ADVENT – December 11, 2017

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

These are the Scripture readings for the Third Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11

Upon whom is this prophecy mainly focusing?

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

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

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

Who makes all these changes?

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

Supplemental First Lesson – Malachi 4:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

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

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

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

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

Gospel – John 1:6-8, 19-28

Who was the focal point of John’s message?

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

What was John’s attitude toward Christ?

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

ADVENT – December 4, 2017

God Provides Messengers and Means to Prepare Us for the End.

These are the Scripture readings for the Second Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 40:1-11

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

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

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

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

Second Lesson – 2 Peter 3:8-14

“With the Lord a day is like a 1000 years and a 1000 years like a day.” What does that have to do with this reading?

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

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

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

Gospel – Mark 1:1-8

What was the focus of John’s baptisms?

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

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

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

ADVENT – November 27, 2017

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

These are the Scripture readings for the First Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

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

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

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

Why does he want God to do awesome things?

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

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

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

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

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

The sons of God married unbelieving women.

Nephililm (perhaps meaning “falling ones”) became heroes in those days. Often sexually immoral and violent people are heroes today.

Why is that a problem?

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

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

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

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Peter 3:18-22

When and why did Jesus descend into hell?

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

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

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

Gospel – Mark 13:32-37

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

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

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

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

Christ the King – November 20, 2017

Lord, Keep us Joyful in Christ our King!

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of End Time.

God’s Word for This Week

Lord, keep us joyful in Christ our King! On this last Sunday of the church year, we rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation through Christ our King. And we rejoice because our Christ our King reigns—the king who once came as a sacrifice; the king who still shepherds us day by day; the king who one day will conquer all our enemies. Rejoice in his reign and look forward to the day when every knee will bow with us before the King of kings and Lord of lords!

First Lesson – Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23, 24

Since the time of David, Israel had called her kings “shepherds.” The men who followed in David’s line, however, did not shepherd Israel in the paths of God. So God made a promise: the Sovereign LORD would shepherd his people. Notice the first-person pronouns in this lesson—we rejoice because we have a King who acts on behalf of his people, like a shepherd for sheep. God says, “I will guide them; I will guard them; I will seek them; I will find them.” Most importantly, God promised to raise up King David’s greater Son to be the prince of his people and their Good Shepherd. Rejoice in the Christ the King who shepherds his flock day by day!

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

 If the story of Christ ended on Good Friday, there could be no joy at all. Had Christ not been raised, we should be pitied more than all men, as Paul says in the verse immediately preceding this lesson. But the story didn’t end on Friday—a whole new chapter started on Easter Sunday morning! Christ has indeed been raised, and that means he is the firstfruits of the dead. When the Israelites brought the firstfruit offering to the Lord, they confessed that the whole harvest belonged to God, and they rejoiced at the greater harvest that was coming. Through the resurrection of Jesus, God promised that a field full of souls will follow the firstfruits from death to life. Until then, Christ will reign as king until the Great Day comes when he reverses everything Adam ruined and destroys every enemy that stands against the Church. Then our joy will be complete, and God will be all in all. Rejoice in Christ the King who will conquer all our enemies!

 Gospel – Matthew 27:27-31

 Joyful? How can this make us rejoice? The scene would seem like bad satire if not for its sad reality. Petty little men in a tiny little fortress bully the One who created light from darkness and divided land from sea. He deserved the finest crown, but look what man gave! He deserved the noblest scepter, but look what man handed him! He deserved the sincerest devotion, but look what man offered! He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. The King of heaven came to earth, and look at what man gave him! He could have swept them all away; he could have condemned us like he had the fallen angels. Man deserved nothing more—but look at what he gave! He gave his holiness for our sin and his death for our life. This scene is joyful because we know how it ends. The picture of our King wearing a crown of thorns is not tragic, but rather it is full of grace. We have a King in Christ who left his heavenly throne and regnavit a ligno crucis (“reigned from the wood of the cross”, Justin Martyr; Augustine). Rejoice in Christ the King who came as our sacrifice!

Saints Triumphant – November 13, 2017

Lord, Keep us Watchful for our Triumph!

These are the readings for the Third Sunday of End Time.

God’s Word for This Week

Lord, keep us watchful for our triumph! Today the Church hears strains of the distant triumph song and affirms, “Blessed are they who are called to the marriage feast of the Lamb.” Jesus wants us to be the waiting Church—the Church that watches for her Savior and cries, “Come, Lord Jesus!” As we journey through these latter days, however, our vigilance slips, and our hearts grow drowsy because the bridegroom seems to be taking so long. So while we wait, the Church prays, “Keep us ever watchful for the coming of your Son that we may sit with him and all your holy ones at the marriage feast in heaven.”

