March 17, 2016
  • Numbers 28:1-8
    1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’  3And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering.  4The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; 5also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil.  6It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.  7Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb.  In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the Lord.  8The other lamb you shall offer at twilight.  Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

    If your family was like mine growing up, you had daily devotions.  Ours were always right after supper.  While we kids were squirming, anxious to get out and play with our friends, Dad took up the devotion book and read, sometimes including questions about the devotion, sometimes with a recitation of the Creed or Luther’s Small Catechism, always ending with prayer.  Maybe you do something similar each day.  Maybe this devotional series is part of your routine.

    The daily devotional life of Israel centered around this core: each day, once in the morning and once in the evening, they sacrificed a perfect male lamb.  This sacrifice is presented in an interesting way: it’s called by God, “my food for my food offerings.”  Does God need food and drink?

    In Egypt, the Israelites would have been surrounded by a polytheistic religion in which worshipers provided food to placate their gods, although more commonly the Egyptians left food offerings at the tombs of loved ones, so that they could be sustained in the afterlife.  In Canaan, the Israelites were to be confronted with religions that sought even more fervently to feed their gods, so that the gods would be happy with them.  Does the true God want the same thing?

    In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, we state:
    In Num. 28:4f. three parts of that daily sacrifice are repre­sented, the burning of the lamb, the libation, and the oblation of wheat flour.  The Law had pictures or shadows of future things.  Accordingly, in this spectacle Christ and the entire worship of the New Testament are portrayed.  The burning of the lamb signifies the death of Christ.  The libation signifies that everywhere in the entire world, by the preaching of the Gospel, believers are sprinkled with the blood of that Lamb, i.e., sanctified, as Peter says, 1 Pet. 1:2: Through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.  The oblation of wheat flour signifies faith, prayer, and thanksgiving in hearts.  As, therefore, in the Old Testament, the shadow is perceived, so in the New the thing signified should be sought, and not another type, as sufficient for a sacrifice. (Ap XXIV 36-37)

    In the Old Testament, the people of God were in training.  They were learning as children the building blocks of their education, the alphabet and simple addition and subtraction.  So they were taught to understand that, for their sins, a daily—a double-daily—sacrifice of blood was required.  And the creature to be sacrificed had to be perfect.  Its blood had to be given to God, and its meat burned.  Fine flour had to be offered as well, bread with the meat.  God thereby used a picture that they would have been familiar with to teach them: they would have been well acquainted with the idolatrous practices of placating gods with food offerings.  The true God informs them that, yes, indeed, there does need to be placation for sin.

    But this was all training.  It’s fulfillment came in Christ, the ultimate perfect “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  His death, and no longer he burning of a lamb each day, took away all sins once and for all.  And as though to say, “I no longer need this food, for all wrath is turned away; therefore instead I give you this wonderful food,” God gives us, not the blood of animals, but “the blood of Christ,” and not the flour of fine wheat, but “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).  To turn away God’s wrath, Jesus gave him the final offering.  And now we are given the blessed feast.

    Lord, we thank you that, through the offering and sacrifice of your Son, you have turned away all wrath for our sins, and even more have given us the undeserved gift of a heavenly feast.  Let us receive this gift worthily, with believing hearts, and therefore be strengthened by it in faith and love, until we may finally come to your kingdom, where we will partake of the blessed heavenly banquet in eternity.  In your Son’s name we pray.  Amen.

    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    March 10, 2016
  • Numbers 23:18-24
    18And Balaam took up his discourse and said,
    “Rise, Balak, and hear:
                give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
    19God is not man, that he should lie,
                or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
    Has he said, and will he not do it?
                Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
    20Behold, I received a command to bless:
                he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
    21He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
                nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
    The Lord their God is with them,
                and the shout of a king is among them.
    22God brings them out of Egypt
                and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
    23For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
                no divination against Israel;
    now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
                ‘What has God wrought!’
    24Behold, a people!  As a lioness it rises up
                and as a lion it lifts itself;
    it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
                and drunk the blood of the slain.”

    God has been very strict with his people as they wandered through the wilderness.  Even a toe out of line, and his discipline was upon them.  At the same time, they felt his grace as well, for even though they grumbled, he continued to provide them with miraculous food and victory over enemies.  But it may have been difficult for them to see the big picture—why was God doing things this way? why did he demand this or that sort of behavior? why did he provide this or that specific blessing?  Well, now Moses gives us a glimpse into the perspectives of outsiders.

    Balak, king of Moab, saw how Israel was coming and conquering all the surrounding nations, and sought a way to remove the threat.  He sent Balaam to lay a curse on them.  But Balaam, being warned by an angel (and by his donkey; Num. 22:22-41), had to tell Balak that the Israelites could not be cursed by him, because God had predestined them for a higher purpose.

    Leading Israel through the wilderness, through such a difficult terrain and such mighty effort, God was directing them toward a goal: yes, they would take the land of Canaan, but if that were all, then the dispute would be between men and nations.  Balak could then certainly have come to God and said, “Why should they have this land.  Why not I?  I could obey you, and not grumble against you.”  And God would be left in his court to weigh the options between different men for who should have the right to a scrap of land.

    And this is going on in the world right now.  How tumultuous isn’t the land of Palestine—the Israelis think it is theirs, because God promised it to their forefathers; the Muslims think it is theirs, because their Qur’an claims that it was given to them, to replace the Jews; and the Christians believe it is theirs, or that they should restore it to the Jews, because of some strange, worldly readings of New Testament passages.  But God isn’t worried about some parcel of land.  God “has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.”  His people, under his care and guidance, are an unstoppable force, accomplishing his purposes.  “God brings them out of Egypt / and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.”  He charges forward toward his goal, so that this magnificent people is like “a lioness” rising up: “it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey / and drunk the blood of the slain.”  The nation of Israel would, under God’s might, accomplish his purposes for them.

    And his purpose culminated in this: the blessing God pronounced on Israel was all rooted in the original promise given to Abraham their forefather: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).  Through Abraham’s descendants would come a blessing for “all the families of the earth.”  But those who pronounced a curse against God’s people (such as what Balak wanted to do) would be excluded from this blessing.  And this blessing came about in Abraham’s offspring: “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).  The people of Israel themselves, “not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13-16).  Thus the true, full Promised Land, is the one provided by Jesus Christ, who died to win it for us, and ascended, declaring the purpose: “I go and prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).

    Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us to the heavenly place you have prepared for us.  Through your death, it is ours.  Forgive us our sins, therefore, and clothe us in your righteousness, so that we may take possession of our heavenly Promised Land.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    March 3, 2016
  • Numbers 20:10-13
    10Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  11And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.  12And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”  13These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quar­reled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

    This marks the moment when Moses himself lost the right to enter into the Promised Land.  But what exactly happened?
    Israel had been wandering a long time.  Over and over and over again they grumbled and accused Moses of leading them astray.  Even that great prophet had a limit to his patience, and now it was drawn quite thin.  He’d had enough.  God told him what to do in this instance: specifically, “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Num. 20:8).  But the spiritual leader of Israel was so emotionally worked up that, instead of speaking to the rock, ye shouted at the people: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” and he “struck the rock with his staff twice.”

    A similar occasion happened some time previously.  The people needed drink, and God commanded Moses to strike a rock (“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink,” Exodus 17:6), out of which poured water for all the Israelites.  Paul exposes the meaning of this rock: “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4).

    What Paul means is that this miraculous water-bearing rock was a sacrament—a holy thing given by God to grant his grace and holiness to the people.  It reminds us of two New Testament sacraments: The first is the sacrament of water, the “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5), baptism.  Just as water poured out of a rock for the Israelites, bringing with it God’s grace, so when we were baptized, water poured over us and brought God’s grace upon us.  The second is the sacrament which includes drinking, as Jesus said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28).  Just as the Israelites drank the liquid that came from the side of the rock (which was Christ), so we drink the blood that came from Jesus’ side on the cross in the Lord’s Supper.

    When Jesus instituted his Supper, he gave it so that his disciples would take the blessings of his death: Jesus died to pay for the sins of the world and to bring forgiveness to all.  He told his disciples, therefore, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).  From that moment on, whenever the Supper was celebrated in the way Jesus instituted it, the very blood he shed on the cross and the very body born of Mary was present, with the forgiveness and grace he earned.  Just like Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  In short, Jesus instituted his Supper and sealed it with the violent action of his death, and thereafter all that was needed to receive the same blessings are the words to accompany the materials.

    This is what Moses should have understood regarding the rock in the wilderness.  That rock foreshadowed the blessings that would come from Christ Jesus.  Therefore when it was first given to the people, it was accompanied by the violent action of the staff striking its side.  But the second time, God wanted his people to know that he had already provided for them, and hereafter his providence was accompanied only by the words.  This principle was recorded later by Moses: “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3).

    But Moses sought to impress the people, to wow them, to shock them into obedience, so he resacrificed the rock, deciding that God’s words weren’t enough.  He asked the people, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” as though it were an act that he, their spiritual leader, were to perform, not an act that God performed through him.

    This occasion was something God intended as an act of grace, for although the people were rebellious and quarreling, he wished to provide for them.  Moses, as spiritual leader, ought to have performed the duty of dimply enacting God’s wishes for the people.  Instead, he took it upon himself to add to it.  Let this never be so among us.  Instead, let us take God at his word, and realize that his Word is powerful.  Specifically, his Word is powerful to save: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

    Lord, lead us ever to trust in you, and never in our own works.  Even though our patience may be running thin, even though we may wish to see action and immediate answer to our prayers, guide us to see that the power of salvation we receive is from you and your Word.  Lead us to see this Word for the great blessing that it is, and give us thankful hearts that appreciate this gift; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    February 25, 2016
  • Numbers 18:29-32
    29“‘Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated.’  30Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from the best of it, then the rest shall be counted to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the winepress.  31And you may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting.  32And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have contributed the best of it.  But you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.’”

    The Levites were appointed as the priests of the people of Israel; they made the necessary sacrifices and preached the Word of God.  But while all the other tribes would receive a portion of land to which they were coming, the tribe of Levi received nothing.  While all the others had an income, the Levites were those who served the people spiritually.  Therefore God instituted the system of tithing: 1/10 of the people’s livestock and possessions was to be donated to the Levites to support them.

    This generosity could easily have gone to the heads of the Levites, so God made an additional demand: “Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated.”  The animals that were brought to the Levites were slaughtered, butchered, divided in pieces, and the choice pieces, the most delicious, were to be burned for God.  The priests then were able to keep what was left over.

    Perhaps your parents, like mine, trained you to give to church 1/10 of your income.  It’s a good practice, if the correct mindset accompanies the practice.  Two stories from Scripture illuminate the sort of “tithing” God wants.

    First is the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira.  These two became members of the Christian faith, and so were doing their duty to support the Christian church.  And they were property owners.  They sold some property, and gave some of the proceeds to the church, keeping some of it for themselves.  But sinfully, they reported that they had donated all of their gain.  What motivated the lie?  Probably they wished to appear more generous than they actually were in the eyes of the other Christians.  But as St. Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

    Second, the story of Cain and Abel.  “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.  And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen. 4:3-5).  Cain brought out of obligation, but Abel brought “the firstborn” and “their fat portions.”  He brought the best.

    You are probably familiar with the catchphrase, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  It comes from Scripture: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  Tithing is a great practice—but it is no longer a command!  Even at the time of Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness, do you think God loved the thought of the Levites begrudgingly taking the most mouthwatering pieces of their income and burning them for God?

    God commanded that the best be given to him, not so that the Levites would resent him.  God never commands behavior simply for behavior’s sake.  God wanted the attitude that is connected with the behavior.

    Consider the situation of Israel: they were wandering in a desert, living in tents, no place to call home—they were on their way to the place they would call home.  Recall how they complained, virtually every step of the way, that maybe what they had was better than what they were promised.  God had a plan for them, a plan to bring them to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, a plan that would lead eventually to the birth of the one who would save all mankind.  God wanted the eyes of these Israelites not to be turned backward, toward their bondage, toward the paltry material possessions that they could earn; he wanted them turned forward, toward their liberty, toward the glorious blessings he would provide.  What better way to cause such a mindset than for the Israelites to give up the best of their material possessions.

    That is what our offerings do.  When we put our check in the plate at church, it’s not because the church is a moneymaking industry.  It’s because we are learning to forsake these material blessings in favor of eternal, spiritual ones—a lesson that needs regular reinforcement.  Our eyes are focused on the divine, on the spiritual.  We give, not because we are commanded to, not because we must appease a wrathful God.  We give because we have received something infinitely better than these physical things.  God’s own Son—who was God himself!—died on a cross to pay the price for our sins.  This perfect blessing is ours.  What is there that we would prefer to hold onto other than this?

    Lord Jesus, keep our eyes ever fixed on you, and the eternal blessings we have won from you.  Although we are also blessed by you with many earthly blessings, let us view these as only a trust from you, of which we are guardians, until we receive our eternal reward.  Lead us to ever more thankful hearts, and guide us to see your blessings in all things.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.

    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    February 18, 2016
  • Text: Numbers 16:13-14
    13“Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flow­ing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us?  14Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.  Will you put out the eyes of these men?  We will not come up.”

    It seems like the entire 40-year journey through the wilderness was nothing but complaining, complaining, and more complaining from the Israelites.  Now, some from the tribe of Reuben and from the tribe of Levi rose up with a party of 250 men to overthrow Moses.

    Notice how they complained.  In the first promise God made about the Promised Land, he said, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8).  The description of this Promised Land certainly made it sound appealing.  So these Reubenites certainly wanted such a land.  But how they specifically wanted this fulfilled was in the land of Egypt itself.  Moses brought them out of Egypt at the Lord’s direction, and they complained, “you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey”!  Because they didn’t get what they wanted, they complain that they would prefer slavery in Egypt to the promise of God.

    Compare how Jesus was received: on Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, and the people shouted joyfully, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9).  They recognized him as the Lord’s true prophet, the Son of David, the one who would bring salvation—much in the same way that the Israelites were pleased to follow Moses, another true prophet of the Lord, in all his directions and in his overthrow of the Egyptian enslavement.

    If we track what Jesus did the following week in Jerusalem, he cleansed the temple, cursed a fig tree, made the chief priests and elders look like fools, told parables that called attention to the people’s unbelief and wickedness, stated that the people should pay taxes to Caesar and the oppressive Roman government, demonstrated the ignorance of the Pharisees, pronounced woes upon the Pharisees and Sadducees, lamented over Jerusalem and foretold the destruction of the temple and the end of the world, and declared that judgment would come upon the unbelievers.  In short, Jesus made a lot of people angry, because he wouldn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.

    Likewise, Moses, under the Lord’s direction, prescribed worship and laws for the people, focused the Israelites away from their selfish wishes and toward lives lived to God.  The Reubenites probably had the added complaint that this man from the tribe of Levi (Moses) was leading them, those who were of the tribe of the oldest brother Reuben.  They thought that they should be the ruling tribe, that they should have that right.  They accused Moses of trying to blind them to what was really happening: “Will you put out the eyes of these men?”

