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.

 

February 20, 2020- Justice, Truth, and Jesus, the Redeemer, Intercessor and Savior- Isaiah 59:14-21, Acts 4:11-12, Isaiah 55:10-11 and Acts 10:39-43

transfiguration

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.

Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment.

So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives.

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. 

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 59:14-21 (ESV)

There is no mortal man who can intercede for the sins of humanity. Since the day of the Fall the whole creation has been crying out for healing and redemption.  The forerunners of Jesus in Scripture- Moses, Boaz, David, Solomon, and so forth, all pointed to Jesus, but they were fallible people who could not save themselves or anyone else from the curse of the Fall.

We deceive ourselves if we think we can save ourselves. As the apostle Paul taught,

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12 (ESV)

Isaiah also tells us of the real Intercessor, Redeemer and Savior- Jesus, the God Man Himself.

Though Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel 700 years before Jesus came to earth as a man, the truth that he spoke to them is full of hope for us even today.

The Holy Spirit that lit upon Jesus at His baptism, the Spirit that came down as tongues of fire on the first believers at Pentecost is alive and among us.  The words of God always fulfill their intent and do what God intends for them to do.

“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 55:10-11 (ESV)

We can have great confidence and comfort knowing that God is faithful and that when He says He has sent a Redeemer, Intercessor and Savior, He has done it.

The Lord Jesus stands as the Cornerstone, the Suffering Servant, Who is coming again to judge the living and the dead as we confess today in the Apostle’s Creed, as the apostle Paul preached:

God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:39-43 (ESV)

 

February 17, 2020- Fasting, Joyful Giving, and Freedom- Isaiah 58:6-14, Matthew 6, Mark 12:41:44

HolyGrail023

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:6-14 (ESV)

Spiritual disciplines such as fasting, whether it be from food or from activities or the use of certain things such as TV or technology can be helpful for us to refocus ourselves on Bible study, prayer and service to others. During the season of Lent, which is beginning soon, some people choose to give up a vice such as smoking or alcohol or chocolate or of buying a $5.00 latte every morning. There is nothing wrong with making such sacrifices in the proper context- if one is stopping smoking and donating their smokes money to the food pantry, or taking the time they normally would have used to watch banal reality TV shows to go pay a visit to the shut-ins at the nursing home, those can be fine spiritual disciplines.

However, God knows the real intent behind our actions, and we being sinners who sin, nothing we do is out of a pure motive. Even our most noble actions are tainted with sin- the idolatry of ourselves, and the love of being recognized for what we do.

Jesus had a lot to say about the Pharisees who did their good deeds out in the open for all to see, and gave out of their abundance, again, for all to see. In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us, But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The monks in the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” didn’t gain anything by chanting in Latin and banging themselves on the head with boards. Their “holiness” that was supposed to be displayed by self-injury didn’t benefit anyone, and if anything, it only made them look silly.

If we decide to engage in a fast from something for a time, or to engage in something charitable that we normally don’t do, it should be meaningful and helpful for our own spiritual growth and for the benefit of others. And if we toot our own horns for all to see how “good” we are, that ego stroking we get from others is a rather shallow reward. It is better to give in secret and in ways not everyone can see, as Jesus teaches. He sees everything, especially the gifts given to others from our poverty, and the kindnesses shown when no one else is watching.

Jesus is not talking as much about the fruits of our actions (although it is true that where there is faith there will also be works, just as where there is light, there is also heat) as He is the condition of our hearts. Apart from Him there is nothing good in us- the self-serving motive takes over and we are all about ourselves.

And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41:44 (ESV)

In Jesus’ eyes the widow who gave all she had, the two coins, was giving in the way that Jesus wants us to give- sacrificially and without counting the cost ahead of time.

This passage from Mark’s gospel has been misused to guilt people into greater financial contributions to the church. Giving to our church is important, but like giving in any other area, our gifts must come as part of a joyful response to the love and care God has given us first.

Jesus has set us free from the penalty our sin deserves. He did not count the cost of our redemption and salvation. Our response is what flows from a grateful and contrite heart. We love because Jesus loved us first.

Jesus gives us the gift of the Sabbath- the gift of His word and how it brings life as He works in and through us. We get to read the Bible. We get to worship. We get to love others as Jesus loves us.

