December 9, 2019- Advent 9, Luke 9- The Cost of Following Jesus

feeding five thousand

Read Luke 9

As Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, He instructs them:

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. Luke 9:1-6 (ESV)

The idea was that the disciples were to stay where they were welcome and cared for, not to take advantage of their patrons, but to teach and care for those who wanted to hear the Gospel.

At this time Herod, who had recently demanded the head of John the Baptist, was hearing about Jesus.  Was this Elijah? Was it John raised from the dead?  Herod would soon find out more about Jesus.

The disciples came with Jesus to a place called Bethsaida, where thousands of people came to hear Jesus speak and to seek healing.  There was nothing to be had as far as food save for five loaves and two fish.  But Jesus insisted that the disciples feed the multitudes with the loaves and fish rather than sending them home hungry.

And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he (Jesus) looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. Luke 9:16-17 (ESV)

The number twelve here is said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel- that we see the Bread of Life was given for the sake of the twelve tribes.  Whether or not this is true, Jesus shows us in this miracle of provision that He takes a little and as we share it, that little bit is multiplied.

Simon Peter was one of the first people to come to faith in Jesus.  “You are the Christ, the son of God!”

There is a cost to following Jesus. All of the twelve apostles suffered and died horrible deaths – Judas hung himself out of anguish for betraying Jesus to the high priests.  Peter was crucified upside down.  Only John lived to old age, and that was as an exile on the island of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:23-26 (ESV)

Following Jesus is the way of the cross.  As we live our lives submitted to His will, we have the constant conflict between what we want and what God wants.  Yet Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, even if living for Him causes us suffering here and now.

At His transfiguration, the disciples get to see who Jesus really is.  Not Elijah or Moses or John the Baptist reborn, but the Son of God.

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.  And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.  As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36 (ESV)

Following Jesus is something we cannot do without His intervention.  We cannot follow Jesus based on our own decision or power, but only by His grace.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 (ESV)

We pray that by the grace of God in Christ we can follow Him.  We will not always follow Him perfectly.  We sin and stumble often.  Yet as the apostle Paul reminds us, it is not in our works or what we observe or don’t observe, but in Christ we stand.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4 (ESV)

 

December 7, 2019 Advent 7, Luke 7- Faith in Jesus, Healing, Forgiveness and Grace

jesus-mercy-compassion

Read Luke 7.

Jesus came to earth to be the perfect sacrifice, the only one who could take away the penalty for our sins, the only one to justify human beings before God.  Jesus heals the servant of the centurion- not because the centurion was such a good guy but because the centurion (a gentile who would not have had a blood inheritance into the family of Israel) had faith in Him.

And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:6-10 (ESV)

Faith has a source as well as an object- Jesus is both the source of our faith and the object of it.  Jesus raises the widow’s son, not as a witness to believers,  but as testimony to those who do not have faith.  In Jesus’ compassion He raised the young man.  The Lord, the giver of life gave those who were blind to Him the evidence that proves He is Who He says He is.

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”  And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:13-17 (ESV)

At this time both Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist were preaching and discipling people. John’s followers kept questioning John, “Are you the Messiah, or is there someone else?”

So John sent his followers to Jesus to find out if Jesus really was who He claimed to be.

And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:22-23 (ESV)

There were those who questioned John the Baptist as well as those who questioned Jesus.  John was the last prophet, the one who was to make a highway in the wilderness.

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Luke 7:33-35 (ESV)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10, Isaiah 11:12) The Pharisees had put their faith in outward appearances and works of the Law rather than putting all of their faith and trust in the Son of Man.

The “sinful woman” who came to Jesus washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair knew her desperate need for Jesus. She knew that her works condemned her. Our salvation is not in how well we can obey the Law or how good we can make ourselves look.  Our salvation is entirely outside of ourselves.

The Bible speaks of salvation in the passive voice, a work that is done to us, and for us.

Luther teaches in the Small Catechism in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church, He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

Faith is a gift. Jesus gives us the faith to trust in Him and in His sacrificial death on the cross for our salvation.

