Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

God’s Word Makes Faith Sprout and Grow

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

This 4th of July, people will celebrate the growth and power of our republic. Yet as believers in Christ, we are part of an eternal kingdom. The kingdom of God started so humbly. It makes unnoticeable progress as it conquers hearts for Christ. Yet if you step back to look at it, you can see its tremendous growth. Those who are part of it will be longing for the final outcome when they are “clothed” with immortal life away from the struggles of the world.

Traditional First Lesson – Ezekiel 17:22-24

What will the Lord do with the “top of the cedar tree”?

God uses the picture of breaking off the top of a cedar tree and planting it to vividly prophesy the miraculous success of his people. They would start off insignificant and small, but this kingdom of God would grow more powerful than any other nation because Jesus will be at its core.

What will the new tree attract?

This kingdom of God would have a worldwide influence. People with every kind of background from all over the world will find safety and shelter in its “branches.” (See the parable of the mustard seed—Matthew 13:31,32.)

Supplemental First Lesson – Jonah 3:1-10

Whom did the Ninevites believe when Jonah told them that their city would be destroyed?

When Jonah preached to them about God’s judgment, the Ninevites believed God. God convinced them, not Jonah.

What happened when God saw the Ninevites’ sorrow over their sin?

When God saw the Ninevites’ sorrow over their sin and how they turned from their wicked ways, he relented from his threat to destroy them. (He had not made an empty threat; God is like a father, who punishes children when he has to, but not because he gets pleasure from it.)

Traditional Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Why does Paul call this life (his body) “a tent”?

Our bodies on this earth are not our permanent dwelling but just temporary (like a tent). We groan with the pains and struggles of our bodies but know that God has given us more—eternal life! The more we understand what is coming up, the more we will long for it. How much is this a part of your daily perspective?

What difference will that make in our lives?

Because we confidently look ahead to the judgment, we make it our goal to please him and do all for the glory of God. Christian living is not a matter of rules and regulations but a joyful response to the gospel as we join in unfolding God’s effect on the world.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Colossians 1:3-8

What was the gospel doing all over the world in Paul’s day?

In Paul’s day, the gospel was growing and bearing fruit all over the world. In other words, more and more people were coming to faith in Christ and growing in faith, hope, and love.

Who came to Paul while he was under arrest (most likely in Rome) to tell him how the gospel was growing in little Colosse?

Epaphras told Paul how the gospel was growing in Colosse. Epaphras—a grateful “slave” of Christ, along with Paul—had started the congregation in Colosse. Later he went to see Paul who was under house arrest. What a report Epaphras could give about God’s grace, despite the doctrinal troubles in Colosse.

Gospel – Mark 4:26-34

How does Jesus help us understand the kingdom of God with the illustration of the growing seed?

The growth of God’s kingdom is God’s work, not ours. God almost invisibly provides progress within us, progress toward bearing fruit for the final harvest. The seemingly powerless seed of the gospel plants God’s ruling activity in resistant, stubborn people. Then faith sprouts. Can you look back and see the progress God has made in your faith life?

What else do we learn about the kingdom of God from the mustard seed?

In a big world, the kingdom of God seems small and insignificant, but it grows to be the largest kingdom of all. The parable of the mustard seed shows the extraordinary power of the word as it brings growth to the church, so people worldwide benefit (“perch in its shade”).

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Third Sunday after Pentecost

Your Dread Enemy

These are the readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Adam and Eve ruined everything for everyone. They destined themselves for death. They took the perfect world that God created for everyone and put it under constant attack from all the demons. But God made a promise almost immediately. God said he would send a descendant of Eve to crush Satan’s power. Jesus, that descendant, demonstrated his authority over Satan even before he rose from the dead.

First Lesson – Genesis 3:8-15

Why were Adam and Eve hiding from God?

Adam and Eve hid from God because his nearness exposed their guilt. Satan had promised Eve that she would be like God; instead, Adam and Eve became fools, thinking they could hide from the One who sees all. And Adam and Eve ran away from their best friend, rather than turning to him and repenting. How tragic when we do the same!

How did Adam and Eve respond to being “found out”?

Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. Adam, in effect, blamed God for the situation he was in that supposedly made him fall (“the woman you put here with me…she gave me…”) Look at your own response to being found out for your sin. Real repentance owns up to the full guilt of your reactions, as well as your previous actions.

How did God respond to Adam and Eve’s deadly fall?

God responded in amazing love by providing a way of escape. He set up the only plan to undo the damage of sin. He promised that a “seed” of the woman (Jesus) would crush Satan’s head, even when his own heel was struck. That promise came true when Jesus died for us and rose again.

Traditional Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 4:13-18

What gave Paul and the apostles boldness to speak?

What you have in your heart and mind will show itself in what you say. Their “spirit of faith” was based on the assurance that since Jesus was raised from the dead, all believers will follow suit.

How did this affect them in their daily pains and troubles?

They didn’t “lose heart” even though their health was deteriorating and circumstances were hitting them hard. They saw those as “momentary” in comparison with what they were going to experience in eternity with Jesus. Instead, those things helped them keep the focus on what is eternal rather than the common short-sightedness connected with the material world.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Revelation 20:1-6

In Revelation 1:18, Jesus said he holds the keys of death and Hades. Who, then, is the angel?

This angel seems to be Jesus himself.

Will Jesus reign on earth for 1,000 years before judgment day?

No, Jesus will not reign visibly on earth for 1000 years before judgment day. He is reigning right now in heaven for 1000 years (a picture of the New Testament era). Those beheaded for their faith reign with him. They are winners, though when they died, they seemed losers to the world.

Gospel – Mark 3:20-35

What accusation did the religious leaders level against Jesus?

The leaders said that Jesus was demon-possessed (possessed by Beelzebub, “Lord of the Flies”). They claimed Jesus must be one of them if he could drive demons out.

How did he counter their argument?

Jesus said Satan could not survive if he worked against himself. “A house divided against itself will not stand.”

Is there any sin for which people will not be forgiven?

Those who turn against the Holy Spirit’s workings in their lives through the gospel and fall away from Christ shut him out. They persistently wall themselves off from the only thing that could save them—God’s forgiveness.

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Second Sunday after Pentecost

Keep the Proper Focus in Serving God

These are the readings for the Second Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Sadly, in Jesus’, day religious Jewish men (Pharisees) managed to turn even God’s day of rest, Saturday, into a “working day.” Today too, made-up rules and distractions keep Christians from their proper focus. God’s main message to us sinners is not about us or rituals to which we must conform, it is about Christ himself. Relying on what Christ did in our place instead of our own good works empowers our service to God.

Traditional First Lesson – Deuteronomy 5:12-15

How were the Old Testament Israelites to treat the Sabbath Day?

They were to drop everything and rest. What a blessing to the workaholic Israelite and his family.

Why?

Here was a break from the busyness of life to focus on the providing and protecting power of God for good in their lives. How beneficial for us to also sit back undistracted from schedule and demands and be rejuvenated in our relationship to our God—keeping things in proper perspective. Jesus calls to all who are weary and heavily burdened so that he can give them rest (Matt 11:28,29). Our worship on specified days gives us an opportunity for that rest that we find in Jesus.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Samuel 21:1-6

What did Ahimelech the priest give David when he and his band of warriors were on the run?

Ahimelech made an exception to the normal way things would have worked. He gave David and his men five loaves of consecrated bread—bread that had been set aside for special use in worshipping the Lord.

Why, probably, did Ahimelech do this?

Ahimelech made an exception because without the bread David and his men might have starved to death. Emergencies may call for special measures.

Traditional Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

What was the central focus of the disciples?

As far as they were concerned, they could become invisible from the attention of others as long as Christ would shine and affect the hearts of others like he had affected their hearts.

How did they view their personal physical welfare?

They were willing to undergo the gamut of sufferings in order to carry the treasure of the gospel to the world. It was that very good news of Jesus that kept them strong through hardships. They realized that their weaknesses displayed the power of Jesus. The “life” they saw at work in others made their efforts worthwhile.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Colossians 2:13-17

Since by his death in our place Jesus erased all the debts we owed God and disarmed all demonic powers and authorities, what should we not let anyone do?

We should not let anyone judge us by what we eat or drink or by when we worship. Saturdays are not better than Sundays. Sundays are not the day God commanded us to set aside for him. Old Testament ceremonial laws no longer bind us.

All of God’s Old Testament laws about Jewish worship, purity, and the like were only shadows of the things that were to come. Where is the reality found?

The reality is found in Christ. For instance—from Moses to Christ, Jewish people had to rest every Saturday. That was a shadow of the real rest for our souls Christ gives us.

Gospel – Mark 2:23-28

What activity of the disciples were the Pharisees condemning?

The Pharisees condemned Jesus’ disciples for grabbing grain and eating it on Saturday, the Sabbath (day of rest). With the picky rules those men had added to the Old Testament, they turned such harvesting-by-hand into a violation of God’s order to rest.

How did Jesus respond to the Pharisees?

Jesus responded with the story of David and Ahimelech, re-explaining what the Sabbath was all about and saying that he himself was Lord of the Sabbath (a shocking statement). With the illustration of David, Jesus showed that human need overrides religious ritualism. The Sabbath law was not made to enslave man but to give rest—physical and spiritual. Jesus’ forgiveness for sinners was the spiritual rest that the Old Testament Sabbath had foreshadowed.

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Holy Trinity

The Holy Triune God Works Together for Us

These are the readings for Holy Trinity.

God’s Word for This Week

On this Sunday, we celebrate the mystery of God being three-in-one, a mystery he reveals both for his glory and on our behalf. Isaiah rightly trembled at God’s holiness. But to Nicodemus, Jesus reveals something even more profound about the Trinity. The Father sent the Son to die in our place; whoever trusts in the Son, by the new birth the Spirit gives, has life with the Trinity forever.

FIRST LESSON – Isaiah 6:1-8

What did Isaiah have the unique privilege of seeing?

Isaiah saw God in his heavenly temple. Magnificent angels were singing the holiness of the Almighty God, in whose presence Isaiah had been brought. (Do you see God’s utter superiority as even holy angels cover their faces and feet before him? And do you hear a hint of God being three-in-one, as the angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy” to the One who rules all the angel armies?)

