Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

The Savior’s Sermon: Let Your Light Shine

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

God’s Word for This Week

On a crystal-clear winter evening, it’s easy to believe that the full moon is producing the wonderful light that allows you to take a brisk walk through the woods without a flashlight. In reality, the moon is producing no light at all; instead, it is simply reflecting the light of the sun. When people notice Christians producing godly lives, it would be easy to pat them on the back and to give them the credit for the good things they do. In reality, God’s people are simply reflecting the good work of God’s Son, Jesus. Jesus is the Light of the World (John 8:12), and he is revealed through his people, so let your light shine! Jesus tells us: You are…so be. You are the light of the world, so be light for the earth. You are the salt of the earth, so be salt for it. Our calling as sons of God means our lives will reflect our new status, and the world around us will be blessed by us.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 58:5-9a

Why was the Lord upset with his Old Testament people?

The Lord was upset with his people because they were going through the motions, spiritually speaking. They thought they could please God through outward actions.

What kind of “fasting” is the Lord more interested in?

God calls his people to engage in works that reflect his love and mercy to others instead of engaging in mere religious ceremony.

What is the Lord’s fundamental concern?

The Lord calls us to serve him with hearts of faith (with the proper attitude), not with mere words and actions (Isaiah 29:13).

Supplemental First Lesson – Joshua 24:14-24

To what does Joshua point the people when he encourages them to live faithful lives? (See 24:11-13)

Faith responds to God’s grace by promising to live as salt and light. Joshua pointed the people of Israel back to the gracious acts of God who had delivered them from every enemy. Now in possession of the Promised Land, God’s people could reflect on God’s great acts of grace and power in their lives. Seeing all God had done, the people vowed to Joshua to live as salt and light: “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.”

To what does the Bible point you when it gives you a similar command to live as salt and light?

As the children of God today, we see that God has defeated enemies far fiercer than the Amorites, Perizzites, and Canaanites. Sin, death, and the devil are vanquished. The gates to the heavenly promised land stand open. Looking at God’s great acts of grace and power, we cannot help but join in vowing our obedience to God. We will put away the gods of self and sin, and through the Spirit, we will yield our hearts and join with Joshua in his life of salt and light: As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

How did Paul first come to the Corinthians?

Paul came to Corinth as a trembling apostle of Jesus, without worldly eloquence, armed with a message (Christ-crucified) that lacked worldly wisdom and charm.

Why is the choice of Paul to be an apostle a surprise?

Though Paul’s writings are strongly worded, he seems to have lacked personal charisma (2 Corinthians 10:10). He describes himself elsewhere as a humble “jar of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

According to Paul, why was he chosen?

The Lord purposefully chooses “unimpressive” people like Paul to be his ambassadors so that people will put their faith in the message proclaimed (the gospel) rather than in the messenger.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 Peter 2:9-12

What reasons does Peter give us to live like salt and light?

The call of God made us part of a new people in order that we might declare his praises. Peter tells us to live lives that are different from the world around us—as different as light is to darkness. Called out of the darkness, we live in this world like foreigners who know that this is not our home. Strangers to the world, we abstain from sin and live such good lives that even the pagans will have to give God glory for his work in our lives. Called into the wonderful light, we let that shine on everyone around us.

Gospel – Matthew 5:13-20

How does Jesus describe Christians in this world and why?

They are the salt of the earth and the light of the world because they reflect the “salt” and “light” of Jesus. Jesus reveals himself to the world through his people.

According to Jesus, why did he come into the world?

Jesus came not to abolish or overturn God’s order and will, revealed in his holy law. He came instead to fulfill it as God intended. Jesus has fulfilled his Father’s will perfectly as our substitute in order to save us from sin.

What warning does Jesus offer to people who believe that they lead God-pleasing lives apart from Jesus?

Holiness apart from faith in Jesus, requires us to keep God’s law perfectly, which is impossible for sinners like us. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

The Savior’s Sermon: Trust in God’s Strength

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

God’s Word for This Week

The Savior’s Sermon: Trust in God’s strength! The Beatitudes are hard for us to swallow. Jesus seems to be espousing a Christianity imbued with fatalism, at best, or defeatism, at worst. Look closer, however, and see what he says. The weaker you are, the stronger God is in your life. The weaker you are now, the readier you are to trust in a future reward. Look at the past acts of God’s grace, and you will find many reasons to trust his strength in the face of adversity, persecution, or sorrow.

Traditional Lesson One – Micah 6:1-8

In this courtroom scene, who are the witnesses? For what reasons does the Lord call them as witnesses?

The witnesses are the mountains, the hills, and the foundations of the earth. The Lord calls them because they have been around so long, have witnessed so much, and are so firm and reliable.

What is the Lord’s charge against his people?

“Why do you think I have burdened you? I have been so gracious to you!”

What three things does the Lord require of us above all?

To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Supplemental First Lesson – Daniel 3:13-27

How does the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego help you understand the promises of Jesus in the Beatitudes?

Rejoice and be glad, Jesus said, because great is your reward in heaven. He does not promise to keep us from a martyr’s death or Christian persecution on earth. He promises to reward us in spite of them. That we might trust his promises of future reward, however, he shows us his righteous acts of the past. The God of the three men in the fiery furnace can be trusted! As they stood before great Nebuchadnezzar, these men looked weak. When they chose the path of righteousness rather than accommodation, they seemed stupid. As they spoke about a powerful God, their words and actions seemed powerless. At the weakest moment of their lives—despised, condemned, bound hand and foot, and falling into an inferno—they trusted that God was their strength, and he did not fail them.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Why does God often choose the lowly and despised to be his children?

He chooses the seemingly foolish to shame those who think themselves wise. He chooses what seems weak to shame those who think of themselves strong. He wants no one to boast before him.

What three things does Paul call Jesus? What does he mean?

Paul calls Jesus “our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” Without us doing anything, he makes us right with God by his blood, holy in God’s sight. He paid to set us free from Satan and hell.

Gospel – Matthew 5:1-12

Why are the Beatitudes of Jesus so striking?

The Beatitudes are striking because they go against the conventional wisdom of this world. Jesus reminds us that God plays by a different set of rules than this world.

What word does Jesus use to describe those who trust in him? What does he mean?

Jesus calls us “blessed.” He doesn’t mean we are happy, necessarily. He means we have it good, even if we do not feel good. All God’s blessings come to us by grace alone. Surely Jesus means what he says.

Where does Jesus promise to reward us?

Jesus promises to reward us greatly in heaven.

 

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Third Sunday after Epiphany

Jesus Appears as Light Shining in Darkness

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

God’s Word for This Week

Jesus appears as the light that shines in the darkness. Dark places remain covered in the shadow of sin and unbelief. However, now there are bright places, too, and there you find God’s children. Jesus shines his light by preaching repentance and the good news of the nearing kingdom, and he invites us to follow him to a life illumined by him. Following him means living in the joy of freedom (First Lesson) and walking in the light of love for God and brother (Second Lesson).

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 9:1-4

What kind of “darkness” were the people walking in?

These people were walking in the spiritual darkness of sin and death. St. Paul says that we were “dead in our transgressions and sins” and “objects of God’s wrath” (Ephesians 2:1,3).

What “great light” did they suddenly see?

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12) that brings spiritual peace and joy.

The story of Zebulon and Naphtali was one of suffering. These northern tribes bore the brunt of foreign attacks, most notably by Assyria. Adding insult to injury, the land had become Galilee of the Gentiles—a melting pot of resettled peoples and a hotbed of crass syncretism. It was a land covered by the darkness of gloom and unbelief. Though the people’s punishment was well deserved, it was not an end to itself, but a means to God’s end. God’s plan broke upon them as suddenly as light shining into the darkness when Jesus appeared and began to preach and teach.

Supplemental First Lesson – Isaiah 8:19–9:2

What does Isaiah have to say to those people who try to find answers and guidance by talking to psychics, astrologers, or mediums? What is the only place to find answers, guidance, and light?

Man cannot find his way through the darkness of the world except by the inquiring of God. No spirit, no man, no other message brings light to those living in darkness. To the law and the testimony! There you find the Word, the great light for those living in darkness.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

What difficulty was Paul dealing with in the Corinthian congregation? (See 1:10,11.)

There were divisions and quarrels within the congregation.

How does Paul address this problem? (See 1:13.)

He asks the Corinthians to consider whether Christ is divided. Either you’re a Christian, or you’re not. The members of Christ can’t be divided.

What specific job had Paul been sent to do?

Paul had been sent specially to preach the gospel. Apparently, he often left the job of baptizing to others.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1 John 2:3-11

How can we be certain that we know God? How do John’s words apply to people today who think they know God?

John says, “Obey his commands.” The gnostic heretics that John combatted had little regard for laws, sin, and the commands of God. They felt they knew God well enough without worrying about acts of obedience. How similar to modern unbelievers and even too many Christians today! They think they know God but have little time for talk of sin, guilt, and obedience. John tells us that contrary to their opinion, they do not know God. Jesus—our Morning Star—has already come, the light of his dawn is beginning to break over the world, and the time for deeds of darkness is fading fast. There are still places of deep darkness, but that is not the place to find God’s children. They will be found walking in the light and shedding their own light on the darkness around them by living in love for God and brother.

