Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Often a Rejected Savior

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

God’s Word for This Week

Was Jesus’ earthly ministry a huge numerical success? Hardly. After his ascension, 120 believers gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15). He was not the type of Savior many expected. He was not flashy enough. He did not offer instant gratification. He said his followers would suffer. As a result, people in Jesus’ time and today often refuse to follow him.

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 1:4-10

When Jeremiah was called to be God’s prophet, how did he react?

He was not interested in serving God this way. He argued that he was too young and not able to speak.

How long had God planned to use Jeremiah as his representative?

The Lord had planned to use Jeremiah as his specially appointed prophet even before he was born.

What promise did the Lord give to this young man?

Though Jeremiah would face much rejection as a prophet of the Lord, the Lord promised him that he had nothing to fear. He would give him the words to speak, “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Kings 17:7-16

Where was Elijah to go?

God told Elijah to go at once to Zarephath of Sidon (well north of Israel). Evidently, his prior pronouncement of no rain made it necessary for him to leave Israel. Authorities would likely have wanted to retaliate against Elijah. Starving people would likely have hounded him for relief.

What did the widow tell Elijah when he asked her for a piece of bread?

The widow told Elijah she had only enough flour and bread to make a meal for herself and her son. Then they would die.

What happened when Elijah told the widow not to be afraid, but to make bread first for him, then for herself and her son?

The widow kept having more and more oil and flour. We stagger at the miracle, but Alfred Edersheim wisely points out: “It is difficult to know which most to wonder at: Elijah’s calmness, consistency, and readiness of faith, or the widow’s almost incredible simplicity of trustfulness.”

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13

What gifts did the Corinthians most desire?

The Corinthians wanted to have those gifts that would most readily put them in the spotlight. They wanted to be prophets, apostles, and teachers. They wanted to perform miracles and speak in other languages.

According to Paul, what is the greatest Christian gift?

Paul argues that the greatest Christian gift is love. It is the gift that we should most desire.

Why does love rate as the greatest gift?

Love is the greatest Christian gift because love is what makes all other gifts valuable. If we have many gifts but do not use them lovingly in service to others, they will be of no benefit to others and will not bring glory to God. Eventually, these gifts will be taken from us and given to someone who will use them wisely. (See Matthew 25:28-30.)

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 10:18–11:6

Did first-century Jews commonly disbelieve the gospel of Christ because God did not want to save them?

No, God very much wanted to save Jewish people, both in Isaiah’s day (about 700 B.C.) and Paul’s day. All-day long, God held out his hands to them. (Picture it. Imagine the physical weariness/agony.) But they stubbornly refused.

Did God reject his people completely? (See 11:1.)

No, God did not reject his people. Paul was as Jewish as could be. God had chosen to save Paul.

As in Elijah’s day, in what manner did God choose to save anyone? (See 11:5-6.)

God chose ahead of time to save sinners by grace alone. No human merit could figure in, or grace is no longer grace.

Gospel – Luke 4:20-32

When Jesus claimed that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, what question did the people raise?

The people of Nazareth asked themselves, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They had seen Jesus grow up among them. They had a hard time seeing him as the promised Messiah.

What did Jesus say that aroused the people’s anger?

Jesus said that “no prophet is accepted in his home town.” He alluded to the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who helped Gentile foreigners because God’s Old Testament people were, for the most part, unwilling to listen to the prophets’ message. Jesus would have much the same experience. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10). Jesus was usually rejected as Savior.

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Our Long-Foretold Savior

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

God’s Word for This Week

Jesus “going public” should not have surprised his Jewish countrymen. They had known of the coming Messiah for a long time, dating back to the promise given Abraham (Genesis 12:3), even to Eden (Genesis 3:15). Yet, when Jesus finally arrived, “his own did not receive him” (John 1:10). He was not the kind of Savior that many were looking for. That too was foretold: “He was despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3).

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 61:1-6

Who is speaking in these verses?

Jesus is speaking through the prophet Isaiah.

What would the Savior come to do according to Isaiah?

Jesus would come to proclaim the good news of salvation, particularly to the spiritually downtrodden of this world. (See Matthew 9:13; Luke19:10.)

What promise does the Lord make to Christians in verse 6?

Jesus promises that we will have a part in his heavenly kingdom (priests and ministers) and that we will inherit eternal riches.

Supplemental First Lesson – Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10

In today’s gospel, Jesus opens the scroll of Isaiah and reads. In this lesson, from what books did Nehemiah read as he stood in Jerusalem and opened the scroll?

Nehemiah read from the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. (We are not sure whether he read from all the books, some of the books, or perhaps just the book of Deuteronomy—the last book of Moses.)

How did the people respond to what Nehemiah read?

The people responded by lifting their hands and saying, “Amen. Amen.” Then they bowed low. “They worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”

Why were the people not to weep, but to celebrate?

Nehemiah told them to celebrate, not weep, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 12:12-21, 26, 27

How does Paul illustrate the Christian church and our relationship as Christians to one another?

In a beautiful way, St. Paul compares the Christian church to our bodies. As our bodies are made up of many different but essential parts, so also the church is made up of many different but essential parts. We all work together to form the body of Christ.

What encouragement does Paul give to us as Christians?

Paul encourages us to work together in unity as a body. Just as our own bodies wouldn’t work well if the eyes, ears, or feet decided not to work anymore, so also the church is thrown into disarray when one of its member parts becomes divisive and schismatic.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Acts 4:23-31

When Peter and John were released from imprisonment, the believers in Jerusalem responded with prayer. Why did they begin by reminding God of all he had made?

The believers did not need to help God with his forgetfulness; he is not forgetful. By mentioning all God had made, they were praising him and reminding themselves that God is all-powerful, so he could handle their frightening situation.

Why did the believers turn next in their prayer to what God had said in Psalm 2, about a thousand years earlier?

When the believers quoted Psalm 2, they were praising God and reminding themselves that God always keeps his promises. He fulfills his Word. What he had done in the past, he would do again in the future.

Were Herod and Pilate helpless pawns on God’s chessboard?

No. Herod and Pilate were not helpless pawns on God’s chessboard, though they did what God had decided ahead of time. They conspired against Jesus. (The fact that God runs all things, yet people are responsible for their own evil deeds, will always mystify us.)

Gospel – Luke 4:14-21

What Scripture did Jesus read in Nazareth’s synagogue?

In his hometown’s synagogue, Jesus read the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61.

What amazing words did Jesus use to conclude his reading?

After Jesus read from Isaiah 61, he explained: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, Jesus was emphatically declaring that he was the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, that he was our long-foretold Savior. The people who first heard Jesus make this claim were furious” (Mark 4:28-29).

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Our Miraculous Savior

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

God’s Word for This Week

In today’s Gospel, Jesus performs his first miracle: He turns 120 gallons of water into wine. Jesus doesn’t touch the water. It’s no trick. It’s a real miracle. He does it because the Father now wants him to go “public” and reveal his glory. As a result, his disciples trust in him as the Son of God.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 62:1-5

Who is speaking in these verses through the prophet Isaiah? For instance, who’s the “I” of verse one?

The pre-incarnate Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, is the speaker.

For whose sake would Jesus do what he did as our Savior?

Jesus says that he would speak “for Zion’s sake” and “for Jerusalem’s sake.” (In the Old Testament, “Zion” and “Jerusalem” often represent the people of God, the Church. That is the case in these verses.) In other words, Jesus serves as our advocate; he speaks on our behalf before his heavenly Father. (See 1 John 2:1; Romans 8:34.)

What is the result of Jesus’ gracious work for his people?

No longer are we estranged from our heavenly Father because of our sin. Instead, the Lord delights in us (Hephzibah), and we are “married” (Beulah) to him. All this is a result of Jesus’ work as our gracious Savior.

Supplemental First Lesson – Exodus 7:14-24

Why did God demand that Pharaoh let his people go? (See Exodus 7:16.)

God demanded that Pharaoh let his people go so they could worship him in the desert (east of Egypt).

What else besides the Nile turned to blood?

Besides the Nile, the water in streams, canals, ponds, and reservoirs turned to blood. So did the water in buckets and jars.

Did the great miracle convince Pharaoh?

No, the miracle did not convince Pharaoh. His heart stayed stubborn.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

What subject does St. Paul begin to address in these verses?

Paul begins to address the subject of spiritual gifts. The Corinthian Christians were extremely gifted (1 Corinthians 1:5-7), but they were not putting their gifts to use according to Christian love, which is the greatest gift (1 Corinthians 13).

Who is the giver of all Christian gifts?

No matter what gift we have, the Holy Spirit is the gracious giver of that gift. Christians have many different gifts, but the Holy Spirit is the giver of them all.

For whose sake does the Holy Spirit give us gifts?

Christians are not to use their gifts for their own selfish gain or benefit. Instead, Paul explains that all gifts are “given for the common good.” In other words, each Christian is to use their gifts to benefit their fellow Christians.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Ephesians 3:14-21

Jesus came to visit a wedding in Cana. What does Paul pray for the Christians in Ephesus, by contrast? (See 3:17.)

Paul prays that Christ may not just visit but dwell in the hearts of believers through their trust in Christ.

Nobody knew how Jesus turned water into wine. Likewise, what does Paul want Christians to know? (See 3:19.)

Paul wants Christians to know the love that surpasses knowledge, the immense love Christ has for us. (Note the irony. How do you truly know something that surpasses knowledge?)

How much is God able to do? (See 3:20-21.)

God is not just able to do what we ask. God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

Gospel – John 2:1-11

What problem arose at the wedding in Cana to which Jesus and his disciples were invited?

The wedding had run out of wine. It was customary in Jesus’ day for weddings to be celebrated several days. It seems clear that the wedding hosts had not adequately prepared.

How did Jesus react when Mary told him that they had run out of wine? Why did he react this way?

Jesus wondered why Mary involved him, stating, “My time has not yet come.” Jesus seems to be suggesting that it wasn’t yet time for him to publicly reveal himself as the promised Savior through his miracles. As it was, the forthcoming miracle seemed to be performed quietly.

What did Jesus do to resolve the problem?

Jesus changed water into wine. Although his disciples trusted in him, it seems his miracle went otherwise unnoticed. (Note also the wondrous kindness of Jesus in performing a miracle that was not necessary but improved a celebration. What a Savior we have, one who loves to do more than he promises and more than we need!)

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Baptism of Our Lord

Jesus is Our Unlikely, Yet Perfect Savior

These are the readings for the Baptism of Our Lord.

God’s Word for This Week

“Why did Jesus need to be baptized? I thought baptism was for sinners.” That’s a common question. It does not make sense that our sinless Savior would need to be baptized. Why was he? Because a) the Father wanted him to, and b) Jesus came to be our perfect substitute. His baptism shows him to be just that. Even from birth, he endured the effects of our sin. Jesus did no wrong, but he carried our sickness and pain (Isaiah 53:4). He needed the assurance of God’s love, just as if he were a sinner himself. He needed strength. Jesus received such gifts in baptism, like we do.