What was his initial reaction?

Isaiah was petrified in the presence of the holy God. The Lord’s holiness made Isaiah’s sinfulness stand out even more (like dirt on a pure white shirt). Isaiah felt unworthy and feared God would condemn him in court.

How did Isaiah receive a call into prophetic service to God?

God called and purified Isaiah by having an angel touch a coal from the sacrifice altar to Isaiah’s lips. The Lord removed the guilt of Isaiah’s sin by the sacrifice of the holy Messiah whom Isaiah would describe in amazing accuracy.

SECOND LESSON – Romans 8:14-17

What relationship does the Holy Spirit create between God and us?

We used to be God’s enemies, but those whom the Holy Spirit leads to trust in Jesus begin to see another side of God. He is our Father; we are his adopted sons.

What practical changes does the Spirit create in us when he makes us sons of God through faith in Christ?

Because the Father has adopted us, the Spirit shows us that we can come confidently before the holy, mighty God. Not only can we feel fearless, even comfortable (though still reverent) in his presence, but we can see ourselves as people sharing our brother Jesus’ eternal inheritance.

GOSPEL – John 3:1-17

What did Jesus tell Nicodemus was the only way “to see the kingdom of God”?

The only way for Nicodemus to see God’s kingdom was to be born again of water and the Spirit. Evidently, Nicodemus had refused to go down to the Jordan River and be baptized by John. Today too, without rebirth, even smart, religious people who respect Christ do not have God ruling in their sinful hearts. Without rebirth, no one is spiritual.

What is this “new birth” all about?

Just as no one decides to be born the first time, new birth is a gift from God, not a human decision. New birth involves trusting in what God has done to save us by sending his Son to live and die for us. It gives us eternal life.

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Pentecost

God the Spirit Does the Impossible for Us

These are the readings for Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Many problems seem unsolvable, but in Christ, our God is the God of the impossible. The day of Pentecost gave clear evidence of the power of the Spirit of Jesus to change things dramatically. Just as dead bones became living, breathing beings in Ezekiel’s vision, so people dead in sin become spiritually alive through the message the Holy Spirit has orchestrated and communicated through believers.

FIRST LESSON – Ezekiel 37:1-14

What was the condition of the bones, and what in your life do they represent?

The bones were very dry. There was no life at all in them. The people of God felt hopeless. There seemed no chance to be released from captivity to return to their homeland. Sin leaves us dry too (Ephesians 2:1-4). It makes us unable to do anything to return to God and the blessings he intended for us. It makes us feel trapped and hopeless.

What made these dead bones live? What does that mean for you?

The Holy Spirit does the impossible by bringing what was dead to life by God’s Word. He would restore Israel and bring it to its feet to return home. He also creates a new heart and renews a steadfast spirit within us (Psalm 51). What seems impossible becomes real. God promises!

SECOND LESSON – Acts 2:1-21

What was so amazing about these men boldly speaking in tongues?

The men speaking were common men—Galileans who would not have had schooling to speak so many other languages fluently. They were men who had hidden for fear of people connecting them with Christ. Now they were boldly telling that message of the crucified and risen Savior in languages that foreigners could clearly understand.

What was Peter’s explanation of this event?

Peter said the fire, wind, and tongues fulfilled God’s prophecy to send his Spirit in a special way. This outpouring began at Pentecost and continues wherever the gospel is preached. The purpose was to get the news out so that all could call on the name of the Lord and be saved.

GOSPEL – John 14:25-27

Whom was the Father going to send in connection with the name of Jesus?

The Father and Son would send God the Holy Spirit.

On what would the Holy Spirit focus when he came on Pentecost and afterward?

The truths Jesus was sharing with the disciples seemed so confusing at the time. They had so much to learn, so much that differed from what they had imagined. The Holy Spirit would come, Jesus said, to “teach you all things” and “remind you of everything I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit was not coming to draw attention to him but turn our eyes and hearts to Jesus. Like a spotlight operator, he focuses the gospel light on Jesus, so we can clearly see what he has done, understand what he has taught, and grow firm in faith.

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Seventh Sunday of Easter

Our Ascended Lord Watches Over Us

These are the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

Our ascended Lord watches over his Church. He intercedes for us with the Father. He protects us with his power. He guides us with his Holy Word of Truth.

TRADITIONAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 1:15-26

This takes place soon after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost. What did Peter propose to the early believers?

That they choose a replacement for Judas the Betrayer. He suggested that they choose a man who had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry.

The disciples let God choose who would take Judas’ place. Explain.

Even though the disciples “chose” the final two candidates, they did it prayerfully according to the criteria mentioned above. Then they prayed and cast lots. The lot fell to Matthias. This was not luck, but rather God’s decision.

SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 7:54-60

Where/how did Stephen see Jesus? (See Acts 7:55.)

Stephen saw heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Luke does not say that Stephen “died.” What does Luke say?

Luke says that Stephen fell asleep. What comfort for us! In Christ, we have nothing to fear from death. We will rise again with Christ on the Last Day.

TRADITIONAL SECOND LESSON – 1 John 4:13-21

According to verse 15, how can we know that God lives in us?

Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we know and trust that Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior. Therefore, our trust in Jesus is proof that God dwells within us.

What does our love for God lead us to do?

Out of thanks for God’s love, we seek to show love to others.

Verse 18 says that there is no fear in love. So if I am afraid at some point, have I lost my faith?

Our faith, which trusts solely in God’s love, does not fear anything. Faith says boldly with the apostle Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Our trust in God’s love shows no fear. Yet, we are at the same time saints and sinners. Our sinful nature does doubt. Our sinful nature does fear. The life of a Christian is a struggle against that sinful nature. Moments of fear and doubt should not drive us to despair of our salvation but rather to the loving promises of our Savior God, who strengthens our faith and takes away our fears.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – Hebrews 7:11-27

Jesus did not ascend into heaven to retire and rest. What is one vital thing Jesus is doing for us right now?

One vital thing Jesus does for us is to act as our high priest before the Father. He intercedes for us. (See Hebrews 7:25.)

Since Jesus rose from the dead, he lives forever. Since Jesus lives forever, what kind of priesthood does he have? (See Hebrews 7:24.)

Since Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.

Old Testament priests also interceded for God’s people. Why is Jesus’ priesthood better? (And why, therefore, should we never leave Jesus?)

Jesus’ priesthood is better than any Jewish priest of old (and therefore we should never leave Jesus) because he was sacrificed for our sins once for all. He is holy and blameless, exalted above the heavens.

GOSPEL – John 17:11b-19

Jesus prayed these words on the night before he died. It is commonly known as his High Priestly Prayer. For what things did Jesus pray?

Since he was leaving his disciples visibly, Jesus asked the Father to watch over his disciples, unite them, and protect them. He also prayed that the Father would sanctify them.

What did Jesus mean when he said, “Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth”?

When Jesus asked the Father to sanctify his first disciples, he meant to “set them apart” for God and for holiness. God, through his Word and the trust worked by that Word, sets apart believers for himself. In other words, we are in the world, but we are not of it. We are heaven-bound. Jesus prayed that God would continue to keep them from sin, the devil, and the evil of this world through his Holy Word. God continues to set us apart through that same Word of Truth.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Love One Another

These are the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

What one word summarizes all of God’s commands? Love. Luke tells us about a Christian lady full of love for the widows of her city. The apostle John teaches us that love for God and his Word compels us to carefully examine all teachings and churches in the light of Scripture. Jesus himself commands us to love one another as he has loved us.

TRADITIONAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 11:19-26

According to verse 21, what happened to the church despite persecution?

Because of the persecution of the Jews, many Christians were scattered, and the Word of God spread to other regions. In Antioch, many non-Jews heard the gospel and came to believe.

Believers were first called Christians at Antioch. What is the significance of being called Christians?

By bearing the name “Christians,” we give testimony to the fact that we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Savior of the world. We bear the name proudly. We also recognize that the life we live reflects upon him whose name we bear.

SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 9:36-42

Why were the widows of Joppa so upset when Dorcas died?

The widows of Joppa were so upset when Dorcas died because, out of her love, she had sewn clothes for them.

What loving, amazing words did Peter speak when he raised Dorcas from the dead?

Peter said, “Tabitha, get up.” (In Aramaic, this sounded very similar to the time Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, saying, “Talitha [little girl], get up).”

SECOND LESSON – 1 John 4:1-11

Who/what are the “spirits” of which John speaks here?

The spirits about whom John speaks here are those who make spiritual claims.

What are we to do with such spirits?

We are to test such spirits, to see whether they are from God. That is, we are to test teachers and churches against the Bible. If they disagree with Scripture—if they deny that Jesus is the Christ—then they are not from God. Note that we are not to test other people’s hearts (we can’t), or count other followers, or try to gauge their pizzazz. Any of those would be unloving. Rather, we lovingly check out what a spirit, a person making spiritual claims—teaches.

Evaluate the following statement. “If we do not always show true love for others, that means that we are not true believers.”

If we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we will produce fruits of love. Sinners, however, are hardly perfect. The fact that we don’t always show love doesn’t mean that we aren’t believers; it means that our faith needs to grow. We will not use that need as an excuse to not show love, but rather as a reason to grow in our faith through the use of the gospel.

GOSPEL – John 15:9-17

The world often portrays true love as weak and God’s commands as burdensome. According to verse 11, why did Jesus command us to show love?

Jesus commands us to show love that we might have his joy and that our joy may be complete. God does not give us his commandments to make our lives boring or more difficult but rather because he knows that it is for our good. We are happier when we follow his commandments.

What is love?

Love is self-sacrifice in attitude and action. Love is the opposite of selfishness. Love does everything for the other person. Jesus gives us the ultimate example of love in verse 13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

In Christ, We Will Bear Much Fruit

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

Through faith in Christ’s sacrifice for us, we are connected to the risen Savior as a branch is connected to a grapevine. The result of being connected to Jesus is that we will now bear fruit. The fruit of a Christian is a life of love. Out of thanks for God’s love, we now seek to love others in many ways, including telling them the good news of Christ. As believers, we seek to show love not only in what we say but also in what we do.

TRADITIONAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 8:26-40

The only way to truly understand the Old Testament is to know Jesus. Explain.