    We hear the same complaints today.  “The Bible isn’t a science textbook.”  “The God of the Old Testament was hateful and unmerciful.”  “The Bible promotes slavery.”  All these complaints ultimately come down to one: “God isn’t telling me what I want to hear.”

    We have been promised a greater land than the physical region given to the nation of Israel.  Our Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, will surpass anything we can conceive.  On this earth we are wandering as through a wilderness.  What madness could overtake us to look at what is promised and instead say to God, “Why not give us this as our Promised Land instead?”  Let’s not be so arrogant to think that we know what God should give us.  Instead, simply have quiet, receptive faith.

    At the end of the week that began with Palm Sunday Jesus was betrayed by those he had angered and brought to his death.  But praise the Lord!  That death was used by God as the means to accomplish the things he had promised.  Although people want certain earthly things (the overthrow of this or that government figure, certain rights or authority, the message and teaching we want to hear), God provides far greater things.  Through the death of his Son, he accomplished our eternal salvation, won for us a heavenly inheritance as sons of God.

    Faith in this Savior, the reception of God’s grace for the eternal life won for us, that is the single greatest blessing we should seek from God—Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).  Through patient faith in God, he blesses us eternally, and also temporally, in ways we may never even expect.  Have confidence in the blessed fact that God loves us and will care for us as he sees fit in his omniscience and omnipotence.

    Dear Lord, we trust in your promises, and we know that you will fulfill them for us.  Let us not be distracted by other things, our selfish wants and lusts.  Instead, lead us to ever stronger faith in you, not pride or arrogance of ourselves.  You have promised us eternal life on account of your Son’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection from the dead.  Give us what you have promised.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    February 11, 2016
  • Text: Numbers 14:6-11, 21-23
    6And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy out, is an exceedingly good land.  8If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  9Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  10Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.  But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.  11And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me?  And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them…?  21But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.  And none of those who despised me shall see it.”

    “Well, that was dumb.”  I remember thinking that when, as a student in Sunday School, I first learned about Israel’s wandering in the wilderness.  40 years of suffering and yearning and hungering could have been avoided, if only they had trusted in God.  They made a really dumb mistake.  Joshua and Caleb even tried pointing out how little they  had to worry about: “And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  St. Paul repeats this concept in the New Testament: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Joshua and Caleb tried to tell the Israelites, “God has promised this land to us: with him on our side, we’ll eat our enemies alive!
    But their message of hope was met with intense hostility: “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.”  Human nature was taking over.  Rather than trust God, believe his promises, and stop relying on themselves, these men preferred to fear, and, blinded by that fear, wanted escape.  They thought that Joshua and Caleb were leading them into certain death.

    But it really was dumb.  As God himself said, “And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”  These people had seen the miracles Moses performed; they had witnessed the ten plagues firsthand; they had been given water from a rock and received miraculous quail and manna from heaven.  Nevertheless, even after all these things, they thought, “Sure, God did that, but he can’t do this.”  Because of their unbelief, they were cursed to wander through the wilderness for 40 years, while the rebellious generation died out and a new, believing generation rose up in their place.

    Think again of Paul’s encouragement to rely on the Lord: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and as proof, he goes on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will ne not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).  Like the Israelites, we have witnessed the providence of God already: to them he gave deliverance, nourishment, grace; to us he gave his Son the Deliverer, the Nourishment of his Word and Sacraments, and the Grace of Salvation and Eternal Life.  For the Israelites, what they had already received should have assured them that they would receive what was promised.  For us, what we have already received should assure us of what is promised.

    Israel’s 40-year sojourn through the wilderness is one inspiration for the season of Lent—a 40-day sojourn through repentance.  At the end of Israel’s journey, they came to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.  At the end of our Lenten journey, we come to Easter, the Resurrection, a time of joy for God’s eternal gifts overflowing from the empty tomb.  As Israel’s voyage brought about the death of the old, sinful generation and the rising of the new, faithful generation, our voyage of repentance puts to death the Old sinful Adam of our flesh and gives rise to the new man made in the image of Christ.  Lent should be a spiritual exercise in letting go of our selves and our doubts and our fears, placing our trust wholly into the arms of God.  Humble yourselves this season, and be like the father of the child with an unclean spirit, falling before Jesus and crying out: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Our God is faithful to forgive and to give us promised salvation.

    Lord, we believe; help our unbelief!  Keep us from being overcome with the weight of the world, and instead help us to cast all our cares on you, and be assured that you have borne all our burdens and will give us every good thing.  Lead us to daily repentance and sorrow over sin, so that daily we might receive your forgiveness, all on the basis of the passionate death of your dear Son, and his glorious resurrection from the dead.  In his name we pray.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    February 4, 2016
  • Luke 7:33-35
    33“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  35Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

    Hard to please.  That doesn’t just describe the Pharisees.  When it gets down to it, when we’re talking about spiritual things, that describes humanity.  We’re all hard to please.

    There are certainly some people who will claim to be laid back in their spirituality—in Christianity or in other religions.  The New Age movement is famous for its all-inclusive, pluralistic attitudes (“Coexist!”), and so those within it would certainly claim that they’re not hard to please.  But they are, just in a different way than they think.

    Are you hard to please?  Think spiritually, now.  Think of your church.  Would you complain if your pastor completely changed the current layout of the sanctuary, getting rid of the altar and pulpit, and instead preached from a folding chair?  Or would you feel out of sorts if the service was twice as long with twice as much singing?  Or would you be displeased if the pastor started to chant in Latin instead of English?

    Maybe none of these would bother you; maybe they all would.  But if something about your religion or spirituality would bother you, ask yourself this question: Do I dislike it because of personal preference, or because it’s actually false teaching or harmful to the faith?

    When Jesus walked the earth, at times he was greeted with excitement.  But once he started to preach, pointing out that he wasn’t going to do just exactly what the people wanted him to do, he was hated.  In his sermon from Luke’s Gospel, he pointed out the hypocrisy that these people were demonstrating: they complained about John the Baptist’s preaching (even though he preached the truth) by pointing out his eating habits and concluding that he was a demoniac.  Then when Jesus came (also preaching the truth), they didn’t like that either and pointed out his eating habits, concluding that he was a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

    When you complain about things you don’t like, is it because those things are actually wrong?  Or are they just not what you expected, not what you’d prefer?  Here’s a radical thought: God doesn’t care if our sanctuaries have pulpits and altars or folding chairs and stage lights.  God doesn’t care if we sing something with a traditional German or Norwegian tune or something that sounds like a rock song.  God doesn’t care if our prayers are focused in traditional Latin or in English that everyone speaks at once.  Here’s what God cares about: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).  God wants our worship services to be places where we foster true belief and true confession; and how does that come about?

    “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  Let the Word be taught, in truth and purity (and this means, if there’s Latin, let there be a translation into the language of the people; Latin itself is not evil, but “If any speak in a tongue…let someone interpret,” 1 Cor. 14:27).  “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).  Let the washing of water with the Word be practiced rightly in the church.  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ…?  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 10:16, 11:26).  Let the Sacrament of the Altar be celebrated in a worthy manner.

    The Word and Sacraments—we call these the means of grace, for it is through them, and through nothing else, that God communicates his grace, forgiveness, faith, and salvation to people—these are the marks of the Church.  If they are uncorrupted, then the true Church is there.  If they are there and unimpeded, what can you complain about?

    Jesus concludes here with a proverb: “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”  Similarly, we say, “Time will tell.”  The validity of Jesus and his message was proved as time went on: he was led to the cross, where he suffered willingly, never speaking a word to stop it.  And then, three days later, God raised him from the dead to stamp his divine seal on the salvation Christ won.  We have seen it proven.  Therefore we can be certain in what the truth is, as God has revealed it.

    Dear Lord, let us never become distracted by what we expect things to be.  Don’t let our personal preferences stand in the way of the pure, uncorrupted preaching of your Word for the salvation of souls.  Instead, teach us your Word, by your Holy Spirit enlightening our hearts, to create in us ever firmer faith in your Son, Jesus Christ, who died to take away the sins of the world, in whose resurrection we are confident of our own resurrections, and in whose name we pray.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    January 28, 2016
  • Text: John 6:53-58
    53So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  56Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.  58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread that the fathers ate and died.  Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

    The Fountain of Youth.  The Holy Grail.  The Tree of Life.  Legends abound in our human cultures about that secret magical fluid that, when drunk, grants the drinker immortality, eternal life.  An immortal soul, a life that never ends—it’s natural for life to desire to continue.  So to find the way to continue endlessly, that is the keenest desire of the living being.

    But an earthly elixir does not exist.  Yes, the Tree of Life was a real tree in the Garden of Eden, but since man’s expulsion from that Garden its location has been lost, and it will never again be found (perhaps it was even destroyed in the Deluge).  Likewise the Holy Grail was a literal cup used by Jesus, but its holiness was not its own, rather the holiness of the blood of God that it contained.
    Just notice, looking at these legends, how deeply connected they are to Christian tradition.  Even the Fountain of Youth is frequently considered to be a pool at the base of the Tree of Life, drawing its powers from there.  So-called Christians for centuries searched for the mythical granters of immortality.  But where did we go so wrong?

    The Jews of Jesus’ day were likewise misled by their personal blindness and preference.  When Jesus was talking about giving his flesh and blood, they were astonished and “disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52).  Even the disciples, the followers of Jesus, “they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’  But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’” (6:60-61).  The Jews and the disciples certainly wanted the ability to live forever (for they said, “Sir, give us this bread always” [6:34], before Jesus revealed that he was talking about his flesh).  But their minds were fixed on worldly things.  They thought that Jesus meant an earthly immortality, the same way these Christians seeking the Fountain of Youth seek an earthly immortality.  Having in mind carnal things, when Jesus tells them that the answer is “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” only disgust can follow.

    But Jesus speaks in spiritual terms.  At this time in the Gospels he isn’t even talking yet about the Lord’s Supper.  He is talking entirely about faith.  The true food that gives life to all who eat it, the true drink that sustains eternally those who drink it, is Jesus himself.  If we abide in him by faith, he abides in us, and we are upheld by his life.

    He draws the parallel: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”  We confess the Triune God, in which relationship we believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father before all worlds” (Nicene Creed).  In the mystery of their relationship, we see the Son drawing life from the Father, in a similar way to how we who believe in Jesus draw life from him.

    And in this it is essential to understand Jesus as true God and true Man—Man because he has flesh and blood, in which he died and paid the price for sins.  This is what Jesus means by “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood.”  Believe in his flesh, and receive in faith the benefits he bought with his blood.  And God, because through that flesh and blood he delivers to us divine life.  It is because Jesus is true God that he can deliver what he promises to those who believe in him: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day….  Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

    Dear Lord, you who sent your only-begotten Son, very God of very God, into the flesh in order to bear our sins upon his own body and to ransom our souls from hell with his blood, sustain us by that heavenly food, by your Holy Spirit instilling faith and your grace in our hearts, so that the eternal life that you have promised may indeed be ours, through the same, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    January 21, 2016
  • Ezekiel 2:8-3:3
    8“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you.  Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”  9And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it.  10And he spread it before me.  And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.  3 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here.  Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”  2So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.  3And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.”  Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

    When he was tempted by Satan to use his divine omnipotence for selfish purposes, Jesus responded by citing the book of Deuteronomy: “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3).  But who would have ever thought to take this literally?  No, we don’t go around tearing pages out of our Bibles and eating them.  To do so would be missing the point.

    Ezekiel was called to be God’s prophet at a time when Israel was rebelling (and God here calls that nation “that rebellious house”), and like many prophets before and after him, he was called to bring the rebellious people back to God.  This was a difficult and terrifying task.  Imagine the comparatively small task that would face you if you had to confront a loved one with their sin.  If your parent, sibling, spouse, or other close friend or family member was living in some sin, is it easy to speak to them about it?  What goes through your head?  “They’ll get mad at me.”  “I’ll lose that relationship.”  For Ezekiel and the other prophets called upon to tell Israel about their sins, these same thoughts were going through their heads, added to the fear, “They’ll kill me!”

    And there was God, commanding Ezekiel to go and be the bearer of bad news to Israel: “Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”  Earlier God had told him, “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’” and, “And you shall speak my words to them” (2:4, 7).  Compare how God called others of his prophets: Moses, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex. 4:12), and Aaron through Moses, “You shall speak to him [Aaron] and pout the words in his mouth” (4:15); Jeremiah, “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth.  And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth’” (Jer. 1:9); Isaiah, “And [the seraph] touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’  Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’  And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people,’” (Is. 6:6-9), and Isaiah later prophesied to the redeemed people God’s words, “And I have put my words in your mouth” (51:16).

    These prophets are never expected to go and tell God’s people God’s will on their own.  Each time, God places his Word into his prophet’s mouth, whether through speaking to them aloud and sending his Spirit (as in Moses’ case), through a touch (as Jeremiah), through a burning coal upon the lips (as Isaiah), through the eating of those very words (as Ezekiel), or through hearing the words aloud from another prophet (as Aaron, and perhaps more significantly, as the people to whom Isaiah prophesied).

    Look at what Ezekiel had to preach: this scroll, written on both sides, is entitled, “Words of Lamentation and Mourning and Woe.”  To say it is an unpleasant message is an understatement.  And yet Ezekiel, having been told three times by God, “Eat what I give you,” three times building up how bitter he expects this experience to be, ate it, “and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”
    This is what is surprising about God’s Word.  We speak of its two doctrines: Law and Gospel.  The Law terrifies, and when we hear or read it we want to withdraw.  However if, as in Ezekiel’s case, we “feed [our] belly” and “fill [our] stomach” with God’s Word, Law included, if it is allowed to permeate our entire being through the working of the Holy Spirit, if it penetrates our soul, then we will find that in our mouth it is “as sweet as honey.”

    This is because the Law of God’s Word is never allowed by God to be left alone.  The Law is always followed by its fulfillment: the Gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:21-25).  For the same reason, we can see the sweetness of putting God’s Word of Law in our mouths and preaching it to sinners, for when they see the Law, they can see also how it was fulfilled in their salvation through Jesus Christ.

    “Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word!  Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.  My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.  My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.  Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.  I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.  Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.  I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” Amen. (Ps. 119:169-176)
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    December 17, 2015
  • Text: Matthew 3:1-6
    1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  3For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
    “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
                make his paths straight.’”
    4Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

    With the advent of our Lord approaching, we have to be prepared.  It was John the Baptist’s purpose to prepare hearts for that very coming, hence his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

    At the end of the world, when Jesus returns in glory, “he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:32).  You remember that story, when the King will recount to the sheep and goats their deeds (or lack thereof), demonstrating the evidence of a righteous or a wicked life, and the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).