Gospel – Matthew 4:12-23

What did Jesus do when he heard that John the Baptist had been arrested?

He returned to Galilee to preach the gospel, fulfilling the words of Isaiah in the First Lesson.

What did Jesus do to help him in his job of preaching the good news of the kingdom?

He began to call his disciples. What faith they showed by dropping everything and following Jesus!

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Second Sunday after Epiphany

The Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World

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

God’s Word for This Week

This Lamb would take away the sin of the world and bring both Israel and the Gentile nations into the kingdom of God. The hearts that see this Savior in faith cannot help but take the news of this salvation to the ends of the earth.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 49:1-6

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

Jesus

What job was given to this “servant”? (See 49:5.)

To “bring Jacob back to (God) and gather Israel.” In other words, Jesus was sent specifically to win the Jews to faith (Matthew 15:24).

What additional job was mentioned? (See 49:6.)

To be a light to the Gentiles. While Jesus was sent specifically to the Jews, he also realized that the Gentiles were meant to be brought to faith as well. (See John 10:16.)

Supplemental First Lesson – Isaiah 49:1-7

What added dimension does this reading have when it is extended by one verse?

The addition of one verse features the Lord himself speaking and ratifying the servant’s words. He promises that though his Servant will suffer and be despised, the Lord will not forget him, but will ensure his glory and honor. To that promise, he adds a pledge on his name as the Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel. Though Christ would be the Lamb of God who would suffer and die to bear our sins, though he would be rejected and despised, God promised to glorify him again. He promised that every eye will see him—even those who pierced him—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Who wrote this letter to the Corinthians?

Paul

To whom is this letter written? (See 1:2.)

Not only the Christians at Corinth (who were mostly Gentile), but to “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (including us)!

Why does the author thank God? (See 1:4-9.)

Because the Lord has blessed these Christians with “every spiritual gift.” Later in this letter, Paul instructs these Corinthians in the proper use of their God-given gifts (ch. 12-14).

Supplemental Second Lesson – Acts 13:38-49

How was Jesus, both the fulfillment and replacement of the sacrificial system given by God through Moses?

Paul preached the message of the Lamb of God—the sacrifices in the Law of Moses could not justify; only the Lamb sacrificed for sin could. The Gospel resulted in faith in some Jewish hearts and rejection in others. In the face of opposition, Paul and Barnabas fulfilled the promises of God in Isaiah, made Christ a light to Gentiles, and brought salvation to the ends of the earth.

Gospel – John 1:29-41

For whose sin did Jesus die, according to John the Baptist?

Jesus died for the sins of the world.

How did John know that Jesus was who he said he was?

He had seen the Holy Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.

What was the first thing Andrew did after he realized that Jesus was the Messiah? (See 1:41.)

He went and told his brother, Peter, a wonderful model of the joy Christians feel when their spiritual eyes are opened to the truth of God’s Word. That joy automatically leads to action: go and tell others!

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Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

Jesus is Revealed as Our Perfect Substitute

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

God’s Word for This Week

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

First Lesson – Isaiah 42:1-7

Who is the “servant of the Lord” being spoken about in these verses?

Jesus.

What kind of person would he be?

Through the prophet we hear that this servant would be quiet (verse 2), gentle (verse 3), faithful, and just (verses 3,4).

What job would the Lord give to him?

Isaiah says that Jesus would be a “light for the Gentiles” (verse 6) in words that are similar to Simeon’s (Luke 2:29-32).

Second Lesson – Acts 10:34-38

What realization did Peter finally have about God?

Peter now realized that God didn’t show favoritism toward his Old Testament people, the Jews. Jesus was the Savior of all people. God wants that truth shared with all nations.

What did Jesus receive in his baptism? (See 10:38)

Peter says that he received a special measure of the Holy Spirit and power. In Jesus’ baptism, God the Father was preparing his Son for the tough road ahead. He assured him of his faithful love and guidance.

Gospel – Matthew 3:13-17

How did John react when Jesus came to be baptized?

He refused because he knew that Jesus was not a sinner himself.

What answer did Jesus give?

He insisted that John baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness” (v 15). Jesus is pointing out to John that, while he didn’t have any personal sin, he was carrying the sins of the world. He had come to be our perfect substitute. He needed the promises of God that baptism gives us.

What three persons were present at Jesus’ baptism?

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

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First Sunday after Christmas

God Cares for His Sons

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

God’s Word for This Week

God’s grace, or undeserved love, is mighty and accomplishes his will. Despite the opposition of wicked people or human barriers, God’s grace accomplishes his desire—the eternal salvation of immortal souls. Even after all the gifts have been opened and used, we stand in awe of God’s gift to us, his grace in Christ, Bethlehem’s baby.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 63:7-9

Why is the phrase “he became their Savior” a clear example of God’s grace? (See 7:8.)

Notice that God is taking the initiative. We don’t make the first move to get ourselves right with God; he takes the first step, becomes our Savior, and does everything to make us his children. And amazingly, we don’t even deserve it. That’s grace!

What do you think the phrase “he redeemed them” meant to the Old Testament Israelites? (See 7:9.)

It meant exactly what it means for us today—God paid a price to buy us back. We certainly belong to our God because Jesus’ life purchased us to be God’s prized possession.

Supplemental First Lesson – Hosea 11:1-7

How did God care for his son, the nation of Israel? How did he use his Son to restore them to sonship?

God had made a son for himself in the nation of Israel, but they turned away from God again and again. God had cared for his son by healing, teaching, and feeding him, but Israel failed to recognize his care. The Father kept calling, but the son turned further and further away. To his rebellious son, Israel, God said, “I love you, but I will judge you.” That judgment on Israel certainly came. But God had not stopped caring for his sons. God sent his Son to be the son Israel should have been so that his repentant children might be his sons again.

Second Lesson – Galatians 4:4-7

How do you know the birth of Jesus was not a random or chance event?

The apostle Paul makes it clear in verse 4 that God sent Jesus at just the right time. The time was right for God to fulfill every prophetic promise to care for his children.

Why is the word “adoption” or “full rights of sons” a fitting comparison to our status in God’s family? (See 4:5.)

Because of sin, we were not born into God’s family. And we were powerless to do anything to change the situation. So God’s grace took over—he sent his Son to be our Savior, he sent his Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, he did the “adopting” and we simply receive all the benefits. That’s grace!

Gospel – Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

What is the sad irony of Herod trying to kill the baby Jesus?

The baby Jesus, whom Herod viewed as a rival and enemy, was Herod’s Savior, his only way to eternal life.

What comfort do you find for your life in the account of God leading Joseph and Mary to Egypt and then to Nazareth?

The malice of Herod could not rob the world of the peace God intended to bring through his Son. God cared for his Son and all the sons of God by using Joseph to keep him safe in the land of Egypt. Certainly, the God of grace knows your needs, understands what threatens your safety and can act in a way that accomplishes his purpose for you. We can trust him; he will lead and guide us with his grace.

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Christmas Day

God’s Communication to Us

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

God’s Word for This Week

Many people long for God to talk to them. How often we miss his message when we don’t listen to his Son, Jesus. Jesus is God’s communication to us today. Too many run after other “voices” that pretend to offer solutions to life. But those who carry the message of Jesus to others are highly honored and share the exciting reaction from those who are led to real peace.

First Lesson – Isaiah 52:7-10

What makes feet beautiful?

Feet become very beautiful when they are vehicles carrying the greatest message of all times to others—the gospel of Jesus.

What is that great message?

It is a message of the victory and peace that God has established for us. It is the message of good tidings of great joy announced by the angels at Christ’s birth. That birth indicates a greater proof that our God reigns over everything.

Second Lesson – Hebrews 1:1-9

How did God communicate to the world before Christ?

God spoke to the people of the Old Testament times through prophets who carried that message in different formats in differing situations.

Why is it so much greater that he speaks to us through Jesus today?

Jesus is the final word for us because, as God himself, he exactly and directly represents the mind of God to us. As the one who purified us with his life, death, and resurrection he speaks utmost concern for us. And as the one who rules over all things, he knows what great things he has in the future for us.

Gospel – John 1:1-14

What title is immediately given to Jesus and why?

Jesus is called the Word (“Logos” in Greek). He is the one who clearly communicates to us the mind and plans of God. Without Christ you cannot really know God. That “Word” has power seen at the creating of the world. It also made his presence felt when he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Do you constantly listen to him?)

What is the shame in this section?

Jesus, the Word of God, opens people’s eyes to see the love and eternal life that he came to give us. Unfortunately, many don’t recognize him and lose out on the right to be called God’s children and receive “one blessing after another.”

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Fourth Sunday in Advent

God Will Come to Save His People, Just as He Promised

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

God’s Word for This Week

God will come to save his people, just as he promised. He saves them through the virgin-born Son of David, who is also the Son of God, Immanuel. Today the Church prays for God to come in power to take away the burden of our sins. Since the Garden of Eden, there has been only one promised plan to do that: God would take on flesh and blood. Immanuel comes—God in the flesh—exactly as promised to save his people.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 7:10-14

What is the significance of the name Immanuel?