The Old Testament reveals to us God’s loving promises of a Savior from sin. Those promises find their fulfillment in Jesus. Without Jesus, the Old Testament promises are left unfulfilled, and there is no hope of salvation. Jesus, speaking of the Old Testament, said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).

What fruits of faith did the Ethiopian eunuch show after speaking with Philip?

He asked to be baptized. After being baptized, he went on his way rejoicing in his newfound salvation.

SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 16:11-15

Paul and Silas met a group of women in Philippi. What made Lydia notable?

Lydia was well-to-do. The Lord opened her heart, and she asked to be baptized, along with the rest of her household. She then asked Paul and Silas to stay with her.

No one can decide to ask Jesus into his or her heart. What is the only way someone becomes a believer in the risen Savior today?

When people come to faith today, like Lydia, the gospel must first come to them in some way. Then the Lord must open their hearts to pay attention to it and believe it.

SECOND LESSON – 1 John 3:18-24

What aspect of love does John emphasize in verse 18?

In verse 18, John emphasizes that love is more than words. It is very easy to say, “I love you,” but John encourages us to show that love in everything we do.

At times we can begin to doubt whether we have true faith and are saved. According to verses 18-20, what evidence of faith can put our hearts at ease?

A desire to serve God and show love to others is evidence of the faith that God has given us.

What is the relationship between our faith in Jesus and our love for one another?

Our love for others is a result of faith. Through faith, we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. Out of thanks for God’s great love, our faith now wants to live a life of love and service to others.

GOSPEL – John 15:1-8

By being connected to Christ through faith, we are saved and produce fruit. How do we stay connected to Christ?

If faith is what binds us to Christ, then the means of grace (the gospel in Word and sacraments) are what keep us connected to him. Through the means of grace, we are united with Christ and are able to produce fruit. If we do not make frequent use of the means of grace, we become weak, do not produce much fruit, and are in danger of separating ourselves from Christ.

Evaluate the following statement. “It is important that a Christian produce fruits of love.”

We receive heaven as a gift of God’s grace through faith. Fruits of love are not necessary for salvation. However, that being said, faith will always produce fruit. The stronger the faith, the more fruit it produces. God wants us to produce many fruits of love and commands us to do so. So even though fruits of love are not necessary for salvation, they are still very important and necessary.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Risen Lord Is Our Shepherd

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We are his sheep. Our Good Shepherd loves us so much that he gave his life for us. He knows us all by name. He protects us from our enemies. He gives us courage and strength. He continually brings more sheep into his fold. He promises heaven to all who believe in him. How great is the love that God has lavished upon us!

TRADITIONAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 4:23-33

How did the believers in Jerusalem respond when the Sanhedrin ordered Peter and John to no longer preach in Jesus’ name? (See 4:24.)

They responded by turning to God in prayer. What a great example for us today! When we are faced with difficulties, trials, and setbacks in the Church, let’s always take it to the Lord in prayer.

What did they ask for in verses 29 and 30? How did God respond?

They asked for boldness to preach, along with the special gift of healing and miracles. Luke tells us that they received a special measure of the Holy Spirit and preached boldly. We see in other sections of Acts that some were given the gift of healing and miracles.

Evaluate the following statement: As Christians, we should ask for such things today.

God encourages us to ask him for whatever we desire in our hearts, and he promises to give us whatever is for our good. Therefore, it is good and right that we pray for boldness to preach. Through the power of his gospel, God answers our prayers and gives us strength and courage. Today God does not give all the same gifts that he gave to the early church. Gifts such as healings, tongues, and prophecy were given at that time according to their needs. God could still give such gifts today, but we should never expect them or doubt God if he decides not to give them to us.

SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 20:28-32

How did God acquire the church? (See 20:28.)

God acquired the church by buying her with his own blood.

Who are the “savage wolves” whom Paul mentions? (See 20:29.)

The “wolves” to whom Paul refers to are false teachers, men who distort God’s truth and seek to gain followers. They lure away former believers by those distortions.

What is our true hope and strength against such difficult enemies? (See 20:32.)

Our hope and strength against such enemies is God’s Word itself, the same Word that the false teachers distort. God’s Word builds up believers in faith, and it gives us a place among those who are being set apart to lead holy lives for God.

TRADITIONAL SECOND LESSON – 1 John 3:1,2

What have we become because of God’s love?

Though we were rebellious sinners and slaves to sin, God, in his love, has adopted us as his dear children. Through the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ, we are now heirs of heaven. We are sons and daughters of the King. Through God’s great love, we have become the greatest rags to riches story ever told!

What does John mean when he says, “what we will be has not yet been made known”?

Though we are sons and daughters of the King, in this world, many times what we are is not so obvious. As believers, we may suffer sickness, poverty, and disaster. Only when we get to heaven will the glory that is ours be fully revealed.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – 1 Peter 5:1-4

Instead of calling himself an apostle, or even “the leading apostle,” what did Peter call himself?

Peter called himself a “fellow elder” and a “witness to Christ’s sufferings.”

Why does Peter say that Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, will “appear,” not “arrive” or the like?

Peter says Jesus will “appear” because, though we cannot see him, Jesus has not left us. He is right here with us in his Word and sacraments. On the Last Day, we will finally see him when he makes himself visible.

What will you receive when the Chief Shepherd appears?

When the Chief Shepherd appears, we will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

GOSPEL – John 10:11-18

What, above all, proves that Jesus is our Good Shepherd? (See 10:11.)

Jesus proved that he is our Good Shepherd by willingly giving up his life for us his sheep.

What else does Jesus do for us?

Jesus also protects his sheep. He knows and loves each of his sheep personally. His sheep know and love him. He regularly brings new sheep into his flock, too.

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Third Sunday of Easter

We Are Jesus’ Witnesses

These are the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

Does telling others about Christ intimidate you? Do you fear how people will react? Today we see that Jesus’ death and resurrection give believers confidence. Our sins have been washed clean in his blood. We have forgiveness for any and all sins. Such truths give us the courage to witness boldly to the lost about Christ’s love and the rescue we have in his name.

TRADITIONAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 4:8-12

Peter stands before the Sanhedrin, the religious court of the Jews, to defend his healing of a crippled beggar. What does it mean that the man was healed “by the name of Jesus Christ”?

Peter did not heal the crippled beggar. God healed him. Moreover, to heal by the name of Jesus does not mean that his name is some sort of magical incantation. It just means that Jesus was the one who healed him. Such a miracle shows God’s incredible mercy along with the authority that Peter and John had to be preaching what they were preaching.

Peter here quotes Psalm 118:22. What does it mean that Jesus is the capstone?

The capstone in a building is either the stone that is placed at the top of an arch or the cornerstone that guides the dimensions of the building. The capstone is the most important stone of a building. Without it, a building could not stand or even be built. Jesus, the stone rejected by the Jews, is the one stone that is necessary for our salvation. Without him, there is no salvation. Without him, the Church cannot stand.

SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 12:1-19

Compare 12:5 with 12:15. What is ironic?

In 12:5, the believers pray earnestly that Peter will be released. When he is released, though, they can’t imagine how it could be true.

This story does not prove that a Christian will never suffer unjust imprisonment or death. What does it prove?

This story shows the power of God’s Word; it changed Peter from a man scared of a slave girl, denying his Lord three times, to a man who can sleep peacefully in prison. This story also proves that God answers prayer for the good of the spread of the gospel. It proves that God gives the holy angels great power; we should thank God for his holy angels and ask him to guard our loved ones.

TRADITIONAL SECOND LESSON – 1 John 1:1–2:2

How could John be so sure about what Jesus did for our salvation?

He was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

With what confidence do we confess our sins to God?

The confidence that God will always forgive us because Jesus, with his sacrifice on the cross, washed away all of our sins.

What does the word “atonement” mean?

To atone means to make “at one” with someone. It has the idea of reconciliation. Our sins separate us from God, but Jesus’ sacrifice reconciles us to God and makes us “at one” with the Father.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – 2 Corinthians 2:12–3:6

How does God always lead Paul and those who spread the gospel with him?

God always leads Paul and his companions in triumphal procession in Christ. The picture of “triumph” calls to mind a lavish victory parade through the streets of Rome after a Roman general and his army won a great victory.

What does Paul mean, practically, when he says that to some, we are the aroma of life, and to others, the smell of death?

In Roman triumphs, according to one historian, “garlands of flowers were prepared to decorate every shrine and image. Incense smoked on every altar.” Victorious Roman soldiers enjoyed those sweet smells, but the same sweet odors told Roman captives being dragged through the streets that they were soon to die. In the same way, Jesus’ resurrection attracts believers but repels unbelievers.

What does Paul mean by “the letter” and “the Spirit” in 3:6?

Paul means law and gospel. The letter of the law kills, for we are sinners. But by the gospel, the Spirit gives life.

GOSPEL – Luke 24:36-49

What did the disciples think when Jesus appeared to them?

The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost. Even after Jesus rose, the disciples were slow to catch on. At first, they did not grasp the meaning of what Jesus’ dying and rising meant. Only after a special outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost did they “get it” and receive the strength to be witnesses to the gospel.

We have not seen Jesus with our own eyes. In what way are we also witnesses?

We also are witnesses of the resurrection, even though we have not seen Jesus physically. We have come to know him through his Word. We now have the privilege and responsibility of sharing that precious message with others.

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Second Sunday of Easter

Faith Is Being Certain of What We Do Not See

These are the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

Our faith is based on the firmest possible ground: Jesus, our risen Lord. We cannot see him. We cannot touch him. We have not yet experienced the joy that will be ours forever. We come to know and trust in him as our Savior only through the precious gospel that is revealed to us in the words of Scripture.

TRADITIONAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 3:12-20

Peter here is responding to the crowds after healing a crippled beggar in the temple. According to verse 16, why was the man healed?

The man was healed “by faith in the name of Jesus.” Through faith in Peter’s words and Jesus’ promises, the crippled beggar received salvation and the added blessing of healing.

What does Peter encourage the people to do in verse 19?

Peter is speaking to the Jews who had only a short time before allowed and even asked for the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter tells them that forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ alone. He encourages them to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus their Savior.

SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 26:19-29

Before which two rulers was Paul testifying?

