May 10, 2020 – We Shall Be Changed, and the Death of Death- 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 21:4

changed

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?” “O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.             1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (ESV)

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:8 (ESV)

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)

We shall be changed.  Into what?

Jesus has brought us from death to life. This is why we celebrate Easter. We trust in Jesus, that He has put death to death and that we have the hope and the promise of eternal life with Him.

There are times in our lives when it’s easy to forget the Easter hope and we forget that we have been changed when we were baptized into Christ, and that we will be changed yet again when He transforms us and gives us bodies that will never die. Either we get distracted by the cares and sorrows of this world, or we get preoccupied with the all the things we think are important (much as Jesus’ friend Martha did) and we miss the one thing – the One Who should be primary above all.

The implication to believing God’s promise of eternal life and transformation that were given to the prophet Isaiah, and again to the apostles Paul and John, and that Jesus Himself also promised, is that we have nothing to hold back, nothing to fear, nothing to put in a higher priority than God.  We belong to Him.  He cares for us and provides for us in this life as well as the next.

Both Isaiah and John remind us that God will take away our shame and mourning, and will dry our tears.  This is a wonderful encouragement for all of us, because we are all held captive to our own sin, shame and sorrow.  We have been changed, and we will be changed. Not because we earn it, not because we deserve it, but because Jesus gave His life so that we may be a part of His resurrection and His life.

The sting of death has been taken away. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing holding us back from the life that Jesus has already won for us.

Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You and to know that You will wipe away our tears and take away our sin and sorrow.  Forgive us when we forget that we belong to You and that through You we are forever changed.

 

March 19, 2020 The Omnipotent God of the Universe Cares for Us- Psalm 74:12-19

jesus comfort

Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.

You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.

You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.

Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.

Psalm 74:12-19 (ESV)

We must remember the God Who spoke the universe into being actually cares about us.  It’s easy to forget that in times of crisis, but God is truly in control of all things.

Jesus reassures us in Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows!

I can recommend for those of us with time on our hands to take a few moments to read Martin Luther’s letter, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,  in its entirety.  It was written in response to the return of the Black Plague (a disease with a far higher mortality rate than the current coronavirus) to Wittenberg in 1527.

The advice that Luther gives here in his letter is particularly timely and accurate:

Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. – Martin Luther, 1527

Ultimately we are reminded that our times are in God’s hands.  Even so, we should be washing our hands.  We should follow good precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves and our neighbors, even as we remember, and we trust that God hears our prayers.

The worst thing any disease can do to us is to take our life in this world, but even should our life in this body end, Jesus, the Lover of our souls, has bought and purchased us and we share in His resurrection. 

Therefore we have hope no matter what effect this disease may have on us.  We have comfort.  In Christ, we have peace. Keep on caring for our neighbors and for ourselves. Do sensible and beneficial things. Keep praying. Keep studying God’s Word.  Share the comfort, hope and peace that we have in Christ.

March 16, 2020 When God’s Way Isn’t Our Way – Luke 4:16-30

Jesus-Synagogue-Nazareth

And he (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (see Isaiah 61)
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.  But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:16-30 (ESV)

There is a saying that no prophet is taken seriously in his hometown.  When Jesus went back to Nazareth, all that people there could see was, “Hey, this is Jesus- the carpenter’s son!” They couldn’t see beyond that guy they know.

The people of Nazareth had heard of all the signs and wonders Jesus worked in Capernaum and figured that He would do the same things for them. But Jesus gave them a reality check.

Not everyone Jesus encountered when He walked on earth in a physical body was healed of their diseases.  Some were, but Jesus’ healings here on earth were temporary, and meant to point us to the healing we have with Him when we cross over into eternal life.

We wonder why some widows are fed while others starve. We wonder why some people get well while others get worse and succumb to illnesses.  We don’t have good answers for who eats, who starves, who gets ill and dies or who gets ill and recovers. We can serve as the hands and heart of Jesus, but even as we serve, Jesus reminds us: For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. Mark 14:17 (ESV)  When Jesus says “you will not always have me,” he is referring to having Him physically walking with the disciples here on earth.  There will always be poor people, no matter how we work to mitigate their suffering.

