January 30, 2019 The Words of the Prophets- Behold the Lamb of God-Zechariah 9:9-13, Matthew 21:1-11

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Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. Zechariah 9:9-13 (ESV)

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Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

When the church confesses the words of the Nicene Creed, we affirm that God the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets.  As a child I thought that a prophet must be some kind of microphone because it was the only theory that would fit into a five year old’s understanding. Logically, one who wants to be heard speaks through a microphone to amplify his or her voice, so God must have had some pretty powerful microphones to speak His Word down through the ages!

While the prophets were not microphones, their purpose was very similar- to amplify and spread around the Word of God. The prophets did not make up and broadcast their own words.  Like microphones, they simply amplified what God spoke through them.

Being a prophet was not generally a way to gain popularity or to enjoy long life. Jeremiah was left to die in a cistern.  John the Baptist was beheaded. False prophets were subject to the penalty of death, but even true prophets were sometimes doomed to die horrific deaths.  So if you claimed to speak for God, right or wrong, you weren’t going to have an easy life.

The prophets serve a very important purpose in the Bible and they still speak to us. They give us warnings that we could see fulfilled time and time again in the history of God’s people.  The prophets proclaim God’s Law and what happens when we think we know better than God. Time after time it has been proven that we simply can’t follow the Law.

The prophets tell us what we earn and deserve- namely God’s displeasure and wrath, but that is not the end of their messages. The prophets’ main job is to point us to Jesus. “Here is your King,” Zechariah proclaims, “humble and riding in on the colt of a donkey.” Zechariah did not see a Caesar or a Herod, wearing a golden crown, carried on a litter, surrounded by battalions of soldiers, but a man riding on a young donkey- the God-Man, one of us, approachable, vulnerable and human.  He is the God-Man whose only crown would be of thorns, the God-Man who would become the curse who would go from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday to a brutal death by crucifixion on Friday.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Even though the prophets point us to Jesus, do we see Him? Do we truly understand that He comes to us to fulfill the words of the prophets that God spoke through so long ago?  Better yet, the testimony of the prophets underscores the history and the veracity of Jesus’ claims as to who He is.  We cannot simply acknowledge Jesus as a good moral teacher, but we must recognize Him as the fulfillment of the prophets, the very Son of God, God-with-us.

 

December 21, 2018- The Lion of Judah, a Refiner’s Fire, and God With Us- Malachi 3:1-5, John 1:1-18

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“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:1-5 (ESV)

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

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

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

In C.S. Lewis’ wonderful story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Susan and Lucy ask the Beavers if Aslan, the lion, the king, is “safe.”  Mr. Beaver replies to them:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

One of the names of Jesus in the Bible is: The Lion of Judah. There is no such thing as a safe lion, just as there is no such thing as a safe God. Jesus is God, and God is omnipotent, meaning He holds all power in the universe.

The prophet Malachi tells us of a terrible day of reckoning, when the Messiah will come to earth as a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. We learn from Scripture that the world as we know it is going to be completely destroyed and completely remade (2 Peter 3:1-13.) This grand scale of destruction and rebuilding that Jesus will preside over on the End of Days may seem incongruent with our vision of Jesus as a fragile baby born to a peasant girl and laid in a feed trough- but Jesus is not a “safe” lion. Evil will, and must be, rooted out and destroyed. He is, however, merciful, gracious and good.

The above passage of judgment from the prophet Malachi is disturbing. Because all humans are naturally dead in trespasses and sins, in and of ourselves, we cannot escape the fire. We are all guilty of everything that Malachi names off- sorcery, adultery, bearing false witness, oppressing others and not fearing God. We deserve to be consumed by the fire. We deserve the full punishment and wrath of God. If the message from God stopped with Malachi’s warning, there would be no hope for any of us.

The good news is that God’s message does not stop with Malachi’s warning. That day of judgment is indeed coming, but the price has already been paid for those who belong to Christ. He has sacrificed Himself and poured out His blood on the Cross so that we do not have to endure the eternal flame. He transforms us and walks with us so that we can make our way through this world of “not yet.” In Him we have the confidence that no matter what trials we encounter along the way that we are citizens of His kingdom that has no end.

Jesus, God Himself, came into the world not displaying His terrible and limitless power, but as the Light, as a helpless child, a teacher, a healer. Jesus came to us as one of us, not just to be a teacher and a healer but ultimately to take the punishment we deserve, and to sacrifice Himself so that our sins would be wiped away in His blood.

A “safe” lion would not have the power to defeat the darkness.