First Lesson – 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Whom had God rejected as the King of Israel?

God had rejected Saul.

When Samuel went to anoint a new king, did he and the Lord agree on who would be the “perfect” king?

They did not agree. Samuel was impressed with the oldest sons of Jesse because they were big and handsome. But the Lord had different ideas, as he explained: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Whom did the Lord finally choose as Israel’s new king?

God chose the youngest son of Jesse—David—the forefather of our perfect Savior, Jesus. Jesus, too, would seem like an unlikely choice to be our perfect Savior (cf. Isaiah 53:2-3).

Second Lesson – Titus 3:4-7

According to St. Paul, why did God save us?

Paul plainly states that God did not save us because of righteous things we had done (our good works) but because of his mercy. In other words, our salvation depends entirely upon God’s love for us and not our love for him, a concept that seems unlikely to human reason.

According to St. Paul, how did God save us?

Paul explains that God saved us “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” The Christian church has always understood this to be a reference to Holy Baptism, where God washes away our sin through this water connected to his Word of promise.

Gospel – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

What was the purpose of the baptism given by John?

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

If Jesus was sinless, why was he baptized?

In Jesus’ baptism, God commissioned him to “go public” and save us, and the Father anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power (Acts 10:38). Also, though Jesus did not have any personal sin, Jesus was not aloof. In his role as Savior, he carried the world’s guilt. He had come to be our perfect substitute and to identify with every sinner.

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

The Father spoke from above and sent the Spirit to the Son. Likewise, we were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). We are all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26).

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Second Sunday after Christmas

God Fulfills His Covenant Pledge

These are the readings for the Second Sunday after Christmas.

God’s Word for This Week

God’s actions at the first Christmas when Jesus was born began to uncover a grand covenant of worldwide blessings. God had made this covenant with Abraham and David centuries earlier. Now some 2,000 years after Jesus’ birth we continue to reap the benefits. Through Christ, we enjoy a “dear-Father-and-son” relationship with the almighty God.

Traditional First Lesson – Genesis 17:1-7

What was the covenant that God had made with Abraham?

He was going to make Abraham the “father of many nations” to be their God and provide them the land as their own. In Genesis 12:3, he clarifies that “all nations will be blessed” because of him. It is from his descendants that the Savior would be born for the benefit of the whole world. (Do you see this includes you?)

What did he command as the way to seal this covenant to make its reality constantly evident to the people? (See Genesis 9-14.)

All the male children were to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant. In the next generations, it was to be an automatic rite carried out on the boys when they were eight days old. It would connect them with the covenant God and his blessings to his people.

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Samuel 7:8-16

David intended to improve God’s house from an elaborate tent to a bigger, more permanent house—a house of cedar. What did God say in response?

In response to David’s plans to build him a temple, God promised a) to make David’s name great; b) to establish a house (that is, a dynasty) for David that would last forever, and c) to have David’s son Solomon build God a temple in Jerusalem.

What does God call his future temple in Jerusalem? (See 2 Samuel 7:13.)

God called the temple which Solomon would build “a house for my Name.” Your name conveys many things about you. Likewise, the temple would show God’s grace and greatness in many ways. It would show what God is like.

Traditional Second Lesson – Galatians 4:4-7

What do you understand by “when the time had fully come”?

God’s plans for us have not only a specific purpose but also a specific time schedule. Jesus was born at a specific time because all the elements God was putting in place were ready. His countdown was over. What wisdom we see in the way he carried it out so that the world would know the Savior!

What is the result of Jesus coming?

God’s Son became fully human and lived under the law (including being circumcised on the eighth day). He did this so he could free us from the curse of law. Now we receive the full relationship and blessings of being free sons (inheriting children) of God. (Do you live in the security, peace, and love of that relationship?)

Supplemental Second Lesson – Colossians 1:13-20

From what dominion has the Father rescued us?

The Father has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. In Jesus, we have that redemption: the forgiveness of our sins.

How much of this world was made by Jesus? For Jesus?

All things were made by Jesus. All things were made for Jesus. This includes even the iron used to make the nails that crucified him.

How much of God’s fullness dwells in Jesus?

All of God’s fullness dwells in Jesus. How all of God can be in his Son, and how as true man the Son can have a body, when the Father does not have a body, none of us know. But we know what it means: Peace forever!

Gospel – Luke 1:68-75

What did Zechariah acknowledge when he broke into song at the birth of John the Baptist? (See 1:72.)

Zechariah saw John the Baptist’s birth (especially given his mother Elizabeth’s advanced age) as the fulfillment of God’s “holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham.”

What is the result of God accomplishing his promise? (See Luke 1:74-75.)

Since God has kept his ancient promises in Christ, we will not only be rescued from our enemies (the curse of sin, the fear of death, and the power of the devil), but we will also be able to serve him without fear. We will no longer be slaves but one. We will serve God in righteousness and holiness all our days.

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First Sunday after Christmas

Jesus Goes to the Temple Obediently

These are the readings for the First Sunday after Christmas.

God’s Word for This Week

The readings today give us a window into our salvation and eternal glory, via the boyhood years of Jesus. The early life of Samuel has some interesting parallels to that of Jesus. In Hebrews, Jesus willingly becomes one of us and calls us “brothers.” Look in wonder at Jesus, the almighty God, going through early learning years just as we all do.

First Lesson – 1 Samuel 2:18-20,26

What was the yearly present Samuel’s mother would give him?

Each year Samuel’s mother gave him a robe (linen ephod) she made herself. Compare her thoughtfulness to the care put into some Christmas presents. She was thrilled to see Samuel serve in the temple. The influence of a godly mother blessed Samuel.

How are his childhood years described (v.20)?

Samuel grew in height, and the Lord and people were very pleased with him—the result of training him up in the way he should go.

Second Lesson – Hebrews 2:10-18

What is Jesus not ashamed to call us?

Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers—part of the same eternal family. What a miracle of grace that God in the flesh could feel so close to us…and we to him!

Why did he have to become human like us?

In order to take up our battle against sin, death, and the devil, Jesus had to be like us. Jesus had to win, too. During his perfect human life all the way to the cross, even in boyhood, he lived as one of us. That way God could substitute his perfect human life and atoning death in place of ours.

What comfort do we get in everyday life from the fact that he faced the same things we do?

We have great comfort knowing that Jesus experienced what we go through. He faced daily struggles and temptations like ours. He can relate to our fears and challenges. He can help us, because the temptations he faced never took him down.

Gospel – Luke 2:41-52

What was Jesus’ priority and desire as a 12-year-old child?

Unlike many 12-year-old boys, Jesus eagerly wanted to learn and discuss Scriptural truths. The Jewish teachers were amazed at the depth of Jesus’ understanding. We are amazed to see Jesus making us saints in God’s sight as he obeyed Gods Third Commandment perfectly.

What phrase does Luke use that you already heard in the 1 Samuel 2?

Jesus grew “wiser and taller and won the approval of God and of people” (GWN). This is the only section in the Bible that gives us insight to Jesus’ growing years. What a thrill it must have been to be around Jesus; on the other hand, how meekly and quietly he walked before God and people.

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Fourth Sunday in Advent

God’s Great Promises Become Reality

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

The birth of a baby usually thrills parents, family, and friends. Today’s readings about the birth of the world’s first children and the birth of Jesus excite us—and more. They show us how the wages of sin is death. They comfort us with Satan’s inability to nab Jesus. They renew our faith that God in Christ casts down the mighty from their thrones but lifts up the lowly.

Traditional First Lesson – Micah 5:2-5a

What is going to make little Bethlehem great?

In connection with Christmastime, the city of Bethlehem will be known throughout the world because the Ancient of Days, the Ruler of Israel, the Savior will be born there.

What effect will that child of Bethlehem have on us today?

He will be our peace and calm our hearts. He will be the one who watches over us like a shepherd but with the power of the universe at his disposal. Such a picture of his tender care for us will reach throughout the world. (Do you realize that peace?)

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 4:1,2,6-8,25; 5:1-5

The birth of the world’s first son must have been joyful. Cain killed his brother years later, though. How could this have happened? (See 5:3.)

Cain killed Abel because Cain had not been born in God’s image (holiness), but in his father, Adam’s image (sinfulness), and Cain had failed to resist the power of sin inside him.

Adam lived 930 years. Then what happened?

After Adam lived 930 years, he died. The same thing happened generation after generation. The wages of sin is death.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 10:5-10

Why wasn’t God pleased with the sacrifices of the Old Testament times?

The ritual offerings of the sacrifices could not do away with sin, nor could they calm the guilty conscience. However, they did help the nation of Israel realize the death sentences of sin as well as look forward to the promised substitute, the Messiah, who would provide eternal forgiveness.

What assurances do you have now that Jesus has finished his work?

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross of Christ had to be done only once, and it became effective for everyone. Because of it, we are considered holy in God’s sight and prepared for being transformed to be like him. (Is this the central part of your faith and life?)

Supplemental Second Lesson – Revelation 12:1-6

Who was the male child? The dragon? (See 12:9.)

The male child in John’s vision was Jesus. The dragon was the devil or Satan.

We would assume a dragon could easily devour a brand-new baby. What happened, though, in John’s vision?

In John’s vision, the dragon was not fast enough to seize the child. Jesus was born and went straight to heaven. What a comforting picture: The devil wanted to harm Jesus as he walked this earth, but he could not lead Jesus into sin or defeat him. Jesus lives. Jesus reigns!

What did God, meanwhile, do for his church on earth (the woman)?

He fed her in the desert. Ever since Jesus’ ascension, God feeds his church on earth by Word and sacrament.

Gospel – Luke 1:39-55

What happened when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting?

The baby in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leaped for joy. Then the Holy Spirit filled her with new insight into what was happening. What awesome things the Spirit does in connection with the message of Jesus!

What does Mary first call God in her song?

In her song, Mary calls God her “Savior.” She was a sinner, just like all of us. No one should pray to her.

Summarize the content of the song in your own words.

Mary knew God was fulfilling the promise he had made to Abraham and had repeated for centuries. Generations to come would look at this event and see how God powerfully lifts the humble up to experience the great things God has done for us by his grace in his Son.

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Third Sunday in Advent

Knowing Jesus Brings Wondrous Joy

These are the readings for the Third Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

The coming of Christ into the world the first time created joy like none other. His reappearing will bring unimaginable joy to all who really know him and trust in him. The better we know God’s grace to us in forgiving all our sins and his concern for all our needs, the more we will seek to serve him and help others. Once again, we will rejoice.

Traditional First Lesson – Zephaniah 3:14-17

What is the emotion that he desires in “Zion”?

Daughters of Zion, Israel, and Daughters of Jerusalem signify God’s people. He prepares them for emotions of joy and gladness as well as a quiet peace inside. With fear and sadness removed, they get their hands eagerly focused on doing his work.

What is the motivation for such emotions?

The Lord has taken away the punishment for their rebellion and now protects them. How true that is for us in the person of Jesus who died for sins, now rules over all things, loves us, and rejoices in us as he leads us to joyfully serve him.

