Worship Helps

Third Sunday of Easter

We Are Jesus’ Witnesses

These are the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

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

TRADITIONAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 4:8-12

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

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

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

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

SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 12:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With what confidence do we confess our sins to God?

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

What does the word “atonement” mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOSPEL – Luke 24:36-49

What did the disciples think when Jesus appeared to them?

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

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

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

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Second Sunday of Easter

Faith Is Being Certain of What We Do Not See

These are the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter.

God’s Word for This Week

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

TRADITIONAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 3:12-20

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

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

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

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

SUPPLEMENTAL FIRST LESSON – Acts 26:19-29

Before which two rulers was Paul testifying?

Paul was testifying before Agrippa and Festus.

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

Paul said his teaching was “true and reasonable.”

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

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

TRADITIONAL SECOND LESSON – 1 John 5:1-6

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

Faith leads us to love God and obey his commandments.

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

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

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – 1 Corinthians 15:12-22

What were some people in Corinth falsely claiming?

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

Why was that claim disastrous?

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

GOSPEL – John 20:19-31

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

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

Why did John write the words of his gospel?

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

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Easter

He Has Risen! Alleluia!

These are the readings for Easter Sunday.

God’s Word for This Week

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

FIRST LESSON – Isaiah 25:6-9

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

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

What will our reaction be to such glory?

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

SECOND LESSON – 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

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

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

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

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

GOSPEL – Mark 16:1-8

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

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

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

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

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Palm Sunday

Jesus Humbly Rides Into Jerusalem to Die

These are the readings for Palm Sunday.

God’s Word for This Week

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

FIRST LESSON – Zechariah 9:9-10

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

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

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

Salvation—eternal life—for all people.

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

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

SECOND LESSON – Philippians 2:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOSPEL – Mark 11:1-10

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

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

What does the word hosanna mean?

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

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jesus Is Our High Priest Who Offers Himself

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

FIRST LESSON – Jeremiah 31:31-34

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

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

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

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

SECOND LESSON – Hebrews 5:7-10

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

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

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

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

GOSPEL – John 12:20-33

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

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

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

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

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Jesus Must Be Lifted Up On the Cross

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

FIRST LESSON – Numbers 21:4-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

SECOND LESSON – Ephesians 2:4-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOSPEL – John 3:14-21

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

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

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

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

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Third Sunday in Lent

Jesus Rescues Us From God’s Law

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

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

FIRST LESSON – Exodus 20:1-17

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

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

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

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

SECOND LESSON – 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

How is ‘Christ crucified’ foolishness to many people?

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

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

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

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – Romans 8:1-10

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

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

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

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

GOSPEL – John 2:13-22

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

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

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

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

Why are Jesus’ words in verse 19 significant?

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

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Second Sunday in Lent

Jesus Calls Us To Follow Him

These are the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

FIRST LESSON – Genesis 28:10-17

Whom did Jacob see on the stairway? Above it?

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

What promises did Jacob receive, which include you?

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

SECOND LESSON – Romans 5:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOSPEL – Mark 8:31-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Sunday in Lent

Jesus Defeats the Devil

These are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

FIRST LESSON – Genesis 22:1-18

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

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

Who is the Angel of the Lord?

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

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

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

SECOND LESSON – Romans 8:31-39

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

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

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

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

Where is God’s love? (See 8:39.)

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

GOSPEL – Mark 1:12-15

Who sent Jesus into the desert to be tempted?

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

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

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

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Transfiguration

Jesus Reveals His Future Glory

These are the readings for Transfiguration Sunday.

God’s Word for This Week

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

FIRST LESSON – 2 Kings 2:1-12a

Why was Elisha upset?

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

What request did Elisha have for Elijah?

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

How was Elijah taken away into heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUPPLEMENTAL SECOND LESSON – 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOSPEL – Mark 9:2-9

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

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

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

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

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Revealed by His Tireless Compulsion

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Job 7:1-7

How was Job feeling about his life?

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

Why did Job feel the way he did?

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

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

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

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

How much was Paul being paid to preach?

