaged this proposal, he said, “If God spare my life, in years to come I will cause a boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do.” The remainder of his life was devoted to keeping that vow, or boast.

He found that the King, Henry VIII, was firmly set against any English version of the Scriptures, so he fled to Germany (visiting Martin Luther in 1525), and there he travelled from city to city, in exile, in poverty, in persecution, and constant danger. Tyndale understood the commonly received doctrine — the popular theology — of his time to imply that men earn their salvation by good behavior and by penance.

He wrote eloquently in favor of the view that salvation is a gift of God, freely bestowed, and not a response to any good act on the part of the receiver. His views are expressed in numerous pamphlets, and in the introductions to commentaries on various books of the Bible that accompanied his translations. He completed his translation of the New Testament in 1525, and it was printed at Worms and smuggled into England.

Of 18,000 copies, only two survive. In 1534, he produced a revised version, and began work on the Old Testament. In the next two years he completed and published the Pentateuch and Jonah, and translated the books from Joshua through Second Chronicles.

But then he was captured (having been betrayed by one of his friends). He was put to trial for heresy, and put to death by burning him at stake on 6 October 1536. But as was often done, the officer strangled him before lighting the fire. His last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

Miles Coverdale continued Tyndale’s work by translating those portions of the Bible (including the Apocrypha) which Tyndale had not lived to translate himself, and publishing the complete work.

In 1537, the “Matthew Bible” (essentially the Tyndale-Coverdale Bible under another man’s name to spare the government embarrassment) was published in England with the Royal Permission.

Six copies were set up for public reading in Old St. Paul’s Church, and throughout the daylight hours the church was crowded with those who had come to hear it. One man would stand at the lectern and read until his voice gave out, and then he would stand down and another would take his place. All English translations of the Bible from that time to the present century are essentially revisions of the Tyndale-Coverdale work.

The phenomenon of martyrdom in suffering for Christ

This is fundamental to the early Christian experience and mindset. Martyr is a Greek word that means “witness.” The martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7 is an influential model on the idea that, at the moment of death, the martyr is given grace.

The first martyr was executed by the Jews of Jerusalem. Early Christianity was too small to be noticed by the Romans; it primarily caused tensions within Judaism.

Over time, Christianity grew and the Romans came to despise this religion of slaves and women that refused to submit to Roman public religion. The Roman gods blessed the empire and grew crops. Who was to blame when natural disasters occurred? Tertullian, an early church father, writes that Christians are blamed instantly at every natural disaster.

Christians were blamed when the Roman gods punished society, because the Christians were disrupting the peace of the gods. We hear of one episode of persecution in 177 AD when some churches in Gaul were attacked because an outbreak of plague.

Tertullian said that the call to throw Christians to lions arises at every disaster. Execution was part of the culture of public spectacle.

The Romans loved public spectacles, especially violent games. They loved to watch as people were killed in entertaining ways – including by animals. It is impossible to understand the early Christian mindset without knowledge of this experience.

Christians were willing to die in front of great crowds as witnesses for Christ. Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” When Christians were publicly executed, the audience did not always react with applause. Martyr means “witness.”

Many saw these Christians as courageous. And if they were willing to die in horrible ways for their faith, what did that say about their faith? What better way could there be to spread the religion? Romans tried to humiliate and kill Christians, but it only made Christianity stronger.

The martyrs were the heroes of the early church. They were the ones who kept alive the tradition of Jesus and the Apostles who had died before them.

Martyrdom had a lot of staying power within Christianity. In many respects, it is due to the glory of the martyrs that later Christians increasingly turned to asceticism as a method of “self-persecution” – so that they could live as their heroes had.

How did the early Church view martyrs?

Christians held a theology of martyrdom that gave them courage to endure. The early church’s theology of martyrdom was born not in synods or councils, but in blood-drenched coliseums and catacombs, as dark and still as death itself.

The word martyr meaning witness is used as such throughout the New Testament. But as the Roman Empire became increasingly hostile toward Christianity, the distinctions between witnessing and suffering became blurred and finally nonexistent.

In the second century, then, martyr became a technical term for a person who had died for Christ, while “confessor” was defined as one who proclaimed Christ’s lordship at trial but did not suffer the death penalty. A passage from Eusebius describes the survivors of the persecution in Lyons (in 177 in what is today France):

“They were also so zealous in their imitation of Christ … that, though they had attained honor, and had borne witness, not once or twice, but many times—having been brought back to prison from the wild beasts, covered with burns and scars and wounds—yet they did not proclaim themselves martyrs, nor did they suffer us to address them by this name.