Lord, help us to be honest with You and confess that we are sinners and that we deserve nothing, even though You offer us everything. You gave Your life on the cross so we can have life forever with You. Create in us clean hearts, free to be loved by You and to share that love and share Your gifts freely and joyfully with others. Help us to be kind. Help us to forgive. Help us to be more like You.

January 30, 2020 – God Creates and Chooses as He Pleases- Trust Not in Princes- Isaiah 45:1-13

KING-CYRUS

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed:

“I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me.

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me;

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

“Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it.

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?

I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.

I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 45:1-13 (ESV)

Isaiah spoke of King Cyrus of Persia 150 years before he reigned. Cyrus was not a believer in the God of Israel, yet he was chosen and set aside by God to overthrow Babylon and return Israel to their land.

It seems worthwhile to note that God puts who He wants to put in positions of power, even Persian kings.  Throughout Scripture we see God’s unlikely choices, such as Ruth, the widowed Moabitess who ends up as a foremother of Jesus, David the shepherd boy who became king, and Saul the Pharisee, persecutor of Christians who became the apostle Paul, the greatest Christian apologist and evangelist of all time.

It’s easy for us to question why certain people are in the roles in which they end up.  The past century has seen no shortage of despotic, ruthless and unjust rulers.  We can look around and see the backroom deals and quid pro quo relationships of human governments (on both the conservative and liberal sides) and wonder if God’s hand is in it at all.

Of course God’s hand is in the left-hand or earthly kingdom, though it might not be as easy for us to discern as His sovereignty in the right-hand or heavenly kingdom.  We may see certain rulers and authorities as being despotic or evil (and they may very well be despotic and evil) yet even those rulers rise and fall within God’s limits and control.

If we look at the kings of Israel and Judah, most of the kings were categorized as “bad kings,” who did not uphold God’s laws and standards.  Eventually both Israel and Judah fell to foreign conquerors who enslaved the Israelites.

Yet we see something odd in the Scriptures about human government, whether it is just or unjust.

Jeremiah instructs the Israelites who were taken captive to Babylon:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29:4-14 (ESV)

When Jesus was asked to weigh in on whether or not it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He had a response that the Pharisees didn’t expect:

(The Pharisees ask Jesus:) Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:17-21 (ESV) 

Isaiah’s prophecy of the reign of Cyrus teaches us the importance of the Fourth Commandment.  We may not like the civil authorities, just as teenagers might not like their parents when they set down rules, but we are still bound to obey them.  Our elected leaders and civil authorities may actively oppose our belief systems and morals, but God may still be working in and through them to our benefit, whether we realize it or not. Nothing is outside of God’s control.

Even in a representative republic like the United States in which we have a hand in electing officials and determining public policy, we often disagree with the morality and the effectiveness of our laws and how public resources are used.  We may not agree with paying tax (especially when our taxes subsidize policies or programs we oppose) but we are obligated to the civil authorities to follow the law where it does not actively violate God’s laws.  For example, speeding is not mentioned in the Bible, but engaging in speeding is technically a violation of the Fourth Commandment- because we are violating a law set forth by the civil authorities.  Whether we agree with it or not is not the issue.

This is good news for Christians on both sides of the political fence.  God is in our civil government regardless of how ungodly individual politicians or policies may seem to us. God is still at work even when it seems that the opposition to all that is good and holy is winning.  Neither “side” has a monopoly on right or wrong, as all human beings are fallible sinners.

It is a Christian obligation to participate in government, regardless of whether or not we find politics vexing and repugnant.  We have a responsibility, especially in a representative republic, to try to elect officials who will be good stewards of public resources, who will enact policies for public benefit and safety, and who will strive to uphold our Constitution. This does not mean government will ever be perfect or that we will ever root out all the corruption, vice and graft that comes with temporal power.  It does mean that Christian voices should actively oppose and seek to change governmental policies that destroy life, that steal from working people, that unfairly feed into graft and vice.