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

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

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

What was Paul’s motivation to preach?

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 8:28-30

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

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

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

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

What unbroken chain does Paul want us to picture?

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

Gospel – Mark 1:29-39

How did Jesus feel after a long day of ministry?

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

How did Jesus respond to the demands of the people?

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

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Revealed by Setting Captives Free

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Deuteronomy 18:15-20

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

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

Whom was the Lord going to send?

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

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

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

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

What Corinthian problem does Paul address in this chapter?

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

Whom does Paul address in this chapter?

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

What command does he give them?

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – Hebrews 3:1-6

Who was greater, Moses or Jesus? Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

What struck people, when Jesus taught?

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

How did Jesus demonstrate his authority?

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

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Revealed by Preaching Repentance

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Jonah 3:1-5,10

What message did Jonah have for Nineveh?

Jonah preached a message of repentance.

What is repentance?

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

What fruit of repentance did the people of Nineveh show?

They declared a fast and put on sackcloth.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Kings 19:19-21

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

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

What did Elisha do before leaving his family?

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

What example is God giving you here?

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

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

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

Jesus will soon be returning on the Last Day.

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

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – Acts 13:1-5

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

Saul is now known as Paul.

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

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

Gospel – Mark 1:14-20

What message did Jesus proclaim?

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

Did Jesus preach his message of repentance by himself?

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

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus is Revealed by His Gospel Call

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Who did Samuel think was calling him?

Samuel thought Eli was calling him.

Who was really calling Samuel?

The Lord was calling Samuel.

What model attitude does Samuel display for Christians?

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

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

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

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

How were some Corinthians abusing their freedom from the law?

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

Why do Christians honor God with their bodies?

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

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

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

Why did God call us to believe in the truth?

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

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

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

Gospel – John 1:43-51

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

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

How did Nathanael react to Philip’s news?

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

When Nathanael met Jesus, how did he react?

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

What now unites heaven and earth like a stairway?

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

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Baptism of Our Lord

Jesus is Revealed as Our Perfect Substitute

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 49:1-6

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

Jesus.

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

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

What task has been given to Jesus?

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

Second Lesson – Acts 16:25-34

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

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

Who was baptized that evening?

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

Gospel – Mark 1:4-11

What was the purpose of the baptism given by John?

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

If Jesus was sinless, why was he baptized?

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

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

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

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Second Sunday after Christmas

Jesus is Our Peace

These are the readings for the Second Sunday after Christmas.

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Micah 5:2-5a

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Lesson – Hebrews 2:10-18

List all the names Jesus receives in these nine verses.

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel – John 7:40–43

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

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

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

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

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First Sunday after Christmas

Jesus Comes to Save Us, Even as an Infant

These are the readings for the First Sunday after Christmas.

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 45:20-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Lesson – Colossians 3:12-17

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

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

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

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

Gospel – Luke 2:25-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fourth Sunday in Advent

God Makes the Impossible Happen

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – 2 Samuel 7:8-16

What does God promise for David?

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

What house would the Lord establish for David?

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

Second Lesson – Romans 16:25-27

How does God establish us in faith?

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

Who gets the praise for our stability in faith?

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

Gospel – Luke 1:26-38

How was it that Mary found favor with God?

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

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

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

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Third Sunday in Advent

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

These are the readings for the Third Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 61:1-3,10,11

On whom is this prophecy mainly focusing?

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

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

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

Who makes all these changes?

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

Supplemental First Lesson – Malachi 4:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

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

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

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

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

Gospel – John 1:6-8, 19-28

Who was the focal point of John’s message?

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

What was John’s attitude toward Christ?

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

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Second Sunday in Advent

God Provides Messengers and Means to Prepare Us For the End

These are the readings for the Second Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 40:1-11

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

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

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

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

Second Lesson – 2 Peter 3:8-14

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

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

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

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

Gospel – Mark 1:1-8

What was the focus of John’s baptisms?

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

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

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

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First Sunday in Advent

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

These are the readings for the First Sunday in Advent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

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

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

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

Why does he want God to do awesome things?

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

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

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

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

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

The sons of God married unbelieving women.

