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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Approaching God With Humble Hearts

These are the readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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—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?

First, Paul 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 to endure the present tribulation and 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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

One timeless truth 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 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

These are the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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 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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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, 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, 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, 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 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 Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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 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 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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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 through 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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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 so often does 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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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 into 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, and 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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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

Planted by the Word and Produce Fruit

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

How do you strike up friendships or relationships with other people? Most people attempt to find something they have in common with another person and 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

True 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.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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 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, lust, and 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 after Pentecost

The Holy Ministry Preaches Christ

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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 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 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

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

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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Third Sunday after Pentecost

Our Life of Faith Depends on God’s Promises

These are the readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Trusting people isn’t easy because people tend to let us down when we’re depending on them. It’s also hard to confess our sinfulness to others because we’re afraid those people will use our sins and mistakes against us and hold a grudge. We shouldn’t have the same concerns with our Savior. Jesus is totally reliable, entirely trustworthy. He keeps his promises. Most of all, he keeps his promise of forgiveness through the gospel. We can confidently confess our sin to him, knowing that in him, we have certain forgiveness and eternal life.

Traditional First Lesson – Hosea 5:15–6:6

Do you think Israel really repented here, or were they just saying what they thought God wanted to hear?

At first glance, the words that Israel spoke (6:1-3) seem a beautiful model of repentance. But this is unrepentant Israel’s idea of “repentance” that had as little to do with godly repentance as the Pharisees’ “righteousness” had to do with godly service. There is no confession of guilt; no fruits follow; God does not receive it. Merely going through the motions of repentance did not cut it. Merely performing the outward functions of the Law did not suffice. God wanted an admission of guilt, an earnest seeking, but he did not find it. Only the mercy of God could solve their problem. “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them” (Hosea 14:4).

Why can we confidently acknowledge our sin to the Lord?

Because he promised us that he will heal us and bind up our wound of sin, that we may live in his presence.

Supplemental First Lesson – Exodus 3:1-15

Was Moses a good choice to be called as leader of God’s people?

The pre-incarnate Christ calls Moses into service by his mercy. What else could explain the choice? Moses had already proven himself a failure at delivering God’s people from bondage. He was an exiled killer, living in the wilds of Midian after fleeing the court of Pharaoh. No wonder Moses asked, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?”

What can we learn about our callings from the call of Moses?

Everyone called into God’s service asks this question of themselves again and again. It comes from knowing that only mercy can explain God choosing us to serve him. But when the minister stops marveling at God’s mercy and instead starts questioning God’s choice, then God’s answer rings out loud and true: I. Not you, I. Can the point be clearer? Your call is by my mercy, and the ability to perform the service I give you comes only from me, the great I AM. What comfort for both preacher and parishioner!

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 4:18-25

What promise of God to Abraham is Paul referring to in these verses?

God promised Abraham a son in his old age.

True or false: Abraham simply ignored the physical evidence which suggested that there was no way he and his wife could have a child.

False. Paul says that Abraham indeed “faced the fact that his body was as good as dead… and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” Despite this evidence, however, Abraham “against all hope … in hope believed” God’s promise.

Upon what did Abraham base his faith?

Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Was Paul a good choice to be called as the apostle to the Gentiles? What can we learn about our callings from the experience of Saul/Paul?

Paul tells the end result of a bright light on the Damascus road—Christ had come to call Saul to service by his mercy. But what an astounding choice! Such a man, to such an office! Only mercy could explain why Christ picked Paul, the worst of sinners. Could there have been a more unlikely man to call as an apostle to the Gentiles? The reason had nothing to do with Paul. It had to do with us: Jesus wanted us to know that the call to ministry is not based on merit but on mercy. Here is the example par excellence of ministry based on Christ’s mercy and not human merit: Saul, the persecutor, is called into ministry as Paul, the apostle. When he reflects on God calling him to ministry—Paul cannot help but sing the praises of the King of mercy.

Gospel – Matthew 9:9-13

Why were Jesus’ actions so repulsive to the Pharisees?

They couldn’t believe that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners. Neither could they believe that Jesus would call a tax collector to be his disciple.

What did Jesus want the Pharisees to learn?

He wanted them to learn what the Lord meant through the prophet Hosea when he said: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus’ meaning is this: God has been merciful and forgiving to us, and he wants us to be merciful and forgiving toward one another. Jesus was showing mercy to these “sinners,” something the Pharisees didn’t want to do.

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Second Sunday after Pentecost

Standing on the Rock-Solid Truth of God’s Word

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

The Holy Ministry stands on the rock-solid truth of God’s Word. Not all who call themselves ministers do that, so watch out for false teachers! Many will come with wise sounding words and pious promises, but they are not what they seem. The Church’s only defense is to stand firmly on the rock-solid truth of God’s Word. The season of Pentecost explicates the teachings of Christ and the application of faith in the life of the Christian. How fitting that this initial Sunday lays the foundation for that teaching and life: the inspired Word of God.

