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.

March 25, 2019- Nothing is Impossible With God- Luke 1:26-38, Isaiah 7:10-14

annunciation

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

Nothing will be impossible with God. Mary had no way of knowing that she would be the virgin Isaiah foretold hundreds of years before the angel came to her with his “impossible” message.  Even as Isaiah prophesied bad times for the bad king Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah, God had a sign for Ahaz, whether Ahaz wanted it or not:

 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:10-14 (ESV)

Ahaz didn’t live to see the sign. By the time Jesus was born there had not been a descendent of David ruling the Israelite people for hundreds of years.  Yet God’s promise was good.  His sign is real, whether we expected it, asked for it, or even knew we needed it.

How many people in the world today know they need Jesus? Ahaz didn’t think he had any need of a Savior. Ahaz didn’t want to ask God for a sign even when God told him to ask.  Ahaz thought that he was a power unto himself rather than subject to the rule and authority of God.

Mary believed the promise. She trusted God even though she didn’t understand. She trusted God even though what she was hearing from the angel wasn’t technically possible. Like Abraham, whose faith was counted to him as righteousness, Mary believed.

It is difficult to imagine what would have been going through Mary’s mind- to be visited by an angel of God and to be told that against all possibility that she would be the earthly mother of the Son of God.

There is a saying that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Those of us who find their comfort and satisfaction in this life and in the acquisition of material things often don’t see their need for Jesus. We see our need for Him when we are hurting. We see our need for Him when we are helpless.  We hope in Him when all else seems hopeless.

Emmanuel-  God with us, comes to us clothed in humanity, given to save us from the penalty of our sins.  This is a wondrous sign and great news.

March 20, 2019- The Promise is Still Real- God Provides the Lamb-Genesis 22:1-18, 1 John 4:10

abraham isaac

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”  So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.  Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”  And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.  And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.  But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”  He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” –Genesis 22:1-18 (ESV)

Abraham has got to be completely confused. God gave him Isaac, the long-awaited child of God’s promise, then God turns around and asks Abraham to sacrifice this child?  It’s a bit hard to imagine God demanding child sacrifice such as the believers in the false god, Molech, practiced, and that God Himself had emphatically forbidden His people to do. (Leviticus 20:2) Even though he was being asked to do something that seemed unimaginable, Abraham trusted God and set out to do what God told him to do.

When we read this account today we have the advantage of reading it in the light of what we know about Jesus. We understand that Abraham is a type and shadow of God the Father, and that Isaac is a type and shadow of Jesus, who sacrificed Himself for us.

Our first hints of that type and shadow begin with Abraham being asked to sacrifice his only son. Of course, we know Abraham had an older son, Ishmael, by Sarah’s slave girl, Hagar.  But Isaac was the true child of Abraham, in that he was the child of God’s promise, whereas Ishmael was a child born of human “problem solving.”

On the third day of their travel to the mountain Abraham finds the place where God told him to go. On the third day, God provided the lamb for the sacrifice.  Some scholars and theologians believe that the angel of the Lord named in this reading is actually Jesus Himself before His incarnation- the One who would actually be the sacrifice- actually stopping the sacrifice of Isaac.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (propitiation: appeasement, atoning sacrifice) for our sins. – 1 John 4:10 (ESV)

Because Abraham believed God and trusted God even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his beloved, promised child, God provided the sacrifice. By faith, Abraham was justified.  By faith, we become the children of Abraham. By being given the gift of faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, we become children of God.

By faith, God kept his promise to Abraham. God did not take Abraham’s offspring as a sacrifice, even though we (also counted to be Abraham’s offspring) are the ones who have inherited the penalty of death.

God gave His own Son. He provides the Lamb.   His promise to Abraham through Isaac, the child of the promise, extends to us and to all who trust Jesus.

March 14, 2019 – Faith in the One Who the Wind and the Sea Obey – Mark 4:35-41, Matthew 24:24, John 1:1-5

jesus calms the sea

On that day, when evening had come, he (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:35-41 (ESV)

All of us face anxiety over circumstances in our lives. Everyone has been through some form of calamity, uncertainty or distress, whether it is something as trivial as running out of coffee, or as catastrophic as a natural disaster or an untimely death of a loved one.

