Worship Helps

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?


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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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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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Christian Obligations Over God, Neighbor, and Government

These are the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

The apostle Paul wrote frequently about the obligations and duties resting upon Christians in their capacity as church members, citizens, and neighbors. These can be summarized in the law of Christian love, an ideal which, out of gratitude to God, believers strive and work for all the days of their lives.

First Lesson – Ezekiel 33:7-11

Who is held responsible when a wicked man dies in unbelief?

The reading speaks of dual accountability: a.) the unrepentant sinner is clearly responsible for his unbelief and will pay the penalty for his guilt, and b.) the watchman who fails to speak up to “dissuade” the unrepentant sinner also bears responsibility. God is admonishing us against neglect and indifference.

What is God’s immutable will for all mankind? (v.11)

How much more emphatic can God be? “Turn! Turn from your evil ways and live!” His gracious will is the salvation of all.

Second Lesson – Romans 13:1-10

What are we ultimately guilty of when we resist or disobey our government?

In his providence, God has vested power with the incumbents of governmental office. They are our superiors (in the sense of the 4th Commandment) according to God’s establishment and designation. If we resist the authority God has instituted through our disobedience or rebellion, we are guilty of resisting God himself.

What is the Christian’s attitude toward paying taxes?

For necessity’s sake, Christians are subject and duty-bound to government. It’s part of our obedience to God. Since the government is established for the benefit of society and the protection and defense also of believers, we cheerfully pay for its support.

What does the phrase the obligation of Christian love mean?

God’s injunction is clear and simple. Be under obligation to no one except in this: love your neighbor with the same love with which we regard our own interests. This is the one duty that can never be discharged adequately or exhausted completely.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Galatians 2:11-21

Being your brother’s keeper will lead at times to uncomfortable situations or even confrontations. Here Paul tells how he had to oppose Peter to his face. Paul did not do this out of jealously of this reputed pillar; this was no power play pitting the apostle to the Jews against the apostle to the Gentiles. This had to do with the eternal salvation of everyone involved. Trusting in anything other than Christ is like sleeping in a burning house. Paul took his job of being a watchman seriously: if righteousness could be gained through the Judaizers’ demands, then Christ died for nothing! So Paul woke his sleeping neighbor with the harsh reality of Peter’s hypocrisy. But the Word did its work; Paul didn’t merely keep his brother; he won his brother over.

Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20

What is the primary purpose of church discipline?

The purpose of this entire passage is to show how a weak and erring brother or sister may be won back to Christ, even if it be a matter of difficult work.

Which step in church discipline is perhaps the hardest and thus often skipped?

The first step, speaking to a brother/sister face-to-face, is often bypassed. Problems are only escalated when we publicly expose him/her by talking about it with others first.

What is meant by the congregation’s power to “bind” and “loose”?

Christ gives his church the power to forgive the sins of the penitent but to retain the sins of the impenitent. These are the keys that lock or unlock the door of heaven. Needless to say, God gave this power for edification, not destruction.

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Our Devotion Is to God and His Church

These are the readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

God and his Church are under attack on many fronts today, so we ask, “How can the Church remain strong?” The soundest encouragement comes from God himself, who urges us to cling to his unfailing promises and devote ourselves to lives of service.

First Lesson – Jeremiah 15:15-21

What was the essence of Jeremiah’s lament?

Jeremiah had devoted himself with all seriousness to God’s calling, yet he felt isolated, he was scoffed at, and his message fell on deaf ears. At the heart of his lament was whether God was really faithful to his promises.

As God did on many occasions with the Old Testament prophets, how did God respond?

In a gentle reproof, God reassured his servant Jeremiah that if he turned from his course of discontent with the Lord, he would use Jeremiah as a powerful instrument in sharing his Word and would sustain him against all the enemies of the gospel.

Second Lesson – Romans 12: 1-8

How do we offer our bodies as living sacrifices?

We do not view our bodies as our own personal property to use or abuse as we see fit. Rather, our physical body and all its members are to be devoted to the service of God. We do that when we bring our Christian life into conformity with the holy will of God, not to merit salvation, but as a willing obligation to him at all times and in all things.

How do our special gifts and abilities find their application in congregational life?

God gives an assortment of ordinary and extraordinary gifts to the members of his body, the Church. Some possess executive skills, others the aptitude to preach and teach, and still others the ability to apply God’s Word to various circumstances of life. May we use these gifts with passion, cheerfulness, humility, and gratitude, always to God’s glory!

Supplemental First Lesson – Judges 16:22-31

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?

Jesus’ words of warning form a perfect picture of Samson. He had the world: strength, fame, power, leadership, love. Yet he was losing his soul. But the God of grace humbled him. Samson repented and took up his cross and followed. He lost his life but died in faith. His words comprise the most fervent plea that a sinner can make at the end of life. Like the thief, he cried, “Remember me!” Once again as a man of faith, he had in mind the things of God rather than men and died in service to his Savior God.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Galatians 6:12-16

Christians will be tempted to give in to license or legalism in order to escape persecution. But Christ told us to expect persecution and burdens that come from carrying his cross. For the Christian, bearing the cross is a point of pride and the basis for our boasting. How can this be?