We get angry with Jesus when we learn that he is not Santa Claus or the Bread King or the Miracle Healer.  We get into the age old arguments with Him, especially when we receive a tragic diagnosis, or lose a loved one in an untimely death.  It’s. Not. Fair.- we rail and scream. There is no shame in mourning the loss of health or wealth or stability, or of our loved ones, but all of those things are part of the human condition- the human condition that Jesus entered into with us.

The part that we forget is that as long as we live here on earth we are subject to the curse of the Fall.  We inherited the consequences of the Fall- the broken creation, our dying and decaying physical bodies, the sorrows of disappointment and loss.  Even Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead, ended up dying again eventually.  The feeding and the healing that Jesus did here on earth were temporary and meant to show us that there was far more to the feeding and healing that Jesus gives us freely and always.

Our physical bodies will decay and will die, unless Jesus comes back to earth first. Our salvation hope in Him is that we will be raised at the last day and that we will be restored to life with Him in bodies that do not die or decay.

The people of Nazareth got angry with Jesus and wanted to toss Him over a cliff when they discovered He wasn’t the Miracle Worker, Santa Claus or the Bread King.  It’s easy to reject Jesus when He doesn’t meet our expectations.  Yet in faith we need to learn – and sometimes we really don’t like the lessons in the school of hard knocks- that God is God, His will is done, was done and is going to be done, whether we agree with it or not.

There is good news in this.  Even though we do not understand. Even though we hurt. Even though (admit it) we might want to throw Jesus and the whole suffering struggle of this life over the cliff at times, we are still baptized and put to death with Christ. He is not going to let go of us.

Like Simon of Cyrene, we might have a cross beam thrust on our back when we never expected it. Unlike Simon, we have had fair warning, and more importantly we have a Savior who never leaves us, never forsakes us, and is with us in, through and with us no matter how bitter or painful our suffering is.  There is no valley of shadow that we walk through alone.

C.S. Lewis once said that a believer in Jesus must come to the conclusion that “It’s Christ or nothing.” The apostle Peter got it (even though at times he didn’t get it) when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (See John 6:50-69)

Lord, give us the grace to see that You are the Christ and that apart from You we are nothing and there is nothing.  Lord, give us the faith that clings to You when the answer is no, and when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Lord, help us see You as the one who brings liberty to the captives, who is the good news to the poor, the one who brings freedom to the oppressed.

March 12, 2020- On the Death of Precious Servants in Christ, and the Hope We Share- Philippians 2:17-18, Matthew 16:24-25, Romans 10:5-17

drink offering

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18 (ESV)

Jesus never promised us “our best life now.” Jesus called us to take up our crosses and follow Him.

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)

Suffering and cross-carrying are part of this life. It is no small coincidence that all three of the Synoptic Gospel writers- Matthew, Mark and Luke- tell us of Simon of Cyrene, a man that was randomly plucked from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross to Calvary.  Simon was taken by surprise by the compulsion to carry the cross.

It certainly wasn’t Simon’s idea when he woke up that morning, that a Roman soldier would demand him to carry a heavy beam for a condemned man he did not know. For us who know Jesus, it should not be a surprise to us that Jesus enters into our suffering as we share in His.

One of the implications of sharing in the life of Christ is that even as we are baptized, even as through the preaching of the Word we are made new and brought into eternal life, we must also share the cup of suffering and daily drown the old Adam and his sinful ways. We still have to deal with the consequences of sin and death in this world. We still suffer. Our bodies still die.

There are people who are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” in our lives, who like the apostle Paul, sacrificially pour themselves out for the sake of their faith in Jesus. We thank God for them.

