Monday after the Ascension
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Is Jesus first and foremost a teacher or a savior? Did he come to tell us a better way to live, or did he come to give us a new life? Do we train our wills to do good like Jesus did, or do we need Jesus to move our wills to want to do good? These are some of the most fundamental questions of the Christian life.
The Medieval Church was, like many today, scandalized by Paul’s statement that God declares the wicked “not guilty” (Romans 4:5). Because of the influence of Greek philosophy, they were convinced that any reasonable, responsible moral teacher would insist that divine grace had to be accompanied by human responsibility. People had to do what they could to be good before they could expect to be acceptable to God. Only after they had done everything in their power to be holy would God reward them with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only after they had followed Jesus as a good teacher in their own strength would God then decide whether they were worthy enough for him to become their supernatural savior.
The English Reformers would have none of such teaching. They read their Bibles. They knew the teachings of Paul in the New Testament. They knew the teachings of the prophets in the Old Testament. Ezekiel 36:25-27 is quite clear:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Cranmer got it. According to his writings, repentance is God’s gift. Sinners turn to God to be turned by God. Only God can perform the heart transplant we need so we can begin to follow Jesus. Only God can truly love us unconditionally as we are, as unworthy as we are. Only such love can inspire in us his Spirit of grateful love. Only his Spirit of gratitude can move us to love Jesus more than sin. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot be spiritually healthy. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot bear any fruit for God.
Cranmer knew human beings need good guidance, but even more they need the power to follow it. So during “Waiting Week,” when we remember the time when Jesus had ascended into Heaven but the presence of the Holy Spirit was not yet given within Christians on earth, Cranmer’s Collect has the church calling out for God to send the Holy Spirit.
What about us? Is God for us just a super-duper intense sport coach in the sky? Think about it. A hundred yards out, a cross-country athlete sees the coach with a stopwatch at the finish line. What goes through that athlete's mind? “Oh, boy, I sure hope the coach is going to be happy with the time he sees when I cross the line.” Why? Because the athlete knows if the coach is disappointed in the time, he or she won’t keep it to themselves. At best, the coach is going to simply walk away in disgust and not say anything. At worst, the coach is going to verbally harangue the athlete, reminding him or her what an incredible loser the athlete is. Is that what God does? Is that the Gospel?
Let's take that same scene but from a different angle. The athlete is one hundred yards out from the finish line. What does he or she need more than anything else to reach that finish line? It's a trick question, because immediately, you're probably thinking perseverance, courage, character. All those are true, but I want to think about what that athlete needs more than anything else biologically. Well, yeah, they need stamina. Yeah, they need power. Well, where does all that come from? More than anything else, that athlete needs--that's right--oxygen. Without air, nothing's going to work.
Is God the coach at the end, watching your performance, waiting to evaluate whether you have been good enough to merit his praise? Or bad enough to deserve his rebuke? Or is he the Holy Spirit that dwells in you empowering every step of your way?
The truth is, as Christians, God seeks to empower us daily, filling us with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit every single day. That is the promise and the purpose of the Gospel that Jesus came to reveal, Paul recovered and the Reformation recovered. Let’s not neglect our Godly heritage.
Therefore, let us pray with Cranmer and generations of Anglicans for more of the power of the Holy Spirit to be at work in us:
O God, the king of glory, which hast exalted thine only son Jesus Christ, with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; we beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine holy ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our savior Christ is gone before; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Ghost, one God world without end, Amen.
Pray with us today's prayer request:In 2020 through to March 2021, Anglican Missions Africa has trained 900 evangelists/clergy in 27 dioceses. Through the dioceses they have undertaken 115 missions, distributed 30 tents and planted 68 churches. Thank God for all that has been achieved. Please pray for new gospel partners willing to share in this ministry and in particular to help meet the costs of the tents.
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