Immanuel is two words in Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) put together. It literally means “with us…God.” So Isaiah tells King Ahaz that when that virgin has a child, it will be God himself coming to his people. God will be with us—in the flesh.

Why is this child born a “sign” to King Ahaz and to us?

Such grace that God would even speak to a wicked king like Ahaz! What God said is even more surprising. He didn’t just promise deliverance and ask that Ahaz blindly trust him. God offered a sign to an unbelieving king to prove that he would keep his promise and save his people. How foolish of Ahaz to refuse! How sinful to make a pretense of piety! However, God would not let a sinful king stand in the way of deliverance for his people. So God chose the sign that would prophesy the deliverance of the whole world from sin and death. A virgin would give birth to God in the flesh for the salvation of his people. In Christ Jesus, God kept every promise made.

Supplemental First Lesson – Isaiah 7:1-17

How do the verses added to this supplemental lesson broaden your understanding of this familiar prophecy?

This supplemental lesson expands the first lesson to include both the geopolitical scene and the intermediate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Both highlight the day’s theme that God will save his people just as he promised. When the people of Judah heard that Aram and Ephraim had allied against them, they were shaken. No wonder! Under King Ahaz, Judah had already lost in battle to Aram—with many prisoners carried away. And now, Aram and Ephraim had joined forces to attack Judah; Judah had no chance whatsoever! Until God spoke and said, “It will not take place, it will not happen.” God will save his people, just as he promised. The enemies stacked against the people of God have proven impossible for us to withstand. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh have defeated us again and again. We stand no chance in the battle; we must be lost. Until God speaks and says, “It will not take place, it will not happen.” Immanuel has come, just as God promised—the Savior of his people.

Second Lesson – Romans 1:1-7

How does Paul the apostle clearly show here that Jesus has a human nature?

Jesus was a descendent of David. Mary, who gave birth to the Savior, was a descendant of Israel’s great king.

How does Paul the apostle see the promises of God kept in Christ?

After thousands of years of God’s promises, Paul looks back and sees every one of them kept in Christ. All of Scripture promised the gospel message summarized in the name: Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus, the man born of Mary, is also our Lord, God himself. This God-man was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power to be the Christ who would save God’s people from their sins. Any doubts about Jesus of Nazareth evaporated with the Easter morning dew: the resurrection declared to the world he was Immanuel, God with us. God kept every promise in Christ to give us what we so desperately needed—Grace and peace to you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel – Matthew 1:18-25

What is the significance of the name “Jesus”?

The name Jesus literally means “The Lord saves” or “Savior.” The name God chose for his Son aptly describes his work: to save his people from their sins. (See 1:21.)

How is Joseph’s willing obedience an example for us?

Joseph found himself in the middle of an unwelcome nightmare—his bride to be was pregnant, and he was not the father. As a righteous man, he could not go forward with the marriage; as a merciful man, he could not expose Mary to public disgrace. How long did it take for him to fall asleep with broken betrothal promises on his mind? During the night, Joseph sees an angel who calls him “the son of David.” Joseph’s father was Jacob, but the angel reminded Joseph that he was a descendant of kings. Starting this night, he would act as one of David’s line again: he would care for the promised Son who would reign on David’s throne. God had come to save his people, just as he promised. He would do it through the child in Mary’s womb. Joseph believed the promises of God kept in Christ and named the child, “The LORD saves,” knowing full well he was Immanuel.

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Third Sunday in Advent

Christ’s Coming Brings God’s Deliverance

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

God’s Word for This Week

The coming of Christ in history and his return at the end of time proclaim the good news of God’s mighty deliverance. Our hearts rejoice as we hear Isaiah describe our deliverance. James tempers our joyful anticipation of our Lord’s return with patience as we undergo daily trials. We take comfort in Jesus’ words of consolation to John the Baptist. Jesus is God’s chosen deliverer.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 35:1-10

Where had the Israelites seen the “glory of the Lord” years before?

When the Lord led his chosen people out of Egypt, the “glory of the Lord” appeared as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God was delivering his people from the captivity they faced in Egypt. Here Isaiah says that people will see the glory of the Lord when he comes to deliver his people from their sins.

How does God’s deliverance affect his children’s attitude? (See 35:10.)

Isaiah says that God’s children will enter Jerusalem with singing. Joy and gladness follow. For us who live in a sad world because of sin and its effects, we have an attitude change—thanks to our gracious God’s deliverance.

Supplemental First Lesson – Job 1:6-22

How does the account of Job show us that things in God’s kingdom are not always what they seem?

In the second lesson, James points to Job as an example of perseverance in the face of suffering and God’s resulting blessing. To Satan, it appeared that Job served God because he was blessed. That was not so. After great suffering and tremendous loss, it appeared to everyone else that Job had absolutely no reason to praise God. That was not so either. Job knew that for the children of God, things are not always what they seem. He had the patience to wait for the rain—to wait for God to make fruitful again the fallow parts of his life.

Second Lesson – James 5:7-11

In what way is a believer waiting for Jesus’ coming like a farmer?

James says the Lord’s coming is near. Yet we wait for him to come. The farmer knows every spring that fall is near, but he still has to wait for it to arrive.

How does the account of Job remind us of the Lord’s compassion and mercy?

While most of us recognize the name Job and remember the hard times he faced, we may not remember how that account ended. Read Job 42:12-17 for an example of God’s compassion and mercy.

Gospel – Matthew 11:2-11

How could John the Baptist have doubts or be confused about the identity of the Messiah?

Things were not what they seemed. John languished in prison for preaching righteousness. When he saw the works of Jesus, questions arose in his mind and doubt filled the hearts of his followers. John knew that Jesus was the Christ, but where were the acts of judgment promised? Why did John look like a failure and the wicked look like they were winning? John sends his disciples to the right place—to Jesus. When we take our doubts and questions to Jesus, he drives the darkness from our hearts and fills us with light. Jesus pointed to his works as signs from God fulfilling the words of the prophet and marking him as the coming one. Jesus was far more than he appeared to be—he was the Messiah who makes the blind see, the dead live, and the poor evangelized.

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Second Sunday in Advent

Prepare Your Heart for the Lord’s Coming

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

God’s Word for This Week

John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, fixes our attention on the need for true preparation for the Lord’s coming. Such preparation means repenting—recognizing how our sins have offended God and trusting him for the forgiveness he gives us in Christ. Jesus, the only Savior, brings peace to a troubled heart.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 11:1-10

List examples of how Jesus fulfilled the description in verses 1-5.

Jesus descended from David, whose father was Jesse. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism. Jesus’ earthly ministry was marked by wisdom, understanding, power, etc. Jesus knew people’s thoughts and attitudes (see John 2:25). Other answers will vary.

How does the description of peace in verses 6-8; give us comfort?

The animals paired in Isaiah’s description are natural enemies. Because of sin, we have all been born natural enemies of God. But because of the Savior’s work on our behalf, we are now at peace with God. While the peace between these animals is symbolic, it’s comforting to know that the peace between God and us is real and lasting.

Supplemental First Lesson – Daniel 4:19-37

What was the point of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream?

God had used Nebuchadnezzar as his ax to chop down the unrepentant tree of David. But the king of Babylon failed to heed Daniel’s warning that the ax now sat at the root of his own tree. The prophet told him to repent, for God’s coming judgment was near. Nebuchadnezzar failed to acknowledge God’s sovereign power, and to repent and live in newness of life. So God fulfilled the dream: the tree of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was chopped down. God struck his glory and power and left him with neither civility nor sanity.

What lesson does it teach us about repentance?

How true it is: God is able to humble those who walk in pride. The world’s greatest sovereign became like an animal. Yet look at the mercy of God! When Nebuchadnezzar repented and acknowledged and glorified God, the Lord forgave him, renewed him, and restored him.

Traditional Second Lesson – Romans 15:4–13

When Paul wrote this letter, what “Scriptures” did the Christians in Rome have?

Roman believers had only the Old Testament. Think about how much more we have today with the entire Bible!

What is the connection between the peace that Jesus gives and accepting one another? (See 15:7.)

Since Christ has accepted us and made us part of his family through faith, we have peace with God. How could we not accept one another when our God has been so accepting of us?

Supplemental Second Lesson – Acts 3:19-26

When God calls on all people to repent, what does he mean?

Repentance is God’s work that results in a change of heart, a change of direction, and a change of attitude. First, the Law makes us feel contrition over our sin and guilt. Second, the Gospel’s message of forgiveness in Jesus leads us to trust in God’s grace.

How do you see that in these verses?

God used the miracle of the beggar’s healing to capture the attention of the crowd so that Peter and John could preach a message of repentance to the people. They preached the harsh accusations of the law: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead,” to prepare the hearts of the people to repent. Then they offered the sweetest gospel message that repentance brings renewal by wiping away sins and bringing God’s refreshment through Christ.

Gospel – Matthew 3:1-12

How do you know John the Baptist’s message is aimed at our hearts?

Just as in John’s day, we too need to “repent” (3:2), “confess” our sins (3:6), and “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (3:8). Our heart’s attitude, not our family tree, is what matters before God.

