“Purified in Baptism”
Sunday, January 14, 2018
The Second Sunday after Epiphany
The Feast Of The Baptism Of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Isaiah 42: 1 – 7
Acts 10: 34 – 38
Mark 1: 4 – 11
Bishop Elmer Belmonte
Bishop Ariel Santos:
One of my favorite Scriptures is out of Psalm 29 which says, “In His temple, everything says, Glory!’” It is a gentle reminder to us that every time we come to His temple, His church, we are dressed in holy array. We are at our best attire, best attitude, and prepared with hearts longing to receive from God. Our individual bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we should take care of it spiritually and physically because each and every part of this temple should proclaim glory to God.
We need another epiphany of the saints. God is manifested to us, to the Gentiles, to the nations, and we need to be revealed as the sons of God.
Bishop Elmer Belmonte:
Advent, Christmas and Epiphany used to be one season. Whenever we celebrate the incarnation of Christ, which is one of the greatest mysteries of all, we are also reminded of our birth. As we celebrate today the baptism of Jesus, we are also reminded of our baptism. Our baptism is God calling us to be His children. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, by default, it tells us that we are the sons and daughters of God.
Today, I would not focus on our baptism, but I would like to look at Matthew 21:12-16, which has something to do with the calling that God has placed upon the Church. This happened immediately after Jesus entered Jerusalem where the first thing that He did was to go to the temple. “2 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’den.”
14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus *said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?”
There are two records of the cleansing of the temple – in gospel of Matthew and of John. In the gospel of John, John focused more on, “The zeal of the Lord that has consumed me.” Zeal is sometimes translated as God is a jealous God. It is not the kind of jealousy that we know, but zeal is His deep concern and desire for us is in His heart. God thinks of us every day and every single minute of the day. We don’t think of God this way, but God thinks of us every single minute of the day. This is what concerns Christ and it is what consumes the inside of Him.
The gospel of Matthew puts a lot of details into the story. Jesus calls the tabernacle as His Father’s house where God dwells and where His Father dwells. Ultimately, He desires that we become His habitation. God inhabits the praises of His people. Today, we have buildings wherein God dwells. We don’t leave God behind on Sundays; we take God with us.
I like the fact that I am evangelical, that I am born-again. I like the fact that I have a personal relationship with God because it strongly speaks to a point that God is not an impersonal God, but a personal God. I can have a relationship with Him.
If you go to Jerusalem, there is the western wall and the Jews are praying and praying because that is the nearest point that they could be in the temple. The most contested piece of land on the planet is where the Al-Aqsa mosque is. Unfortunately, there is a mosque there, but that was where Abraham offered Isaac and that was where the Solomon temple was built. It was destroyed before the coming of Christ, and it was rebuilt and was destroyed again. The Jewish people believed that the Messiah will come when the temple is rebuilt. This is the reason there is no sacrifice, hence, the creation of the synagogue. There is no sacrifice in the synagogue; it is a place where people hear the Word of God. Evangelicalism, in a sense, is more of a synagogue type of worship. Where there is a Eucharist, there is a sacrifice, and there is the temple.
Jesus cleansed the temple, but the subheading in the Bible can be misleading. The cleansing of the temple was only part of what Jesus did. It was purification. When Jesus entered the temple, what He saw a mall – a megamall where there was a pawnshop and money changers. There was an evolution somehow. In the olden times, God told the children of Israel, “You need to go to Jerusalem three times a year.” Three times a year, they would bring their sacrifice, and the Jewish people would be travelling for a couple of days going to Jerusalem and they were dragging all their animals. Someone came up with the idea of selling the animals in the temple so that the people don’t have to carry their animals. Eventually, it became bigger and bigger until it became a mega-business. The religious leaders were behind it, and they liked it. In the temple, there were the money changers, a pet shop, a pawnshop and many more that when Jesus entered the temple, He said, “What have you turned the temple to be?” Not only that, the people could not give an offering using a Roman coin, so they had to have an exchange from a Roman coin to a Jewish coin. The religious leaders were behind all of these and they have created a super megamall within the temple. Jesus said, “You have made it a den of thieves! You are taking advantage of God’s people and instead of making the temple a place where my Father will dwell, you are actually extorting people with this business that you have.”