December 1, 2019 Advent 1- Luke 1: (Formerly) Barren Women, and Two Baby Boys

mary and Elizabeth

Read Luke 1 today.  Remember that you can always come back to a part of the study.  Today’s chapter is rich in fulfilled prophecy. We learn how God works in and through His people, and that His word always does what He says it will.  “Impossible!” for us is possible for God.

Luke begins his Gospel (as well as the book of Acts) with a nod to our friend, Theophilus (literally: God-lover.)  Theophilus may have been a person’s actual name, but it was more likely a way of addressing the reader, as a learned listener who loves God and wishes to learn more about Him.

Luke was by trade a physician, so he was the type of person to notice details and to be logical and thorough.  He was a traveling companion to the apostle Paul. Luke was thought to be a Hellenic Jew, (a person of Greek descent who followed Judaism) writing to a primarily ethnically Jewish audience, so he assumed his readers would be familiar with the Temple laws and the Old Testament.

The scene of Chapter 1 opens on Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was a priest in the temple, and Elizabeth was his barren and long- suffering wife.

Zechariah is met as he serves in the temple by the angel Gabriel, who informs Zechariah that he and Elizabeth (even though she was way past menopause) were going to have a child.  He would be a child who even from before his birth would have to observe the Nazirite vow .  He would not be permitted to use alcohol or to cut his hair, among other restrictions.

 

Zechariah questioned Gabriel (which would seem to be a rational thing to do) and was rewarded with nine months of  being mute for doubting what God had to say.  God was true to His word in spite of Zechariah’s doubts- Elizabeth, the “barren,” did conceive a child.

Then the angel Gabriel pays a visit to Mary, the young girl who God has chosen to be Jesus’ mother.  Mary is another “barren” woman, but barren in the sense that she was a virgin and had never known a man.

In Protestant traditions we sort of shy away from talking about Mary, because we don’t want to put her in the place of God, but as long as we remember that Mary was a human, fallible sinner who, like us, also needed a Savior, there is no reason to hesitate to talk about her and to thank God for her and her role in the story of our salvation.

Mary’s response to Gabriel upon learning that she was to bear a son was similar to Zechariah’s – “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Today we don’t think a whole lot about unwed or teenage pregnancies.  They happen all the time.  But in Mary’s world there was a deep shame brought on the family if a girl was found to be pregnant before her wedding was consummated.  The assumption would be that she was breaking the seventh Commandment and not staying pure until her wedding night.  The penalty for this under the Mosaic Law can be found in Leviticus 20:10 – “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” 

Mary had to be aware of the penalty for adultery. She had to know that in her present state pregnancy would be risky to her person to say the least.  She asked Gabriel about the “how,” which was understandable, but she did not question the “why,” nor did she ask, “Why me?”

Instead she listens to God’s messenger tell her of her formerly barren cousin Elizabeth and how she is already six months along. She believes Gabriel when he says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  When Mary travels to be with her cousin, Elizabeth, even as she knows that her purity could be questioned,  even as she knows she could be condemned as an adulteress and her life could well be in danger, she sings the beautiful faith-filled Magnificat:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts: he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Luke 1:46-55 (ESV)

When Mary returns to her home after visiting with Elizabeth for several months, the time comes for Elizabeth’s child to be born.

Zechariah is finally given the ability to speak after nine long months of muteness. After the relatives wanted to argue about the child’s name, because no one in Zechariah’s family was named John,  Zechariah wrote emphatically on his writing tablet: His name is John!   Then Zechariah could speak again.

What then would this child of Zechariah and Elizabeth be?  He would be John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets- the one Isaiah spoke of (Isaiah 40:3) as the voice in the wilderness, making straight a highway in the wilderness to our God.

Out of barren women God works the impossible. One woman barren from age was enabled by God to conceive a child in the natural way, and another woman barren save for only the supernatural intervention of God, also conceives a son.   These impossible births mark the beginning of the story of salvation. Two baby boys, cousins, were brought in to the world by the providence of God- the voice in the wilderness, followed by Emmanuel, God with us.