Many of these dear saints of God do not see their life is one of sacrifice, but one of joy. We benefit from the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them that radiates from them just as light gives off heat.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:5-17 (ESV)

By faith we trust Jesus. We can’t trust in how well we follow the rules, because we don’t, and we can’t. The Ten Commandments are God’s Laws. If we are honest about how well we follow God’s Laws, (see Exodus 20,) we understand that we break every single one of them on a daily basis. We cannot trust in ourselves or what we do. We trust Jesus and by faith we know that He took God’s punishment for our sins in our place.

Our life here in the now, but not yet world contains a lot of suffering. But it also contains the grace of God in Christ. It also contains people with “beautiful feet” who preach and live out the Good News of Christ. People who are precious to us because they share that saving message.

It’s easy to get angry with God for taking those we love away, or to be sad because one who is precious to us is no longer there.

This life is not the end, though. God has plans for us that are so much more than we can hope for or imagine. Those of us who trust in Christ will see Him and be with Him in just a little while.

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at that awesome day- All Praise to Thee, Thy God This Night – Thomas Tallis

Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

The saints that have gone before us are glad. They are rejoicing. We will be with Jesus- and with everyone we love- soon.

January 20, 2020 – Does God Change His Mind? Hezekiah’s Extra Fifteen Years- Isaiah 38:1-8

MSKG - De kruisiging (links), De voorspelling van Hizkia’s genezing (midden), Abt Jacobus Delrio met beschermheilige (rechts) - Jacob de Backer

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.”  Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.  I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.
 “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised:  Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.  Isaiah 38:1-8 (ESV)

If God can change His mind, is He really omniscient?

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)

Was God testing Hezekiah?  Did God know Hezekiah’s prayer before he prayed it?

The threat of imminent death has a profound effect on our perspective.  When all is going well and we are young and in good health it’s easy for us to think that the status quo will always stay the status quo.  We grow complacent in our abilities and in our circumstances…and that may not necessarily be where God wants us to be. When we trust in ourselves instead of having faith in God and trusting Him, we are setting ourselves up as our own gods, which never ends well.

Hezekiah was one of the few “good kings” of Israel.  But even as a “good king,” Hezekiah was not a perfect man.

Perhaps Hezekiah’s “illness unto death” was God’s way of making Hezekiah come to terms with his mortality and to become aware of Who was the source of his power.  None of us gets out of this life alive, but how would our perspectives and action plans change if we knew exactly how much time we had left?  Would we sink into crass hedonism and go for the bucket list with gusto, or would we choose our activities and bequests carefully to leave a legacy for future generations? Maybe it is better not to know the hour of one’s death, and to live as if today is the last day?  Maybe it is better to plan thoroughly and live as if life is going to go on forever?

Many of us have been in a similar place as Hezekiah- pleading and bargaining with God for one’s life, or the life of a loved one, or even for a major life event, only to be answered back with, “No, you are not getting more time,” or, “My plans are not your plans.”

Perhaps the purpose of prayer is not so much for us to get our way as it is to understand why Jesus taught us to pray, “thy will be done.”  God had things planned for Hezekiah to do, and God’s will was done through him.  For Hezekiah, God did see fit to say “yes” to his request, not because Hezekiah was so great, but because the God he trusted is so great.

Often we wonder where God’s will is being done when we look all over this groaning, broken creation. It’s not a satisfying answer to know that we inherited a broken creation, that some things will not be mended this side of eternity, and that God re-creates and redeems and heals in His own time and in His own way.  We question God’s  omnipotence and His control of all things when we think that our problems, our sins, our situations are beyond His power.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

God wants us to pray, whether His answer is, “yes,” “no,” or  “some other way.”

The single most difficult task of fallen humanity is for us to realize we are creatures, not the Creator.

The lesson of Hezekiah’s “extra” fifteen years is that it is God Who numbers our days. God works in and through us according to His will as we live according to the vocations He has given us.

Hezekiah trusted God and made his desires known to God.  Yes, God knows our hearts and minds better than we do, and His will is done regardless of our opinions on it, but He still commands us to pray.