The first thing that Jesus did was to purify the temple. St. Paul was the one who said, “Judgment starts in the house of God.” Before God judges the world, God will judge the Church. To whom much is given, much is required. What Jesus did was to go beyond cleansing the temple. He reestablished the purpose of why the temple was there in the first place. However, they turned it into something else – a place of merchandise.
Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Christian and philosopher and theologian said, “The human race in the course of time has taken the liberty of softening and softening Christianity until at last we have contrived to make it exactlythe opposite of what it is in the New Testament.” We have the propensity or the temptation to make the Church the way we want it. When there is a move of God, man takes it, and runs with it and leaves God behind. Then, the move of God turns into something more disastrous.
Today, worship in modern Christianity is to worship to make us feel good. When asked, “How is the service?” the answer is, “I felt good.” People would not say, “I think,” but rather say, “I feel.” Now, everything has to do with what we feel, but we can’t rely on this because it changes. Regardless of what we feel, God is God. We don’t come to Church to worship and to feel good. We come to honor who God is, and sometimes, we have forgotten that this is the reason that we come. We are not the center of the universe; God is! Some of us have lost our sense of direction in life and we go back because our compass, our heart, our conscience tells us that we are going to go back to the altar of the Lord.
What we hear from modern Christianity is a DIY – do it yourself. The Patriarch says, “Many Christians would say, ‘You come to my church because I am preaching about how you can become a better you.” The truth is we don’t come to Church to become a better “me” but we come to Church to become a better Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, what we hear is not only a feel good worship, but an inspirational talk or a motivational talk. It is no longer the homily or the Word of God. What is the gospel? Is it becoming rich so that we can become a better person? We cannot become a better person without Christ in us and the grace of God. It is not a matter of becoming a better you, but becoming a better Christ in the life that He has given us as we have received in baptism. Unfortunately, modern Christianity has bought into this motivational DIY type of thing and it has become tantalizing where people are flocking in.
What is the gospel? The gospel is: for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” What is the gospel? Jesus says, “If you want to follow Me, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me.” It is not, “I feel good.” If feeling good is the focus of our ministry, then I have a suggestion on what name we can have for this kind of church: “I Feel Good Hakuta Matata, Profitable Ministries Incorporated.” We feel good; it profits us. This is not the gospel and this is not what the Church is supposed to be. Friedrich Nietzsche says, “God is dead and we killed Him.” I say, “There is a difference with Christianity that makes us and the Christianity that we make.”
We are not here to change God. We are here to honor God and for God to make us like Him. If we are not ready to do this, we better find another Church. Sometimes God corrects us because He loves us. God wants us to be what He wants us to be – to be like Christ. St. Paul chided the church at Corinth for making the Eucharist a social gathering. Many times, we have made the Church a house of men instead of the Father’s house. We need to be careful with this, and when this happens, God will cleanse and purify the Church and this is the first phase.
The second phase is when Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” I produced a prayer journal and I have sent 800 copies to the Philippines. What motivated me was because of the drug problem in our country. I am not a politician or a Cabinet member, but I am Christian, and I wanted to do something for this. God said to me, “You can pray, can’t you?” I said, “Yes,” so I wrote this Collect that I want you to pray to the resolution of the drug problem in the Philippines. Prayer works. We are not with the government, and we don’t have any power, but God is powerful.