What is John describing with the “ax… at the root of the trees; and burning up of the chaff?”

Jesus calls everyone to repent of his or her sins and promises forgiveness and peace to those who trust in him. However, to those who reject Christ, he threatens eternal punishment; and he means it. These words serve as a loving warning even to the believer. We are truly prepared for Christ’s coming at Christmas when we repent of our sins and look to him for forgiveness.

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First Sunday in Advent

Be Ready for Christ’s Second Coming

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

God’s Word for This Week

With Advent, God’s people enter a new year of grace. The word “Advent” means “coming.” While we generally think of Advent as preparing us for our Savior’s first coming to this earth, the first Sunday in Advent highlights Christ’s second coming on judgment day. God urges us to be ready for him with a life of ongoing repentance, watchfulness, and spiritual renewal.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 2:1-5

What is the “mountain of the Lord’s temple”?

The “mountain of the Lord’s temple” was an expression also used by Micah in his book (Micah 4:1). It refers to us, to God’s New Testament church. Isaiah is prophesying the coming Savior whose work would bring the most important time in the history of Israel or Jerusalem. That means, do not focus on the mountain on which the temple was built. Focus on God’s undeserved love for sinners, which will draw people to him, just like the Israelites were drawn to the temple in Jerusalem.

How do we know that the peace referred to in verse 4 is a spiritual peace, not an earthly peace?

Since the fall into sin, there has been no promise from God of peace on earth. Through the coming Savior’s forgiveness, we have peace with God. (See also Luke 1:77-79 and Romans 5:1.)

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 6:9-22, 7:11-23

How would you compare the world of Noah’s time to our world today, and how are we like Noah as we wait for Christ’s return?

Jesus told the story of the flood to explain the unexpected coming of God in judgment and grace. Noah was a man who worked and walked in the light. But he lived in a world darkened by sin. The lost around him were deaf to his preaching and blind to the signs. The coming of God’s judgment was as unexpected as it was terrifying for them. But in the middle of all that judgment, God came in unexpected grace to rescue Noah and his family.

As Noah worked and walked in the light, he heeded God’s warnings and trusted God’s promises. He watched; he waited; he prepared. And God made good on his promise: the same flood that judged the world also safely carried Noah and his family until they came to rest on a world washed clean. We live in a world that is still darkened by sin. As believers, we follow Noah’s example as we watch, wait, and prepare for Christ’s coming. We do not fear his return since we know he’s coming to take us to heaven.

Second Lesson – Romans 13:11-14

In what way is our salvation “nearer now than when we first believed”? (See 13:11.)

Each day of our life brings us that much closer to the goal of our faith, eternity with our God.

How do you “clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ”? (See 13:14.)

You clothe yourself with Christ through faith in him. While an unbeliever has no natural ability to believe in Jesus or come to him, a believer in Christ, a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), chooses to read Scripture, attend worship, study the Bible with others, and apply the Bible to their life. To “clothe yourself with Christ” practically means to immerse yourself in God’s Word.

Gospel – Matthew 24:37-44

In what way is the great flood similar to Jesus’ return on judgment day?

Just as Noah warned the people of his day, our God has warned his world about Jesus’ second coming. Yet, it will take many by surprise; then, as in the days of Noah, it will be too late.

Why do you think Jesus didn’t reveal to us the exact time of his second coming?

Certainly, Jesus knows what we are like. He knows that we procrastinate, are often spiritually lazy, and can succumb to false security. If we knew the date of his return, no doubt many would succumb to these. In his love, he doesn’t tell us when he will return.

What point did Jesus make by saying that not even the Son knows the day of his coming?

The second coming of Christ will be totally unexpected. No one will predict it; everyone must be ready for it to come at any time.

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Fourth Sunday of End Time—Christ the King

Jesus Will Reign Forever and Ever

These are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of End Time—Christ the King.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

Murderous criminals usually do not relax in lush gardens with kings. But King Jesus told the suddenly repentant man on the cross next to him: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” What royalty! What grace!

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 23:2-6

In verses 2 to 4, what three promises does the Lord make us?

In 23:2-4, the LORD promises that he personally will gather his people together. He also promises that he will give us good shepherds (spiritual leaders, such as pastors). Through them he will tend us, so that none of us will be terrified or missing.

What kind of king should we expect Jesus to be? (See 5-6.)

We should not expect Jesus to be a king like any other king. He is no self-aggrandizing political ruler. He is a Branch, a weak-looking descendant of King David, who sprouted from the stump of David’s tree. He lived and died in our place as true man and true God to be the LORD Our Righteousness.

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 49:8-12

What two things will not depart from the Judah and his tribe until the promised Savior comes? (See 49:10.)

Jacob prophesies that the royal scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff. (That is, the situation will not be like the modern British monarchy, which has royal honors but does not have the power that the Prime Minister has. Real royal rule will remain.)

Judah will not have to chase here and there. The tribe will settle down in peace, Jacob prophesies. How prosperous will the tribe be? (See 49:11-12.)

The tribe will be so prosperous that it will do something staggering: wash its garments in wine, not water. Think: Even greater riches, eternal riches of God’s grace, are ours in Christ.

Second Lesson – Colossians 1:13-20

To which kingdom did we once belong?

We used to be under the dominion of darkness. Satan and his forces dominated our hearts. Hell and its pitch-dark fires were our only destination.

What kind of kingdom are we in now? (See 1:14-16.)

Then God rescued us and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He forgave all our sins in Christ by bringing us to trust in him.

In what two areas is Jesus clearly, totally supreme? (See verses 15-17, and verses 18-20.)

Jesus is supreme in creating and supreme in redeeming. The Father made all things through him, and in him all things still hold together. (All things!) Through Jesus and his blood God also made peace with all his rebellious creatures.

Gospel – Luke 23:35-43

One criminal hurled insults at Jesus. How were his words horribly ironic? (See 23:39.)

Ironically, that criminal recognized Jesus as God’s anointed King, the Christ. He did not trust in Jesus to be his substitute under God’s judgment though. He railed at Christ for not saving him. Yet Jesus was suffering and dying to save him at that very moment.

How long will it take for you to get to paradise when you die? (See 23:43.)

The moment you die, you will be in paradise due to Jesus’ death in your place. Even better: you will be with King Jesus in paradise. Trust his promise totally!

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Third Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant

All Who Die in Christ Are Alive

These are the readings for the Third Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

“Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest,” a favorite hymn assures us. Everything is peace right now for the saints above.
“But then there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way. Alleluia! Alleluia!”

First Lesson – Isaiah 65:17-25

When will the saints be triumphant according to God’s first promise? (See 65:17.)

The saints will be especially triumphant on judgment day when God makes new heavens and a new earth.

What will the new heavens and the new earth be like? (See 65:18-25.)

In summary, God’s pictures seem to say that the new heavens and new earth will be full of joy and life. No work will end up worthless. God will be close at hand to each of us. Perfect peace will reign in Christ.

Traditional Second Lesson – 2 Thessalonians 2:13–3:5

Can you be sure God chose you in eternity to be his child? (See 2:13.) Why or why not?

You CAN be sure that God chose you in eternity to be his child. That certainty is not because of anything in you but because the Holy Spirit baptized you with water for the forgiveness of all your sins. He brought you to trust in Christ’s merits rather than your own.

What prayer priorities does Paul give us? (See 3:1-2.)

Paul urges us to pray that many others may hear about Jesus’ death in their place and honor what they hear in their hearts. He tells us to pray that missionaries and other church leaders stay safe from evil men.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Revelation 22:1-5

We cannot see life as a concept, but God showed John life itself. What two things did it look like to John? (See 22:1-2.)

John saw a) the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and b) the tree of life, bearing fruit monthly, with even its leaves giving healing to the nations. In other words, God’s gift of life, like a river, flows constantly. It is beautiful and pure. It is refreshing. Like fruit, it is bright and good-looking, sweet and sustaining.

We will see God. We will serve God. We will belong to God. What thing will we not go through in eternity?

In eternal life, we will no longer live under the curse that is the result of our sin. There will be no more night. We will not need any light, not even the sun. God himself will be our light. And all of this will never end.

Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

Since the Sadducees of Jesus’ day rejected all but the first five books of the Bible, why was the source of Jesus’ answer to them very fitting?

Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees comes from Exodus 3, the account of Moses hearing the Lord speak from the burning bush. Sadducees officially accepted Exodus as God’s Word, so they ought to have agreed with Jesus.

Jesus quotes a verse from Exodus 3. How does that verse show that believers live on with God after death, and that believers will rise from death with new bodies?

Jesus proves his point that believers live on now and will rise on the Last Day by quoting himself. God, the Angel of the Lord and the second person of the Holy Trinity did not say to Moses, hundreds of years after his three servants died, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He says, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

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Second Sunday of End Time—Last Judgment

Jesus’ Judgment Is Always Right

These are the readings for the Second Sunday of End Time—Last Judgment.
(This Worship Help aligns with the lectionary readings from Christian Worship 1993 and Christian Worship: Supplement.)