    Going through the deeds of the wicked and the righteous, if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that we often slip onto the side of the goats.  Or maybe we think we’re fine.  Think of the Christmas story: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).  How many of us haven’t thought, “If Mary and Joseph came to my town, I would give them a room!”?  That’s a nice sentiment, but how honest is it, really?  Have you ministered to all of “the least of these” that you’ve met (Matt. 25:45)?  Have we started to claim that we’re pretty good, that we try our best, that God has to admit that we’ve done everything we’re capable of?

    Such claims are pointless, trying to make ourselves feel better for our own shortcomings.  Claiming, “I’m doing my best,” assumes that God is content with “the best” of someone who is corrupted by sin.  The truth is, God demands perfection: not one bit less.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).  This is why John baptized and demanded repentance.  His whole life was a demonstration of this attitude: he “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  He gave up any comforts or soft fabrics and wore the itchy camel’s-hair to remind himself of his sinfulness.  He relinquished any delicacies and ate only the things found in the wilderness, locusts and wild honey.  His image and his message made an impression, and people were awakened to their sinfulness and their need for salvation.

    Realize: it’s no use trying to hide your sinfulness.  Saying, “I’ve done my best,” means nothing; only trying to hide your true wickedness from yourself and from God.  But there is a promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  This is how we get on the side of the sheep: we repent, we are baptized, we are forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ covers our unrighteousness.

    This is John’s message, and it applies now more than ever, with the kingdom of heaven so close at hand.  It’s coming; are we on the side of the righteous or the unrighteous?  Cross the river Jordan in baptismal repentance, by confessing your sins and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.

    Lord Jesus, as your advent nears, prepare us by your grace and forgiveness.  Return us always to our baptisms in repentance, and when we confess our sins, cover us in your righteousness, so that at your coming we might stand on your right and join you in eternal glory.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    December 10, 2015
  • Text: Revelation 3:20 
    20Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

    Are you ready for the Advent of our Lord?  He is so near now, and could come at any moment, so that we should be constantly vigilant.

    In St. John’s visions, Jesus speaks this statement as part of his letter to the church of Laodicea, which he had described as “neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16).  This church needs warning because, while they are not opposed to Christ and his Word, they are not great promoters of him either.  Rather they say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (3:17).  They believe they are sufficient.  They believe that they have all the religion they need.

    This is meant as a warning to us as well.  With any number of reasons (I don’t like the people; the seats are uncomfortable; the sermons are boring; etc.) many people think that church is unnecessary, and it’s justified in our minds by thinking, “I know I’m saved; I know God’s Word; I can worship on my own.”  While it’s true, solitary worship and prayer is heard by God, this does not mean “neglecting to meet together” is a healthy habit (Heb. 10:25).  Instead, the warning to the Laodiceans must be taken to heart, as well as the promise.

    Jesus promises, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  The best way to be sure of hearing his voice is to sit awake by the door.  This is not a physical wakefulness; it is a spiritual one, a wakefulness of faith.

    Driving down dark roads at night, when one has not been rested or nourished properly, is dangerous.  Sleep-deprived drivers, they say, are more dangerous than drunk drivers.  Partially that’s because it’s so difficult to realize when you’re falling asleep at the wheel.  Sleep sneaks up and pounces from behind.  On your own, you may think that by sheer force of will you can keep yourself awake, but without proper preparation and readiness, sleep wins.

    To keep faith from falling asleep, it’s not a matter of keeping yourself awake by force of will.  Sleep wins over will all the time; it just waits for the will to get tired.  No, to keep faith awake, it needs the proper nutrients, it needs the occasional splash of cold water or pinch, it needs someone close by who can notice when sleep starts to slip in and keep your faith awake.

    All this comes from being, not lukewarm or thinking, “I’ve got this,” but dependent upon the Word of God, which with its Law wakes us up to the fact that we are falling asleep on our own, and with its Gospel keeps our eyes focused on the prize at the end.

    That prize is eternal fellowship with Jesus, when he comes in and sits at our table, sharing a feast with us.  He is already with us, because he knocked at the door and was given entrance by the Holy Spirit when his Word brought us to faith.  He will come again at the Last Day—when no one knows it will come—and if we are awake in faith and ready by the door, then we feast with him in heaven for eternity.

    Lord Jesus, keep our faiths awake by close attendance to your Word and by fellowship with our fellow Christians when we gather together around that Word.  Let us never become lukewarm or proud, believing ourselves self-sufficient, but show us how we must depend on you entirely.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    December 3, 2015
  • Matthew 24:37-42
    37“For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.  42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

    “Eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”  That’s what the heathen and proudly ignorant were up to before the Flood.  And, Jesus says, that’s what those same heathen and proudly ignorant will be doing in our own times, before the End.  But that’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?  Eating and drinking is how we are nourished, how we survive.  Marriage was instituted by God himself in the Garden of Eden.

    It would be absurd to think that what Jesus is saying here is that eating, drinking, and marriage are evil and sinful.  Instead, the sin of these people (both before the Flood and before the End) is that they live for these things, and blind themselves to everything else.  Here is what that wicked ignorance means:

    Even as men in that day lived in unthinking security, buried themselves in worldly cares, and failed to heed the signs of the times, so it shall be among the masses even now; moral laxity and gross materialism will spread like wildfire.  The sin of the people at the time of the Flood was not that they ate and drank and that they entered into wedlock.  This was God’s own order for the preservation and the propagation of the race.  But they lost themselves in these pursuits; they cared for nothing except the affairs of this life, for that which pertained to the flesh.  They closed their eyes to the signs of the times and their ears to the voice that spoke to them from God through Him whom Scripture calls the ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Pet. 2:5).  A condition of profound spiritual apathy had descended upon them.  ‘So shall also the coming of the Son of man be.’[1]

    These people were missing the great truth Jesus had spoken previously: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).  Likewise, as Jesus’ sermon continued, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing…?  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

    It is so tempting to pay close attention to what one has accomplished, the impression one leaves on the world.  But when this becomes the all-in-all, and there is no attention left to give to heavenly things, when the eyes are fixed on the objects of this earth rather than the truths of God’s salvation, then those things become our only treasures, our gods.  This is why “one will be taken and one left.”  The one who is left had his eyes fixed on the ground he worked, her eyes on the millstone she turned, and his life could be counted in the heads of grain he picked, her life could be measured in how far that stone rolled; and meanwhile the one who is taken worked right alongside with his friend in the field, ground right next to her coworker in the mill, but this was not the life of these two.  These two worked the earth below, but had their eyes fixed on heaven above.

    No doubt, in the field he spoke with his friend about his heavenly treasure and the joy he had, but his friend had blinded and deafened himself, hardened his heart to anything except the work which was his god.  No doubt, in the mill she talked about the salvation she had been given, the “reason for the hope” that was in her (1 Pet. 3:15), but her friend had hardened her heart, harder than that mighty millstone.

    Let not your hearts be burdened by the cares of this world: remember that the kingdom of God, and all things, are yours, because the ruler of all things, Jesus Christ, God himself, died on the cross to transfer them to you.  Therefore keep your eyes on heavenly things, and “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

    Dear Jesus, dwell in our hearts and keep our eyes firmly fixed on you and the heavenly treasures you won for us.  When we eat and drink and marry and work, let all these things serve the purpose of building up those in faith, and of spreading that faith to all nations, all men who need to hear the Word of their salvation.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    [1] Joh. Ylvisaker, The Gospels (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1932), 618.
    November 19, 2015

  • Text: Revelation 7:14-17
    14I said to him, “Sir, you know.”  And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
    15“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
          and serve him day and night in his temple;
          and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
    16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
          the sun shall not strike them,
          nor any scorching heat.
    17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
          and he will guide them to springs of living water,
          and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

    “What will heaven be like?”  This question has occurred to the minds of probably every Christian at some point in his life.  Children are fascinated by the question.  The illustrations from children’s Bible Story Books usually picture a fluffy-white cloudy Middle-Eastern city with tones of gold and sunlight.  I’ve also heard heaven described as eternal happiness, where there’s no pain or sadness or sorrow, ultimately making it sound something like the Nirvana of Buddhism.  I’ve also heard that there’s no possible way we on this earth can conceive what that heaven will be like.

    No doubt there’s truth to all of these things.  But rather than speculate, what does Scripture say?  The Apostle, St. John, in the vision he received in his old age on the isle of Patmos, describes in this enigmatic way what the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” experienced in their heavenly joy (Rev. 7:9-10).

    First the elder to whom John spoke explained how this multitude was able to come into this joy: they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  These are the saints, so called because they are sanctified—made holy—on account of the blood shed by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  This teaches us what forgiveness ultimately means: although these people had grubby, mud-spattered robes, the Lamb’s blood is given to them freely, the only substance which can wash the grime of sin away.  Therefore even though they are sinful themselves, they are given the free white robes that allow them to take their place before the throne of God.  Here is the first comfort of this picture: we have a free pass into heaven, because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

    And the second comfort comes afterward: this is the comfort of what heaven will be like.  We who have these white robes are in God’s presence continually, able to stand in the glorious warm light of the Lord almighty, and there he shelters us—he is himself our home.  We will not hunger; we will not thirst; we will not be pained by the elements.  God is our shelter, our home, and he is our nourishment, our feast.

    And this fascinating irony: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd.”  When Jesus appeared for the beginning of his public ministry on earth, John the Baptist pointed to him and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  Jesus the Messiah was the sacrifice for sin, so that his blood could be shed in order to wash us clean.  But that same Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  We are the sheep, and he is our Lord, our leader, our guide, our master.  In this vision from Revelation, St. John hears explained how this one Messiah can be both Lamb and shepherd.  Having been sacrificed for sin, he rises victorious to be our master forever: so the Lamb who was slain has become King over all us saints.

    The elder who speaks with St. John then seems to paraphrase a portion of Psalm 23, saying: “he will guide them to springs of living water,” as that psalm says: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. / He makes me lie down in green pastures. / He leads me beside still waters” (Ps. 23:1-2).  This Shepherd who was our sacrificial Lamb is now intimately and only concerned with our never-ending joy and comfort, and for this reason the elder concludes: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  This Shepherd who was a Lamb, who is God, is at our side, our companion, our friend, our comfort who holds us and walks with us.  This is what heaven is like.

    Lord Jesus, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    November 12, 2015
  • Philippians 3:17-21
    17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

    There are two types of people in the world: those who are spiritual and religious, and those whose “god is their belly.”  The last might often repeat: “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Is that how you treat spiritual things?  In fact, only 2.5% of the world claimed to be atheist, completely disregarding spiritual things, in 2011.  The other 97.5% claimed to have some acknowledgment of spiritual things—but what do they really mean?

    Paul in fact draws the line into much narrower focus when he says to the Philippians, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”  It’s not just the lack of spiritual things which constitutes the idolatry of the belly.  It’s the ignorance of this very objective—in fact, very material—thing: the cross of Christ.
    That same survey revealed that 33% of the world claimed to be Christian in 2011.  Another study, a year later, in 2012, estimated that 31.5% of the world claimed to be Christian.  Yes, the numbers seem to be decreasing, but do those who claim Christianity as their religious affiliation really cling to the cross of Christ, or is it a meaningless label?  Are they Christian because they might upset their family if they left?  Are they Christian so they can get their kids into a good school?  Are they Christian out of convenience?

    Thoughts like these are what led Paul to tears.  Many, even though they may not look it, are “enemies of the cross of Christ,” and for such as these, “Their end is destruction.”  A pitiful, sad end, and Paul weeps for them.  All such, whether they claim to be Christian or not, if they are Christian not in faith but in name only, worship their bellies—that is, their own earthly wants and needs.  The spiritual, even that cross of Christ, is out of sight and out of mind.  They are concerned with the here and now, with paychecks and food on the table and clothing and housing and luxuries and toys.  Some of these things are in fact necessary for this earthly life, but rather than see that the eyes of all look to God, and he alone gives food in due season, opening his hand to satisfy the desires of every living thing (Ps. 145:15-16), they focus on these things as an end in themselves.  The belly-worshipers may think of the spiritual as something to be concerned with years down the road, or when trouble strikes, but not right now.  Right now, I need to get that meal.  Right now, I need to work this job.  Necessary, but God also says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

    Here’s the comfort that the Gospel brings: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That objective man who lived perfectly, yet died the death of sinners, is our Savior: he paid for our sin and gave us the prize he earned.  Because of him, we have our free ticket to get to heaven, and as the hymn says, “I’m but a stranger here; / Heav’n is my home” (ELH 474).

    But he has already come.  Why does Paul say “we await” this Savior?  It’s because we await him to “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”  We await his return.  When we die, our material bodies will lay in the ground, “for you are dust, / and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19), “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7).  If this material body dies and rots, then our hope must be in what lasts: the spiritual.  But even after this, there is hope for the material!  For when Jesus Christ returns in glory, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).  We will rise, our spirits will rejoin our bodies, and our bodies will be glorified.

    This is ours because we are not belly-worshipers, we are not enemies of the cross of Christ, but by faith we cling to that cross, and that Christ raises us out of the dust of our sin and makes us able to live our lives in him.

    Dear Christ, we were born in sin, but you were born immaculate and pure.  We live our lives in constant sin, but you have kept every law in perfect obedience.  For our wickedness we deserve to suffer the pains of hell separated from our God, but you took that suffering on your own head on the cross.  We would be lost in our graves, but you rose and shattered the power of death, so that we are enabled to share our heavenly citizenship with you.  For this we thank you, and we look forward eagerly to your return when we are delivered from this wicked earth and brought into glory.  In your name, we ask that you come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    October 29, 2015
  • Text: Matthew 11:18-19
    18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  19The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.

    The childishness of the Pharisees is revealed: When John the Baptist came, they found fault in his fasting, how he set himself apart from the general populace.  When Jesus came, the found fault in his eating and drinking, how he deliberately did not set himself apart from the general populace.  They would simply not be pleased.

    This is not only a fault in the Pharisees of 2,000 years ago.  It is human nature to have certain expectations, and to demand that things measure up to those expectations.  When nothing ever measures up, we are dissatisfied and disappointed over and over, finding satisfaction only in ourselves: “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” is our mentality.  For the Pharisees, this meant that the Messiah who had come, Jesus, who proved himself to be that Messiah by his deeds, was not what they wanted.  So they planned to continue in the working of their laws, laying burden after burden on themselves and other people, trying to climb their own way to heaven.

    For us, this means very little different.  We are dissatisfied with the Gospel for any number of reasons: “That’s too easy; it has to be harder.”  “That’s too old; it has to be more relevant to me today.”  “That’s too culturally locked in Israel from 2,000 years ago; it has nothing to do with the broader cultural context.”  “That’s too limited in its perspective; it has to apply to more people.”  “That’s too remote; there’s no real emotion behind it.”

    Human beings, you and I, we want what we want.  If it’s not exactly what we want, then there’s something wrong with it.  It’s this that causes us to go church-shopping even when we’ve been consistently fed the Gospel.  It’s this that causes us to grow sick of hymns that are uninteresting to us or liturgies that are old and dusty, even when these things feed us the pure and unadulterated Word of God.  We’d rather worship in our own way, worship a God who “means something to us” than the one who reveals himself in his Word.