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God and Savior, you have set the final day and hour when we shall be delivered from this world of sin and death. Keep us ever watchful for the coming of your Son that we may sit with him and all your holy ones at the marriage feast in heaven; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

First Lesson – Isaiah 52:1-6

Isaiah prophesies to captive Israel who is sleepwalking through life, because they are lost in the stupor of grief over their afflictions. “Awake!” the prophet cries, and hear God’s promise of coming triumph that will give you strength to face your present problems. God would reveal his glory by redeeming his people and leading them safely home. Captive Israel here is a picture of the waiting Church, and one day God will fulfill this promise also in us. The Church of the End Times labors in a world held captive by sin, and is tempted to sleepwalk through these last days. So the prophet cries to us, “Awake!” for the day of triumph is coming when God will lay bare his arm and redeem us from sin, death, and the devil forever. He will lead us to the New Jerusalem where we will sit enthroned at the marriage feast of the Lamb. The day is coming—watch for it!

Who are the “uncircumcised and defiled” that will never enter the holy city of Jerusalem?

Throughout its history, Israel had been invaded and attacked by foreign nations (most recently by the nation of Assyria). Due to their disobedience, pagan armies entered and even conquered Jerusalem. God promised that a day would come when Jerusalem would be freed from such invasions. In the New Testament we find that the true Israel and the true Jerusalem are God’s holy people–his church. We will see the deliverance foretold by Isaiah when we put on our “garments of splendor” in heaven.

Verse three tells us that we were redeemed without money. Define the term “redeem”.

To redeem means “to buy back” or “to pay the price of freedom.” Jesus paid the price necessary to free us from our slavery to sin and death. He did this, “not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.”

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

To the new Christians in Thessalonica, Paul explains the certain hope we have to be saints triumphant. His words are so simple, yet so profound! We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that all who die in Christ will go with him to heavenly triumph. And we will be with the Lord forever. This is the crown jewel of the Christian faith: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Paul’s main point: encouragement. Encourage each other with the hope of saints triumphant so that there is neither ignorance nor hopeless grief, but rather faithful, expectant watching for the triumph we know is coming.

Supplemental First Lesson – Ezekiel 37:15-28

This lesson immediately follows Ezekiel’s prophecy about the dry bones. God had promised Israel that he would raise them up from their graves and settle them in the land. He promised to restore captive Israel to the land of Abraham. The rescue and return of the remnant provides a picture of what the Church waits and watches for. In this lesson God extends that prophecy beyond physical Israel to the Church and to the Messianic kingdom of his Son. Earthly troubles like the captivity or our struggle with sin are temporary. The triumph that’s coming won’t be. Notice that in the last four verses God repeatedly talks about the unending nature of the kingdom waiting for us. It will be a kingdom without divisions caused by sin, but exemplified by oneness (one stick, one nation, one king, one shepherd—forever). How will this be? Look at how many times God says that he will act for us! We are purely passive in acquiring the triumph in store for us. God will act to save and to cleanse and to renew his covenant: I will be their God, and they will be my people. As Ezekiel held his bound sticks before the eyes of his countrymen, so the Church holds God’s promises of pending triumph before us and continually cries, “Wait for it! Watch for it!”

Supplemental Second Lesson – Revelation 19:1-9

What kind of triumph are we watching and waiting for?

For the persecuted Church, Jesus gave the Apocalypse of St. John, to let his people know: Jesus will win. Revelation 18 foretold the fall of Babylon and the destruction of every enemy of the Church. “After this…” John heard the reaction of the saints and angels and all creation—they cried, “Hallelujah!” The word used so prevalently in the Old Testament was not heard in the New Testament until its final vision of the saints triumphant. George Handel tried to capture the glory of what John witnessed with his Hallelujah Chorus, but his work will certainly pale by comparison to that distant triumph song. John lets us see behind the shut door of the parable in our Gospel for the Sunday—he lets us see what we watch for: the consummation of the marriage of Christ and the Church. Blessed are they who are called to the marriage feast of the Lamb! Keep us watchful for our coming triumph!

Gospel – Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus pictures the time before his return as virgins waiting for a bridegroom and the start of a wedding feast. The parable divides all people (ten virgins) into two groups: foolish and wise. They weren’t described that way because of what they did in the parable, but their actions showed what they were. The foolish virgins acted utterly foolish, bearing empty lamps. The other virgins’ actions showed that they indeed were wise. The wise went into the joys of wedding banquet, but the foolish lost both invitation and even recognition. Jesus’ central instruction in this parable calls for the waiting Church to be the watchful Church. Keep watch for you do not know the day or the hour!

Last Judgement – November 6, 2017

Lord, Keep us Mindful of the Judgment!

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

God’s Word for This Week

Lord, keep us mindful of the judgment! He will come to judge the living and the dead. We confess it every Sunday, but often live like those are empty words. Moses’ psalm on the mortality of man shakes us from our spiritual slumber. Number your days aright and gain a heart of wisdom! Today the Church prays that God keep us ever mindful of the last judgment that we might be found in faith, fruitful in both word and deed. Then there’s no need to fear judgment day; rather, we can look forward to the day of our redemption.