God’s Word for This Week

The Lord wants you to take his judgment of all people seriously. He also wants to encourage you: Hanging on to his cross until the Last Day is worth all the difficulties that will come your way, for Jesus will call all people to account on the Last Day. Believers in Jesus will keep the eternal life they already have. Unbelievers will go away from Jesus to eternal death.

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 26:1-6

List the ways Jeremiah and the people would know how serious God is about judgment.

God instructs Jeremiah not to omit a word. God also tells the people to listen to him and his word and to his messengers which he sent.

What would it mean “to be made like Shiloh”? (See 26:6.)

Shiloh was the location of the sanctuary after Canaan was conquered. Jeremiah warns that if the people do not repent their beloved temple of Solomon will suffer total destruction as the sanctuary at Shiloh.

Supplemental First Lesson – Ezekiel 9:1-11

After a vision of vile pagan practices in God’s temple in Jerusalem, Ezekiel saw judgment fall. Whom did God’s servants spare? (See 9:4.)

In the second part of the vision, Ezekiel saw God’s servants spare those who grieved and lamented over all the detestable things done in Jerusalem. (Do you grieve over this wicked world or take it for granted?)

Why did God say he would show no pity? (See 9:9.)

God said that he would show no pity because a) people were filling the land of Judah with bloodshed and b) people claimed that God did not see all the injustice.

Second Lesson – 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

What are the two sides of God’s judgment? (See 1:5,6.)

God’s judgment means; a) he judges the wicked worthy of eternal suffering, b) and he also counts those who trust in Christ worthy of living with him in his eternal kingdom.

How does the threat of “everlasting destruction” encourage us? (See 1:9.)

Everlasting destruction may seem a contradiction in terms. But for those who do not believe in Jesus as their Savior, God’s judgment is a process of destruction that will never end. Though we believers suffer persecution, we know a day is coming when persecutors of the gospel will pay the severest price.

How we might become complacent? (See 1:10.)

We must not gloat about our trust in the Word of God which promises that Jesus will come again to take us to heaven. We must also not let down our guard as we struggle to fight the good fight of faith until Christ comes.

Gospel – Luke 19:11-27

What happened immediately upon the king’s return? (See 9:15.)

The newly appointed king called each to account as soon as he returned. The servants who made more minas for their master were given credit, each in proportion to what they had earned.

What should the last servant have done, instead of burying his talent? (See 19:22.)

He should have put it on deposit, to increase its value. The king did not accept his flimsy excuses.

How does the unfaithfulness of the last servant show in our time?

The last servant shows up when people entrusted with the Word of God claim to be too busy to do the work of God. They neglect it. They say it will not profit them.

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Reformation

Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone

These are the readings for the First Sunday of End Time—Reformation.

God’s Word for This Week

By grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone—these are the three “watchwords” of God reforming his church.

First Lesson – Jeremiah 31:31-34 – Grace Alone

God says to Israel that he will make a new covenant with them. Where will he write that covenant? (See 31:33.)

God promised to write his covenant in believers’ hearts and minds. (His main concern is our insides—our attitudes, beliefs, etc.—not merely our appearance.)

The heart of God’s new covenant is found in 31:34. What does God graciously do for you and me?

God forgives our sins and remembers them no more.

Second Lesson – Romans 3:19-28 – Faith Alone

Paul first points out the main purposes of God’s law. What are those purposes? (See 3:19‒20.)

God did not give us his law to work our way to heaven. He means it to remove all our rationalizations and excuses. (“What do you have to say for yourself?” Silence.) God’s law is a mirror clearly showing our ugly sin, showing that we cannot save ourselves.

There is righteousness. Whose is it? From where does it come? (See 3:21‒22.)

Perfect righteousness before God is God’s: It comes from God. It is not from us.

We have fallen woefully short, but we are also justified, innocent in God’s courtroom. Why? How? (See 3:24.)

Our justification is free, by God’s grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God piles up descriptives to say, “This is my work, my work, my work, not your work.”

Gospel – John 8:31-36 – Scripture alone

What does Jesus say is the mark of his disciples? (See 8:31.)

One of the marks of Jesus’ disciples is that they hold on tightly to God’s Word.

What blessing does God give as we hold on tightly to the Word? (See 8:32.)

We will know the truth, and the truth sets us free.

God has blessed you with full freedom in Christ. How does knowing that it comes from his Word lead us to reprioritize our lives?

What joy! God’s Word brings us freedom. Knowing that freedom from sin and death comes from God’s Holy Word motivates me to keep focused on the Word. I want to keep hearing it, reading it, and studying it. God brings me great blessings through it.

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

The Foundation of Faith

These are the readings for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Faith is the very foundation of the Christian life. Faith, worked by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, allows us to do great things for the Lord and see eternal life as our ultimate goal.

Traditional First Lesson – Habakkuk 1:1-3; 2:1-4

What is the complaint that Habakkuk makes to the Lord through prayer?

The Lord was slow in keeping his promises, God’s will in the law was being mocked, and the believers were forgotten.

What promise does the Lord offer that calms the believer’s fears?

At the appointed time (Galatians 4:4,5), God fulfilled his promise of the Messiah. He is faithful to his promises of love and care for his children. Though to our perspective, the fulfillment seems slow in coming, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Chronicles 29:1-2, 10-18

When today do we regularly pray just like David did in 29:11?

Today when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we usually end in one of two ways: a) “For thine is the kingdom and the power and glory, forever and ever. Amen.” Or b) “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.” Either way, those words seem very similar to David’s.

When we give offerings to God or charitable help to someone in need, are we giving what used to be ours to someone else? (See the second part of 29:14.)

No, gifts to the Lord or contributions to the needy are only giving what belonged to God in the first place. All things are God’s.

Traditional Second Lesson – 2 Timothy 1:3-14

How would the sincere faith have passed from grandmother to mother to son? What can we learn from this family relationship?

Lois and Eunice daily shared God’s Word and promises with Timothy as he grew up in their home. Parents and grandparents are an important part of God’s plan in feeding the faith of his little lambs.

Why did Paul refuse to feel shame over repeated imprisonment and mistreatment?

He was suffering for the sake of the Gospel message. He knew that his Savior was guarding what was truly valuable, his salvation.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 6:15-23

There might be thousands of businesses that could employ you. But Paul says there are only two powers for whom we can work. Which are they? (See 6:16-18.)

We are either slaves to sin or slaves to obedience/righteousness.

Which one do you work for if you are a believer in Jesus? (Again, see 6:18.)

All believers in Jesus are former slaves to sin. Now we are slaves to righteousness.

Why not go back to working for sin and let sin be the boss in our lives once again? (See 6:23.)

We must not go back to sin as the boss in our lives, “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Gospel – Luke 17:1-10

Jesus says to rebuke other sinners, but if a fellow believer repents, to forgive them. (See 17:3.) Why are both of these commands hard?

You rarely are popular when you tell people they are wrong in what they are doing. It also goes against the wisdom of this world to forgive and not exact punishment from someone who has wronged us.

Jesus’ disciples seemed to think he was asking a lot. They needed more faith (17:5). How can faith do such great things?

Living new lives of love is not automatic, but through trusting Jesus, we remember that we are just as bad as everybody else. We are redeemed sinners, bought back by Christ’s blood. In love, then, we look out for the spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters, and we are eager to share the message of forgiveness and peace in Jesus.

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Worldly Wealth Is Fleeting

These are the readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Complacency and contentment may be near each other in the English dictionary, but Scripture sees them as worlds apart. One the Lord detests; the other, he says, is great gain. Our lessons this Sunday show God’s justice and mercy. God’s justice should terrify us. (How frightening to hear Jesus’ description of the rich man in hell!) But through his gospel, God comforts terrified sinners.

Traditional First Lesson – Amos 6:1-7

What had the children of Israel become uncaring and complacent about?

By laying around in comfort and celebration, the children of Israel showed that they were comfortable in their sins. They felt no need to turn to the Lord in repentance and plead for mercy. They also showed no concern for the “ruin of Joseph” —the fact that the nation had turned away from the Lord.

How does this serve as a lesson and warning for 21st-century believers?

Like Paul (1Cor. 10:12), it reminds us that if we think we stand firm on our own, we are a candidate for falling. Believers show love by calling one another to repentance and sharing the promise of forgiveness in Jesus.

Supplemental First Lesson – Ecclesiastes 5:8-20

What is one of the problems with loving money? (See 5:10.)

One problem with loving money is that it never satisfies. “Whoever loves money never has money enough. Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (5:10).

What is another problem? (See 5:11.)

Another problem with loving money is that the more things you have, the more people you need to hire (at least now and then, like at a repair shop) to fix and take care of them.

Is God’s main plan that we be as poor as possible in this life since we cannot take anything with us to heaven or hell? (See 5:18-20.)

No, God’s main plan is not to keep us as poor as possible. One of his best gifts is to keep us from the frustrations of focusing on finances instead of allowing us to enjoy whatever good things he gives us in this life.

Traditional Second Lesson – 1Timothy 6:6-16

What does Paul say that the love of money has done to many? How?