We are the Church militant, and so death comes before life, the cross before the crown. By the cross, the world dies to us, and we die by that same cross to the world. But after that death comes life—new life—an entirely new creation.

Gospel – Matthew 16:21-26

Why did Jesus say he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things”?

A divine obligation was resting upon Jesus; it was a necessity which he had taken upon himself to fulfill the will of his heavenly Father by his death for all mankind.

Explain Jesus’ sharp rebuke to Peter.

Peter had offered a well-meant, but all-together meddlesome interference with the business of Christ. His thoughts were not in line with God’s will and work. It lacked the wider vision necessary in the kingdom of God. In calling Peter, “Satan,” Jesus was accusing him of tempting him to do wrong. Understandably, he commanded, “Get behind me!”—for far be it from Jesus that he should ever prefer Peter’s foolish, carnal wisdom over the will of his heavenly Father.

According to verse 25, what is real “life?”

He who aims to find in this world all that his heart desires will, by that fact, lose the real life—true, abounding, and everlasting—which is found in and with Christ Jesus.

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Church Will Stand Forever

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.” The holy Christian church is not a building made by human hands, but it is a spiritual house made of living stones, people who have confessed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, their Savior. Built on Christ, the sure foundation, this Church will endure throughout time and into eternity, though the attacks against it will be severe. Praise God that he has made known to us the truth, that we might confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God!

First Lesson – Exodus 6:2-8

Four times in this passage God says, “I am the LORD.” What does he mean by this?

When it is written in capital letters, it means “the Savior-God,” Jehovah. This was the same gracious God who had promised salvation to those heroes of faith who had come before Moses, and he would extend his salvation also to the people of Moses’ time.

What comfort can Christ’s Church today find in words like these spoken through Moses?

The same Savior-God is speaking to us today and offers the same salvation and deliverance from bondage that he offered in the past.

How does God’s picture of freeing Israel from Egypt’s oppression typify our condition?

The Israelites were to be delivered from slavery, and in its place be given their own land, their freedom, and the joy of serving God. In the same way, we are delivered from our bondage to Satan and brought into the loving family of God where we enjoy freedom in Christ and the opportunity to serve him out of gratitude.

Supplemental First Lesson – Joshua 4:1-9

Twelve rocks told the story of God’s grace and preservation to generations of his people. Through the Word, they still speak to us today. As he once used his might to halt a river in its place to preserve his people, so today God still preserves and protects the new Israel, his holy church. Today, rocks still speak. Not stones in a river, but people like Peter, little rocks who proclaim the Rock on which we stand forever.

Second Lesson – Romans 11:33-36

How is this praise hymn a fitting conclusion to our past weeks’ readings, where Paul spoke of mankind’s disobedience being an opportunity for God to show his mercy?

Truly, who can understand the mind and judgments of the Lord? Instead of treating us as our disobedient rebellion deserves, he uses it as a platform to extend his mercy and grace. All glory belongs to God alone!

Supplemental Second Lesson – Revelation 7:1-8

God doesn’t just hold back rivers, but he even holds back the winds of destruction until every one of his elect is safely sealed. Ezekiel 9 gives an interesting prophesy of such a seal. The believers are marked with the Hebrew letter Taw. It’s intriguing to think of the image that would have formed in the mind of the people of Israel. The Hebrew script at the time would have marked each forehead with † or + or X. Thus sealed with the seal of the living God, the whole Church is preserved forever (122 x 103 = 144,000—the number of the Church is 12; the number of completeness is 10; multiplication intensifies the symbolism).

Gospel – Matthew 16:13-20

Why must Peter’s confession be ours? How will this occur?

It is through Christ alone that we can enter the kingdom of God. This confession can come to us only as it is revealed to us by God, for our sinful natures could never come to this knowledge on our own. It will be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, and once made, it can withstand even the fullest onslaught of the weapons of Satan.

What are the keys of heaven?

How amazing that Christ should give us the keys to his kingdom! Those keys are the authority that Christ gives us to lock and unlock the doors of heaven. To those who are repentant, we may offer forgiveness through the gospel and throw the doors of heaven wide open! But to those who do not repent, we must use the law to lock the doors of heaven, lovingly praying that they will, through this action, confess their sins and receive life.

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Church is Meant for All People

These are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Today is a celebration of our mission work! All people are sinful and face God’s condemnation. Christ died for all people and paid the penalty for the sins of the world. Shortly before his ascension into heaven, Jesus also commissioned us to preach the gospel to all creation. For God would have no one to be lost; he seeks the composition of his heavenly kingdom to include people of every nation, tribe, language, and people. Let us be about our Father’s business.

First Lesson – Isaiah 56:1,6-8

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

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

What does this text say about those who are included in the gathering or harvest?

