June 18, 2019 – Jesus Prays for Us- John 17:6-10, Matthew 10:34-39, Psalm 139:16

Jesus-prays

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” John 17:6-10 (ESV)

It’s kind of a strange – but encouraging- thought that Jesus prays for us and intercedes for us.   After all, Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father for all that we need.  Then He prays for us that we would be one, as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one.  Jesus is personal.  He does not just observe us from a distance.  He is with us and near us always no matter what we might think or feel about His presence.

Jesus knows first hand how difficult life in this world is.  He knows that there is much division and infighting between believers and others in the world and that it is not always easy to be one of His own in this world.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

We need Jesus’ prayers and intercession.  Thankfully there is nothing we can do that He doesn’t anticipate.  The hairs on our heads are numbered.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Take comfort in this life that Jesus prays for us.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  God the Father together with the Son and Spirit- God the Three in One- planned our existence and knew everything about us long before we ever drew a breath.

June 14, 2019- Father, Forgive Them, Luke 23:32-43, John 14:1-7

crucifixion

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him (Jesus).  And when they came to the place that is called Golgotha, or Place of the Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

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 (Jesus) said to him (the second criminal), “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32-43 (ESV)

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus says this from the place where He is being crucified, after He has been brutally beaten and He is suffering.  He is asking for forgiveness for His tormentors, even as His blood is being shed to atone for their sins.

We are His tormentors. Our sins put Jesus on the cross.  All of humanity was represented in the crowd that chanted “Crucify Him!” before Pilate, just as all of humanity was born into the Fall and the curse of the Garden.

The two criminals are both looking at Jesus, yet they see Him very differently. The first mocks Him, deriding Him because He doesn’t simply snap His fingers and miraculously release them from their crosses.  The second, in faith, fears God and trusts Jesus.  The second criminal is saved by his faith in Jesus.  The first is lost in his unbelief and left to die- condemned and in despair.

As people who believe and trust Jesus, we know that we are not always going to be released from our crosses in this life. When we pray that most difficult of petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done, we know that thy will and my will are not always the same thing.  God is faithful, God is good, but He does not excuse us from our crosses any more than He took the cup of suffering away from Jesus.

Jesus did nothing to deserve the condemnation and suffering He endured. We might look around and rail at God, “If you are God, why do kids get cancer?,” or “If you are God, then why is there injustice?” Perhaps we are asking the wrong question, especially if we look at the perfectly innocent suffering of Jesus.  It is only by the mercy and grace of God that we are spared more suffering than we can bear.

The object of our faith is Jesus- the One who has the power of life and death. Jesus, who bled and died to save those who screamed, “Crucify Him!,” is the One who says, “Come to Me. I forgive you. Trust Me. Believe Me. I came to save you from the consequences of your sins.”

(Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

No matter who we are, where we come from, what we have done or have not done, Jesus came to save us from the penalty of death that we have earned and deserved.

June 12, 2019- Who is the Object of Our Faith? Luke 22:31-33, 54-62, Ephesians 6:10-12

Peter is restored.jpg

(Jesus said to Peter: ), “Simon, Simon, behold- Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”… Luke 22:31-33 (ESV)

Then they seized him (Jesus) and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.  And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them.  Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.”  But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”  And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

Who is the object of our faith?

Faith is only as good as its object. We have faith that when we drive over a bridge that it will hold fast- at least until the car goes over it.  We have faith that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.  Faith is backed up by past performance- we drove over that bridge yesterday and made it to the other side in one piece.  The sun rose and set yesterday, so it’s probably going to do the same today.

Sometimes we have a habit of putting faith in things that we shouldn’t put faith in- such as that sketchy tuna salad that’s been in the fridge how long? Our culture tells us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, “tough it out,” “believe in yourself,” and culture gives us various other motivational mantras based upon the values of independence and self reliance.  Autonomy is not necessarily a bad thing- nobody wants to be a leech or a mooch, but humans were not designed to be lone rangers.  We were made to rely on God and made to serve our community.

In the first Commandment we are instructed to have no other gods besides God, but we fall into the self reliance trap pretty easily. We really shouldn’t have faith in ourselves, because we make pretty lame gods, but this was the sin of the Garden, the sin of pride that claims that we can be like God.

The problem with our illusion of self reliance is that we really aren’t self reliant at all. The saying, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” is very true.  The apostle Peter believed (read: Peter had faith in himself) that he could follow Jesus to His death in his (Peter’s) own strength.  He fell miserably, three times.  Peter’s faith was not in Jesus, but in his own willpower.

