April 9, 2020 – Maundy Thursday- Given and Shed for You, Jesus Prays for Us -Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:39-46

jesus-in-gethsemane-590

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV)

In these words of institution there is some argument among Christians as to what Jesus really meant.  Some Christians (such as Orthodox and Roman Catholic) believe that the water and wine transform themselves into body and blood, that once they are consecrated they are no longer bread and wine even though they look like and taste like bread and wine.  Other Christians look upon Communion as simply a memorial meal in which the language is figurative- it’s just bread and wine or crackers and grape juice, and we do it because Jesus did it.

An alternative view on the Supper is to take Jesus exactly at His word.

This IS My body. This IS My blood of the covenant.

In the Small Catechism we are taught:

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.

In these times it is difficult when we cannot meet together and share the Sacrament. Yet Jesus is giving us a foretaste of the feast to come. By eating the bread that IS at the same time His body, and by drinking the wine that IS at the same time His blood, we are made stronger, we are reinforced as members of one Body.  We are reminded that because Jesus made the sacrifice of His body and His blood, the penalty for our sins is paid.  We are forgiven.

All we can do this Maundy Thursday is remember, even though for now we must forgo the benefit of physically sharing the meal, is that Jesus has still given His body and His blood so that we may have the gift of salvation.

Tonight we also remember after this Last Supper, before Jesus was arrested and taken, before His trial, before the crucifixion, Jesus’ long night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,   and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)

Jesus is actually praying the third and sixth petitions of the Lord’s prayer – the third and most difficult, “thy will be done” for Himself. Even as He prayed, He sweat tears of blood, knowing it was God’s will for Him to drink the most bitter cup of punishment possible, and that the cup would not be taken from Him. For His disciples He prayed that they would not fall into temptation (the sixth petition) because He knew their weakness.

Jesus taught us to pray these petitions because He knows how much we chafe at the reality that we are subject to God’s will.  We don’t like to admit that God is holy and we are not.  We want to believe that we earn our daily bread, when in fact even the ability to earn anything is a gift from God. We are tempted at every turn by our own sinful flesh, by the world and by Satan the accuser as well.

Sometimes the cup of suffering is unavoidable. Sometimes we fall into temptation. Sometimes we forget that we aren’t the ones running the universe. Like the disciples we have to be reminded to wake up and pray that we don’t fall into temptation- that we aren’t tempted to despair, to give up hope, to run from Jesus instead of running to Him.

Today we pray that God’s will be done and that we would not be afraid to cling to Jesus instead of trying to rely on ourselves.

Lord, we thank you for the precious gifts of Your body and blood, given and shed for us to forgive us and to wash us clean of our sins. Deliver us from temptation and grant us the gift of unwavering faith in You.

December 22, 2019- Advent 22, Luke 22- Judas, the Last Supper, Peter Denies Jesus, Jesus is Handed Over to the Council

upper room

Read Luke 22.

Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him. Unfortunately for Judas he had a rather notorious role in the story of Jesus’ suffering and death.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. Luke 22:1-3 (ESV)

The Son of Man, Creator of the Universe, betrayed for a few coins.

The disciples come to the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover:

And He, (Jesus) said to them,I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. Luke 22:15-23 (ESV)

Jesus says this IS my body.  This IS my blood.  A mystery to be sure, but a mystery to be taken at His world.  We may not understand how the elements of bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood, but the word is means is.  Given and shed for us so that we may have life in Him.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24:31 (ESV)

We do not decide who believes, who stands, who falls, or who is accorded what position in God’s kingdom.  God decides.  Satan asked to sift Peter like wheat.  Peter, who denied Jesus 3 times was forgiven and made to stand in witness to Christ.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat,  but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31-34 (ESV)

Peter meant well, but he could not stand in his own power. None of us can stand unless the Lord makes us stand.

And he (Jesus) came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)

Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering would be removed from Him.  We know that it was not.  He had to take the cup of suffering and drink it to the dregs- He was arrested, stripped of His clothes, humiliated, spit on and hung on a Roman cross.  He could have said no to the way of the cross at any time.

Yet Jesus chose to come into this world for the very purpose of taking the cup of God’s wrath and allowing it to be poured out on Him instead of on us, as our transgressions deserve.

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer.But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” Luke 22:66-71 (ESV)

Lord, forgive us when we forget that it is only by Your overwhelming love for us and Your grace that we can stand and believe in You.  You came to redeem us and save us from our sins.  You bind our wounds.  You forgive us. You feed us with your Own Body and Blood.  Thank you, Jesus.  Stay with us and keep us in these evil days, until Your return.