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

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

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

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

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Peter 3:18-22

When and why did Jesus descend into hell?

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

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

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

Gospel – Mark 13:32-37

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

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

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

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

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Fourth Sunday of End Time—Christ the King

Keep Us Joyful in Christ Our King

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

God’s Word for This Week

The almighty King of the universe, in his great love, laid down his life for his people. The Lord of all things allowed himself to be mocked, beaten, and crucified for his subjects. Then with his resurrection from the dead, he demonstrated his true power and glory as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

First Lesson – Ezekiel 34:11-16,23,24

In the verses that directly precede this lesson, God rebukes the shepherds—the kings, leaders, and priest of Israel—for not taking care of his sheep. According to God, our Shepherd-King, how will he deal with his sheep?

He promises to seek out and rescue the lost, to gather his sheep from every nation, to provide for all their needs, and to strengthen them when they are weak.

These verses were written hundreds of years after the reign of King David. So, who is the “servant David” that God would raise up to rule over his people?

This is a prophecy about the coming Messiah. God had promised that a descendant of David would rise up to sit on his throne. The Messiah would be the greatest king in the history of Israel. Jesus, a blood descendant of King David, is that king. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Explain the comparison between Adam and Christ in these verses.

Through Adam and Eve’s sin, all mankind fell and became subject to death. We are born dead spiritually. We will all face physical death someday. Because of our sins we all deserve eternal death in hell. But in Jesus, we have been made alive. With his suffering and death, the payment of sin was made. His resurrection is proof that we too will be raised and will live forever with him in heaven.

Evaluate. Verse 28 is telling us that Jesus is somehow inferior to God the Father.

Verse 28 is a difficult verse. The Bible states clearly in many places that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in power, glory, and authority. (See John 10:30.) No one is superior to the other. However, Jesus humbled himself to come to earth and obey the will of his Father. (See John 14:28.) How can this be? As Professor Carleton Toppe once wrote: “Such is the mystery and wonder of the Trinity and of the God-man Jesus Christ” (The People’s Bible: 1 Corinthians, p. 148).

Gospel – Matthew 27:27-31

How did the King of kings show his love for us his subjects?

Our King did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus showed his love for us in this: that as King of the universe he allowed himself to be mocked and tortured by a handful of ignorant unbelieving soldiers. In love, he allowed himself to suffer the physical agony of the cross. In love, he willingly suffered the punishment of sin in our place. Our King truly deserves our honor, service, and praise!

How can this scene 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. Rejoice in Christ the King who came as our sacrifice!

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Third Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant

Keep Us Watchful for Our Triumph

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 in his love and through Jesus’ saving work on the cross, we have been made ready. When Jesus comes in the end, we will be raised and united with all those who have preceded us in the faith. Therefore, let us continue to be vigilant in the faith until that day comes.

First Lesson – Isaiah 52:1-6

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.”

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 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 provide a picture of what the Church waits and watches for. In this lesson, God extends that prophecy beyond physical Israel to the Church and 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, 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!”

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Who are those who had “fallen asleep”?

This word picture is often used in the Bible to describe those who have died. It seems that there was some confusion in the Thessalonian congregation about those who had died. The Thessalonians were waiting eagerly for the imminent return of Jesus. They were worried because they were afraid that those who died before his coming would not receive the same salvation.

Agree or Disagree. A Christian should never mourn the death of a fellow Christian.

As Christians, we are comforted and encouraged by the fact that those who die in Christ will receive the reward that he won for them on the cross. We are consoled by the knowledge that we will see them again in heaven. A Christian will not despair as many in this world do. Yet, death is separation. A Christian will mourn and even cry. Did not Jesus cry when his friend Lazarus died? As Christians, we are comforted by the promises of our loving God.

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 this 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

How did the five foolish virgins demonstrate their foolishness?

The virgins of Jesus’ parable are comparable with the bridesmaids of today. Their responsibility was to prepare the bride for the coming of the bridegroom. The foolish virgins did not bring enough oil for their lamps. They were not prepared. So when the bridegroom took longer than was expected, they were not ready for him.