If any one of us, in letter or conversation, spoke of them as martyrs, they rebuked him sharply.… And they reminded us of the martyrs who had already departed, and said, ‘They are already martyrs whom Christ has deemed worthy to be taken up in their confession, having sealed their testimony by their departure; but we are lowly and humble confessors.'”

Why not armed resistance?

One wonders what prompted Christians to emulate the passive resisters, rather than armed revolutionaries.

To answer this question one does not need to look further than Jesus himself. The church understood martyrdom as an imitation of Christ. The Lord was the exemplar of nonviolence at his own trial and execution, declaring that his servants would not fight because his kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus’ words burned themselves deeply into the collective psyche of the early church: “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also (Luke 6:29); do not resist an evil person (Matt. 5:39); blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (Matt. 5:10); if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:20).”

Paul and the other New Testament authors sustained and developed the theme that followers of Christ were to suffer, not fight, for their Lord. A believer’s weapons were not composed of iron or bronze but were made of sterner and firmer stuff (Eph. 6:13ff).

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, died a Christ-like death, praying earnestly for his tormentors. Eusebius, the church historian, called Stephen “the perfect martyr”; thus he became a prototype for all martyrs to follow.

The Ultimate Contest in Martyrdom

The martyr’s nonviolent response to trial and torture was never equated with passivity or resignation. For the early church, the act of martyrdom was a spiritual battle of epic proportion against the powers of hell itself.

Despite their moral opposition to gladiatorial (sword fighters) and athletic contests, Christians freely appropriated the language of the games to describe their spiritual stints with evil. Eusebius wrote effusively of “the discipline and much-tried fortitude (resilience, courage or grit) of the athletes of religion, the trophies won from demons, the victories placed upon all their heads.”

These vivid athletic metaphors echo the thoughts of 1 Cor. 9:24—25 which says, “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever”. So, the ultimate contest in the act of martyrdom was a spiritual battle of epic proportion against the powers of hell itself.

The Ultimate Companion in Martyrdom

For early Christians, such a battle was not waged alone. The church understood the believer’s suffering and death as a concrete and literal realization of death and burial with Christ, enacted figuratively in every convert’s baptism (Rom. 6:3).

Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to martyrdom at Rome, wrote to the church there to take no action to prevent his death, for he wished to “attain to Christ” and to be an “imitator of the passion of Christ, his God.”

To persecute Christians is to persecute Jesus himself (Acts 9:5); Christ’s disciples would suffer as he did (John 15:20); believers are to be crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20); Christians are to “rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings that you may rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13).

Martyrs not only represented Christ, but also found Christ actually present with them, in a mystical way, during their torment, torture and death.

The church understood the source of the martyr’s strength and testimony to be the Holy Spirit. Only by his inspiration could such powerful proclamation be given before hostile authorities. The martyrs relied on Jesus’ promise: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 13:11).

Those who confessed their faith in the face of persecution were seen as receiving a word of revelation and proclamation much like the Old Testament prophets. So, the ultimate companion in martyrdom was the Holy Spirit Himself.

The Ultimate Crown in Martyrdom

The negative side to the assurance of inspiration during trial and torture was the danger of apostasy under the same conditions. The Shepard of Hermas[i] declared that a servant who denies the Lord is evil.

The early church also believed in martyrs as master intercessors. The First Epistle of John alludes to the power of intercession: “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life” (1 Jn 5:16).

Numerous stories were circulated of almost legendary feats of prayer performed by martyrs during their lifetimes. Thus it was not difficult for Christians at that time to imagine these same prayer warriors interceding at the heavenly court after death.

From the love of martyrs to the veneration of martyrs

The imagination that these prayer warriors were interceding at the heavenly court after death became a sentiment of the early church toward its martyrs. It moved the living from love and remembrance of the dead saints to reverence of them and eventually to veneration. How far should we go as biblical Christians?

The author of the account of the martyrdom of Polycarp wrote: “For him (Jesus) as Son of God we adore; the martyrs, as disciples and imitators of the Lord, we reverence as they deserve on account of their unsurpassable loyalty to their King and Teacher.”

Martyrs were honored by having their “heavenly birthdays” (i.e., the anniversaries of their deaths) celebrated annually. The celebration service was held at the grave of the deceased with prayer, oblations (as presented or offered to God), communion, and a reading of the martyr’s history of suffering and death.

By their faithfulness to Christ in spite of torture and death, these men, women, and children proclaimed to the world that Jesus, and not Caesar, is Lord. It is in the same manner that the Uganda martyrs chose to follow the conviction of their new-found faith, than give in to the lordship of Kabaka Mwanga.

In the words of the Book of Revelation, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death (12:11).”