December 17, 2019-Advent 17, Luke 17- Temptation, Forgiveness, Unworthy Servants, and the Kingdom Will Come

Read Luke 17

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:1-4 (ESV)

Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us. The human heart seeks retribution and vengeance. But Jesus says to us, forgive. Forgive others the way that He forgives us- over and over and over again.

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10 (ESV)

None of us no matter how we might try, can serve God fully and completely. But we can only serve God as He equips us to do. We are not justified by what we do, rather, God enables us to do the good works that He has planned for us.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:15-19 (ESV)

God provides for all – rain, sun, harvest, livelihood, healing- but not everyone sticks around to thank Him for it. In the story of the Ten Lepers, only the Samaritan- the outcast, the one outside of the family of God- sticks around long enough to thank Jesus for his healing.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:26 -37 (ESV)

In this season of Advent we prepare for the Incarnation of Jesus- Emmanuel, God with us. We also look forward to Him coming to earth again in glory to judge the living from the dead.

There are many systems of eschatology (the study of the end times.) The understanding of the eschaton (the end of days) that is most congruent with what Jesus and the apostles teach in the Bible is called amillennialism. We take Jesus at His word. He is coming back, and He will remake both heaven and earth. Sin, death and Satan will be no more.

We don’t know when Jesus will return, but for those who are His, it will be a day of great joy.

Lord, prepare us for your return. Create in us clean hearts that are bound firmly in faith in You. Forgive us for our many sins and remind us of our baptisms, where we became Your children, marked with the cross of Christ forever. Keep us faithful to You now and forever.

March 13, 2018 Falling and Standing…and Snakes- Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:13-15, 1 Corinthians 10:6-13

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They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV)

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:13-15 (NIV)

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:6-13 (NIV)

Temptation and snakes are themes that run throughout the Bible. The serpent tempted Eve, and we know how that story goes.  Humankind has a sort of uneasy relationship with the reptilian world, but a sort of love-hate relationship with temptation.  We know we shouldn’t give in to certain things…but we do, whether it is something as trivial as scarfing down that hot fudge sundae we know we really don’t need, or constantly whining and complaining and being surly and unkind, or even something devastating  such as succumbing to desire for someone other than our spouse, or murdering someone. Even worse, we don’t actually have to do the deed to sin. We just have to want to do it in our minds and hearts, and that is sin. God sees our hearts and knows our motives no matter what our outward behavior might suggest.  All of us are guilty and law-breakers according to God’s Law.

Temptation is everywhere and no one is immune. All sins are disobedience to God. The only differences are that some sins are more tempting than others, and some sins have deeper temporal consequences depending on the damage that gets done to others and in the greater society.  What may be a temptation for one person is not a temptation at all for someone else, but we are all tempted and vulnerable to various and sundry forms of sin.  The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) are an excellent place for us to start to examine our hearts and see our sins revealed to us and put out in the open.

Temptation and sin are written into the human condition, snakes or no snakes. The apostle Paul makes it clear that we cannot live according to God’s will in our own power.  If we think we can live perfectly, upholding all Ten Commandments, all the time, we will fall flat on our faces.  We do fall flat on our faces, all the time.

We can only be made whole and healed of our sinful nature by looking to Jesus and confessing our sins. As the Israelites were bitten by the snakes- the bites that maimed and killed them were the consequences of their sins- God tells Moses to set up a bronze serpent.  Symbolically he is hanging up what has been made sin for them- so they may see their sins and have faith in God to look up, to confess their sins, and be healed of them. It was a free gift of mercy, a vision of Jesus.  It was God making a way for His people to be forgiven and healed of sin by faith even though they had earned the consequence of death by sinning against Him.

Jesus has been lifted up upon the Cross for us to look up to Him, to ask His forgiveness and be healed, to be forgiven, and to be made new. We look up knowing that He is our source of life.

Do we believe that Jesus has taken on our sins, no matter how bad we might think they are?

Do we believe He gives us what we need to resist temptation and live in a way that honors Him?

Do we trust that He purifies our hearts and motives and that He will make us more like Him?

Do we believe that on Calvary He became our sin, and in doing so, He put sin and death to death forever?

We can only stand and be justified (made good) before God because of Jesus. We can’t make ourselves good no matter how hard we try. Apart from Him we fall. The good news is that no matter how many times we fall, or how many times we overestimate our own abilities, because of Jesus we stand.  Because He was lifted up, because He put our sin to death, we stand in Him.

September 29, 2017- Keep Us Out of Trouble, and Rescue Us From Evil- Matthew 6:13, Romans 8:37-39

temptation of Christ

And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 (CEB)

The sixth and seventh petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are related. While Christianity is not a dualistic religion – we do not believe that the world, evil and Satan are equal to God- we do know that we are subject to the influence of sin and death while we live on this earth.