Traditional First Lesson – Deuteronomy 11:18-21,26-28

How familiar with his Word does the Lord want us to be?

He wants us to fix his Word in our hearts, minds, and heads; for it to become second nature to us.

Why is familiarity with the Word so important?

Only through the Word and sacraments does the Holy Spirit work faith and Christian life (cf. Romans 10:17).

What’s the consequence of disregarding God’s Word?

The Lord promises a curse upon those who disregard his Word of promise.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Kings 22:10-28

What lesson do you learn from the story of King Ahab about true and false prophets?

Never before was there a man like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. As he and Jehoshaphat listened, prophet after prophet promised victory in the coming battle. Those prophets looked the part with their props and talked the talk by speaking in the name of the Lord. But as Jesus said, not everyone who prophesies in the name of the Lord is a true prophet. Judge them by their fruit—the message they speak. This lesson starkly reveals false prophets as the liars they are.

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 3:21-25a,27,28

What does the word “justified” mean in verse 24?

To justify someone means to declare them “not guilty” by a judicial act, as when a jury declares a defendant “not guilty.” The defendant is acquitted or justified.

Who has been justified?

God has declared all people “not guilty.” All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified.

How have we been justified?

St. Paul uses two similar phrases, “freely” and “by grace.” God didn’t owe us anything. He doesn’t forgive our sins because he has to. He does it without obligation, free of charge, according to his merciful nature because of the sacrifice that Jesus made.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Peter 1:20–2:3

What important doctrine do you see explained in this reading?

False teachers like Zedekiah give their own interpretation suited for themselves or their audience. Verse 21 speaks of the inspiration of Scripture. Using false teachers as a foil, verse 21 draws a direct contradiction between false prophesy and Scripture. The Greek of verse 21b is emphatic that the Holy Spirit is the important actor here. “By the Holy Spirit carried, men spoke from God.” Even the Greek word for “spoke” implies that man did not contribute to the message but the mouth. Peter encourages us to be ready for false teachers: we know they’re coming, and we know their ending. The Holy Ministry watches out for false teachers and stands instead on the rock-solid truth of the inspired Word of God.

Gospel – Matthew 7:15-29

How will we be able to recognize false prophets?

Jesus says that we can recognize them by their fruits.

True or false: Everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” on the day of judgment will enter into heaven?

False. Jesus is interested in more than mere words. He is looking for the natural fruits of faith that the Holy Spirit works in our lives through the gospel.

Why were the people amazed at Jesus’ teaching?

Because he taught with authority. In other words, he didn’t base his teachings on what someone else had said (like the teachers of the law). Instead, Jesus would say things like: “Truly, truly I say to you …” Jesus can do this because he is God.

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Holy Trinity Sunday

Our Entire Being Depends on the Holy Trinity

These are the readings for Holy Trinity Sunday.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

We like to think that we can take care of ourselves. God has given us many talents and gifts so that we can provide for ourselves and our families. And yet we shouldn’t forget that God is the one who ultimately provides all things. Apart from him, we can do nothing. If it weren’t for our Triune God—our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier—we would be absolutely helpless and hopeless in our lives. Yes, apart from him we wouldn’t even exist. Our entire being depends on the Holy Trinity.

First Lesson – Genesis 1:1–2:3

How did God create most everything in this universe?

Almost everything in creation was brought into being simply by God speaking his powerful Word.

What clue do we get in Genesis 1:26 about God’s unique makeup?

He says: “Let us …,” indicating his unique makeup of being one God yet multiple persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Why is God’s creation of human beings so unique?

God created Adam from the earth and breathed the breath of life into Adam. This account shows us how special human beings are in the eyes of God.

Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Why are the key words of the apostolic blessing in verse 14 so important to our lives as Christians?

The word “grace” reminds us that God loves us because of the type of person he is and not the type of people we are. His “love” is undeserved and unearned; it’s free. And through his love and the working of his Spirit in our hearts and lives, we are brought into “fellowship” with him. Our relationship with God is entirely his doing.

Gospel – Matthew 28:16-20

According to Jesus’ words, what has been given to him?

Jesus declares that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. The exalted Jesus, now even according to his human nature, has control over all things.

How are we to make disciples for Jesus?

Jesus says that we should baptize in the name of the Triune God and teach everything that he has commanded. That’s how disciples (pupils) are made.

What promise does Jesus give his disciples?

He tells us that he will be with us always, even to the end of the age (until he returns again). He gives us a big task—to preach the gospel in all the world—but he also gives us big promises!