How do we “keep watch” for Jesus’ coming?

As Christians, we are ready for Jesus’ coming through faith. We keep watch, therefore, by maintaining and strengthening that faith through constant use of the Word and sacraments.

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Second Sunday of End Time—Last Judgment

Lord, Keep us Mindful of the Judgment

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

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 keeps 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.

First Lesson – Daniel 7:9,10

Who is the “Ancient of Days”?

The “Ancient of Days” is our eternal God. He is described in these verses as the powerful and holy one who will judge the world.

What are the books that were opened?

The Bible speaks of two kinds of books being opened on the judgment day. The first books are those that contain everything we have ever done in our lives—the evidence for our judgment. The other is the book of life in which is written the names of all those who are saved—all who have believed in Jesus as their Savior (cf. Revelation 20:11-15).

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

What does it mean that Jesus will come like a “thief in the night”?

Just as a thief would never come when someone is expecting him, so also will the return of Jesus. Many have tried to predict the end of the world, yet Jesus will come when nobody expects him. It could be in five minutes. It could be in a thousand years. Only God knows.

How have we been made ready for his coming?

Through faith in Jesus, we have been justified—declared innocent of all charges. By believing in Jesus, we are ready for his coming. Paul, in this reading, encourages us to remain alert. We do this by nourishing our faith constantly with the Word and sacraments.

Verse 11 tells us to encourage one another with the message that Jesus is coming in judgment. How is that a comforting message?

Though Jesus will condemn all sinners, we have the confidence that, through faith in him, we have been declared innocent. For us, judgment day will be the day of our deliverance. We will be glorified and sent off to spend an eternity of perfection with God. That is truly a comforting message.

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 think that you will escape God’s wrath?

Those are serious words. Paul aims to leave no soul unindicted but make the whole world accountable to God. (See Romans 3:19.) As long as man still has the righteousness, 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. 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

Who are the sheep that are on Jesus’ right and the goats that are on his left?

The sheep are those who will be saved—all those who believed in Jesus. The goats are those who did not believe in him and are therefore condemned.

Here Jesus seems to be saying that those who are saved are those who have done good works and lived good lives. In other parts of Scripture, we are told that we are saved by faith and not by good works. Explain.

We are saved by God’s undeserved love, through faith in Jesus. We are not saved because of the lives we live or the works we do. That said, however, through faith in Jesus we now want to and are enabled to do works of service and love. These works are evidence of the faith in our hearts. Jesus, in these verses, speaks of our works of service as evidence of our saving faith.

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Reformation

Lord, Keep Us Faithful to Your Word

These are the readings for the First Sunday of End Time—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 gives us the strength to be faithful and the peace of knowing our lives are safe in his hands.

First Lesson – Daniel 6:10-12,16-23

How did Daniel react to the king’s edict?

The king had issued a decree that his subjects were to pray to no one else but him during the duration of thirty days. Daniel disobeyed that decree and continued to pray to God three times a day, as was his custom.

In Romans 13, God commands us to obey the government, yet God blessed Daniel for disobeying the king’s edict. How do we explain that?

All earthly authority has been established by God. He commands us to obey earthly governments as his representatives. The only exception is what Peter tells us in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men!” We are to obey the government in all things except those things that go contrary to the will of God. Daniel pleased God by obeying him rather than the king.

Second Lesson – Galatians 5:1-6

What is the freedom we have in Christ?

By nature, we are all slaves to sin and death. With his death on the cross, Jesus has redeemed us. (For example, he has paid the price to free us from that slavery.) Through faith in Jesus, we will not be punished for our sins. Death has no power over us.

Was it wrong for the Galatian men to be circumcised?

The Old Testament ceremonial law commanded that every man must be circumcised. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law. It had served as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ saving work. However, circumcision was not necessary for salvation. It didn’t matter if the Galatian men were circumcised or not. Only faith in Jesus matters. However, some were telling the Galatian Christians that they had to be circumcised and follow the Old Testament ceremonial laws to be saved. Therefore Paul warns them not to turn to the law for salvation. We cannot keep the law perfectly as God demands. Only through faith in Jesus do we have salvation.