Supplemental First Lesson – Nehemiah 8:9-18

Why had many Jewish people in Jerusalem wept?

People had wept as they listened to the words of the Law which God had given Israel on Mount Sinai. The Law showed them how they had sinned against God. It also may have made them think of loved ones who had been killed when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, fulfilling God’s ancient threats in the Law.

What reason did Nehemiah give people not to weep?

Nehemiah said, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Second Lesson – Philippians 4:4-7

What two attitudes does Paul encourage in us here?

Paul tells us to rejoice and to live not for ourselves but let our gentleness (treating others kindly and fairly) be evident to all. Anxious? Paul says to pray (for others too).

How can someone feel joyful in the troubled world we see all around us?

The Lord is near! God’s peace will guard our minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel – Luke 3:7-18

What did John the Baptist say comes with real repentance?

John told the crowd that they should produce “fruit” in keeping with repentance. If they were truly sorry for their sinfulness, the fruit of faith—a fitting response—would follow. Real repentance cannot lead to smugness, complacency, or habitual repetition of the same sin.

What are some examples of actions that fit real repentance?

Some actions which fit with real repentance, John says, include sharing with those in need, not abusing your position by cheating others, and being content with what you have.

What was the final goal of John’s preaching?

John’s goal in preaching was to lead people to grasp what sin is and how bad its results are, so they could be drawn to one much greater than he. That man was Jesus, the Christ, who was destined to die for them and who would send the Holy Spirit to create this type of life in them.

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Second Sunday in Advent

Preparing for Purity Is Often Painful

These are the readings for the Second Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

Many people look for easy fixes for their problems. God, though, often puts his people through a long, painful process to prepare us to embrace the Savior he has sent. God always works through his Word to develop in us a life that shows the fruit of the purity he has put around us in Christ.

Traditional First Lesson – Malachi 3:1-4

Look at Malachi 3:1. Who is the messenger who will prepare the way before the LORD?

Here Malachi prophesies about John the Baptizer. (See Matthew 11:10 for details.) John would prepare people for the arrival of the master they were seeking when they complained, “Where is the God of justice?”

What will the coming of the LORD be like?

When Jesus, God’s messenger, came the first time, Malachi said he would be like strong soap or hot fire to purify people. These images picture the often-painful process God uses to remove people’s selfish ways and to create lives of faith which honor the God of justice.

Traditional Second Lesson – Philippians 1:3-11

What brings Paul joy when he thinks of the Philippian congregation?

He is excited because God has shared that same grace with them that he has experienced through the gospel. This is his underlying joy through everything. (Does this endear you to your fellow Christians?)

What does he want for their lives (and ours) up to the time of Christ’s return?

He prays that they will be able to understand clearly and make the right choices of what is best. This will lead them to exhibit a life without blame before God. This comes from a knowledge and depth of insight connected with Jesus. (Is your spiritual life progressing?)

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

How did Paul want Christians to think of men like Apollos, Peter, and himself? (See 4:1.)

Paul wants us to think of apostles—and then pastors, etc. today—as “servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.”

If someone’s conscience is clear, does that make him or her innocent? Why or why not? (See 4:4.)

If your conscience is clear, that does not make you innocent before God. The Lord Jesus will judge all people on the Last Day.

Jesus will not judge superficially on the Last Day. How will he judge? (See 4:5.)

Jesus will bring to light what was hidden in darkness. He will expose the motives of everyone’s hearts.

Gospel – Luke 3:1-6

In contrast to some of the great men of that era, to whom did the word of the Lord come? Where?

God did not speak directly to the Roman emperor or the Jewish high priest. He spoke directly to John the Baptist, in the desert of all places. (Today too, God casts down the mighty from their thrones, but he lifts up the lowly.)

On what did John the Baptist center his preaching?

John was known for his baptizing. People were prepared for it by repenting. In Baptism, they found forgiveness of sins through faith.

How had the prophet Isaiah described John’s task?

John would be a lone voice getting people ready to see the Messiah when he arrived on the public scene. It was to be a preparation like that of an arriving king. This spectacular coming would rescue the whole world.

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First Sunday in Advent

Be Prepared for Jesus’ Coming

These are the readings for the First Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

“Advent” comes from the Latin word for “coming” or “arrival.” In today’s Bible readings, Jesus urges us to be ready for his coming. It could be at any time. It will bring far greater destruction than when the Lord leveled Sodom. What a difference that outlook makes in our prayers! How much we long to see our Lord and experience fully the freedom he bought for us with his blood.

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 33:14-16

Who is the “righteous Branch” that will sprout from David’s line?

In Jeremiah 23:5-6, the righteous Branch is referring to Jesus and his saving presence on this earth. He is the King who has descended from King David’s line. It is possible here that this same title is being given to the Christian church that grows out of a connection to Jesus.

Who will be called “the LORD our righteousness”?

Although this sounds so similar to the Jeremiah 23 passage, here the Church (Judah and Jerusalem) will receive the same name as Jesus. We will not only be labeled with his perfect righteousness because it covers them but will also be the place other people can find his righteousness through the gospel proclamation. (Is this evident in our purpose?)

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 19:15-17, 23-29

How did Lot and his family feel about leaving Sodom? How can you tell?

Lot and his family hesitated to leave Sodom. Not only did the angels have to urge them to leave, they even had to grab the hands of everyone in the family to lead them safely out of the city.

In what ways does this story warn us about the end of the world?

This story warns us not to be so consumed with the things of this world that we can hardly bear to leave them. It warns us that God is dead serious about fiery judgment.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

What does Paul ask the Lord to do within the Thessalonian congregation?

Paul has already mentioned how the gospel produced among the Thessalonian Christians great evidence of faith, hope, and love (1:3, 3:6). Now Paul prays for more: he not only asks for their inner life to become stronger but that it also will overflow its love on everyone who will come in touch with them. (Do people recognize this happening in you? Your congregation?)

What is Paul’s underlying concern as he prays?

Paul’s concern is that the Thessalonians’ faith is alive and well and that they will be ready to join the holy ones when Christ reappears. (Is this your priority?)

Traditional Gospel – Luke 21:25-36

What will it be like right as Jesus reappears at the end of time?

When Jesus reappears, it will terrify people. There will be disturbing signs in the sky, earth, and sea. These will cause many to faint from fear as the heavenly bodies are shaken. (Does the world expect this? Do you?)

How will God’s people react when Jesus returns visibly? (See especially 21:28.)

When God’s people see Jesus coming in his power and glory, they will stand secure, knowing this is the great time when Jesus completes his purpose for us and brings us into his eternal kingdom of freedom. (Is this exciting for you? Do you long for this?)

Because of this, what should our daily lives be like now? (See especially 21:34-36.)

Because Jesus could reappear any day, there is no room for us to be distracted with the anxieties or attractions of this world. We should always be focused and ready to stand before Jesus when he returns.

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Fourth Sunday of End Time—Christ the King

Jesus Rules as King Over All Things

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of End Time—Christ the King.

God’s Word for This Week

The eternal majesty of the King of kings shines forth in our readings for today. Jesus rules as King over all things. He deserves all glory, honor, and praise. He is the eternal King who will come again in glory to judge. He is the King who left his majestic throne; he was so humble that he gave his life for his subjects.

First Lesson – Daniel 7:13,14

Who is the “Ancient of Days” mentioned in verse 13?

The “Ancient of Days” is God the Father. The name “Ancient of Days” refers to the fact that he has existed from all eternity.

According to verse 14, what did Jesus receive?

Having humbled himself to pay for the sins of the world, God the Father exalted Jesus once again to his rightful position as King of kings. He received authority, glory, and power. He receives the praise and worship that is his alone. His kingship and almighty power will never end.

Second Lesson – Revelation 1:4b-8

According to verses five and six, what has Jesus our King done for us?

Our King has freed us from sin by his blood. He has made us citizens of his heavenly kingdom. He has made us priests who have the right to approach him and serve him. To him be glory and power forever and ever!

Verse seven tells us that our King is coming with the clouds and everyone will see him. What is he coming to do?

He is coming to judge the living and the dead. Those who rejected him and continue to reject him will see him. He will send them to their eternal punishment in hell. He will then take us, his faithful subjects to be with him forever in his heavenly kingdom.

What does it mean that Jesus our King is the “Alpha and the Omega”?

The letters Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus, our King, is the beginning and the end. He is eternal.

Gospel – John 18:33-37

How is Jesus different from the kings of this world?

His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus is the king and ruler of all things in this world and the next. His kingdom will have no end. Geographical borders do not bind his subjects. Those on the side of truth, i.e., those that believe in Jesus are citizens of his kingdom. Jesus, our King, offered the ultimate sacrifice by dying on the cross in order to win for us salvation. As our King he offered his life in humble service.

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Third Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant

Jesus Calls Out to Us Through His Word

These are the readings for the Third Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant.

God’s Word for This Week

Like children playing hide and seek, Jesus calls out to us through his Word, “Ready or not here I come!” Thanks be to God that through Jesus’ saving work on the cross, we have been made ready! May his Spirit keep us in saving faith in him.

First Lesson – Daniel 12:1-3

A man dressed in linen, with a belt of finest gold around his waist (therefore, someone holy and royal (see 10:5) told Daniel about a book God has (12:1b). What did he mean?

By that book, the man dressed in linen (who may have been the Son of God himself), meant God’s list of his chosen children. God does not need a book to keep him from forgetting things. He wants to comfort us. What joy that God knows by name all whom he will save forever.

Describe the events of the Last Day. (See 12:2.)

On the Last Day, those who sleep in the dust will awake. That is, the dead will be raised. Some will receive eternal life and others eternal condemnation from God, the judge.

What is the key difference between those whom God will save and those he will condemn?

Those whom God saves are “those who are wise.” They have received true wisdom: trust in Jesus as Savior (not trust in themselves). That faith God credits to them as righteousness, so they are right in his sight. That faith shows itself in the way they lead others to trust in God and live for him.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 10:11-18

The book of Hebrews demonstrates how Jesus is superior to every aspect of the Jewish religion. How is Jesus’ sacrifice superior to the numerous sacrifices commanded in the Old Testament? (See 10:18.)

The Old Testament sacrifices were repeated “endlessly year after year” (10:1). They pointed to the seriousness of sin but didn’t actually take away sin (10:4,11). But Jesus, by one sacrifice of himself never to be repeated, has taken away the sins of the world. Confidence in the perfect forgiveness won by his sacrifice makes us ready for his return and gives us stamina for our daily struggles.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Why does Paul call the death of believers to “fall asleep”?

Paul calls death for believers “falling asleep” for it is nothing to fear. Our bodies will rest. On the Last Day God will wake us up to his glorious, eternal dawn.

How can we be sure about what will happen? (See 4:15a.)

We can be sure about what will happen on the Last Day because we have the Lord Jesus’ own word on it. Paul, Jesus’ inspired apostle, has confirmed what Jesus said.

Will we float with Jesus in clouds forever? (See 4:17.)