Conclusion

The Christian view of suffering for Christ in “martyrdom” developed in the context of actual deaths in the first and second centuries after Christ. Martyrdom was as result of persecution and death that was in itself a witness for Christ.

In the early church, the idea developed that it was not enough to be called a Christian, one had to show some proof. That proof was normally some kind of verbal acknowledgement of identification with Christ, starting with the confession ‘Jesus is Lord.’

‘Dying because one is a Christian is the action par excellence in which the disciple who is called to this confirms his or her faith by following the example of Jesus’ suffering and through action is able once again to become a word with power to speak to others’.  Eventually confessors were distinguished from martyrs.

Paul gives the deepest foundation for this confidence that he has. He says in 14:7-9, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  This is a clear harmonization of death and life in Christ, so that we may not fear either.

Christ died and rose again from the dead to destroy the power of death and make the living and the dead his own possession. Therefore, the living now live to his glory, and the dead shall live to his glory.

The living display his worth by how they use his creation for his glory, and the dead display his worth by how they rejoice in the superior worth of Christ over all his gifts of creation.

In the opinion of most people, life and death are antagonistic. Life is something to be desired and cherished, while death is to be dreaded and shunned. Life is the sphere of activities, while death is regarded as their cessation. But Paul teaches a larger view: Christ by His own life and death lifts death out of its darkness and gives a new meaning to life.

The Christian in living consecration, obtains truest riches and secures extensive productiveness in life. For this reason, life is regarded by many as the only sphere for production. However, there is no annihilation because both the life and death of the Christian have a special place and use in the divine purposes.

Death is the shadow feared by man; its very approach casts darkness over the frame. But death loses much of its darkness and its terror when we view it in the light of Christ’s claim. Death introduces us to new and wider spheres. Death and life belong unto Him who by death conquered death, and they are crowned and glorified by love.

We “live unto the Lord” when we live for the good of His people, for the honor of His cause, for the extension of His Kingdom, for the glory of His name. Christians can neither live useless lives nor die useless deaths. God has a purpose in both and a property in both, so that, whether they live or die, they are the Lord’s. Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven, who tastes the sweets of pardon. He can see the Lord coming in dreadful majesty, and feel no alarm. He can perceive the earth quaking, and experience no terror. In the soul of the true believer is a light that shines through all glooms, is a gladness which overtops all sorrows, is a confidence which overmasters all fears.

May the God, who planted in the heart of his servant William Tyndale a consuming passion to bring the Scriptures to the people in their native tongue, and endowed him with the gift of powerful and graceful expression and with strength to persevere against all obstacles, reveal to us His saving Word, as we read and study the Scriptures, and hear them calling us to repentance and life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


[i] “The Shepherd of Hermas” was a religious literary work of the second and third centuries and was considered a valuable book by many early Christians. “The Shepherd of Hermas” was even considered canonical Scripture by some of the early church fathers such as Irenaeus during the period in which the New Testament was being canonized. Basically, it was written as a call to repentance and adherence to a strict moralistic life.

The author of “The Shepherd of Hermas” is not known. However, a number of ancient sources attribute the work to a Hermas who was a brother of Pius I, the Bishop of Rome from 140 to 155. In the story, Hermas speaks of his life and the development of Christian virtues as he tells of his story as a freed Christian slave.

Apostles – the sent ones

“And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” (Mark 6:7)

  Kyambogo experienced a great visitation last Sunday – the Archbishop was well received and his ministry among us was greatly appreciated. He appreciated the well-organized function; this appreciation goes to all who worked hard to make it a success – the Diocesan Secretary for coordinating well, the Chapel Council, those who prepared breakfast and lunch, the dancing entertainers, and all members of the organizing team. Thank you very much. Bishops have another title which they rarely use –they are the Apostles – the sent ones. Jesus came into the world as a sent one from God, and he immediately entered the business of calling and sending.

If the Lord has called you, he has also sent you. In Mark 6, the Lord begins with as low-going mission outreach in the neighborhood of his home. There is even a controversial verse 5: ‘And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.’ Is Jesus Christ limited by earthly circumstances?Yet the description of the difficult mission shows that it was indeed tough; Jesus even marveled! He marveled at the unbelief of these neighbors who claimed they knew him (talking about his parents, relatives and their family business); they were using only human eyes without deeper understanding and spiritual revelation.This must have shown Jesus’ disciples that mission work was not always going to be easy and well-received. Just after this story comes a commissioning.