The house of God would be a house of prayer for all nations, the Lord says through Isaiah. The binding characteristics will not be race or language, but rather the fruits of their faith. (See 56:6.)

Supplemental First Lesson – Joshua 2:8-21

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

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

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

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

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

What hope still exists for the Jewish people?

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

Gospel – Matthew 15:21-28

Why did Jesus treat this foreign woman so harshly?

Perhaps we cannot fully understand the mind of the Lord, but it seems that despite his harsh tone, Jesus is loving to this woman. He is testing her faith in light of these apparent obstacles.

How does her faith help the woman to see past Jesus’ seeming rejection?

Her eyes of faith allow her to still see the possibility of help and an answer to her request.

What reward is there for her faith?

The immediate reward is the healing of her daughter; the ultimate reward is Jesus’ statement regarding her great faith and her life in him.

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

God’s Promises Create and Strengthen Faith

These are the readings for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Faith is a spiritual quality and accepts the gracious gift of eternal life from our Savior. But faith is not something we can achieve on our own. It is completely the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. With such a value attached to this gift, God provides means to strengthen that faith so that it will remain strong until the day of Christ Jesus. Lord, give us such a faith as this!

Traditional First Lesson – 1 Kings 19:9-18

Why was Elijah at Mount Horeb?

Elijah was fleeing wicked Queen Jezebel, who had vowed to execute him.

What did God mean to teach Elijah by appearing in a whisper instead of the other more astounding methods?

The whisper represented God’s patience with his people, as opposed to the violent destruction that the other responses indicated. It also reminded Elijah of the power of the simple word of God, living and active, that called all the worlds into being.

What reassurance does God provide Elijah in his loneliness?

Elijah was not alone as he supposed; there were still seven thousand Israelites who remained faithful to the Lord and his promises.

Supplemental First Lesson – Exodus 14:10-31

The children of Israel during their great exodus aptly displayed that doubt is the unfortunate companion of faith. As they made their way from Egypt to Canaan, they scurried back and forth between the poles of faith and doubt with alarming regularity. Faith had led them to follow Moses and the pillar into the desert. Now with the sea in front of them and a great army behind them, faith fled, and doubt reigned. Adversity made them forget the God of the Passover. Moses came with words so fitting for doubting hearts in the face of adversity, “You need only be still.” As the psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God.” God’s plan will prevail. The very water they thought was preventing their escape would be the cause of their deliverance. The very army they thought would destroy them would be destroyed. The troubles that seem to afflict or hem us in, are part of the plan for the glory of God and the salvation of man. It is only after the parted sea finds its former home that we recognize the grace of God’s hand in our lives. And we hear the gentle whisper of our Savior-God, “Why did you doubt?”

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 9:1-5

Why is Paul grieving the state of his people?

As a nation, Paul’s people—the Jews—had rejected Christ and therefore were destined to face God’s wrath eternally.

Comment on Paul’s love for his people.

Paul’s love was of the most selfless variety, a sacrificial love. Note that in verse three, Paul states that, if it were possible, he would rather face eternal judgment himself than to see his people perish. What a powerful model of selfless love this is!

Was it too late for Israel to be saved?

Not as long as they were still alive on earth. Their teachers still held the books of Moses and the prophets, containing the promises of salvation. They were still living in a time of grace. (Note that their nationality and lineage would not be sufficient to deliver them from judgment.)

Supplemental Second Lesson – James 1:2-8, 12

The trials we face in this sinful world can make us terrified like the disciples, or frustrated like Elijah, or despondent like the children of Israel before the sea. James calls us out as living like double-minded men when we doubt our God. He preaches a law to hearts that need to hear it: “Do not doubt!” But God promises that in the midst of the storms of life, we can listen, and also hear his gentle whisper. “It is I. Don’t be afraid!” When we hear his voice, the waves of doubt recede and faith finds its place again, making us surer of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Gospel – Matthew 14:22-33

What enabled Peter to walk on water?

Peter’s Spirit-brought faith trusting the invitation from Jesus to walk to him.

What caused Peter to begin sinking?

When Peter took his focus off Christ, the solid rock, he began to place his trust in earthly things. But Jesus lovingly forgives Peter’s weakness, as he does so often with ours.

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Christian Trusts God to Provide

These are the readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Our Savior is a God of mercy and kindness. Our very existence is testimony to that fact. Daily he provides us with all that we need to keep our body and life. He also grants protection from all earthly dangers. In addition, our Savior provides us with spiritual blessings—food for the soul. In his Word, we receive the good news of sins forgiven and free salvation.

First Lesson – Isaiah 55:1-5

What satisfying sustenance does God promise to his people?

In his Word, Jesus promises to give us food and drink that is truly satisfying, for it will quench the hunger and thirst we feel because of our sin. This spiritual food and drink offers us forgiveness of sins and eternal life, a truly satisfying fare!

What is the imitation bread in which some invest?