    This is why Jesus points out this hypocrisy and childishness.  Notice, he doesn’t actually call out the Pharisees here.  He mentions “this generation,” (11:16).  The generation, the people concurrent with Christ, were guilty of this childish dissatisfaction, and their issue has continued through the ages to us today.  All people are guilty of seeking out what they want rather than what’s true.

    And this is why Jesus concludes: “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”  The wise people will prove themselves to be wise by their actions: by forsaking their selfish wants and following the objective Word of God.  But more than this, Jesus’ wisdom is demonstrated by his deeds: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (11:5).  These actions prove Jesus to be the Wisdom of God incarnate (cf. Prov. 8, 9), the Word of God incarnate (John 1:1), the Messiah who was to come.  If the people are wise, they will judge these deeds as they are objectively meant to be judged, and they will indisputably here see Christ the Messiah.

    But the people of the world are not wise in this way.  We are all blind, foolish, childish, and cannot see this.  We can’t see it until the Holy Spirit enlightens us: “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’” (Rom. 8:15).  The enlightening of faith given by the Spirit leads us to see Christ as he is: our Savior from sin who fulfilled the whole law by his deeds, and who paid the price for our disobedience by his obedient death on the cross.  And one further deed of this Jesus is a convincing proof to us of the wisdom of trusting in him: he rose from the dead, and lives now eternally, to intercede for us as our High Priest, declaring all our sins forgiven continually before God in heaven.

    Dear Christ, we thank you for your obedient life and death, by which we are declared forgiven and justified.  We thank you also for sending the Holy Spirit to give us faith in your sacrifice, for on our own we would be blind and concerned only with our own accomplishments.  Maintain us in this wise faith until our last day, when we will come into our inheritance in full in our heavenly home.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    October 22, 2015
  • Matthew 22:8-10
    8Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  9Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’  10And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.  So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

    Did you catch it?  There’s a paradox in this parable, just two verses apart.  The king says first that “those invited were not worthy.”  But then he asks his servants to “invite to the wedding feast as many as you find,” and is content when they “gathered all whom they found, both good and bad.”  Although the original guests were not worthy, there are still some “bad” who are allowed to come.  Why is that?

    If you’ll remember earlier in the parable, what actually made those first invited “unworthy” was that they made countless excuses not to come, and some even “seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them” (Matt. 22:6).  This caused the king to send his troops to destroy them and burn their city to the ground.  The unworthiness of these would-be wedding guests was not based on their social status or their wealth; it was based on their rejection of the king’s invitation.

    So when some who are “bad” are invited (and the word “bad” is the Greek word for “evil”), they are bad because that is their nature, that is their status.  But the messengers of this king, following his orders, gather in even these evil ones to fill the wedding hall.  Even though they themselves didn’t deserve to come, had no status before this king that should cause him to recognize them, they were nevertheless invited and given this mighty wedding feast free of charge.

    The cautionary tale in this story is, don’t be the unworthy ones who are invited but make excuses, or even act harshly against those bringing the invitation.  God’s messengers are going out even now, bearing the wedding invitation, the Gospel, inviting us to come into his banquet hall.  Does such an invitation inconvenience you?  Are there other things you’d rather be doing?  Does it offend you?  Are there things it asks you to give up that you feel you can’t live without?

    The promise in this story is, even though that is our nature—to hate this message, to prefer our own things, to be disgusting, evil, selfish beings—the invitation comes to us, and God works to gather us into his banquet hall, despite what we deserve.

    This is the wedding of the king’s son: we are invited to the feast of the wedding of God’s Son: because he married himself to his people by his death on the cross, paying all their debts and giving to them all his wealth, we are all invited to come and reap the benefits.  It’s all done!  It’s all free!  The messengers of God come with this Gospel to encourage us, although you may be the chief of sinners, although you may be the vilest and lowest person in the world, this great feast is for you!  Or, although you may think you have everything you need, although you may have other things you want to accomplish that prevent you from coming to this feast, although the message may offend you, it is still a feast given for you.  Don’t be foolish.  Take this free gift!  God wants to fill his halls with wedding guests, because our sins are all forgiven, and eternal celebratory feasting is ours.

    Heavenly Father, we thank you for preparing this wedding feast for us, although we never deserved it.  Lead us to see the wonderful gift you give us on account of the sacrificial death of your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    October 15, 2015
  • Text: Luke 10:1-3
    1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.  2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

    Trees are changing this year, as they did last year and every year before, into fiery and warm colors, while the air around them is growing cooler, and already frost has touched the ground in some places.  It’s this time of year that we can expect to see pumpkins, gourds, corn and other crops freshly plucked appearing on the market, and even decorating our houses.  The seeds that were planted last season have sprouted and grown and produced fruit, and now it’s time to harvest.

    This is a picture that Jesus used to demonstrate what the work of the Kingdom of God is.  Seeds have been planted, according to this picture, but the harvest is coming, and the work requires workers.  This is the very work for which Jesus sent out these seventy-two.  They were the harvesters being sent out.

    How do we interpret this picture?  Elsewhere in Jesus’ parables the harvest seems to be the picture of the Last Day, when the faithful are harvested to be gathered into barns (eternal life in heaven) while the wicked who have rejected the faith are bundled up as weeds and thrown into the fire (eternal death in hell) (Matt. 13:24-30).  But that’s not the picture here.  The laborers of the harvest Jesus speaks of now are not the angels, for there is a fixed number of angels, and yet Jesus encourages the disciples to pray for more laborers.  These laborers, instead, are the seventy-two themselves, and others who perform the same work of harvesting.  This is the harvesting of souls for salvation within this life.  This is the work of evangelism, of sharing the good news.

    Think of what a comfort this picture means: the seed is already planted.  Nothing new needs to be spread out.  The work of evangelism is merely to reap what God has already sown.  This takes a great deal of weight off of the one who is a laborer in this harvest: our task is simple, for we only put into action what has been prepared before.  We only share the Word already written, as Jesus said to his people when he ascended: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  The message that is proclaimed by the harvesters is not one that we invent.  It is one already spoken by our Lord, by Christ, and we merely teach that same Word.

    And this is a necessary work.  Souls cannot be saved if the laborers of the harvest will not do their work.  And these laborers, Jesus says, are few.  So we do pray to the Lord that he will send out laborers into his harvest—but be careful what you wish for!  Those who have received the Word (that is, all Christians), are the ones who will be sent as laborers into the harvest.  If you believe in this Word, you must be prepared to be placed into a position by your God in which you may do the work of the harvest.  You will be placed into a position in which you will share this Word you believe.

    And here is where Jesus gives his warning: the laborers of the harvest are also lambs, defenseless, innocent creatures, and the crop they are sent to harvest is also a pack of ravenous wolves who may fall onto these lambs at any moment to tear them apart.  Our harvest is not an easy task of plucking inanimate objects.  We bring the enlivening Word of God to souls which are hardened against it.  There are, in fact, only two types of people in the world: believers and unbelievers.  The believers are the lambs and the laborers of the harvest.  The unbelievers are the field of crop and the pack of wolves.  The work of the harvesters, the believers, is to go into dangerous territory and to seek to make lambs out of these wolves.  This is not only a dangerous task; it is humanly speaking an impossible one.

    Praise the Lord that he doesn’t leave us alone to it: even as he sends us out he promises, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).  Paul understood the situation when he wrote, using a different image, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth….  For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:6, 9).  You see, the responsibility is not laid on our shoulders to actually cause a transformation in the heart.  That is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our work is to go into the field God prepares for us bearing the Word; that Word is our harvesting tool, our scythe with which we cut the stalks of the crop, so that souls may be brought into eternal life before God.  This is a blessed task, allowing us to share our joy at our salvation, so that God may bring others the same salvation.

    Lord, send laborers into your harvest.  Equip each and every one of us to be such laborers.  Encourage us to know that this work, although dangerous, will never defeat us, for we are guided by you, and the work is actually accomplished by you through us.  Let us be your tools through which you win more souls for eternal life, that the harvest may indeed be plentiful.  In your Son’s name we ask it.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    October 8, 2015
  • Text: Isaiah 50:4
    4The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
    that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
    Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.

    An interesting thing I’ve noticed when people become Christians, they become intimately concerned with the salvation of others: they want their loved ones, friends and family, to be saved as they are, to taste the sweet Gospel with which they have been nourished.  And the most blessed fact is this: this nourishment is designed to be shared.

    The prophet Isaiah rejoices that God has given him “the tongue of those who are taught.”  An interesting poetic turn of phrase, that.  Many of us may remember in elementary school how our teachers would convince us that if our mouths were open, that meant that our ears were closed.  This was a way of teaching us the wisdom of listening before we speak.  This is all-important, if we are to speak with any authority on a subject.  If we are to contribute anything worthwhile to a conversation, we must first listen, we must first be taught.  This is true for our earthly relationships and worldly subjects, and it is doubly true for heavenly things.

    How can we presume to speak about godly truths if we haven’t learned them from God?  How can we lead the blind if we ourselves are blind?  How can we feed the starving if we are exhausted by our own hunger?  It’s as they tell you on an airplane when the oxygen masks drop down: first attach your own mask, then help your neighbor.  If you want to lift someone up from a precarious position, you’ll want to be sure that the ground you’re standing on is firm.

    So before we tell anyone else the truth, we have to know the truth.  So with the prophet Isaiah we find the best practice to be: “Morning by morning he awakens…my ear / to hear as those who are taught.”  So take Paul’s advice to the Philippians: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  The greatest earthly teachers are those who are humble enough to be taught.  This, as well, is doubly true for those who teach heavenly things.  When we allow God to teach us, then we can be certain of what we learn, and therefore also certain of what we teach.

    Rejoice to be taught the Word of God, which grants you the faith to believe that your sins have been paid for by his Son on the cross.  These words are sustenance for life here in time and hereafter in eternity.  And the miraculous thing is that this Word not only sustains us, but it causes our cup to run over so abundantly that we are able to share with others and “to sustain with a word him who is weary.”  Thank God for this wonderful gift!

    Awaken our ears, O Lord, and cause us to come continually with all humility back to your Word where we can learn of our salvation and be sustained for our eternal life.  Lead us then also to speak what we have learned with others, to sustain them with the same Word.  Grant us true thankfulness for so great a gift, and cause us to never despise this Word.  In your Son’s name we pray.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    September 24, 2015
  • Text: Matthew 5:13
    13You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

    By their way of life, the disciples of Jesus (that means you and me and anyone who would call himself “Christian”) will be as useful as salt is.  Think of your delicious dinner meals: pork or beef or potatoes or corn.  All delicious and juicy, but with just the right amount of salt, those dishes are improved, and may even reach perfection.

    But if the salt in your shaker isn’t particularly salty, why would you dash it onto your food?  It’s completely useless.  You might as well throw it out.

    In this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he is instructing his followers in their way of life.  They are as salt to the world.  Humanity is the dinner dish which needs the salt.  So the followers of Jesus are to improve humanity.  Just what this meant Jesus said at the end of his earthly ministry: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 18:19-20).  If humanity is lead to “observe all that [Jesus] commanded,” certainly that’s an improvement.  Jesus “commanded”: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1), and “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (7:12), and “Pray then like this…” (6:9ff.), and “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow” (6:34), and “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (6:20), and “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (11:28).  Observing all these things (and countless more), can humanity not be improved?

    It is the mission of Jesus’ followers to “Go,” to teach these things, and to “make disciples,” to make more followers, to spread the saltiness.  If they don’t perform this mission, can they possibly be called Jesus’ followers?  This question, asked another way, is, if salt isn’t salty, can it possibly be called salt?

    “I’m not a missionary,” says one Christian.  “I’m not a pastor,” says another.  “I don’t teach Sunday School,” “I can’t speak in public.”  These objections are nothing but excuses that our sinful flesh makes to avoid doing what is in reality a difficult task.  For those who undertake the mission given them by Christ, he also warns, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves….  Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings…” (Matt. 10:16-18).  So these excuses are legitimate, because by avoiding the mission, you avoid the suffering.  But if you avoid the suffering, avoid the mission, then you also avoid the blessing: Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).

    That’s the last of Jesus’ “Beatitudes,” where he describes the blessed ones who are members in his Church: Those who are in his church, therefore, can expect persecution, can expect opposition to the righteousness they proclaim, and beyond this they can expect the kingdom of heaven as their reward and inheritance, and they can be confident, because they are not alone, but “so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  A veritable cloud of witnesses, martyrs, saints, prophets, and mighty Christian men and women go back in history as an example, as friends, as coworkers in the kingdom of righteousness—these great ones were also salt of the earth, just as we are.

    And if we are still concerned about how to talk to people, Jesus promises as well, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:19-20).  And don’t fret that you aren’t a pastor, or a missionary, or a Sunday School.  Each member of Christ’s Church is a salt that is specifically designated to be applied in a different way and in different circumstances, as we sing in the hymn:
    If you cannot be a watchman,
    Standing high on Zion’s wall,
    Pointing out the path to heaven,
    Off’ring life and peace to all,
    With your prayers and with your off’rings
    You can do what God demands;
    You can be like faithful Aaron,
    Holding up the prophet’s hands.  (“Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying,” Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, #191)

    Lord, guide us to fulfill the mission you have for us, in whatever station of life we find ourselves in.  If we are to preach, give us the words to preach.  If we are to teach, strengthen us with the knowledge of your Word and the ability to impart it to others.  If we are to serve your kingdom and be the salt of the earth in some other way, prepare us for that service, and encourage us through the Gospel of your Son who paid the price for our sins and enabled us to come into this service, in whose name we pray.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    September 17, 2015
  • Text: Matthew 5:6
    6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

    In the apostle John’s first letter, he writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  Between that statement and this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we can see the whole story of salvation: as we are on our own, we are full of unrighteousness, we are brimming with sin, we are overflowing with wickedness; but to confess our sins, to pour out this pitcher of our hearts, emptying its putrid contents on the floor at God’s feet, asking him to give us righteousness in its place, to put good hearts back where were our wicked ones, this leads to forgiveness and satisfaction.

    It seems absurd.  It seems like we’re swindling God, conning him into a terrible deal.  “Give us your holiness, your righteousness, and godly glory, and we’ll give you a mortal, death-pocked heart, rotting away with sin.”  Yes, it certainly seems that God is getting the short end of the stick, but that’s the essence of grace.

    Martin Luther was fond of illustrating our salvation as a marriage: Christ was the groom, rich and powerful, and we his Church were the bride, poor and lowly, wicked and criminal.  This mighty, wealthy man selected this bride out of the slums and married her.  Because of that wedding, all her crimes were attributed to him, and he had to make the payment for them.  And at the same time all his wealth, his mansions, his feasts belonged to her.  This is called the “Great Exchange.”  Our sin was given to Christ on the cross, and in exchange his righteousness was given to us.

