January 4, 2019 The Light of the World, He Brings a Sword, Depart in Peace

jesus sword

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Isaiah 60:1-4 (ESV)

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And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,  he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Luke 2:22-35 (ESV)

Isaiah. Luke. Simeon and Anna.  The Bible is filled with the accounts of those who point us to Jesus.  Isaiah is given the revelation- the glorious vision of Jesus – seven hundred years before His incarnation. Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord and the Light of the world revealed.  Simeon and Anna were blessed with seeing Jesus in the flesh, as a baby brought to be named and brought in to the community of faith.

It’s good news that those of us who are living in this dark world have the Light of the World here with us.

Jesus Himself was named and set apart for God, one with God the Father always and beyond time. He was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, fully God and fully man, but He was still named and circumcised in accordance with the Mosaic covenant. Jesus had to fulfill the Law in our place.  We are born dead in trespasses and sins, and we cannot save ourselves. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

In our Baptism we are named and claimed as God’s people. We are brought into the life of Christ.  We share in His suffering and His death as well as His resurrection.

Jesus did not come to bring us happy feelies and Care Bears and flowers. He comes into this world bearing a sword, (Matthew 10:34-39) which inevitably brings upheaval and conflict in its wake.  Some of the most bitter and lethal conflicts in this world have been fought against the spreading of the Gospel, between those who have been brought to faith in Christ and those who would oppose Him. Jesus’ coming and the renewal and life that He brings have always been challenged by the world.

Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul too. Her baby boy would grow to be a man who would be crucified to placate our petulant sinners’ demand for blood at the hand of Pontius Pilate, and left to die in cruel ignominy. She will lament at the foot of the Cross as her Savior and ours gives His life and His blood is poured out for her salvation as well as ours.

Light and truth illuminate their surroundings without prejudice. Beauty is made evident when the light shines on it, but so is ugliness.  When everything is brought into the light, we cannot hide.

Jesus brings us into His light- exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly. As we are given the gift of repentance, we confess our sin and shame as we are exposed to His light. He forgives us. He gives us a heart of flesh that desires God instead of a hard heart of stone.  He makes us reflect His goodness and light and takes away the sin and death that are our inheritance from the Fall. He saves us from death and the grave.

Jesus does not promise us an easy or a painless life on this earth, but He does promise us eternal life beyond this world. He does walk with us as we are promised in the beautifully comforting words of the 23rd Psalm. He carries us because we are challenged with many trials we simply cannot bear.  He gives us His peace.  We can pray the nunc dimittis, and go forward in God’s peace along with Simeon:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

 

November 8, 2018 – The Second Article, What We Believe About Jesus-Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53:4-5, Revelation 21:1-4

Jesus the Savior

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. 

He descended into hell. (sheol*)

On the third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

*The English word “hell” here is misleading, for “hell” has changed its sense since the English form of the Creed was fixed. Originally, “hell” meant the place of the departed as such, corresponding to the Greek Hades and the Hebrew Sheol. That is what it means here, where the Creed echoes Peter’s statement that Psalm 16:10, “thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades” (so RSV: AV has “hell”), was a prophecy fulfilled when Jesus rose (see Acts 2:27–31). But since the seventeenth century, “hell” has been used to signify only the state of final retribution for the godless, for which the New Testament name is Gehenna.- J. I. Packer, from Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.

The Second Article of the Creed teaches us about our salvation by faith in Jesus. His conception and birth as well as His suffering and death for our redemption were clearly spoken of through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:

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 7:14 (ESV)

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities, upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5 (ESV)

We affirm the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, who saw, walked and ate with Jesus after He was raised from the dead.

In Luke 24 we learn that Peter came to Jesus’ tomb only to realize He wasn’t there.  Jesus, by dying on the Cross and descending into the world of the dead, defeated death.  Jesus rose again and was seen by many witnesses- walking, talking, eating, just as He had done before His crucifixion.  On the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus was revealed to the disciples in the breaking of the bread.  Again Jesus was revealed to the disciples in the Upper Room as He ate with them.  Then, after He blessed the disciples, Jesus ascended into heaven.