We don’t talk about Satan much in Christian circles any more, even though Jesus did talk about him. Jesus prayed for Peter that Satan would not prevail against him.  Jesus intercedes for us in the same way.  While we are in this world we, like Peter, are surrounded by adversaries, whether they are our own desires for control, the influence of other people, or the Adversary himself.  We cannot overcome the world by having faith in ourselves.  The apostle Paul teaches that we must rely upon God alone:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)

The good news is that Jesus is faithful even though we are not. Our faith is not from us, but a gift from God. Jesus did not abandon Peter after His resurrection.  Jesus did not hold a grudge against Peter for his faithlessness and his denials.  Jesus was faithful to Peter and did establish him as the first earthly leader of the church as he said He would do in Matthew 16:18. We learn of Jesus restoring Peter to ministry in John 21:1-19.

Peter’s mission was not to believe in himself or his own willpower, but to have faith in Christ, and to lead others to that same valid, saving faith in Christ. (Acts 2:14-41)

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”- Martin Luther, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

In Jesus – the object of our faith- we are forgiven for our sins.

Even when we are faithless and deny Jesus in our thoughts, words and deeds, He is faithful to us. He has paid the price for our sins, and only in Him are we made worthy in God’s sight.

In Jesus- the object of our faith- we are baptized and born into eternal life.

God Speaks- Psalm 19:1-6, John 1:1, Job 38:1-7,34-36, Romans 5:15-17

majesty of God

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.

 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, 

which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19:1-6 (ESV)

In the Gospel of John, the writer mirrors the Genesis creation narrative in which God spoke the world into existence.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1(ESV)

In some religious traditions (those that espouse pantheism or panentheism) God is viewed as being the universe (creation is God, in a sense) or that God includes and encompasses the universe and beyond, i.e. God is the universe and more.  Yet in the Christian understanding, God is outside of creation.  Creation came to be by the Word of God; by His speaking the universe into existence.  We dare not confuse the Creator with the creation.  The heavens declare the glory of God, but they are a reflection, a creation that shows us just part of His vastness and majesty and glory.  The heavens are not God.

The Word is not silent. The voice of God still commands the ebb and flow of the tides, the revolution of the planets around the sun, and the appointed movements of the constellations in the sky. As God reveals to Job, His speech and His sovereignty over creation are beyond our ability to comprehend:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,

 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts            
    or given understanding to the mind?” Job 38:1-7,34-36 (ESV)

Adam earned all his children the curse of death through the Fall, and fallen humanity could not break the curse. God could have just abandoned us all to death forever, but that was not His plan.  Jesus, the one and only God-Man, entered into this broken and fallen world to redeem us.  The apostle Paul explains:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Romans 5:15-17 (ESV)

God still speaks to us today. He speaks to us in the majesty of creation, but He speaks to us most directly in the Scriptures. Through the written Word of God- the Bible- God speaks to us.  Through the hearing of the Word, we come to saving faith. (Romans 10:17.)

The Substitute. Is the Cat Really Away? Luke 20:9-18

classroom_2

And he (Jesus) began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’  But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”  But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’? (Psalm 118:22) 

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Luke 20:9-18 (ESV)

There is a saying about the human condition – “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” A good example of this can be seen when a class of young students is left with a substitute in charge who isn’t aware of, or doesn’t have the fortitude to enforce the regular teacher’s rules.  Chaos often ensues, because some children see the absence of the regular teacher as an absence of rules and leadership.  The substitute just doesn’t radiate the same authority or carry the same gravitas.

Who are we, and how do we act when we think nobody’s watching?

In Jesus’ parable, the tenants really didn’t care what the owner’s servants were trying to accomplish. They were just hired hands after all- substitutes- and the tenants knew that the servants didn’t carry any real authority to carry out any sanctions against them.  So they were just going to do what they wanted, because they were confident they could get away with it.

The tenants didn’t take the owner’s son very seriously either. In fact, they took the opportunity to do away with the son so they could take the vineyards as their own.

We can see some of the parallels of Jesus’ example today. Many people in today’s world do not acknowledge the existence of God, or believe that He is involved in the world and in individual lives. The “cat’s away” mentality among many people has led to widespread lawlessness and an increase of evil in the world.  Those without faith and trust in God are like the tenants who behave as if the owner doesn’t care what we do, or that the owner of the vineyard is powerless to do anything about our misbehavior.

Jesus makes it clear that even though the authorities of the world rejected Him and even put Him to death, that He is the foundation- the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To reject Him is to reject the life of the vineyard, to be banished and separated from God.