Prayer of the Day

Lord God Almighty, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by your Holy Spirit that we may always look forward to the end of this present evil age and to the day of your righteous judgment. Keep us steadfast in true and living faith and present us at last holy and blameless before you; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

First Lesson – Daniel 7:9,10

Daniel sees a vision of the last judgment that is filled with fire and thrones and books. God the Father is seated on his throne with fire beneath him and flowing out from him—fire that metes out punishment for the unrighteous but refines believers like gold with the dross removed. Who doesn’t shudder when he sees Daniel’s vision of God and then hears the somber statement, “The books were opened”? Being mindful of the coming judgment means knowing that one day the books will be opened, and God will judge us according to what is in them. But look carefully: there is not just one throne here! Daniel said “thrones” were set in place. See who else is at the judgment. The Son of God has a throne there (Psalm 110). So do the apostles (Matthew 19:28). Yes, the same Jesus who died for us will be there to advocate for us; the same apostles who preached Jesus Christ risen for the forgiveness of sins will be there to call us part of their Church. Look at Revelation 20:11-15 and see the rest of the story. There are two kinds of books: books of deeds that record what each person has done, and a book that holds only names. Unbelievers are judged on the basis of their deeds, but believers are judged on the simple fact that their names are written in the book of life. When we are mindful of that, we can rejoice and look forward to the end of this age when we will reign with Christ in glory.

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Being mindful of the judgment means living according to God’s Word, not according to what the world says. The world tells itself again and again not to worry about God and his judgment. Peace and safety are its watchwords. Regardless of what the world says, the judgment is most certainly coming. When it comes on the world, it will be like a woman in labor—sudden, unstoppable, and irreversible. Paul reminds us to be mindful of the coming judgment by living alert and self-controlled lives. We are believers and are as different from unbelievers as sheep are from goats, as day is from night. So let’s live like it! We have been appointed to receive salvation, so let’s live as sons of the light and sons of the day. Leave the deeds of darkness for this dark world whose cries of “Peace!” and “Safety!” will not stop the judgment from overtaking them.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 2:2-11

Being mindful of the judgment means never falling into a self-righteous condemnation of the world around us. You judge them, but you do the same things that they do—do you really think that you will escape God’s wrath? Those are serious words. Paul aims leave no soul unindicted, but to make the whole world accountable to God (Romans 3:19). As long as man still has the righteousness and pride and strength to judge his fellowman, he is not ready for the beggary of faith; he is not ready to receive the radical rescue of the righteousness of God (Franzmann). God will give according to what each person has done—but the point here is the motive, not the actions themselves. Those who live in faith seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness—their actions give evidence of the faith that moves them, and they receive eternal life. Those who live without faith seek only themselves—their actions give evidence that faith is lacking, and they receive wrath and anger. Lord, keep us mindful of the judgment that we might be found in fruitful faith!

Gospel – Matthew 25:31-46

The Son of Man came once as a humble baby, but will return as a glorious king with angel armies at his side. He will sit on his throne, and all the nations will be brought before him to be judged. In this judgment, there are no shades of gray: you are either a sheep or a goat—there is no third option. You will either be judged righteous and brought to heaven or condemned and sent into eternal fire. In our present world we see so many shades of gray, but at the judgment the contrast between believer and unbeliever will be stark. Jesus’ judgment on unbelievers will be a just one, yet completely opposite of what he had wanted. Hell was never meant for humans; it had been prepared for the devil and his angels. When children of Adam are sent to hell on judgment day, they will enter a realm never meant for them. From the creation of the world, God had prepared an inheritance for the sons of Adam, a kingdom that becomes ours not by merit, but by grace. Both sheep and goats fail to see how their earthly lives could possibly merit their eternal fate. In fact, they speak the same words. The contrast, however, is stark: the sheep had faith in Christ that gave evidence of itself in the world; the goats had neither faith nor true fruits. Both receive an eternal judgment—life for the sheep and punishment for the goats. Lord, keep us mindful of your coming judgment that we might be found in faith, judged by your grace, and gifted with eternal life!

Reformation – October 30, 2017

Lord, Keep us Faithful to Your Word!

These are the readings for Reformation.

God’s Word for This Week

Lord, keep us faithful to your Word! The Festival of the Lutheran Reformation of the Church emphasizes the true Church’s unfailing reliance on the Word of God and unflinching testimony to it in the face of persecution. Jesus promised to pour out his Spirit on the Church that we might be God’s mouthpiece even before kings. Today the Church prays that the Lord give us the strength to be faithful and the peace of knowing our lives are safe in his hands.