As much as we may find the eschaton (i.e., the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world, as defined by the New Oxford Living Dictionary) to be a frightening concept, we believe that Jesus is returning to restore and remake heaven and earth. We are included in that new creation. Those who have faith in Jesus have nothing to fear, because He has promised we belong to Him and will be with Him in this new creation forever.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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 21:1-4 (ESV)

Martin Luther explains the Second Article of the Creed and what it reveals to us about Jesus in the Small Catechism:

Of Redemption.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

What does this mean?–Answer.

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

October 15, 2018 – Freedom for the Captives, Comfort for the Mourning, and a Crown of Beauty for Ashes- Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 4:16-21

Jesus reading IsaiahThe Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. – Isaiah 61:1-4 (NIV)

 

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

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

Jesus caused a scandal in the synagogue in Nazareth. Imagine the incredulity we would experience if a sibling, a cousin or a classmate became a celebrity. Out in the world celebrity might be one thing, but being at home with people who knew that celebrity as the kid who always ended up pinned down getting wet willys, or was the nerd who got routinely pounded with a dodge ball, it’s a different perspective.  Are the kids from 4th grade who fried ants with a magnifying glass at recess together going to take a classmate seriously as an adult?

Perhaps Jesus was just “one of the boys” when he was growing up. Maybe the Savior of the world was once the class wisenheimer? We really don’t know much about Jesus as a child, other than the incident when He was twelve and was left behind teaching at the temple.

No matter what the people in Nazareth thought about Jesus’ claim to divinity, or what they remembered about Him, Jesus, as unlikely and humble and human as He was, speaks back the Word of God given to Isaiah about Him 700 years earlier. He speaks not just to his relatives and friends he grew up with in Nazareth, but He still speaks to us today.

Jesus proclaims the good news of freedom from bondage to sin, death and the torments of Satan. Jesus comes to us with good news of healing and restoration. He opens our eyes to see Him and his incredible love and compassion for us.

Jesus came to exchange our ashes (perhaps the condition of being dead in trespasses and sins?) and desolation and sorrow for His crown of beauty and joy. “Unholy” becomes “made holy” when Jesus in His grace and mercy, speaks His forgiveness. He brings us poor beggars salvation, peace and joy that we cannot earn or deserve.

This world of not yet, with its paradoxes and contradictions and disappointments is not the end of the story. In our baptism we are forever marked with the Cross. In Jesus’ blood our sins are covered, gone, removed. We share in Jesus’ death, especially as we suffer and are called to sacrifice on this earth, but we also share in Jesus’ resurrection.

He has come to be the death of death, the bringer of healing and of life forever. Jesus is the comfort for all mourning.  He is the beautiful joy beyond our understanding.  He takes away the curse once and for all.  He exchanges all of our ugliness and baggage for freedom, healing and peace, and this all by the gift of faith for those who will believe.

Good news indeed!

September 14, 2018- Just Say the Word-Isaiah 55:6-11, Ephesians 2:10, Job 38

Job Whirlwind 77

“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.

 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11 (ESV)

What beautiful comfort the prophet Isaiah brings us in these words.

God is in control.

We aren’t the ones who orchestrate the seasons. We aren’t the ones who set the universe in motion. God brought about all things ex nihilo (from nothing) simply by speaking the words. God is, was and will be in all places and times- and beyond space and time, forever.  We can’t fully comprehend Him because He is so far beyond us.

God reveals to Isaiah, and through his inspired writing reveals to us as well, that God’s word always accomplishes that which He speaks. We don’t understand the mechanisms.  We might not agree with the timing or in the results, but God has set plans, and His will is going to be accomplished.  Our opinions and inputs are not required. God does work His will through us, as the apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

Redemption and salvation have been accomplished by Jesus for us. We do nothing as we are brought to the font in baptism.  We add nothing to the gift.  We can do nothing but receive and respond.  We can marvel in God’s response in Job 38 when Job asked God why he had to suffer.  Where were we when God created the world and set its systems in motion?  What gives us the right to question God- even though we do?  How can we do anything but trust the Designer that He has goodness and redemption planned for the creation of His design?

Faith is the gift of having confidence that we are forgiven, set free, and made God’s own forever in Christ. Faith prays the prayer of the father of the demon possessed child in Mark 9:14-29“I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Jesus taught us that the name of God is holy. In His name, Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, to look to God for our provision day by day.  Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done.  Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus taught us to pray to be forgiven of our sins and to forgive those who have sinned against us. As we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer we are directed to depend upon our sovereign God, God whose very word made all things come to be- for all things.