Lord we pray for the faith You gave to Hezekiah, to be fervent and honest in our prayers regardless of what Your answers may be.  We trust that even when we don’t get the answer we want, (and even when we do) that Your will is always best for us in the long run, whether we see it or not.

 

 

 

December 26, 2019 No Peace, but a Sword- the Holy Innocents – Matthew 10:34, Matthew 2:1-18

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“Do not think that I (Jesus) have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:1-18 (ESV)

As much as we are enraptured by the Christmas story, the very next chapter is tragic. Herod sends the wise men (or more accurately “magi” or astronomers) to find this king of the Jews, not because Herod had any plans of worshiping the infant Jesus, but because Herod wanted to take out the threat.

What Herod didn’t realize is that God has ways around the sinister designs of man.

What the people of Israel didn’t realize was that Messiah wasn’t coming as a bread king or as a military conqueror. He was coming to heal the sick and raise the dead, but also to turn over the moneylenders’ and temple vendors’ tables. He was coming to tear the temple curtain in two, to judge the living and the dead, and to defeat sin, death, Satan and the hordes of hell.

The fallout from the Incarnation of the Holy One of God- destruction by the sword -would begin with the male children of Bethlehem, and it continues to this day.

The Child in the manger would be the cause of the deaths of countless other children- slaughtered simply because of Herod’s desire to keep himself in power.

The Child in the manger- Christ, the Lord, calls us to die as well. Life in Christ is death to everything the world holds dear. We willingly forfeit power, influence, and comfort and in certain circumstances, our own lives, to follow Him. In some places in the world today to proclaim Christ is literally asking to lose one’s head. Martyrdom is still happening in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Do we really understand the purpose behind what appears to be the senseless destruction and waste and death and sorrow in this world?

Rachel weeping for her children, because they are no more.

The church has historically called the little boys killed by Herod’s mobs, “the Holy Innocents,” yet there are no humans on this earth untouched by the corruption of original sin. Those little boys were innocent of temporal crimes, but were still under the curse of the Fall. The truly Innocent One was also put to death, thirty years or so later, but His death was the end of death.

Jesus brought- and still brings- a sword. The sword that split the temple curtain so that we could be in the presence of God is the same sword that divides families and nations.

Today’s rude awakening right on the heels of the amazing blessing and wonder of Christmas seems a bit harsh, but in the middle of the valley of the shadow, He is with us.

Emmanuel, God with us does not abandon us, even in those times and places when our pain and mourning is beyond words.

Emmanuel, God Who took on human flesh, knows the agony of sorrow and of physical torment.

Emmanuel, God does bring a peace beyond all understanding- peace that can override the chaos, peace that knows that God is in control even when we cannot see how.

Jesus isn’t done yet. He is returning- returning for those who believe and trust in Him. He is coming back to remake the heavens and the earth. He will wipe away every tear and sorrow will be no more.

September 13, 2019- In the Day of My Trouble, Psalm 77:1-14, 2 Corinthians 1:3-6

jesus garden

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.- Selah
You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”- Selah– Psalm 77:1-10 (ESV)

All human beings at one point or another will experience times in which it seems God has abandoned us. There is spiritual and emotional pain that is so deep that when one is buried in it, it is easy to believe there is no comfort, no help, and no hope.

Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, sweating blood and imploring God to take the cup of crucifixion and death away, yet God’s will was done. Jesus was wrongfully condemned, beaten, scourged, and left to die a death of ignominy and unspeakable pain on a Roman cross.  We may not understand why or fathom the purpose for it, but God does not always stop the suffering.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (ESV)

Jesus endured being separated from and abandoned by God. Jesus took the punishment we deserve so that we can be forgiven and reconciled to Him.
When we reach out to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf, especially when our grief and pain are so deep we don’t have words.

Jesus is with us in and through our suffering. He comes to us with consolation and solace even when we are so depleted and torn and broken that we can’t acknowledge His presence.

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. Psalm 77:11-14 (ESV)

Suffering is a reality in this not-yet world, even suffering so painful it seems beyond our endurance. The apostle Paul reminds us that we who belong to Christ share in His suffering as well as His comfort.