Prayer of the Day

Gracious Lord, our refuge and strength, pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your Word, protect and comfort them in all temptations, defend them against all their enemies, and bestow on the Church your saving peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

First Lesson – Daniel 6:10-12,16-23

They didn’t persecute Daniel because of theses nailed to a church door; they didn’t accuse him because of stirring words spoken over a pile of condemned books.They persecuted Daniel because he prayed in his home. Daniel made a bold confession and faithful witness with his knees. No godless king or immutable law would change the homage due to God. No threats, no pain, not even death would change Daniel’s loyalty to the Word of God that called on him to worship the LORD his God only. So Daniel went home and prayed, just as he had done before. He was faithful, even in the face of certain persecution. For the Christian, most persecution doesn’t come from public writings like Luther, but from private acts like Daniel. We live our faith and are persecuted because of it. We don’t face a den of lions, but persecution abounds when we’re faithful to the Word. We lose relationships because of moral purity; we lose promotions because of worship priorities; we lose friendships because we won’t join in sinful talking or walking. Faithfulness to God’s Word in the face of persecution requires trust. God shut the lions’ mouths to answer the king’s question: Is your God able to rescue you? Yes, he is. God shut the lions’ mouths to show his Church of all the ages that God is able to guard and keep his own. You can trust him and be faithful to his Word in the face of any persecution.

Second Lesson – Galatians 5:1-6

Martin Luther called the book of Galatians, “My Katie von Bora—I am wedded to it.” Paul’s letter speaks clearly against work righteousness and plainly about grace. That meant much to Luther who had staked his life on both topics. Why would anyone risk so much over words? Because the very freedom of the Gospel was at stake. Either we are free by grace or slaves under the law; there is no middle ground. Attempts to justify ourselves by outward acts do not result in justification at all—whether you are first-century Judaizers, sixteen-century clerics or twenty-first century moralists. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. So, Paul says, stand firm and be faithful to the Word of God that sets us free.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Timothy 4:9-18

Paul learned firsthand that faithfulness to the Word of God brought persecution. His former brothers had abandoned him; his enemies had not stopped hounding him. Though he was by himself, Paul was never alone. Jesus stayed by his side and in Paul fulfilled the promises of both the First Lesson and the Gospel. Consider Paul’s confidence that God will rescue him from every evil attack—the point is not a rescue from danger, but rather a rescue through danger to the heavenly kingdom. Paul knew that even if he died for Christ, God would rescue him from that evil attack and bring him to heaven. Eventually the headsman’s sword took Paul’s life; but it did not stop Jesus from rescuing him and taking him to his heavenly kingdom. Lord, keep us faithful to your word in the face of any persecution! To you be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Note: The effect of the Lutheran Reformation of the Church on the history of the world can hardly be overstated. In fact, when US News and World Report ranked the most important events of the last 1000 years, the Lutheran Reformation placed second, right behind Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press. Historians consider the Lutheran Reformation to be of greater significance than the discovery of the New World (number 3).Luther was a monk, a priest, a professor at a little university in Wittenberg, Germany, but he is considered the third most influential person of the last 1000 years (1000 Years and 1000 People, Gottlieb and Bowers). God used his witness and simple faithfulness to the Word to change the world. As heirs of the Reformation, may our witness be as faithful and the effects of our witness be as profound!

Gospel – Matthew 10:16-23

Throughout the history of the Church, the story of faithfulness to the Word of God has always been the story of persecution. And rightly so, because Jesus promised it! Who would send defenseless sheep into a world of ravenous wolves? It makes no sense, yet that is precisely the plan that Jesus describes for his Church. It makes no sense—unless you are the Good Shepherd who wants his sheep to utterly depend on him. Our trust in Jesus doesn’t guarantee an absence of persecution, but faithfulness in spite of it. We will witness to the Word of God before brothers, fathers, children, governors and princes. Jesus promised, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” What comfort that must have been for Martin Luther, whose faithful witness caused him to be expelled from his order, excommunicated from his church, and outlawed from his empire. Before the kings and princes of Europe, Luther gave faithful witness at Worms: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost – October 23, 2017

Invited to the Heavenly Wedding Banquet

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

God’s Word for This Week

Are you worried about what the future holds? Are you sure of your heavenly inheritance? Are you dressed for reception into the heavenly wedding Banquet? Thanks to Jesus and His perfect life and substitutionary death, we confidently answer all three questions in the affirmative. What a grand and glorious day it will be when we find ourselves seated at God’s heavenly banquet table!

First Lesson – Isaiah 25:6-9

What are the “shroud” and the “sheet” that will be destroyed according to
verse 7? Explain.

The “shroud” and the “sheet” are the veils that blinded the people from a correct understanding of their natural depravity and sinfulness and kept them from recognizing Christ as the Savior of the world. In conversion, the Holy Spirit removes the blinders and gives God’s people the spiritual vision to understand and accept him as the promised Messiah and Savior from sin.

According to verse 9, what will be our bold profession on the Last Day?

It might sound something like this: “We placed our confidence with unwavering certainty in the Lord our God, and he has not disappointed. The time for us to experience and enjoy the blessed fulfillment of God’s promises is finally here. Hallelujah!”

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Chronicles 30:1-5,10-22

Read the context of lesson 2 Chronicles 29. What radical changes was King Hezekiah making in Jerusalem?

He abandoned the idolatry of his father and was seeking to restore the worship of the true God.

What reasons did Hezekiah have to invite all the people to the Passover celebration?

