The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Fri, 27 Jul 2018 20:00:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Salvation, by What Means? Tue, 22 May 2018 19:54:42 +0000 Not long ago, a teen participating in Chosen, Ascension’s confirmation preparation program, read the following in their student guide:

“The Catholic Church alone has the fullness of the means of salvation.”

Similarly, in discussing other faiths, the program mentioned that Jesus, in founding the Catholic Church, reveals the “whole picture.” The teen being Catholic, but with a non-Catholic parent, this led to several questions we will explore today:

“What exactly does this mean? Does this mean that Protestants cannot receive salvation?”

As a child of a mixed-faith marriage, I can relate to these concerns. So let us explore the meaning of these quotes. “The Catholic Church alone has the fullness of the means of salvation” is not an Ascension-generated comment, but taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In Paragraph 816, the Catechism, quoting the documents of the Second Vatican Council, states:

“For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained.”

The book simply restates Catholic teaching. To answer the questions, “What exactly does this mean? Does this mean that Protestants cannot receive salvation?” The short answer to this second question is “no.”

For a longer answer, I defer to that same Decree on Ecumenism from Vatican II from which the Catechism quoted, which states that non-Catholics:

“also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation,”

and continues, saying they:

“have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church” (Paragraph 3).

That same paragraph goes on to explain in deeper detail the background of the statement, “What exactly does this mean? Does this mean that Protestants cannot receive salvation?” While I can understand that the sentence may seem divisive, especially if one focuses on the subject of the sentence (“The Catholic Church”), looking instead at the object of a preposition (“means”) provides more insight.

In other words, God’s omnipotence, of course, means he can save us any way he wants. But he chose a primary means by which his salvific mission would continue in the world after he ascended. Thus, he founded a Church, built on the Rock of Peter, and

“the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

The importance of what this means cannot be understated: Christ assigned to the Church—the apostles and their successors—the responsibility to spread the Word around to as many people as possible to ensure people would not have to face the gates of hell. This doesn’t mean that all outside the Church will face the gates of hell, but that the Church was founded to guide people away from the gates of hell.

In other words, do not think this statement means the Catholic Church is elevated, as some kind of reward; no, it actually says the opposite. We are tasked with a responsibility. Catholics believe the Church has a duty to present the truth of Christ to people.

This leads to the question about the “whole picture.” Of course, the Church believes it teaches the truth. I believe that most other denominations feel the same way (about their beliefs, that is). Put differently, there are by definition things that Presbyterian doctrine states that are not taught in the Catholic Catechism. And there are beliefs held by Catholics, that, for example, Lutherans do not believe. Thus it follows that if someone believes what the Catholic Church believes is true, they do not believe everything the Episcopal Church (for example) teaches as truth. However, they should never think themselves superior for this.

Now, if we accept the definition of truth as “the property of being in accord with fact or reality,” and using Aquinas’ words on truth—”And therefore, as good is convertible with being, so is the true”  (Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 16, Article 3)we see a correlation between goodness and truth, but this applies to the information itself, not to the person who holds the belief.

By way of analogy, let’s analyze the statement: “These violets are blue.” If person A believes the violets are pink, and person B that violets are blue, it follows that one person’s knowledge/information is more “good” than the other. But it would not follow that they are better as a person because they happened to know the truth about the flowers. Nor would it stop them from enjoying the flowers if they ever are presented with them.

This same logic applies to doctrine. If Catholics believe their information is correct, they should believe their faith to be “good.” And if they are being honest, they must also believe that someone who believes differently has faith which is less accurate. But even if this means I may believe my father’s Lutheran beliefs to be less factual, I, of course, don’t believe him to be less good than I, nor do I think this would ever stop him from being saved.

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God, Help Me: Getting Teens Excited about Mass Mon, 21 May 2018 19:54:37 +0000 The heavy exhale. The almost lifeless body beneath the covers. You beg, you plead, you offer the ultimatum that threatens a loss of phone or Xbox or car. Slowly your teen’s overtired, hormone-driven corpus emerges from the darkness, bloodshot eyes rolling back in their heads as they make their way to the bathroom in hopes of being presentable … for Mass.