Paul was testifying before Agrippa and Festus.

In what two ways did Paul describe his teaching about the resurrection, after Festus told Paul that he was insane?

Paul said his teaching was “true and reasonable.”

Isn’t the resurrection of all believers unreasonable? Explain.

The resurrection of all believers on the Last Day might seem unreasonable (how can a dead person come back alive, bodily?). Still, if a) God is all-powerful, if b) Jesus rose from the dead, and if c) Jesus promises to raise us too, we would be “insane” not to believe in our bodily resurrection.

TRADITIONAL SECOND LESSON – 1 John 5:1-6

According to verses 2 and 3, now that we believe in Jesus as our Savior, what does that faith lead us to do?

Faith leads us to love God and obey his commandments.

What does Paul mean in verse 6 when he says that Jesus came by water and blood?

Water is a reference to Jesus’ baptism, and blood is a reference to his sacrificial death on the cross. John wrote this letter as a reaction to those who were teaching that Jesus was not true God, but only true man. They were teaching that God somehow descended upon Jesus after his baptism and left him before he died. John tells us that Jesus is God’s eternal Son made man. As true God and true man, Jesus lived, suffered, and died for our sins.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – 1 Corinthians 15:12-22

What were some people in Corinth falsely claiming?

Some in Corinth were falsely claiming that there was no resurrection and there will be none on the Last Day either.

Why was that claim disastrous?

That claim was disastrous because if there is no resurrection, then Christ was not raised from the dead either. And if Christ has not been raised from the dead, a) the apostles’ preaching about Christ was useless, and b) so is our trust in Christ.

GOSPEL – John 20:19-31

Why are Jesus’ words in verse 29 so important for us as Christians today?

Jesus’ words are so important for us because, unlike those first disciples, we did not have the opportunity to see Jesus in the flesh and witness his saving work. Even though we have not seen him, we have God’s promise that we will receive the same blessing of eternal life through trusting in him.

Why did John write the words of his gospel?

John did not record every last detail of Jesus’ life in his gospel. He wrote what he wrote so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. Through faith in Jesus we, as those first disciples, will receive God’s eternal blessings in glory.

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Easter

He Has Risen! Alleluia!

These are the readings for Easter Sunday.

God’s Word for This Week

What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for us? It means that just as he lives, we also will live—bodily, eternally. Through faith in Jesus, we have the victory of death and the devil. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have a place in God’s heavenly banquet where there will be no more sorrow, suffering, or death.

FIRST LESSON – Isaiah 25:6-9

Here Isaiah describes heaven as the “mountain” of the Lord. What will God do for us on that mountain?

God describes the glory and splendor of eternity as a great and luxurious banquet. At God’s holy banquet the “shroud” of mourning and death will be removed. We will be with God in perfection. After judgment day there will be no more sorrow, no more suffering, and no more death for believers.

What will our reaction be to such glory?

Isaiah 25:9 tells us that we will recognize the great things that God has done for us. We will acknowledge that he is the one who saved us. We will rejoice in that salvation and thank God continually. But why wait? Let us today and everyday rejoice and be glad in the God of our salvation.

SECOND LESSON – 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

What does Paul mean when he calls Jesus the “firstfruits”?

Paul calls Jesus the “firstfruits” because for centuries Jews had to offer to God the first fruits of the harvest: the first grain stalks, the first grapes, etc. In the same way, Jesus is the first to be raised (harvested, if you will) from the dead. His bodily resurrection is a sign of things to come. On the Last Day, all will be raised. Those who believe in Jesus will be given glorified bodies and will be with God in glory forever.

What does Paul mean when he says that death came through a man? That the resurrection of death comes also through a man?

Through the sin of one man, Adam, death entered into the world. We who continue to sin as Adam did, deserve God’s eternal punishment in hell. Jesus, God’s Son and also true man, came and suffered the punishment of sin and death. With his resurrection, we have the guarantee that we too will live forever with God in resurrected bodies.

GOSPEL – Mark 16:1-8

What was the concern of the women as they walked to Jesus’ tomb?

The women wanted to anoint Jesus’ body, in line with Jewish tradition, but they wondered how they would remove the large stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb.

Who was the young man dressed in white sitting in the tomb? What did he tell the women?

Matthew tells us that the young man in white was an angel. (See 28:2.) The angel announced to the women that Jesus was not dead but had risen. He commanded them to go and share the good news with Jesus’ disciples. We have received the same command to share the good news of life and salvation with all people. He is risen! Death has been swallowed up in victory!

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Palm Sunday

Jesus Humbly Rides Into Jerusalem to Die

These are the readings for Palm Sunday.

God’s Word for This Week

Our Lord is so different from earthly rulers. On the first Palm Sunday, Jesus was coming to finish history’s most crucial battle, yet he did not enter Jerusalem as a mighty warrior. He had no army. Jesus came on a lowly donkey, with twelve average men following him. Crowds greeted him with words from Psalm 118; words that rang to the heavens then, words still lifted to Jesus today: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

FIRST LESSON – Zechariah 9:9-10

Zechariah writes 520 years before Christ. What is he prophesying about in verse 9?

Jesus coming as a lowly king into Jerusalem. We now know this as Palm Sunday.

Look at 9:10. What amazing gift would this King riding on a donkey bring?

Salvation—eternal life—for all people.

How does Zechariah give us a picture of the salvation our King would bring in verse 10?

What a picture: There would be no more instruments of war. In Zechariah’s day, the instruments of war were chariots, warhorses, and bows. Today we would say that there would be no more guns, missiles, tanks, bombers, or fighters. Instead, there would be peace throughout the earth and the King (Jesus) would rule over all. This picture finds its fulfillment in heaven, and on the new earth, where sin and war will rage no more for God’s people.

SECOND LESSON – Philippians 2:1-10

As followers of Jesus, what kind of attitude are we to have?

We are to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus, who humbled himself in service to his Father and others.

Why is it such a surprising thing that Jesus humbled himself all the way to the most cursed death, that of a cross?

If we had been in a position of authority over all things, we wouldn’t want to give it up to serve others, let alone die under God’s curse on the cross. Jesus left the glory of heaven to live in a world filled with sin, violence, and death. What great love for sinners!

Because Jesus was willing to endure so much for us, what glory did God the Father give him?

The Father gave the Son back the full use of the position the Son had always had from eternity: equality with the Father in every way. Now when we worship Jesus as Lord, God the Father receives the glory he deserves. Let us do this now and forever!

GOSPEL – Mark 11:1-10

If Jesus knows details about the colt, etc., ahead of time, what else must he know in advance?

If Jesus knew about the colt, etc., Jesus must have known all that would happen in his betrayal, suffering, and crucifixion. What love for us and for the Father he had!

What does the word hosanna mean?

Hosanna literally meant, “Please, save.” It was a plea for deliverance. Because we generally only call for rescue to people great enough to help, over the centuries hosanna became a shout of exclamation or praise to someone great.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jesus Is Our High Priest Who Offers Himself

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

Before Jesus was born, believers had to regularly offer up sacrifices for sin. Only the high priest could go before God with the blood and prayers of the people. These sacrifices would go on and on for the entire life of the Old Testament believer as a vivid reminder that God would send a Savior who would be sacrificed on the behalf of all people. Today the Word of God shows that Jesus, our High Priest, would sacrifice himself and bring a new covenant of life that would last forever.

FIRST LESSON – Jeremiah 31:31-34

What is the old covenant that the Lord had made with Israel when he took them out of Egypt?

The old covenant the Lord revealed to the children of Israel in the desert was a covenant that regulated everything the children of Israel did. They had laws of what to eat, how to clean, what to touch and not touch. They had Sabbath laws. God required animal sacrifices for many reasons; some happened daily.

What would be the new covenant that the Lord would make?

The Lord said the new covenant “will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers.” It would not contain any laws, rules, or regulations that must be kept or symbolic repeated sacrifices. Jesus would fulfill all of God’s demands. Jesus would keep all the laws and rules for all people. Jesus’ death would be the only sacrifice that would finally pay for the sins of the whole world. Jesus’ death would open the way to God; the veil in the temple was torn in two. Instead of a covenant of “You must do this and not do that,” Jesus’ new covenant comes through the assurance, “It is finished.” All of Jesus’ work is bestowed to us as the Holy Spirit uses the Word and sacraments to create and sustain faith in our hearts.

SECOND LESSON – Hebrews 5:7-10

How did Jesus show “reverent submission” when he prayed with “loud cries and tears”?

Jesus’ “reverent submission” is seen clearly in the agony of his prayers in Gethsemane the night before his death. There he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Does verse nine mean that only those who perfectly obey Jesus can be saved?

No. The apostle John writes, “We obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 3:22-23). Faith is obedience to God and is worked in the individual by God’s grace through the Word and sacraments.

GOSPEL – John 12:20-33

How would the death of Jesus be judgment for the world?

Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world at the cross. Those who reject this truth will be judged and condemned. Those through faith, who believe Jesus’ sacrifice was good for all eternity, will enjoy heavenly bliss for all eternity.

Who is the prince of the world that would be driven out of his position of power?

Satan is the prince of the world. Jesus defeated him by apparent surrender to death.

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Jesus Must Be Lifted Up On the Cross

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

A drowning man will not complain about the size of the boat that comes to rescue him. Yet today’s first lesson shows us people complaining not long after God had freed them from slavery in Egypt. Note in each lesson how God shows his heart of grace―undeserved love that rescues sinners.

FIRST LESSON – Numbers 21:4-9

Which flaws of human nature led to the painful, in some cases deadly, lesson of venomous snakes?

The snakes came when people got impatient, complained, and were not thankful. They even criticized free daily food. It started with a lack of trust and love for God. (“You brought us… to die in the desert.”)

God could have saved the people without having them look at something. What did he want to teach them (and us) by having them look at the snake on a pole?

By putting the snake on the pole, God said: “trust me.” God found a way to heal their soul and body at the same time. Their main problem was spiritual—lack of trust—and God taught them to trust his promise. Sure enough, anyone was bitten who looked at the bronze snake lived.

Today we don’t look at a snake on a pole to save us. Where does God direct us to look?

God has us look at his Son in baptism’s waters and his body and blood, united with bread and wine in his supper.

