Christ the King – November 20, 2017

Lord, Keep us Joyful in Christ our King!

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

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

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

Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

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

 Gospel – Matthew 27:27-31

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

Saints Triumphant – November 13, 2017

Lord, Keep us Watchful for our Triumph!

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

Prayer of the Day

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 52:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

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

Supplemental First Lesson – Ezekiel 37:15-28

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – Revelation 19:1-9

What kind of triumph are we watching and waiting for?

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

Gospel – Matthew 25:1-13

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

Last Judgement – November 6, 2017

Lord, Keep us Mindful of the Judgment!

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

Prayer of the Day

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

First Lesson – Daniel 7:9,10

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

Second Lesson – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 2:2-11

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

Gospel – Matthew 25:31-46

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

Reformation – October 30, 2017

Lord, Keep us Faithful to Your Word!

These are the readings for Reformation.

God’s Word for This Week

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

Prayer of the Day

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

First Lesson – Daniel 6:10-12,16-23

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

Second Lesson – Galatians 5:1-6

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Timothy 4:9-18

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

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

Gospel – Matthew 10:16-23

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

Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost – October 23, 2017

Invited to the Heavenly Wedding Banquet

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 25:6-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of response did the invitation receive?

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

Second Lesson – Philippians 4:4-13

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

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

What remedy does Paul offer for dealing with anxiety?

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

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

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 11:1-10

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

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

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

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

Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

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

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

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

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

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 16, 2017

Our Patient and Gracious God Wants Fruits of Faith

These are the readings for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

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

Prayer of the Day

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 5:1-7

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

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

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

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

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Kings 21:1-15

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

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

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

The destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Israel.

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

Second Lesson – Philippians 3:12-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

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

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

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

Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 9, 2017

Our God Wants Real Repentance that Leads to True Obedience

These are the readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Our God wants real repentance that leads to true obedience. The Verse of the Day reminds us that one day, every one will bow before Jesus of Nazareth and confess him as Lord. Some will do so in grief and others in joy. God wants real repentance from every sinner so they might bend the knee to Christ in true obedience and confess with gladness that Jesus is Lord. The Church prays that God would rule our hearts through Word and Sacrament that our repentance might be real and our obedience truly pleasing (Prayer of the Day).

 

First Lesson – Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32

On this Sunday when the Church is called to continual repentance, Ezekiel brings a strong warning for Christians who grow lax in their faith or dismissive of their sin. God wants real repentance that leads to true obedience. Israel had not given either. Instead of seeing their suffering as a result of their sin and as a call to repentance, they saw only injustice. With their favorite proverb, “The fathers eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” they were saying that God should certainly punish sin, but they felt he was punishing the wrong people. They felt they were being punished for the sins of their parents, and they implied that God was not just in treating them this way. God denies it all: the soul that sins is the one that will die. This is not injustice—no, the injustice is that man who was made for perfection sinned again and again against his God. God shows just how just he is: he will judge each man according to his way. Repent, God says, turn from your wickedness and live. God promises not to judge us by our past, but by our present, and so he calls us to live anew. Repent and receive a new heart and new spirit that leads to true obedience. Why will you die, O Israel? God wants exactly the opposite—repent and live!

Second Lesson – Philippians 2:1-11

This is the second in a series of four lessons in the book of Philippians. Paul quotes a Hymn of Humiliation and Exultation as a model to shape our attitudes. Real repentance leads us to the true obedience of imitating Christ. Jesus is the third son—the one never mentioned in the parable—the son who said “Yes,” and also worked in the vineyard. Jesus is the true son of his Father who both said the words, “Not my will, but yours,” and did the work, “obedient to death—even death on a cross.” When his work in the vineyard was complete, God exalted his Son to the highest place and now calls every man to real repentance and the true obedience of bending the knee and confessing with joy that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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

They seemed so righteous as they stood in the temple courts. The great men of Israel had gathered against Jesus. These men knew all the words to say and ways to act, but the only “righteousness” they had was a self-righteousness that offended God. They claimed to be doing God’s work and fulfilling his will, but there was no repentance and no true obedience. The parable Jesus spoke against them convicts every self-righteous person. The father commands two sons to work in his vineyard and receives two surprising answers. The first son flatly refuses; he fails to even offer an excuse, but simply says, “I will not.” The second son says all the right things and tacks on an appropriately respectful title. He seems almost breathless in his readiness to do the father’s will. True obedience, however, in not merely saying what God wants to hear, but doing what God wants done. The first son repented of his wickedness and gave his father true obedience; the second merely mouthed the words and contented himself with doing his own thing. Which did what the father wanted? Jesus’ question had only one answer, and the religious leaders gave it and indicted themselves. Yes, even the vilest sinner that repents gives an obedience far more true that the upright man wallowing in his self-righteousness. What a powerful preachment against the Pharisee inside each of us that wants to be content with saying the right words when it comes to faith! What a stinging rebuke of our lukewarm Christianity that confesses Christ with our mouth but denies him with our deeds! Repent, Christ says, and believe—true obedience will surely follow.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 2, 2017

What is God like? Is God fair?