The imitation bread might look appealing on the outside, but it offers no relief from hunger. Consider the many religious practices performed to make oneself right with God. But we can never know with certainty if we’ve offered enough; therefore, we are never truly satisfied—a most unsatisfactory fare!

Whom do verses 4 and 5 point to?

The Holy One of Israel must be pointing to our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 41:41-49

A Christian trusts that God will provide—even when the plan makes no sense to us. Sold as a slave by his brothers, Joseph could have despaired of God’s care and love. In faith, however, Joseph trusted in God to provide for his needs and future. Year after year, God did just that and raised Joseph from the depths of prison to dizzying heights of power. By the age of 30, he controlled one of the greatest empires the world has known. And it was all so God could provide for his people. He used Joseph as his tool to fill the granaries during the seven fat years that he might give bread to the people during the seven lean. So great was God’s blessing that they stopped counting the grain! The grace in God’s provision can be seen not only in the thousands of Egyptians saved from starvation but most especially in the grain he provided to Jacob and his sons during the famine. Though he was sold as a slave, God made Joseph vizier that he might be God’s hand providing food to preserve the bloodline of the Savior. How often we look at our lives and see only problems and none of the possibilities that God would work in us and through us! Look at Joseph and learn again to trust God to provide.

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 8:35-39

Suffering might cause us to question God’s love. But in the end, what capability does any suffering have?

While Paul indicates that suffering has been around for ages and is generally something we can’t escape, he also states boldly that none of it can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ.

What makes us more than conquerors?

Christ’s victory on the cross makes us conquerors as well.

Name anything that isn’t covered in Paul’s list of agents that “cannot separate us from the love of God…”

Paul’s list of agents ends with “nor anything else in all creation.” The only being uncreated is God himself, and it is he who worked and won our salvation. It is therefore reaffirmed that absolutely nothing can come between us and God’s love for us!

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Timothy 4:4,5

The Gnostic heretics that plagued the early church believed the physical world was evil. They demanded an ascetic life that was at odds with God’s intentions for our existence. Paul asserts that God not only cares about our physical existence but everything we need for it is, in fact, a creation of God and essentially good—not evil. Rather than a life of denial, the Christian life is one of gratefully receiving all that we need as gracious gifts from God.

Gospel – Matthew 14:13-21

How does Jesus show his nature as the provider of all things physical?

Jesus provides for this crowd of more than 10,000 people by miraculously stretching the bread and fish to fill all their stomachs. (Compare Matthew 6:33 and Psalm 23:1.)

Which attributes of Jesus shine through clearly in this miracle?

Obviously, as in all his other miracles, Jesus shows his omnipotence or almighty power. But note also that Jesus shows his compassion for the people. (See 14:14.)

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Christian Seeks Spiritual Wealth

These are the readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

God in heaven has blessed us in untold ways. Take a moment to consider just how many blessings you have. Chances are that most of what you considered was temporal, that is, for this life only. More important than all that, certainly, is our salvation in Christ Jesus, the only blessing that offers us an assurance of life eternal. This blessing is ours through the precious Word of God alone.

First Lesson – 1 Kings 3:5-12

What excellent role model does Solomon provide for us as we undertake tasks in life?

Young King Solomon was poised to begin his reign as ruler of Israel, replacing his father, King David. This was certainly a daunting task. So Solomon correctly subjects all earthly things to the important spiritual things and seeks God’s wisdom to carry out the demands of his new position in a God-pleasing way. In the words of the hymn-writer: “With the Lord begin your task, Jesus will direct it.”

Since Solomon placed godly things first, what else did God provide?

In addition to the wisdom Solomon requested, God also granted him riches, power, and fame unparalleled in any other human. Remember the words of the Savior: “Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:31).

Second Lesson – Romans 8:28-30

How does God call us for his purpose?

As in days past, God still calls us through the means of grace—his gospel found in the Word and sacraments.

A wonderful chain of events is described, beginning long before we came to be. If God intricately wove his plan for us through all these steps, what continuation of these steps will he most certainly bring to pass?

From eternity God foreknew us and predestined us to be conformed in the likeness of Jesus Christ. Through the gospel, he called us and justified us by faith in the promises that he himself made. Since God carefully planned each of these steps, bringing us into our current relationship with him, we can with confidence expect that he will bring that plan to completion by glorifying us one day as we enter heaven itself. Note that Paul’s confidence in this is so strong that he speaks of it as if even the final step had already occurred.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Timothy 6:17-21

Could Paul’s words be more timely or appropriate for this generation?

Paul instructs preachers everywhere to warn the rich about the two pet sins of the wealthy: arrogance and false hope. Mankind so easily falls in the error of thinking that earthly treasures can provide security or a sense of worth. In our affluent society, both of those sins run rampant in a Christian heart. God commands us not to trust in earthly treasure because he wants us to have a firm foundation on which to stand, a certainty on which to place our hope. That can only be found in spiritual wealth. God richly provides for us, and then we give thanks by being rich in good deeds. Spiritual wealth is certain and secure, for it is treasure laid up in heaven.