SECOND LESSON – Ephesians 2:4-10

Find five different words or phrases in this precious section that highlights God’s goodness.

Five key phrases which emphasize God’s goodness: his great love for us, who is rich in mercy, riches of his grace, his kindness to us, it is the gift of God.

Find four different words or phrases Paul uses to emphasize that no part of the rescue is our doing.

Four key phrases, emphasizing that we cannot save ourselves at all: “We were dead in transgressions,” “not from yourselves,” “not by works,” and “no one can boast.”

If our good works have no part in paying for our eternal life, why do we still do good works? (See 2:10.)

Good works result when people realize the great gift God has given them. A living fruit tree will naturally bear fruit; so also, a person who realizes he has received eternal life at the cost of God’s own precious blood will then respond to that love with love for God and others. The reason God created us was to produce fruits of faith and love.

GOSPEL – John 3:14-21

How is Jesus like the bronze snake of today’s first lesson?

Both the snake and Jesus were lifted up. Both were lifted up so many could look, see the solution promised by God, and be saved. Both required no payment or effort. Instead, both called dying people to look with trust to the only savior for their problem.

What is the criterion for God’s judgment? When does this judgment take place?

Whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish. God’s criterion is that you trust in Jesus. This judgment is already valid, not just a future “will be so,” but already “is condemned.” Believers already cross over from death to life. (See John 5:24.)

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Third Sunday in Lent

Jesus Rescues Us From God’s Law

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

For centuries Christians have spent Lent meditating on Jesus’ suffering and death, which atoned for our guilt. Lent is the “serious season” of the church year in which we put extra emphasis on recognizing and confessing our own sins. Congregations with special mid-week services usually keep a somber, reflective tone. The Sundays in Lent, however, serve as “mini Easters;” their readings and hymns bring comfort to the believers who are reflecting on their sins and Jesus’ passion. The third Sunday in Lent reminds us of God’s perfect law and his demand that we fear and love him. Thankfully, Jesus has fulfilled God’s law in our place.

FIRST LESSON – Exodus 20:1-17

Why does God remind the Israelites that he brought them out of Egypt before giving the Ten Commandments?

The holy God who demands we keep his commandments wants love and trust from his children. His law cannot instill that love and trust. Only his gospel can. By reminding the Israelites of how he rescued them from Egypt, he is putting in the forefront of their minds his love and mercy. That rescue from Egypt reminds us that the same holy God sent Jesus to rescue us from our sin.

Since God already put his commandments on our hearts, why did he etch them on stone (and in the Bible) for us?

Our own sin and the sin around us combine to darken and callous our hearts, so we need God’s law written down―in detail―for us so we know exactly what his will is.

SECOND LESSON – 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

How is ‘Christ crucified’ foolishness to many people?

Later in this letter, Paul explains that people don’t naturally understand or believe in Jesus, but only by the Holy Spirit can people recognize God’s wisdom in sending Jesus. Without the Holy Spirit, the message of Jesus dying on a cross to save us makes no sense. With the Holy Spirit, we see God’s wisdom and love in providing the perfect Savior.

What is the essence of a Christian’s message to the world?

“Christ crucified” is the heart of the gospel. The only way sinners can stand before a holy God is if their sins are removed. The only way sins are removed is by Christ being crucified for us.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – Romans 8:1-10

Were you born neutral toward God and his commands? Or even favorable toward them? (See 8:7.)

No. We were all born hostile to God. We did not submit to God’s law. We could not.

How much does God blame you in his courtroom now? (See 8:1.)

You are completely innocent in God’s courtroom because of Jesus’ blood. There is no condemnation for all who are in Christ Jesus. None.

GOSPEL – John 2:13-22

Why do you think the Jewish leaders allowed the buying and selling of animals in the temple courts?

The Jewish leaders let people buy and sell in the temple courts, presumably, because those who sold animals and changed money made a profit. Nothing should disturb God’s people from hearing God’s Word, though, or coming to God in prayer and praise in thanks for God’s mercies.

How do you know that Jesus was not sinning by angrily overturning the tables and driving out the money changers?

Jesus was not sinning because what was at stake was the glory and honor of God. His temple was to be a place for worship. But isn’t anger always sin? No. God the Father “expresses his wrath every day,” but never sins (Psalm 7:11). Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). He could not.

Why are Jesus’ words in verse 19 significant?

In John 2:19 our Savior predicted his own resurrection from the dead. When he fulfilled his promise, he proved he truly is God and keeps his Word. That truth gives us sinners hope and comfort. Only God can save us; Jesus is God. He has rescued us! (See Romans 4:25.)

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Second Sunday in Lent

Jesus Calls Us To Follow Him

These are the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

To follow Jesus, we must carry our cross. This means our faith will bring us severe burdens and shame. But through Jesus’ cross, we have such good news: Heaven is open! We can rejoice in our sufferings! By losing our lives for Jesus, we will find them!

FIRST LESSON – Genesis 28:10-17

Whom did Jacob see on the stairway? Above it?

God’s holy angels were going up and down the stairway. The Lord God himself was at the top of the stairway.

What promises did Jacob receive, which include you?

Promises: a) God is the God of all believers, both dead (Abraham) and alive (Isaac and Jacob). Even dead believers are alive with God! b) With all people on earth, we are blessed in Jesus with a holy Savior. c) God will keep all his promises to us, for Jesus’ sake.

SECOND LESSON – Romans 5:1-11

What amazing gifts do we receive by trusting that Jesus died for our sins? (See 5:1,2.)

By trusting that Jesus died for our sins, we stand innocent before God in his court. We have peace toward God. We have entrance into God’s grace. We rejoice because we are sure that we will share glory with God forever.

Why do we rejoice in our sufferings? Isn’t that a bizarre way to act? (See 5:3.)

It might surprise the rest of the world but rejoicing in our sufferings fits with faith in God’s promises. We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces proven character, and proven character produces confident hope of eternal life.

In Christ, what three things are no longer true about us? (See 5:6,8,10.)

We were powerless; we were sinners; we were God’s enemies. Relying on Jesus’ blood, we are none of those things anymore in God’s sight. We have God’s strength. We are holy in God’s sight. We are God’s friends.

GOSPEL – Mark 8:31-38

Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? (See 8:31.)

Jesus had to die because he had said so. God the Father told him so. God the Spirit said so in the Old Testament in many places. There was no other way we could have eternal life. “For the joy set before him” Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame (Hebrews 12:2). His joy was seeing us sinners receive the gift of eternal life.

When Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” he didn’t mean Satan had taken total control of him and made Peter helpless. What did Jesus mean?

Jesus meant that for Peter to try to keep Jesus from dying for us was satanic. If Jesus hadn’t died for us, we would all have spent eternity with the devil in hell.

Why is trying to become rich apart from God such a poor choice?

Even if we gain the whole world, it won’t do us any good if we lose our souls and end up in eternal fire, body and soul.

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First Sunday in Lent

Jesus Defeats the Devil

These are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

In Lent, we see Jesus go to the cross to suffer and die for us. Today’s lessons show that when God tests us, and the devil tempts us (every day!), Jesus is our holiness before God. He is also our strength and our example. Jesus says we do not live on bread alone. We live on God’s promises. They come to us in holy baptism, in Holy Communion, and straight from the Bible—the book in which every word is from the mouth of God.

FIRST LESSON – Genesis 22:1-18

Abraham believed God would somehow quickly raise Isaac from the dead. (See Hebrews 11:19.) How did Abraham show this to his servants?

See the end of verse 5. Abraham assured his servants that after he and Isaac worshiped atop Mt. Moriah, they would both come back down the mountain.

Who is the Angel of the Lord?

The Angel of the Lord is God the Son himself. The proof is in verses 12 and 16, where the Angel of the Lord speaks of himself as God. 1 Corinthians 10:4 says that the Angel of the Lord was Christ. This does not mean Jesus is a created angel; “angel” in both Hebrew and Greek means “messenger,” essentially. Even before he became man, the Son of God was the Father’s messenger to us.

By what two unchangeable things, which he said to Abraham, did God encourage us to trust in Jesus?

God both made a promise to Abraham and swore by himself. What could be surer? (See Hebrews 6:18.)

SECOND LESSON – Romans 8:31-39

What do we have to endure, for God’s sake? (See 8:36.)

We get killed all day long, so to speak. We suffer great grief and pain. Paul says this by quoting from Psalm 44:22.

Do we conquer in Christ now, forever, or both? (See 8:37.)

We conquer both now and forever. In all our troubles, we are more than conquerors, not just after all our troubles.

Where is God’s love? (See 8:39.)

God’s love is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Since Jesus lives forever, God’s love for us will never end.

GOSPEL – Mark 1:12-15

Who sent Jesus into the desert to be tempted?

God the Holy Spirit drove Jesus (in overly-literal Greek “threw him out” into the desert). We can take comfort that the devil never tempts us unless God allows it.

Wild animals in stadiums threatened some of Mark’s first readers. What comfort did Jesus’ temptation give them?

When Jesus was tempted in the desert, he too was with the wild animals. He overcame all temptations by the same Word that steadied the hearts of martyrs whom Roman officials fed to lions. No matter how God allows us to be tempted, he will always make a way out for us. (See 1 Corinthians 10:13.)

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Transfiguration

Jesus Reveals His Future Glory

These are the readings for Transfiguration Sunday.

God’s Word for This Week

Scripture only records one time when Jesus showed his divine glory. That was on a hilltop in northern Israel. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John got a firsthand (and terrifying) look at Jesus’ perfect glory. Why did Jesus do this? He did it, among many reasons, to give his disciples a glimpse at what the future holds for all believers. They were about to enter a difficult time as disciples. They would see their Messiah crucified. But future glory would follow, by God’s grace.

FIRST LESSON – 2 Kings 2:1-12a

Why was Elisha upset?

He realized that his master, Elijah, was going to be taken away from him.

What request did Elisha have for Elijah?

Elisha asked Elijah for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. He knew he would need spiritual strength when Elijah was gone. In those days the oldest Jewish son would inherit a double portion of the estate, so Elisha seems to be asking to be Elijah’s heir/successor.

How was Elijah taken away into heaven?

A chariot and horses of fire separated Elijah and Elisha, then Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind.