We can trust that God will meet our needs. He speaks and creation happens, the seasons, the growth, and the harvest are all under God’s control. We have become his redeemed and beloved children in Christ, and in Christ we will be safe in His care forever.

 

March 27, 2018- The Offspring of Eve, the Offspring of God- Genesis 3:14-15, 22-23, Isaiah 49:5-7

adam and eve

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”- …And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Genesis 3:14-15, 22-23 (NIV)

The entrance of original sin into the world followed creation very closely. It didn’t take long for the human desire to “be as God” to enter into the dynamic of creation. Fallen humanity shares the curse of sin and banishment from the Garden. All of creation groans under the weight of human failing and sin (Romans 8:18-25.) We are no longer perfect and sinless and free from suffering the way that God originally created Adam and Eve. Apart from the grace of God and the gift of Jesus, humanity is still hopeless and fallen. We can’t stop sinning and falling short of God’s expectations for us no matter how hard we try. We are still waiting for the final realization of God’s kingdom.

Even as fallen as we are, we are not without hope. We learn even from the beginning, God made a way for humanity to be saved from our sin and to be brought back to Him. We learn in Genesis 3 in the account of the Fall, that the serpent (or the tempter) will be defeated by an offspring of Eve, Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, an offspring of both God and of Eve. Jesus suffered death, but in doing so He conquered death and He defeated evil.  This week we reflect on Jesus, the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, as he takes the journey to the Cross, to endure the piercing that covers our transgressions, and to endure the punishment that brings us peace. (Isaiah 53:5)

Isaiah the prophet lived about 700 years before Jesus walked on earth as a man. Isaiah was given words of God regarding Jesus so that we would know Him when He appeared.

And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength— he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:5-7 (NIV)

Jesus came to earth in a flesh body as a man, to live like us, to suffer like us, to die for us, so we can be saved from sin. This is the Gospel in a nutshell, but what does that mean for us?

Jesus came to restore, to bring humanity back to God and back to the purpose God created us to fulfill. This restoration and redemption was not just for the people of Israel, but for all the people of the world, and for all creation.

As we contemplate Jesus’ journey to the Cross in the following days, and knowing that we are still living in the paradox of now, but not yet, may we remember that His sacrifice was made for us. Our sin and our human weakness and all of fallen creation hung with Him upon the Cross. He gave His very Body and His very Blood so that we could be part of His abundant, forever life. He endured the punishment that we deserve and that we have earned.  We don’t remember Jesus’ suffering because we need a guilt trip, but so we can live in gratitude and thanks for what only He could do for us.  We honor him by living in response to His gift to us, with open and generous hearts.

 

 

March 22, 2018- Rest for the Weary- Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 23:1-2

weary rest

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries?  Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

In light of current events, much has been said about the role of bullying and violence in schools. Being spit on, having one’s hair (or beard) pulled out, and being beaten on are not pleasant experiences. In the storms of pain and humiliation it is human nature to want to lash out and retaliate rather than to simply endure. Endurance is harder than revenge, even when we know that our rage is pointless and will not make a difference in the amount or the duration of the pain we endure.

If there is one thing common to the human experience it is suffering, whether it comes from our own human failings or it is inflicted by the hands of others. Even if one is not literally being spit on or beaten, the storms of life wear us down. We all get weary.  We all long for rest and resolution.

Jesus knows what it is to share in our suffering. He did not fight back against His tormentors. Instead, He silently endured the punishments that we deserve.  He knows our pain and anguish when we are tormented and weary.  He is with us and He shares in our pain.

The One who vindicates us, who restores us, who brings us rest, has been where we are and worse. Jesus knows the humiliation and violation of being mocked, spit on, of being scourged, and ultimately of being nailed to a tree.

It’s not easy to stand in times of trial. Even so we can have the courage to say along with the Suffering Servant as He stands with us: Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me!

Jesus knows our weariness. He has fought our battles.  He walks with us through the valleys of shadow and leads us to refreshment and rest.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-2 (NRSV)

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

the-nativity-story-08

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?