How can we possibly carry out this command?

Teach us to ask according to your will, that we may never fail to obtain the blessings you have promised.

Gospel – Matthew 13:44-52

What do both the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value represent?

Each represents the kingdom of heaven—a prize of priceless value. Each parable indicates that nothing else should be considered so highly as to risk losing this most precious possession.

The parable of the net teaches of the final judgment. How does its message also extend the thought of the first two parables?

While its main teaching is of the final judgment, this parable implies the importance of our faith in God’s promises. May that faith remain strong so that our stake in the kingdom of God is not lost!

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Final Judgment Belongs to God

These are the readings for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” These words of our God place the responsibility for judgment—especially the final judgment—solely into the hands of God himself. Of course, to the person without Christ, that is a frightening notion, for none will escape the judgment of the Lord. But to God’s children, who still struggle daily with temptation and sin, these words are a sobering reminder of our evil nature, but also an opportunity to remember that our good Savior has already borne that judgment for us.

First Lesson – Joel 3:12-16

Of what is the harvest a picture?

While a physical harvest of crops seems also to be coming, the symbolism here points to the judgment “harvest,” where God will bind up those who are against him and destroy them in eternal hellfire. (Compare Revelation 14:14-20.)

While God has chastised his people for their wickedness, ultimately, he would judge the heathen nation that oppressed them. What promise of grace does Joel proclaim?

God’s own people, also wicked, had already received punishment at the hands of the oppressors. But, faithful to his promises, the Lord also remembers his people and remains their refuge and stronghold. (See 3:16.)

Second Lesson – Romans 8:26, 27

What assurance do Christians have, even in the worst of times?

Even in the worst of times, God is there to help. Sometimes our situation may be so severe that we don’t even know how or what to pray. When our own spirit fails, the Holy Spirit takes up our petitions for us, and intimately shares our needs with our Father in heaven.

In what manner may we confidently assume our “unspeakable” petitions are prayer?

Since the Holy Spirit is carrying it, and since he and the Father share a common deity—knowing even each other’s minds—our petitions will be conveyed perfectly, in accordance with God’s goodwill.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Peter 4:1-8

Living as wheat among weeds means leaving our lives of sin behind and living for the will of God with an eye on the coming harvest. Although righteousness and wickedness must coexist until the judgment, Peter reminded his readers that they had spent enough of their lives living in sin. The time had come for a clean break with the world. Just because we have to live in the world, doesn’t mean we have to be of it. Yes, this break with the world will lead to our persecution. When it happens, fix your eyes on the coming harvest. As you bear up under suffering, take heart, and know that all mankind will be judged. The end of all things is near, so live like wheat among the weeds of this world by loving each other deeply with that forgiving love found only in Christ.

Gospel – Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

In the parable of the weeds, Jesus indicates that the sons of God will live alongside the sons of evil until the end. How can we tell who’s who?

We will look to outward actions and words as an indication of who the believers and unbelievers are. (Compare 1 John 3:10.)

How will God’s victory finally be seen by all?

While Satan and his evil army are given freedom in this world and even sometimes appear to have the upper hand, yet in the end—the final judgment—all those creatures found outside the family of Christ will be destroyed in everlasting fire, a fact of which Satan’s forces are keenly aware. (See 1 Peter 3:18-20.) God keep us strong in faith and our walk with our Savior and bring us at last to our heavenly inheritance!

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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The Christian is Planted by the Word and Produces Fruit

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

How do you get people to join your church? There are lots of suggestions. Most people suggest something special for every age group. It seems that you need to provide people with all kinds of programs. You also need to tell people what they want to hear. You may get people to join your church that way, but chances are they won’t ever become a part of the holy Christian church. You only become a member of God’s kingdom one way: through the preaching of the gospel. But even the success of our gospel preaching doesn’t depend on us. Instead, it depends entirely upon God’s power and blessing.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 55:10-11

True or false: Whenever we proclaim God’s Word, we can be certain that our listeners will be brought to faith.

False. The gospel does not automatically produce faith. When we use the gospel, we hope and pray that this will be the outcome, but sadly there are many who reject the forgiveness that God offers in his Word and harden their hearts to its truths, as Isaiah experienced in his own ministry (cf. Isaiah 6:9,10).

What does God mean that his Word “never returns to him empty”?

He means that there is never a “neutral” hearing of his Word. God’s Word either produces and strengthens faith in the hearts of his hearers, or it serves to harden those hearts. Even Jesus’ disciples—although still believers—were sometimes hardened to the truth of God’s Word when they refused to believe certain things (cf. Mk 6:52; Mk 8:17).

Supplemental First Lesson – Isaiah 55:10-13

The supplemental lesson adds two verses to the First Lesson to let the worshiper see the purpose God had in sending forth his Word (55:11). God sends his Word out for our joy and for the Lord’s renown. Intermediately fulfilled in the return from Babylon, God’s promise is ultimately fulfilled in the holy Christian church. The Word goes forth to plant faith for the glory of God and the salvation of man.

