January 28, 2020- Justice, God’s Servant, and Bruised Reeds- Isaiah 42:1-4

bruised-reed

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. Isaiah 42:1-4 (ESV)

Justice should be informed by truth. We all know what it feels like to be the object of injustice– when we are betrayed or blamed for the offenses of others, or we suffer consequences through no fault of our own.

The truth of fallen humanity is that we deserve justice- justice that rightfully means the wrath of God. Whether we like it or not (or agree with it or not) we have all inherited a fallen nature and we are subject to the effects of sin and death.

The Good News is that God has come with justice- justice poured out upon Jesus, the Servant Who is gentle with bruised reeds, Who does not put out an ember struggling to stay lit.

How could it be just for Jesus to take the wrath of God that we deserve?

The truth is that:  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 (ESV)

All of us are heavily burdened- and condemned- by the Law of God.  If we look at the Ten Commandments, we can clearly see that-

We fail to honor God and acknowledge Him above all things. 

We take God’s holy name in vain – and this encompasses far more than oaths and swearing.

We do not honor the Sabbath by willingly and eagerly worshiping God and learning and digesting God’s Word as we should. 

We do not honor our parents or those put in authority over us.

We may not physically kill people, but we murder others through slander and from failing to care for them. 

We have physical lusts that are impure, whether we act upon them or not, that betray chastity and faithfulness to one spouse.

We steal time, treasure and talents from others.

We often speak ill of others and fail to put the best construction on their motives and actions.

We lust after other people’s stuff. 

We envy other people their spouses or employees.

To further implicate us in our guilt, the apostle James teaches us: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. James 2:10 (ESV)

Yet Jesus still has lifted the burden and has taken away the guilt of all our sins. He took on the weight of the curse of ALL of our sins.  The penalty for all of our iniquity is not placed on us, but was placed on Him.

From the mountain of Sinai, Moses was sent down carrying the tablets of the Law that condemns us all.  Thankfully condemnation and wrath are not the end of the story.

At the cross of Calvary, justice has been carried out. Not on all of us bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks who have been broken and condemned by the curse of sin, but solely upon Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.

Lord, we thank You that You are the Suffering Servant, the One Who took the punishment we deserved in our place.  The justice we deserved fell upon Your shoulders.  Forgive us for our many and constant sins, and give us the strength and the fortitude to live in a way that glorifies You.

 

January 15, 2020 – The Desert Blooms, the Fearful Are Comforted, and the Way of Holiness- Isaiah 35:1-10

desert bloom

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel is found all through out Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments direct us to Jesus and His love for us and His redemptive work for us.

Isaiah brings us beautiful news. Jesus succeeds in turning everything upside down for the people of Israel after many years of occupation, defeat and suffering.  The barren desert comes to life with color and flowers.

Those of us who belong to Christ who are living in fear and darkness can rest. We can put aside our fear.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus champions our cause and protects us- not because we are “good” or “deserve it,” but because we belong to Him.  He has made us His own.

We learn in the Gospels that Jesus did fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of opening the eyes of the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, healing the lame, and giving the mute a voice again.

The most important emphasis of this chapter is that God acts upon His people. We cannot choose God. God chooses for us and draws us to Him:

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

How many times do we do foolish things? In spite of ourselves we are simul Justus et peccator. (saints and sinners at the same time.) We try to do the right things but fail.  We give in to temptation.  We make poor choices. We do things that hurt ourselves and others.  Even so, Jesus walks with us and gives us what we need to keep walking with Him.

Isaiah foresees the same vision for us as the apostle John did- “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

Faith is a gift of God.  We have every confidence that in all things Jesus is with us and He will not abandon us.

Thank you, Lord for Your gift of faith.  Draw us closer to You.  Comfort us, restore us, equip us to serve you as you keep our way straight on Your highway.  In the holy Name of Jesus we pray.

 

 

January 13, 2020- To Fulfill all Righteousness- Jesus is Baptized- Matthew 3:13-17

jesus-baptism

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)

Why did Jesus, our sinless Savior, need baptism?

Jesus did not need baptism, because He had no sins. We needed Jesus to be baptized. He was baptized into our humanity and He was drenched in the cesspool of human sins. The reason why He came to earth was to take on the sins of the world- a burden that only He could choose or walk away from.

Yet His choice to take on the burden of human sin and follow through with the task of winning our redemption was well pleasing to God the Father, even though the cup He had to drink- the pain, the scorn, the shame, and ultimately being forsaken by the Father would be nearly impossible to bear.

