Month: October 2015

God’s acts of grace

So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. — 2 Kings 5: 14

Message

Those who are humble will experience God’s acts of grace.

The healing event described in our Bible text was preceded by an inner battle on the part of Naaman. These are experiences from which we can learn today.

God’s help is grace

With befitting gifts, Naaman at first turned to the king of Israel (2 Kings 5: 5) with his request for healing. However, it was with the “man of God”—namely the prophet Elisha—that he ultimately had to seek healing. As a sign that the help of God could neither be bought, or require payment, Elisha did not accept these gifts.

To this day, God offers human beings the help of His salvation through His messengers. He is not impressed by what they are or what they have. After all, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”(Matthew 16: 26).

Humbleness leads to grace

Naaman was too proud and was at first offended by Elisha’s advice to do something very simple in order to be healed. Despite the severity of his illness, he declined to wash himself in the Jordan seven times. It can at times seem difficult to act in accordance with the counsel of God. In order to do so, our own ideas, conceit, and complacency must retreat.

Even in the conversion of Paul, Jesus did not act directly, but rather gave him the advice, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9: 6). He referred him to His messenger, and it was there that Paul received salvation.

Encouraging humbleness

At the Jordan, Naaman’s companions reminded him of his desire for healing and of Elisha’s counsel (2 Kings 5:13). Thereupon he dismissed his reservations, washed himself in the Jordan, and was cleansed.

To this day, the Lord invites us to come to Him in humbleness and receive His acts of grace in His word and in the sacraments. That which He has already promised and granted to us in His grace, He also desires to make available to all human beings, including those in the beyond.

With a view to the upcoming service for the departed, let us likewise be such “loving companions”, so that longing souls can let go of their inhibitions and likewise receive God’s acts of grace.

The sacraments for salvation

In His great commission to His Apostles, Jesus reinforced God’s universal will to save. There He referred to the necessity of the sacramental acts “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, in order to obtain God’s salvation (Matthew 28: 19–20).

In Holy Baptism with water, God grants His full devotion to the believing human being and fundamentally changes his relationship with God: the condition of remoteness from God is thereby lifted (Catechism 8.1.3).

By partaking in Holy Communion, the believer experiences and reinforces his relationship with God. It is an essential means of preparation for the day of Christ’s return (Catechism 8.2.20) and for eternal life (John 6: 54).

In Holy Sealing, the rebirth out of water and the Spirit—which was begun at baptism—is completed. The believer is thus called to be a child of God and a firstling, and is then prepared in the church for the marriage of the Lamb (Catechism 8.3.9).

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the Thanksgiving divine service held on Sunday, 25 October 2015 at Midrand Congregation.

The wardrobe of the bride of Christ

IMG_1634Most people the world over are familiar with the famous Snow White mantra: “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all.” But what if the mantra went a little different and instead asked: “Mirror mirror on the wall, do you see Christ in me at all?” What would our answers as Christian women be?

This was one of the questions asked during a women’s brunch hosted at Midrand Congregation in Johannesburg, South Africa on 24 October 2015. The question was linked to the theme of the morning’s presentation which focused on our spiritual wardrobe.

Presenter, Beverley MacDonald explored the concepts of a spiritual wardrobe in relation to the wardrobe of the bride of Christ. Quoting from Revelations 19:7, she said: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” And while biblically, the bride of Christ is both male and female, she said because the morning’s focus was on the women of the church, it was important for us to understand what our spiritual wardrobes should look like and if we are prepared for the return of the Lord.

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves…” reads 1 Peter 3: 3-5. This said Beverley is an indication that we should not be concerned with our physical appearances and that we are being called to clothe ourselves in a different way – a spiritual way.

Beverley reminded us of Proverbs 7: 2-3, linking it to our spiritual wardrobe: “Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” She added another bible verse to help us: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

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She said it was important for us to dress ourselves with these spiritual accessories, as these accessories made up our spiritual wardrobe. She then highlighted the fact that love is the greatest of the spiritual gifts, and asked the ladies present if they are able to love like God love us. As disciples of Jesus, we should espouse Christ-like values, she added.

“We have an example in Jesus Christ. He exemplified God to us in everything he did. Even if he corrected people, he did it with love. Jesus did a lot of wonderful things, but at the same time he empowered others, and so in following Jesus’ example, we must also show compassion in our dealings with others. In the bible, compassion and love is more than a feeling, there must be an appropriate action linked to that feeling, there must be an outward act of kindness.”

