March 4, 2019 – What God Plans for Good-John 11:45-57, Genesis 50:19-21, Romans 8:28

suffering-jesus

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.  So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?”  Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. John 11:45-57 (ESV)

The Romans did succeed in destroying Herod’s Temple in AD 70, and it has never been rebuilt. The Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the Temple.  The Jewish people, even today, are scattered throughout the world.  So it could be said that the religious rulers weren’t entirely correct.  The Romans did take over “their” place, though they did not succeed in destroying God’s people. We remember that the true descendants of Abraham are God’s children by faith, not by genetic lineage.

Caiaphas’ words were prophetic, though not in the ways he may have meant them. One man did die for the sins of all people, and for the unity of God’s people.

The evil that the chief priests and the Pharisees had plotted against Jesus was actually according to God’s plan for the salvation of the world. God can see beyond what looks rational to us. His plans defy our logic. Some things that can appear to be a grievous evil or injustice may end up being used to good purpose.

Joseph was his father’s favorite son who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Even though his father was led to believe Joseph was killed by wild animals, Joseph was preserved by God for the sake of his family and ultimately for the sake of the bloodline of Jesus- even though along the way he endured slavery and prison.  When his brothers came to Egypt needing help, Joseph forgave them. The trials they had sold Joseph into into ultimately put Joseph in a position to save his family.  We read in Genesis 50:19-21 of Joseph’s gracious forgiveness and good treatment of his brothers who had sold him into slavery: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

At this point in the story it would be difficult for Jesus’ followers to see anything good in the intent of the chief priests or the Pharisees, but God had plans to bring good out of their evil plotting.

Jesus knew of the chief priests and Pharisees’ plans to put Him to death. He knew that He came to live on earth as a man precisely so He could become the perfect, holy sacrifice to redeem His people.

As the Jewish nation was preparing for Passover, unbeknownst to them, the true Passover Lamb was being brought to the slaughter.

The curse of death was brought about by the sin of Adam, the sin of one man that each of us inherits. But through the new Adam, Jesus, the curse of death is broken.  One man – one perfect and holy man, whose blood was shed to redeem all of God’s children….

As we approach the season of Lent and consider our own mortality, we consider Jesus as the Lamb of God, who willingly gave His life so that we can live forever with Him. What one group of men meant for evil, God planned for our good.

March 2, 2019- Jesus in All His Glory- The Transfiguration- Luke 9:28-36

Transfiguration_SanSalvador

Now about eight days after these sayings he (Jesus) took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36 (ESV)

The Transfiguration gives us a sort of preview as to what our post-resurrection life will look like. We see Jesus revealed in His glory and we see Him as the one foretold by Moses and Elijah and the other prophets.

Witnessing this event gave the disciples no choice but to make the connection as to the truth of who Jesus claimed to be.  They no longer had the option to question the veracity of Jesus’ claim to divinity. Jesus clearly was neither Moses nor Elijah, but the greater one they had both prophesied of.  They could not write Jesus off as a nice guy or a moral teacher.  All three Persons of the Trinity manifest here- the voice of God the Father, the dazzling appearance of the Son in the flesh, the breath in the cloud of the Holy Spirit.

As we as Jesus’ people prepare for the somber, penitent season of Lent, it is good to remember who Jesus really is.

Jesus is greater than the prophets, and is the one of whom Moses and Elijah spoke of.

Jesus is God in human flesh, fully God and fully man.

Jesus came down from heaven to take on and become our sin and to suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins in our place.

Martin Luther, in his Explanatory Notes on the Gospels makes it very clear what the Transfiguration accomplished:

Very much is contained in this history.

First, The resurrection of the dead and the future glory and brightness of our bodies are shown. For this was something very remarkable, that Christ was transfigured while yet in the mortal body, which was subject to suffering. What then shall it be, when mortality shall have been swallowed up, and nothing shall remain but immortality and glory?

Secondly, There is added the appearance of Moses and Elijah, who prove by their appearing that they had never really died, and that there is yet another life, besides the earthly life, from which they were transferred.

Thirdly, This appearance teaches us also that we should despise death, and look upon it merely as an emigration or a sleep. In short, this appearance proves that this life is nothing at all in comparison with the future life.

Fourthly, This appearance proves that sin is overcome. For it necessarily follows as an incontrovertible conclusion, that, where death is overcome, there sin is also overcome.