Paul does not say that we will float with Jesus forever. He says that Jesus will snatch us up from the earth after the judgment. Jesus will destroy this world, then make a new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13), so Jesus may snatch us up from this earth to keep us from being burned up with it, then put us back down on it. The main point is our relation to God, not our exact location with God.

Traditional Gospel – John 5:25-29

Describe the events of the Last Day according to verses 28 and 29?

All who are in their graves, i.e., the dead, will hear Jesus’ voice and come out. Then he will judge all people in righteousness.

Agree or disagree. Verse 29 tells us that we will be judged by our works and not our faith.

At first glance these verses, as well as other sections in Scripture (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46), teach that we are saved by what we do. To understand these verses, one must understand the relationship between faith and good works. Good works are the result and evidence of faith in Christ Jesus. No work can be good without faith. Faith in Jesus is what saves, but it can rightly be said that we are judged by our works. Our works are now holy and pure in God’s sight through faith in Jesus. Our works are the external evidence of our saving faith.

Supplemental Gospel – Mark 13:24-27

Right before Jesus reappears, should we expect things to be getting better and better or worse and worse?

We should expect things to get worse and worse. The sun will be darkened “following that distress.”

How will we all be able to appear before Jesus?

All believers will stand before Jesus, since his angels will gather God’s chosen children from all around the world.

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Second Sunday of End Time—Last Judgment

Jesus Will Come Back in Glory

These are the readings for the Second Sunday of End Time—Last Judgment.

God’s Word for This Week

At the end of the world, Jesus will come back in glory to judge both the living and the dead. Those who believe in him receive a verdict of “not-guilty.” Those who do not believe stand condemned to the eternal suffering of hell.

Traditional First Lesson – Malachi 4:1,2a

What will happen to every “evildoer” on judgment day?

Every evildoer, i.e., every sinner, will be punished with the eternal flames of hell. Eternal condemnation is often pictured in the Bible as fire and burning—a fitting picture for the eternal torments of hell.

Those who revere God’s name will not suffer the punishment mentioned in verse one. Instead, they will receive healing from the “sun of righteousness.” What is that “sun of righteousness”?

God and his glory are compared with the sun in Isaiah 60:1,19. Jesus is referred to as the “rising sun” from heaven in Luke 1:78,79. This “rising sun” that grants healing is none other than our Savior God.

Supplemental First Lesson – Malachi 4:1-3

What will happen to every “evildoer” on judgment day?

Every evildoer will be punished in fire forever. Eternal separation from God is often pictured in the Bible as fire and burning—a fitting picture for hell’s unending torments.

Those who revere God’s name will not suffer the punishment mentioned in verse one. Instead, they will receive healing from the “sun of righteousness.” What is that “sun of righteousness”?

John the Baptist’s father Zechariah calls Jesus the “rising sun” from heaven in Luke 1:78,79. This “rising sun” whose wings (rays) grant healing is our Savior and Lord, Jesus.

Second Lesson – Hebrews 9:24-28

The letter to the Hebrews demonstrates how Jesus is superior to every aspect of the Jewish religion. How is Jesus superior to the Old Testament priests and sacrifices?

Jesus is superior, since he did not enter an earthly tabernacle (or temple), but rather heaven itself. He did not need to offer sacrifices over and over again like the priests of the Old Testament. The sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross paid for sin once and for all. No other sacrifice needs to be made.

What happens to a person when he or she dies? (See 9:27.)

When a person dies, his body goes back to the ground and that person faces God’s judgment.

Traditional Gospel – John 5:19-24

According to these verses, what kind of relationship exists between God the Father and God the Son?

God the Father loves his Son and shows him all he does. God the Son honors and obeys his Father in everything.

According to verse 22, what right has God the Father entrusted to his Son?

God the Father entrusts his Son with the job of judging the world in righteousness. In the end Jesus will come back with his holy angels to judge the living and the dead. As verse 24 says, whoever believes in Jesus and the one who sent him (God the Father) will be found innocent and given eternal life.

Supplemental Gospel – John 5:19-30

What right has God the Father entrusted to his Son?

God the Father entrusts his Son with the job of judging the world in righteousness. In the end, Jesus will come back with his holy angels to judge the living and the dead. As verse 24 says, whoever believes in Jesus and the one who sent him (God the Father) will be found innocent and given eternal life.

What if someone says he or she believes in God, but thinks Jesus is only a man or a god less than God, is that person still okay?

No, that person is not okay. Whoever does not honor the Son as much as he or she honors the Father does not honor the Father who sent the Son.

Already in Jesus’ day, sinners were coming to life, spiritually. What other day does Jesus predict?

Jesus says a day is coming when he will raise all the dead. Then will come the judgment, with only two sentences—eternal innocence or eternal condemnation. (Don’t be confused by 5:29. Trials and sentencing hearings need evidence. Good works are the evidence for faith in Jesus. Evil works are the evidence of unbelief. Your good works cannot save you. But that does not mean they are unimportant, either to God or to your neighbor.)

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Reformation

We Give Thanks to God for His Grace, Faith, and Word

These are the readings for Reformation Sunday.

God’s Word for This Week

On Reformation Sunday we give thanks to God for his rescue from hell, rescue that comes by his grace alone. We thank him for the faith he gives us to trust his promise. We thank God for his errorless Word, the Bible, which gives and strengthens that faith. At the same time, we understand that we can fall away from that grace by unbelief. We recognize that Satan, society, and our sinful self—will daily challenge our faith. Therefore, let us never stray from God’s life-giving Word.

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 18:1-11

To whom did God send the prophet Jeremiah?

God sent Jeremiah to watch a potter form his objects out of clay.

What was the point of God’s comparison?

Just as a potter controls what he forms with the clay, so the Lord would decide what he would do with the people of Judah. If they did evil, he would form their future accordingly with his righteous judgment. If they repented, he would form their future differently, making them into a vessel of his grace.

Supplemental First Lesson – Daniel 3:16-28

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not sure God would save them from the fiery furnace. Still, what did they say to the king just before he threw them in? (See Daniel 3:18.)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said that even if their God did not rescue them from the flames, they would not serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods or bow down to the image he had set up.

What three things did Nebuchadnezzar say that he concluded? (See Daniel 3:28-29.)

Nebuchadnezzar concluded a) that the God of the three men had sent his messenger/angel to save them, b) that the three had done the right thing, and c) that no other god could save in such a way.

What should we conclude from this story?

Among many things, we should conclude that God will bless those who fear him—those who put his Word and command above any other word and command.

Second Lesson – Revelation 14:6,7

The book of Revelation offers a number of symbols and pictures of how the world is and will be until the end of the world. What did the apostle John see in these verses?

John saw an angel who went out urging all people to honor and worship God, for the time of his judging had come.

What connection does this have with the Reformation?

In previous visions, John had seen that believers would suffer many trials and that the enemies of God and false teachers would attack them. Today’s two verses offer the comfort that even in the midst of persecution and false teachers, God’s Word will be proclaimed to the nations. Martin Luther was one messenger who did just that. The Greek word for angel means, “messenger.” May we, like Luther, be messengers of the truth in this wicked world.

Gospel – Mark 13:5-11

What kinds of things does Jesus warn us will continue to happen until the end of the world?

Jesus warns us that many people claiming to be Jesus or the Messiah will come. There will be wars and rumors of wars.

Why should we not be afraid of such things?

Why shouldn’t we fear? God promises to be with us and give us strength. He promises his Holy Spirit, who will help us defend our faith without fear. We have God’s promise of eternal life. We know that all trials are “birth pains,” that is, signs of the new and perfect life that is coming soon.

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Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Shows Us True Greatness

These are the readings for the Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

“I am the greatest,” shouted Muhammad Ali after one of his more famous boxing victories. He later added, “I am the greatest heavy weight of all time.” How would you define greatness? Is it power? Wealth? Fame? In our readings for this Lord’s Day, the greatest who ever lived, he who died for us all and rose again, shows us that true greatness comes through humble service.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 53:10-12

In the verses preceding this reading, Isaiah describes in detail Jesus’ suffering on the cross some 700 years before he was even born. Why does this suffering servant deserve a portion among the great?

Because he gave his life for the world. Jesus willingly allowed himself to suffer the punishment of all the sins, of all people, of all time. He paid the price with his humble service and won the victory for all people.

What does it mean that this suffering servant has justified many?

“Justify” is a courtroom term. It means, “to declare innocent.” Jesus, the righteous or innocent servant, suffered the punishment of the guilty in order that they might be declared innocent of all charges. Through Jesus the suffering servant, we have been justified, i.e., declared innocent of all sin. We are now free to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Chronicles 26:16-23

What did King Uzziah do wrong that caused God to afflict him with leprosy?

In his pride, Uzziah went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the golden incense altar inside the Holy Place. Only priests were allowed there.

Therefore, what couldn’t Uzziah do for the rest of his life? (See 2 Chronicles 26:21.)

For the rest of his life, due to his skin disease, Uzziah could not enter even the outdoor courts of the Lord’s temple where other Jewish people could go.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 4:9-16

The Book of Hebrews demonstrates how Jesus is superior to every aspect of the Jewish religion. In the Old Testament, what was the “Sabbath”?

The word “Sabbath” literally means, “rest.” Just as God rested on the seventh day of creation, he commanded his Old Testament believers to rest on the seventh day and dedicate it to him and his Word.

What superior “rest” does Jesus give?

The Sabbath Day symbolized the eternal rest that God would give his people in heaven—the perfect rest that comes only through faith in Jesus. Even today through the double-edged sword of his Word, God gives us the spiritual rest that we need to make it through this sinful world and prepare ourselves for the one to come. May we never despise preaching and his Word!

How is Jesus a superior High Priest?

Part of the High Priest’s job in the Old Testament was as intercessor, i.e., he was to offer up prayers on behalf of the people. Jesus is our perfect intercessor who understands our trials because he has faced them. Yet he did not sin. He won for us the right to approach God with confidence.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 9:7-12, 19-23

Did Paul and Barnabas have a right to be paid for their labors among the Corinthians?

Yes, Paul and Barnabas had a right to be paid for their gospel work. Both logic (Paul cites soldiers, vineyard owners, and shepherds in 9:7, and plowmen and threshers in 9:10) and the Old Testament (Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 in 9:9) show that Paul and Barnabas had a right to be paid. Pastors and other hard-working servants of the gospel today have the same right.

Why didn’t Paul and Barnabas make use of this right? (See 1 Corinthians 9:12.)

Paul and Barnabas did not make use of their right, so as not to hinder the gospel of Christ when they were in Corinth.

Why was Paul so adaptable and flexible in his ministry methods? What was his goal?

Paul was so adaptable and flexible in his ministry methods so that all in all, he might save some people (9:22) and that he might share in the gospel’s benefits himself (9:23).

Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

How did the disciples define greatness?

Jesus’ disciples considered greatness to be a position of honor among themselves. They considered greatness to be having a seat right next to Jesus when he came into his glory.