First, this was commanded by God. Second, it was a chance for people to return to God in repentance. Everyone was invited.

What kind of response did the invitation receive?

Some came, some did not. Some came properly prepared, other came either ignorant of God’s will or ignoring it. But Hezekiah’s prayer is a great model for us as we do outreach, “May God pardon everyone.”

Second Lesson – Philippians 4:4-13

The fundamental sentiment of a Christian’s entire life is happiness. On what is our happiness based?

Our joy is always in the Lord and on account of the Lord. We are jubilant and exultant over the free gift of salvation attained through the atoning work of Christ. It’s especially during periods of trial and tribulation that we take time to reflect on and rejoice in the changeless love of our God.

What remedy does Paul offer for dealing with anxiety?

Prayer. When we are consumed with worry and concerned about the future, entrust it to the Lord, leaving all matters to his fatherly direction and care. Whether it’s the most monumental problem or the most insignificant detail, bring it to the attention of your merciful God, who has demonstrated time and time again that he is deeply concerned about the welfare of his beloved children.

What kinds of thoughts should fill the believer’s mind?

To paraphrase verse 8, the believer’s mind is flowing with thoughts that are truthful and sincere, open and honest, just and right, chaste and clean, wholesome and pleasant, excellent and laudable. In short, in all our thoughts, the sanctification of the Christian should be evident.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 11:1-10

What does Paul maintain about his fellow Israelites and their relationship to God?

God did not reject them. His call to faith in Christ goes out to all. Many of the people of Israel, and many in the world today, reject that gracious invitation.

How was Paul an excellent example of the remnant chosen by grace?

He was an Israelite who was not called because of his obedience. No, he was a persecutor of the Church, but yet God in grace sent out the invitation to all, the good and the bad. Paul’s invitation was hand-delivered on the road to Damascus. That sinner-turned-saint is a wonderful reminder that the few who are chosen are chosen solely by grace.

Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

God has invited everyone to his heavenly wedding feast, but so few attend. Why?

Many people simply are indifferent and apathetic to God’s urgent call. Others are distracted by their own private, earthly affairs. As in the parable, some even go to the extent of being hostile toward the messengers of God’s invitation.

Is it possible to sneak into God’s heavenly wedding banquet without proper attire?

Impossible. God has provided a wedding garment of spotless righteousness and purity for every sinner that he has invited to the feast, courtesy of his Son, Jesus Christ. The garment is required to cover the filth and nakedness of their sin. All intruding wannabe’s will be detected, sentenced, and thrust into the outer darkness of hell.

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 16, 2017

Our Patient and Gracious God Wants Fruits of Faith

These are the readings for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

What is God like? He is gracious, like a landowner who did everything for his vineyard. He is patient, sending prophet after prophet, waiting year after year for people to return to him in repentance and faith. But he also is a God who wants fruits of faith. The time of grace for Israel and for every man is limited. Do not receive God’s grace in vain; rather, repent, trust, and produce the fruits of faith. This Sunday the Church prays that God would make us ready, with cheerful hearts, to do whatever pleases him.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, in your bountiful goodness keep us safe from every evil of body and soul. Make us ready, with cheerful hearts, to do whatever pleases you; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

First Lesson – Isaiah 5:1-7

In this song from Isaiah, what do the vineyard, vines, and grapes represent?

The vineyard represents God’s chosen people, the house of Israel–His Church. The vines are the men and women of Judah, dearly loved by God. The grapes are the fruits of faith—in this case, the rotten fruit of injustice and unrighteousness.

As the annals of history record, what resulted because the Lord’s chosen nation bitterly disappointed him?

God sent his punishment in full measure upon his chosen people, not only through the Babylonian captivity, but also in the ultimate overthrow of the Jewish nation in the year 70 A.D. Let us take heed, for the Lord likewise searches the hearts of his people today for fruits of righteousness.

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Kings 21:1-15

Find all the ways that Manasseh sinned against God. Which acts do you think are the most heinous? Why?

The Bible’s picture of Manasseh is one of extremes. He reigned 55 years, but the description of his reign is sin after sin after sin. He rebuilt high places destroyed by Hezekiah. He erected altars to foreign gods and did so in the temple. He practiced sorcery. He even killed his own son as a sacrifice.

What great event in biblical history does the author of 2 Kings lay at Manasseh’s feet?

The destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Israel.

Manasseh shows how bad the kings of God’s people had become. But he is also an extremely important example of how patient, gracious, and forgiving our God is. When we consider the second account of Manasseh’s life given in 2 Chronicles 33, we see the rest of the story. Manasseh lived as a pagan, right until the time when he was captured and his enemies put a hook through his nose and took him captive to Babylon. Suddenly, he saw the error of his ways. He repented of his sins, turned back to God—and our Savior God forgave him. Then Manasseh produced fruits in keeping with his repentance.

Second Lesson – Philippians 3:12-21

Explain in verse 13 the comparison of the Christian life to that of a runner in a race.