But he permitted those three mentioned apostles especially to see this appearance, in order to guard them against the coming offense of his cross and crucifixion. Yet he accomplished little thereby, for they all were offended with him. Yet this appearance had its advantage after the resurrection, and served to strengthen their faith in Christ, that he was the Son of the living God, and that his kingdom must be regarded in a spiritual sense.

The whole holy Trinity appears here to strengthen the believers; namely, Christ in his transfigured form, the Father in the voice, and the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud.

Moses and Elijah appear in order to testify that Jesus Christ is truly the promised Messiah, according to the law (i.e. Moses,) and the prophets, (i.e. Elijah.) Compare Romans 3:21-22, and on the meaning of this transfiguration 2 Corinthians 3:7.

 

Oh, death, where is thy sting? May we keep our eyes and hearts on this glorious vision of Jesus.

 

February 28, 2019- Who is this Man?, Affliction and the Works of God- John 9:1-23

Jesus and a blind man

As he (Jesus) passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”  So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”  He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”  They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” John 9:1-23 (ESV)

Is it possible that some of the conditions and challenges that we find ourselves in are not punishments or even the direct consequences of our sins, but trials in which the glory and power of God can be made known?

Jesus tells the disciples that the man who was born blind was not blind because he sinned or his parents sinned but so that the glory of God could be displayed through him. By God’s grace He gives us power in the places in which we are weak, as God said to the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 –“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

The Jews and the Pharisees would not believe Jesus even when He gave them signs and wonders. He gives them the miracle of restoring a man’s sight, and they accuse Him of having a demon and breaking the Sabbath.

Even after the man’s parents verified that the man had been born blind, and that now he could see, the Jews still refused to believe who Jesus is.

It’s telling that the parents refused to admit who had healed their son. They were more worried about their standing in the community than telling the truth.

The man’s parents’ fear of the Jews and the leader of the synagogue prevented them from telling the truth about Jesus. They knew full well who had healed their son, but they were afraid that they would be kicked out of their community for speaking up.

Confessing Jesus has consequences. We open ourselves up to exclusion, ridicule and humiliation from those who don’t see who Jesus is. The world thinks we’re silly or backward or unscientific when we confess Christ.  In some places in the world, confessing Christ can cause one to be imprisoned, beaten or even killed.

If we believe Jesus, we can’t help but admit that He is who He says He is- God in human flesh, our Savior, the Lamb of God who has covered us in His blood, who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. (Isaiah 53:5) Jesus, the one who causes the blind to see and the lame to walk is the one who is our strength in our weakness and brokenness. Jesus is the one who works through our circumstances and shines through as the Light of the world.

He forgives all of our sins and brings us to eternal life with Him. How can we fail to tell others about Jesus?

 

February 26, 2019- Children of Abraham- John 8:39-59, Romans 9:6-8

abraham's children

They (the Jews) answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”  The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”  So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:39-59 (ESV)

It is curious that the Jews who challenged Jesus called themselves “children of Abraham.” Genetically the Jews could claim Abraham’s lineage, so they weren’t technically wrong. Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, could also claim genetic descent from Abraham, but Abraham’s inheritance was given to the child of God’s promise, Isaac, the child of Sarah, the child born of faith.  The apostle Paul explains the real meaning being a child of Abraham:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. Romans 9:6-8 (ESV)

It didn’t matter that the Jews who rejected Jesus were genetic offspring of Abraham. The true children of Abraham- the children of the promise- are those who believe Jesus, regardless of their genetic ancestry.

Jesus is GOOD NEWS for all people, regardless of our personal history or ethnic heritage. We are made His own by the promise, by faith, like Abraham, that we believe Him and know that He is who He says He is.

Whoever is of God hears the words of God.- Jesus

May we always be listening and willing to hear, study and speak the words of God. These are the words that lead us to saving faith in the Lord Jesus.

February 25, 2019 – The Light and Life of the World- John 8:12-20, Psalm 118:19-24

LightofWorld

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”  Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”  They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”  These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:12-20 (ESV)

The Pharisees had a hard time wrapping their minds around Jesus. They were so concerned with the finer points of the Law that they missed the purpose for the Law and the Scriptures.  They were so busy navel gazing and worrying about tithing their mint and spice that they missed the very one who they claimed to be waiting for.