We have a calling to be like Jesus, continued Beverley, quoting Ephesians 4: 1-3, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” She added that we might say ‘I know all of this already, but I just can’t do it’, to which she answered: “Give your life to God and you will be blessed with eternal life, always remember that we are working towards an eternal goal. Surrender yourself to God and always ask God to guide you.”

During the course of the morning, Beverley was also joined by Charmaine van Dijk and Nadia van Aswegen who assisted her with the musical items. Petro Garcia also presented on laughter yoga/therapy which she described as “natural medicine” for the body and soul as it lifts our spirits and makes us feel happy. Using laughter, this “natural medicine” promotes overall health and wellness to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort. She provided a few practical examples and encouraged the ladies to always find something good about every day, write it down and keep it in a jar.

The brunch, which had six hostesses, each decorating their table with a theme of their choice was the brainchild of Midrand Congregation’s rector, Shepherd Lance Smith who wanted to show his gratitude for all that the women of the congregation do. With that in mind, after the morning’s presentations, it was up to the brothers of Midrand Congregation to prepare and serve the food and help clean-up once the morning’s festivities had concluded. Everyone present agreed that it was a successful event, one that was much needed; and one that should become an annual feature on the Midrand Congregation calendar.

* By Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester

God is with us

“… be strong, all you people of the land,” says the Lord, “and work: for I am with you,” says the Lord of hosts. — Haggai 2: 4

Message

Let us work along in our spiritual edification and the edification of the church of Christ.

When the Israelites wanted to rebuild the temple after their return from exile, failed harvests triggered an economic crisis (Haggai 1: 11). Now it was no longer possible to build a temple that could be compared with the one the Babylonians had destroyed (Haggai 2: 3).

The prophet Haggai called upon the people to get back to work nevertheless, and promised them the support of God.

Our own edification

Children of God can never be content to merely pray every day, attend the divine services, and bring their offerings into the house of God. The Lord calls upon us to work on our own spiritual edification. In so doing, we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged by

  • resistance from forces opposed to Christ, for example, increasing secularisation, which leads individuals to become selfish, loveless, and to look out only for their own interests.
  • the cares of daily life, such as unemployment or economic crises.
  • the difficulties we face in our congregations, such as a lack of guests, a shortage of ministers and funds, or a decline in divine service attendance.

The Lord calls upon us to be strong. Our strength comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is the foundation of our spiritual edification (Jude 1: 20). This edification is revealed when we

  • bring forth our prayers as a true work of the soul.
  • deepen our knowledge. Let us not content ourselves with what we have already achieved, but rather learn to better recognize the will of God (Luke 13:23, 24).
  • work on our perfection and ensure that the new creation is growing within us.

 

The edification of the Church

As we are to work upon ourselves, we are also to edify our Church by

  • participating actively in the divine services. Let us not content ourselves by merely listening to the sermon, but instead take part in the praise and worship of God and in prayers and put our whole heart into everything.
  • contributing actively to the wellbeing and unity of our brothers and sisters in faith.
  • proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. Let us not become discouraged even if the whole world seems to be ignoring our testimony and example.

God is with us

If we work in this manner, we will see and feel that God is with us.

  • He hears our prayers and answers them.
  • Jesus Christ is in the midst of those who gather in His name (Matthew 18: 20).
  • The Holy Spirit is active in the divine service.

 

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the Thanksgiving divine service held on Sunday, 04 October 2015 at Midrand Congregation.

Jesus Christ must not become a stumbling block

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“Whatever you go through, there are plenty of blessings for you from our heavenly father and so you too must share the blessing.” This was the powerful message delivered by our Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider when he opened the divine service on 11 October 2015 at Dinwiddie Congregation in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The divine service was based on a Bible passage from Romans 9:33, “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” Explaining the historical context of the text, the Chief Apostle said even though Jesus Christ was sent by the father, the Israeli community did not accept him because they felt he did not meet their expectations, claiming that he was not the saviour they were waiting for. However, those who had faith and believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God and in the message that he preached were saved.

CA service (31)This text serves as an awakening to many Christians today. The Chief Apostle said that the Holy Spirit tells us that we should be vigilant so that Jesus Christ does not become a stumbling block for us. “How can Jesus become a stumbling block,” he asked, and then provided a few examples of how this is possible.

One of the examples was how the Israelis were disappointed in Jesus because they wanted him to change their physical circumstances, deliver them from the Romans and if we expect Jesus to do something, if we ask for something and it is not granted, this is a way Jesus can then become a stumbling block for us. “Jesus offers us eternal life, he doesn’t want to deliver us from all our problems, but he wants to deliver us to the kingdom of God,” said the Chief Apostle, adding that as New Apostolic Christians we believe in Jesus Christ, and those who believe in him, through faith and by believing the message, will find salvation.