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I Will Pour Out My Spirit

These are the readings for Pentecost Sunday.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

With the festival of Pentecost, the Christian Church begins its celebration of the non-festival half of the church year. During the very long season of Pentecost (which lasts until the middle of autumn), the lessons and Gospel for the day concentrate on our lives of Christian sanctification (sanctify=to make holy). As we will see today and over the next several weeks, our sanctification—like our salvation—depends entirely upon the working of our almighty God through the good news of eternal salvation. This good news naturally moves Christians to bear good fruit in their lives. Yes, our new life as Christians depends on the power of the Holy Spirit.

First Lesson – Joel 2:28-29

What day was the prophet Joel looking forward to?

Joel’s prophecy looked forward to the Day of Pentecost that we hear about in the Second Lesson.

Who would receive the blessings and power of the Holy Spirit?

All Christians—both men and women, young and old—would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit comes gifts of many kinds, as St. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

Second Lesson – Acts 2:1-21

What did the Holy Spirit enable the apostles to do?

He gave the apostles the ability to speak in recognizable languages that they had not previously learned or spoken.

How did the people react?

Most of the people were amazed that they heard these men “declaring the wonders of God” in their own language. Others assumed that they were drunk.

What was Peter’s answer for this miracle?

Peter pointed out that this miracle was the beginning of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.

Gospel – John 16:5-11

What promise did Jesus make his disciples in verse 7?

He promised that after he ascended into heaven, he would send his disciples the Holy Spirit as their counselor.

What would the Holy Spirit do when he came?

He would convict the world of sin through the law of God and bring comfort to burdened souls through the gospel of salvation.

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Seventh Sunday of Easter

Live in Eager Expectation of Glory

These are the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Even as we come to the close of the Easter season, the victorious note of Easter still rings out loud and clear. It is the Sunday after the ascension of our Lord, thus there is a spirit of rejoicing over the reigning, glorious Christ. His abiding love continues to sustain us.

Traditional First Lesson – Acts 1:1-14

What persistent misunderstanding about the kingdom of God still troubled the disciples?

The disciples still had trouble realizing that the kingdom of God was not something earthly and visible.

Where is our Jerusalem, “our Judea and Samaria”?

Just as Jerusalem was the city in which the disciples were at this time, our Jerusalem would be the towns and cities in which we live. As we begin to share the Word with those around us, we will easily want to share it beyond that scope to our “Judea and Samaria.” Through our generous offerings, we are able to send missionaries with the Word to others living not only in our country but also beyond our borders as we reach to the ends of the earth.

Why do you think the angel reminded the disciples that Jesus would return in glory just as they had seen him go?

Little would get done while they stared off into heaven. Jesus would be returning. In the meantime, there was much work to do while it was day.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Samuel 1:21-28

What can Hannah teach us about living with trouble or sorrow while we wait for God’s glory?

Afflicted by her rival, Peninnah, Hannah’s troubles seemed neither light nor momentary. Her barrenness brought suffering and sadness that embittered her life, but it did not shake her faith. At the house of the LORD, she cast her cares on him and prayed, expectant of God’s grace and blessing. She humbled herself under God’s mighty hand, and he lifted her up in due time: the son she longed for would become Samuel, the leader of God’s people. On this Sunday of expectation, Hannah’s example shines: she did not focus her eyes on what was seen, on the troubles of this life but on the unseen eternal glory that God had stored up for her.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11

Why is our sinful nature surprised when troubles enter our life?

Our sinful nature shares the world’s view that short-term happiness is evidence of God’s favor.

How does Peter encourage a long-range view of suffering?

The brief pain and persecution that we experience don’t begin to compare with the long-term glory we will have with Christ. (See Romans 8:18.)

What is being described by the word “anxiety”?

In our complex world, we are pulled in every direction. Cares and concerns mount and build, thus we lose our true focus. God’s invitation takes that burden off of us.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 4:13-18

How can Paul call our troubles “light and momentary”?

Who thinks that their troubles are light or momentary? When we lose a loved one, face mortal illness, or financial ruin—who would ever think those troubles insignificant or passing? Only people who have a perspective that stretches to the unbounded time of eternity and encompasses the unbounded joy that we eagerly expect there. We believe that one day Christ will present us to the Father for an eternity of glory. Therefore we fix our eyes not on all our problems that we know so well but on the unseen glory, the eternal glory that we do not yet know, but eagerly expect.

Gospel – John 17:1-11a

Why did Jesus pray, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you”?

In praying for the Father to glorify him, Jesus was praying for the successful outcome of his work of salvation. The glory would come with Jesus’ victory over Satan on the cross. Through Jesus, the glory of the Father also shone brightly since all that the Son did was for the Father’s glory.

What comfort do we find in our Savior’s prayer?

As Jesus prays for the disciples’ protection, the Lord shows once more, even in the midst of his own anguish before the cross, how dear his own are to him.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

We Confess the Risen Christ

These are the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Confession of Christ and our hope in him is the calling of all who have been baptized. Such confession includes not only our faithful testimony but also our loving obedience to Jesus’ commands. As we live out our confession of Christ, we are comforted by the presence of the Spirit whom the Son has sent while we await his return.

