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

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“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.

February 7, 2020- Wisdom, Love and Reflecting Light- Psalm 36

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Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.

He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. Psalm 36 (ESV)

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The moon can only reflect the light of the sun.  It is muted, a satellite, a mirror, rather than the source. All that as we as creatures can do is act as satellites or mirrors to God, our Source of light.

The summary of the Law- the Shema- taught in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” is the primary wisdom lesson taught in Scripture.  The next most important wisdom lesson of Scripture is taught in multiple places- the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom– (Proverbs 9:10) and is one that points us back again to the foundational truth of the Shema. 

We learn the converse of this corollary in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.”

Contrary to popular knowledge, human beings apart from God have nothing but darkness to offer.  Just as the moon cannot reflect light unless the sun shines on it, we cannot reflect light apart from having the light of God shine on us.

Jesus Himself taught that: No one is good but God alone. (Luke 18:19)

We know that the Law is good, but we are powerless in our own strength to obey it.

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

It seems a little odd that this Psalm both affirms the reality that all we can do is to reflect God’s light, and seemingly opposite reality that we take refuge in the shadow of His wings.

Even as God was speaking to Moses, we learn God did not reveal Himself to Moses entirely, but shielded him from the fullness of His glory.  The purity and the intensity of the full on light and power of God would destroy Moses and any other sinful, mortal human.  We cannot stand alone in the presence of God and live.

And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,  and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:17-23 (ESV)

Jesus is our Light and Life, but also our Refuge.  In Jesus, we are shielded from God’s wrath- as our sins have been paid for by Him- even as we reflect His light in the world.

Lord, we thank You both for the light You reflect off of us, and for the safety of Your refuge in Jesus.  Give us the wisdom to “put on our baptism as daily wear” and to trust in you that we are forgiven and that You will give us what we need to stay faithful to you and to serve our neighbors in all we do.

 

January 28, 2020- Justice, God’s Servant, and Bruised Reeds- Isaiah 42:1-4

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Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. Isaiah 42:1-4 (ESV)

Justice should be informed by truth. We all know what it feels like to be the object of injustice– when we are betrayed or blamed for the offenses of others, or we suffer consequences through no fault of our own.

The truth of fallen humanity is that we deserve justice- justice that rightfully means the wrath of God. Whether we like it or not (or agree with it or not) we have all inherited a fallen nature and we are subject to the effects of sin and death.

The Good News is that God has come with justice- justice poured out upon Jesus, the Servant Who is gentle with bruised reeds, Who does not put out an ember struggling to stay lit.

How could it be just for Jesus to take the wrath of God that we deserve?

The truth is that:  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 (ESV)

All of us are heavily burdened- and condemned- by the Law of God.  If we look at the Ten Commandments, we can clearly see that-

We fail to honor God and acknowledge Him above all things. 

We take God’s holy name in vain – and this encompasses far more than oaths and swearing.

We do not honor the Sabbath by willingly and eagerly worshiping God and learning and digesting God’s Word as we should. 

We do not honor our parents or those put in authority over us.

We may not physically kill people, but we murder others through slander and from failing to care for them. 

We have physical lusts that are impure, whether we act upon them or not, that betray chastity and faithfulness to one spouse.

We steal time, treasure and talents from others.

We often speak ill of others and fail to put the best construction on their motives and actions.

We lust after other people’s stuff. 

We envy other people their spouses or employees.

To further implicate us in our guilt, the apostle James teaches us: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. James 2:10 (ESV)

Yet Jesus still has lifted the burden and has taken away the guilt of all our sins. He took on the weight of the curse of ALL of our sins.  The penalty for all of our iniquity is not placed on us, but was placed on Him.

From the mountain of Sinai, Moses was sent down carrying the tablets of the Law that condemns us all.  Thankfully condemnation and wrath are not the end of the story.

At the cross of Calvary, justice has been carried out. Not on all of us bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks who have been broken and condemned by the curse of sin, but solely upon Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.

Lord, we thank You that You are the Suffering Servant, the One Who took the punishment we deserved in our place.  The justice we deserved fell upon Your shoulders.  Forgive us for our many and constant sins, and give us the strength and the fortitude to live in a way that glorifies You.