The love of money and the desire to get more leads people into many harmful activities and away from trust in the Lord. By making wealth the object of their desire, they replaced the Lord. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (See Luke 12:34.)

What do believers want to long after instead? Why is this godly contentment a great gain?

Like Jesus, Paul urges us to long after God’s kingdom and righteousness. We can be content in this gift from our God because its value is beyond all the wealth of this world.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Revelation 2:8-11

Were the Christians in Smyrna to whom Jesus wanted John to write this letter rich or poor?

In human terms, they were poor, but Jesus said the Christians in Smyrna were rich. How? Other places in the Bible tell us: Like us, they had all of God’s grace in Christ and the down payment of the Spirit of Christ, guaranteeing glory with God to come. (See 2 Corinthians 1:22.)

What does the example of these Christians teach us about our finances?

The Christians in Smyrna teach us not to worry whether we have a little or a lot of money. What matters is being faithful, even to the point of death, so we may receive the crown of life from Jesus—the victory wreath he won for us by dying in our place and rising again.

Gospel – Luke 16:19-31

How had the rich man in Jesus’ account become complacent?

The rich man was secure in all the temporary luxury that this world has to offer. He was unconcerned about his own sin and guilt and where that would lead him in the future. He did not care about helping Lazarus—the beggar at his gate.

Why might Lazarus take issue with many people labeling him as poor? How does this show contentment in Christ?

The gift of eternal life with the Lord meant that Lazarus was wealthy beyond measure. Although he may have liked to have more comforts in this life, he could be content when he realized that, in eternity, he would lack nothing.

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Use All God’s Blessings to Serve Him

These are the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Money rules in our materialistic society. We also must admit that God has richly blessed each of us with many physical blessings—far more than we deserve. How we handle those blessings, whether they be dollars or possessions, reflects on our relationship with our God. May God move us to use all of his blessings in a way that pleases him, serves his purposes, and helps others eternally.

Traditional First Lesson – Amos 8:4-7

How does practicing honesty when we buy and sell demonstrate our Christian faith?

Practicing honesty when we buy and sell items serves as a way that we honor and worship the Lord. We worship our God not only by hearing his Word and singing his praises but also by living our faith with our actions, with our words, and with our thoughts.

What is so terrifying about that statement of the Lord that “I will never forget anything they have done?”

It reminds us that those people who willfully reject the Lord and his commandments have given up the forgiveness of their sins. Since God never forgets their guilt, they will bear the full heat of his anger eternally. As believers, we can thank and praise God that he has forgotten our sins and guilt through Christ’s work.

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 14:8-24

Instead of sitting tight to make sure he stayed safe and prosperous, what did Abram do?

Abram went on a long, difficult journey to overtake and fight the kings who had defeated and plundered the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He saved his nephew Lot, Lot’s family, and Lot’s possessions in the process.

What did Abram give to Melchizedek?

Abram gave God’s priest, Melchizedek, a tenth of everything. (Giving a tenth of our income to God today is not a requirement, nor do we know that it was in Abram’s day. But what a stellar sign of gratitude to God, trust in God, and generosity!)

Why would Abram not take anything that belonged to the king of Sodom?

Abram would not take anything because he did not want the king of Sodom to be able to claim that he had made Abram rich. (God had made Abram rich. Today too: All wealth comes from God.)

Traditional Second Lesson – 1Timothy 2:1-8

Who does God want to be saved? Who does that include then?

God wants all men to be saved which includes you and me. Thanks be to God!

How does considering the price Jesus paid to save us help us determine our true worth?

God loves us dearly, so much so that he gave up his Son, Jesus Christ, for us. Our worth is found in the precious blood of Jesus that he poured out for us.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 1Timothy 6:6-16

Why is godliness with contentment great gain? (See 6:7.)

Godliness with contentment is great gain, Paul says, because we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out.

Is money itself evil? (See 6:10.)

Money is not evil. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. In Paul’s picture, running after money will lead, now and forever, to similar results as running headlong into a drawn sword.

Gospel – Luke 16:1-13

What is the main point of this parable of Jesus? (See 16:9-12.)

Jesus tells this parable to encourage us to make good use of our money. How we use the money and possessions that God has given is a fruit of faith and will reflect our relationship with him. By keeping an eternal perspective on the blessings God has given, we will use them to serve his purposes and to support his kingdom here on earth, knowing God will reward us forever.

How does Jesus further his point by saying “You cannot serve both God and money?”

Worldly wealth and possessions are given by God to be used in his service. The God who gives the money must always be more important than the money that he gives.

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Amazingly Patient God Saves Us

These are the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

“Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can, found seldom in a woman, never in a man.” That is a wry saying often true. Even those of us who claim to be patient people reach a point where we can be patient no more. What a blessing that God—for the sake of his Son—is always patient with us, forgiving our many sins, rejoicing in our repentance, and promising to take us to be with him in glory.

Traditional First Lesson – Exodus 32:7-14

How did the Israelites sin against God and test his patience?

As Moses is on top of Mt. Sinai with God, the Israelites sin against God and test his patience by building a golden calf. They then begin to worship it and offer sacrifices to the idol.

Summarize Moses’ prayer to God on behalf of the Israelites.

In asking for God’s patience, Moses reminds God of the promises he made to deliver his people from the Egyptians. If God were to destroy the Israelites, the Egyptians would be able to see that God didn’t keep his promises to his chosen people.

Supplemental First Lesson – Hosea 3:1-5

How much did Hosea have to pay to get his cheating, promiscuous wife back?

Hosea had to pay 15 little lumps (shekels) of silver (about 6 ounces of silver in our terms) and a homer and a lethek of barley. The barley seems to have been about 10 bushels, weighing perhaps 500 pounds. Possibly Hosea did not have enough silver, so he had to bring the barley too—an embarrassing, difficult task.

Why would Hosea do this? (See 3:1.)

Hosea did this because God had told him to do it and to love his wife the way the Lord loved the Israelites, despite the shameful unfaithfulness to him. Think of it: For Jesus’ sake, God loves you passionately, like a husband, and persistently. God loves you truly, as opposed to the way Israelites loved those raisin cakes. God loves you unconditionally, embarrassingly, detrimentally, expensively but freely (at a huge cost to him, but no cost to you). Do you believe that?

Traditional Second Lesson – 1Timothy 1:12-17

How did God demonstrate his patience in Paul’s life?

Paul’s early life was spent trying to destroy the early Christian church. Paul describes himself as a “blasphemer,” a “persecutor,” and a “violent man.” God showed his patience in turning Paul into a great missionary.

How has the Son of God demonstrated his unlimited patience in our lives?

God demonstrates his great patience for us in that despite our many sins, he still sent his one and only Son to die on the cross and take those sins away. He still calls us his own dear children!

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Here Paul tells Christians in Corinth to welcome back a man whom they had “handed over to Satan” because of his previous incest. Now the man is repentant. What should the Christians do, therefore? (See 2:7‒8.)

The Christians should reaffirm their love for the repentant man. They should forgive and comfort him. They should welcome him back as a fellow Christian.

What is the first reason Paul gives for doing so? (See 2:7.)

The Christians in Corinth were to do this, Paul says, to keep the man from being overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

Why did Paul forgive him too, and why else should the Corinthian Christians forgive the man? (See 2:11.)

Paul and the Corinthians (and we today, under similar circumstances) needed to forgive and comfort the man so that Satan would not outwit them. Satan loves discord and despair!

Gospel – Luke 15:1-10

What was ironic about the statement that the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were amazed that Jesus would eat with “sinners” like prostitutes and tax collectors. What they failed to see was that they were just as guilty of sinning against God as the other “sinners” were.

What do these two parables spoken by Jesus emphasize?

These two parables emphasize God’s patience, his seeking heart, and the value God places on each individual soul. May we be led to value people’s souls just as much and share the soul-saving news of the free forgiveness found in Christ!

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Our Wisdom Is Found in the Lord

These are the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

The mind is a powerful tool, capable of reasoning its way too much success and many great things. The human mind knows how to guard the bottom line. The mind knows what is most cost-effective. The mind can quickly determine the most reasonable course of action. But our brains, despite all their vaunted wisdom, cannot find their way to the cross. The cross is incomprehensible to human wisdom. One man, the God-man, dies for the sins of all men! It is only when our fear and trust are in the Lord that we can know his great mercy and understand how that mercy affects us now and forever.

Traditional First Lesson – Proverbs 9:8-12

What is the source of true wisdom and knowledge?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One (Jesus) is true understanding.

What is the benefit of putting all our trust in the Lord, of leaning on his wisdom?

Eternal life is the benefit. The writer says, “For through me your days will be many…years will be added to your life…your wisdom will reward you.”

What is the punishment for not fearing the Lord?

If you refuse to fear and trust in God, “you alone will suffer.”

Supplemental First Lesson – Genesis 12:1-8

When God called Abram to go to the land, God would show him; God gave Abram seven blessings. What was the last one?

God promised Abram, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This was a promise that the Savior of the world, God in the flesh, would come from Abram’s descendants. (And that the Savior would die in place of all people.)

Abram was a childless man 75 years old when God called him to go to an unknown land and promised to make a great nation out of him. What other problem did Abram have? (See the end of 12:6.)