Traditional First Lesson – Acts 17:22-31

How did Paul make use of Greek “items” readily at his disposal in order to point to the true God?

Many of the philosophers of the day were pantheists. They believed God was in everything. But they confused the Creator with his creation. Paul, pointing to the altar inscribed “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” and quoting two Greek poets, emphasized that the living Creator-God is unlike the false gods of the Greeks, which were crafted out of stone or metals into an image made by a man. This God, the Creator, is alive. Paul was urging them to repent and turn to the living God.

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 4:1-16

What do we learn about the obedience God wants from the actions of Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel?

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they opened a Pandora’s box on an unsuspecting world. Life, as God intended, had disappeared from this world. Expelled from the garden and guarded from the tree of life, man would know only inevitability of death. But to this dying world, God promised a Savior, born of woman, who would restore to man life as he had once lived. That promise had quickened Adam’s heart so that even when faced with the new reality of living death, he gave his wife the name Life (Eve) because through her womb, the eternal gospel would be fulfilled, and this life of death deferred would become a life of death destroyed. When this womb produced its first fruit, Eve exclaimed: “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” (Luther offers a grammatically correct opinion that Eve thought she had given birth to the promised seed. How wrong that thought would have been!) She did not bear God’s Son, but Adam’s son—Cain—who showed that mere obedience does not please God, but only the obedience that flows from faith and love. Abel lived in the blessedness of forgiveness, and not even his brother’s murderous actions could take away that true life.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Peter 3:15-22

Who will ask us the questions that we should be prepared to answer?

The unbelieving world will see the way we live under the cross and ask us why we are so happy to live like that.

What makes me “prepared to give an answer”?

True knowledge of the Scriptures through prayerful study and meditation on how it applies to my life not only prepares me to give an answer but calms my fears.

What does Peter mean by “the hope that you have”?

The hope that we have is that this life of humble living and service will someday be followed with the glories of heaven. Jesus proclaimed that Good Friday had not been a defeat, but a glorious victory. It was a public humiliation that was inflicted upon the defeated forces of Satan.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 John 3:11-18

What kind of love does God call on us to give to those around us?

Love means obedience to God. It was love that led Jesus to obey his Father, obedient to death, even death on a cross for us. Now that same love empowers us to love our brother. Hatred and vengeance have their home east of Eden. But here, among the people of God, there is no room for hatred—only love. Christians are to be the antithesis of Cain: we lay down our lives for our brothers, not just in word but in every daily deed. We do it because we now have that life once lost but now regained by our living Savior. We have passed from death to life.

Gospel – John 14:15-21

How can Jesus say that the Spirit “lives with you and will be in you”?

The Holy Spirit, together with the Father and the Son, was already at work in the hearts of the disciples bringing them to faith in Jesus. But there was also going to be a special outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples on Pentecost.

What comfort is ours when Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live”?

Jesus’ living assures our living. In a short while, Jesus would go through crucifixion and death. He would suffer for the guilt of our sins. But then he would rise, and sin and death would no longer rule us. So his life now counts for our life, just as his death counted for our death. By Jesus’ Spirit, we believe and live that life now.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Our Hope Is Built on Christ

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

The creative, sustaining Word of Christ brings people into fellowship with the one true God. Christ, the “living Stone,” builds up his people like living stones into a spiritual house. Such people of “noble character” now search the truth of God’s Word receiving from it every spiritual blessing.

Traditional First Lesson – Acts 17:1-12

Why was it important for Paul to show the Jews in the synagogues that Christ had to suffer? (See 17:3.)

The idea of a suffering Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews, and so it was important to show that he must suffer.

For what activity should we remember the Berean Jews?

They took their Bibles seriously. Each day they would test the message of Paul by comparing it with the Scriptures.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Kings 18:16-45

What insights do you gain from this account regarding Jesus as the only way to heaven?

Ahab and Jezebel had institutionalized idolatry and persecution on a national scale. To people worshiping a false god of the storm, God sent his prophet to announce his judgment: There would be no rain. After three years of drought, famine crippled the kingdom. Against that backdrop, God sent Elijah to a showdown with Ahab and his false prophets. No matter their outward show of power or prestige, 450 prophets and the might of royalty could not change the spiritual reality that there is one way, one truth, one life. Even today, a whole world of false teachers and TV biblical scholars cannot change the spiritual reality that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Second Lesson – 1 Peter 2:4-10

What description does Peter give of all who are joined to Christ by faith?

He describes them as living stones being built into a spiritual house. Believers are like a temple in which God dwells and where living sacrifices are continually being offered to him.

According to Peter, to what purpose did God call us, his own people, out of darkness? (See 2:9.)

God called us to declare his praises, that is, to tell the whole world what he has done for us through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Gospel – John 14:1-12

Why was Jesus’ departure not a source of sorrow but a reason for rejoicing?