 

January 2, 2020- Numbering our Days, A Heart of Wisdom- Psalm 90:12, John 1:14-18

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So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (ESV)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:14-18 (ESV)

Every January rolls around and it seems we want to take up New Year’s resolutions.  “This is the year we stick to a budget or to a diet or to an exercise program!”  Until the first of February or so, when we realize that the budget, diet or fitness regimen isn’t happening the way we wanted it to.  Even if we are disciplined enough to do things right most of the time, as we learn in Psalm 90:10- The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Fallible human beings are not the greatest at keeping resolutions.  Life happens.  Discipline and order are good things, but so are forgiveness and flexibility when situations call for those.  We need discernment, the wisdom that can only come from the power of the Holy Spirit, far more than we need one time resolutions that most often fail.

Solomon, the son of David prayed for wisdom- not for riches or conquests or power and land, even though God added those to him. (2 Chronicles 1:7-13)  Yet even a person with the wisdom of Solomon was not able to live according to the Law.  As Solomon got older he got enamored of foreign women and took wives who worshiped idols, and even he was not completely faithful to God.

The apostle John leads us to the answer to the wisdom question: The Word. We do not have wisdom on our own apart from God.  Wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh, bringing the fulfillment of Moses’ law, and providing the grace and truth that we do not have.

Our life on this earth is both joy and sorrow, paved with good decisions and not so good decisions.  We live with one foot in God’s kingdom, but the other foot still mired in this world of “not yet.” We journey through our seventy or eighty years knowing that our time here moves faster than we ever thought it would.

A new year is going to bring us all some blessings, some burdens, some joy, and some heartbreak. But only Jesus Christ brings us the forgiveness of our sins. Only Jesus Christ makes us worthy to be called children of God.  Only Jesus Christ makes the number of our days worthwhile, as well as the innumerable days we will spend with Him in the age to come.

 

 

 

December 13, 2019- Advent 13, Luke 13 – Jesus Heals on the Sabbath (Again) Enter Through the Narrow Door, Lamenting for Jerusalem

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Read Luke 13.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-4 (ESV)

We like to categorize sins. In the earthly kingdom this makes sense, because the gravity of the penalties for our law-breaking is generally set by its impact on other people. No one would think of instituting capital punishment for stealing a stick of gum. God’s opinion about our sin is quite different. As the apostle James teaches us,

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. James 2:8-10 (ESV)

All of us are guilty of original sin and have inherited the sin of the Garden from our first parents, Adam and Eve. Because of the Fall, the world is broken. Bad things happen to everyone as well as good things. The rain falls on good and bad alike. We are not inherently “good” people. We have nothing intrinsically good about us. The only good that we have comes from outside of us, from Christ alone. Every single one of us has earned the penalty of death. Unless Christ returns first, we will all die. We will all suffer, and it doesn’t matter how “good” we have tried to be. None of us have earned or deserve God’s blessings, and none of us will escape worldly pain, loss or tragedy.

Repentance and faith in Christ do not prevent bad things from happening to any of us here on this fallen earth. But He is with us in and through our suffering and trials. He suffered and died to redeem us from our sins so that we will be with Him forever- but in this life here on earth we will bear His cross.

Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree to give an illustration of God’s grace. God gives the water and the sustenance. Yes, God is patient and kind. He gives people opportunities to hear the Gospel and come to faith in Him. Do we respond and bear fruit in keeping with repentance? There will come a time when there will be no more opportunities to seek, ask and knock. Will we be found to be trusting in Christ and forgiven by Him when the door of opportunity is closed?

Jesus has no problem cheesing off the Pharisees and legalists by healing on the Sabbath.

Now he (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. Luke 13:10-17 (ESV)

Jesus did care about the Law, in fact He was the fulfillment of the Law. Somewhere in the letter of the Law (and all the sub-laws and corollaries that got added to it) the heart of the Law, the Shema, got lost. Jesus had the heart for this suffering woman, while the Pharisees and officials were more worried about keeping Sabbath regulations that were man made.