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.

Gospel – Matthew 10:16-23

What does it mean to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”?

Jesus, in this section, warns us that we will be persecuted for his name. As we go out into this world, it is important that we understand that. We should be shrewd in the way we deal with this sinful world, yet we should never become a part of it. We should remain as pure as beautiful white doves.

Evaluate. We are not persecuted any more as Christians.

Although active persecution of Christians does exist still today in some parts of the world, here in the United States we are not actively persecuted or thrown in jail. The persecution we suffer is much more subtle. We are made to feel intolerant and foolish for following the teachings of the Bible. Let us always stand firm in the freedom we have been given, with the confidence that we too will receive our eternal reward.

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 1,000 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 1,000 years. 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 as profound!

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Twentieth-First Sunday after Pentecost

Invited to the Heavenly Wedding Banquet

These are the readings for the Twentieth-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 the lesson in 2 Chronicles in 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; others 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 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 the 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 wannabes will be detected, sentenced, and thrust into the outer darkness of hell.

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

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

Whose responsibility is it to care for the Lord’s vineyard, the Church? Rightly answered, it’s all of us who love the Lord and produce abundant fruits of faith in his service. Conversely, there are those who reject their Savior and live for self. In the case of such individuals, invariably the judgment of God is not far behind.

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?

Manasseh 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. All of these sins were heinous.

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 to 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, but they also killed him. This, of course, played itself out on Good Friday when the chief priests, 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.

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Approaching God With Humble Hearts

These are the readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

On page 156 in the front part of Christian Worship, we are given a helpful meditation on how to personally prepare our hearts for the reception of the Lord’s Supper. A similar type of examination is found in today’s Scripture readings. May we take to heart God’s urgent invitation to confess our sins and receive his pardon and forgiveness.

First Lesson – Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32

Explain the statement, “No one will be condemned for another person’s disobedience.”

For a sinner to put the blame on his parents or others for his troubles is both foolish and unjust. Each of us will stand before the Lord individually, responsible solely for our own sinful acts and the consequences that follow. May the nature of our true contrition be such that we disregard the transgressions of others and see nothing but our own sin and guilt.

Finally, whose fault is it when a man refuses to repent and turn from his sinful ways?

Eternal death and damnation will always be the end result for the man who deliberately chooses to reject God’s urgent invitation for free, full, and final forgiveness. Simply put, he will have no one to blame but himself.

Second Lesson – Philippians 2:1-11

Mention some ways that Christians’ humility displays itself in a congregational setting.

What a blessing to be part of a congregation whose brothers and sisters display love and compassion; show sympathetic interest in the welfare of others; zealously seek to serve God and others rather than be served; work together in harmonious unity; mutually regard others as superior, and defer to the judgment of others in order to advance the kingdom and glorify God!

How did Jesus’ death go far beyond a typical human death experience?

Jesus didn’t die in his sleep. He didn’t die like a typical Roman citizen. No, his death was cruel, cursed, degrading, for it took place on a cross like that of a base criminal. What a remarkable example of humility by no less than the Son of God himself, who of his own free will gave the ultimate sacrifice for undeserving sinners like you and me!

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 13:5-8

The Corinthian congregation had heard much from Paul on the topics of repentance and obedience. As they readied to receive Paul on his third visit, he encouraged them to prepare by testing themselves. Which son were they acting like, the son who worked in the vineyard or the one who just talked about it?

Five times in this lesson, Paul uses a form of the word δοκιμάζω, telling them to examine themselves to see whether they were in the faith. True obedience gives evidence of real repentance. It is not the cause of repentance, but a visible fruit that shows our faith is genuine. That brings us the great joy of knowing that Christ Jesus is in us, and we are walking on the way of righteousness.

Gospel – Matthew 21:28-32

Which son in the parable most closely resembled the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the one giving the polite, eager, pious “Yes” or the one responding with a rude, disobedient, unmannerly “No”?