He was leaving in order to prepare for them a place in his Father’s house. And, he added, he would return and take them to the place he had prepared. There they would all be together again!

Must we wait for eternal life to be united with Jesus?

In John 14:23, Jesus stated that he and the Father will come to us and make their home with us. Thus the mystic union is a reality already in this life.

What is the comfort of knowing that a place in heaven exists with our name on it?

Things in this life come and go, they change, they see decay. But our God is our one constant in our lives. What comfort to know that beyond this ever-changing world, we have a place prepared for us by Christ in heaven.

Jesus calls himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” What is the significance of the three definite articles?

It clearly points out that Jesus is the only way to heaven. He is the world’s one and only Savior (Luke 2:32). Only through Christ our Savior do we ever come to the Father.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

Christ Is Our Good Shepherd

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us of the special relationship we enjoy with our Savior. Those whom he has called as his sheep readily recognize his care and concern. Even in suffering, his sheep experience his gracious care and follow him.

Traditional First Lesson – Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a,51-60

What qualifications did the church look for in the men it chose to assist the apostles? (See 6:3.)

They were to be men who were filled with the Spirit of God and wisdom.

What relationship existed between the ministry of the Word and the church’s ministry to those in need?

The ministry of the Word of God was clearly the primary task of the church, while the charitable programs were subordinated to that primary task. This is also borne out by the fact that the book of Acts returns to focus on the work of spreading the Gospel.

How were Stephen’s dying words like those of his Lord?

With stones crashing against his body, Stephen followed his Lord’s example by commending his soul into the Lord’s hands and asking for forgiveness for his persecutors.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Samuel 17:34-37

How does the shepherd David remind you of your Good Shepherd?

David shepherded his father’s flock in the wild country. He let no danger stop him from caring for his sheep. No law required a shepherd to fight lion and bear for the sake of the sheep. In fact, David’s and Christ’s words in John 10 are all the more striking because Rabbinic law made it clear that a shepherd was not called upon to expose his own life for the safety of his flock. David, a good shepherd, knew what he spoke of when he extolled the comfort of the Shepherd’s rod and staff in Psalm 23.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Peter 2:19-25

How does Peter identify Jesus with that of a shepherd?

Before we knew Christ, we were lost. We were wandering about as stray sheep with no one to care for us or look after us. But we now have a Shepherd. Sheep without a shepherd are doomed, vulnerable to any wild animals (1 Peter 5:8). But with Christ as our Shepherd we are safe. He is leading us toward our eternal home, always aware of our every condition.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Hebrews 13:20-21

What makes Jesus uniquely capable to be the one gate for the sheep? What is the result of us grasping the Easter miracle?

Only one gate leads to life eternal because only Christ provided the blood of the eternal covenant. As we sheep stand looking back at the Easter miracle, we are empowered and equipped to follow our Shepherd wherever he may lead.

Gospel – John 10:1-10

What is the relationship of the shepherd to his sheep?

Because of the hours of tender care, the shepherd would know each of his sheep by name. The shepherd knows the distinct personality of each. The sheep, on the other hand, would recognize the shepherd’s voice as he calls them by name. The sheep follow because they know the voice of the shepherd while wary of the strangers’ voice.

What does Jesus mean by likening himself to a gate for the sheep?

Jesus himself is the gate through which the shepherds must enter to get to their sheep. He is the one through whom the sheep must go in order to find good pasture. All who are truly shepherds (pastors, teachers, and staff ministers) are those who believe in him as their Savior and guide their sheep only by means of his Word.

True shepherds use the gate, preach Christ, and love the sheep. False shepherds refuse the gate, reject Christ, and destroy the flock.

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Third Sunday of Easter

We Rejoice in the Risen Christ

These are the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Most of our celebrations are very brief. The festival of Easter, however, inspires a certain “afterglow” that, by God’s grace, burns ever brighter as we celebrate anew each Sunday during the Easter season. Led by the Spirit to believe in the resurrected Lord, we rejoice in holy awe in this glorious truth and are filled with a desire to speak of our hope with others.

Traditional First Lesson – Acts 2:14a,36-47

For whom is baptism intended?

Peter tells us that this means of grace is for all who hear his words. It is also for their children. It is also for those who were not there that day, including us. It is for all whom God has called or ever will call by the message which Peter proclaimed that day.

Why could and did the first congregation in Jerusalem continue to use the temple courts as a place to meet and worship?

They met at the temple because it was the house of the Lord, and they were the Lord’s people. It was the Father’s house, and they were his children. They gathered there daily.

Supplemental First Lesson – Acts 24:10-21

How was the resurrection of Christ central to the issue that faced Paul?