He (Jesus) went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:22-30 (ESV)

The world doesn’t have much use for Jesus and His message of sacrifice and suffering.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)

As the apostle Paul teaches us, the message of Jesus and His cross is folly to those who are perishing. Yet Jesus in His mercy, chooses us to follow Him, naming and claiming us in our baptism- the weak, the weary, we, the motley crew of assorted sinners, invited to His table of grace.

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Luke 13:31-35 (ESV)

Jesus tells the Pharisees that He will rise again on the third day, but they don’t get the reference. On Palm Sunday He will enter in to Jerusalem amidst shouts of “Hosanna!” but by Friday He will be humiliated and put to death amidst cries of “Crucify Him!”

Jesus knows what will happen to Jerusalem in just a few years. He can see the destruction of AD 70 before it happens.

We await Jesus coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and to bring us to His kingdom that has no end.

December 12, 2019- Advent 12, Luke 12- The Fear of the Lord, Heads Up on the Eschaton, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning

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Read Luke 12.

Jesus taught:

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. Luke 12:2-3 (ESV)

This is some scary business.  All of us have plenty of dirty laundry that we would be mortified to have aired in public.  All us have those things in our history that we would rather keep secret.  Jesus knew the Pharisees (like the rest of us) had plenty of dark secrets and dirty laundry they would rather not have exposed.  The error of the Pharisees, which is often our error as well, is that we think we can cover up and gloss over our sins instead of knowing that Jesus will forgive our sins if we humble ourselves and confess them to Him.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:4-7 (ESV)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 15:33, Isaiah 11:2, Isaiah 33:6 and Micah 6:9) as we are taught in many places in Scripture. Jesus takes this truth further when he reminds us that God knows all and God has the authority to both give and take life, and to consign the unrepentant one- the fool who in his heart says there is no God- (Psalm 14:1) to eternal punishment in hell. God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.  There is nothing we can hide from Him.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Luke 12:8-12 (ESV)

Do we fear and love God enough to talk about Jesus even in times and places when it’s highly discouraged or even forbidden outright? Many of us find it hard to muster the courage to testify of Jesus because we fear the reactions that other people may have.  Yet He is the One who holds the power of life and death.

If we reject the work of the Holy Spirit in us we reject Jesus.

Jesus teaches us that He provides for us, so we shouldn’t be obsessed with gathering up stuff for ourselves.  We should seek God and His kingdom, because He is the Source of all things.

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Luke 12:29-31 (ESV)

Where our treasure is, our heart will be there also.  Where are our hearts?

Jesus reminds us that He is going to return.  No one knows when that day or hour will come, but He tells us to be ready for His return.  Many believers don’t like to hear talk about the eschaton (the end of days) but for those who are in Christ, the eschaton is an occasion of great joy- when Jesus returns and remakes the heavens and earth.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 2 Peter 3:6-8 (ESV)

In this Advent season we await the return of the Bridegroom. We are living with one foot on this flawed and broken earth, and another in the heavenly kingdom.  When Jesus returns, He will remake the heavens and earth by fire.  If He were to return tonight, would He find us to be good stewards of what we have been given?

Jesus warns us that He comes to this earth not to bring peace, but to bring division. Families are divided because of faith in Him.  There are households in which one spouse believes and the other does not, or a child of unbelieving parents comes to faith- pitting their love for their family against their faith in Christ.

Jesus closes this chapter admonishing us to settle up with those to whom we owe, before it gets dragged into court and gets dirty.  The overwhelming theme here is, “fear God, repent and be forgiven.”

There is good news in this chapter, even though we have been warned about both hell fire and the eschaton.  The good news is that, by faith, we hear God’s Word and see the severity of our sins.  By faith, we pray for a healthy fear of the Lord.  We confess all of our sins to God and He brings them into the light, and forgives our sins. We repent and confess not simply to avoid hell fire, but in response and thankfulness to God for providing for all our needs, most especially our desperate need for our Savior who died on the cross to save us from all our sins.  For those who are in Christ, the eschaton will be a day of joy, when tears and death and sorrow will all be wiped away forever.

As the old spiritual goes, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.” We await Jesus’ Second Advent with anticipation and joy.

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

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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)