Perhaps this is your typical Sunday morning. It was absolutely the scene in my home growing up. Once we had transitioned from the elementary school years of “altar server engagement” and hit puberty, all of a sudden Mass wasn’t all that interactive or engaging anymore, and the bribe of donuts after liturgy no longer held its influential power over our sugar-crazed young bodies. It’s as though when the teen years ushered in we realized that while Mass might have begun at 10 AM sharp, it consistently ended at 11 AM dull.

My cradle Catholic parents instilled in me the importance of going to Mass religiously (no pun intended) but were never able to articulate why we went, answering only “because we are Catholic and that is what good Catholics do.”

It wasn’t until a youth minister explained the significance, depth, and beauty of the Mass that my eyes (and heart) were truly opened. Slowly, over time, I began to see the Liturgy differently. It was as though, with every fact and insight I learned, the dots began to connect between the history and the mystery—between God’s divinity and our humanity, all colliding within the parish walls. I was given a great gift, a proverbial “pearl of great price” by a soul who not only knew about the Mass but who was patient enough to walk with me as my heart and soul opened up to this timeless, inestimable treasure from heaven.

Change Takes Time

It’s not that modern parents, priests, or youth ministers are uncaring in their pursuit of educating teens and young adults on the Liturgy. Rather, the problem more accurately lies within the lack of formation, time, and resources to adequately unpack the richness of the Mass.

This is not to assert that there is no success within families or parishes at all, only to point out that many teens are left with well-intentioned catechists who either aren’t in a theological position to catechize or who lack the time (and patience) it takes to cultivate a love for the Mass.

We all desire for the next generation to develop a deep and abiding love for the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, but how do we develop and “unleash” that love in an increasingly overstimulated, disengaged, and screen-obsessed culture? I have several suggestions which I’ll share below; the first two center around relationship and resource.

First, our teens need our time more than our teaching points. My youth minister was patient with me, and didn’t expect my disinterested attitude to change overnight. He didn’t try to “convince” me of the beauty of the Mass, rather I witnessed its mystical magnitude every time he made the Sign of the Cross and within the reverence of his genuflection. I was struck by the care he took in receiving communion and the obvious depth of his eucharistic meditation. I may not have understood the timeless sacrifice of Christ pouring out upon that altar, but I was aware that something ethereal was transpiring before my earthly eyes. He didn’t lead with doctrine (the “what”), he was a living example of a soul encountering a “Who” that led me to genuinely ask the question “why.” My youth minister understood an evangelistic principle many sorely miss, namely “If you want someone to care about the “what” (Church teaching), they must first encounter the “Who” (Lord).”

Go the Extra Mile

If you want your teens or the teens in your parish to really engage in the Mass, it begins with asking yourself this question, “How far am I willing to go for that to happen?”

Are you willing to be a consistent example to your own kids of what it means to enter into worship? Are you willing to fulfill your baptismal call and sacramental pledge to raise them “according to the law of Christ and His Church” (i.e. take them to Mass whether they want to go or not)? Are you willing to volunteer for a core team within your parish youth ministries? Are you willing to help equip the youth minister with the right resources to aid their catechetical efforts? Are you willing to learn more and dive more deeply into the Mass personally, so that you become that living embodiment of a soul engaged by the majesty and mystery of the sacred liturgy with every response, antiphon, and prayer?

Once our young people see our own passion for the Mass and humble interaction with the Lord, they will begin to recognize the joy that it is to pursue virtue and their hearts will begin to soften through God’s grace and our intercession. The soil will be tilled and far more “receptive” to the seed of the Living Word, Jesus, which brings us to the second point: Once they begin to develop that personal relationship with the “Who,” which resources will impart the “what” about the Mass? Not every parish has a priest with the time to walk young souls through the Mass in an engaging way. Many of our most educated catechists may have an A+ in theology but struggle in articulating theology at an understandable and engaging level.

It was with this in mind that I wrote Altaration: The Mystery of the Mass Revealed. Having spent the past 20+ years in youth ministry and, now, parenting teens of my own, I know firsthand how long it took (and still takes) to get modern teens excited about the Catholic Mass. Bearing in mind the truth concerning why teens experience boredom at Mass, I wrote the videos and leader/student guides to first introduce teens to the “Who” (God) and the “why” (his love for us) of Mass, before moving through all the “what” (the flow, movements, and parts of the Mass).