According to Jesus, how should we define greatness?

Jesus, the Great One, gave us the greatest example of greatness. He humbly offered his life to pay for the freedom of all mankind from eternal death. True greatness comes through humble service. May we follow Christ’s example of humble service, not out of selfish ambition, but out of thanks and love to him who loved us first.

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Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Warns Us to Guard Against Greed

These are the readings for the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

“I’m a little envious,” we claim. It is far worse. Envy is wishing God were not so good to someone else while ignoring how good God is to us. And our greed? “Greed is idolatry,” God says (Colossians 3:5). Still, God in Christ provides for all our needs, including the greatest—forgiveness of sin. He places proper priorities in the repentant believer’s heart. God even promises everlasting treasure in his holy presence, all by his grace.

Traditional First Lesson – Amos 5:6,7, 11-15

Amos addresses people who had lost their priorities. What does seeking the Lord involve?

Seeking the Lord involved giving up the worship of false gods in Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba. For us it means the same—to give up worshiping the false gods of our society. Those gods include sexual immorality, consumerism, selfishness, etc.

Amos states that we are to “hate evil.” When is hate appropriate?

There is a place among Christians for righteous anger. Following Christ Jesus means loving what God loves and hating what God hates. God gives us his Word to guide us in our thought life. When you think about it, hell is God’s righteous wrath that burns forever on those who reject his gospel of salvation.

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Kings 5:14-27

How did Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, lie to Naaman? What did Gehazi request?

Gehazi lied to Naaman by asking him for clothes and money for two young men from the company of the prophets (perhaps seminary students, in our terms—future pastors). Naaman gave Gehazi about 150 pounds of silver and two sets of clothes—tens of thousands of dollars.

How much did Elisha know about what Gehazi had done? (See 2 Kings 5:26.)

Elisha not only knew about Gehazi’s deceit, he knew that Naaman had stepped down out of his chariot to speak with Gehazi. He knew that Gehazi had started thinking about the olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, and servants he would soon acquire. In other words, Elisha knew everything. Today, too, God knows everything about our greedy thoughts, words, and actions. We must never try to conceal them but confess them and find mercy in Christ.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 3:1-6

Compare Jesus to Moses. In what way is Jesus superior to Moses?

Moses was God’s servant and mediator of the Old Covenant. The Israelites got their identity and status from Moses. Christians get their identity and status from Jesus. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant. In every way Jesus is superior to Moses.

What determines if “we are in his house”? What is the “courage and the hope of which we boast”?

Though Moses was part of the house in which he served, Christ is the builder of the house. Though Moses was a servant in the house, Christ is the head of the house.

Supplemental Second Reading – Hebrews 13:1-6

As the writer to the Hebrews (Jewish Christians) wrapped up his letter with specific encouragements, which of them had to do with money?

Many of the writer’s encouragements had to do with money: a) being hospitable, b) keeping our lives free from the love of money, c) being content with what God has given us, and d) confidently trusting in the Lord instead of people.

In Deuteronomy 31:6, aged Moses told his successor, Joshua, something that the writer to the Hebrews says God promises all of us. What was Joshua to trust, according to Hebrews 13:5? And what are we to trust, as well?

God told Joshua, and God tells us, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.”

Gospel – Mark 10:17-27

What is Jesus trying to accomplish with the request he makes of the rich young ruler?

The rich young ruler thought he was good enough to get eternal life on his own, so Jesus served the rich young ruler a big helping of law–telling him to go and sell everything he had, give to the poor, then follow his Lord. Jesus wanted the man to see that his possessions had become his god. In doing so, Jesus wanted the young man to despair of being good enough for God on his own, and trust in him.

What does Jesus want the disciples to realize when he contrasts the camel with the eye of a needle?

Jewish people in Jesus’ day were familiar with the camel as the largest beast of burden they used. They were also aware of just how small the eye of a needle was. When Jesus compared the largest with the smallest, he quickly conveyed the idea that it was impossible by human means to save oneself from sin and enter God’s kingdom.

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Shows Us God’s Plan for Marriage

These are the readings for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

God’s plan for man was perfect. He created woman for man. They were to “become one flesh.” Sin entered the world and separation replaced union—separation from God and from one another. Bitter marriages and divorces are two examples. But thanks be to God, Jesus even suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone and create new life and new promise of union.

First Lesson – Genesis 2:18-24

What lesson did God teach Adam by having him name the animals?

By having Adam name the animals, God taught Adam that he was incomplete and needed companionship as well as someone to partner with him for reproduction.

What does the expression “one flesh” mean?

The phrase “one flesh” expresses the depth of unity in marriage—physically, emotionally and spiritually. Since the woman was created from man, the two originally were one, and when they come together, they again are one.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 2:9-11

Does the word “perfect” mean Jesus wasn’t perfect?

Jesus, being God from eternity and without sin, already was perfect. However, through his incarnation, life, suffering, and death, he acquired the experience and knowledge of what it is like to be human.

What was Jesus’ goal in life?

Jesus’ goal was to “redeem those under law.” He accomplished that goal through suffering. He did this by submitting himself to the law.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Ephesians 5:21–6:4

What are wives to do?

Wives are to yield lovingly to their husbands as the leader of the home, the same way we all yield to Jesus as our leader and Lord.

What are husbands to do?

Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies.

What are children to do?

Children are to obey their parents “in the Lord,” that is, for Jesus’ sake.

What are fathers, in particular, to do?

Fathers are to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord Jesus. Note that Paul never tells husbands to make their wives submit, etc., or wives to make their husbands be responsible for eternal matters in the home. How wise Martin Luther was, when he wrote: Let each his lesson learn with care, and all the household well shall fare.

Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

If marriage is to be for life, why did Moses hand down some conditions that made divorce possible?

Moses handed down some conditions for divorce only because the people had totally disregarded God’s will for sex and marriage. Their hearts were hard. Government had to deal with it and regulate.

What remains God’s standard for marriage?

God’s standard for marriage is the union of a man and a woman for life. “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Calls Us to Abandon Worldly Ambition

These are the readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Sinners sin. We all sin. But we cannot excuse our sin because we act like others. Sin requires radical surgery. Jesus says: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43). The good news is that Jesus was “cut off” from his own Father through his death on the cross, in order to reunite us with God and with one another. As his servants we are the “salt” of the earth, standing out as we show allegiance to Jesus and the gospel.

First Lesson – Numbers 11:16, 24-29

When Moses, exasperated, turned to God because the Israelites were complaining about having to eat manna all the time, how did God first respond? (See 11:16.)

Moses receives mercy in the leadership department: Now 70 men will help him lead the nation. But the people get their wish for meat and a plague with it for grumbling against the Lord.

Why did a young man run and tell Moses about Eldad and Medad, who were still in the camp?

A young man ran and told Moses about Eldad and Medad because they were prophesying in the camp, instead of around the tent like the other elders. Joshua told Moses to have them stop.

Why didn’t Moses want Eldad and Medad to stop?

Moses didn’t want them to stop because he wished that all God’s people were prophets with the Spirit on them.

Traditional Second Lesson – James 4:7-12

What does James mean to “submit to God”?

It simply means arrange yourself under God’s authority. That will include the resolve to resist the devil, the world and our own sinful nature—all of which are God’s and Christians’ mortal enemies.

What promise is given to those disciples who humble themselves?

God promises to “lift up” those who humble themselves and submit to his will. Christian humility includes submitting to God, resisting the devil, coming near to God, forsaking sinful deeds and thoughts, and acknowledging one’s sinfulness.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Philippians 1:12-18a

What had happened to Paul, which surprisingly turned out to advance the gospel’s spread?

Paul was under house arrest in Rome for a long time.

How did Paul react when others preached Christ out of envy and rivalry?

Paul said, “The important thing is that in every way Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

Gospel – Mark 9:38-50

What prompted John to tattle to Jesus about a miracle worker that was not one of the Twelve?

Perhaps John was jealous. John said the disciples stopped the man because he “was not one of us.” Do we look down on one other Christians who are not part of our church body? Jesus said, “Do not stop him … whoever is not against us is for us.” Likewise, we confess in the Nicene Creed that we believe in one, holy Christian apostolic church.

Summarize the obligations of disciples for one another according to Mark 9:42-50.

A disciple will do everything possible to save the life of the soul. Participation in Christ’s kingdom is worth any sacrifice. The hand will not grasp what God forbids. The foot will not go where God’s “No Trespassing” sign stands. The eye will not gaze on that which God hates. Keep your “saltiness” by living for the gospel and Christ Jesus.

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Greatness in God’s Kingdom Means Humility

These are the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

True greatness is a paradox. It grows out of seeing ourselves as small and God as great. Such greatness has its center in love—both God’s great love for us in Christ and our love for our neighbor. Such love leads to genuine, humble service.

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 11:18-20

Why is Jeremiah a good example of one that trusted in the Lord?

Even after the Lord reveals a plot against Jeremiah by the men of his own village, Jeremiah did not change his plans or his message. He put himself entirely in the Lord’s hands. He faithfully followed the Word of the Lord. He did it out of love for his people and to save them from destruction.

What can we learn from Jeremiah’s example?

The Lord taught Jeremiah that he could count on the Lord no matter what the situation. That is true for us also. We will be persecuted for following Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). If we want to live a godly life in Christ and hold to the truth of God’s Word, confess it and witness to it, we too will find opposition. But even with opposition we know the Lord is with us. (See 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:18.)

Supplemental First Lesson – Numbers 12:1-15

Why did Miriam and Aaron oppose their brother Moses?

Miriam and Aaron opposed Moses because he had married a lady from Cush (the southern part of Egypt, in modern terms).

When God punished Miriam with leprosy, a skin disease, how did Moses show his humility?

Moses showed his humility by crying out to the Lord to heal Miriam, instead of telling her that she had gotten what she had coming to her.

Second Lesson – James 3:13-18

Who are the truly wise whom James mentions?

The truly wise people are the humble. When one is truly wise, it shows in good deeds and in humility. A truly wise person is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, and sincere. These virtues are the ones that imitate Christ’s own perfect gentleness and unselfish service to us.

What does James mean when he says that “peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness”?

James speaks of people who are humble and try to keep peace, instead of starting quarrels and perpetuating grudges. They do things that lead to all sorts of good and right results. He compares being lowly to putting a seed low into the ground, later the seed of humility will bring many beautiful results, though at first planting the seed may seem fruitless.

Gospel – Mark 9:30-37

Why were the disciples afraid to ask Jesus about his impending death?

Jesus had told his disciples about the Son of Man (himself). “They will kill him.” The thoughts of the Twelve seemed to stop with those words and not even hear Jesus say, “after three days he will rise.” Betrayal and death did not fit their idea of a Messianic rule.

How are we today like those disciples?

Many Christians today imagine that the chief mark of the church is worldly success and glory, and that the chief purpose of the Christian church relates to activities which put the message of a Savior crucified for sin into the background. They don’t want to hear repeated references to the ugliness of personal sin and the divine necessity of a sacrificial cross to atone for that sin.