Is your priority here on earth?

Another stumbling stone is when people get irritated with Jesus as he said he is the only way to heaven, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). You must be born of the water and the Holy Spirit and partake of the body of Christ to enter the kingdom of God. The Chief Apostle said that many people of today think that the New Apostolic Church is not flexible enough, but he stood firm on the fact that Jesus Christ is the only way. “We cannot teach anything other than what Jesus wants us to teach … We need his word, his grace, and if we believe that he is the way, then we follow this way to be saved.”

2“Love God with all you heart, soul and strength,” said the Chief Apostle, as he related the story of when Jesus was asked by a rich man what can he do to attain eternal life. And Jesus told him to follow the commandments and then leave all his possessions and follow Jesus but the man didn’t. “We must remember that Jesus is very demanding,” he said, adding that it is not easy to combine our earthly lives and be a faithful child of God. At some point in our life, God asks us to choose. “Do you want to be saved or is your priority here on earth?” Because we believe, we have a living faith that is not just a tradition, we follow Jesus Christ.”

The Chief Apostle spoke on the importance of having child-like faith and on Christians who believe they deserve more blessings than their neighbour, informing those who think that way, that such thinking it is not the will of God.

He also said that some get irritated because Jesus does not answer the questions as the Pharisees did when Jesus did not respond to their demands to prove that he is the son of God. The Chief Apostle said that he himself has a lot of questions that are not answered and that Jesus doesn’t explain why things happen the way they do. Additionally, some are irritated because they say that the preaching is all the same, “the Lord will come quickly” is constantly preached, but they want to know when? All that matters, said the Chief Apostle is that we believe in Jesus, his word, and his voice.

4Many also question the New Apostolic Church, asking wouldn’t it be better to use the offering to help the poor, to which the Chief Apostle answered: “We are aware that we have to help our neighbours, but we have to also announce and proclaim the gospel. We first have to prepare the bride of Christ for the day the Lord returns and while we are doing that, then we look after our neighbours. “There can be many stumbling blocks but there can only be one way and that way is to follow Jesus Christ, even if you have to renounce something else,” reiterated the Chief Apostle.

Other contributions to the sermon and a new Apostle

District Apostle Michael Deppner for the Democratic Republic of the Congo West was the first call-up. He said that God used Jesus as a cornerstone to build his church; therefore we must not allow the teachings and message of Jesus to become a stumbling block for us. He said our faith is special and the ministers are the rocks who spread the word and over the altar we can receive grace and grow our soul salvation.

5District Apostle Norberto Carlos Passuni from Argentina was also called upon to serve along. His words were translated from Spanish into English. In his serving, Apostle he reminded us to think of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made when he gave his life for us. There is major meaning in this, he said, adding that the sacrifice is the meaning of love because when “you give your life, you give your everything”.

The third call-up was District Apostle Rüdiger Krause from North Germany who said we have to have patience to recognise what our heavenly father wants and expects of us. He said if all humankind followed the 10 commandments and aligned it to their lives, there will be peace on earth.

6Before serving Holy Communion, the Chief Apostle reminded us that we expect forgiveness but we don’t forgive others as easily. Additionally, to attain forgiveness, we have to be repentant. “Often we ask God to forgive us, but are we really sad about what we have done. That’s the important part, that I couldn’t keep the promise I made to the Lord. This sadness must become our main motivation when seeking forgiveness,” he said.

District Evangelist Sipho Mogane was ordained as an Apostle. The Chief Apostle said he was touched by his faith and willingness to serve the Lord. He told him that his task as an Apostle was to proclaim the message of God and prepare the congregation, but this must not be done in a threatening way, it must be a message of love and joy. “Be a joyful apostle,” said the Chief Apostle.

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University of God

The Chief Apostle, accompanied by 18 District Apostles and eight District Apostle Helpers also attended a joyful choral concert at South Africa’s oldest and largest university, the University of South Africa. After the concert, the Chief Apostle linked the word of God to what we learn at a university and said when we enter the working world, things change and we learn new things; but the word of God always remains the same and it is important for us to remember that.

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* Article published on the NAC-SEA website

Gratitude leads to happiness

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Linked to the New Apostolic Church’s 2015 theme of Joy in Christ, Midrand Congregation in Johannesburg, South Africa celebrated their 2015 Thanksgiving under the theme, Gratitude leads to happiness.

This theme aligned perfectly with the word for Thanksgiving service: Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. — Hebrews 13: 15–16.