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. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (ESV)

Part of the Christian’s vocation is to give encouragement to those who are suffering. Another lesser known and observed part of our vocation is to be willing to seek out other believers in our families and our churches when we are suffering and need help. We also fulfill the law of Christ when we come to others when we are suffering and give them the opportunity to help us.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.- Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

There is hope in Christ. God created us to love and serve Him. We have Jesus with us even when we feel abandoned. He does not abandon us.

September 11, 2019- The Unholy Trinity, the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Jesus Breaks the Curse

adam and eve2
Who or what stands against Christian people in this fallen world of “not yet?”

Sin
Death
The Accuser (Satan, the serpent)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV)

“Did God really say?”

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.” It can be said that God does not tempt us or cause us evil. We’re good enough at finding temptation and walking into evil all by ourselves. We may know the difference between good and evil, but we don’t always choose what is good, and we don’t always reject evil.

The unholy trinity of sin, death and the devil are all against us and are all around us. The question behind the Fall of humanity, “Did God really say?,” echoes all around us.

Did God really say… I AM God, the Author and Creator of all things?
Did God really say…You will not bow down to the gods you make?
Did God really say…that He is the only One you will worship?
Did God really say…that you will honor your parents and those in authority over you?
Did God really say…that you will not murder or maliciously inflict harm on others?
Did God really say…that human beings were created male and female, and men and women are meant to be faithful to each other in marriage?
Did God really say…that you are not to steal money or possessions or anything that is your neighbor’s?
Did God really say…that you are not to falsely represent your neighbor or spread falsehoods?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s spouse, employees or livestock?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s inanimate material things?

God really did say all of those things. Most of us can agree that the Ten Commandments–See Exodus 20– are good and that we would all have a lot less trouble if we could just follow the rules.

The problem is we can’t just follow the rules, no matter how hard we try. Every human being alive today has inherited the curse of Adam- call it original sin, or to borrow from another Reformed theologian, John Calvin, the total depravity of man, but human beings are born sinners. We cannot fix ourselves.

To make the sin problem even more acute, we learn from Scripture (James 2:10) that if we break one tiny little part of the Law, in God’s eyes we broke all of the laws. Salvation by our own obedience requires perfection.  No human being is capable of perfection.

The apostle Paul makes us aware of our dilemma in Romans 7:7-25.
The Law makes us aware that we fall short and don’t live up to God’s standards. The unholy trinity of our own sin, the curse of death that we and the world around us are under, and the Accuser himself all stand against us and assail us with all sorts of suffering, temptations and trials.

It’s just not possible for us in our own strength and will to live the way that God wants. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

But God so loved the world, and fallen humanity, that He sent Jesus- the perfect God-Man- to break Adam’s curse, to suffer the penalty of death and become the perfect sacrifice for fallen humanity once and for all. The Law was not God’s final word to humanity.

Did God really say…?

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

 
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah 33:14 (ESV)

 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

 
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6b (ESV)

 
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”- John 6:35 (ESV)

 
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17b (ESV)

 
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16 (ESV)

 
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

 
Jesus has the final word. For we who believe in Him, there is no more death. We will pass from this life to eternal life with Him. The unholy trinity who would condemn us and lead us into unbelief does not have the upper hand. Jesus has broken Adam’s curse and Jesus paid the penalty of death for us.

God With Us, (Luke 2:8-20, John 3:16-17) Jesus, Herod and the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:13-18)

300px-Adoration_of_the_sheperds_-_Matthias_Stomer

 

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

We all know and love the Christmas story. We marvel at the miracle of the Incarnation and can even imagine hearing the angels sing on that blessed night. The Light of God came down to earth. The birth of Jesus is good news indeed. It is wonderful for us to gather around in the light and the wonder of Jesus’ birth. We should celebrate and be glad that God has come to live and be with us. We are reminded of the timeless, sweet, saving Good News from the Gospel of John:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”- John 3:16-17 (ESV)

If not for the miracle of Jesus’ birth, we would have no Savior. There would be no one qualified to be the one Sacrifice to save us from sin, death and hell. We would be left without hope and forever under the death curse of Adam and Eve.