What was Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ desire to be first in the kingdom of God?

Jesus, through words and an impressive object lesson, shows that the way to true greatness in his kingdom lies in humble service. (See also Mark 10:43-44 and Luke 22:24-47.)

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Preaching the Truth Always Makes Enemies

These are the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

There are two kinds of preachers. One pushes worldly glory. The other pushes the ugly cross where Christ was crucified for us, alone in the darkness. The former touts worldly success. The latter knows that those who speak God’s truth will always make enemies. “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” the Bible says. So men who preach God’s full truth are bound to experience failure and disappointment. Following our suffering Savior, though, Christians even sing, “Go, then earthly fame and treasure. Come disaster, scorn and pain.” We even pray to God, “In your service, pain is pleasure. In your favor, loss is gain.”

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 50:4-10

Who is the special servant?

The prophesy is of Jesus. He would proclaim God’s Word (instructed tongue). He willingly submitted to the Word of God. He knew what the Lord wanted, and he obeyed (morning by morning). He is the great High Priest, who would offer up himself as a sacrifice for sin. (See Hebrews 7:26-28; 9:6-12.)

Who are those who fear the Lord?

The believers are the ones who possess deep respect and awe for the Lord. They give ear to the words of the Suffering Servant. All who fear the Lord and trust in the Word of the Lord’s Servant will find deliverance, forgiveness, and life.

Supplemental First Lesson – Jeremiah 38:1-13

What bad thing happened to Jeremiah? (See especially 38:6.)

Jeremiah was lowered into a cistern, in which he sank down into the mud.

Why did King Zedekiah allow this to happen?

King Zedekiah let Jeremiah be lowered into the cistern because four officials had told him that Jeremiah was discouraging people in Jerusalem. Jeremiah was telling them that those who stayed in the city during the Babylonian siege would die in terrible ways.

Traditional Second Lesson – James 2:1-5,8-10,14-18

How are we to treat our neighbor?

Here the Lord forbids favoritism and urges us to love everyone. God uses the trials of the poor and needy to test the faith of those who love him. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why does James say, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”?

Real faith inevitably yields good works. And if the works are absent, the faith claimed must be phony (Ephesians 2:10). As we come to faith in our Savior, we are justified, we are born again, we begin to understand God’s will for us, and the Spirit helps us to want God’s will and gives us the power to do God’s will. So if it is all talk and no action, faith is dead.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Peter 4:12-19

In one word, how does Peter say you should think of yourself if others insult you because of the name of Jesus? (See 4:14.)

If others insult you because of the name of Jesus, you are blessed.

What does Peter mean in 4:17, when he says that it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God, so even worse things are coming for the godless?

In short, Peter means judgment day will be hopeless for unbelievers. Paul Kretzmann answers our question by first quoting Augustine’s analogy: “‘If the sons are being chastised, what will happen to the slaves?’ What will be the fate of the unrighteous, if God does not even spare the righteous, his intention being to instruct and train them? The believers are hardly, but certainly saved; those, however, that have refused to be obedient to the Gospel, that were unbelievers from choice, will miss the salvation of Christ, will go away into everlasting destruction …. That is what the apostle calls out in impressive warning: If the righteous is hardly saved, where will the godless and the sinner appear?”

Gospel – Mark 8:27-35

Why was Peter rebuked for not wanting Jesus to suffer and die?

Jesus rebuked Peter, we could say, for not understanding what the name “Christ” really meant. Peter and the other disciples were looking for an earthly king. Jesus rejected Peter’s well-meant but ill-conceived rebuke. Without Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we would still be in our sins and lost forever.

What is meant by taking up the cross?

Taking up one’s cross means denying oneself. It means to follow the One who carried his cross to Golgotha by refusing to make oneself the sole object in one’s life but making God and his will the center one’s life. That will always involve sacrifices, avoiding everything that might come between us and our Savior (Mark 7:20-23), even being ready to suffer shame and death to remain faithful to him.

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Ears Opened by God Enjoy His Good Gifts

These are the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

If you can hear, you probably take your sense of hearing for granted. Yet what a wonderful gift from God your sense of hearing is! You can hear how Jesus died for you. You can receive not just into your ears, but deep inside you the whole wondrous message of God’s rescue. You can hear the same good news Adam and Noah heard, the same good news Isaiah, Peter, and Jesus preached—preached even to a man who previously had been a deaf-mute.

First Lesson – Isaiah 35:4-7a

In chapter 34 Isaiah foretold horrors—total destruction for all nations, all the stars of heaven being dissolved, and the sky rolling up like a scroll. Now, what does Isaiah describe? That is, if chapter 34 pictures judgment day, what will follow judgment day (according to chapter 35)?

After judgment day, everything ruined will be restored in general. The ultimate restoration (35:8-10) will be when all of the Lord’s people walk the Way of Holiness. They will re-enter God’s eternal city, the new Jerusalem, with great gladness; as sorrow and sighing flee away.

What will happen to the blind and deaf, specifically? (See 35:5.)

Isaiah says that the blind will see and that the lame will walk.

Traditional Second Lesson – James 1:17-27

Where does every good gift come from?

It is God’s nature to give good gifts to his children. In fact, those are the only kinds of gifts he can give.

How is the righteous man blessed?

The Christian, because of Christ, will look to the Law as a joyful obligation. He will listen to it and strive to obey it. This will make him truly “religious.”

Supplemental Second Lesson – Acts 3:1-10

How did Peter and John give the lame man ability to walk? (See 3:6.)

Peter and John said to the lame man, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

How did the man respond to his healing?

The formerly lame man went into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. Note that he did not go around touting Peter and John. They were not the real cause of the healing. God was, through his risen Son, Jesus. The man could not have been more certain.

Gospel – Mark 7:31-37

Why does Jesus use sign language as he heals the deaf man?

Jesus probably used sign language because the poor man could not have understood what Jesus was doing if he had spoken to him. Jesus used sign language to help the deaf man gather what was about to happen and to give him faith in Jesus.

Once healed, the deaf man “spoke clearly.” What is the significance?

The fact that the deaf man spoke clearly after Jesus healed him shows that Jesus healed the man perfectly. The deaf man did not have to go to a speech therapist to learn how to pronounce words.

Why did Jesus not want them to tell anyone about the miracle that just had taken place?

Jesus told people not to tell anyone about this miraculous healing because he did not want fame and popularity to go to his own head or to hinder his way to the cross.

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Shows the Cause and Measure of Evil

These are the readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

The psalmist wrote, “Oh, how I love your law!” (Psalm 119:97). The three scripture readings give us good reasons to love God’s law. That law shows us how to thank the God who redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil. It guides us in every situation. It identifies the beginning of evil—our own hearts.

Traditional First Lesson – Deuteronomy 4:1,2,6-8

Why did God command the Israelites not to “add or subtract” to what he commands?

The Israelites were God’s chosen people to whom he himself had given his decrees and laws. The commands were perfect in every respect. Adding or subtracting to what God had decreed was not only unthinkable but intolerable. Obedience to these commands showed their faithfulness to God and attracted the attention of the heathen.

How were God’s laws and decrees so much more righteous than the other nations’ laws?

God’s laws and decrees originated with the righteous and holy God. His moral law pointed to perfect love for God and fellow man. His ceremonial laws had meaning and purpose by pointing to the world’s only Savior. The civil laws demanded fair and just punishment for wrongdoers.

Supplemental First Lesson – Deuteronomy 4:1,2,6-9

Why did God command the Israelites not to “add or subtract” to what he commands?

At Mt. Sinai, God had given his chosen people promises and decrees that were perfect in every respect—even though many of the laws would only bind God’s people until the Messiah came. Adding or subtracting to perfection would dishonor God and his grace. Obeying these commands would show Israel’s faithfulness to God and attract the attention of their heathen neighbors.

How were God’s laws and decrees so much more righteous than the other nations’ laws?

God’s laws and decrees originated with the righteous and holy God and pointed people back to him, not to selfishness. a) God’s moral law demands perfect love for God and fellow man. b) His ceremonial laws pointed ahead to the world’s only Savior. c) Israel’s civil laws demanded fair punishment for wrongdoers. No other nations’ laws compared, and no other nation had received their laws when their God had come near them to rescue them from slavery and to adopt them as his people by a holy covenant.

Traditional Second Lesson – Ephesians 6:10-20

Whom does Paul identify as our real enemy?

Our real enemies are not the people or circumstances around us, but the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces of evil who are the demons, the fallen angels headed by Satan, a fierce fighter.

Paul mentions only one offensive weapon. What is it? What is it used for?

The Roman soldier carried a sword. Our offensive weapon is the Word of God. God tells us that his Word is truth. The truths and promises found in the Word refute the devil and all his lies and attacks.

Supplemental Second Lesson – James 1:17-27

What tool that God uses to save and sanctify us does James keep highlighting here?

James highlights God’s Word, through which God gave us new birth—the word which God planted in us to save us.

Obeying God’s law cannot save us because we cannot obey it perfectly—just the opposite. Still, what does God’s perfect law give believers when we obey God out of thanks and love?

God’s perfect law gives freedom, James says. Instead of being slaves to our own pride, to all our dirty desires, and to people-pleasing, we are free.

Gospel – Mark 7:1-8,14,15,21-23

How did the Pharisees add to God’s law?

The Pharisees added to God’s law by elevating hand-washing to a religious ceremony that they claimed made them better before God than those who did not wash (literally, “baptize”) their hands.

Why did Jesus call them “hypocrites”?

Jesus called such men hypocrites (literally, “actors”) because they were always finding fault with other people but never with themselves and pretended to love and worship God when they really intended to make themselves appear holier than others.

The Pharisees were afraid of becoming unclean because of contact with Gentiles in the marketplace. How does a man become truly unclean, according to Jesus?

Jesus says sin and filth starts in the heart when we allow the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature to plant evil inside of us. We are dirty due to our sinful hearts. Then we become even more unclean when we embrace evil ideas and expose them to the rest of the world by what we say and do. (The Pharisees exemplified this when they plotted and worked to kill Jesus while claiming to be especially religious men.)

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Gives the Bread of Life that We Will Trust His Difficult Words

These are the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

God’s Word is not always easy to believe. There are some difficult words that we run up against as we read through our Bible, ideas that seem so contrary to our “modern way of thinking.” We shouldn’t think, however, that these words were any easier to believe back in Bible times. They weren’t. God’s people have always been faced with the difficult words of God. That’s why Jesus gives us the Bread of Life, that we might be led to set aside our worldly objections and see the loving and saving intent of every word from our Savior’s mouth. When we see that intent, it’s easier to trust even the most difficult words.

Traditional First Lesson – Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18

What encouragement did Joshua give the children of Israel after they had entered the Promised Land?

Joshua encouraged Israel to give up their false gods and serve the only true God.

What decision had Joshua made about his own family?

Joshua insisted that he and his family would serve the Lord, even when it sometimes proved to be difficult.

Supplemental First Lesson – Exodus 7:8-13

Who hardened his heart?