Abram’s other problem was that plenty of Canaanites filled the land to which God sent him. How could his descendants take over such a land when he had no son, either? God asked Abram, like he asks us, to keep trusting him in the face of much opposition and circumstances that often seem to make no sense.

Traditional Second Lesson – Philemon 1:1, 10-21

What is so incredible about Paul’s request that Philemon take back Onesimus?

Onesimus was a runaway slave. Most masters would severely punish such a slave—perhaps even have him killed. But Paul asks Philemon to have mercy on Onesimus out of Christian love.

On what basis would Philemon show any mercy to Onesimus?

On the same basis by which Philemon was shown mercy. Philemon was shown mercy by God, who brought Philemon to faith through the good news of Christ preached by Paul. Now Philemon has an opportunity to show the same mercy which he was shown to his servant Onesimus. “We love because he [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Supplemental Second Lesson – Philippians 3:4b-11

What reasons could Paul give for trusting in who he was before God? (See 4:5-6.)

Paul could have trusted in who he was because he was not just a Jew, he was the most Jewish man possible. He kept the law that God had given the Jews almost faultlessly. He had even persecuted Christians in his zeal to be a good Jew.

How did Paul see his former goodness and good efforts?

Paul learned to see his former goodness as a loss (in accounting terms) not a profit. He even considered it garbage (literally, “dung”). Jesus had become his righteousness.

Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

Does Jesus really want us to hate our parents, our brothers and sisters, our children?

We do not hate our parents in the sinful and wicked sense that Scripture condemns. We “hate” them in the sense that we make Christ the first priority in our lives. Our Lord and Savior is to be the number one in all things. No matter what the wisdom of the world says, we always follow Christ.

What motivates us to “hate” our families, to give up everything we have for Jesus?

“We love because he first loved us.” God showed us incredible mercy and love by sending his one and only Son into the world. He chose us before creation (Eph. 1:4). He adopted us as sons (Eph. 1:5). He “made us alive” (Eph. 2:5). He “raised us up with Christ” (Eph. 2:6), all by his undeserved love, by grace. As children of our heavenly Father, we take up the cross appointed for us and follow our Savior, Jesus, even if we don’t always understand it, even if the world mocks us, spits upon us, and hates us.

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Our Eternal King Comes for Us

These are the readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

“Hey, that’s my seat!” School children bicker over their special place. Adults look and laugh, yet we do the same when we take pains to assure that we get what’s coming to us—at work, at home, among friends and family—and that everybody sees and knows how important we are. But in today’s lessons, God tells us that our King is coming—the Almighty Ruler of the universe, Jesus Christ. Next to him, due to our sin, we are nothing. We deserve the lowest place. But in love for us, Jesus invites us to the place of honor.

First Lesson – Proverbs 25:6,7

Why does the author tell us to be careful about exalting ourselves before the King?

It is possible that there is someone of higher standing who will take the place of honor we have presumed for ourselves.

What could be the result of humbly taking a lower seat before the King?

The King may ask us to come near to him rather than sit in such a lowly seat.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 13:1-8

Why are we told to entertain strangers, to love prisoners, to be free from the love of money, to remember our leaders?

We are reminded to be humble in all things: to entertain strangers, for we might be entertaining angels; to take care of prisoners, for one day we might be prisoners; to be content, because God provides; to remember our leaders because theirs is a way of life worth imitating. And over all this is our eternal King, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, Jesus Christ,the source of our salvation, the motivator of our humble living.

What is the comfort of the fact that Jesus Christ is the same “yesterday, today, and forever”?

He was in the beginning, creating the world. He became flesh to save the world. He remains near us now and always, ruling over the world, watching over all things, and providing for all we need. He is our loving, Provider-King.

Supplemental Second Lesson – James 2:1-13

What must we not show, especially as we gather together as Christians? (See 2:1.)

We must now show favoritism to people who have more earthly wealth than others.

What is God’s law when it comes to others? (See 2:8.)

God insists, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

What problem do we have if we ever show favoritism to someone with wealth, even once? Or if we do not commit adultery, but we do commit murder? (See 2:10.)

If we break even one or part of God’s law, we are guilty of breaking all of it. (Picture a broken window. You can’t just replace the part that the baseball crashed through.)

Gospel – Luke 14:1,7-14

Why did Jesus tell the guests at this Pharisee’s house the parable of the wedding feast?

Jesus told the guests this parable to remind them of the need for humility. Those who think they have earned a high seat at the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven by their own good deeds will have all hopes dashed when they are turned away. It is those who humbly stand at the lowest seats saying, “I only belong here because of what Jesus Christ did for me,” who will be elevated to the places of honor.

Why does Jesus tell the host to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to a dinner?

The Pharisee looks only to his own public image, “Who can I impress with my guest list? Who can help me out in life?” If you invite only the rich and the wealthy, what good does that do? You perhaps earn favors in this life. You pad your own sinful pride. But if from faith you understand that it is the poor and needy who need your help and comfort, even though they cannot help you in this life, you will reap a hundredfold reward in heaven.

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Faith-Life Leads Us Through the Narrow Door

These are the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Many think numerous roads lead to eternal glory. “It doesn’t matter what religion you practice—or whether you have none,” they say. “All that matters is that you try to treat others well and do the best you can.” Yet while religions may espouse some noble goals for earthly living, all these goals lead people away from Christ. All fall far short of what God demands for entrance into heaven: perfection. (See Matthew 5:48.) The good news is Jesus came to be perfect in our place. He has given us his perfection in God’s sight. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) Through faith in him we have eternal life. Jesus is the only way, the narrow door.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 66:18-24

What is being described in these verses?

The Lord is describing the gathering of the Christian Church from all nations. In particular, he is describing that gathering as it will take place on the day of judgment.

What important point is the Lord making through Isaiah?

The Church will be gathered into heaven from all nations, both Jew and Gentile. Faith in Jesus is the determining factor. Those who reject the salvation God provides through his Son “will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Supplemental First Lesson – Judges 7:1-8

At first, Gideon had 32,000 men to fight against the Midianites. To how many did the Lord reduce his troops?

The Lord reduced Gideon’s troops first to 10,000, then to 300 men.

Why did the Lord do such a strange thing? (See 7:2.)

The Lord did not want anyone in Israel to boast against the Lord that their own strength had saved them from their enemy. All people today, even those who are on God’s side, are prone to the same temptation.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 12:18-24

What does the scene described in verses 18-21 represent?

It represents the approach to God by means of the law (symbolized by Mt. Sinai). Attempting to approach God by means of obeying the law apart from faith in Jesus will only bring gloom, trembling, and ultimately death.

What does Mount Zion represent, and by what means can we approach this “mountain”?

Mount Zion represents the holy Christian Church in heaven and on earth. We approach this mountain through faith in Jesus, who has made us perfect in God’s sight by the sprinkling of his blood. He’s the narrow door.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 9:1-9

What could Paul have wished if it were possible?

Paul could have wished he were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of other Jewish people.

Why did so many Jews in Paul’s day reject the gospel of Christ Jesus? Was it God’s fault in some way?

Many Jews of Paul’s day rejected the gospel, but it was not God’s fault. God had given them every advantage. God’s Word did not fail either: Paul says that just because a person has Abraham’s blood in his or her veins does not mean that person is a true heir of Abraham. All who trust in Jesus are sons of Abraham. (See Galatians 3:7.)

Gospel – Luke 13:22-30

Why does Jesus describe the entrance into heaven as being a “narrow door,” and how does one enter through this narrow door?

The door into heaven is “narrow” because there is only one way into heaven, not many ways. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Apart from trusting in Jesus as your Savior, you will not be saved. (See Mark 16:16 and Acts 4:12.) In another respect, however, the door into heaven is “wide” because Jesus has paid for the sins of all people (1 John 2:2), and because of his sacrifice, God has declared all people “not guilty” in his courtroom (Romans 3:24). Only those who trust in Jesus for salvation receive the benefit of his sacrifice. Those who do not enter into glory cannot blame God. The fault will be entirely their own.

True or false: Many people will be surprised, come the day of judgment, that they stand condemned.

True. Sadly, many will be surprised at the final judgment. Both here and in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus shows that many will be shocked at being shut out of heaven. Such will be the destiny for those who rely on anything or anyone but Jesus to be rescued from the fire of hell, which we all deserve.

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Faith-Life Brings Division in This World of Falsehood

These are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

“Can’t we all just get along?” Many people feel that way, especially in religious matters. That sentiment usually pairs up with the idea that “no one has a monopoly on the truth.” People claim (absolutely—see the irony?) that truth is relative. Jesus says otherwise: No truth conflicts with him and his Word. As followers of Jesus, we stand firmly with him, though such a stance will certainly divide us from all who follow lies.

Traditional First Lesson – Jeremiah 23:23-29

To whom is the Lord disgusted in these verses?

The Lord is disgusted with the false prophets who are teaching falsehoods in his name. He doesn’t put up with any error whatsoever, but he is especially angry when people use his name to promote and defend their errors.

How does the Lord describe his Word in verse 29? Why does he describe it this way?