Even though Jesus had chosen these men as His disciples, and they had Jesus right there with them, they were still terrified. They still cried out to Him- “Do something!”

Does it seem to us as if Jesus is sleeping at times- that He is not aware of our need, or that He doesn’t care about our suffering?

The disciples struggled with fear and a lack of faith just like we do- even though they could see, walk with and touch Jesus. The evidence was right there with them, visible, audible, tangible, and they still struggled with faith. No wonder our faith is often weak.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true. – Martin Luther, from the Small Catechism, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

Faith is a gift from God. Jesus is right here with us just as He was with His disciples in the boat during that storm on the Sea of Galilee.  The difficult part for us is that we can’t see Him or reach out and touch Him.  Faith is not rational.  Some people will claim that, “If I could see Jesus then I would believe in Him.”  Others are looking for Jesus to send us supernatural signs. Yet Jesus warned us that false prophets will display signs and wonders in an attempt to deceive His people (Matthew 24:24).  Faith does not always see the object in which it believes.  We can trust that in our baptism, by the water and the Word we are named and claimed as Jesus’ own, and we are given the gift of faith.  As we hear the Word taught, we learn about Jesus and grow in our faith.

The wind and the sea are subject to Jesus and His sovereignty just as all of nature is subject to Him. We have no control over the winds and the waves.  We have no control over the chemical and electrical processes in our bodies, let alone any process or machinery outside of us.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” This man is God of very God, the Word who was with God, through whom all things were made, and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-5)

Jesus does know our suffering, intimately. Jesus does not just stand aside as a passive observer.  Nothing came into being without Him. Nothing exists without Him.  We can trust that He is in control of the storms and the tragedies as well as our triumphs and accomplishments.  We may not know what comes next but He does, and He is with us.

March 11, 2019- The Beatitudes, For Us- Matthew 5:1-12

holy spirit2

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (children) of God.

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

The Beatitudes are difficult in the way that the Ten Commandments are difficult. They are beautiful. They are good. And there is no way that any of us can live by them perfectly.

We teach our children to be independent almost from day one. Independence and autonomy are ingrained into Western culture, but in God’s economy, we are blessed by our trust and dependence upon Him.

We can’t even believe in God and trust Jesus on our own. Faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

When we come to a place where we have no tangible reason to believe- when we are abandoned, ill or destitute, Jesus sustains us with the reality that He is with us, and that we are already citizens of the kingdom of God.

In Jesus’ resurrection we have hope that death is not the end. We will be reunited with the vast cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and all tears will be washed away, when Jesus returns to remake heaven and earth.

When we are at the end of our strength and powerless, we are reminded that powers and principalities and governments are temporary, and that corruption in governance will eventually be overturned.

In the new heaven and earth there will be no more evil. We will have incorruptible bodies free from the curse of sin.  We will no longer endure injustice, unfairness, and mistreatment.  There will be no illness, violence, or suffering.

As Jesus has forgiven us, so we are able to be forgiven and to forgive others. We will no longer have to carry the burden of past injuries and grudges- nor will those things be held against us where others have failed to forgive us.

The veil will be removed from our eyes, so that we can love God with a purity that is not marred by our fear or desire for self-preservation.

In Christ we will have peace, not as the world gives but as only He can give. As the apostle Paul encourages us: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Even as Christians are persecuted and ridiculed for our faith more and more, we are in good company. No one can take away the promise and the hope that we have in Christ.  It’s not always easy or popular to do the right things (and we are by no means perfect at this) but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are blessed to stand and we are given the courage and the confidence to stand.

As we examine the Beatitudes, it is not a “to do” list for us, but a “God does through” us list. We are not the engine behind our transformation, and we cannot make ourselves holy through our own efforts.  It is only by the grace of God that He gives us the faith to believe and trust Him.  Christ alone redeems and transforms us.

This is good news.