After his arrest at the temple, Paul stood before the Sanhedrin. The session erupted into a brawl when Paul asserted his belief in the resurrection, a divisive issue for Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Roman officer had to remit Paul to the regional governor. In this lesson, Paul is on trial in Caesarea before Governor Felix. The Sanhedrin had hired the lawyer Tertullus to accuse Paul of leading the Nazarene sect. In Paul’s reply to Tertullus, he asserts that Christianity is no sect but agrees with all that is written in the Law and the Prophets. It is the Pharisees and the Sadducees that abandoned Scripture and became a sect without hope. We hold to the ancient hope of Scripture: the resurrection of the dead.

Second Lesson – 1 Peter 1:17-21

Why does Peter encourage us to live as “strangers” while here on this earth?

It will always be a temptation for Christians to set their hearts on what they can see—material things, institutions, approval from others, etc. It is a lifelong struggle to learn that everything visible is perishable while what is not seen has lasting value. As Christians, we need to remember that we live in tents—temporary settings—because we are not yet home.

Gospel – Luke 24:13-35

Why do you think Jesus didn’t reveal his identity to the Emmaus disciples?

It gave the disciples the chance to openly confess their unbelieving doubts. Jesus was providing them the opportunity to learn from him again as he reviewed what the Scriptures had to say about the Messiah.

They had just told Jesus not to go on because of the approaching night. But once Jesus revealed himself, why did they quickly go back to Jerusalem?

Their hearts were burning within them. They couldn’t keep the joy of this wonderful message to themselves, so they had to tell the others in Jerusalem.

What lessons can we learn from the account of the Emmaus disciples?

We need exactly what they received from Jesus. Through the Word, we too need a call to repentance because of our foolish and slow hearts. We need a renewed sense of joy that the message of Easter gives us so that with the wonder of our risen Savior before us, we are compelled to proclaim the Easter message to others.

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Second Sunday of Easter

Our Hope Is Certain in the Risen Christ

These are the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Today we have the sure testimony of the resurrection before us. Our Savior’s resurrection is validated through the Holy Scriptures and by the eyewitness accounts of those who personally saw him. Our faith holds unto these clear testimonies and places confidence in the sure hope of Jesus Christ, our risen Savior. In faith, we look beyond the troubles of this world to the glories of the next. It is in that blessed hope that we now live each day.

Traditional First Lesson – Acts 2:14a,22-32

What was the purpose of the miracles that Jesus performed?

Peter said that those works were God’s certification that Jesus came from God and did God’s work. Those works bore witness that Jesus’ message was God’s message. They attested to the fact that he was the promised Messiah.

What do the words quoted from Psalm 16 teach us about death?

As David, we too can be filled with joy and hope, confident that God will not simply leave our bodies to decay in the grave. We are one of God’s “holy ones” certain of the joys of eternal life.

Supplemental First Lesson – Acts 10:34a,36,39-43

How did new Christians receive the blessing of proof from Christ’s Easter resurrection appearances?

The Gentile believers to whom Peter spoke had never seen the risen Lord. But Peter had; Peter had watched Jesus eat and drink; Peter had touched and felt his risen body. God had made his disciples both apostles and witnesses of the resurrection so that they could provide proof for the Gentiles. They were sent to give this proof and proclaim Christ’s peace to these new Christians who fulfilled Jesus’ promise to Thomas: they had not seen, but yet they believed.

Second Lesson – 1 Peter 1:3-9

What does Peter mean when he says we have a “living hope”? (See 1:3.)

A Christian’s hope is a “living hope” because it is founded on Christ, our Savior, who has conquered sin and death and has given us the sure promise of eternal life.

Gospel – John 20:19-31

What greater meaning did the common greeting, “Peace be with you!” take on when spoken by Jesus that first Easter evening?

With the word peace, Jesus is proclaiming what he was giving to the world through his crucifixion and resurrection. It wasn’t the shallow peace that the world frantically seeks, but rather peace with God, which comes to us through the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation won for us through Christ, our Savior.

What comfort was gained when Jesus showed the nail marks?

It absolutely proves that he wasn’t a ghost. The nail marks also were a visible reminder of the forgiveness that was theirs through Christ.

What did Thomas confess?

After having struggled with doubt earlier, he now boldly confessed that Jesus is the one true and eternal God. Thomas confessed that Jesus was indeed his gracious Savior. Jesus had overcome the doubt and unbelief of Thomas.

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Easter Sunday

Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed!

These are the readings for Easter Sunday.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Of all the Sundays of the Church Year, Easter Sunday holds the place of prominence. It is on this glorious day that the church celebrates the resurrection of Christ, their Savior from the dead. No longer are they dead in their transgressions and sins, for having been buried in Christ through baptism, they are now united with Christ in his resurrection. Today is a day to rejoice and sing! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

First Lesson – Jonah 2:2-9

Was this the prayer Jonah prayed while in the belly of the fish, or are these thoughts that came to him later?

Certainly, Jonah wrote the prayer’s final form at a later date. The flow of thought, however, is consistent with the thoughts of one who has just had a very close brush with death. Jonah recounts his hopeless situation and immediately follows that up with his amazing rescue.