SECOND LESSON – 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2

To which Old Testament event does Paul refer in this lesson?

When Moses returned from Mt. Sinai, his face shone because he had seen a portion of the Lord’s glory. Moses put a veil over his face because the people couldn’t stand to look at him. Paul says that the stubborn Jews who rejected Jesus as Savior still have a veil over their hearts.

True or false: The old covenant (the law) is more glorious than the new covenant (the gospel).

False. The law brings sin, guilt, and death to sinful people. It is glorious because the law is truth and shows us that God is holy and perfect. But Paul says that the gospel is more glorious because it brings freedom from sin, life, and salvation (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:10,17,18).

As ministers of the glorious gospel, how do we proceed in our mission?

We don’t need to use trickery or sleight of hand. We don’t need to distort the word of God. Instead, we set forth the truth plainly and trust that God works life and salvation through the simple gospel. There’s no need to manipulate the truth to make it more acceptable; glory comes only through the truth of the gospel.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Why don’t all people trust in Jesus’ blood?

All people do not trust in Jesus’ blood because the devil, “the god of this age,” has blinded the minds of unbelievers. Result: They cannot see the light of the good news.

In short, who is Jesus, this man who appears in such glory on the Mount of Transfiguration?

Jesus is the image of God. When we see Jesus, we see exactly what God the Father is like.

If you trust in Jesus―unlike many―why is that? (See 4:6.)

The God who did the miracle of making light at the beginning, just by saying, “Let there be light,” did a similar miracle in you. He made light where there was only darkness. He gave you light to know the glory of God in the face of Christ.

GOSPEL – Mark 9:2-9

Who met Jesus and his disciples when they climbed this high mountain?

Jesus and his three disciples met Moses and Elijah, who were generally considered by the Jews to be the two greatest prophets in the Old Testament.

Why did Peter make the suggestion he did in verse 5?

Peter wanted to build shelters on the mountain for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in order to keep the glory of God all to themselves. Mark the evangelist suggests that Peter was speaking foolishly. Jesus needed to head for Jerusalem, where he would suffer death on a cross to secure eternal glory for his followers. (See 9:9.)

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Revealed by His Tireless Compulsion

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.

God’s Word for This Week

In all three lessons we read today, people are hurting. Jesus reveals himself as God by healing the people of Capernaum. Why doesn’t he take all hurts and troubles away from us now? We do not know, but his Word promises that he has power over sickness and the devil, and his Word gives many examples of God using evil for our good. Jesus himself did not stay in Capernaum to be their miracle man. He traveled throughout Galilee. First, he prayed—perhaps that his popularity would not go to his head and keep him from going to the cross for us.

First Lesson – Job 7:1-7

How was Job feeling about his life?

Job was frustrated with his lot in life. Tired and depressed, Job figured that he would never be happy again. Job had lost his desire to proclaim good news about his Savior God.

Why did Job feel the way he did?

Job had lost his fortune, his children, and his reputation. Then he lost his health, too. His friends figured that he had done something terrible to deserve such treatment from God. Job resented them and their accusations. God seemed distant and unfair. Job’s suffering led him to discouragement and despair.

Job had not lost his faith in God. How can you tell?

Though frustrated, tired, and depressed due to all the calamity touching his life, Job still addressed God in prayer. (See 7:7.)

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

How much was Paul being paid to preach?

Paul was preaching to the Corinthians free of charge, not using his right as a minister of the gospel to be paid for his work among them (cf. 1 Co 9:15). Normally this would bring disappointment, but Paul boasted of the situation. He was motivated to preach by the gospel, not by payment.

What does Paul mean: “I have become all things to all men?” (See 9:22.)

Paul is referring to the servant attitude he had taken toward his listeners. Although as a Christian Paul had been given complete freedom in Christ in matters of conscience, he surrendered his Christian freedom in order “to please everybody in every way” (1 Co 10:33). He did this so that he might have an opportunity to preach the gospel.

What was Paul’s motivation to preach?

Paul was motivated by the freedom that Jesus gives through the gospel of forgiveness. He couldn’t help but proclaim that message of forgiveness to others. He had a tireless compulsion to preach the gospel.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 8:28-30

Earlier Paul has said that we know that the whole world is groaning as in pains of childbirth. What else do we know?

We also know that all things work together for good to those who love God, whom God has called to faith.

God’s purpose is not necessarily to make us happy now. What is his eternal purpose?

God’s purpose now and forever is to conform us to the likeness of his Son. This is why he chose us to be believers before he made the world. (What grace!)

What unbroken chain does Paul want us to picture?

The unbroken chain of God’s grace is that those God predestined in eternity to be his children. He also called to faith in Jesus here in time. Those he called he also declared innocent in his courtroom for Jesus’ sake, and those he justified, he also glorified. We are not on the new earth yet, shining like the sun. But because of God’s grace, it is as good as done. (What amazing grace!)

Gospel – Mark 1:29-39

How did Jesus feel after a long day of ministry?

Jesus was worn out and looking for solitude. People were demanding an audience with him. Sadly, it seems that they were more interested in earthly blessings (miracles of physical healing) rather than the heavenly blessings that Jesus had to offer: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

How did Jesus respond to the demands of the people?

Jesus left and went to other villages, realizing that his primary mission from the Father was to preach the gospel and bring eternal healing to souls. He had a tireless compulsion to preach the gospel.

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Revealed by Setting Captives Free

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

God’s Word for This Week

We call Jesus our Redeemer. The word “redeem” means to buy back from capture and captivity, to pay a ransom. As sinful human beings, we were captive to the law of God because of our sin and the consequences of sin, principally death. But Jesus has set us free from the law, its threats, and its curses, by keeping God’s law for us perfectly. As Christians, we are no longer “under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). But we are not to abuse our Christian freedom. Instead, Jesus has set us free so we will become slaves to righteousness, serving others in love, always thanking our Redeemer.

First Lesson – Deuteronomy 18:15-20

What request did the people of Israel have for the Lord when they had previously assembled at Mt. Horeb (Sinai)?

The Israelites asked that the Lord no longer speak to them with his own voice—in all his majesty. They feared they would die. We sinners cannot deal with holy God in his full glory, as the Lord had told Moses: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

Whom was the Lord going to send?

The Lord was going to send a prophet from among the people of Israel who would speak on God’s behalf. He meant his own Son, our Savior Jesus.

Which is worse, for a preacher to speak a little that God has not commanded, or to speak in the name of other gods?

Preaching a little false doctrine is just as bad as advocating idolatry. God insists on passing along his Word of Truth 100 percent. Only the truth can combat the father of lies. (See today’s Gospel, Mark 1:21-28.)

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

What Corinthian problem does Paul address in this chapter?

Paul addresses the important issue of adiaphora (things neither commanded nor forbidden by God). For instance, in the New Testament era, Christians are given the freedom to eat all things, but some Jewish Christians were still having difficulty understanding that they were free from Old Testament ceremonial laws about meat sacrificed to idols.

Whom does Paul address in this chapter?

Paul addresses those who understand that they are free from the ceremonial laws (the strong Christians).

What command does he give them?

Even though they are free as Christians, Paul encourages the strong Christians to surrender their freedom out of loving concern for their fellow Christians (the weak), so that the weak Christians might not sin against their consciences.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Hebrews 3:1-6

Who was greater, Moses or Jesus? Why?

Jesus was greater than Moses. Moses was a faithful servant over God’s house, but Jesus is God’s Son who is over God’s house. Jesus was faithful even when God told him to die on the cross for us with the world’s guilt on him.

Who or what is God’s house on this earth?

We are God’s house, as long as we hold onto our courage and don’t fall away from Christ when others try to influence us. God’s Spirit lives in all Christians together and individually. We have become God’s holy house by faith.

What will happen if we don’t fix our thoughts on Jesus and don’t hold onto the eternal hope Jesus gives?

If we do not, God will not live in us anymore. We will not live with God forever. We will die apart from him, with the devil.

Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

What struck people, when Jesus taught?

Jesus amazed people because he taught others based on his own authority (verses 22, 27), while the Jewish teachers of the law often based their teachings on quotes from famous rabbis.

How did Jesus demonstrate his authority?

Jesus shows his authority by casting out an evil spirit. (Note how the demon tried to scare/ deceive people by screaming out the truth.) Jesus is God. He has the power, ability, and willingness to set us free from the devil and all harm.

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Revealed by Preaching Repentance

These are the readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany.

God’s Word for This Week

Is God calling you today to sell everything you have, give it away, and move to a foreign country to be a penniless missionary? His Word does not say that. God does call some people to public ministry. He sends some far from home. He gives some of his ministers hard assignments. Note: He calls all believers by our baptisms to be ready to leave anything for him. He left everything for us. He gave his holy life for us.

First Lesson – Jonah 3:1-5,10

What message did Jonah have for Nineveh?

Jonah preached a message of repentance.

What is repentance?

Normally when the Scriptures use the word “repentance,” it not only means that people are sorry for their sins, but that they believe that God forgives them in Jesus. Repentance, then, includes both sorrow over sin and faith that our sins are forgiven. St. Paul explains: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

What fruit of repentance did the people of Nineveh show?

They declared a fast and put on sackcloth.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Kings 19:19-21

Elisha seems to have been from a wealthy family; he plowed with twelve yoke of oxen. Still, what did Elijah call Elisha to do?

Elijah called Elisha to leave behind his family and former duties and to become Elijah’s successor as God’s prophet.

What did Elisha do before leaving his family?

He slaughtered his yoke of oxen and burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat.

What example is God giving you here?

God is giving you an example of full dedication to his call.

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

What does Paul mean, “the time is short?” (See 7:29.)

Jesus will soon be returning on the Last Day.

What Christian attitude should we have as we look toward the Last Day?

We should live with a penitent attitude, expecting that Jesus will return at any moment. Paul warns that we should not become “engrossed” in the things and people of this world.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Acts 13:1-5

Which of the seven men in Antioch is now known as Paul?

Saul is now known as Paul.

How did other believers set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which God the Spirit had called them?

The other believers set apart Barnabas and Saul for public ministry elsewhere as missionaries by fasting, praying, and laying hands on them. (We do similar things today.)