The Pharisees—the religious leaders of Israel—talked like the seemingly obedient son in the parable, but they later rejected John the Baptist and the message of righteousness he preached and, in essence, pronounced their own judgment upon themselves.

The parable illustrated that true faith is a matter of the heart more so than the head or the mouth. Explain.

Having the knowledge of the Law in one’s head and talking about it with the mouth is worthless if one’s heart is far from real obedience to the will of our heavenly Father. When that Word has truly touched the heart, it will display itself in sincere repentance and obedience.

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

What is God like? Is God fair?

These are the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

What is our God like? Over the next four Sundays, the Church hears Jesus tell four parables that reveal characteristics of our God. Today’s lessons cause the worshiper to ask: Is God fair? No, he’s not. He doesn’t give us what we deserve, and that’s called mercy. In fact, he gives us what we don’t deserve, and that’s called grace. Our God is inconceivably gracious.

First Lesson – Isaiah 55:6-9

What urgency do you sense in the words “while he may be found” and “while he is near”?

This was their time of grace. Salvation was close at hand in the Word that was being preached to them. The opportunity for repentance was still being held out to them. Indeed, for God’s chosen people, there was no time like the present.

How are God’s thoughts and ways higher than man’s?

Man’s thoughts and ways are inherently evil and lead to eternal destruction; the Lord’s are good, righteous, and holy and lead to everlasting life. Whereas the weight of man’s sins seems unpardonable, yet God in his mercy forgives them all.

How gracious is God?

His call to repentance doesn’t extend only to backsliding Christians. His call to return to him isn’t restricted to upright citizens. The Lord calls the ungodly and wicked men who worship lust and self. The Lord calls the hardened sinner whose conscience has long stopped balking at his deeds. Look at what he promises to these people when they repent: mercy and pardon—the care of God and the forgiveness of God. They won’t get what they deserve—that is mercy. They get what they don’t deserve—that is the free pardon of grace. God’s plan to save sinners by grace soars above all that we could conceive or imagine.

Supplemental First Lesson – Jonah 4:5-11

Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed; in his mind, it would only be fair. Nineveh was wicked, bloodthirsty, and feared. Jonah had not wanted to prophesy to them because he was afraid that they might listen and repent. Jonah knew what that would mean: God would have compassion on them and forgive them (Jonah 4:4). But God is far more gracious than Jonah could have even imagined. The Lord taught his prophet with a vine and made a striking point. Jonah, though you had no part in the creation, growth, or life of this vine, yet you were so emotionally attached to it. But think of me, Jonah! Those people, those children—even those cows—I made them; I sustain them; I want them to be mine forever. So great is my grace!

Second Lesson – Philippians 1:18b-27

Who did Paul credit for sustaining him during his time of imprisonment?

Paul, first of all, was leaning heavily on the powerful, persistent prayers of the Philippians, whose petitions were serving to further advance the gospel in his absence. Secondly, the ministration of the Holy Spirit in his heart gave him the strength and willingness both to endure the present tribulation and to rejoice in the knowledge that he could do all things through Christ, who gave him the strength.

How are the words “to live is Christ and to die is gain” a win-win situation in Paul’s mind?

Through Paul’s work, which entailed a good deal of hard, physical labor, as well as by the near-death experiences he encountered, Christ was highly exalted. It made no difference to Paul if this happened by his life or by his eventual death. If he lived, he would have the opportunity to grow more in the knowledge and likeness of Christ day by day. If he died, through Christ all his hopes and expectations would be fulfilled.

What is Paul’s warning to the Philippians in verse 27?

Paul’s hope was that the Philippians would lead lives that would in no way bring shame or disgrace on the message of the gospel. This called for standing together firmly in one spirit. It called for solidarity and unity of faith in the face of attack. It called for firmness and constancy in the midst of temptation.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 9:6b-16

Is God fair? Is God just?