One of the ways to look at Jesus’ baptism is that it was at that moment He took on the sins of humanity- all of them- past, present, future, so that along with His body all of those sins would be nailed to the cross. The sins that are washed from us in the waters of baptism are put on to Jesus in His baptism.

We see a foreshadowing of Jesus’ blood atonement to wash away our sins in Leviticus 16, in the Law’s requirement for the Israelites to sacrifice animals:

“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” – Leviticus 16:15-26 (ESV)

In His baptism, Jesus became the sacrifice that the blood sacrifices and the scapegoat of Leviticus 16 foreshadowed.

The problem with the sacrifices and scapegoats called for in Leviticus was that they never really absolved the people of their sins. The Law (of which the sacrificial system was a part) could only show us our sins and point us to the Savior- the one Who is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:1-4 (ESV)

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it was only because Jesus took our sins on Him and became our sacrifice that we are justified in the eyes of God and our sins are paid for- nailed to the cross and washed away in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 6:1-12 that as we are baptized, we are joined with Jesus in His baptism as well as in His death and resurrection.

Jesus took on our sins for us, to defeat the curse of the Fall, so that we may have life and salvation in Him.

Our salvation is a free gift, beyond anything we can earn or deserve. Baptized, we live, because Jesus lives. He gives us the gift of faith. He gives us grace to keep putting on our baptism every day so we continue to live in Him. He has fulfilled the Law for us because we cannot. He is indeed the Good News.

We pray that Jesus would constantly keep us in His care and that He would continue to keep us strong in faith and trust in Him.

January 7, 2020 Comfort and Joy- 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

mary-and-baby-jesus-ray-downing

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (ESV)

Tidings of comfort and joy,” goes the refrain of the old Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” In this Epiphany (an epiphany is an experience of enlightening or expanding one’s understanding) season we go from discovering that Jesus has come in human flesh to live among us, to a deeper understanding of what Jesus stepping into the mess of humanity means for us.

For many of us, especially during this season of the dark winter funk between Christmas and spring, it’s hard to see beyond our day to day struggles. The weight of our health issues, and our financial issues, and the trauma of our conflicts in our dealings with others, simply seems heavier at this time of year. Comfort and joy seem pretty far away, as if they were packed away with the decorations, and we are just left to go back to our every day drudgery.

The apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth at a time in which being a believer in Jesus could get you killed. The Corinthian church had good reasons to be apprehensive and afraid, but still Paul writes to them: Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

When Jesus came to this earth He did not just come to experience the pain and struggle of fallen human life. He came to give His life as a ransom for ours, to put death to death. He came bringing many things, including, suffering, distress, a sword- and for some, even temporal death and martyrdom. Yet for those who He chooses to carry His cross in this life, those of us who die with Him in the waters of baptism, He also chooses to join in His resurrection. We will be comforted beyond all comfort. We will be made new and to live with Him forever.

The idea of tidings – news of- suggests anticipation. It underscores that yes, the King is here- but the King is still arriving. We are comforted not in the promise that our suffering will be lifted from us in this life, but that Jesus walks with us in and through that suffering and gives us the strength to endure it.

We have been given tidings of great comfort and joy- tidings that go beyond the wonderful miracle of a little boy born in a tiny town in first century Palestine, that reach beyond the scope of this world and the burdens we carry.

Because Jesus came to earth to suffer and die and take the punishment each of us earn and deserve, we thank Him. We look to Him for our comfort, our joy, and our peace, even with and through our suffering.

January 2, 2020- Numbering our Days, A Heart of Wisdom- Psalm 90:12, John 1:14-18

jesuswisdom

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (ESV)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:14-18 (ESV)

Every January rolls around and it seems we want to take up New Year’s resolutions.  “This is the year we stick to a budget or to a diet or to an exercise program!”  Until the first of February or so, when we realize that the budget, diet or fitness regimen isn’t happening the way we wanted it to.  Even if we are disciplined enough to do things right most of the time, as we learn in Psalm 90:10- The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Fallible human beings are not the greatest at keeping resolutions.  Life happens.  Discipline and order are good things, but so are forgiveness and flexibility when situations call for those.  We need discernment, the wisdom that can only come from the power of the Holy Spirit, far more than we need one time resolutions that most often fail.

Solomon, the son of David prayed for wisdom- not for riches or conquests or power and land, even though God added those to him. (2 Chronicles 1:7-13)  Yet even a person with the wisdom of Solomon was not able to live according to the Law.  As Solomon got older he got enamored of foreign women and took wives who worshiped idols, and even he was not completely faithful to God.

The apostle John leads us to the answer to the wisdom question: The Word. We do not have wisdom on our own apart from God.  Wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh, bringing the fulfillment of Moses’ law, and providing the grace and truth that we do not have.