Over the past few years I’ve received emails and Facebook messages and tweets from around the globe, from both teens and parents—in parishes and in homes—who have gone through the study together, amazed at both the simplicity and depth that the Catholic Mass offers! (For those adults looking to go even deeper into the biblical roots of the Mass, I also recommend my good friend Dr. Ted Sri’s resource A Biblical Walk through the Mass also available at

Of course, regardless of how beautiful the videos and resources are, and how talented the presenters, a resource is only as effective as the humility and diligence of the soul implementing it. With that in mind, I’d love to suggest a few reminders for parents (and for all of us, really) when it comes to raising your kids in the Faith and going to Mass:

Remember your actual goal

Change takes time, even for young souls un-jaded by life. Don’t let yourself get discouraged if the teen you’re parenting or journeying with doesn’t respond on your timetable. In fact, lose your timetable all together. Pray with 2 Timothy 4:1-5.

Remember your audience

The modern teen is the most overstimulated creature in existence (followed closely by the modern adult). They are constantly bombarded with screens and music and distraction. Getting them to enter into the stillness and serenity of the Liturgy is a tall task. The odds are against you right out of the gate, but grace is real and God is bigger. Pray with Romans 12:11-13.

Remember the Sabbath

We all know that “keeping the Sabbath holy” is the third commandment. That being said, keeping it holy means far more than just attending Mass … that’s the minimum. Do everything you can to recapture your Sabbath. Make it a day of rest, not of tasks. Enter into the day, into family time and into true rest and communion with God and one another. The more we begin to set aside the entire day, the more our lives become balanced and the more we will be able to truly enter into the sacramental embrace of God. Pray with Exodus 20:8.

Remember not to come to Mass empty-handed

This doesn’t mean to bring your wallet … father wouldn’t like that, either. No, it means to arrive at Mass with intentionality and with intentions! Know who and what you are going to offer up to the Lord in prayer and encourage your teens to have someone/something as an intention, as well. Pray with 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Remember the basics of communication

Where you sit matters. Teens are easily distracted. Proximity to the front is far more engaging than the typical “Catholic” spot in the very last pew. Responses matter. Encourage your teens to offer audible verbal responses, singing, and engagement. Let the priest hear you! Pray with Psalm 86:12.

Remember to be consistent

Consistency speaks to the fundamental importance of something. Give your teens the gift of consistency. Parents, take your teens to Mass no matter what, regardless of if they “feel like it”. No breaks. No excuses (not even on vacation). Actions follow beliefs. Pray with Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Remember to keep learning

A true disciple is an eternal student. Keep learning more about the Mass yourself, not only so that the Spirit can utilize that knowledge and wisdom with your teens but, also, for your own sanctification. The holy Mass is an inexhaustible font of grace, but we must come thirsty and come often. Pray with John 7:37-38.

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Unpacking Confirmation, Baptism, and the Birth of the Church Fri, 18 May 2018 19:40:20 +0000 There are only a handful of birthdays that we celebrate in the liturgical life of the Church. The first, of course, is the Nativity of our Lord. But then we also celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist as well. That’s pretty much it for nativities on the calendar, but it’d definitely be fitting to recognize one more feast as a day of birth. This Sunday we’ll be celebrating what we could rightfully call the “birthday” of the Church, at least in one sense. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

“The Church was made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’ the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, ‘until he comes.’ In this age of the Church Christ now lives and acts in and with his Church, in a new way appropriate to this new age. He acts through the sacraments in what the common Tradition of the East and the West calls ‘the sacramental economy’; this is the communication (or ‘dispensation’) of the fruits of Christ’s Paschal mystery in the celebration of the Church’s ‘sacramental’ liturgy.” (CCC 1076)

In light of this, it’s fitting that one of these sacraments is also celebrated around this time of year. One’s first reception of the Holy Eucharist usually takes place during the end of the Easter season, but this isn’t the sacrament I’m referring to. Indeed, all sacraments point to the Eucharist, but our focus will be on another sacrament of initiation; one where we most plainly see “the outpouring of the Holy Spirit”. Let’s delve into the connection between the sacrament of confirmation and this holy day of Pentecost.