    The problem is, when the groom comes looking for us, we tend to scurry deeper into the garbage heaps we call home, fearing that his extended hand means us harm.  After all, if he pulls us into the light, won’t our ugliness be revealed for all the world to see?  If he removes the hoods from our faces, our diseases will terrify those around us and send them fleeing.  And besides, we know how often we have offended this very prince himself: we’ve cursed his name to our friends, we’ve mocked his grace, we’ve preferred to be our own masters than under his rulership.

    The problem is, we don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We proudly ignore the rumblings in our stomachs and say, “I’m fine.  I don’t need a handout.”  We really had to be dragged kicking and screaming from the slums, objecting that we were being persecuted, oppressed, and assaulted by this prince.  We were like rats cockroaches who never willingly come into the light and instead convince ourselves that we’re content to feed on garbage.

    But his grace, despite our protests, carried us to his mansion, washed us clean, dressed us in fine silk and jewels, vowed to keep us as his own, “to love and cherish,” “in sickness and in health,” “for better or for worse,” “as long as we both shall live,” and then he placed before us the most magnificent feast we had ever seen, with the richest bread, the sweetest wine, in endless supply.

    Taking our first bite of this grace, we can see how hungry we really were, and this leads us, ever afterward, to realize when we are starving for lack of grace.  Then we hunger for this righteousness once again.  We are moved by our Lord always to seek his grace.  And in that we are given the promise: he will never allow us to go hungry again, there will never come a time that he does not offer us his righteousness, we shall be satisfied.

    Dear Jesus, for your sacrifice we thank and praise you, for we could never deserve such a rich gift as you give us in the righteousness you have earned and with which you have clothed us.  Lead us never to become complacent, never to forget what great nourishment you offer us in your Word and Sacraments.  Guide us ever back to the study of your word, with which you satisfy us in your righteousness.  In your name we pray.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    September 10, 2015
  • Text: Genesis 45:4-8
    4So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.”  And they came near.  And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  5And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  6For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  7And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for your many survivors.  8So it was not you who sent me here, but God.  He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

    This passage is the climax of the familiar story of Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery.  What began as the selfish and greedy actions of Joseph’s brothers, trying to remove the one who was obviously their father’s favorite, turned into a miraculous working of God’s providence.

    A famine was on its way to Egypt when Joseph was sold into slavery.  His brothers could not have known this, and neither could Joseph himself.  But because of the despicable actions of his brothers, Joseph was placed in just the right place at just the right time.  Pharaoh had a dream that he desperately needed interpreted, and Joseph was just within his circle so that he could foretell the seven years of plenty, which would be followed by seven years of famine.  It was just in time to put a plan into motion which would provide food for all the land around Egypt during the intense seven-year famine.

    So it was by the evil deeds of Joseph’s brothers that God saved countless lives.  This is the concept we discover also in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  The moral of this history, of course, is that we may trust God, even when the worst happens, to work it for the best.

    Before his brothers can even venture to apologize for their sin against him, Joseph tells them, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves.”  Essentially, he told them, he has forgiven them, and because he has forgiven them and God worked their evil for good, they should acknowledge themselves forgiven.

    This very pattern has continued throughout history.  All kinds of evil created by sinful human beings is worked by God for good: think of the greatest evil ever committed, when some power-hungry and jealous Jews and Romans murdered the very Son of God.  And yet even that greatest of evils was turned into the very greatest good mankind has ever seen.  The death of God himself meant the salvation of all people.

    If God can work even evil for such good, then we can be confident that he will provide for us throughout our lives, working everything for good.  If God works such horrendous things for the very heights of providence, then when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we can pray it with confidence that he will give us the very nourishment which is most necessary for us.  And because he has worked all the evil in the world for our salvation, we should regard ourselves as saved, justified, and forgiven.  No, this does not mean that we should “continue in sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1).  Rather, in the spirit of our salvation, we can continue rejoicing at God’s providence!  Like Joseph’s brothers, embrace your Savior, the one whom God used to bring about your evil for your salvation.  Jesus was sent by God, through our evil, in order to preserve our life.

    Dear Lord, strengthen our faith in your providence.  Lead us to see in our lives how you work evil for good.  Lead us especially to see how this was done in the redemptive work of your Son, and in thankfulness to live forgiven and worthy of the name of your Son.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    September 3, 2015
  • Text: Psalm 42:1-3
    1As a deer pants for flowing streams,
                so pants my soul for you, O God.
    2My soul thirsts for God,
                for the living God.
    When shall I come and appear before God?
    3My tears have been my food
                day and night,
    while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

    In a world which seems hell-bent on destroying anything to do with our Christian faith, the imagery of this psalm is particularly relatable.  The despair we feel at the seeming victory of the godless, of this world’s prince, even of sin over our own bodies can make us fall into this deep, physical thirsting.  As a deer, who runs in the chase away from its predators, wants only to stop and take a drink from a stream, we in our lives just want to rest, just want to have sanctuary before our God and to be nourished by him.

    But instead, why does it so often seem that the only thing we’re able to drink is our own tears?  Our own predators chase us mercilessly.  They never grow tired.  They never stop.  We hide from them behind locked doors, only to find that they’ve already gotten inside.  We run back outside, trying to find protection among friends, only to find that our predators are hidden even among those friends.  Exactly how these predators attack us is said by this psalm: “They say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

    These predators don’t attack our bodies.  They attack our faith.  They try to create doubt in our hearts.  They mock us before others so that when we can’t answer their tough questions, we become fools in the eyes of others, and suddenly it seems that it’s our fault that the faith of others starts to fail.  Then we start to ask, “Where is God at these times?”  We’re dying of thirst, because the nourishment of God seems absent.

    But this psalm goes on:
    Why are you cast down, O my soul,
                and why are you in turmoil within me?
    Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
                my salvation and my God….
    Deep calls to deep
                at the roar of your waterfalls;
    all your breakers and your waves
                have gone over me. (Ps. 42:5, 7)

    Hope is what this psalm encourages.  St. Paul has this to say about hope: “Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25).  No, we don’t see God’s salvation at these moments.  We don’t see God standing on our side.  But we hope for him.  This psalm talks about remembrance, how the speaker remembers how God came through for him in the past: if God helped him before, he will certainly do so again.
    And with hope, even before the deliverance is seen, our thirst is quenched: even beyond what we could have imagined: the psalm speaks of God’s “waterfalls” and “breakers” and “waves.”  We are not given any mere stream of water, but even simply by the hope of what God will give us, we have roaring waterfalls which echo so loudly that “deep calls to deep.”

    Jesus told his followers, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33).  This is the essence of hope.  When we seek for God’s kingdom and righteousness, we have a sure hope that he will give them to us.  This hope is sure because these things were won for us, and are freely given to us, by Jesus Christ himself who died on the cross for our unrighteousness, and rose from the dead to share with us his righteousness, and to open the gates of God’s kingdom for us.  We can look back, remember that historic event, remember how God gave up his own Son for our salvation, and have that as foundation for our hope in what God will give us further on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

    So yes, we do thirst for God, but not in despair: we thirst for him in hope.

    Heavenly Father, who was gracious enough to give up your Son for our salvation, we hope, we thirst, we yearn desperately for all your blessings.  Deliver us from evil in this world, as you have promised.  Forgive us all our sins, as you have promised.  Refresh us continually with your Word, as you have promised.  Bring us to our heavenly home and eternal refreshment, as you have promised.  We ask it for the sake of your Son, who sacrificed all so that these things might be ours.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    August 27, 2015
  • Text: Luke 6:1-5
    1On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.  2But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”  3And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”  5And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

    Ever on the watch to catch Jesus in some wrong, the Pharisees thought they had him now: his disciples were clearly breaking the Third Commandment!  By taking grains from the field, technically they were “harvesting,” and by rubbing the grains on their hands, technically they were “milling”—they were working on the Sabbath!  So the Pharisees, smug at their apparent victory, asked Jesus, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”

    But Jesus had a precedent which he could refer to that defended the actions of his disciples: he called attention to King David, who, on an expedition with some men, had to feed them, and all that was close by was bread designated as sacred for the priests to eat; in his necessity, it was lawful for him to eat this sacred bread.  Cleverly Jesus points out this great Old Testament hero, for who among the Pharisees would dare claim that by this action the great King David had done wrong?  If what David had done was acceptable, then what Jesus’ disciples were doing should also be considered acceptable.  Ultimately, however, this is not because David set the precedent, but as Jesus explains: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

    The thinking of the Pharisees is an easy slope to slide down.  We can observe our behaviors: I go to church on Sunday, I have family devotions, I pay my taxes, I drive the speed limit, I do this or that good for my neighbor and I never do anyone any wrong.  Then we see someone else, someone who perhaps skipped church, someone who speeds past us on the highway, someone who walks by on the other side when his neighbor is in need.  These comparisons are easy to make: I’m good, that guy isn’t.
    There are certainly hints in outward behavior that give us some clue towards the state of a person’s heart, but we also must remind ourselves that only God judges the heart.  And we can remind ourselves of Jesus’ words: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:4).  It is far too easy for us to catch others in sins, and nearly impossible for us to notice our own sins.

    In fact, what Jesus’ disciples were doing was not a sin: that’s how blind these Pharisees really were!  They snapped to a judgment about their character and their flaws without actually knowing the truth; a prime example of a log in the eye blinding the sight.  But how could this be no real sin?  Weren’t the disciples working when it was unlawful to do so, because it was the Sabbath?  And God had said, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work” (Ex. 20:9-10).

    The key is in what Jesus said to close this section: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”  Jesus Christ is himself the ruler of the Sabbath, being himself God.  In a parallel account in Mark’s Gospel Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  The Sabbath with its laws ought to be seen as a gift, an opportunity for us to rest in quiet from our work as God rested from his work of creation.  He rested in order to look out over all his creation and to instead do the work of preservation.  We rest from our day-to-day work in order to look over God’s creation, his preservation, his salvation, and to do a different sort of work; a blessed work which God enables us to do.  It is not a work which wins any righteousness, but a work which shares the righteousness that the Son of Man already won for us.  This Sabbath was made for us (whether it’s Saturday as the Jews celebrated, Sunday as Christians traditionally celebrate, or any other day or even a few hours when we can sit with God’s Word), so that we can rest in God’s blessed works for us.

    Yes, the Sabbath was a command.  There were harsh penalties for those who disobeyed the command.  But the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, fulfilled all laws in himself, the Sabbath included, and he paid the price for disobeying all laws.  Therefore we are set free from having to obey any laws ever again.  Instead, now we live our lives in thankfulness for the Son of Man’s payment.  This means that we are free to observe the Sabbath on any day, or on every day.  This means that we may enjoy the food and work that God provides for us, without guilty conscience.

    Dear Lord, we thank you that you have given us the gift of Sabbath rest, when we may meditate on your work and your Word.  Lead us to see the great blessing we have received in your Son’s payment for all broken laws, keeping those laws in our place.  Lead us also to use our newfound Christian freedom to worship you in thankfulness.  In your Son’s name we pray.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    August 20, 2015
  • Text: Amos 9:13-15
    13“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
    and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
    the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.
    14I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
    15I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God.
    The prophet Amos was a violent preacher of the Law, proclaiming the harsh judgments of God against the people of Israel and Judah for their idolatry and injustice.  God says repeatedly throughout this little book: “I will send a fire upon” those who committed transgressions.  With all this fire the mouths of readers quickly become parched.

    And then comes this beautiful Gospel promise of restoration.  Although fire may destroy the land and make it inhabitable, indeed killing all the inhabitants, there is a future time when this land will be bountiful to the point that “the plowman shall overtake the reaper”—the harvest will hardly have come in when the plowing and planting is begun again.  After famine and war and thirst and mourning and captivity look at the abundant crop, and at the wealth of wine!

    “The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Just imagine that picture.  All the thirst is quenched, and it won’t be just to give each person just enough, but the mountains shall drip; the hills shall flow; it will be so superabundant that we will just rest and enjoy it.

    The prophet Amos was describing the situation for the literal nation of Israel, when they were attacked and taken captive by the Assyrian nation, and then when they were able to return to their homeland.  But he was also describing a future time when destruction and judgment loomed for people, but then the sweet advent of the Savior brought about reprieve.

    And we can also apply this to each soul: the threats of fire and destruction loom before us on account of our sins; we are the idolaters, the unjust, the trespassers, and we are already captive in the devil’s chains and bound for the fires of hell; but then the sweet Gospel comes and quenches our spiritual thirst, so that the blessings won by our Savior flow like wine over us, as his blood flowed from his pierced side on the cross.

    Our own fortunes are restored, and our dwelling place is rebuilt, so we have mansions we may inhabit forever; as the Garden of Eden was taken away from us in the Fall, it is restored to us in Christ, and we are provided “vineyards” where we may “drink [our] wine,” “gardens” where we may “eat [our] fruit.”  We are planted firmly in the promised land, and we will never be uprooted, because this is given to us by God.

    Lord, we praise you for your blessed gifts, which we by no means deserved.  We thank you that you sent your Son to suffer the wrath we earned, and to bleed his precious blood which is given to us as a refreshing wine.  Bring us to our promised blessed home where our vineyards and gardens yield abundant fruit in your presence.  Since you have promised us this, we ask it in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.
    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    August 13, 2015
  • Mark 5:41-43
    41Taking her by the hand [Jesus] said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”  42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.  43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

    Notice how Jesus has concern for the little things.  Jairus, a Jewish elder in the synagogue, had come to Jesus asking him to heal his sick daughter.  By the time Jesus arrived, however, it was too late; the daughter was dead, and the family was in mourning.  But Jesus surprised them by telling them that it wasn’t too late: “The child is not dead but sleeping” (Mark 5:39).  They laughed at him, naturally—how could such a highly reputed healer not know the difference between sleep and death?  So Jesus sent the mourners away and, before his disciples and the girl’s parents he performed this miracle: raising her from the dead.
    Shock and awe immediately overcame them.  They knew she was dead, and now she was alive!  Such a change, how could they help but to be amazed?  Jesus knew how their amazement would distract them from what was needed next, so he “told them to give her something to eat.”  He paid attention to the little things.

    This girl’s eating after being raised to life accomplished two things: 1) It filled her stomach.  Doubtless she was hungry.  It had probably been hours since her last meal (and perhaps a great deal more, if her illness had kept her from eating anything substantial).  Jesus knew the parents would be excited about their daughter’s rising to life, and that this would probably distract them from doing anything practical about it.  Their natural reaction would be to parade her around town, show her off to all their friends, and forget totally about any sort of food, not out of negligence, but out of excitement.  So Jesus showed he was concerned for her well-being, because as a newly alive being, she needed the sustenance of food.  2) It proved that she was indeed alive.  Yes, she had started walking around, and this proved her coming to life, but the need for food, the act of eating, was the nail in the coffin of proof—so to speak—because all living things need to eat something.  Jesus himself would demonstrate this very proof at his resurrection (“And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ [Luke 24:41]).