 He called to him the twelve, and began to send them out. As if the difficulties observed in Jesus’ own Galilean mission were not enough, He tells them to go with no back-up plan; no bread, no bag, no money! To make matters worse, He even tells them the likelihood of a “place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you” –rejection like it happened to him Nazareth! Is this what it means to be the sent one? God is teaching important lessons through this commissioning; it was an internship of sorts to convey many lessons that we do well to receive even today.

The one who sends is the one at work. All He requires is the obedience of the envoy. He will make you a fisher of men; He will give you what to speak; He will follow you with signs; He will be with you all the way; He will accept no excuses. To have no back-up plan is to have the ultimate and best back-up plan – the invisible one which God caries as He watches you go. This message may sound like it is for the few God has called; but it is for every believer. Are you following the Lord Jesus Christ? You are the sent one. If He has called you, He has sent you.

 

 

 

 

The Seed of the Kingdom Gospel

 “It is like a grain of mustard seed… the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:31-32)

Although Mark is prominently a book of Jesus’ mighty works, recording nineteen miracles and only four parables, it is still clear that the wonderful Worker Is also a trustworthy Teacher: John the Baptist is a preacher, and Jesus also is introduced as a preacher, taking up and enlarging the message of John. Striking references are made to His originality, methods, popularity and matchlessness as a teacher (Mark 1:22). A miracle is definitely declared to be for the purpose of instruction (Mar 2:10), and the implication is frequent that His miracles were not only the dictates of His compassion, but also purposed self-revelations. Not only is He Himself a teacher, but He is concerned to prepare others to be teachers (Mar 3:13-14).

In his teaching about the main subject – the Kingdom of God – the Lord uses the illustration of seeds that are planted and result in edible fruit or large trees in ways far beyond the understanding of farmer (Mark 4:26-32). This must have made little sense to those who listened to the Lord when he was sowing this gospel seed; many Jews were not buying it, especially the leaders. How would it become a great tree? How would it survive the persecution of the Jewish authorities, let alone the Roman imperialists? Indeed the gospel has been met with adverse conditions and numerous attempts to wipe it off the surface of the earth, but it still thrives, and thrives really big today. Symbolically, the birds that come to perch nests on the large tree have even much less understanding of how the little seed grew into such a structure. Remember the ignorance expressed in parts of this hymn:

I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart,

Nor how believing in His word wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin,

Revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him.

What we don’t know does not stop the reality from continuing. The seed of the gospel is potent and alive; when buried, it won’t just stay in the ground. It will sprout at some point, and beat the odds of weather and winds and grow, taking to the skies and standing firm and tall. The tree serves the farmer, the strangers who rest in the shade under it, the birds of the air, and the animals that eat the fruits falling down. Similarly, the benefits of the good news are for a wide variety of people. Our role is to spread this gospel; what we sow may look tiny and in danger, but God will bring up somehow.

But, “I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able

to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”

 

 

Jesus Christ Is Calling You

And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14)

 Earthly glories should never cause one to lose their vision and purpose. As Jesus gained more and more fame, he could have stopped and basked, enjoying the earthly honours – when everyone was searching for him, but he did not. And he said to them,“Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:37-38). Jesus kept his the scope of his outreach mission in focus in order not to be derailed by any distractions – bitter or sweet. In the passage in the next Chapter, observe the unity of his actions, his words, and his message of beckoning that demands a response even today, because the mission is still on.

Mark 2:13-17 records the Lord teaching many beside the sea, then calling one he found at a tax booth. He then accepted to go dine with this one Levi, whose friends were his peers at work and their friends – tax collectors and sinners. These actions speak louder than words; the Pharisees were hearing but hardly understanding what Jesus was saying through these actions. In many African and Asian cultures eating together is very significant in building and maintaining close relationships. It means deep mutual acceptance of one another. How could such a righteous Rabbi stoop that low to eat with these sinners? Levi and his friends did not ask that question; they simply understood the gesture and followed and were transformed by their new friend Jesus Christ.

The scribes of the Pharisees who dared question Jesus’ actions were given a seemingly obvious answer: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Luke (5:3-11) gives more details of what happened when Jesus called Simon Peter, “… he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” Now another sinner has been called by the same Master. He promised Peter to be a fisher of men,and indeed he fished them – beginning with 3000 on the Day of Pentecost, then anymore, both Jews and Gentiles, from the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa.Levi demanded from the people to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; in his new calling he demanded from the people to give to God what belongs to God. The Gospel of Matthew is his legacy to bring the same message to generations in the future.

His actions are clearly consistent with his words. Given that the mission is not yet over,Jesus still calls to send out, and He is calling you. You may see shortcomings in yourself,as did Peter and Levi, but what is required is just to trust and follow the one who calls. Like a physician that turns around the sick and sad to become healthy and happy,the Lord is able to transform the losing sinner into a loving winner – a worthy vessel to participate in this great divine mission at hand.