Neither—he is inconceivably gracious, as our eternal election proves. Paul answers the question by pointing us back to God’s speech to Moses in Exodus 33. The Israelites had worshiped the golden calf, and Moses made intercession for them. Moses asked the LORD to show him his ways (v. 13) and his glory (v. 14). God responded by declaring his inconceivable grace: he would show mercy and grace to those he chose, regardless of any merit or worth. Though these people had abandoned him, he would be merciful and gracious to them. So also with us, the children of the faith of Abraham: God’s eternal election of us to salvation had nothing to do with merit, worth, or works, but only stems from his inconceivable grace and mercy.

Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16

How is the world’s system of justice different from God’s?

In temporal, worldly affairs, whatever a person accomplishes and merits will be credited to him as a matter of just reward. But in the kingdom of God, all are justified solely by the grace of God. Whether we labor diligently in God’s vineyard all our lives or heed God’s call in the eleventh hour of life, the resulting salvation is the same.

Explain the seeming contradiction that “the last will be first and the first last?”

Unfortunately, there are those who are full of vain self-conceit who believe themselves to be the first before God, and for that very reason, in their woefully inadequate state, are the last. Conversely, those who are subservient and sincerely humble, assuming a meek attitude of heart, will be first where it counts—in the eyes of God.

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Church Forgives as God Forgives

These are the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

One timeless truth that we review Sunday after Sunday is this: God, in his boundless grace and mercy, has forgiven me, a poor, miserable sinner. One of the special blessings of having Christian friends is that they, too, forgive. Today, in his Word, God speaks to us about the correlation between being forgiven and being forgiving.

First Lesson – Genesis 50:15-21

Joseph wept as his brothers spoke to him. Were these tears of sorrow or tears of joy?

Likely, both. There were tears of sorrow as it grieved Joseph to think that his brothers believed him capable of such retaliation. Also, his eyes welled with tears of joy over the evidence of his brothers’ complete repentance.

What comfort does the Christian find in verse 20?

God, in his love and providence, frustrates the evil intent of those who oppose us and turns the intended evil to work good in our lives, in this case, for the salvation of many.

Second Lesson – Romans 14:5-9

What advice does Paul give for the maintenance of Christian harmony and charity in the church?

Let him that eats not despise him that doesn’t eat, thus looking down with contempt on the weaker brother and his scruples with regard to food. On the other hand, the one that refuses to partake of meat should not condemn him that eats, as though he were less spiritual. Thus, the warning against judging is substantiated in this, that God has accepted him. Do not pass judgment on a brother who is Christ’s own.

“Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” (v. 8b). Apply these words to your life.

The mind of the Christian, whether he partakes of certain foods or not, whether he observes certain days or not, is always directed to the Lord, because the whole life of the Christian, as well as his death, is devoted and consecrated to the Lord. Since his soul and body, thoughts and acts are dedicated to the Lord, the believer will naturally think of his honor first in all things.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Ephesians 4:29-5:2

Paul commands us not to act like the unmerciful servant, but rather: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice.” The Church is comprised of people who have been sealed for redemption, so let’s act like it! Not only kindness and compassion, but forgiveness is the primary mark of the Christian. We forgive because God forgave us in Christ. That makes us imitators of God. Every Old Testament sacrificial victim pointed ahead to the death of Christ, the fragrant offering, and the atoning sacrifice that won our forgiveness, and inspires our forgiveness for others.

Gospel – Matthew 18:21-35

Put into practical terms the meaning of Jesus’ command to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Christ’s answer is staggering! Jesus did not begin with an insignificant number, nor would he be tied down to any definite sum. No number can begin to show the greatness of forgiving love that is found in the hearts of Christians. There is no set number of times that we should forgive an erring brother and reinstate him in our good graces. Love and forgiveness go beyond petty calculations.

What makes the first servant’s lack of mercy so revolting?

Moments after receiving an immeasurable present of mercy from the king, the servant hunted down, seized by the throat, and choked a fellow-servant who owed him an insignificant sum, then wreaked his vengeance upon him by casting him into prison.

Paraphrase the parable’s application as found in verse 35.

Ignorance and forgetfulness of our own guilt leave us harsh and unforgiving toward others. But remember, God will be merciless to the merciless. Without exception, he wants us to be ready at all times to forgive from the heart, just as he in mercy has forgiven our enormous debt.

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