We are celebrating the Light coming into the world- not a “safe” Lion, but Almighty God, powerful and good. A Light no darkness can overcome. In Jesus, we see God in the flesh, God with us.

December 11, 2018- The Majestic Name of the Lord- Psalm 8

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Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

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

Sometimes praising God is the furthest thing from our minds.  When we are in pain or stuck in sadness usually our first response is not to look up to God and know that He is there. Yet even when our lives seem dark, the Light of the world is never far from us.

It is good to praise our majestic God, God Who is above all the sadness and suffering of this world.

It is good to remember in this season that can be dark and depressing for some, that the Light of the world is with us.

The same God whose majesty is reflected in the heavens is the same God who chose to live among us, the same God who came to us as a humble child born to a peasant girl and laid in a manger.

The same God who is beyond time chose to endure a brutal death on a Roman cross to take the punishment for our sins and save us from eternal death.

The majesty of God is both beyond us, and intimately, always with us.

Take comfort this season.  The God of creation is always near.

 

 

September 13, 2018 -Praise God, He Hears Us, the Curtain is Open- Psalm 116:1-9, Mark 15:33-39, Hebrews 9:24

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I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.

Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.

 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling; 

I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living. Psalm 116:1-9 (ESV)

 

Do we see God as a merciful God? Some of us have come from religious traditions in which catechesis (teaching about the faith) focuses on God’s anger and wrath. If we only get one side of the Law-Gospel equation we might be scared into a degree of behavior modification, (or into a life of guilt and anxiety) but teaching the Law without balancing it with the Gospel makes it difficult for us to call on God in times of trouble, especially when we really screw up and need Him most. Feeling our inadequacy and guilt and sin should serve to convince us of our utter inability to make ourselves “good” and bring us to the Good News that Jesus died to save us from our sins. In Jesus the curtain of the temple separating God from man was taken away.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 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?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 (ESV)

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24 (ESV)

The Psalmist reminds us that by faith Jesus set us free to call out to God in all situations- in our despair, in thanks, in good times and in trouble. We have nothing to prove to Him.  There is nothing we can earn or deserve from Him. When we cry out to God, He answers us for Jesus’ sake.  He sees Jesus and not all of our sins that have been covered by His blood.

When we are thankful- praise God. When we are troubled in our hearts, trust God for resolution and comfort. Jesus took away the curtain that keeps us from coming to the presence of God.  Trust Him.

March 5, 2018 The Temple of God- Psalm 69:9, 1 Kings 6:11-13, John 2:13-22, Matthew 12:40

 

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For zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. Psalm 69:9 (NIV)

The word of the Lord came to Solomon:  “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father.  And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.” 1 Kings 6:11-13 (NIV)

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”  His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.  John 2:13-22 (NIV)

(Jesus said): For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matthew 12:40 (NIV) (Jonah 1:17)

Jesus wasn’t happy with the corruption going on in the temple. The temple of Jesus’ day was not the temple originally built by Solomon, referenced above in 1 Kings 6. Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed (2 Chronicles 36:9, Ezra 5:12) by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who carried off the people of Israel to exile. There is a theme in Scripture to the building of, and the destruction of temples.

In Jesus’ day the physical building of the Second Temple still stood, lavishly expanded and renovated by none other than Herod the Great. The Second Temple would be destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.  Today, on the site of the Second Temple is the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.  While most Jewish and some Christian sects bemoan the loss of the Temple Mount site to a Muslim mosque, the reality is that God is no more present in the historic Jerusalem as He is anywhere else in His creation.

It is interesting, however, how passionate Jesus was about the shady activity going on in the temple, a place that was supposed to be a house of prayer. We don’t sing hymns about Angry Jesus- though He was human, and He did get angry. The Jesus we see here, the guy who upset the apple cart- and upended the trading tables, and who destroyed the livestock cages isn’t the Jesus we feel comfortable with.  Where in this passage is the Good Shepherd, or the Jesus who wept when His friend Lazarus died, or the Jesus who said “do not hinder the children, and bring them to Me?”

Israel should have known from the prophets that God was not pleased with either their behavior or the condition of their hearts toward Him. But the people ignored God’s warning to Solomon, and they ignored the prophets’ warnings. As the centuries passed from Solomon throughout the times of the Israelite Kings, God’s people grew more and more evil and more and more separated from God. Eventually God let Nebuchadnezzar deal with Israel. They were sold into Babylonian captivity.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day didn’t realize it during Jesus’ lifetime here on earth, but they were soon to lose their physical temple and to face temporal judgment yet again.