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 8:18-25

What is God’s creation awaiting?

The return of the Lord when it will be freed from the bondage of decay. In other words, things die and corrode in this world because of our sinfulness.

What are we eagerly awaiting?

We await our adoption as children of God when our broken-down and decaying bodies will be replaced with a body like the one Jesus received in his resurrection (cf. Philippians 3:21).

Why do we need to be patient?

We need to be patient because Jesus’ return won’t take place until all those who were elected to faith from eternity are brought to faith by the powerful Word of God. We don’t know when that will be, so we need to be patient.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Acts 18:1-11

The field of Corinth was filled with birds, stones, and thorns. Though Paul reasoned and preached, one seed after another fell on soil that did not produce a crop. Yet God’s Word would accomplish his good purpose. Paul did not have to go far to find a fertile field. He walked out of the synagogue and went right next door. In the home of Titius Justus, he found good soil that produced a crop one hundred times that which was sown.

Gospel – Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

What is a parable?

A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus told many simple parables to the people of his day, using everyday events to help people understand the kingdom of God.

What is Jesus’ point in the parable of the sower?

The sower scatters the seed of the gospel to all with no regard for where it might land. Yet most of his seed bears no fruit. Jesus warns us that the seed of the Word faces great opposition from sin, Satan, and the world. Newborn faith can be choked or scorched. The gospel promise can be snatched from apathetic or misunderstanding soil. Though we sow the seed faithfully and generously, Jesus warns us that most of it will never bear fruit that lasts. Yet for every faithful gospel preacher, Christ comforts us by showing that the preacher’s job is to sow the seed and leave the growing up to God. He comforts us by pointing to what his Word does in the good soil: it plants great faith that does great things.

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Our Relationship with God Depends on His Good Pleasure

These are the readings for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

How do you strike up friendships or relationships with other people? Most people attempt to find something that they have in common with another person, and they try to develop a friendship based on those common interests. But how do we strike up a relationship with God? We don’t. Our relationship with God depends on his good pleasure. God is “out of our league” and really shouldn’t have anything to do with us. But miraculously he does! Amazingly he loves us and cares for us. He desires to be our dearest friend! But he always makes “the first move” through the gospel.

Traditional First Lesson – Exodus 33:12-23

What condition did Moses put upon his leading God’s Old Testament people?

God must go with his people, otherwise, Moses was not willing to lead them. Moses recognized the importance of having a close relationship with the Lord and that such a relationship depended on God’s good pleasure.

How did Moses want God to “seal the deal”?

He wanted the Lord to show him his glory as a seal of God’s presence. The Lord conceded to show Moses his “backside” and proclaim his name. (See Exodus 34:5-7.)

Supplemental First Lesson – Joshua 23:1-11

God kept the promise he made in the First Lesson: he had gone with his people to the Promised Land. Many years after finishing the conquest of Canaan, Joshua looked back and reminded the people that God had fought for them and had given them rest from all their enemies. Since God had done this, Joshua called on the people to give the Lord their allegiance, obedience, and love. Let the preacher make that same call to God’s people today. We can look back and see that God fought for us and gave us rest from our three great enemies. Now, with sin atoned, the devil defeated, and death vanquished, let all God’s people thank him for this rest by giving him allegiance, obedience, and love.

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 7:15-25a

What struggle does Paul outline in these verses?

The struggle that every Christian has between the sinful flesh and the new person, who is guided by the Holy Spirit. Only the Christian has this struggle.

How are we able to overcome our sinful nature?

We aren’t able to overcome the sinful flesh by ourselves. We must rely upon the working of the Holy Spirit through the gospel. This is our Christian life of sanctification. God gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Supplemental Second Lesson – Hebrews 4:1-11

The rest that God gave his people in Canaan foreshadowed the true rest of God in heaven. The rest in the Promised Land was received by some through faith and rejected by others through unbelief. The writer to the Hebrews urges every Christian to heed the warning of the generation that died in the desert. Instead, by faith in Christ, we find the true Sabbath rest of God in heaven.

Gospel – Matthew 11:25-30

Ture or false: We make the choice to enter into a relationship with God.

False. By nature, we are enemies of God and objects of his wrath. (See Ephesians 2:3.) God is the one who wins us over to friendship with his wonderful promises. He’s the one who makes us alive with Christ. (See Ephesians 2:5.) Our relationship with God depends on his good pleasure.

To whom does God choose to reveal the truths of the gospel?

Jesus says that God reveals the truths of the gospel, not to the “wise and learned,” but to “little children.” In other words, to those who do not persistently reject the working of the Holy Spirit through the gospel. God is the one who wins us to faith. We have no power to choose God as our friend; it’s all God’s doing (Luther’s Small Catechism, Explanation to the Third Article of the Creed).

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Christian Loves God Above All Things

These are the readings for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

The Christian loves God above all things. The Church prays for the love of God that we might always love him above all things. The lessons warn of the earthly ramifications of such love, but also point to the promised heavenly rewards.