    All life must be nourished by food.  This is a fact of nature, and a given.  But it is sometimes forgotten that this applies to spiritual food as well.  When we are reborn in the waters of baptism and raised to new sanctified life in Christ, that New Man must be fed in order to remain alive, and that feeding must begin immediately.  The very Word of God which raised that New Man to life in the first place is his food.  We must return again and again to God’s Word to nourish our souls, so that we don’t go spiritually hungry and die spiritually.  But also such feeding proves that we are in fact alive to begin with.  An unbelieving heart does not seek nourishment from God’s Word.  An unbelieving heart may come to God’s Word in search of “teachers to suit [its] own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3), but not to be nourished.  It may come to God’s Word seeking to disprove God, to call God a liar, but not to be nourished.  In this way we can see a glimpse at the heart to find out whether it is alive or dead: only a living heart seeks spiritual food from God’s Word.

    And this God provides, before we can even ask for it, just as Jesus provided food for Jairus’ daughter, before she could ask or her parents could think of it.  Just think: if God is so concerned for life to rise up in us, won’t he be equally concerned that that life be sustained?  He will sustain it.  He will give us all things necessary for this spiritual life; and he is even concerned about the little things, the daily bread we need for this physical life as well.

    Give us this day our daily bread, heavenly Father, even as you have promised to do.  And above this, give us our daily spiritual bread, so that our souls may be ever nourished in faith toward you, and so that the spiritual life you have begun in us may be sustained by you until we come to our everlasting life with you.  In your Son’s name we pray.  Amen.

    Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
    September 28, 2014
  • Jonah 1:14
    Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.”
    WHILE THESE WORDS are recorded about the prophet Jonah, could you not see yourself saying them? The sailors that Jonah was with on the boat were just about to throw him into the sea and they offered up the above prayer. And while it was God’s plan all along, they still sought comfort and a promise from Him that it was okay.
    But how does this apply to you? Well, did you personally help nail Jesus Christ to the cross? Did you personally beat and afflict Him as He walked through Jerusalem? Did you falsely try and accuse Him? Did you berate Him and mock Him throughout His life? I do not suppose that you, personally, did any of this; yet, you helped out in your own way.
    For while you may not have been there in person, it is because of you that all of this happened to Jesus Christ. Jesus came to this earth, was born of Mary, was persecuted and mocked throughout His life, was beaten and detained falsely, was paraded throughout Jerusalem, and was hung from a cross for you. Jesus did all of this to pay for your sins.
    And now we, like the sailors, beg that God would not hold us guilty of this. We know that it is for our sins that Jesus had to die and we beg that we are not found guilty of the blood of Christ. In His own right, God sent His Son to die for us and so to redeem us from all of our sins; however, God did not send Jesus so that we could ridicule and mock Him during our lives.
    Yes, we helped cause the death of Jesus, but through faith we beg God to not hold the body and blood of His Son against us. Rather, we would ask that He see us as innocent and guiltless because of the life and death of our Savior, who paid for all of our sins. For we know that when it comes to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has done what pleased Him, and in doing so has saved all of His faithful children. 
    September 18, 2014
  • Ezra 9:13
    “And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this.”
    YOU DESERVE HELL. There really is not nice way to utter those words, and yet they are absolutely and unabashedly true. The punishment for sins is hell. The punishment for sins is not a do-over on life at a lower social class. The punishment for sin is not to sit in limbo for a while and then all is well. And to believe there is no punishment for sin is to not believe the very words of God.
    And yet, just like Ezra, we can utter these words, “You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve.” For if we were truly punished for our sins, then none of us would be here. The moment we sin we would deserve to be sent straight to hell and there we would remain for all eternity. Yet, here I am writing and there you are reading. God has not punished us as we deserve.
    In addition, God has not punished us as we have deserved, for He has taken out His punishment on another. It was on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God Himself, God incarnate, on whom the Father took out all of His wrath and it was on Jesus Christ our punishment was laid.
    As Christ hung on that cross, He bore the weight of all of our sins. As Jesus hung on that cross, He bore all the wrath of God, which should have been directed at us. As Jesus was on that cross dying, He was forsaken by God the Father and experienced hell itself, so that He might pay for all of our sins.
    And now through faith in our Savior we have the forgiveness of our sins. Through faith in all that Jesus has done for us, we know that heaven is standing wide open just waiting for our arrival on our last day. And through faith in our Savior, we believe that Jesus is the One and Only Savior and He has paid for all of our sins.
    Thank You Jesus, for being my Savior and for bearing all of my punishment; may I always praise and thank You for all that You have done for me. 
    September 14, 2014
  • For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin. -Ecclesiastes 7:20


    I do not even know how often I hear people who think that they are ‘pretty good’ people. “I’m not that bad.” “I live a very good life.” “Compared to others I am the cream of the crop.” And maybe that is it, when we compare ourselves to other people we see that, maybe, we are not that bad. We compare ourselves to those ‘wicked’ people outside of the church and we, as Christians, think that we are pretty good… and then we read Solomon’s words. 


    “For there is not a just man on earth who does good…” No one on this earth does good. No one is immune to sin. No one can live a perfect life because we are all sinners. Just as Paul tells us (Romans 3), “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It is not a portion of people, it is not only those wicked sinners out there, it is not just our neighbors and our friends, it is ALL people… especially that person in the mirror. 


    That person in the mirror, however, is the one that we have to protect, isn’t it? That person is the one that we love the most. That person is the one who is our main concern. That person is the only one, in our mind, who is always justified in how they act, think, and speak. The person in the mirror is never wrong when they disobey God because God didn’t know better when He made that law. The person in the mirror is never wrong when they commit adultery because the only reason they did it was because their spouse was wrong. The person in the mirror is a perfect little angel… it is everyone else who does wrong. 


    But no… even that person in the mirror is a sinner, especially that person in the mirror. For God tells us numerous times that EVERYONE is a sinner; ALL have sinned; NO ONE is good, no, not one. I’m no good; in fact, I’m not even close. And the sooner that I realize just how miserable and polluted I am, the sooner I can truly understand Christ. 


    For it is not until I see my sins and all the problems that they cause that I am able to see my Savior. If I do not see my sin, I see no need for a Savior; however, once I know my sin, once I know how wicked and horrible I am, then I truly appreciate my need for a Savior. 


    Yes, my Savior, Jesus Christ, came into this world because He knew that no one could live a perfect life… except Him. God Himself entered into time and took on human flesh and thus lived a perfect life. He did not live it for Himself, He lived it for you and for me. Jesus lived the perfect life in our place. And Jesus died the innocent death in our place also. He died to take away all of our guilt, all of our shame, and all of our sin. He took them to the cross and left them there. 


    And three days after His death, Jesus rose from the dead. He rose to proclaim to you that your sins are now forgiven through faith in Him. He rose to announce to the world that He has lived and died for them… the righteous for the unrighteous. He rose so that we would know that heaven is now open for us. 


    Through faith in Christ we can now enter into heaven. When we see ourselves as perfect, we cannot enter into heaven. When we see no sin in ourselves, we cannot enter into heaven. However, when we see our sins, when we see the problems that they cause, when we see our own desperate estate, then, through faith, we can also know our Savior. And it is through faith in our Savior and in all that He has done that we are now permitted to enter into heaven. Thanks be to God that, though I do sin, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live, die, and rise again for me and so win heaven for all mankind… and through faith in Him I will see Him face to face in His eternal home.

    September 13, 2014
  • “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16


    “Nope! No way! No how! Going to stop you immediately before you make a fool of yourself. God does not love anyone. If God were so loving then why would He allow wars to happen in the world? If God were so loving then why doesn’t He just show Himself to us and truly make Himself and His power known? If God is so loving then why does He allow little kids to be raped and tortured and killed? If God is so loving then why on earth would anyone go to hell? Yeah… that’s how loving your god is.” 


    Far too often Christians and non-Christians alike have thoughts like this. Instead of loving our God it is much easier to hate Him. Yes, unfortunately for us and our sinful nature, it is much easier to hate God, to put Him on trial, to make Him the cause of all of our problems, than it is to love Him. Far too often we borrow a page from the world’s playbook, “Well if God were so loving…” or “Well, God wants me to be happy so…” And it is then that we show our true disdain for our God. 


    Yet, when we do any of the above, all we are doing is placing blame on God and not taking blame upon ourselves. Let’s really examine all those questions asked and see what truly causes those issues. 


    If God were so loving then why would He allow war? God does not ask you to fight a physical war; rather, a spiritual one. God wants you to war with your sinful nature and keep him at bay. God wants to you drown your sinful nature in the waters of baptism… but too often you choose to let your sinful nature take over. Wars are rarely caused because two Christians have sat down, sought God’s counsel, and now know that God wants them to war; usually there is greed, envy, oppression, hate, lovelessness… you name the sin and more often than not that is the true cause for war. 


    If God were so loving then why do little kids get raped and tortured and killed? Who again is doing this? God is not raping, torturing, or killing anyone… you are. In your infinite wisdom you have decided that hurting a precious child is more important and more ‘pleasurable’ than raising that child properly. You have decided that hurting another person, and a child at that, is more to your liking than caring for him and helping him in every need. Your sin is the cause of this plight on humanity; it is not God. 


    If God were so loving then why doesn’t He just show Himself? He did… and people killed Him. Jesus Christ came into this world to live a perfect life, because He knew that you could not. Jesus Christ came to be the Savior for all mankind, because we cannot save ourselves. Jesus Christ came to teach the entire world that God would have them love and forgive… not hurt and oppress, but we would not listen. 


    And though Jesus came into this world to live for all of you… Jesus also died for all of you. Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness was met with His end, was met with Him hanging on the cross. The love of Jesus allowed Him to live the perfect life and to die the innocent death for you… because without Him you will wind up in hell. However, because of Jesus Christ your sins have been forgiven. 


    God loved you so much that He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die for you. God loved you so much that He took out all of His wrath and condemnation on Christ as He hung on the cross. God loved you so much that He accepted Jesus’ life and death as payment for all of your sins so that you would not have to pay for them. 


    And God loved you so much that three days later Jesus rose from the dead. He rose to proclaim that you now have eternal life waiting through faith in Him. He rose to assure you that your sins are forgiven through faith in Him. He rose so that you would know the immensity of God’s love for you. 


    God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Savior of this world… that is how much God has loved you. And now through faith in Jesus Christ we can begin to love God. Through faith we can stop blaming God for all of our sins and the actions that we take because of them. Through faith we can fight against sin and its ways and rather focus on Christ and on all that He has done for us. Yes, through faith we can look at the world around us and instead of seeing doom and gloom, we can see the hand of God in action: saving those who are lost and condemned to hell, healing broken bones and hearts, caring for the ones who are left when someone else’s sin has broken up a family. God is constantly loving each and every one of us and through faith we can see that love that He is lavishing on us. 


    Thanks be to God that though I do not always appreciate or see it, God continues to shower His love down upon me, and thanks be to God that through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, heaven is now waiting open for all of His children.

    September 12, 2014
  • Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. -2 Timothy 3:12 


    Well, now, hold on… I live a pretty godly life and I don’t suffer too much. I mean my doors are not being beat down by the government or by those who oppose the Christian faith; I am not losing my job or family members because we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; I am not at risk of losing my life for one misstep or misspeaking. Sure I might get made fun of, but I am not persecuted… others are persecuted, but I am not. 


    Yet, if you are truly a Christian, if you are truly following in the steps of Jesus Christ, who has done everything for you… you will suffer persecution. In fact, almost rarely will this persecution come from the outside. 


    Yes, some persecution will come from the outside when you are truly following Jesus Christ. The world will mock and berate you at times. The intellectuals may not take you seriously because you believe in “God.” Family and friends may look down on you for giving so much time and effort to an organization that really pays no earthly dividend. 


    Certainly satan will persecute you from the outside. Satan will set up roadblock after roadblock to derail your walk with Christ. Satan will persecute you with illness, with anger, with sadness, with depression, with any and everything he can throw at you. You will be persecuted; maybe not Job-level persecution, but satan will afflict you constantly if you are walking with Christ. 


    However, the strongest and hardest persecution you will face during your truly ‘godly’ walk with Christ will be from yourself. You will persecute and afflict yourself constantly, because living inside of you is a sinful nature that is dying to get out. Your sinful nature wants you to chase after pleasure, lusts, wants, and the things of this world… it does not want you to seek the things that are God pleasing. 


    From the inside you will afflict and persecute yourself because you will need to keep your sinful nature at bay. You will deny yourself and your sinful nature constantly. You may want to look at those pornographic images… but you must deny yourself. You may want to yell and scream at your children… but you must deny yourself. You may want to steal or lie or cheat so that you can get ahead… but you must deny yourself. After all, the very definition of persecute is “subject (someone) to hostility and ill-treatment”; you must subject yourself to hostility, because otherwise your sinful nature will win. 


    Yet, Jesus Christ has already defeated all of your enemies. Jesus Christ came into this world to live the perfect life because He knew that you would not. Jesus Christ came into this world to offer His life for you, for He knew that you would sin. Jesus gave up everything, He completely denied Himself, so that you could have everything. Jesus Christ is your Savior and everything that He has done has been for you. 


    And now through faith in our Lord and Savior we can deny ourselves. We will never do it perfectly, for we will give in often to our sinful nature, but we can still ‘fight the good fight.’ Through faith in Christ we can know that our sinful nature does not need to define who we are… that definition comes from Christ. Through faith we can know that our past indiscretions do not dictate our destiny; only Christ can do that. Through faith we know that heaven is now ours because of all that He has done for us. 


    And in response to all that Jesus has done for us, we can now focus on denying ourselves. Not that we would do physical harm to ourselves, nor would we resort to mental harm… no, we need to deny our sinful nature and help our new man grow stronger. God has given us means to strengthen that new man (the Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper) and when we receive those sacraments from God, our new man is strengthened and we can now keep that sinful nature at bay. 


    When we, in a godly way, deny ourselves, we realize that alone we fall into much sin, but when we deny ourselves through Christ we turn to Him, hear His word, receive comfort in His sacraments, and realize that He has done it all for us. We deny ourselves… but we constantly are filled with God and His love through His word and sacraments. Thanks be to God that though I am not perfect at denying myself, He continues to aid me and help me in that battle, and thanks be to God that He has given me the means to deny myself and fully receive everything from Him.

    September 11, 2014
  • So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers?” -Numbers 11:11-12


    Frustration is a friend that each and every one of us hangs out with often. When our children are being too loud while we are trying to have an ‘adult conversation’, when our spouse changes his mind for the fifteenth time about what he is going to be when he grows up, when we are promised that a person will be on time and then they are late. Frustration, which quickly turns to anger, is a constant companion for all of mankind. 


    In fact, even the prophets were prone to frustration. In the text, Moses is frustrated with the people and so he does what any person would do… he takes it out on God. “God, I’m not their dad; why do I have to care for the Israelites? God, I don’t understand why you are making my life miserable because of these, your kids. God, I just wish you would make them stop… they are annoying and frustrating and I am ready to scream.” 