Led by the congregation’s rector, Shepherd Lance Smith, Priests Gershon Monk and Brent van Rooi shared with members the importance of praising God and how the good deeds that we do for our neighbour out of love are sacrifices that please God.

Also articulated was the fact that the praise of God is not dependent on our personal situation in life, with members being asked to consider, “Do we thank God for all our blessings when we pray or do we just ask for more things?”

Members learnt that we thank God through prayers of praise; by professing to others what Jesus Christ has done and how God has impacted our lives, as well as the importance of structuring our lives in accordance with the gospel.

Other forms of sacrifice include monetary offerings but also the work we do for the Lord using the skills and talents we have which we should continuously thank God for. However, we cannot be forced to thank God for all our blessings and everything that we have, as this gratitude stems from deep within ourselves and our understanding.

Also stressed was the link between giving thanks to God out of love and the practice of love for our neighbour. We help because God has helped us, and we help out of love for our neighbour – these works and sacrifices are pleasing to God.

When doing all of this, Shepherd Smith asked members to always begin with the end in mind. And for us, as Christians, this is centred on the day the Lord will return so we need to work in love of both word and deed and ensure our lives become a sacrifice of the praise of God.

Preparations for Thanksgiving 2015 at Midrand began in late August when Shepherd Smith shared his thoughts on the vision for the theme Gratitude leads to happiness. He would speak to members about this after Sunday services and even played inspirational videos that speak to this theme. One such video was of Nicholas James Vujicic, an Australian motivational speaker born with Tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterised by the absence of all four limbs. As a child, he struggled mentally and emotionally as well as physically, but eventually came to terms with his disability and, at the age of seventeen, started his own non-profit organisation, Life Without Limbs. Vujicic presents motivational speeches worldwide which focus on life with a disability, hope and finding meaning in life, therefore expressing gratitude. Other preparations took place the week before and on the day before Thanksgiving service and included the Sunday School children making posters, the cleaning of the church and the decorating of the altar with flowers, fruit, vegetables, canned food, maize products and sweets.

Additionally, it was indeed a blessed Thanksgiving for Midrand Congregation because on that Sunday we baptised our youngest member Cael Connor Young and welcomed an adopted member, Angus Young, into our congregation. Priest William Hudsonberg and his wife, Shirley, also celebrated a wedding anniversary and Petrus van Aswegen celebrated his birthday.

These celebrations also formed part of the congregation’s Thanksgiving fellowship which took place at on the grounds of Sagewood School as this is where services are held. There was a jumping castle and fun games for the children while the adults relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon lunch – lamb on a spit braai.

 

Sacrifices that are pleasing to God

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. — Hebrews 13: 15–16.

Message

The praise of God and works of love for our neighbour are sacrifices that please God.

This year’s Thanksgiving Day is once again an occasion on which we can look back and bring praise and thanks to God for all the spiritual and natural favours He has granted us. This happens in both word and deed.

While we tend to focus more of our thanks on that which we have personally experienced, our praise is focused on God, the source of all that exists. The praise of God is not dependent on our personal situation of life.

Our Bible text calls upon us to bring sacrifices of praise to God (verse 15) and to perform works of love upon our neighbour (verse 16). This call to action is based upon the statement that both of these are sacrifices that please God.

Sacrifices in the new covenant

Hebrews presents the image of Jesus Christ as the High Priest of the new covenant. With the sacrifice of Christ, the Old Testament’s sacrificial service as a whole lost its significance once and for all (Hebrews 10: 8–18). In the new covenant, sacrifice is the Christian’s response to Christ’s deed of deliverance. This is a matter of devotion to God in both word and deed. Thus Apostle Paul admonishes us to dedicate our lives to the service of God (Romans 12: 1). The driving force for this is our love for God and our neighbour.

Sacrifices of praise

The author of Hebrews calls upon us to continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God through Him (Christ) and, by way of explanation, goes on to add: “That is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13: 15). This “sacrifice of praise” is a reference to

  • prayers of praise and thanksgiving;
  • professing—that is to say, spreading—the name and deeds of Christ to others (1 Peter 2: 9); and
  • structuring our lives in accordance with the gospel.

Putting our gifts and talents at the disposal of the Lord or giving monetary offerings can also be regarded as a sacrifice of praise, for Hebrews calls upon us to share our material possessions with others (Hebrews 13: 16).

The sacrifice and merit of Christ open up the way for us to bring our own sacrifice of praise. It is only through belief in the Son of God that the foundation for bringing such exhaustive sacrifices of praise can be created.

The term “continually” refers to the fact that praise and thanks are to be brought to God constantly—not only on Thanksgiving Day, but in especially exemplary fashion on that day.