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 28:5-9

What was Jeremiah predicting about the city of Jerusalem?

Jeremiah had long predicted that the city of Jerusalem would face war, disaster, and plague because of their rebellion against the Lord. He said that there would be crosses to bear for God’s people.

What did the prophet Hananiah predict about the same city?

Hananiah was predicting, contrary to the prophets of the Lord, that Jerusalem would soon enjoy times of peace and prosperity. His message, of course, was popular among the people of Jerusalem.

Supplemental First Lesson – Exodus 32:15-29

Aaron had seen God standing on the sapphire pavement. The seventy elders had partaken of a divine banquet on the mountain (Exodus 24). And only forty days later, they lost it all. Unwilling to face conflict for God, they gave in to the people who wanted to love pleasure, flesh, and idols rather than the God who brought them up out of Egypt. Aaron’s feeble excuses remind us of our own shallow rationalizations for failing to love God above all things. The Levites, however, rallied to Moses’ call and showed that they loved the Lord even more than they loved their brothers. Total commitment to God did not bring peace, but a sword. Yet their devotion was rewarded by God who gave them the high privilege of being his special servants.

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 6:1b-11

How does St. Paul say we should regard our baptism?

Paul says that we should understand our baptism as being buried with Christ. Our sinful flesh has been crucified with him.

Since baptism means the death of our sinful flesh in this world, what can we expect from our lives in this world?

There will be many painful experiences as we continue to battle our sinful flesh and daily crucify it with a life of repentance.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. How easy that is to say; how difficult to do!

The apostle John repeats Christ’s call for total commitment. Love for the world and love of the Father are mutually exclusive. Loving God above all things means recognizing that our cravings, our lust, and our pride come from this world which will not last. So why do we put our love in things that are so transitory? Empires fall, desire wanes, relationships fail, accomplishments crumble. God calls the Christian to love him above all these things and receive a life that will last forever.

Gospel – Matthew 10:34-42

What does Jesus mean: he came to bring a sword?

Jesus wants us to realize that he is a divisive figure. People argue about who Jesus is and what he came to do. While many people in this world suggest that there is more than one way to God, Jesus is unequivocal: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). As a result, one can either be for Jesus or against him. There is no middle ground.

Why does Jesus speak such thorny words in these verses?

He wants us to realize the cost of discipleship and to make an informed decision before we become one of his disciples. The life of discipleship is not an easy one. There are crosses to bear.

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Fifth Sunday of Pentecost

The Holy Ministry Preaches Christ in Spite of Persecution

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Are you afraid to be on the outreach committee of your congregation? If so, why? Are you afraid of rejection? Today’s lessons and Gospel remind us that―if that’s what we’re afraid of―there’s nothing to fear! That doesn’t mean we won’t be rejected as we proclaim God’s Word. We certainly will. But we’re not the ones being rejected; Jesus is. And he will take care of himself and us! Jesus has called us to proclaim his Word to others and promises to be with us every step of the way. (See Matthew 29:19,20.) So we don’t need to be timid or afraid. We can be fearless in our proclamation. We have the Lord’s backing!

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 20:7-13

What is Jeremiah’s complaint?

Jeremiah complained that he felt compelled to preach the Word of the Lord, even though the people mocked him for doing it.

What comfort did Jeremiah have in his suffering?

He recognized that he had the Lord’s backing and that he could be fearless in his proclamation.

What can we learn about facing persecution for the Word of God from Jeremiah?

Persecution can come from any quarter. For Jeremiah, it came from within the visible church. Pashhur, the chief officer of the temple, heard the message Jeremiah proclaimed and had him beaten and put into stocks. How telling that the first time the Bible calls Jeremiah by the title “prophet” is also the first time he faced bodily persecution! Proclaimers of the pure Word of God will always face persecution from without and within the visible church. But what could Jeremiah do? He could not hold in the Word because it was like a fire in his heart. He did his job and found his courage in the mighty warrior of the Lord and the knowledge that God will prevail. In the face of persecution, Jeremiah found courage, praise, and joy.

Supplemental First Lesson – Jeremiah 19:14–20:6

This lesson gives the preceding context of the First Lesson. Note the courage of Jeremiah, first in speaking the Word of the Lord that landed him in the stocks, and then speaking the subsequent Word of the Lord as soon as he is released from the stocks. To the man who had beaten him, Jeremiah proclaimed a message of doom and death by God’s hand. Pashhur could merely kill the body, so Jeremiah did not fear him, but placed his life in the hands of the God who numbered every hair on his head. In those hands, Jeremiah found the courage to testify in the face of persecution, and even in the midst of it.

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 5:12-15

What unpopular message does St. Paul preach in verses 12-14?

He proclaims the message that God has about us: We are all held accountable for Adam’s one sin from the time we enter this world, and the punishment for that sin is death.

What is greater than the sin of Adam?