 

 

 

March 6, 2019 -Ash Wednesday, Marked With the Cross of Christ, the Promise of Baptism- Mark 1:1-13, Psalm 23:4

ashwednesday

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:1-13 (ESV)

The Gospel of Mark omits the genealogy of Jesus and the Nativity narrative and goes straight to Isaiah’s prophesy of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was considered by scholars to be the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the one who prepared the way of the Lord and baptized his followers for the sake of repentance. Jesus gets baptized by John, was called beloved by God, and then He was plunked into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. There’s a whole lot of action packed into 13 verses, and it’s not even the end of the first chapter of Mark.

Jesus’ baptism is different from our baptism in an important way. He had no sins to be washed away, rather, for Him, in His baptism He took on the sins of humanity and the burden of the human condition. He showed solidarity and unity with those who would become part of His body, the church.

Our baptism serves as a tangible seal and constant assurance that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  As we are tempted by our own flesh, the world and the machinations of Satan, we can have confidence that Jesus not only has been tempted like we are and far worse, but we also know that He is with us no matter what temptation or trial we face.  We will face trials.  Jesus taught us in Matthew 10:24 -“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  The difference is those who trust in Christ have hope. All of humanity is subject to the consequences of sin, suffering and death.  But those things are not the end, and even through all of our suffering and trials we are not alone in them.

The liturgical season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days not counting Sundays. (Sundays are “in Lent” but are not counted as part of Lent.  Sundays in Lent are like mini-Easters spread out through Lent, so that we still get to celebrate and worship the risen Jesus, even in this penitential season.)  Many liturgical churches impose ashes on the foreheads of believers in the sign of the cross.  This symbolism reminds us that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever (the ashes just make it visible for a time) even as we are made of dust and will return to dust.  Mortality is the reality of life on earth, but there is life beyond this life in Christ.

These 40 days of Lent are an opportunity to remember our mortality, to consider that time Jesus spent in the wilderness, and to remember His Passion and His sacrifice to save us from the curse of sin. Jesus has done it all for us.  We can’t earn or deserve our salvation, as it is a gift given by faith alone. There is no circumstance too difficult for Him to resolve, no wound too great for Him to heal, no suffering too great for Him to bear.

Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.- Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

February 5, 2019 Agnus Dei: Behold the Lamb of God! Isaiah 40:1-5, John 1:19-34

agnus dei.jpg

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:1-5 (ESV).

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And this is the testimony of John, (meaning John the Baptist) when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:19-34 (ESV)

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What beautiful solace Isaiah gives us- Comfort, comfort my people! Your iniquity (sin) is pardoned!

Our pardon, our comfort, our peace, came at an unimaginable cost- the suffering and death of Almighty God Himself. The One upon whom the Spirit descended as like a dove, the One with whom God was well pleased, the God-Man, had to be given to die.

The concept of penal substitution – the theological premise that Jesus was given as a sacrifice to save us from our sins- seems foreign and archaic to modern ears.  Yet the sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.  The blood on the door frames on the night of Passover lead to lives being spared because they are covered by the blood of a lamb.  (Exodus 12:1-13)

John the Baptist was the man appointed by God and foretold by the prophet Isaiah to point the way to Jesus- the Agnus Dei- the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  John didn’t come into the world to build himself up or to tell everyone how great he was. His entire life was spent pointing others to Jesus.

Nothing we can do can make us right before a holy God- there is no other path to salvation and life than by faith in Christ, by trusting that we are covered by the blood of His sacrifice.

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Repentance is simply turning away from the things that we know are contrary to God’s will for us.  When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our old nature is drowned in the water.  In baptism we are buried with Christ, and we are made alive in Christ.  This is a daily experience for the Christian, turning from our sins, drowning that old man in the ongoing promise of our baptism, and clinging to our new life in Christ.