Near the end of a race a runner forgets what is behind him, leans forward toward the finish line, exerting himself to the utmost, straining every fiber in his body to win the prize. Just so, the Christian forgets all the disappointments and bad experiences of the past and instead valiantly strives on, with eyes fixed firmly on the finish line, the victory circle, the consummation of all his hopes and dreams, the heavenly prize, which goes beyond all human understanding.

What are the distinguishing characteristics of those who live as “enemies of the cross?”

They deny the power and efficacy of the cross. They live to gratify their human appetites and desires. The things they glory in and are proud of are in reality carnal and shameful. For such people, any show of sanctity is really nothing but hypocrisy.

Upon Christ’s return, what will our bodies be like in heaven someday?

Our lowly, frail, vile, earthly bodies will be transformed into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body–holy, perfect, and beautiful in every way. Our new bodies will forever be incapable of experiencing any more sin, sorrow, stress, or sickness.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Paul writes words of encouragement and exhortation: produce fruits for our gracious and patient God. As a tenant in the vineyard, Paul points to the grace of God as the motivation for us to produce fruits such as carrying our cross and suffering for the sake of God and his Word.

How did Paul’s fruits commend him to the people of Corinth?

The false teachers in Corinth were self-serving. Paul’s fruits of faith showed his genuine concern for the Corinthians and his faithful commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. He was willing bear any cross for the sake of Jesus and those whom he would call.

Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

How do you see the graciousness and patience of God in this parable?

God kept sending his servants, the prophets, to the people of Israel—even when they were ignored or abused.

What was the tenants’ ultimate display of wickedness? Of which important event in history does this remind you?

Not only did the tenants fail to respect the landlord’s son, in their devilish hatred, they killed him. This, of course, played itself out on Good Friday when the chief priests and elders, scribes and Pharisees, hardened their hearts against Jesus, put him to death, and brought damnation down upon their own heads.

Verse 41 indicates that the vineyard was rented to “other tenants.” Who were they?

The vineyard with its fruit, that is, the Kingdom of God with all its riches of mercy and love, was taken from the Jews and given to the Gentiles, who have since enjoyed its blessings and produced abundant fruit.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 28, 2017

The Church is Meant for all People

These are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

The Church is meant for all people. The Prayer of the Day reminds us that it is only by God’s gift of grace that we come into his presence to offer true and faithful service. Today’s lessons teach that the gift of grace given to Israel, God also intended to give through Israel to the world. The Church is meant for all people: a display of God’s mercy and a result of the living and active Word of God.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift of grace that we come into your presence and offer true and faithful service. Grant that our worship on earth may always be pleasing to you, and in the life to come give us the fulfillment of what you have promised; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

First Lesson – Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Agree or disagree. In the Old Testament, God intended the promises of salvation only for the Israelites, his chosen people.

Disagree. While God generally spoke his promises to his chosen people, he did not abandon those of other nationalities. In the Old Testament, God extended his forgiving love to the Ninevites through the prophet Jonah, blessed a Syrian officer through the testimony of a young Israelite servant girl, and inspired King David to write: “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people,” to name but a few.

The words of this lesson came to the mind and mouth of our Savior when he confronted the gross perversion of temple worship in Mark 11. Through Isaiah God told the world that God-fearing Gentiles would always have a place within his temple. Yet in his temple on earth, the religious leadership turned the court of Gentiles into a marketplace that robbed both man and God. Jesus cleansed it of both the commerce and corruption and quoted this lesson. The godly Gentiles described are the exact opposite of the Jews in Matthew 15. God in his grace calls the Gentiles into his presence and makes his Church a house of prayer for all nations.

Second Lesson – Romans 11:13-15, 28-32

How was Israel’s rejection of the Gospel a blessing for the world?

The rejection by the people of Israel finally caused the apostles to direct their preaching instead to the Gentiles. While we do not rejoice in the loss of souls among the Jews, this new focus did bring unprecedented numbers of Gentiles into the family of God.

What hope still exists for the Jewish people?

It is still God’s desire that all should be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. The amazing condition is that their very life of disobedience is an opportunity for God to extend his mercy. The same call God gave them in the Old Testament he gives them today—God’s promises are irrevocable.

This is the twelfth in a series of sixteen lessons that run through Pentecost 17. On this day celebrating faith for the Gentiles, St. Paul warns his Gentile readers against any pride on their part or prejudice against the Jews. Note the point of this Apostle to the Gentiles: he reaches out to the Gentile with the hopes of also winning the Jew. Verse 15 makes the point of our Gospel lesson. Rejection by the people of Israel meant Christ would be preached to the Gentiles. How personal this statement is for Paul! How many synagogues had he preached in, only to be cast out and make his way to the Gentiles? But yet Israel retains its dual status: enemies that are beloved. When the nation of Israel turned from its Savior God and his Messiah, God set his face against them as enemies of the Gospel. But yet God’s call and his Word of promise remain. Such is grace, that God does not love the lovable, but makes the unlovable his dear possession. Just look at what he did with the disobedient Gentiles! Both Jew and Gentile apart from Christ languish in the fearful prison called “Disobedience.” God shut them up together that locked thus, all hope and all self-help were gone. Disobedience was all they had and all they could bring forth. Only one door permits one to leave this prison, and it is inscribed: “God’s Mercy.” (R.C.H. Lenski)

Supplemental First Lesson – Joshua 2:8-21

It is reasonable that spies would hide themselves in a house of prostitution. It is reasonable, too, that this prostitute Rahab tried to cut a deal to preserve her life in the face of the Israelite onslaught that the whole city knew was coming. But what reason is there that she did it out of faith in the LORD? What reason did she find to have faith in the God of free and faithful love?