Gospel – Mark 1:14-20

What message did Jesus proclaim?

Jesus preached: “Repent and believe the good news!” Here Jesus uses the “repent” in a more narrow way, referring only to sorrow over sin.

Did Jesus preach his message of repentance by himself?

No. He began to call his disciples to proclaim that message too. What faith they showed by dropping everything and following Jesus!

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Revealed by His Gospel Call

These are the readings for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

God’s Word for This Week

How is Jesus revealed to the sinful people of this world? Not by threats. God is serious about his “Do’s” and “Don’ts,” but he does not force people to be Christians. Instead, Jesus is revealed to blind sinners by the call of the gospel, God’s word of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit shows us our sin, then calls out “Jesus died for you” in God’s Word and sacraments. He changes unbelievers into believers who want to live for God.

First Lesson – 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Who did Samuel think was calling him?

Samuel thought Eli was calling him.

Who was really calling Samuel?

The Lord was calling Samuel.

What model attitude does Samuel display for Christians?

Samuel displays a humble willingness to hear the Word of the Lord. Today, too—only through the gospel does the Holy Spirit awaken and strengthen faith.

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

True or false: Christ has freed us from the law.

True. The law is no longer the determining factor for our conduct as Christians. Christians are motivated by the gospel to love God and love one another.

How were some Corinthians abusing their freedom from the law?

Some Corinthians were abusing their Christian freedom to justify sins of the flesh, including sexual immorality.

Why do Christians honor God with their bodies?

Christians do not belong to themselves; Christ has bought us by shedding his blood, rising again, and calling us to faith in him. We no longer live to please ourselves, but him. Our motivation for living Christian lives comes from the gospel, not the law.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Paul has just warned us about believing the lie that our good works can save us from hell. Now he changes topics. Who gets the credit for saving us?

God gets the credit. God gets all the credit. From the beginning, he chose us to be saved through trusting in Jesus as our Savior. We didn’t decide to become believers. We could not have.

Why did God call us to believe in the truth?

God called us to believe in the truth so that we would share forever in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

True or false? As long as we trust that Jesus died for us, it doesn’t matter if we believe a few lies.

False: Paul urged the Thessalonians to stand firm and hold onto the teachings he had given them face to face and had written to them. We must hold onto all the teachings of the Word of God. We must hold onto what we have learned from the Bible via trustworthy parents, pastors, and teachers. The result? We will get eternal encouragement, good hope, and strength to serve God and our neighbor in whatever callings God has placed us.

Gospel – John 1:43-51

What did Philip do when Jesus commanded: “Follow me?”

Not only did Philip follow Jesus, but he went and told his friend Nathanael also.

How did Nathanael react to Philip’s news?

Nathanael could not believe that the Savior would come from such an insignificant place as Nazareth.

When Nathanael met Jesus, how did he react?

After Nathanael met Jesus, he trusted wholeheartedly that Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One.

What now unites heaven and earth like a stairway?

Something more amazing than the stairway Jacob once saw in a dream (Genesis 28) now unites heaven and earth. Jesus is the mediator between God and all sinners. He opens heaven to all believers. Trust only in him.

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Baptism of Our Lord

Jesus is Revealed as Our Perfect Substitute

These are the readings for the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday.

God’s Word for This Week

“Why did Jesus need to be baptized? I thought baptism was for sinners?” That’s a common question among Christians. It doesn’t make sense that our perfectly sinless Savior would need to be baptized, yet he was. Why? Because Jesus had come to be our perfect substitute, and he is revealed as such in his baptism. God laid on him the sin of the world. (See John 1:29.) Even from birth, he endured the effects of our sin. Jesus wasn’t a sinner himself, but he was carrying our sin, pain, and sorrow. (See Isaiah 53:4.) He needed the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness, just as if he were a sinner himself. Jesus received those promises in baptism, just like we do.

First Lesson – Isaiah 49:1-6

Which person of the Trinity is speaking through the prophet Isaiah in these verses?

Jesus.

True or false: Jesus felt frustration in his job as Savior.

True. The Savior voices his frustration in verse 4. Sometimes he felt like he had “labored to no purpose” and that he had “spent (his) strength in vain and for nothing.” Yet Jesus persevered in his role as our perfect substitute.

What task has been given to Jesus?

Not only to “bring Jacob back to (God) and gather Israel” (i.e., Jewish Christians) but also to be “a light for the Gentiles” (non-Jews) that they might be brought to faith. (See John 10:16.)

Second Lesson – Acts 16:25-34

How does the Holy Spirit work the faith that Paul encouraged the jailer to have in verse 31?

God works faith through the hearing of the gospel promises. (See Romans 10:17.) In this particular instance, those promises were proclaimed in word and in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Who was baptized that evening?

The jailer’s whole household was baptized. We may assume that his household included both adults and children.

Gospel – Mark 1:4-11

What was the purpose of the baptism given by John?

The purpose was the same as the baptism we have today: it’s “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).

If Jesus was sinless, why was he baptized?

Though Jesus did not have any personal sin, in his role as Savior he was carrying the sins of the world. He had come to be our perfect substitute. He very much desired the promises of God that baptism gives sinners.

Which three special people were present at the baptism of Jesus?

The Holy Trinity (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) was present at Jesus’ baptism. In the same way, the Holy Trinity was present at our baptisms, as we are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

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Second Sunday after Christmas

Jesus is Our Peace

These are the readings for the Second Sunday after Christmas.

God’s Word for This Week

“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” we sing at Christmas time. Bethlehem, “the house of bread,” was a little town but an important town too. There, in humility, the Savior of the world was born.

First Lesson – Micah 5:2-5a

Why was Bethlehem seemingly an unlikely place for a king to be born? (See 5:2.)

Bethlehem was an unlikely place for a king to be born because it was a small town.

Even though Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, what was his true origin? (See 5:2.)

His “goings out,” were from ancient times, “from days of eternity,” as the NIV footnote translates. He is the eternal Son of God, who has no beginning.

Besides being ruler and shepherd of God’s people, what else was Jesus predicted to be? (See 5:5.)

Micah predicted that Jesus would be our peace. That is, he would take our place under God’s law, then suffer and die under God’s holy judgment to earn our peace with God.

Second Lesson – Hebrews 2:10-18

List all the names Jesus receives in these nine verses.

The writer to the Hebrews calls him the Author of salvation, our Brother, our Rescuer, our High Priest.

Why did Jesus share in our humanity? (See 2:14.) Couldn’t he have just taken on the appearance of a man, without actually becoming a man?

Jesus shared in our humanity so that by his death he would destroy the one who holds the power of death, that is, the devil. He had to become a man to die in our place. God can’t die unless he is also human.

What kind of high priest for us is Jesus? (See 2:17,18)?

Jesus is a merciful and faithful high priest. He suffered, so he can help us in all our sufferings and temptations.

Gospel – John 7:40–43

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, what two opinions did people have of Jesus? (See 7:40,41.)

Some thought he was the Prophet Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18. Others thought he was the Christ, God’s Anointed. The irony is that Jesus is both.

What confusion about Jesus’ origin caused this conflict? (See 7:41,42.)

People knew Jesus had grown up in Galilee, but Micah had prophesied that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. People in Jerusalem, only a few miles from Bethlehem, did not know Jesus had been born there.

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First Sunday after Christmas

Jesus Comes to Save Us, Even as an Infant

These are the readings for the First Sunday after Christmas.

God’s Word for This Week

Whether or not we had a “good Christmas,” as some may ask us, today we hear the good news of God’s grace over and over.

First Lesson – Isaiah 45:20-25

What key ability does the Lord have that idols do not have? (See 45:20,21.)

The Lord can predict the future and does so with perfect accuracy. Idols and those who follow them have no ability to predict the future.

Why do all the ends of the earth need to turn to the Lord? (See 45:21,22.)

All the ends of the earth need to turn to the Lord because he is the only God. He is the only Savior. He is righteous, so he must punish sinners, but in mercy, the Father has punished his Son in our place.

On the Last Day, how will all believers in the Lord be found? How will we feel? (See 45:25.)

All believers in the Lord will be found righteous and will exult. To be found righteous means that on the Last Day, God will judge us sinners right with him, for Jesus’ sake. This will make us exult. That is, we will be full of joy.

Second Lesson – Colossians 3:12-17

What three key gospel truths motivate our new lives in Christ? (See 3:12.)

a) In Christ, we are God’s chosen people. In eternity, in pure grace, the Father picked us to be his own. b) In Christ, we are holy in God’s sight. Jesus’ holiness is credited to us as if we have had only holy thoughts and actions all our lives. c) In Christ, we are dearly loved.

Where is the only place to find strength for our new life in Christ? (See 3:16.)

The only place to find strength for our new life in Christ is in God’s Word. (Let’s dig into it daily to teach and warn each other! Let’s sing it gladly!)

Gospel – Luke 2:25-40

What did God do for Simeon, compared to what God had promised Simeon? (See 2:25-28.)

God had promised Simeon that he would not die before he saw God’s Anointed Son. But God did better than he promised. He let Simeon hold his Savior!

What did Simeon hint at to Mary? (See 2:35.)

He hinted that Jesus would suffer great pain, and Mary, without Joseph at her side, would see it. A sword would pierce her own soul, too.

For what were Simeon and Anna waiting? (See 2:25,38.) For what are you waiting?

They were waiting for the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Jerusalem—waiting for God to come and comfort his people by paying for their sins. We wait for Jesus to comfort and rescue us by coming again.

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Fourth Sunday in Advent

God Makes the Impossible Happen

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

We have many hopes and dreams in this world. Some even seem to have honorable motives. The Lord, though, steps in and outshines our plans with the miraculous. He sends his Son to earth in a miraculous way to set up an eternal kingdom. Then in an equally wondrous way, he draws us into that kingdom through the gospel and establishes our place in it.

First Lesson – 2 Samuel 7:8-16

What does God promise for David?

David had wanted to build a permanent house (temple) for his God. The Lord told him someone else would build the house of the Lord. Yet God was going to make David’s name great and make the conditions ideal for his people. He accomplished that in Jesus, a “son” of David.

What house would the Lord establish for David?