The blood of the Lamb covers us and makes us clean. (Revelation 7:9-17)  Jesus had to die and rise again so that we can be alive in Him.

The very son of God died and rose again. For you. For us.

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

December 16, 2018 -John the Baptist, Repentance and O, Come Emmanuel!

john-baptist

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

 

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1-12 (NIV)

Repent. It’s not a word we like to hear.  It means we need to change our outlook, our opinions, our view of others.  It’s a word that says we not only need to identify our sins, but to confess to God and others that we fall short.  We’re not doing things correctly- too much we have done should have been left undone, and so much left undone that we should have done.  The apostle Paul shows us in Romans 7 that as long as we live in the “not yet” world, we will struggle with the dilemma of being both God’s saints and sinners who sin.  We can’t just straighten up and “fly right,” but we trust that Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing for ourselves.

Repentance is more than “I’m sorry I got caught,” or even a mia culpa. It is a deep desire to turn from our sins, a gift of the Holy Spirit that promises that in our baptism our sins are drowned and washed away from us every day.

John the Baptist points out that Abraham’s children are the children of the promise- the children who God has raised up in Christ.  John the Baptist points us to Christ, the one who was far greater than him.

In this season of Advent, we not only celebrate Jesus coming to us as God-with-us, we also look to His return to this earth.  The end of days as we know them and the re-creation of heaven and earth can and will occur at any time, but there is no cause for those who belong to Christ to fear.  Since we who trust Jesus know that we are baptized, named and claimed for Him and that He has won the victory over death, Satan, evil and hell, we look forward to that day.  The day of the Lord is near.  Repent and turn to Him.  He provides us with all we need, now and in the world to come.  O, come, o come, Emmanuel.

January 4, 2018- The Nazirite Vow and Dedication to God- Numbers 6:1-8, Galatians 5:16-25

nazirite

 

The Lord said to Moses,  “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

 “‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

 “‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head.  Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord. Numbers 6:1-8 (NIV)

There are three important people in the Bible who we know observed the Nazirite vow. All three of these people were set aside (consecrated, if you will) before their births.  All three of these men were born to women who had experienced barrenness and the heartbreak and shame of infertility. All three of these men had high profile and game-changing missions for God in their lifetimes.

Samson was the first of these notable men to appear in Scripture (Judges 13:4-5). He became one of the Judges of Israel.  We know Samson primarily from the story of Samson and Delilah, but he was central in defeating the Israelites’ enemy, the Philistines.

Samuel was dedicated to the service of the temple when he was only four years old, and was also set aside as a Nazirite before he was born. (1 Samuel 1:11)  Samuel was the priest who anointed the first and second kings of Israel (Saul and David.)

John the Baptist was also a Nazirite from before his birth. (Luke 1:15) John was the voice in the wilderness paving the way for Jesus. John was also the one who would also baptize Jesus.

While the spiritual discipline of the Nazirite vow could prove to be a process that would draw one closer to God, the important aspect of the vow was obedience.

It is good at times to forgo certain things for a time to dedicate more time and effort to prayer and meditation, much as people in liturgical traditions- including Lutherans- do when we observe the season of Lent. The Nazirite vow was in most cases supposed to be a temporary observance.  These three men were notable exceptions in that they were set up by God for this observance from before their births, and for them the vow was intended to be permanent.

The bad thing about obedience is that human beings are not able to be 100% obedient, nor are we capable of perfectly observing the law.  Jesus came to be the fulfillment of the law for us, so that we are free to live by His grace.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Galatians 5:16-25 (NIV)

The difference between the Old Testament Nazirite vow and the freedom we have in Christ is that instead of rules that say no (such as no alcohol, no shaving, no grape products, no dancing, no short skirts, no, no, no…) we have rules that say YES. In Christ, our rules say YES to joy, to peace, to kindness, to patience, to goodness, and self-control.

Because Jesus came to live with us, we have the freedom to say YES to God-life, abundant and good life. Jesus has set us aside for those good things, both here in the world of not-yet, and in the world to come.