As time goes on in our culture, faithfulness to God is waning. Many people question the existence of God, let alone the reality of moral absolutes.  As in the time of the Judges we are in an era of “doing what is right in our own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)  Unfortunately the consequences of moral relativism- the condition of having no behavioral standards or absolutes- manifest themselves in broken families, violence, crime, drug addiction and so on. We see the temporal consequences of our brokenness and our inability to keep God’s commandments everywhere.

We can’t get too judgmental about the people of Israel, because we do the same things they did and worse. Sometimes we wonder if God is there, and if He is, why does He let terrible things continue to go on? Evil may be defeated, but it is not eliminated from the world just yet.

We know that human beings cannot even realize their need for Jesus apart from the grace of God. We cannot straighten ourselves up no matter how good we behave or how well we try to follow the rules.

The good news is that God does not live in a physical temple like in the days of the Israelite kings or even in a rebuilt temple like there was in Jesus’ day. We don’t have to go to Jerusalem to pray. There is a certain sad irony that it was Herod who restored and expanded the temple-which begs the question, were the expenditures made to beautify the temple not for God’s glory so much as for Herod’s?

God’s true temple is not a place but a Person. He is available to us anytime, anywhere. Jesus is the temple. This is what Jesus meant when he told the Pharisees and other religious authorities who mocked him when He said that He will tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days.

Jesus has taken the place of the physical building of the temple.  He is the Holy of Holies, and He is God-with-us. He is not confined to a little room that is only accessible by one guy- the High Priest-one day out of the year.  When Jesus breathed His last upon the Cross, the curtain of the temple was split in two, the dead were raised, and the Holy Spirit was set loose in the world. (Matthew 27:50-54)  In His descending to the world of the dead and rising again (as Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish) He defeated death and has won eternal life for us.

Jesus has become God with us. He has rebuilt the temple not out of bricks and stone, but of Himself. God the Holy Spirit is set free in the world- and He embraces us.  The temple is everywhere for Jesus followers.  We are free to thank Him, to worship Him- to participate in His kingdom and to let Him transform us.

January 3, 2018- In the Beginning, God…Genesis 1:1-5, John 1:1-5

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (NIV)

The beginning of Genesis and the beginning of the Gospel of John are eerily similar in that both writers are pointing out the same core truths:

God was God before the beginning.

God created heaven and earth.

God created light and separated it from dark.

God created life.

These truths may sound simplistic to those of us who were raised in a religious tradition, but what about people who have questions about the existence of God?

We as orthodox (small o) Christians (which include Lutheran Christians and most other Protestants, as well as Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox,) believe three basic foundational truths about the nature of God:

God is omnipotent- (all powerful)

God is omnipresent- (fully everywhere at all places and all times, all the time)

God is omniscient- (all knowing)

Given these three truths about God, we can imagine Him planning and working the coming together of the cosmos, and the formation of the galaxies and stars and planets. None of what we see in the heavens- or here on earth- came to be by random chance.  There is nothing we can see, touch, experience or imagine that is outside of God’s understanding or authority.

When we put the rubber to the road, what do these foundational truths about God mean for us in our everyday life and in the struggles we have now?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

God is with us. He has been with us since before the beginning.  He is with us now.  He will be with us forever, when this world is no more.

As we continue the celebration of Jesus’ incarnation and birth we can take comfort and marvel in the fact that even before the beginning, God is, and for always, God is with us.

December 22, 2017 – The Radiance of God’s Glory- Isaiah 7:14, Hebrews 1:1-3, Matthew 2:1-2

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

The prophet Isaiah tells us much about Jesus over 700 years before Jesus lived as a man here on earth. Most importantly Isaiah tells us about Jesus as God-with-us, that He will be one of us (see also Isaiah 53:1-5.)  Don’t look for Jesus high atop an earthly throne or sitting in a board room looking down from an ivory tower. Look for Him among the regular people, getting involved, getting dirty- in the working class, in the poor.  Look for Jesus in the human story.

The writer of Hebrews acknowledges that the words of Isaiah and the other prophets are fulfilled in Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory.

Because of Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory is with us and reflected upon us. We wait for the Savior to arrive, knowing that He is already with us, and His glory is being reflected from us.  When people look at us, do they see Jesus’ image in us?

Can we look to the arrival of God-with-us with anticipation and joy? Do we seek Him, and seek to be like Him?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)

 The saying, “wise men still seek Him” is true.

Are we still looking for His star, and are we still coming to worship Him?