What was the real depth of Jonah’s misery? (See 2:4.)

Jonah was lying on the ocean floor, entangled by seaweed, covered by the swirling sands of the deep. But that paled in comparison as Jonah felt the seaweed of his terrible sins strangling him, dragging him from the gracious presence of his Lord. Isn’t it ironic that earlier Jonah had tried to flee from his Lord?

Why could we describe Jonah’s prayer as a prayer of thanks more so than a prayer of confidence?

When the fish swallowed Jonah, he wasn’t moving from one danger to another. The fish was a part of the solution. Jonah’s time in the fish was similar to the time Jesus spent in the grave (Matthew 12:39-40). When Jesus died, his mission was complete. The grave was not a punishment, but a place to await the Father’s exaltation. So it was for Jonah in the belly of the fish.

Second Lesson – Colossians 3:1-4

What does Paul mean when he says, “You died”? And how is it that our life is now “hidden with Christ in God”?

We died when our sinful connection to this earth was put to death on the cross. Our life is now in Christ. That life is hidden to the world that doesn’t understand the power of the cross. We now live each day in eager anticipation of Christ’s return in glory.

Gospel – Matthew 28:1-10

Why did the angel roll back the stone from the tomb?

Certainly not to let Jesus out. It was to prove to the world that Christ had risen.

How might the angel’s words, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said, “have made the women feel ashamed?

Why were they bringing burial spices for their risen Savior? Hadn’t Jesus told them on several occasions that he would rise on the third day? It’s actually sad to note that crowds weren’t gathered there that morning to see the risen Savior.

Why were Jesus’ words “my brothers” so comforting to the disciples?

Even after they had denied Christ, living in doubt and fear, Jesus still looked to them as part of his “family.”

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Palm Sunday

Hail the King Who Humbly Comes to Save Us

These are the readings for Palm Sunday.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Hail the King who humbly comes to save us! For 1700 years the Church has celebrated with hosannas and palm branches this festival that opens Holy Week. Jesus entered Jerusalem to the sounds of praise and adoration of the people there. Laying palm branches and their cloaks in the road, the people honored this prophet from Nazareth as their Savior. Some surely saw their Savior from sin; others likely saw their earthly savior from the Romans and foreign rule. But either way, the songs of exultation rose: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes!”

First Lesson – Zechariah 9:9-10

How is Christ “your king”?

Though he was more than qualified, Jesus never claimed an earthly kingdom like we normally think with the word “king.” Instead, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. We often consider him ruling in three kingdoms: the kingdom of power (his power places him above all things in heaven and earth), the kingdom of grace (where he rules in the hearts of his believers), and the kingdom of glory (he rules in heaven and will continue there, into all eternity).

How would this king be different than other earthly kings?

This king is gentle and humble, not the ruthless, power-hungry despot of earthly kingdoms. He also extends peace, contrasting the bloody kingdoms of the worldly empires.

Second Lesson – Philippians 2:5-11

What quality of Christ is stressed as a model for us?

His humility which caused him willingly to lay aside the honor and majesty that were his as God.

Where was Christ’s humility most obvious?

In the death that he died, a form reserved for the worst of criminals—”death on a tree.”

What was the end result of Jesus’ humility?

Jesus is our King, but he came humbly to save us. Though true God, he became man. Though all-powerful, he became a servant. Though immortal and eternal, he died. He not only laid aside his glory, but he took our shame upon him. He not only humbled himself, but he died as one who was cursed. Yet, in this great humility, he won the peace of forgiveness for us. The King came humbly, because he wasn’t on the way to a throne in Jerusalem but to a hill called Golgotha, where he would fulfill God’s mission and save his people. Therefore, God would give him glory greater than his humiliation—every creature will bow the knee and hail him: Jesus Christ is Lord!

Gospel – Matthew 21:1-11

Of what significance is the fact that Jesus is the Son of David?

The Messiah was foretold to be of David’s family (2 Samuel 7:16), and Jesus could trace his line back to King David through both his mother and his earthly father. The Jewish people knew well that the Messiah must have these credentials.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

Through Faith, We Are Raised from Death to Life

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

We are drawing ever closer to Holy Week when Jesus undergoes the incredible events of his Passion. Now, one week before that begins, we hear about our progress from death to life. Through faith in Jesus, we are raised from our spiritual death to a new life in Christ, and we are nurtured in this new life through the Word and sacraments.

Traditional First Lesson – Ezekiel 37:1-14

How does the vision of the dry bones characterize God’s people in Ezekiel’s time?

The bones were many and very dry. This indicates the widespread condition of God’s people as they were exiled in Babylon. Their unfaithfulness had brought about God’s judgment, and they seemed beyond the point of resuscitation. Yet God’s grace is apparent.

What tool was used in restoring life to the dead bones?