Preparing for the Spirit

When preparing for confirmation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, we are often reminded of how the Holy Spirit will soon make his dwelling among the confirmandi. In the Church’s liturgy, we hear ourselves chanting “Veni Sancte Spiritus” as those waiting to receive the sacrament enter the Church. “Come Holy Spirit”. It’s the Holy Spirit that carries the work of sanctification on in our lives, and he’s been doing that since that first Pentecost nearly two thousand years ago.

Of course, the Holy Spirit has been present in human history prior to the Incarnation. We can see that in the various manifestations of God in the Old Testament. When we read those books of the Old Testament, we look for what the Holy Spirit is telling us about Christ. For those who read those books during ancient times, they were being prepared for the time of the Messiah by the Holy Spirit. But now since our Lord has been born in time, and has walked the earth, we find ourselves equipped with sacramental signs. All those types, figures, and signs that the Jewish people received during Old Testament times find themselves fully realized in the seven sacraments of the Church in our present age. All those signs find themselves fully realized in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Gave Us the Model

Now with Ascension Day behind us, we eagerly await the Holy Spirit to come. Just as Jesus cleansed the waters for us at his baptism, giving us a model for our own baptisms, he also gave us an example and model for our own confirmation in the Holy Spirit. The apostles were the first to have reaped this benefit in the upper room on Pentecost. The rest of us receive the Holy Spirit in this special way thanks to the service of the apostles and their successors. The Catechism explains this a bit more in depth:

“The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him ‘without measure” 

“This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people. On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit, a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost. Filled with the Holy Spirit the apostles began to proclaim ‘the mighty works of God,’ and Peter declared this outpouring of the Spirit to be the sign of the messianic age. Those who believed in the apostolic preaching and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their turn” (CCC 1286-1287).

Now while baptism also imparts the Holy Spirit, as mentioned above, the sacrament of Confirmation makes that bond with the Church much more complete due to an increased strengthening of the Holy Spirit. This is exactly what happened to the Apostles on Pentecost! Jesus had promised the Apostles that the he would send them the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:18, 26), and he kept his word. This is why we still recognize confirmation as a sacrament of initiation. The Christian begins his journey with baptism, but he is not yet fully initiated into the Church until he receives the indelible seal of confirmation and sustenance in the Holy Eucharist.

Why Baptism and Confirmation Are Needed

The distinction between baptism and confirmation is clearly seen in Sacred Scripture, particularly when the region of Samaria is being evangelized in the Acts of the Apostles. Philip the Evangelist, one of the Church’s first seven deacons, preaches and baptizes while the apostles Peter and John come in afterwards to lay their hands on the new Christians, imparting the Holy Spirit to them (cf. Acts 8:5-17). We also see St. Paul laying hands on the newly baptized a bit later (cf. Acts 19:6).

In a 1998 audience on the sacrament of confirmation, Pope St. John Paul II shows us that:

“The unbreakable bond between the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is expressed in the close connection between the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.” —Pope St. John Paul II

This is why it was common in earlier centuries for baptism and confirmation to be conferred together as a kind of “double sacrament”. This is still done in many of the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church. But the two sacraments are certainly distinct.

As Blessed Pope Paul VI pointed out in his 1971 Apostolic Exhortation on confirmation, Divinae Consortium Naturae:

 “From that time on [Pentecost] the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism… The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.” —Blessed Pope Paul VI

It’s clear that only bishops, as they are the successors of the apostles, have the right and ability to confer the sacrament of confirmation. The bishops are the ones that bless the sacred chrism and oil to be used in the anointing for this sacrament, and only in grave situations (particularly in the Latin Rite) should this be delegated to a priest. As St. Ignatius of Antioch points out, we see “the bishop as a type of the Father”. We rightfully regard our bishops as fathers in faith and as our shepherds, and this is why the duty of confirming falls upon him.