Only the gift of Jesus’ perfect life, innocent death, and powerful resurrection was able to overcome the sin of Adam. In the same way that God held us accountable for Adam’s one sin, so also, he credits Jesus’ perfection to our accounts. (See Romans 5:18,19.)

True or false: the message of God’s free forgiveness is never unpopular.

False. The message of God’s free forgiveness is often ridiculed as being “too easy.” Many people are convinced that God’s forgiveness is only for those who meet certain God-given requirements. Free forgiveness is thought to be foolishness (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Supplemental Second Lesson – Acts 23:1-11

What made Paul such an expert on the subject of persecution?

St. Paul knew persecution well: He knew how to give it, and he knew how to take it. The man who once had been the Church’s worst nightmare had become, by God’s amazing grace, the Church’s great Apostle to the Gentiles. But the self-proclaimed chief of sinners, who once persecuted the Church, then endured a ministry filled with persecutions. The list of dangers and violence that Paul faced is lengthy. By the time we find Paul in this lesson he had faced persecutions many times. Yet, his Savior never forgot him, and his Savior never forgot to remind him of the courage he could have in Christ. He was going to Rome, and he would testify. Not even a martyr’s death would be able to stop the testimony Paul would make for Christ. What the Lord whispered in the dark, Paul shouted from the rooftop. And when he met his martyr’s death, it was only the door to eternity where his Savior acknowledged him before God the Father. Grant us that courage to testify, O Lord!

Gospel – Matthew 10:24-33

Since we are Jesus’ disciples, how should we expect the people of this world to treat us?

We should expect to be mocked like Jeremiah was in the First Lesson and like Jesus was throughout his ministry.

If people reject the truth of God’s Word, are they rejecting us?

No. They are rejecting God, and on the Last Day, God will reject them. In other words, as we fearlessly proclaim God’s Word, we should never take rejection personally. God will act with swift justice on the Day of Judgment.

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The Work of the Church Depends on the Proclamation of the Gospel

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

What is the primary work of the Christian church? Surprisingly, many people answer that question in different ways. Some suggest that the primary work of the church is to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Some say that the church is to work for overall social justice. Others think that the church’s job is to reform and restore the moral fiber of our world. These are perhaps all worthy tasks, but there shouldn’t be any debate about the church’s primary task because Jesus tells us what it is: Preach the gospel of forgiveness! (Mark 16:15) That’s our work and our privilege!

Traditional First Lesson – Exodus 19:2-8a

What is a covenant? (See 19:5.)

A covenant is an agreement. God is here establishing a covenant with his people: obey me fully and you will be my treasured possession. This is a two-sided covenant. God’s covenant with us is one-sided (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).

How would God view his Old Testament people if they obeyed his Word?

They would be for him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

What is a priest?

The Scriptural job description of a priest is to be a go-between or mediator between God and human beings. In particular, he offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. God commanded that there be such priests in Old Testament times from the tribe of Levi. But in the New Testament there is no longer any need for such priests because through the sacrifice of Jesus, our great High Priest (Hebrews 7:26-28), we have all become priests of God (1 Peter 2:4-10), offering up our own spiritual sacrifices.

Supplemental First Lesson – Numbers 27:15-23

How does Moses show compassion on Israel?

After forty years of faithfully leading God’s people through their wanderings, after much pleading with God in prayer, Moses’ hopes of leading the people into the Promised Land were dashed. Moses would see the land from afar, but then like his brother before him, he would die because of his actions at Meribah Kadesh. But look at Moses’ response! There is no complaint or murmur or cry. See how this minister of the Word emulates the compassion of God and his Son: Moses’ first thought is of the people of God. He saw them as Christ would 1400 years later, as sheep without a shepherd. Leave them not leaderless, O Lord! And God answers with a man full of the Spirit to be the new leader of God’s people. Lord, give your Church more ministers who model your compassion!

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 5:6-11

How did God demonstrate his love for all people?

Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, his enemies. God’s love is unconditional! He was not waiting for us to love him first.

What does it mean for us to be reconciled to God?

To be reconciled with God means that all people were estranged or separated from him at one time because of our sinfulness, but now Jesus has washed our sinfulness away with his sacrifice on the cross. All people are now reconciled to God, and as Christians, we share that message of reconciliation with others who don’t realize or believe it. (See 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5

What is the Church’s responsibility toward her ministers?

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians center on the ministry of the Word born of God’s compassion. The God who loved us also gave us the encouragement of his Word and sacrament that strengthen us in word and deed. Therefore, Paul beseeches the prayers of the Church for its ministers. Pray that their message be spread and the ministers are spared, for there are those who will work against this ministry and its message. Yet see the compassion of Christ modeled in his ministers: Paul’s words are ones of concern and comfort for people of God.

Gospel – Matthew 9:35–10:8

Why did Jesus show compassion toward the crowds?

Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

What is an apostle?

An apostle is one who is “sent out” to proclaim the gospel. The twelve apostles had a special call from Jesus to proclaim the gospel without boundaries. In a very real sense, though, we are also “apostles” whenever we proclaim the gospel.

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