No one can be forced to bring praise and thanks to God. This is a matter of the heart and means that our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving come from deep within ourselves. Apostle Paul writes: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5: 5). Through the Spirit of God, who dwells within us, we receive the power to praise God in all situations—even in times of great difficulty (Acts 16: 23–25). So any prayer, no matter how laden with care it may be, can also always contain praise and thanksgiving.

Works of love

If we praise God and give thanks to Him out of love, we will naturally also practice love for our neighbour. This will show itself when we turn to those who are in need of spiritual or material help. Apostle Paul instructs us to “do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6: 10).

We help because God has helped us, and we help out of love for our neighbour. Such works and such sacrifices are pleasing to God. They are the seed for a harvest which we will experience already here, to some degree, but especially in the future. In the parable of the final judgement, the Son of God already makes reference to the future harvest (Matthew 25: 31–40).

When we devote ourselves to God out of love in both word and deed, our lives as a whole will become a sacrifice of the praise of God.

* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for the Thanksgiving divine service held on Sunday, 04 October 2015 at Midrand Congregation.

 

October 2015: Praising God — A mission for the whole congregation

It is one of the tasks of the church of Christ to bring adoration and praise to God. All believers whom Jesus Christ has called together, and who have become part of His church, have been given the mission to praise and glorify God, each one of us very personally in our own lives—by simply being a Christian and living our faith in practice—and all of us together as a congregation gathered for divine service. Every divine service is a collective expression of praise to God.

The praise of God and the worship of His majesty will never cease. Even in the new creation we will praise and glorify God. All other tasks and purposes of the church will be fulfilled and come to an end. However, this task will remain. If we think about this for a moment, this praise of God takes on an entirely new dimension: we are all part of the church in order to glorify God. If we are all aware of this task and see it as our purpose in the congregation, many problems will solve themselves all on their own. For example, no one would ever arrive at the thought of wanting to impose his or her own thoughts and ideas on anyone else. A congregation that joins together in worship and praise is not well suited as a venue to showcase personal conceits.

Collective praise is a sure indicator of unity. God wants us to work on this together and set a good example, such that the mission of the church may be fulfilled, namely to give everyone access to salvation in Christ, proclaim the gospel, and bring God the praise and worship He is due. Everyone knows we will never succeed in this on our own. For this we need one another!

* Food for thought from a divine service by the Chief Apostle

Devotions: October

The theme series in the month of October, apart from Thanksgiving, focuses on the works of God.

The first Sunday divine service we celebrate Thanksgiving. The praise of God and works of love for our neighbour are sacrifices that please God.

On the second Sunday of the month the focus will be on the sending of the Son of God. Although all human beings deserve to be judged by God since they turned away from Him from the start, the love of God has provided another alternative: in Jesus Christ, He desires to redeem mankind from sin and death.

Those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him will not have to endure the judgement despite their sinfulness, while those who do not believe already are in a state of judgement. In both cases, that which lies in the future—be it deliverance or the judgement of condemnation—has already been determined. Jesus thus confronts human beings with the need to make a clear decision.

The main theme of the third Sunday divine service is the church of Christ. Through people who live in accordance with their faith and profess Jesus as their Lord, the church can be experienced as a fellowship of faith, hope, and love. The Lord calls upon us to contribute to the edification of His work by participating actively in the divine services, serving our neighbour, and professing the gospel. It is also important to work on our own spiritual edification, however, namely by praying intimately, deepening our knowledge, and allowing the new creation to grow within us.

The fourth Sunday in October serves to prepare the way for the divine service for the departed. God desires to make salvation accessible to all mankind, including those in the beyond. The commission of Jesus to proclaim the gospel and the forgiveness of sins, as well as to dispense the sacraments in proper fashion, is fulfilled by His Apostles upon both the living and the dead. Just as Jesus Christ brought His sacrifice on this earth, so too salvation is imparted by the Apostles here on this earth. Since sacraments always have a visible side, they can also only be performed in the visible realm. The effect of the sacraments as essential elements of salvation is the same for both the dead and the living.

The dispensation of Holy Baptism with water, Holy Sealing, and Holy Communion for the departed occurs when each of the visible acts are performed on living human beings. Receiving the three sacraments opens the possibility of being united with the Lord at the return of Christ.

In the month of October, the Bible study series will focus on the young man of Nain. In the events that transpire outside the city gates, Jesus Christ reveals Himself as the Lord of life and death by raising the young man from the dead. He acts with – out any preconditions and, in great compassion, turns to help mankind. We have all experienced God’s unconditional devotion, namely at our baptism. Let us perceive God’s loving care and respond accordingly.