    Now replace Israelites with children or job or boss or spouse and convince yourself you don’t have these feelings on a daily basis. 


    We get frustrated very easily and like Moses we can take it out on God. God has blessed us with our families but they certainly can be a huge source of frustration on a daily basis… and so we complain to God and take it out on Him. “God, why am I in this family? God, why can’t I have a less stressful family? God, I thought you liked me, why did You put me here?” And we begin to question God and His foresight and His knowledge. 


    We do the same with our jobs, with our friends, with our toys… so many things that can frustrate us and so easily we blame God for what is going wrong. And then we try to reason or barter with God. “Okay, God, if you make them stop being so frustrating, I’ll be a better giver, I’ll go to church more, I’ll be nicer to them, I’ll…” And really we’re saying, “Okay God, You were wrong, so if You fix Your part I’ll try to be a little better on my part.” And then we lie to God… and we make God out to be some fickle person… and we sin against God. 


    Yet, God did indeed did send someone into this world to bear all of the iniquities and frustrations and sins… Jesus Christ. Jesus came into this world to be our Savior and in so doing He became our scapegoat. All of our sins were placed upon Him and He bore the punishment for each and every one of them. As He hung on that cross, He suffered hell itself because of our guilt and sin, but He did it willingly for us. 


    Jesus bore our sins because He knew that we could not do it. Jesus was our scapegoat because He knew that we needed saving, for we could not do it ourselves. Jesus was our Savior because only He could be our Savior… no one else could. And so Jesus lived, died, and rose again for your sins. He did everything that you could not… and He did not take out any frustration on you and certainly not out on God. 


    Jesus patiently bore all your sins… something that even Moses could not do for the limited number of Israelites. Jesus bore the sins of the entire world so that they could have redemption. And now through faith in our Savior we have been justified. Through faith in Jesus Christ we have the forgiveness of our sins. Through faith in Jesus we have heaven waiting, not because of us but solely because of Him. Thanks be to God that our Savior, Jesus Christ, never got frustrated with us and sinned… and thanks be to God that when we do get frustrated, we can know that Jesus is there to lighten our load and help us through any situation.

    September 10, 2014
  • “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” -Acts 5:30-32


    Reading Peter’s words, one can almost imagine the feelings of those who were listening to him. “Peter just called us murderers… what right does he have?” “We didn’t crucify Jesus, that was the Romans.” “Besides that the leaders were the ones who did it, not us.” Passing the blame and trying to justify themselves… sounds just like us every day. 


    Very rarely do we, as Christians, take credit for the murder and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. During Lent and Easter it is always the Jews and the Romans who killed Him. At other times of the year He was killed by those sinners who didn’t know who He was. Still other times He was killed by that government, or that religion, or those people… but rarely would someone take credit, and admit, “I helped kill Jesus Christ.” Yet, each and every one of us should. 


    Every one of us is a sinner. Every one of us has committed at least one sin (really many many more, but let’s just assume one for fun). During this life we will sin, whether we hate another person, or disobey our parents, or steal from our job, or covet anything our neighbor has, or… so often and in so many ways we sin. And throughout this life we will never be able to make up for our sins. 


    Our sinful nature never allows us to make up for our sin. Because of our sinful nature, every thing we do is tainted with sin. When we act apart from Christ we are sinning. “But I helped the old lady across the street…” yes, seeking your own glory and honor and not for God’s glory. “But I gave to the local charity…” yes, but you did not do it to show God’s love, you did it to show your self and how great you are. When we act apart from Christ, regardless of what we do, it is laced with sin. 


    And because of all that sin in our lives, someone had to pay. You cannot pay, for you can do nothing good and righteous apart from God. So God Himself had to enter into the picture to help you out. God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to live, die, and rise again for each and every sinner. It was because of your sin that Jesus came into this world… and it was because of your sins that Jesus died. 


    But Jesus wanted to do that; He wanted to live, die, and rise again for you. He wanted to be your Savior because He knew that you could not do it alone. He wanted to be your Savior because He is the God-man, the only one who could and would willingly give up His perfect life for a sinner, and countless sinners at that. He wanted to do everything that you could not to assure you of heaven and eternal life. 


    And now through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we have heaven waiting for us. Through faith our sins are forgiven and through faith we can now know that Jesus died because of our sins… but maybe more importantly Jesus died for your sins. And because of all that Jesus has done, we know that this life is not the end and an eternity with Him is just around the corner. 


    Yes, each and every one of us helped in the death of our Savior. It was not just the “Jews” and it was not just the “Romans.” Every sinner helped in the death of Jesus Christ. But Jesus wanted it that way. He wanted to live, die, and rise again for you. Jesus wanted to be your Savior and now through faith He assures you that heaven is yours. Thanks be to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for everything that He has done for us, for though we helped in His death, only He is able to give us eternal life.

    September 9, 2014
  • You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. -Leviticus 19:17


    Having little children, it is interesting how many things they hate throughout any given day. They hate taking naps. They hate dad (because he is so mean). They hate lunch (depending on the meal and what they are doing). They hate siblings at times. They hate just about anyone and anything that they come in contact with on any given day. Children are very fickle… and we are the ones who teach them. 


    I wonder how often in any given day I say the words “I hate…” “I hate when people cut me off while driving.” “I hate that play the team just made.” “I hate when my internet goes away.” “I hate…” 


    And maybe you are thinking to yourself that you don’t really hate. After all, it is just a figure of speech, right? And we have to wonder if it is. Is it really just a figure of speech or do we truly hate things? Don’t you hate it when you get to work late because the car wouldn’t start? Don’t you hate it when people cut you off in traffic? Don’t you hate it when people don’t do exactly what you say the first time and now you have to fix the problem? Don’t you hate people at times? Well sure you do… we all do. We are all guilty of this sin. 


    We hate. Whether it is because we use the word so flippantly and we ‘don’t’ mean it, or whether it is because we truly do hate… something just causes us to hate. And we all know that our sinful nature causes us to hate. Our sinful nature, which was drowned in our baptism, still clings to us and causes us to commit myriad sins. Our sinful nature still wants us to hate our brothers, for whoever hates his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. Our sinful nature wants us to hate… and we oblige. We like to hate because we feel justified in our hate. If that person weren’t so (stupid/dumb/ignorant/slow/mean/rude)… but they always are and so we hate. 


    Yet, praise be to God that He does not look at us in that way. Rather, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the God-man, into this world to live and die for each and every one of us. If anyone had a reason to hate, it would be Jesus. Jesus came to live the perfect life for you and for me… and all we do is continue to sin. Jesus came to suffer for us, and suffer He did. He was hung on a cross and had to endure hell itself because of our sins. Jesus came into this world to die for us because we could not be our own Savior. If anyone had a right to hate, it was Jesus… yet, Jesus loved. 


    He loved us so much that He gave His life for us. He loved us so much that He sent a Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to help us once He went back to heaven. He loved us so much that He was willing to suffer hell itself to ensure that we would never have to. And now through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ, we can keep the hate at bay. 


    We will never fully get rid of the hate in our lives, but through faith in our Savior we can focus on the love and on the mercy and kindness of our God and our Savior. Through faith we now know that our sins are forgiven because of Christ’s love for us. Through faith we know that heaven is ours because Jesus loved us and lived and died for us. Through faith we now get the opportunity to share this with so many others. 


    Instead of saying “I hate,” maybe we can try to adjust our thinking. Maybe we can focus on the things we love, on the positives… with the most important and precious being our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for all that He has done for us, and for sending His Son to be our Savior, who loved us and who, because of that love, was willing to live and die for us.

    September 8, 2014
  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” -Romans 1:16-17


    If you believe, you have heaven waiting for you; if you don’t believe, you have hell waiting for you… I really cannot make it any easier than that. However, there are still plenty of people in the world today who do not believe in hell. There are churches who call themselves “Christians” who do not believe in hell; rather, they teach that everyone (regardless of belief or faith) will be in ‘heaven.’ Yet, Paul has a very different message. 


    Not believing in heaven or hell really seems like the ‘cool’ thing to do in this present age. Why would you want to believe that there is anything outside of what presently is? There is no scientific proof. I cannot go visit it on vacation. I cannot take a picture or hold it in my hand. So if I cannot see it or hold it or touch it, why on earth would I want to believe it? 


    Besides all of this, I happen to like the earth. Sure, we have wars and rumors of wars, but those will always happen. And sure, we have floods and earthquakes but those will always be around too. And sure, we have liars and thieves and cheats and adulterers and fornicators and… but you cannot be mad at them, they were just born that way. Earth isn’t so bad of a place, it just sort of grows on you. 


    And it does. Being in this world does sort of grow on you. You begin to get a little sleepy being here. Maybe this is all that there is. Maybe there is no reason to strive and try to obey this “God”; after all, can’t we just make heaven on earth? Maybe there is not reason to “believe”; I mean, wouldn’t a loving God just save everyone? Maybe we have it all wrong; something so tiny as ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ is what decides it? And besides how can you measure faith anyways? 


    Yet, Paul is very direct in his letters about this ‘faith’ and this ‘belief.’ It is not some little thing to Paul. In fact, all of Christendom rests on the faith that God has given to us through His word and sacraments. Our salvation depends on the Gospel of Christ and believing in that. 


    The Gospel of Christ tells us that Jesus came into this world to live the perfect life for us. He knew all of the enticements and temptations of this world and yet He lived here without sin His entire life. And because Jesus was so adamant in this ‘belief’ and especially belief in Him, Jesus was nailed to the cross. He was beaten, mocked, ridiculed, spit upon, and nailed to a cross because He would dare tell people how to get to heaven: faith. And Jesus died for each and every one of us, bearing all of our sins and guilt in His body so that we would not be fully punished for them. 


    Three days after His death, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He rose to announce to all the world that His life, death, and resurrection were perfect payment for all of their sins… and now they should believe. He rose to proclaim to His brothers and sisters in faith that now heaven is waiting for them when this life is over. He rose to show His faithful that they too will rise. 


    Just as Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, neither should we be. We do not need to fear the jeers and comments of the world, for the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. However, to those who have faith, to those who believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation, the gospel is the sweetest message one could ever proclaim. Thanks be to our God, who has given us His gospel in so many ways (word, baptism, and supper) and who continues to strengthen our faith in all that Jesus Christ has done.

    September 7, 2014
  • He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. -1 John 3:8 


    It is said that the greatest lie that satan ever told was convincing the world that he does not exist. Unfortunately much of the world has believed this lie. Many religions teach that there is no satan/devil. Many more people believe that satan is merely a ‘being’ invented by the Christian church to keep the faithful in line. And still more neither believe in God nor satan… what a sad predicament the world is in. 


    In the beginning God made the world and everything in it, and satan was sinning. In the beginning God made man in His image, and satan was coming up with ways to make man sin. In the beginning, everything that God created was good… but satan sinned. He disobeyed God, he lied to man, he was working evil works to bring more and more into hell with him… and he still does this today. 


    Even to this day people, some Christians included, do not take satan as a major threat. Many see satan as a defeated foe, which he is, who can no longer harm us, which is not entirely true. Satan has been defeated by Christ, but he is still roaming like a lion looking for whom he may devour. Satan will not give up on man, he will not stop lying to man, until the final day comes and all of his followers are thrown into hell with him.


    Sadly, many people will wind up in hell. For even Jesus tells us that the way to hell is the wide road with many on it… what a sad picture to envision. Many people of the world today are walking ‘lock, stock, and barrel’ on the way to hell. Even some people who are in churches on a weekly basis, who give offerings, and who sing and praise God… they are headed to hell. 


    For many people today do not think that they are that bad of sinners. Just as satan is trying to convince the world that he does not exist, so he spends time convincing you to abandon God because “you’re not that bad”. Think of the lie he told in the beginning… “sure you can eat, because then you’ll be like God”. Tempting man to think more highly of himself, helping man be lulled ‘to sleep’ by the nice thought, helping man turn away from God who had created and sustained him. And this is what he does to you until this very day. 


    However, while satan continues to lie and sin, God continues to call out to all of His lost children and bring them back to Him. God, in His love, had a plan from the beginning: He was going to send a Savior. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to live, die, and rise again for each and every one of us. And Jesus did live a perfect life for you and for me. Jesus did suffer and die for all of your sins and to bear all of your guilt and punishment. And, yes, Jesus did rise again for you. He rose to show you that God the Father has accepted His, God the Son’s, sacrifice. He rose to announce that now heaven is waiting open for all believers. He rose to assure you that you too will rise. 


    Through faith in Jesus Christ we know that we are sinners who are in desperate need of a Savior. Through faith in Christ we know that satan is out there and that he is trying to lead us into the fires of hell. And through faith we know that Jesus Christ has lived, died, and risen again for our salvation and now promises us that through faith we will be with Him for all eternity. Thank You Lord, for sending Your Son, my Savior, into this world to protect me from and bring me back from all of satan’s lies.

    September 6, 2014
  • Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. -Galatians 6:7 


    While I do not purport to be a farmer in the least bit, I do like to think I know a thing or two about it. First, you plant in the spring. Second, water and sunlight will do a plant wonders. Third, harvesting before plants are ripe is silly. Fourth, when you plant tomatoes, you should not be expecting corn… You sow what you reap. 


    Even in our modern ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’ culture we have adages for this very lesson: You get what you put in; You’ve made your bed now sleep in it; You get what you deserve. We have all these lessons that whatever we are willing to put in (sow), that is what we will get (reap). When we are lazy and eat junk food, we will get fat. When we are studious and industrious we can excel. When we give up at something easy we will give up at something more difficult. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure this out. 


    When we disobey God and run afoul of His commandments, we will wind up in hell. When we lie, cheat, and steal we will end up being condemned for our actions. When we stray from our spouse we will (most likely) lose our spouse. When we covet we replace God as the most important thing in our lives. When we dishonor our parents we will have a tendency to dishonor and disobey God also. What we sow we will reap. 


    Yet, all thanks be to God, that when it comes to our salvation it is not this way. We sow in unrighteousness, sin, and filth; thus, we should reap hell and nothing else. But God, from all eternity, knew His plan and He set His plan in motion. 


    God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to redeem mankind. Jesus came into this world to live the perfect life: never sinning, never disobeying, never holding God in contempt; and for His perfection, Jesus Christ was mocked, beaten, spit upon, whipped, and crucified. Jesus hung on the cross like a common criminal… and He did it for you. As He hung there, He thought about you. As He hung there, He paid for all of your guilt and punishment. Because He hung there, you now reap what He has sown. 


    Yes, three days after Christ’s death He was raised again to life. He rose to proclaim that He has won the battle and satan, death, and hell now have no power over Him. He rose to announce that heaven is now wide open for all of His children. He rose so that each and every one of us know that we too will rise. 