Jesus and His Father (two Persons of the Trinity) both testify to who Jesus is, and the Pharisees couldn’t stand the fact that when Jesus says that He and His Father are one that Jesus is claiming to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God. To the Pharisees, Jesus was a blasphemer of the highest order.  The thought that the lowly son of a carpenter that many of them may have known when He was younger, was claiming to be God was purely offensive to them.

As offensive as some may find Jesus, the cross, and the cosmic truth that there is nothing we can do to dig ourselves out of the situation we inherited from our first parents, the fact remains, He is the light of the world. He is the only way to salvation.  Nothing came into being apart from Him. Apart from Him there is no light, no life and no truth.

We can be a bit harsh on the Pharisees, but sometimes we miss Jesus too. We fail to see Him in our unforgiveness and hardness of heart.  We fail to see Him in the suffering of our neighbors.  We fail to see Him beyond the brokenness of our world.

Jesus did not come with glitter and gold and fanfare. Jesus did not come surrounded by conquering armies.  He came as a simple human to all outward appearances, but also as God clothed in human flesh.  Save by the gift of faith, we cannot see Jesus just as the Pharisees could not see who He really is.  The Father must draw us to Jesus.  We pray for the eyes to see Him, a mind to know Him, and a heart to love Him.

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. 

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:19-24 (ESV)

February 20, 2019- Jesus and the Words of Eternal Life- John 6:52-71, Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus and Peter

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So 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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

 When many of his disciples heard it, 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?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. John 6:52-71 (ESV)

Many of Jesus’ early followers wanted to make Him a bread king- a genie who would grant everyone all the food they could eat, riches and bodily healing. The theology of glory is appealing, and it persists to this day. The airwaves are full of prosperity preachers hawking miracles in exchange for your “gifts and tithes.” Unfortunately, the real Jesus, God Himself, the Lord revealed in Holy Scripture, is nowhere in the false teaching of prosperity promises.

Jesus is not going to bring any of us a Mercedes Benz, a color TV, or a night on the town. He will bring us people who will benefit from our vocations- people to serve, love, comfort and encourage.  We will bear burdens and we will suffer for Jesus’ sake, even though there will be great joy even in the sadness and suffering.

The big problem with the theology of glory and the attempts of the people to crown Jesus the bread king is that Jesus did not come to fill bellies and grant temporary wishes. Following Jesus means setting our own desires aside.  Following Jesus means putting other peoples’ good ahead of our own.  Following Jesus can lead to persecution, suffering, and in certain circumstances, even martyrdom in this life.

Jesus came to give us real, lasting life. He invites us and brings us into life beyond this world. Even so, He did not come to give us an easy life on this earth.

Jesus gives us the theology of the cross. We must follow Him to His death if we are going to follow Him to His resurrection. That is a hard truth for us to come to terms with at times.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

The apostle Peter doesn’t always get it- at one point Jesus even said to him, “get behind me, Satan,” (Matthew 16:23) but Peter gets it here: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus has chosen us- through the preaching of the Word, through the waters of our baptism, and He feeds us with His own Body and Blood in the meal of Holy Communion. He isn’t going to make our earthly life easy, but as we learn in Psalm 23, He walks through this life with us.  He will not leave us. Through faith in Christ, by the grace of God, we belong to Jesus.  We are invited, called, and set free to follow Him.

 

 

February 19, 2019- How Majestic is God’s Name! – Psalm 8, John 1:1-5

Creation

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.   Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!    Psalm 8 (ESV)

It is comforting to know that God is omnipotent. Someone beyond us has created the universe and all that is in nature, yet He cared for fragile humanity so much that Jesus became one of us.  Jesus lived on the earth. He entered into the wonder of human life as well as all its pain and brokenness. He laughed, He wept, He comforted, He taught. He rebuked.  He got angry. He shared joy. Jesus was fully God, and also fully human.

As we confess in the Apostle’s Creed, Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered. He died and was buried, and descended into the place of the dead. He rose on the third day. As the prophet Isaiah teaches us, He was pierced for our transgressions, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

God Himself- Jesus- who has always been, beyond the constraints of time, has given us stewardship of the world. Out of His great love for us, He provides for us. The sun, the moon, the stars, the oceans, the fields and mountains, and all the animals that live in them are all His handiwork.

Thank God that we are always on His mind and that He always cares for us even though we are little more than dust.

The Psalms remind us to pray, to praise, and to bring everything to the omnipotent and endless God who created us and sustains us. It’s always a good time to look up and remember that God provides everything we need, including life with Him forever!