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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + December 28, 2016

Titus 2:11–15; 3:4–7
Mark 11:23–26

Titus 2:11–15; 3:4–7 (NKJV) 
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the
washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Mark 11:23–26 (NKJV) 
The Lord said, “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespristocratic Romans could imagine.

Commentary 

In his epistle to Titus, St. Paul describes the salvation which has come for us in our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ in terms which are clearly reminiscent of the revelation of the Triune God which took place at Christ's baptism, the Holy Theophany which we will soon celebrate. While He had been born as a human being some 30 years beforehand from the Theotokos, and therefore God had lived and grown and worked and loved and struggled like the rest of us in our midst over all those years, it was in the Holy Theophany which took place at His Baptism that Christ revealed Himself to us as God, and God revealed Himself as the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one in Essence and undivided.

God having come and revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, a new people of God was created, one which was both similar and different from the people of God in the Old Covenant. In the Old Covenant, God had gathered together a people under Moses, many, but not all, of them descended biologically from Abraham and his nomadic children and grandchildren. This people was called by God to live life both individually and collectively in a way fundamentally different than that of all of the other peoples on earth, worshiping their God and only their God. By living such a life of unique holiness, set apart and separate from the unclean surrounding world, Israel was to attract all of the nations of the world, the Gentiles to come and worship with the faithful of Judea.

Salvation therefore even in the Old Covenant was to be offered to the whole world ultimately, but came through the people of Israel. They possessed the unique revelation of God in His Torah, which codified as Law the way in which they were to live as God's people in order to live the sort of holy and pure lives that God required of them. Although the Law allowed the people as a whole, and any person within Israel, to examine their lives and see where they had moved away from the path of salvation through following their own desires, it did not, and could not, offer a way for human persons to be purified of their sins and wickedness once they had committed them. The Law could justify (purify or cleanse) no one. The problem, ultimately, was that the same taint of sin, death, and corruption which God was working against to destroy through Israel was also present in Israel, and so those chosen to receive the Law ended up under the condemnation and curse of the Law.

Just as the Old Covenant people had been gathered at the eastern bank of the Jordan under Moses so that Joshua could lead them through that river and into the land that had been promised to them, so also did St. John the Forerunner gather together a people from the Lord, beginning with the faithful remnant of the Judean people. This people was baptized in participation in what Christ, another Yeshua, was about to do to display the salvation of God before all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Specifically, once Jesus died, any claim or hold that this world, or the sin or death contained therein, any condemnation from the Law, was destroyed and done with. He arose again as the first fruits of a new Creation, in which sin and death and condemnation have no place. In baptism, therefore, this new people of God also died, the waters thus cleansing and purifying them of sin and the condemnation thereof, making them a part of the new Creation as well. In Christ, baptism now does what the Law was powerless to do.

As St. Paul also reminds us, however, in today's epistle, we have as the new people of God the same responsibility as the people of God of old. Having been cleansed and purified, having been made holy and pure by the Lord who gave Himself for our sake, we are called to be holy, and continue to live a holy, pure, and blameless life in this world. Through our lives, and through our words and our proclamation, we are to reveal to the world around us the God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. Having been baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ, and so it is through ourselves, as His people, that God now has chosen to continue to reveal Himself to this world and to all of its people.

As the Old Covenant came to its close, the people of Israel awaited God's return. From the time of their creation as a people He had dwelt among them, first in the Tabernacle when they traveled in tents, then later in the Temple when they settled in cities, especially Jerusalem. Due to their sin and faithlessness, however, God had left His temple shortly before its destruction and sent His people into exile in Babylon. Though they had returned from exile and were again living in their former land (albeit under Roman domination), God Himself had not returned as far as they knew until that day in the Jordan River when St. John the Forerunner baptized Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the voice of the Father with the descent of the Holy Spirit revealed before the eyes of all that God is the Holy Trinity, and that He had indeed returned to create a new people for Himself beginning with the purified remnant of the old. Likewise the Apostle reminds Titus and us that we too, as His new people, likewise await His return. This time not because we have been cast into exile, but rather to give time for the Lord's work of revealing Himself to all mankind should be complete, at which point He will appear again in His Glory, a second Theophany, when the Kingdom of Heaven shall come to this earth.

Questions to Ponder 

1. In the person of Jesus Christ, beginning particularly at His Baptism on the Feast of Holy Theophany which we will soon celebrate, God has revealed Himself to all men, in order to create a holy people for Himself, as St. Paul tells us in today's epistle reading. As Christians who have been baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, we now carry this revelation of God into the world. Is the character of the God whom we worship visible in your life? Do you, as the Apostle tells us, speak these things publicly exhorting and rebuking with Christ's authority? Or are your Faith and beliefs hidden?

2. In today's epistle reading, St. Paul describes the Christian life as maintaining the purity that we have been given in Christ. In our baptisms we were washed clean, justified by Christ. Just like those who gathered around St. John at the Jordan and then followed our Lord, we have been set apart as a separate, holy people. Is your spiritual purity important to you? Do you guard and protect your purity, and that of your home and your loved ones? Or do you allow yourself to be surrounded by the things of the world, and hope to somehow remain unaffected by them all? What are actions you could take to help you avoid ungodliness and worldly lusts?

3. In today's Gospel reading, our Lord tells us that when we pray, inviting God to be present with us, if we desire God's mercy and forgiveness, we must first show that mercy and forgiveness to others. Do you forgive others readily? Do you set criteria for them that they will have to meet before you are willing to offer your forgiveness? Do you make them apologize? Beg for forgiveness? Do you let go of things you claim to have 'forgiven' or do you continue to hold a grudge, and return again and again in your mind to things that others have done to hurt you? How do you think you would fare if God set the same conditions for forgiving you? 

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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