There is no reason for that but the unreasonable gift of God worked in her heart by the living and active Word of God. Clearly, God meant his Church to be for all people. But he didn’t stop there! What reason could there be that this foreign woman, this prostitute from a godless country, that hers would be the womb through which line of the Blessed Seed would descend? There is no reason for that at all. That can only be grace. Grace meant for all people.

Gospel – Matthew 15:21-28

Note the context of chapter 15. The children of Israel—and especially their religious leaders—found nothing but fault in Jesus of Nazareth. The chosen people of God to whom belonged the patriarchs, the promises, the covenant and the temple, could see nothing in Christ but a breaker of man-made traditions. Jesus’ words to them could not be harsher. They were the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy: their outward rites and rituals belied an inward spiritual emptiness. The very people who should have been closest to Christ were most distant. So Jesus distances himself from them and goes to the Gentile land of ancient paganism, Tyre and Sidon. There he finds a most inexplicable thing: the Greek text notes it as both surprising and extraordinary: ἰδοὺ γυνὴ Χαναναία (Look! A woman, a Canaanite woman). After leaving the land of God’s chosen people, Jesus finds a woman—a Canaanite woman—who received the Word of God and trusted in God’s promises in a way that shamed every one of the religious teachers. The male leaders of God’s people failed to recognize him, but behold! Look carefully! A woman, a Canaanite woman, cries out, “Kyrie eleison!” (Lord, have mercy!) And to whom does she cry? She called him “Lord, Son of David,” with all of its messianic implications. How amazing is the grace of God that chooses the weak and lowly things of the world to shame the wise and proud. Only twice are we told that Jesus called someone’s faith great. Both were Gentiles, and both exhibited a God-given trust in the Word and promises of God made man.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 7, 2017

The Christian Seeks Spiritual Wealth

These are the readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

The Christian seeks spiritual wealth. This Sunday’s readings are centered on the very ancient Prayer of the Day. For nearly 1600 years God’s people on this day have prayed that God might give them true spiritual wealth. “Teach us always to ask according to your will that we may never fail to obtain the blessings you have promised.” What a magnificent prayer for the materialist world in which we live! Our lessons today show people who have come into great wealth, but yet this earthly wealth only serves to illustrate where true treasure lies. Today we see that true, spiritual wealth can only be found in God and his eternal blessings for us in Christ.

Prayer of the Day

O Lord, your ears are always open to the prayers of your humble servants, who come to you in Jesus’ name. Teach us always to ask according to your will that we may never fail to obtain the blessings you have promised; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

First Lesson – 1 Kings 3:5-12

What would you have asked for? If anything in the world could be yours, what would be your request? God only gave one man the choice between unlimited riches and spiritual wealth. Can you imagine facing his dilemma? What should I pick, temporal blessings or eternal ones? What should I value, the things of this world or the things of God? How well Solomon expressed the words of our prayer for today, to ask according to God’s will. We marvel at his faith in choosing great wisdom over great riches—especially since we so often fail in the pitifully small choices we make! It’s not for all the riches in the world that we turn down spiritual wealth, but for paltry over-time hours, or a little extra in the check book that we shaved off our offering. For such small things we are willing to trade away opportunities for true spiritual wealth. Look at Solomon and see an example of what God means by spiritual wealth. He doesn’t mean we need to live as mendicant monks; he doesn’t ask us to forgo all earthly treasure. He just doesn’t want us to value them more than the pearl of great price. After choosing spiritual treasure, God blessed Solomon in unbelievable ways. (Do the math on the twenty-five tons worth of gold that was part of Solomon’s annual income.) Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given you as well.

Second Lesson – Romans 8:28-30

This is the ninth in a series of sixteen lessons that run through Pentecost 17. Paul explains the spiritual wealth that belongs to every Christian. Like the man who found treasure buried in the field, we brought no merit or worth to our calling. Rather, we were chosen. The surprising grace of God found us and gave us the ultimate treasure: predestined, called, justified, and glorified.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Timothy 6:17-21

Could Paul’s words be more timely or appropriate for this generation? He instructs preachers everywhere to warn the rich about the two pet sins of the wealthy: arrogance and false hope. Mankind so easily falls in the error of thinking that earthly treasures can provide security or a sense of worth. In our affluent society both of those sins run rampant in many a Christian heart. God commands us not to trust in earthly treasure because he wants us to have a firm foundation on which to stand, a certainty on which to place our hope. That can only be found in spiritual wealth. God richly provides for us, and then we give thanks by being rich in good deeds. Spiritual wealth is certain and secure, for it is treasure laid up in heaven. How can we possibly carry out this command? Teach us to ask according to your will that we may never fail to obtain the
blessings you have promised.