Our life on this earth is both joy and sorrow, paved with good decisions and not so good decisions.  We live with one foot in God’s kingdom, but the other foot still mired in this world of “not yet.” We journey through our seventy or eighty years knowing that our time here moves faster than we ever thought it would.

A new year is going to bring us all some blessings, some burdens, some joy, and some heartbreak. But only Jesus Christ brings us the forgiveness of our sins. Only Jesus Christ makes us worthy to be called children of God.  Only Jesus Christ makes the number of our days worthwhile, as well as the innumerable days we will spend with Him in the age to come.

 

 

 

December 24, 2019- Advent 24, Luke 24- The Third Day, The Emmaus Road, Jesus Ascends to His Father

 

road-to-emmaus-michael-torevell

Read Luke 24.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Luke 24:1-7 (ESV)

Sometimes it’s difficult to see what is right in front of our eyes.  Jesus spoke of the necessity of His death as well as the reality of His resurrection.  None of the disciples put it together even though they were familiar with the writings of the prophets.

Angels announced the tidings of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, and angels announced the reality of the empty tomb to Jesus’ followers, Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women.

Shepherds and women- those not considered to be worthy in society- they were the ones visited by angels.  God wasn’t sending angels to Herod or the chief priests, the Pharisees or the scribes.

As some of Jesus’ followers were traveling to Emmaus, they encountered a stranger, or so they thought.  They didn’t know it until God revealed it to them – in the breaking of the bread- that they were walking with Jesus and being taught by Him.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther,  but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.  They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”  And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:28-35 (ESV)

One might wonder why Jesus was revealed in the breaking of the bread.  He had said at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  We may never understand the mystery in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but central to it is the word “is.” Jesus said, “This IS My body.  This IS My blood.”  When we share in the Sacrament, He is with us in a real and personal way.

Jesus appears to His disciples as they are discussing the Emmaus road encounter.  He shows them His wounded hands and feet.  He eats broiled fish with them.  He has a body.  He is not a disembodied spirit or a ghost.

Then he (Jesus) said to them, (His disciples) “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:44-49 (ESV)

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. No one understands the Scriptures apart from the Holy Spirit.

And he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 (ESV)

We are given the writings of the prophets, and the testimony of the apostles in the Holy Scripture.  Throughout this Advent, chapter by chapter, we have followed Jesus from the conception and birth of His forerunner, John the Baptist, to His miraculous conception and birth, through His life and ministry.  We learned of His betrayal and His bitter death by crucifixion for the forgiveness of our sins.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two, and the penalty for sin was paid for us, by Jesus, a free gift.  We see Jesus risen on the third day- Jesus Whose birth was announced by angels to lowly shepherds and whose rising from the dead was communicated by angels to women, who in Jesus’ day were considered little more than livestock.

The reason why God came to earth as a helpless infant was to die in our place, to save us from the penalty of our first parents’ transgression, to deliver us from the Fall that has consigned humanity and this world to sin, death and the power of Satan.

Emmanuel, God with us.  With us in the manger along with his virgin mother who is trying to understand what is happening, and is struggling to trust that God will provide for her, her husband- and this promised, holy child.  With us in the hour of crisis and sorrow and through the valley of the shadow, when we think that the next breath is impossible and the next heartbeat is too excruciating to endure. With us when the trumpet sounds and we are forever changed, we are forever in His presence, where fear and death and crying are no more.

Thank you, Jesus.  Forgive us. Save us. Be with us today and always.

December 23, 2019- Advent 23, Luke 23- Why Jesus Came to Earth

crucifixion2

Read Luke 23.

Here we read the story of Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate.  Pilate then decided to send Jesus to Herod. Herod mocks Jesus, but then sends him back to Pilate.

Pilate had originally wanted to just punish Jesus and release him, but the crowd  wanted none of that.

But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted.He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will. Luke 23:18-25 (ESV)

The same people shouting “Hosanna” to the king on Palm Sunday were screaming “Crucify Him” on Good Friday.  Pilate’s aim was to keep the peace, so he crucified Jesus and let the people have Barabbas.

 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:26-31 (ESV)

Jesus knew the destruction that was going to befall Jerusalem.

As Jesus suffered on the cross, there were two thieves, one on each side, crucified with him.  One mocked Jesus, but the other believed in Him.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 (ESV)

Jesus then gives up His spirit.

It was now about the sixth hour,and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Luke 23:44-49 (ESV)

The world was thrown into darkness at that moment.  Yet it was to experience a great light. We too await Jesus’ return.