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, hardened his heart.

Why shouldn’t he have hardened his heart?

Pharaoh should not have hardened his heart, even though his magicians did like Aaron and turned their staffs into snakes, because Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Clearly, the power of the true God was far greater than the satanic arts of Pharaoh’s wise men and sorcerers.

Traditional Second Lesson – Ephesians 5:21-31

What difficult word does Paul use in verses 21-24, a word with which this world is uncomfortable?

Paul uses the word “submit” and specifically applies it to how a Christian wife is to approach her relationship with her husband. Submission is not the “dirty word” that many make it out to be today. Submission can only take place between two people of equal status, and it is something that is done willingly, out of love for Jesus and his Word. All Christians are to submit to one another (5:21), placing their own prerogatives and ideas under the prerogatives of others. It is a Christian wife’s special calling to place herself under the Christ-like leadership of her husband, even though sometimes it can be difficult.

What are Christian husbands commanded to do?

Christian husbands are commanded to love their wives “just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” In other words, a husband is to be primarily concerned with the needs and desires of his wife and family, just as Jesus came to be our willing servant (Mark 10:45). That is not easy to do, but when a husband loves his wife as Christ loved the Church, his Christian wife will willingly submit to his Christ-like leadership.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Hebrews 11:24-28

Which two unique times in Moses’ life does the writer to the Hebrews describe? (See 11:24-26 and 11:27,28.)

First, the writer to the Hebrews describes what Moses did at about age 40. He chose to be mistreated along with the Jewish people, the people of God, rather than retaining his status as a part of the royal family in Egypt. Forty years later, when Moses was about 80, he left Egypt, not fearing the anger of the king at that time.

“By faith,” Moses did what he did. More specifically, for what two reasons did Moses follow such an unusual course?

The writer to the Hebrews says that Moses ignored all the wealth and power of being part of the rulership of Egypt because he was looking ahead to his reward. He persevered because he saw him who is invisible.

Gospel – John 6:60-69

After his disciples heard what Jesus had to say about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood,” how did they respond?

The people who left said that Jesus’ words were “a hard teaching,” too tough for them to believe.

Did Jesus try to soften his words when people left?

Jesus did not attempt to soften his words. Instead, he realized that some of his disciples would forsake him in stubborn unbelief.

How did some of Jesus’ followers finally react? What about the Twelve?

John tells us that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” The Twelve, however, stayed with Jesus, as Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” These disciples trusted the words of Jesus, the Bread of Life, even though they were difficult to understand. Who else’s words could give them eternal life with God?

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Gives the Bread of Life so That We Will Not Stumble

These are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Living as a Christian is hard. The devil places many obstacles in our way, all of which lead to sin and unbelief. But by his death in our place (by losing!), Jesus defeated Satan. The risen Christ gives us a way out of every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Most of all, our Savior gives us the Bread of Life, his promises of forgiveness and eternal rescue. As we nourish our faith on this Bread of Life, Jesus will give us boldness to fight our spiritual enemies.

First Lesson – Proverbs 9:1-6

What character do we meet in these verses?

In Proverbs 9, we meet Wisdom. Miss Wisdom prepares a feast (hospitable). If we read on, we also meet Stupidity.

What are the characteristics of Miss Wisdom?

Miss Wisdom is so industrious she has built her own house at the highest point of the city. She is well-to-do enough that she has servant girls. She is so welcoming that she sends out her servant girls to invite all to come to her feast.

What invitation does she offer to all?

Wisdom invites us to come to her home and eat, to walk in the way of understanding, and to leave our foolish, worldly way of thinking. Such heavenly wisdom leads us on the right path so that we will not stumble in our faith.

Second Lesson – Ephesians 5:15-20

What encouragement does Paul give in verse 15?

Paul encourages us to be careful in how we live our lives as Christians, to be wise in the decisions we make, understanding the Lord’s will for us.

How are we to speak to one another as Christians?

We aren’t to use unwholesome talk. Instead, we should speak to one another spiritually, “with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs … giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”

Gospel – John 6:51-58

True or false: Jesus is talking about Holy Communion in these verses.

False. Jesus had not instituted Holy Communion when he spoke these words in John 6. Instead, when Jesus says that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life, he means trusting in him as our Savior who came to sacrifice his body and shed his blood to give us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God.

What is the main difference between the manna that God gave to his people after they got out of Egypt and the Bread of Life which Jesus gives us?

The sending of manna during Moses’ time came to an end; Jesus, the Bread of Life, lasts forever. He gives eternal life

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Gives the Bread of Life That We Might Fulfill the Impossible

These are the readings for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Have you ever faced a frustrating, seemingly impossible task? For Christians, believing all of Jesus’ promises and loving others as he loves us sometimes seems out of the question. In today’s lessons, though, we see how Jesus gives us the ability to fulfill impossible tasks by giving us the Bread of Life. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5). But with God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

First Lesson – 1 Kings 19:3-8

What was Elijah grumbling about?

Elijah was complaining about his life as a prophet of God. Wicked Queen Jezebel was chasing him (1 Kings 19:2), and now he simply wanted to give up and die.

Through the angels, what did the Lord command Elijah to do?

The Lord told Elijah to get up and eat. He sustained Elijah when the prophet thought that his situation was impossible.

Traditional Second Lesson – Ephesians 4:30–5:2

What model of love does Paul present in these verses?

Paul encourages us to love others just as Christ loves us. Jesus’ love is a sacrificial and forgiving love.

How is that love going to manifest itself, according to Paul?

Paul gives an extensive list in Ephesians 4:31-32.

Is it easy to show this type of unconditional love to others?

For sinners like us, it is impossible to have this type of love for one another unless Jesus gives us the Bread of Life, his Word of forgiveness. Jesus’ love and forgiveness for us moves us to love others in similar ways.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Hebrews 5:11–6:3

How does the writer to the Hebrews describe the elementary truths of God’s Word? More advanced truths?

The writer to the Hebrews describes the elementary truths of God’s Word as ‘milk’ and the more advanced truths as ‘solid food.’

The writer to the Hebrews does not seem to be upset that his first readers were not leading godly, moral lives. What is he concerned about?

The writer to the Hebrews seems concerned that his first readers were not pressing on as believers, perhaps because of their unwillingness to suffer more for the gospel. Like babies, they could not see and work out the deeper implications of the gospel in their lives.

In a word, what did the writer to the Hebrews want his readers to press on to?

The writer to the Hebrews wanted his readers to press on to maturity.

Gospel – John 6:41-51

With what statement of Jesus were the people having difficulty and why? How did Jesus react?

The Jews in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:59) grumbled at the fact that Jesus called himself the “bread that came down from heaven.” His claim that he was from heaven seemed to be blasphemous. Jesus told them to stop their grumbling.

What important truth about our Christian lives does Jesus make clear in verses 44-45?

Jesus points out that apart from the working of his heavenly Father, we are unable to believe in him and come to him. (We could even translate, ‘no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me drags him.’) The Father does this work of dragging/drawing us to faith through the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.) The Holy Spirit brings us to faith by supplying us with the Bread of Life, the truth about Jesus, our Savior. Apart from the working of the Holy Trinity, we could never trust in Jesus. We would rely on our own goodness.

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Gives the Bread of Life to Nourish our Souls Eternally

These are the readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Many Christian churches stress social action. Feeding the hungry is important for Christians. God commands acts of mercy. Sadly, however, many churches offer little more than physical bread, bread that does not last. Bread is necessary for this life, but Jesus wants his Church to focus on offering the Bread of Life (Jesus himself, the Word of God). This Bread nourishes our souls, not just now, but for all eternity.

Traditional First Lesson – Exodus 16:2-15

In what predicament did Israel find itself?

They didn’t have much to eat.

How did the Lord provide for them?

The Lord provided manna (derived from the Hebrew for “What is it?”) from heaven on a daily basis. It was “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). On this particular day, the Lord also provided quail.

Supplemental First Lesson – Exodus 16:2-20

Why did all Israel grumble against Moses and Aaron?

Israel was in a difficult spot: They had very little to eat.

Whenever we grumble, against whom are we grumbling? (See Exodus 16:8.)

Whenever we grumble, we are grumbling against the Lord. Yet he has put us where we are. He promises to provide for all his children’s needs, and he has been so kind, so often. He forbids grumbling. So why do we grumble?

How did the Lord provide for his grumbling people?

From heaven the Lord daily provided manna. “It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (16:31). On this particular day, the Lord also provided quail.

Traditional Second Lesson – Ephesians 4:17-24

Upon what does Paul insist in these verses?

Paul insists that Christians not live like the “Gentiles” (i.e. the unbelieving world). These people have hardened their hearts to the truth of God’s Word and want nothing to do with the Bread of Life.

How are we kept from indulging “in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more”?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word, we are led to put off our old self (the sinful flesh) and put on our new self (the Spirit-led Christian life). But the Spirit only works through the Word of Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 11-13

How would you respond if someone says, “I know God severely punished people long ago, but things changed once Jesus died on the cross”? (See 10:11.)

If someone claims that Old Testament Bible stories about God punishing people do not apply to us, we should tell them that the New Testament says that all those stories are meant to warn us and to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things, as people long ago did.

Can a Christian lose his or her faith? (See 10:12.)

Sadly, yes, a Christian can lose his or her faith. We need this warning whenever we think we are standing firm on our own. When we feel unsure of our future and sorry for our sins, we need the comfort only the gospel gives.

Gospel – John 6:24-35

What kind of bread were the people interested in having from Jesus? What kind of bread did Jesus offer? How did the people misunderstand?

The people were interested in having physical bread. Jesus offered “food that endures to eternal life.” The people still thought that Jesus was offering physical bread that would last forever.

What did Jesus mean when he said: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus is talking about faith in him as the Savior from sin. While Jesus also promises to provide for our daily, earthly needs, here he is focusing on the eternal needs of our souls. Through faith in Jesus, the Bread of Life, we can be assured that we will never go spiritually hungry or thirsty.

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Gives the Bread of Life to Unify Us in Faith, Love, and Purpose

These are the readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Christian congregations easily get distracted. Sometimes false teaching or overly strong opinions and the resentment that follows can destroy a church’s unity. Congregations may get caught up in too many projects or programs that divert them from their divine purpose. Only Jesus can overcome such disasters. He gives us his Word, the Bread of Life, to unify us in faith, love, and purpose.

Traditional First Lesson – Exodus 24:3-11

How did the people respond to the words and laws that Moses brought them from the Lord?

They said with one voice that they would do everything the Lord had commanded.

In what two ways was this covenant (agreement) with the Lord sealed?

Moses sealed the covenant by sprinkling the people with the blood of the covenant. The Lord sealed the covenant by eating and drinking with the seventy elders of Israel.

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Kings 4:42-44

What did the man from Baal Shalishah bring to the prophet Elisha?

The man from Baal Shalishah brought 20 loaves of barley bread, as well as some heads of new grain. We should probably not picture tall loaves of bread, such as we find in our stores, but flatter loaves, like pita bread, large tortillas, or pancakes.