Gospel – Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus’ parables teach us to seek spiritual wealth. Both of the men in the parables found great treasure. For one it was a complete surprise, as unexpected as it was valuable. For the other it came from an expert search by a discerning man. Before they found these new treasures, both men no doubt valued what they previously owned. But once they saw this new treasure, see how little they valued all else they had! The spiritual wealth of Christ and his Gospel puts everything else into perspective; in fact it marginalizes all else. The importance of this truth comes to light in the parable of the net. All people, rich and poor, will be caught up. Only those who found true spiritual wealth are spared the furnace. Jesus concludes with an encouragement for the preacher of the Gospel: you have found true wealth in Christ; you have been given a storeroom full of treasures new and old. Bring them out to God’s people with joy and delight.

Fifth Sunday of Lent – March 7, 2016

Jesus Is the Cornerstone of Our Faith

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

Jesus makes clear that he is the cornerstone of our faith. Those who believe in him will receive the blessings of which St. Paul speaks in the second lesson, telling us to put away the “former things” of this world. Sadly, those who continue to cling tightly to the rubbish of their own righteousness will be broken into pieces or have this “stone of Christ” fall on them and crush them. Let us instead look to the “new thing” of God, the deliverance won by our Savior Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith.

First Lesson – Isaiah 43:16-21

What famous event is God talking about when he says he made a way through the sea, drew out the chariots and army, and extinguished them?

God is referring to Israel’s miraculous escape through the sea from slavery in Egypt. God’s rescue through Moses was ancient history by Isaiah’s day, yet was the most vivid example to that point in history that the LORD saves!

What “new thing” is God foretelling that will make the people forget what their favorite story of rescue, the Exodus was?

God says he will make a way in the desert, leading his people back from their coming captivity in Babylon. Then God will trump that rescue. He will send the Messiah, who will bring the water of life. Today as we tell people how great a deliverer God is, we tell the story of Jesus delivering from sin, death, and the devil. The once-famous Exodus goes to the “back burner.”

People talk about finding purpose for their lives. For what purpose(s) does the LORD say he formed us? (v. 21)

The LORD formed his chosen people for himself. Our nature rebels at the thought that we do not exist to seek our own goals and interests. Also, we were formed to proclaim the LORD’s praise. Since we have pardon in Christ, our new self gladly adores God and tells others how marvelous he is.

Traditional Second Lesson – Philippians 3:8-14

How many great things did Paul gain in Christ that made him ready to consider his past honors as a Pharisee rubbish?

He gained righteousness from God by faith, knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, and fellowship with Christ through suffering. Paul gained his own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day and the prize of eternal life!

Compare Lot’s wife as she left Sodom with Paul leaving behind his comforts and status to follow God’s call.

Both were called to leave behind earthly things that had filled their lives. Lot’s wife kept thinking about what was behind and looked back, to her loss. Paul made a point to forget what he gave up and focused on his heavenly goal.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 11:11-21

Paul’s main analogy here is of an olive tree. Jewish people formed the root of the tree. Jewish unbelievers are like branches broken off from the tree. How do Gentile believers, wild olive shoots, become part of tree?

Gentile believers become part of the tree by being grafted into it. (Note: Wild olive shoots don’t graft themselves into trees.) Paul warns Gentile believers not to be arrogant. We might expect him to tell us, therefore, to be humble. What does he say, instead? (See 11:20‒21.)

Paul tells Gentile believers to be “afraid.” Why?

Because we could repeat the stupidity of Jews before us who lost their place in God’s olive tree. Like dead branches, they got broken off from the tree, due to their unbelief. We get grafted in by faith. But if God didn’t spare them, God will not spare us, either, if we follow their foolish example.

Gospel – Luke 20:9-19

What does this parable teach us about Christ?

Jesus is the son sent as the last opportunity for the evil tenants. He is the heir and holds a unique place as the son. The other messengers came as servants. Christ identifies himself in this parable as the unique Son of God.

What does this parable teach us about men?

God’s chosen people were given a good land, but they mistreated his messengers (prophets) and were about to kill his own Son! God rightfully expects “fruit” from the people he puts in his vineyard, also today!

What does this parable teach us about God?

God is patient and merciful, like the owner giving the tenants many chances. But God’s patience can be exhausted; in his wrath, God treats hard-hearted rebels severely.

Pentecost 22 – October 19, 2015

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. “I am,” he later added, “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 into 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 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 the 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 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.

Pentecost 21 – October 12, 2015

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 in the repentant believer’s heart proper priorities. 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 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.

Pentecost 9 – July 19, 2015

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 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 in 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? (vv 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 is 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. (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.