    And through faith in Jesus Christ and all that He has done, we know that our sins are forgiven. They are not forgiven because of what we have sown, but because of what He has sown. Through faith in Christ we now know that heaven is ours. We have not earned heaven; rather, it was a gift from our Savior who created it and made sure to sow the way there. And now through faith in Jesus Christ we can begin to sow good works. Not that those good works get us into heaven, but we sow good works to show the love of God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We show the love of God when we do those works which He has prepared before us. 


    As God’s children, we will not reap what we sow… at least when it comes to our salvation. But through faith in Jesus Christ, we will reap what He has sown: perfection, holiness, and eternal life with Him. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ has sown perfection, and through faith in Him it is now ours.

    September 5, 2014
  • Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” -Matthew 16:24


    Deny yourself. What a novel concept. To not have instant gratification, why, that is unheard of. To not immediately have everything that I desire, crazy talk. To have to wait for those simply mind-numbing and ridiculous things that I want, not going to happen. As we live our lives, we are in a constant battle of denying ourselves and giving in to our every whim. 


    Jesus, in talking to His disciples, warned them that anyone who wishes to be a disciple of His would, indeed, need to deny Himself. For if we are not denying ourselves, we are allowing our sinful nature to reign supreme. 


    Answer this question: What is it that you really want? Not many people are going to say “eternal life,” but rather they are going to answer it with whatever is on their mind immediately. “I want a new car.” “I want a spouse.” “I want a bigger house.” It is those “I wants” that we need to begin to curb. All of those “I wants” can end up getting in the way of the One thing that we NEED. 


    And far too often we give in to our “I wants.” “I want pleasure now”, and we seek it outside of the marriage bed. “I want that newest car”, and so we covet after it until we give up everything to have it. “I want to maintain my ‘reputation’ with my friends”, and so I lie and hide. I want… and I want it now. I do not want to wait around and have it later; I must have it now! 


    If you need any proof of our “I want” and “I need it now” mentality just look at the debt that we as a nation have accumulated. The average individual sits on nearly $7,000 in consumer debt, not including their home… I want it NOW, has a whole new understanding to it. And as God reminds us, “The borrower is slave to the lender.” I want it now and now I am slave to it and to the one from whom I got it. I did not want to wait for God to provide, I did not want to wait and see if I really needed it, I did not want to delay gratification… I want it and now I am in trouble because of it. 


    But thanks be to God that He has seen our sin and He set forth a plan to remove all of our sins. From the very beginning God set His plan in motion.His plan is not our plan and His timeframe is not our timeframe. God sent His Son in the fullness of time, just when the time was right, into this world to live and die for each and every one of us. Yes, Jesus came into this world to live, suffer, and die for us. 


    Jesus denied Himself of His home in heaven, so He could live for you. Jesus denied Himself riches and honor in this life, so that He could be reviled and persecuted for you. Jesus denied Himself the help of angels at His own crucifixion, so that He could die for you. Jesus did all of this for you… and still more. 


    Three days after His death, Jesus rose from the dead for you. He rose to announce to you that heaven is now yours through faith in Him. He rose so that you would know that you too will rise. He rose to assure you that now your sins are forgiven. 


    And now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are to deny ourselves and bear our crosses. We must say “NO” to the things of this world that would lead us astray. We must say “NO” to the devices and desires of our sinful nature. We must say “NO” to satan who is constantly trying to get us on his side. We must deny ourselves and we must carry our cross. 


    Carrying a cross is not optional and Christ is not asking you to; Christ is telling you that you will carry a cross. That cross will hurt, it will sting, it will be painful in this lifetime, just as Christ’s cross was; but ultimately that cross will lead us to our Savior and to heaven. Our cross will keep us from straying away from God, and will help us keep a focus on the One who can help us bear it. Our cross will make sure that we are denying ourselves because we are too busy bearing this cross. Our cross will draw us ever closer to Christ… and there is nothing more that we could ask for. Heavenly Father, thank You for the cross that You send in my life, and may I bear it in faith as I continue to walk down here.

    September 4, 2014
  • “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. -Deuteronomy 15:7-8 


    Oh if only we followed the words of the Lord perfectly. Just imagine the world we would live in if all people followed God’s words perfectly. Or, if you wish, just imagine the world we could live in if Christians followed the words of God perfectly. Loving our neighbor, caring for him, putting the best construction on everyone and everything… but that is a fantasy world, right? We are not perfect and we will never be perfect. We are a sinful and unclean people and thus we live in a sinful and unclean world. 


    Look at God’s command again in this verse: “You shall not harden your heart;” if only we did this. Instead, when we see the poor in the world it is often met with revilement and disgust. We see those who are ‘begging’ for a living and we just assume that they are too lazy to go and get a real job. We see those who are sleeping on the streets and we think that they deserve it because they didn’t try hard enough. We see a brother in need and instead of helping that person, it is much easier to harden our hearts toward him. 


    God also tells us, “ nor shut your hand from your poor brother.” Imagine the aid and assistance we could give if we actually put our neighbor’s need before our wants. Instead of buying a new boat, we helped our neighbor who just lost his job. Instead of buying a new car, we bring our parents into our own home instead of placing them elsewhere. Instead of driving faster past someone looking for help, we actually helped them and aided them as much as we were able. 


    But again, we are sinners. Asking people to give up a portion of their riches in order to help another person is tantamount to sin these days. Asking a person who has ‘more than enough’ to help those with ‘nothing’ is like you are asking for a limb from them. Instead of opening up our hearts and our hands towards our neighbors, we come up with countless reasons as to why they don’t need or deserve what I have: “They should’ve made better choices”, “They can just go get a job but they choose not to”, “Giving them anything will just cause them to be ‘moochers’ and we really don’t need anymore of them”. 


    And now imagine Jesus Christ saying any of those to you… and imagine Him using any excuse you use to deny you salvation. 


    But thanks be to God that Jesus Christ would never do that to us. Jesus came into this world to live, suffer, and die for you. He came to give up His entire life for you. He gave up the riches of heaven to become the poorest of poor for you. Jesus Christ loved you so much that He has given you everything you could ever need in this life. 


    Jesus came into this world to live the perfect life of perfect obedience to God for you. Jesus never failed to uphold God’s holy laws and fulfilled them all perfectly. Jesus came into this world to suffer on the cross for you. While on that cross Jesus bore all of your punishment and guilt for all the sins that you have committed. Jesus came into this world to die for you. He died so that full atonement could be made for your sins. 


    And three days later Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He rose to announce that your sins are forgiven through faith in Him. He rose to announce that you now have heaven waiting, not because of your great love, but solely because of His great love. He rose to proclaim to all the world that sin, death, and hell are defeated and He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 


    Yes, now that Jesus Christ has lived, died and risen for us we can begin to fulfill His will. We will never do it perfectly, but that does not mean that we do not try. Also, our works will never earn us heaven; Christ has done that. Rather, our works show the love of God to others. The love of God, which has done and given everything for you… is now the same kind of love that we can show to others. Thanks be to God that He continues to love me, though I am not always the most loving… Thank You, Jesus, that You are always loving towards me.

    September 3, 2014
  • Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. -Amos 5:14-15


    Why in the world would we want to seek ‘good’? Just recently I read an article which noted that all the world does is pressure Christianity and it will change… so why should I seek good, the world will just tell me, right? Besides, isn’t ‘good’ a very subjective thing? If my definition of good and yours differ, how can I seek ‘good’? And ‘evil’, oh boy, we all know that evil doesn’t exist except in those really bad people and no way am I going to be like them. 


    Discussions like this abound inside many people’s heads. Maybe they won’t voice them too often, but the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are troubling to some people. It is especially troubling when it comes to those who ‘led a good life’… what does that even mean? How can a sinner, a wicked, evil, dirty sinner, lead a ‘good’ life? But we tell that to ourselves and it makes things all the better. 


    Yet God, through Amos, tells us that we are to seek the good. In fact we are to love good… but what is good? Aren’t I good? I mean I help my neighbor when he is gone by watching his house. I help my boss by staying late and cleaning up at the end of the day. I help my friends by being a shoulder to cry on and a sounding-board when they need it; so, aren’t I good? No. 


    We are not good. Our nature, our sinful nature, has nothing good about it. Our sinful nature seeks sin and its outcomes. Our sinful nature wants us to give in and not follow God’s laws. Our sinful nature wants us to lie, cheat, steal, covet, and abandon God so that we can feel ‘better.’ And when our sinful nature has a nice firm grasp on us, it tells us a truly disturbing lie, “You are good.” When our sinful nature really wants to mess with us, it tries to convince us that we are good. We’re better than our neighbor because at least we don’t steal to go on those vacations. We’re better than our boss because we don’t ridicule and mock people and then fire them for not being professional enough. We’re better than our friends because we don’t have the problems and sin that they do… but we do, and we are just as ‘evil,’ and just as not ‘good.’ 


    Yet, praise be to God, this is where He has stepped in for us. For our sake Jesus Christ came into this world to live the perfect life. For our sake Jesus came into this world to die the innocent death. For our sake Jesus lived, suffered, and died for each and every one of us. He did not do it because we were good; no, He did it to make us good. 


    Three days later Christ rose from the dead. He rose to announce that now your sins are forgiven. He rose to assure you that heaven is now yours through faith in Him. He rose to proclaim that He has defeated sin, death, and hell for us. And now through faith, we can see that we are not ‘good’… but through faith in Christ we can seek the good and we can love good. 


    Through faith in Christ we can seek the good that only He can show us. Through faith in Christ we can seek the good in His word and know that our sins are forgiven. Through faith we can seek the good in the Lord’s Supper and know that Jesus gave that meal to assure us of the forgiveness of our sins. Through faith we can seek the good in our baptism, where we were washed from our sin and where our sinful nature was drowned. Yes, through faith in Jesus Christ we can seek the good and love the good… and that good is Jesus Christ and all that He has taught. Thanks be to God that He sent His Son, the absolute good, into this world to conquer the evil and rescue us from our sins.

    September 2, 2014
  • But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. -James 3:8-10


    At 7:00am on Sunday morning we are happy to be awake, ready to take on the day and head off to church. By 7:15am we are yelling at our children and spouse to “Hurry up!” By 7:30am we are grumpily in the car driving to church, launching profanities at every driver in front of us who is going ‘too slow’ and therefore ‘they need to learn to drive.’ At 7:50am we pull into the church parking lot mumbling under our breath about how ‘late’ we are. At 8:00am we have a smile on our face as we thank God for all of His wonderful gifts and praise His holy name. 


    Our turn around in our tone and in our actions is absolutely baffling. One minute we are cussing out the driver in front of us and the next we are jamming out to the latest hit on the Christian music station. One minute we are yelling at our children, and really letting them have it, and the next we are singing hymns and praising God. One minute we are ready to scream at our neighbor for being loud and the next we are praying to God as we go to bed. 


    James gives us a pretty good idea that these two sides should not be near each other. We should not be hating and cursing one minute and the next minute praising God… they don’t really seem to fit with each other. Instead we should pick one side and fight the good fight for that side; unfortunately, far too often, that side is the side of evil. 


    How easy is it for us to yell and scream because we had to wait on the phone for someone to help us? How easy is it to curse someone to hell because they would dare cut us off in traffic? How easy is it to say mean and hurtful things to your spouse, instead of picking them up? Far too often we turn our tongues to the wrong side. 


    But thanks be to God that He has not done this. God, in His infinite love and mercy, has not said those words that we all dread, “You are going to hell!” Rather, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to live and die for us. Jesus lived the perfect life, never lying, never cursing, never swearing, never breaking the law. And Jesus died the innocent death for us, bearing all of our sins upon the cross as He hung and died for us. 


    And three days later Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He rose to announce, with His words, that all of our sins are now forgiven. He rose to proclaim, with His voice, that now salvation is ours through faith. He rose to say that now sin, death, and hell are defeated. And now through faith in Jesus Christ we can begin to control our tongue and use it for a God-pleasing purpose. 


    We can use our words to lift up our family instead of tearing them down. We can use our words as comfort and consolation instead of hurling insults. We can use our words, though feebly, to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified for all mankind. Yes, through faith in Christ we can begin to use our mouth, our tongue, for His kingdom and for our benefit. Thank God that He has redeemed me, and my tongue, and now uses both for His kingdom.

    September 1, 2014
  • [T]hat you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. -Ephesians 4:22-24


    Changing clothes can be very difficult sometimes; just ask my children. You would think that such an easy task could never perplex and vex people, until you have watched a youth (about 3-5) try to put on clothes. The twists and tuns and trials they endure just trying to put on a shirt, let alone the pants, socks, or anything else. 


    Of course as adults we are not much better. While we may have an easier time of putting the clothes on, maybe for us the harder part is choosing which clothes to wear. Do I want the blue jeans with the white shirt? Do I want to wear the green shirt today? A sweater or a sweatshirt? A hoodie or a jacket? So many choices and making just one can seem impossible at times. 


    And just like in our closets, when we are presented with multiple things to wear, so in our spiritual life are we presented with many ‘outfits’ to wear. Satan loves to show us all the new and fancy clothes that the world is bringing before us. We could wear the new shirt of adultery and use it to put our marriage in serious jeopardy. We could wear the new pants of thievery and then complain when we lose our jobs because of our actions. We could wear the shoes of coveting and spend every waking moment seeking that ‘one more thing’ that will make our lives complete… and they never do. 


    But the one thing that we wear constantly is our old man. Our old man, our sinful nature, is always hanging about our necks. It is present when we sleep, when we wake, and as we go about our lives. It wants us to sin. Our old man wants us to give into the lusts and desires of this world. Our old man wants us to wear out the shoes of coveting by chasing after everything but God. Our old man does not want us near God and so it makes sure to keep our attention focused on the world and those things around it… and not on God. 


    Yet, Paul in his wisdom, given by God, wants us to put off the old man and rather put on the new man. The new man is given to us as a gift. Not that we have earned or deserved it, but solely because the giver loved us so much. 


    God, in His infinite wisdom, sent His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to live the perfect life and to die the innocent death for us. Jesus came to endure hardship, mocking, beating, and temptations… and He did it for you. Jesus was tempted in every way that we are and He was without sin. And for His perfect life, Jesus was afforded death… the death of a sinner. He bore all of our sins and guilt upon the cross. He bore all of our punishment upon that cross. Jesus took everything that was due us on the cross as He suffered and died. 


    And three days later Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He rose to proclaim that He has redeemed each and every one of us. He rose to announce that now through faith in Him our sins are forgiven. He rose so that those who trust in Him would know that they too will rise. 


    And now through faith in Christ we are given that new outfit… the robe of Christ’s righteousness. And our new man, our man of faith, loves to wear that outfit. Yes, it is spattered in blood, but it is the blood of Christ who has poured it out for me. Yes, it is a little dirty, but those dirt marks and splinters give us a reminder of all that Christ suffered through. Yes, it is glorious and radiant, because it was given by God Himself to His children. Our new man loves this outfit and he loves to put it on to show thanks and appreciation for all that Christ has done. Thanks be to God for this new man who loves the outfit that Christ provides. And thanks be to God for His Son who has won for us salvation.