This prophecy goes far beyond Solomon to the One who would establish an eternal kingdom. Jesus (Luke 1:29-33) would be the cornerstone of a spiritual house―a people in which God dwells with his Spirit―the people of God (Ephesians 2:19-22) who will rule eternally with Christ.

Second Lesson – Romans 16:25-27

How does God establish us in faith?

God uses the simple gospel message, the proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to create faith and obedience in people. Do you keep the connection strong by continual growth in God’s Word?

Who gets the praise for our stability in faith?

Sadly, people often emphasize their wise “choice” to follow Jesus. But that robs the praise from the One to whom all credit is due. The only wise God gets all the glory for setting up our salvation through Jesus and changing hearts to faith through the gospel. That will be the main theme of our singing, forever.

Gospel – Luke 1:26-38

How was it that Mary found favor with God?

Many people focus on Mary’s virtues, but God’s favor starts with his own loving plans and his unmerited choice. His favor focused on this one individual through whom the Holy Spirit would provide this miraculous birth. This happened so God’s favor could, in turn, rest on everyone because of that child.

What simple phrase answered Mary’s puzzled inquiry about having a child while she is still a virgin?

The angel helped her put aside simple, experiential logic and replace it with faith in God’s promise: “For nothing is impossible with God.” How important for us to realize this in the season that challenges the world with things too hard and awesome to explain—the birth of Jesus.

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Third Sunday in Advent

Jesus is the Central Focus of Our Message and the Joy in Our Living

These are the readings for the Third Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

We often become enamored with eloquent and influential speakers who promise wealth and ease. But Malachi said that the true messenger of God would be another Elijah. He would speak God’s Word and prepare people for God’s judgment. He would turn fathers’ hearts to their children and children’s hearts to their fathers. Through the Word comes real change in our faith-born outlook. Through the Word comes humility that longs to serve God.

First Lesson – Isaiah 61:1-3,10,11

On whom is this prophecy mainly focusing?

When Jesus read this passage in the synagogue (Luke 4:21) he announced that it was talking about him. Many missed the good news he was anointed to preach with his life, death, and resurrection. Life is often filled with misery, trouble, and disappointment, but the good news from Jesus as Savior brings comfort and strength.

What are some of the changes that come in a relationship to God through Christ?

Life may be rough and bring people down, but Jesus covers us with gladness and praise, beauty, and splendor. A brand-new spirit invades the negative environment of our sinful hearts and makes it alive!

Who makes all these changes?

The LORD, Jahweh—the God of faithful love—purchased a robe of righteousness for us through the righteous life of Jesus. He wraps that around us and views us as beautiful. This should result in greater praise to God and a new view of the people of God—ones who are forgiven and clothed with Christ.

Supplemental First Lesson – Malachi 4:1-6

In verses 5 and 6, whom does the Lord promise to send?

The Lord promises to send Elijah. Elijah had been a prophet centuries before Malachi, though. Jesus said that John the Baptist was the Elijah whom Malachi had foretold (Matthew 11:14).

If everything will burn and all the arrogant people will be stubble, should we concentrate on money and the things it can buy? Why or why not?

No, we should not concentrate on things that will burn. We should not imitate the godless and their ways. That is senseless. Also, someday we will trample those who may today be trampling us. Instead, we will trust in God’s promises, do good in whatever callings God has placed us, and wait eagerly for the Last Day.

Look at verse 2. What will happen when the Last Day dawns? What will be the end result for us?

When the Last Day dawns, the rays of Jesus’ glory (which Malachi pictures as the “wings” of the rising sun) will heal us in every way. The joy! Judgment day will bring freedom for all believers. We will be so happy that we will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

When the Holy Spirit changes us, what attitudes will emerge?

Attitudes including joy, habitual prayer, unflappable thanks despite obstacles, respect for God and his Word all have a part in our Christian living. In all things, we are to stay away from every brand of evil.

How in the world are we to keep our whole spirit, soul, and body blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus?

We don’t have to do it. God called it; God will do it. If we try to make these changes on our own, we will end up even more frustrated and guilty. These are attitudes that emerge as a fruit of the Spirit as he works in us. “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (5:24).

Gospel – John 1:6-8, 19-28

Who was the focal point of John’s message?

Some might have focused on John as their leader. But John said he wasn’t the “light” but only the messenger to point out the light. Jesus is the Light of the world.

What was John’s attitude toward Christ?

John didn’t want the spotlight on himself but on Christ. His selfless humility is heard as he voiced that he wasn’t even worthy to do slave duty for Christ. Can we have any less an understanding of our relationship to Christ?

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Second Sunday in Advent

God Provides Messengers and Means to Prepare Us For the End

These are the readings for the Second Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

God doesn’t leave us to flounder on our own in this world but prepares us for the final great event—Jesus’ return at the end. He sends his messengers to point out the reality of sin and its consequences, so we don’t drift into complacency. He sends his good news of salvation in Christ and connects us with him in baptism. What a change that should create in our focus for living!

First Lesson – Isaiah 40:1-11

How will the people receive “double” for all their sins?

God was not going to punish them twice as hard as they deserve. Instead, they would receive “double” grace—much more blessing than anyone could expect. This is not something that can be earned, but what we inherit by his free grace—a full forgiveness we don’t deserve.

Who is the “voice of one calling in the desert to prepare a way for the Lord”?

The Lord makes it clear (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, and Luke 3:4) that this is pointing ahead to the person of John the Baptist. He was the voice who preached stern and pointed law to the people to prepare their hearts with repentance. And he was the one who preached the sweet gospel as he pointed out the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is the good news we are also to shout out to people—a word that will outlast worldly “experts.”

Second Lesson – 2 Peter 3:8-14

“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” What does that have to do with this reading?

We are bound to clocks and passing schedules. But God is not restrained by time, which he created for us. He sees and knows all things as if they were “now.” The end of the world may seem like a long way away for scoffers, but God sees it clearly as “today” and patiently opens opportunities all over the world to come to repentance and avoid perishing eternally at that time.

Knowing that the Lord will come suddenly and destroy the earth, what change should be evident in our lives?

It should be evident in our lives that we are looking forward in Christ to the transition into heaven. Every effort should be made to be at peace with God realized by faith in Christ. Every effort should be made to live lives that represent the holiness he has destined us for.

Gospel – Mark 1:1-8

What was the focus of John’s baptisms?

John baptized with a focus on the reality of our sinfulness and the forgiveness God gives us in the Lamb of God—Jesus. This is the same focus you hear from Peter on Pentecost as he sets the pace for our baptisms.

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit?” What was to be different?

Although true baptism always carries the Holy Spirit’s presence, Jesus carries the full authority to send the Spirit in a miraculous way as was first evidenced at Pentecost. It is Christ who gives baptism its power.

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First Sunday in Advent

God’s Faithful Intervention in Our Lives Connects Us to an Eternal Life With Him

These are the readings for the First Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

Advent reminds us: Jesus is coming soon. The world will end soon. If we seriously look at our sins, we have plenty of cause for fear and worry. But our lessons focus on the faithfulness of God, who calls himself our Father and himself takes care of all the details. Instead of feeling down about the end drawing near, by God’s grace, we see the richness we have in Christ and the gifts we have to serve him in these last days.

First Lesson – Isaiah 63:16b-17, 64:1-8

What comfort is there in knowing God as “Father”?

He talks about the tenderness and compassion of God. He is the one who knows us. The saints in glory do not know or influence the affairs of people on earth. Only God, our Father, is our Redeemer to rescue us; the potter who fashions our lives according to his good pleasure. Remember that when you address God as “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer.

Why does he want God to do awesome things?

He knows that the world does not recognize the true God who is behind the scenes. Often God reveals himself in unexpected, miraculous happenings that draw even enemies to acknowledge his name and see that he comes to help those who depend on him.

What makes God’s grace and love even more spectacular when we look at our own lives?

Even the things we think are so good are disgusting and revolting in the sight of God because they still carry the stain of sin. The penitential heart sees that. Our troubled lives evidence it. Yet the God of grace forgives our sins for the sake of Christ. Those who understand this live in the true joy of the Lord.

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 6:1-3, 5-14, 17-22

In Noah’s era, what did believing men, the “sons of God,” foolishly do?

The sons of God married unbelieving women.

Nephilim (perhaps meaning “falling ones”) became heroes in those days. Often sexually immoral and violent people are heroes today. Why is that a problem?

It is a problem when sexually immoral and violent people are heroes because a) they fall away from God and his Word, b) they are eager to fall on other, weaker people, and c) by example, they teach impressionable young people to do the same, as if “might makes right.”

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Upon what is Paul’s thankfulness focused as he writes to the people in Corinth?

Paul focuses his thanks not toward the Corinthians but toward God for the undeserved love he brought them. He knew what they really were like in their selfish, prideful ways. Yet God was glad to call them “saints” and “holy” because of Jesus and equip them with a richness of spiritual gifts and an eager anticipation of the Lord’s return. When you are feeling insignificant or unworthy, think back to God’s faithfulness towards you.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Peter 3:18-22

When and why did Jesus descend into hell?

Jesus descended into hell after he came back alive, Peter says, so we gather he did so early Easter Sunday morning. Jesus went, body and soul, to the only place in the universe where spirits are in prison―hell. He went there to preach to them. We gather he preached to the spirits in hell his victory over death: If he had won, they had lost forever. How Jesus went to hell, we do not know, but since he proved that he had taken all the devil’s might from him, we know that neither hell nor the devil can take us captive or injure us.

What does baptism do for us, just as the flood did for Noah?

The water of the flood drowned everyone else in the world, but it floated the ark, so it saved Noah and his family. In the same way, God’s Word and the water of Baptism save us. They wash away all our sins, so they give us a clean conscience before God. They plug us into the power of Jesus’ resurrection. They comfort us when we suffer for our faith in Jesus.

Gospel – Mark 13:32-37

Who can predict the day when “heaven and earth will pass away”?

God has the specific time set for judgment day. No one can discover the Last Day with his or her logical calculations. Jesus will come at a time we not only do not know but will not expect.

Since we know the end of the world will come out of the blue, unexpectedly, what should our lives be like?

Instead of being caught up in the busyness of our world, we should be watchful and on our guard against falling away. We should be busy with the tasks God has assigned us so we can impact the world with the gospel in whatever time God allows.

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