These are the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

What is our God like? Over the next four Sundays, the Church hears Jesus tell four parables which 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

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. His invitation to call on him is not reserved for sensible, suburban folk with 2.1 children and a white picket fence. The LORD calls the רָשָעֵֹ֙ , the ungodly and wicked men who worship lust and self. The LORD calls the אִַ֥יש אֵָָ֖וֶן , the hardened sinner whose conscience has long stopped balking at his deeds. Look at what he promises to these people when they repent: mercy and pardon—the care of God and the forgiveness of God. They won’t get what they deserve—that is mercy. They get what they don’t deserve—that is the free pardon of grace. God’s plan to save sinners by grace soars above all that we could conceive or imagine.

Supplemental First Lesson – Jonah 4:5-11

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

Second Lesson – Philippians 1:18b-27

This is the first in a series of four lessons in the book of Philippians. This year the season only runs through Pentecost 20. Paul’s confident words remind us that because of God’s inconceivable grace, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Life lived under such grace is life filled with joy and ordered by God’s wisdom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 9:6b-16

Is God fair? Is God just? Neither—he is inconceivably gracious, as our eternal election proves. Paul answers the question by pointing us back to God’s speech to Moses in Exodus 33. The Israelites had worshiped the golden calf, and Moses made intercession for them. Moses asked the LORD to show him his ways (v 13) and his glory (v14). God’s 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 or worth or works, but only stems from his inconceivable grace and mercy. Preachers, take the opportunity to read the exceptional treatise on election found in the Formula of Concord’s eleventh article on predestination (FC SD XI).

Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16

What is our God like? Jesus teaches us with a story, but we struggle with the lesson. The parable offends our finely honed sense of what’s fair and what’s not. Note the context: the disciples had just asked what they would receive in the kingdom, and Jesus promised them twelve thrones. Then he immediately quashes any prideful thoughts by saying that in the kingdom of heaven, God makes no distinction by merit or work (For the kingdom of heaven is like…). In reality, God is not fair; rather, he is inconceivably gracious. One-hour-workers receive the same as those who bore the heat of the day. This parable carries both warning and promise for us—a warning that all comparisons based on merit or work do not belong in God’s kingdom; a promise that our relationship with God is based solely on grace which he lavishes in abundance. The story only offends our sense of fairness when we compare ourselves to other workers. Even though they were promised twelve thrones, Jesus wouldn’t allow his disciples to make comparisons. How much less would he let us whose labor is so late and light? When we keep our eyes where they belong—fixed on God—then have a correct view of our worth and labor. Then, when God places a denarius in our hands, we can marvel that the Lord isn’t fair—thanks be to God! He doesn’t give us what we deserve; no, he gives us what we don’t.

Note: For a striking illustration of this parable, consider “The Vineyard of the Lord,” a painting by Lucas Cranach the Younger that hangs in Luther’s parish church, St. Mary’s in Wittenberg. For the history and explanations of imagery in the painting, see Albrecht Steinwachs’ book, “The Vineyard of the Lord.”

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 25, 2017

The Church Forgives as God Forgives

These are the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

The Church forgives as God forgives. Anytime we try to imitate God, we quickly realize our inadequacy. Yet today God tells us to model our forgiveness on his: a boundless, free, and loving forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Christ. How could our sinful hearts ever forgive like that? The Prayer of the Day asks that the mercy and grace of God precede us and follow after us, that we might love God with undivided hearts—hearts always ready to forgive as God does: sins are forgiven, forgotten, forever.

Prayer of the Day

Lord, we pray that your mercy and grace may always go before and follow after us that, loving you with undivided hearts, we may be ready for every good and useful work; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

First Lesson – Genesis 50:15-21

How hard it is to forgive like God! We may forgive someone who hurts us, but we never forget. We harbor that hurt deep inside of us for years—never understanding that we are locking ourselves in the prison of the past. Joseph’s brothers feared that they would finally have to pay for what they did to Joseph. His father was gone; he was still in charge in Egypt; and the brothers thought that they were going to face Joseph’s vengeance. As repentant sinners, we often act like the brothers and wait for God to get even with us for our past sins. Shame on us! We are making God as shallow as we are! In God’s eyes our sins are forgiven, forgotten, forever. Joseph wept at their words as he remembered the sordid history and all the emotions that came with it. He wept, but he was free from the prison of the past; he had forgiven his brothers their terrible deeds. Through his tears, Joseph never wavered, but he calmed his brothers’ fears, forgave them like God forgives, and set them free from their prison of the past.