 

Jesus in Power and in Prayer

And they were all amazed… “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27,35)

Our Lord Jesus Christ was quickly rising to fame in Galilee due to mighty words and mighty works. His captivating preaching and conspicuous power were celebrated and sought after. His hearers were amazed then, and even his readers today are amazed. The most valuable response could only arise from a clear appreciation that Jesus’ life was characterized with a balance of power illustrated and disciplined prayer. This reflection examines why he worked the wonders, how he kept his ministry focus, and what he did with the fame.

The visitations of Jesus Christ in synagogues or in homes were great blessings with sweet words and transforming miracles. Mark 1 records Jesus teaching in the synagogue, and thereafter defeating and casting out an unclean spirit; he then went to a friend’s home and powerfully ministered to the town that evening (v.21-34). These actions attested to the Lord’s teaching about the imminent kingdom of God. The evil spirit in the synagogue was seeing more than just a man in Jesus Christ; it was seeing greater power that could expel and even destroy the powers of darkness. This is exactly what happened there and at the evening ministry – Jesus cast out many demons. People should not only hear about but also see the evidence of the more powerful kingdom that Jesus Christ represents; therefore, they should believe his words and put their faith in Him and thereby receive this kingdom.

As to how the Lord kept his ministry focus and effectiveness, one verse is helpful, yet it is almost hidden in the more amazing events: “a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed” (v.35). Prayer is the crucial discipline that characterized the life of this busy man, giving him impetus to work. We are not informed of the exact time when he went out, but it was a great while before day, maybe at 3am or earlier. Many other places record Jesus in prayer, and in some instances he prays all night! The importance of prayer in daily life and especially in ministry cannot be overstated; if the Lord himself needed it, then how about mere mortals? Prayer was the necessary fuel that kept the Lord’s ministry engine running effectively.

With all the great things happening, Jesus was in danger of being made king by force by those who longed for a political liberator. He could have let it be and enjoyed the earthly honour and glory, but he did not. And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out” (v.38). He instead went to other places, so that they may hear and see the kingdom of God. In the same way, earthly glories should never cause one to lose their vision and purpose. More on this will be shared next Sunday.

 

 

The Gospel of Mark: Good News

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

We will take time and study the Gospel of Mark in this season – the second book in the New Testament. It is the fastest gospel, bringing you Jesus in action straight, without long background and introductory remarks. Right in Chapter One, Jesus is and adult, baptized, in the wilderness, back to Galilee starting a serious preaching career, calling disciples, performing miracles of healing, praying alone, and traveling throughout Galilee preaching and driving out demons. Mark leaves us with a book full of action and energy, presenting with fine details a Worker and a Teacher. A great article in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives detailed description of this book:

A Book of Mighty Works: Judged by the space occupied, Mark is a Gospel of deeds. Jesus is a worker. He hastens from one task to another with energy and decision. It is not strange therefore that the uneventful early years should be passed over. Nor is it strange that miracles should be more numerous than parables. According to Westcott’s classification Mark has 19 miracles and only 4 parables, whereas the corresponding figures for Matthew are 21 to 15 and for Luke 20 to 19. Of the miracles 2 are peculiar to Mark, of the parables only 1. The evangelist clearly records the deeds rather than the words of Jesus.

The Worker Is also a Teacher: Though what has been said is true, yet Mark is by no means silent about Jesus as a teacher. John the Baptist is a preacher, and Jesus also is introduced as a preacher, taking up and enlarging the message of John. Striking references are made to His originality, methods, popularity and matchlessness as a teacher (Mark 1:22). A miracle is definitely declared to be for the purpose of instruction (Mar 2:10), and the implication is frequent that His miracles were not only the dictates of His compassion, but also purposed self-revelations. Not only is He Himself a teacher, but He is concerned to prepare others to be teachers (Mar 3:13-14).

A Book of Graphic Details: There is a multitude of graphic details: Mark mentions actions and gestures of Jesus; Jesus hungers, seeks rest in seclusion and sleeps on the boat cushion; he pities the multitude, wonders at men’s unbelief, sighs over their sorrow and blindness, and rebukes in sadness the wrong thought of His mother and brothers. With many vivid touches we are told of the behavior of the people and the impression made on them by what Jesus said or did. These details strongly suggest the observation of an eyewitness as the final authority, and the geographical references suggest that even the writer understood the general features of the country, especially of Jerusalem and its neighborhood.

As you study more of the book of Mark, remember the ultimate message: “The time has come; the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”