The way of the cross will break us- when by the grace of God we fall upon that Cornerstone we are broken, but broken in good ways. Our pride will be shattered. Our hearts of stone are replaced by soft hearts of flesh that God can use to His glory.  The haughty smirks are wiped off our faces. We fall to our knees and pray as the tax collector prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  We remember that in our baptisms we are daily washed in water and the Word.

The “cat” is not away.  Someone is watching, whether we acknowledge Him or not.  Someone who bled and died at Calvary to take away our sins and the sins of the world is involved in every detail of our lives. For the sake of Christ and of God’s kingdom, how we live and the witness we have in the world matters.

We still live in the now, but not yet, world. We are both saints and sinners, but we should not be living like elementary school kids looking to get as much mischief in as possible while there’s a substitute teacher.  We are called to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, because He is not away.  He is with us.

God Came Down… Luke 2: 2:1-7, Isaiah 53:1-5, Romans 5:15-18

Avengers-Endgame-5

Kids and teens love action movies. This being said, one of the catechism students at church had just seen “Avengers-Endgame,“ and was fascinated with the details of the movie.  During the lesson, which was on what the Small Catechism has to say about salvation, he kept on saying, “But, yeah, God came down, POW, and that was it!”

The way that God came down was much different that the superhero movie plot in which the * insert good guy (s) here* come(s) down in a blaze of glory to rescue the world from the big baddies who are trying to annihilate it.

God came down, alright, but not in a blaze of glory. There was no POW heard ‘round the world as it would be in the movies of the Marvel universe. God came down to this earth in such a way that it is impossible to believe without having faith. He was born- a helpless baby- to a poor virgin girl in an obscure part of the world, with only shepherds and farm animals to greet Him.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  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 2:1-7 (ESV)

As far as the superheroes in the movies with their superpowers and super weapons and space craft, Jesus had none of those things. In fact, the only way that people in Jesus’ day knew Jesus was God in human flesh when He walked on earth was that God the Holy Spirit revealed that knowledge to them.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

 

 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

God came down, but not to blast away intergalactic baddies with a laser gun. God came down to earth in human flesh to be Emmanuel, God with us. God came down to earth to take the punishment that humanity, buried in our endless sea of trespasses and sins, earned and deserved.  God came down to earth to die on the cross, so that we may live with Him forever.

(The apostle Paul teaches: ) But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 5:15-18 (ESV)

Yes, God came down. He came down to be one of us, to die for us, and to raise us all to eternal life.

 

May 24, 2019- All Roads May Lead to Rome, but Enter Through the Narrow Door- Luke 13:22-30, John 6:50-69, John 14:1-7

 

Rome map with its Great Ringroad.

narrow door

He (Jesus) went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.  And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.  And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.  And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:22-30 (ESV)

There is a saying that, “All roads lead to Rome.” It comes from the historical fact that during the time of the Roman Empire all roads did eventually lead back to Rome.  Rome was the central hub. The roads going to and from it branched out like the spokes of a wheel.  If you wandered around long enough eventually you would come back to Rome, so it didn’t really matter which road you took. The ultimate destination remained the same.

The same axiom does not apply to eternal life with God. There are many religions and systems and philosophical paths that one can follow that promise salvation or spiritual enlightenment.  There are a number of books written and seminars given that promise that elusive goal of “self actualization” (the pinnacle of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) or what Joel Osteen might refer to as “your best life now.”  Yet none of these man-made systems and philosophies or to-do lists can save us from our fallen condition.  We are born dead in trespasses and sins, (see Ephesians 2) and nothing we can do can change that.

When many of Jesus’ followers departed from Him because they couldn’t accept Him as the Bread from Heaven, Jesus asked Simon Peter if he was going to leave Jesus too, to which Peter replied, “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.” (John 6:50-69)

Jesus is the Narrow Door. This isn’t a popular truth in our culture.  It’s not politically correct to say that salvation is found in Christ alone, but it is biblically correct.

(Jesus said:)“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

Believe in the One True God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every other religion has a list of things to do to earn points or travel a certain path.  Only Jesus says to us, faith alone.  Jesus says to us, “I AM preparing a place FOR YOU.  I AM the way, the truth and the life.” Faith too, is a gift from God. There is no other way, no other truth, and life cannot be found anywhere else.

Grace is a gift that is not earned, but given. Grace alone means that it is by the grace of God alone- nothing we can do, earn or deserve, that we come to saving and enduring faith.  Whenever God’s Word is spoken and taught, the Holy Spirit works in human hearts.  Mercy and grace flow from God to and through us, all as a gift from Him.

May we enter through the Narrow Door. May we follow Jesus in the way of the cross, knowing that life is found in Him alone.