Why the Bishop Ordinarily Administers the Gift

In the early Church, it was easy for the bishop to confer confirmation immediately after baptism, as seen above. Christians lived closer together and the bishops didn’t need to travel large swaths of territory. This changed over time, especially after Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire. With Christianity booming, it became difficult for the bishop to keep up with all the baptisms. So over time, at least in the Latin Rite, we see that the conferring of the sacrament of confirmation was delayed until the bishop could be present. Just as the apostles laid hands on those newly baptized men and women in the New Testament, so do we try to ensure that the successors of the apostles are also the ones that call down the Holy Spirit today.

As it usually does, the Catechism shines more light on the reasons why we believe the bishop can confer confirmation, and why he should be the minister to ordinarily do so:

“In the Latin Rite, the ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop. If the need arises, the bishop may grant the faculty of administering Confirmation to priests, although it is fitting that he confer it himself, mindful that the celebration of Confirmation has been temporally separated from Baptism for this reason. Bishops are the successors of the apostles. They have received the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders. The administration of this sacrament by them demonstrates clearly that its effect is to unite those who receive it more closely to the Church, to her apostolic origins, and to her mission of bearing witness to Christ” (CCC 1313).

In the Creed, we profess that we are one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Seeing the bishop confer this sacrament of confirmation strengthens the apostolicity of the Church. Indeed, it’s biblical. But the only way for us to see a necessity for the bishop in the calling down of the Holy Spirit, is to understand that Christ instituted a priesthood. A sacramental priesthood. Many other non-Catholic Christians believe the Holy Spirit can be called down at their beck and call. While we can always call upon the Holy Spirit in prayer, we have to realize that the bishops have a real authority in Jesus’ name. As the successors to the apostles, their office was instituted by Jesus Christ, and the ontological change that they experience in the sacrament of Holy Orders allows them to confer the other sacraments (including confirmation) to the people of God.

Just as the apostles received the grace of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we also see this grace perpetuated by their successors in the sacrament of confirmation. The link between this great sacrament, and this “birthday” of the Church are extremely close. As we enter into Pentecost this year, we should reflect back to our own confirmations and remember that just as the apostles were filled with Holy Spirit, we were too. We have to use the apostles as role models, and be sure that we carry the message of Jesus Christ to all peoples, just as they did. After all, we share in the same Spirit. Veni Sancte Spiritus!

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Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are Equal in Importance

A New Covenant and the Coming of the Holy Spirit Thu, 17 May 2018 19:30:54 +0000 Did you know the feast of Pentecost predates the coming of the Holy Spirit?  It’s true. The disciples were gathered to celebrate a Jewish feast. In the Old Covenant, God had established this celebration as a remembrance of the giving of the law to Moses, and it was celebrated every year, fifty days after the Passover. It is interesting that God chose this day to pour the Holy Spirit into humanity. Think about it. Out of the 365 days the Lord could have selected, God decided to come on this particular feast. Could it be a coincidence? I do not think so.

Perhaps the Lord’s words, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, can shed some light:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

Did you catch that last part? God promises a new covenant. It will not be a covenant like the one he established with Moses. In the Old Covenant, the Lord gave the law from the outside. In this New Covenant, he promises to place his law on the hearts of his people. How would he do that? In Acts, chapter two, it becomes clear. The Spirit comes to dwell in the hearts of the believers. In this light, it makes perfect sense that God would choose to come on Pentecost. Just as the Passover prefigures Jesus’ paschal sacrifice, Pentecost and the giving of the law prefigures the coming of the Holy Spirit.  

Written on Our Hearts

When we understand this relationship between the giving of the Law and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we gain insight into the relationship we, the followers of Christ, are supposed to have with the Holy Spirit. In this light we can reflect on Jesus’ words in John 14:26:

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  

The Spirit comes to guide us and to teach us. He comes to establish God’s law within us. How are we to know this law? From the outside? No. We are supposed to come to know the Lord through the Spirit so that his will is clear to us at all times because it is written on our hearts.

When the Holy Spirit burst into creation, he came so that every believer could know and live in the will of the Lord. Jeremiah’s prophecy continues to emphasize this:

No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me” (Jeremiah 31:34).