Not only did those few loaves suffice for 100 men, but there was food left over. How did the miracle take place? (See the end of 2 Kings 4:44.)

The miracle took place according to the word of the Lord. “It came because of what the Lord had said, just as the Lord had said.” (The miracle of the Lord’s Supper works the same way–completely by the power of what Jesus said when he first started his sacrament.)

Traditional Second Lesson – Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16

What concept does Paul emphasize in verses 2-7?

Paul emphasizes that Christians are to desire unity and “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” That means being “humble and gentle.” We need to “be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

What special gifts has Jesus given to his Church? What is the ultimate purpose of their work in the Church?

Jesus has given the Church public ministers of the gospel (“pastors and teachers”). The ultimate purpose of their work is that the Church might “reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.”

How is unity attained in the Church?

Unity is reached through a faithful proclamation of the truth, the Word of God, the Bread of Life.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 9:8-11

When we give generously to the Lord and the poor, we often fear we will have less. What does God promise?

The Lord promises that instead of having less when we give to him and the poor, he will make all grace abound to us so that having all that we need, at all times, in all things, we will abound in all good activity.

What is the righteous man like? (See 9:9.)

Quoting Psalm 112:9, Paul says that the righteous man is generous. He scatters his gifts widely to the poor. His righteousness lasts forever. That is, God will never forget the selfless good he has done but will bless him for it forever.

Instead of just enriching us, what is God’s bigger plan?

God’s plan (bigger than just enriching us when we are generous) is to make us able to be even more generous, and then to have thanksgiving to God result from our generosity to others.

Gospel – John 6:1-15

What concern did Jesus have for the great crowds who were following him? What was Philip’s response?

Jesus wanted to feed the crowds. Philip thought that it was the people’s job to find food for themselves.

Once Jesus fed the crowd, miraculously, how did some wrongly react to Jesus’ miracle?

First, Jesus fed the entire crowd (5,000 men plus women and children) with just two fish and five loaves of bread. Some people, seeing this miracle, wanted to make Jesus king by force. Jesus hadn’t come principally to give physical bread though, but spiritual bread—the “Bread of Life.”

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Gives the Bread of Life by His Faithful Word

These are the readings for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Last week we saw how Jesus gives the Bread of Life through faithful public ministers. This week we focus more on their message. Public ministers must faithfully proclaim God’s Word. When pastors do not preach the whole truth of God, they destroy faith and turn people away from Jesus, for “faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). Nothing else will do.

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 23:1-6

Who were these “shepherds” (prophets) who were destroying and scattering the Lord’s flock (his people)?

The shepherds to whom God refers are the false prophets in Judah during the days of Jeremiah.

Since others were not faithfully proclaiming his Word, what did the Lord plan to do?

The Lord would come himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, to shepherd his flock by his faithful Word.

Supplemental First Lesson – Numbers 27:12-23

Why did Moses ask that God appoint a man to replace him as leader of God’s people? (See Numbers 27:17.)

Moses asked God to appoint a replacement for him so that the Lord’s people would not be like sheep without a shepherd. (Isn’t Moses’ love for the Israelite people amazing, considering how often they complained about his leadership over the years?)

How did God describe Joshua, Moses’ replacement?

God described Joshua, Moses’ replacement, as a man who was in the spirit. This may mean a bold spirit of leadership or the Holy Spirit who gives such boldness.

Traditional Second Lesson – Ephesians 2:13-22

How did Jesus bring together the Jews and the Gentiles into one Christian Church? (See 2:15,16.)

Jesus brought these two groups together by fulfilling and abolishing the Old Testament law, which separated the Jews and Gentiles. Salvation and membership in the Church are not to be based on following certain rules and regulations, as so many still preach today. Instead, Jesus won forgiveness, salvation, and entry into eternal life for all people through his death on the cross and powerful Easter resurrection from the dead.

Upon what does Paul say this Christian Church is built?

The Church is founded upon the faithful word of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. Jesus, who is himself the Word of God, is the chief cornerstone. (See John 1:1.)

Supplemental Second Lesson – Hebrews 13:7-8, 17-21

What is the one reason why believers should obey faithful pastors and submit to their authority? (See 13:20.)

Christians have good reason to obey faithful pastors and submit to their authority because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever: Jesus’ words do not change. The grace we receive from him does not change.

How does the writer to the Hebrews describe Jesus, now that the Father has raised him from the dead? (See 13:20.)

The writer to the Hebrews (we are not certain who he was) describes Jesus as “the great Shepherd of the sheep.”

Gospel – Mark 6:30-34

What did Jesus want his disciples to have? What stopped them?

After they returned from a preaching trip, Jesus wanted his disciples to have a vacation. They didn’t get it, for large crowds followed them when they tried to get away.

How did Jesus feel about the crowds that followed him? Why did he feel that way?

Mark says that he had compassion on them because, spiritually speaking, they were wandering aimlessly like lost sheep with no shepherd.

How did Jesus respond to the people’s needs?

He began to give them the Bread of Life by his faithful Word, teaching them the truths of God.

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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Gives the Bread of Life

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Faithfully proclaiming God’s Word is hard. Public ministers serve as God’s representative to a sinful world, and the world does not want to accept God’s truth. The Old Testament prophet Amos found that out; Paul and Timothy found that out; Jesus’ newly-called apostles would find that out. Yet God has chosen faithful public preachers as a way he will have the good news of Jesus come to his chosen ones in all nations. Thank God for faithful public preachers and teachers of the gospel! By them, Jesus gives us the Bread of Life.

First Lesson – Amos 7:10-17

Was Amos proclaiming a popular message in Israel?

As is often the case today, Amos did not have a “politically correct” message for the people of Israel. He announced that Israel’s popular king would die by the sword and that Israel would go into exile. Interestingly, Amos proclaimed this message during the height of the Northern Kingdom’s greatest prosperity. (See 2 Kings 14:24.)

What did the king’s representative tell Amos to do, and how did Amos respond to the king’s command?

Amaziah told Amos to go back to Judah, his homeland, and to stop prophesying in the land of Israel. Amos responded that he was not a prophet of his own choosing; instead, he had been commanded by the Lord to say these things.

Traditional Second Lesson – Ephesians 1:3-14

What comforting teaching of Scripture does Paul address in these verses?

Paul tells the Ephesians and us that our salvation was planned by God before the creation of the world. God chose us in Christ to be his children. Sadly, some have undermined this comforting doctrine of eternal election with their speculations about God’s hidden will and have frightened the consciences of Christians. Paul wants us to be comforted by his words, not frightened! God loved you and chose you in Christ from all eternity! Believe it; it’s true!

What is the “mystery of [God’s] will?” (See 1:9.)

The mystery (something that is hidden for a time) of God’s will to which Paul refers in this letter is that God’s salvation is for all people, not just for the descendants of his Old Testament people. The “you” of verse 13 is the gentile Christians in Ephesus. (cf. also Ephesians 3:4-6.)

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Timothy 3:1-7

What is the first qualification of a teaching elder in the church?

The first quality God requires for teaching elders in his church (pastors and other overseers) is that they be ‘above reproach’ or ‘beyond criticism.’ As sinners, they cannot be perfect, but they should be exemplary, with nothing in their past or in their current way of life that makes it hard for the average person to trust them.

What is the only qualification of a teaching elder in the church that does not relate to his character?

Besides all the character qualifications for an overseer in God’s church, that man must be ‘able to teach.’ He must be knowledgeable about God’s truth and be able to communicate it well.

Gospel – Mark 6:7–13

What is an apostle? What were the Twelve called to do?

An apostle is “one who is sent,” an ambassador with a message. Jesus called the apostles to proclaim the good news about him and his kingdom.

What instructions did Jesus give them and why?

Jesus told the Twelve not to take anything with them except a staff. In other words, they were to trust God to provide. If any place did not accept their testimony, they were to move on to another place.

In a word, what not-so-popular but the oh-so-necessary message did the Twelve preach?

The Twelve told people to repent.

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Listen for the Message God Gives You in His Word

These are the readings for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Preaching the message of God is not a popularity contest. The size of the crowd and the level of cheering is not what it is all about, but rather being faithful in speaking God’s Word to specific people and situations. That may ruffle feathers. The unwillingness of people to listen humbles God’s spokesmen. May we always pay close attention to God’s message, no matter how lowly the messenger who brings it.

Traditional First Lesson – Ezekiel 2:1-5

What did God call Ezekiel to do?

Ezekiel was to go to the Israelites who had rebelled against God. God had a specific people and a specific message on which he was to focus his life from this point on.

How would God measure Ezekiel’s effectiveness?

Popularity was not to be the deciding factor in determining his effectiveness. He continues to remind Ezekiel that he is going up against rebellious and stubborn people. His effectiveness will be gauged on his faithfulness in saying God’s words to them no matter how much opposition he gets from them.

Traditional Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Does a greater level of faith guarantee God will grant your prayer request?

Often well-intentioned Christians will say that someone’s situation didn’t get better because they didn’t have enough faith. Paul was surely a man of great faith. The Lord had revealed to him things others had never seen and heard. God is not a “genie in a bottle” to respond to our shortsighted requests in prayer. Ultimately God’s loving plans for us dictate his wise, caring response.

Why did God allow that specific struggle Paul was experiencing in his life to remain?

The Lord knew how sinful nature can pull us away from him (especially pride). The “thorn in the flesh” was God’s tool to keep Paul humble and to keep him connected to his real strength—the Lord. When we are “weak,” we despair of ourselves and finally give the task over to God. God’s power stands out more brilliantly with the miracles he accomplishes when we are “weak.”

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Timothy 3:104:5

As Paul writes these words to Timothy, he is in prison in Rome. He knows he is about to die. Paul does not say that only apostles will be persecuted or that only pastors and prominent Christians should expect persecution. What does Paul write in 3:12?

Paul says that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

What does Paul say about the Bible, our only source of strength in persecution? (See 2 Timothy 3:15-17.)

Paul says the Bible is holy, and it can make us wise for salvation (both that we need it desperately, and that we have it for free) through trusting in Christ Jesus. Paul says the whole Bible is God-breathed. It thoroughly equips us for every good work.

Was Timothy supposed to focus on church leadership with Paul about to die?

Timothy was not to focus on leadership. Paul had Timothy swear to preach the Word. Timothy was both to warn and correct others with God’s Word. He was to encourage others with it, using great patience and careful instruction.

Gospel – Mark 6:1-6

What obstacle did Jesus meet while preaching in his hometown?

The people of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, remembered Jesus as a child and pictured him as a carpenter. Now he was a preacher? Since they were so familiar with him and his family, they were unwilling to see past the person and listen to what he preached.

What did the reaction to Jesus in Nazareth show?

The reaction of the people of Nazareth to Jesus showed their lack of faith. They were amazed at his wisdom and the miracles he did, but they let their reasoning get in the way. Instead, they should have seen Jesus’ wisdom and miracles as evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, by believing they would have had life in his name (See John 20:30,31.)

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