The Collect says, “Almighty and Ever-living God, the Source of all life, in Your tender love for the human race, look upon our country, the Philippines, and those who have fallen into addiction to drugs. Grant to Your people the power to deliver those who cry out to You for help. Touch and change the heart of the heartless who prey on Your people to harm and to destroy. Comfort those who have lost their loved ones. Clothe with compassion the heart of those who care for them, and guide those who are in authority with mercy and wisdom for the sake of Your only Son Jesus Christ.” I believe something will change. When you receive a copy of this prayer journal, make a commitment to pray this saying, “We want God’s solution to the drug problem in the Philippines.”
Sometimes, God pushes us to a point of holy desperation, so we pray. There was an atheist, who was a university professor. He was strolling one day in the forest, and he was enjoying the sound of the birds, the greeneries. Along the trail, there was a river where he could hear the water cascading. He was enjoying everything, and yet he did not believe in God. All of a sudden, he heard a strange sound. When he looked back, there was a seven-foot bear that was looking at him, straight to his eyes. What he did was he panicked, and ran as fast as he could.
Unfortunately, he tripped on one of the roots of a big tree, and he found the bear on top of him with one paw on his neck, and the other paw that was going to strike him. All of a sudden, the atheist said, “Oh my God!” Instantly, everything hushed. The leaves of the trees were not moving; there was no sound of the birds; there was no sound of the waters of the river cascading. Then, there comes a voice that comes from heaven that says, “Now, you are calling Me? You did not believe in Me. You taught the students of the university that there is no God, and now, you are calling Me?” The stunned atheist answered, “Okay, God, I understand that You cannot make me a Christian but help me right now. Let us call it quits, but at least You can make the bear a Christian.” The bear removes his paw from the neck of the atheist, and folds his hands and says, “Bless me, O Lord, and this Thy gifts, which I am about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.” God was able to turn the bear into a Christian, but the bear was still going to eat the atheist.
If the bear can pray, Christians ought to pray more. We can pray to change the things in the world we live in. D. L. Moody said, “Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure.” Where do you build your home group? Where do you build your mission? Where do you build your Church? It is on bended knees. This is how we build our ministry. Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep the Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.” Soren Kierkegaard says again, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but to rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Oswald Chambers said, “Our prayers are heard not because we are in earnest, not because we suffer, but because Jesus suffered.”
We are called to pray. The next thing that happens after we pray, after the Church becomes a house of prayer for the nations is that she becomes a house of power where the lame, the blind, and the sick came, and people are healed. Who would not want to see the power of God made manifest in the midst of us again? There are people who are in need that they say, “Where are You, Lord?” God’s power is there but we need to tap into it.
God wants to purify us. God wants us to be a house of prayer, and then, a house of power! The power of God is not simply to show that He is powerful. The power of God is to transform us to become like Him and to minister to those who are in need. The power of God is not to show the celestial extravaganza. The purpose of God’s power is to minister to the needs of the people. Lastly, after we see people being healed where the deaf hears, the lame walks, and the blind sees at the Cathedral of the King, the anointed One will come and will set the prisoners free. Then, there will be a pure praise from the lips of infants. Jesus quoted this from Psalm 8:2, “He brings forth praise from His humble people who are likened to Me as children.”
Purification, house of prayer, and house of power is what God wants the temple to be. If we try to make it the way we want it, we are going to miss the point. This is not going to be the motivational or inspirational talk that when we leave this place, it is like we went to a therapy session. “I was depressed and I went to the Church because I heard the motivational talk.” No, the power of God is in the Word of God that changes people’s lives. It is not the preacher’s word, but God’s word.
From my personal standpoint, let God bring purification in our lives. I pray that from today on, you will make a commitment that your life will be dedicated to a life of prayer. I say this, “We don’t pray to live. We live to pray.” We are alive because we can pray. Prayer is like the air that we breathe, that is so natural, and that after, there is a pure praise.
I pray that God speaks to the Church at large. We have gone through a time of purification, and now, we are entering a phase of becoming a prayerful Church because this is how things change. We will see again the power of God for His glory, and the anointing of God upon this Church to move, and to see the healing of the blind and the sick. We need to pray for the least, the lost, and the lonely, including the loaded.
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