Whether you believe that Satan is a personal adversary or that he is more correctly viewed as a metaphor for the spirit of evil, the fact is that evil is real. Evil is too alive and well in this world and often we don’t have a good explanation for why evil continues to exist.  We don’t have the answer to why God allows evil to exist in this world.   We can only have faith that:

..in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV)

We do know that we fall into temptation easily enough though. We are constantly subject to temptations of the flesh, temptations of the world, and temptations of Satan and evil.

For in the flesh we dwell and carry the old Adam about our neck, who exerts himself and incites us daily to inchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, avarice and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him, and, in short, to all manner of evil lusts which cleave to us by nature, and to which we are incited by the society, example and what we hear and see of other people, which often wound and inflame even an innocent heart…

Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed, and impels us to anger and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, raillery, slander, pride and haughtiness, with superfluous finery, honor, fame, and power, where no one is willing to be the least, but everyone desires to sit at the head and to be seen before all…

Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God to tear us away from faith, hope, and love and bring us into wrong belief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil. – from the explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

Nobody needs any help finding temptation. From the smallest temptations- from wanting to snarf down that nice little bit of ice cream or chocolate we know we don’t need, or being enticed to something as devastating as stealing or engaging in infidelity, we need the Lord’s help to resist and avoid such things.

We need to ask for God’s protection from Satan and evil as well. Although Satan and evil can devastate us here on earth, they hold no power against God and His kingdom.

In the Greek text this petition reads thus: Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Malicious One; and it looks as if He were speaking of the devil, as though He would comprehend everything in one so that the entire substance of all our prayer is directed against our chief enemy. For it is he who hinders among us everything that we pray for: the name or honor of God, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a cheerful good conscience, etc.

Therefore we finally sum it all up and say: Dear Father pray, help that we be rid of all these calamities. But there is nevertheless also included whatever evil may happen to us under the devil’s kingdom — poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on the earth. For since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer, he constantly seeks our life, and wreaks his anger whenever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Hence it comes that he often breaks men’s necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and incites many to commit suicide, and to many other terrible calamities. Therefore there is nothing for us to do upon earth but to pray against this arch enemy without ceasing. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from him even for an hour.- from the explanation of the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

When we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer it is good to remember these key points:

  1. God’s Name is holy. It is given to us to address God.
  2. God’s Kingdom is here, and it also on its way to being fulfilled on earth.
  3. God’s will is going to be done, so Lord, help us get on board with it.
  4. God provides for us DAILY, our food, and our needs. We need Him every day.
  5. Forgive others as God forgives us, it brings healing for our souls.
  6. Keep us from temptation because it’s all around us and we want to stay clear of it.
  7. Keep us from the influence of Satan and evil.

Have we thanked God for providing for us in every way today?

September 19, 2017- The Holy Name of God- Exodus 3:4-6, Exodus 20:7, Matthew 15:16, Matthew 23:27, Psalm 51:10-12

moses burning bush

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he (Moses) said, “Here I am.”  Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:4-6 (NRSV)

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 (NRSV)

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 15:16 (NRSV)

God is holy. We are given the privilege of calling on His Name for prayer and praise and worship, because His Name is a holy name. Are we rightly offended when we catch others (and even ourselves?) in a fit of anger or frustration using God’s name to swear?

It’s important for us as Jesus followers to understand and submit to the sovereignty of God, even as we know that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. We need to be reminded of the humanity of Jesus and the humanity of the apostles and others in the early church, because we need to know that they were human like we are, with the same frailties.  They had the same temptations that we have.  But even as we realize that Jesus hurt and loved, and cried and laughed just as we do, because He is fully human, unlike Jesus, we are not divine.

Who do we say Jesus is? Not just by our words or our church attendance or our financial giving, but by the thoughts of our hearts and by our actions? The heart of the Second Commandment is, “OK, we know who God is, and we know that He is holy.” Since we claim to follow Him, do our lives reflect His holiness– do we shine the Light of Christ? That doesn’t mean false piety, or prudery, or a perceived moral superiority masquerading as righteousness, but a real and true love and reverence of God.

(Jesus said): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. Matthew 23:27 (NRSV)

The scribes and Pharisees knew the Jewish Law in and out- the letter of the Law.  But they missed the heart of the Law.  On the outside it looked like they honored the Name of God, but their motives and actions proved differently.  Each of is a hypocrite in his or her own way, because we are sinners, but in Christ we have the opportunity to confess our sins to Him and call upon the Holy Spirit to put a clean heart in us, and to give us the right motives. (Psalm 51:10-12)

How many atrocities and persecutions have people tried to perpetrate while hiding behind the Name of God? How does God feel about that?

What does it mean to honor the Name of God?