Second Lesson – Romans 14:5-9

This is the last in a series of sixteen lessons that run through Pentecost 17. Christ set us free from the burdens of the Law; in the Gospel we have the freedom of sons. With freedom, though, comes responsibility. Our Christian freedom must be practiced of love for others. I am certainly free to eat or drink, but my eating and drinking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. My Christian freedom is not freedom to enslave a weaker brother’s conscience. We are bound to our brothers because we both belong to Christ. Therefore let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (v.19). Restricting my freedom out of love for my brother is service to Christ that pleases God and brings righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

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 μιμηταὶ τοῦ θεοῦ, 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

“The human animal is not…good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. It is natural for the human animal to defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural.” (Willimon) Forgiveness must be learned, and Peter thought he had figured it out. From the elders of the Jews Peter had heard: “If a man transgresses one time, forgive him. If a man transgresses two times, forgive him. If a man transgresses three times, forgive him. If a man transgresses four times, do not forgive him.” Three times, the elders said, was the limit of forgiveness for a good Jew. Peter, however, was willing to go much further; not three times, but seven times, Peter thought with a smile. Until Jesus said, “Not seven times, Peter, seventy times seven—what the elders say doesn’t matter. I say to you that your forgiveness should have no limit, but be like God’s.” Jesus’ parable contrasts the forgiveness of God and our own unforgiving nature. The servant’s debt—by any measure of calculation—was impossibly high (perhaps 150,000 years’ wages). Who could have accrued debt such as this? Who could ever hope to repay? What an arresting picture of our debt of sin before God! The greatness of the debt magnifies the compassion of the king who wipes the debt away. Who can comprehend the forgiveness of God? Certainly not unmerciful servants like us, who refuse to forgive the small debts owed to us, and instead, inflict on our fellow servants the punishments that God should rightly have given us. Have mercy on us, Lord, and teach us to forgive like you!

 

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 28, 2017

The Church is Meant for all People

These are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

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

Prayer of the Day

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

What hope still exists for the Jewish people?

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

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

Supplemental First Lesson – Joshua 2:8-21

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

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

Gospel – Matthew 15:21-28

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

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 7, 2017

The Christian Seeks Spiritual Wealth

These are the readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

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

Prayer of the Day

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

First Lesson – 1 Kings 3:5-12

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

Second Lesson – Romans 8:28-30

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Timothy 6:17-21

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

Gospel – Matthew 13:44-52

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

Fifth Sunday of Lent – March 7, 2016

Jesus Is the Cornerstone of Our Faith

These are the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 43:16-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Second Lesson – Philippians 3:8-14

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

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

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

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

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 11:11-21

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

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

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

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

Gospel – Luke 20:9-19

What does this parable teach us about Christ?

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

What does this parable teach us about men?

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

What does this parable teach us about God?

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

Pentecost 22 – October 19, 2015

Jesus Shows Us True Greatness

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 53:10-12

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

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

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

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

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Chronicles 26:16-23

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

In his pride, Uzziah went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the golden incense altar inside the holy place. Only priests were allowed there.

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

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

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 4:9-16

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

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

What superior “rest” does Jesus give?

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

How is Jesus a superior High Priest?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

How did the disciples define greatness?

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

According to Jesus, how should we define greatness?

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

Pentecost 21 – October 12, 2015

Jesus Warns Us to Guard against Greed

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Kings 5:14-27

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

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

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

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

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 3:1-6

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

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

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

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

Supplemental Second Reading – Hebrews 13:1-6

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

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

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

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

Gospel – Mark 10:17-27

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

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

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

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

Pentecost 9 – July 19, 2015

Jesus Gives the Bread of Life by his Faithful Word

These are the readings for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

 

God’s Word for This Week

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

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 23:1-6

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

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

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

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

Supplemental First Lesson – Numbers 27:12-23

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

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

How did God describe Joshua, Moses’ replacement?

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

Traditional Second Lesson – Ephesians 2:13-22

How did Jesus bring together the Jews and the Gentiles into one Christian Church? (vv 15-16)

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

Upon what does Paul say this Christian Church is built?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel – Mark 6:30-34

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

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

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

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

How did Jesus respond to the people’s needs?

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