That is the relationship God desires with his people.

The Remaining Need for the Law

It is possible that a person might be tempted to think, “Well, why do we need the teachings of the Church if we already have the law written on our hearts?” Because God is a good Father. Yes, he established his Spirit in us to teach and to guide us, but like a good Father, he created safeguards in this relationship. Yes, we should not need the law, because our relationship with the Lord should be so intimate that we know the law.

God, however, knows how easily we are led astray. He knows that there is an evil one actively seeking to mislead us. So, not only does the Lord speak the truth to our hearts, he also speaks to us through the Church he established as well. The Church is always there, publicly proclaiming the truth so that we are safe to follow the prompting of the Spirit in that truth. In those times when we are tempted to stray after our egos, or into the lies of the evil one, the Church proclaims the truth with authority.  

The Spirit’s coming on Pentecost was no accident. It was not a cosmic coincidence. No, God was teaching us something. He was declaring something. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised to write the Law on the hearts of his people. In Pentecost he accomplished it.

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Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are Equal in Importance Wed, 16 May 2018 19:27:43 +0000 We all know Christmas and Easter. One marks Christ’s birth, the other marks his resurrection. A lot of celebration and festivities accompany each of these feasts. That is a good thing. These are huge events. Through the Incarnation, i.e., Christmas, a savior who is God himself is born to us. God becomes fully human. Jesus, the son, remains fully divine but makes himself reliant upon the Holy Spirit to keep him in union with his Father. There is a great mystery in that. Why would God do this? Why would he establish this relationship between himself and the Spirit?

In Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the death of, well, death.  Jesus takes the sin of the world to the Cross, he offers himself as an atoning sacrifice, and he dies. That is Good Friday. If the story ended there, it would be tragic. If God had died, and that was the end of the story, it would be a pretty terrible story. Thankfully, Easter happened. Jesus rose from the dead. That takes a tragic story and makes it amazing. To top it off, forty days later Jesus ascended to heaven. It is a fantastic tale and an awesome reality. The problem is a lot of people, both in the Church and out of it, act like it is the whole story. It is not.

The Story Continues at Pentecost

Yes, God came. He lived as a human. He died for our sin. He conquered death, rose to new life and went back to heaven on a cloud. Incredible! But, once he ascends to heaven, aren’t we basically in the same situation we were in before he came? I know Christ died for our sins. I know he rose so that we might have new life. But, if the story is over at the Ascension, we have no way to live in that new life.

Christmas and Easter are reality changing, but they are not enough. They are only part of the story. Big parts? Yes. Huge parts! But alone, the story is incomplete. God did not come to save us and then leave us. His plan was something much greater. Jesus says as much in John’s Gospel. In chapter sixteen, at the Last Supper, Jesus teaches the disciples that something new is going to happen. Another person is coming. This person is so crucial that Jesus tells the apostles that it is better for him to leave so this new person can come. Those are not my words. They are Jesus’ words. Here is the quote from John 16:7:

But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you…

Did you catch that? Try to wrap your head around it. Christmas is a big deal. Easter is a big deal. Jesus is saying that the coming of this next person is a big deal too. Big enough that Jesus tells the apostles he needs to go so that the Advocate can come. Right before Jesus’ ascension, Jesus talks again about this.

And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” —Acts 1:4-5

Before he returns to heaven, in essence Jesus tells the apostles, “you are not done yet. Go wait for the Holy Spirit.” So, they went back to Jerusalem and waited. When the time came to celebrate the Pentecost, the Jewish feast celebrating the giving of the law, something unexpected happened:

“And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” —Acts 2:2-4

The Advocate had arrived. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit had come. Just like Christmas celebrates the coming of Christ, Pentecost marks the coming of the Spirit. In Christmas, we celebrate that God has come for us. In Pentecost, we rejoice that God has come to dwell within us. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are the three great feasts of the Church. Without the last of these, we would still be distant from the Lord. Through the coming of the Spirit we are made members of Christ’s family, and in the Spirit we are able to cry out, “Abba! Father.” Don’t miss it. Pentecost is important. We need to celebrate the great thing that God has done for us.

Photo by 广博 郝 on Unsplash.

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