Ultimately we have no way of knowing who God will choose to work in and through. We are called to trust Him and to remain faithful to Jesus.  He will work through who He chooses, and the result will ultimately coincide with His will.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:9 (ESV)

 

 

 

January 21, 2020 The Danger of Frenemies, and the Future- Isaiah 39

Hezekiah and Babylonian king

At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.  Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.”  He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”
 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts:  Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”  Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” Isaiah 39 (ESV)

Many of us have people we know as “frenemies-” the coworker who has no problem being cordial on the surface, but who will quietly run people under the bus if it benefits him or her, or the neighbor who is so engaging and polite out in the open, but who won’t hesitate to call the police on your back yard party or bonfire if it disturbs them.

These are people whose alliances aren’t trustworthy.  These are people who will be kind when it serves their purpose, but will also sell people out when it serves their purpose.

In the previous chapter of Isaiah we learned that Hezekiah was desperately ill and thought that he was about to die.  He prayed to God and God gave him an extra fifteen years.  Unfortunately after his miraculous restoration to health, Hezekiah seemed to forget that all of his good things came from God, and he got a little too friendly with his frenemies, the Babylonians.

Sometimes we wonder why governments make unholy alliances with frenemies. Sometimes alliances are made in an effort to keep the peace, such as the failed tactic played by Neville Chamberlain, where he negotiated with the Nazis with the erroneous thinking that appeasing the Nazis would lead to “peace in our time.”

Or is it, as it seems in the example of Hezekiah, that he was making a display of his own strength and hegemony- a sort of bragging, almost.  Instead of keeping his trust in the Lord and his treasures close to his chest, Hezekiah believed that an alliance with Babylon would help keep Judah safe from the Assyrians.  Sadly, Hezekiah’s trust in the leaders of Babylon would eventually lead to the nation being taken over by Babylon.

Showing the wolves the goodies and giving them the keys to the gate is no way to protect the sheep inside.

Hezekiah was glad when Isaiah told him that “there would be peace and security in my days,” but what of the generations to come, the ones who would be carried off to Babylon and made to be eunuchs and slaves of the Babylonians?

We also have to ask the same questions about frenemies in the society we live in today.  The influence of the church in our society is declining.  Do we dialogue with and trust in the ways and tactics of the world, which can be a frenemy, or do we trust God for what we need to reach out to the world?

We can’t be satisfied with “peace and security in my days.”  As good stewards of God’s creation and in service to our neighbors, people for whom Jesus died to save, it is our duty and joy to pass on the faith.  We need to trust God and faithfully teach our children and grandchildren the faith, and to care about the generations to come.

Lord, we pray that we would trust in You alone and not in our wisdom, wealth or anything that isn’t You. Keep us from making unholy alliances that would compromise our witness or our faith in You.  Give us the words and Your wisdom and passion for spreading the Gospel and reaching out to a world that is hungry for You.

 

 

 

 

January 15, 2020 – The Desert Blooms, the Fearful Are Comforted, and the Way of Holiness- Isaiah 35:1-10

desert bloom

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel is found all through out Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments direct us to Jesus and His love for us and His redemptive work for us.

Isaiah brings us beautiful news. Jesus succeeds in turning everything upside down for the people of Israel after many years of occupation, defeat and suffering.  The barren desert comes to life with color and flowers.

Those of us who belong to Christ who are living in fear and darkness can rest. We can put aside our fear.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus champions our cause and protects us- not because we are “good” or “deserve it,” but because we belong to Him.  He has made us His own.

We learn in the Gospels that Jesus did fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of opening the eyes of the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, healing the lame, and giving the mute a voice again.

The most important emphasis of this chapter is that God acts upon His people. We cannot choose God. God chooses for us and draws us to Him:

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

How many times do we do foolish things? In spite of ourselves we are simul Justus et peccator. (saints and sinners at the same time.) We try to do the right things but fail.  We give in to temptation.  We make poor choices. We do things that hurt ourselves and others.  Even so, Jesus walks with us and gives us what we need to keep walking with Him.

Isaiah foresees the same vision for us as the apostle John did- “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)

Faith is a gift of God.  We have every confidence that in all things Jesus is with us and He will not abandon us.

Thank you, Lord for Your gift of faith.  Draw us closer to You.  Comfort us, restore us, equip us to serve you as you keep our way straight on Your highway.  In the holy Name of Jesus we pray.

 

 

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.

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!