There is another side to the liturgical season of Christmas that is not as popular with the culture around us, yet it is an integral part of the story.

Jesus entered into our world of suffering. The King of Glory, Jesus, entered into a world in which glory would be subdued, and sacrificed. He exchanged His sovereign crown for a crown of thorns. He became the cursed one to die on a tree, the One who bore our griefs, who carried our sorrows and was smitten by God and afflicted in our place. (Isaiah 53:1-5)  He took the punishment we earn and deserve.

In this world of not-yet, we have been baptized not only into the eternal life of Jesus, but also into a life of sacrifice and suffering in the here and now. Jesus Himself said that if we are in love with our lives here in this world we will lose our lives, but if we lose our life for Him we will gain it. (Matthew 16:25)   We are not promised an easy life here and now.  This is a temporary place.

In the liturgical season of Christmas- along with the joyful, blessed Incarnation- we also remember those who gave their lives, willingly or even unknowingly, for the sake of Christ.

Now when they (the wise men of the East) had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 (ESV)

The Slaughter of the Innocents is a particularly sad commemoration. Herod was so desperate to maintain his own earthly might- confusing the King of Kings for an earthly ruler- that he killed hundreds of baby boys so as to do away with any potential threats to his power.  God made a way to keep Jesus safe, just as He had provided for Moses to be pulled from the river Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Herod had no way of knowing that he would die in a few short years himself.  So much for earthly power.

Yet in Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth, we can see the anguish of so many mothers over the loss of their baby boys, the senseless killing, and the unspeakable grief. We cannot help to acknowledge in this not-yet world that even the most blessed and joyful of events are tainted with our suffering and grief.

It is sobering that even in great joy, we are living the paradox. In this bittersweet world full of sin, we are soaked in death and despair and disappointment.  Yet in Christ we are baptized- soaked in His LIFE- so that no matter what weeping and sorrow and loss we face in this life can win out.  We know the end of the story.  Jesus wins, and so do we who trust in Him.

 

 

January 25, 2018- Hezekiah Prays With Shameless Audacity- 2 Kings 20:1-6, Romans 3:19-26

hezekiahvisitedbyisaiah

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’” 2 Kings 20:1-6 (NIV)

Hezekiah was one of the few “good Kings” of Judah – kings who tried to live as God wanted them to.  When he was faced with his own mortality, Hezekiah was not afraid to pray with shameless audacity.

One can argue that today we would not want to bargain with God based upon our own merit or perceived “goodness” because we really don’t have any. Hezekiah really only had the argument that he was “good,” because God gave him the heart to live God’s way. Even before Jesus walked the earth, God’s grace was still in action for Hezekiah, who came to God in faith, prayed with shameless audacity and had his prayer answered in a most unexpected and generous way.  He believed God is who He claims to be.

We can only protest our case with God on the merit of Jesus, who became our righteousness. Because of Jesus, we too can pray with shameless audacity- as Jesus tells us to do.

So what does that mean? The apostle Paul explains:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3:19-26 (NIV)

The apostle Paul demonstrates an important concept in Lutheran theology here too: the juxtaposition of Law and Gospel. The Law shows us our sin and our desperate need for Jesus.  The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus has justified us by His perfect sacrifice and His limitless grace.  We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel.  Without the condemnation of the Law, how do we know and appreciate our desperate need for Jesus?

No, we are not good. God doesn’t hear our prayers because we are good.  He hears our prayers for Jesus’ sake. We are sinners and lawbreakers, every one.  But we are also saints, because we cling to Jesus and believe He is Who He claims to be.  In His name and by His merit, we can pray as Jesus tells us to, with shameless audacity.  Anything and everything is fair game for prayer.  God already knows our hearts.  Prayer that comes from believing Jesus brings us closer to the heart of God.