The same tool we use today—the Word of God. “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Kings 4:18-37

How does this story give comfort to us when tragedy strikes?

The story is heartbreaking: a barren woman gives birth to a promised child. All her hopes and love wrapped themselves up in this little boy until the day his head hurt. He died in his mother’s lap while she rocked him. Can you imagine the tears? Death is the bitter lot we inherited from Adam. But God wants us to know that even in the face of a death as heartrending as this, he promises that whoever believes in him will live, even though he dies. So he lets Elisha pay an advance on the inheritance waiting for the coheirs of Christ so that we might know and believe that Jesus one day will raise us from death to life.

Second Lesson – Romans 8:11-19

Through his Spirit, Paul says, God has breathed new life into our mortal bodies. What changes does that bring about?

Paul previously said that those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (See Romans 8:5-8.) We now seek to put to death the misdeeds of the body (8:13) and willingly share in Christ’s suffering with a view also to sharing in his glory (8:17).

Though life in Christ Jesus means sharing his suffering, what other observation is made?

Paul suggests a wise perspective: our present sufferings are “not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” As a runner endures the pain of the exertion by keeping his eyes focused on the finish line, so the Christian’s perspective will always be goal-oriented. What waits for us at the end far outshines the clouds that we encounter along the way.

Gospel – John 11:17-27,38-45

What does Jesus mean by saying that he is life?

More than saying that he is the source of life or the giver of life, Jesus for the first time (see also John 14:6) claims to be life itself. There is no life apart from him. Like life itself, final death is impossible for him. The events surrounding the raising of Lazarus occurred just days before the Passion events in Jerusalem. What a comfort to know that Jesus was confidently assured of the outcome of his upcoming battle with evil—he would be victorious!

How would Mary and Martha see the glory of God in the raising of Lazarus?

Jesus performed the greatest miracle of his ministry to prove to us the certainty of his greatest promise. When Christ saw the effects of death on his loved ones, he wept with them but also promised them that one day even this last enemy would be defeated. Martha often remembered for her busyness, should be remembered for her confession of faith—so complete, so noble—that encompassed everything Jesus had preached. She believed in Jesus’ promise of a future resurrection, and so Jesus gave proof to her and to us that his promise is true.

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Faith Strengthened Through Daily Repentance and Renewal

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

As Christians, we have nothing to fear! The condemnation of the Law was removed by Christ’s life and death on our behalf. Reassured of God’s forgiveness on a daily basis, we can live our lives to his glory by serving others.

Traditional First Lesson – Hosea 5:15–6:3

How had God threatened his people?

God threatened to turn away from his people because of their sin. Our sins separate us from our God, and separation from God is described as “misery” (5:15).

What did Hosea plead? What was his confidence?

Hosea pleaded that his people “return to the Lord.” (See 6:1.) Repentance has connected to it the idea of turning away from our sin back to the Lord. Hosea stated confidently that God will “bind up our wounds…revive us…restore us…as surely as the sun rises.” (See 6:2,3.)

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 37:1-11

What do we learn about the choice between selfishness or selflessness from Joseph?

The life of Joseph illustrates Jesus’ message that whoever wants to be first must be your slave. Selfishness led to Jacob’s favoritism and his sons’ jealousy. Selfishness led Jacob and his sons to such pride that they could not imagine God’s prophecy about Joseph coming true. Their selfishness forced Joseph into the role of slave and servant, yet God, in his grace, would save many people in spite of their sin. Sold into slavery and jailed unjustly, Joseph would trust in God and selflessly serve his fellow man. Ultimately, God brought the prideful low and raised up humble Joseph. In doing so, he both fulfilled his prophecy and also saved the family of God and countless others.

Second Lesson – Romans 8:1-10

Why are the opening words so triumphant? (See 8:1.)

Paul has already discoursed at length on the reality of sin and its consequences as well as on God’s faithfulness and his gracious forgiveness in Christ. As Christians, he acknowledged that we are still struggling daily with the sinful nature that is part of us, but that we are being rescued by Jesus Christ. (See 7:21-25.) Now the triumphant confidence naturally follows: THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE FOUND IN CHRIST! What a comfort. What a relief for sin-challenged Christians!

While the Law no longer condemns us, it still has a function. What is the Law’s purpose for us now? (See 8:4.)

The “righteous requirements of the law” speak not of achieving God’s demanded perfection. Remember that there is no condemnation in Christ! This use of the Law is referred to as the “guide” or “rule,” which we obey out of love for God through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Gospel – Matthew 20:17-28

What was the “cup” of which Jesus spoke?

The cup was Jesus’ suffering and death, which he was headed to Jerusalem to drink.

Why is pride such a dangerous sin?

It is incorrect to consider one sin more punishable than another, but pride causes a person to ignore his need for spiritual help, and that can be a damning mistake.

How do Jesus’ life and ministry provide a model for us?

Jesus gave the ultimate model: Serve others!

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