The Lord says that his Word is like a fire and a hammer. It stands in total opposition to falsehood and ultimately destroys it. God does not permit a mixing of the truth of his Word with human lies; neither should we.

Supplemental First Lesson – 2 Kings 11:1-3, 12-18

How bad did things get in Judah after Ahaziah died and his mother Athaliah reigned?

Things got so bad that Athaliah tried to murder the whole royal family. Jehosheba, the aunt of the future king, managed to hide baby Joash and his nurse in a bedroom. For six years, they stayed hidden at the temple in Jerusalem.

Could people on God’s side compromise with Athaliah? No way! What resulted, therefore?

Athaliah was killed, and seven-year-old Joash became king.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 12:1-13

What can we expect in this world if we stand on the truth of God’s Word?

Just like Jesus, we can expect to face persecution and hatred. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

How does the writer to Hebrews explain the hardship that we will endure for standing on the truth of God’s Word in this world?

He says that such hardship is loving “discipline” by our heavenly Father. While such discipline might at first seem painful, it has eternal benefits as we submit to the Lord’s loving guidance. (See 12:11.)

Supplemental Second Lesson – Ephesians 6:10-20

We are at war but not against ourselves or other people. To whom are we at war?

We are at war against the devil and his well-organized army of demons.

How do we arm ourselves for this war?

We arm ourselves for this war by putting on the full armor of God so we can take our stand against Satan and his schemes. We also pray in the Spirit for ourselves and all God’s saints on earth.

Gospel – Luke 12:49-53

What misperception do many people have about Jesus and his work?

Many people think that Jesus came to bring world peace and social justice. Instead, Jesus points out in these verses that he and his teachings divide people into those who trust and worship him and those who don’t.

Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah 9. Why would he say that he did not come to bring peace?

Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and he did come to bring peace—but not worldly peace. Instead, Jesus came to bring peace between sinful human beings and his holy, heavenly Father; and through his life, death, and resurrection he has done just that. (See Romans 5:1.)

Why are Jesus and his teaching so divisive in our world?

Jesus and his teaching are divisive since he proclaims absolute truth. In fact, he is the absolute truth. (See John 14:6.) In a world filled with false ideas about “relative truth,” Jesus boldly states that we must either be for him or against him. (See Luke 11:23.) Either he is our Lord, or he is not. Neutrality is impossible. So there are two kinds of people worldwide. Families divide over Jesus too, as Christians find themselves needing to speak the truth in love and reject all falsehood. (On the impossibility of compromise: see 2 Corinthians 6:12–7:1.)

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Faith-Life Keeps Watching for the Lord

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

A 2011 Australian study found that after the age of 25, every hour of television reduced the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. (Yikes!) God’s warning for us all is far more dire than the old “slouch on the couch.” He says that by frittering time away, we could slide away from him and into eternal death. Conversely, how good it will be for those whom Jesus finds busy and watching for him when he reappears.

Traditional First Lesson – Genesis 15:1-6

What promise had the Lord made to Abram?

The Lord had promised that Abram would have a son in his old age, and that through his offspring he would become the father of many nations. Jesus was the offspring or seed to whom this promise ultimately referred. (See Galatians 3:16.) Abraham is the father of many nations because he is the father of all those who believe in Jesus, both Jew and Gentile. (See Romans 4:16-17.)

At this point in his life, how did Abram feel about the promise God had made him?

Abram was beginning to wonder whether God would keep his promise or whether he had himself misunderstood. His faith was being exercised!

What did the Lord do, and how did Abram respond?

The Lord reiterated his promise to Abram. He told him that a son from his own body would be his heir, and Abram believed the Lord. He waited patiently upon him.

Supplemental First Lesson – Haggai 1:2-14

How were the Jews of Haggai’s day doing financially? How can you tell? (See 1:6 and 1:10,11.)

The Jews of Haggai’s day were not doing well financially. They had planted much but harvested little. God had sent a drought because they had been busy with their houses, not with his house (the temple).

What did God want his people to do? (See 1:8.)

God wanted them to a) give careful thought to their ways and b) go get timber and finish building his house.

What attitude do we also need? (See 1:12.)

If we are going to be properly industrious while waiting for the Lord, it will stem from revering the Lord. Such fear of God comes from the Word of God.

Traditional Second Lesson – Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16

What is the scriptural definition of faith?

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” In other words, seeing is not believing. Instead, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Faith-life is exercised by waiting patiently upon the Lord.

How is Abraham such a wonderful example of faith?

The writer to the Hebrews points out the many times that Abraham trusted the Lord “even though” the visible evidence suggested he should not. (See 11:8,11)

Supplemental Second Lesson – Revelation 3:1-6

What reputation did the church in Sardis have? By contrast, what did Jesus think? (See 3:1.)

The church in Sardis had the reputation of being alive, but Jesus says they were dead.

In what way will Jesus come like a thief? (See 3:3.)

Like a thief, Jesus will come not only on a day we cannot predict, but at a time when we do not expect him. (See also Luke 12:40.)

Gospel – Luke 12:32-40

What attitude does Jesus encourage Christians to have about this world and the things of this world?

Christians should not be engrossed with the things of this world. Jesus goes so far as to suggest that we should sell our worldly possessions and give to the poor. The reason for Jesus’ encouragement is simple: the things of this world have no lasting worth. In time worldly things will all be exhausted, stolen, or destroyed. Why waste time on the constant pursuit of such things?

Instead of worldly things, with what should we concern ourselves?

Jesus repeatedly encourages us to set our hearts on the kingdom of God, on the eternal things that are in store for us in our heavenly home. He wants us to be ready when he comes again because he will only take those who have been waiting for him to be with him forever. They are like servants waiting by the door for their master to knock after a long journey.

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Faith-Life’s Riches Are Hidden With God

These are the readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Did you know that you are the richest person in the world? Are you saying to yourself: “I didn’t get that memo?” No, you didn’t win the lottery last night. Bill Gates didn’t die and leave you all his money. But the fact still remains that you are the richest person in the world, along with all others who have put their faith in Jesus as Savior. So where are our riches? They’re being stored in heaven for us, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). They may be hidden with God at this very moment, but that doesn’t mean they’re not ours at this very moment. God has promised them to us, and he will deliver!

First Lesson – Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:18-26

What attitude does Kings Solomon (assuming he is the author here) have about the things of this world?

Solomon calls the things of this world meaningless under the sun. We might also translate “vapor.” They go away quickly. Though Solomon was very rich, he knew how fleeting the things of this world really are.

Whom did Solomon recognize as the giver of all blessings, both worldly and eternal?

Solomon realized that everything was “from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” By Spirit-given faith in the risen Savior, a Christian comes to see that all of our riches are hidden with God.

Traditional Second Lesson – Colossians 3:1-11

Upon what does Paul encourage us to set our hearts and minds?

The apostle encourages us to set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things. Christians look forward to the day when Jesus will return, and the extent of our richness in him will be revealed. Until that time, our riches are hidden with him.

What attitude does Paul tell Christians to take toward things belonging to our “earthly nature”?

While the things and behaviors of this world might be tempting to our sinful flesh, Paul tells us to put them to death and to put on our new self, “which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” When Jesus returns, the new self will be fully restored.

Supplemental Second Lesson – James 5:1-11

Evidently, rich landowners in James’ day were cheating poor believers who worked in their fields. The owners paid low wages. What should we then think today?

We should remember James’ words. God has heard the cries of people being cheated. God will make oppressive unbelievers miserable when he takes away their wealth on the Last Day. Already, practically all their valuable things are corroded and ruined. They cannot last.

What main words of comfort does James offer to people going through financial troubles? (See especially 5:8 and 5:11.)

James reminds us that the Lord’s coming is near (5:8) and that even now the Lord is compassionate and merciful (5:11). Let us keep persevering, like Job and the prophets of old. Let us “keep on keeping on.”

Gospel – Luke 12:13-21

Jesus states that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In what does it consist?

Real-life—a Christian’s faith-life—consists of being “rich toward God” (12:21). Earthly possessions are fleeting and transient, but the heavenly riches that the Lord has stored up for us will last forever. (See 2 Timothy 4:8.) For now, those riches are hidden with God.

How does Jesus illustrate the truth of this principle?

Jesus illustrates his point by telling the parable of the rich fool. The rich fool believes that after attaining earthly wealth, he has nothing more to worry about or gain. Jesus calls him a fool because one day, he will face death, and all his worldly riches will become meaningless.

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Faith-Life Expresses Itself in Fervent Faith-Filled Prayer

These are the readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

God has given most people the wonderful gift of speech. Through words we communicate our thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Without words it would be much harder to express ourselves, a frustrating prospect! Our thoughts, ideas, and feelings need an outlet, and so does our faith-life! Faith looks for ways to express itself, and one way Christian faith does that is in fervent faith-filled prayer.

First Lesson – Genesis 18:20-32

When Abraham found out that the Lord was planning destruction for Sodom and Gomorrah, what did he do?

Abraham prayed to the Lord, asking him to spare the cities for the sake of righteous people who may have been living there. Abraham was especially concerned about his nephew Lot (whom God would, in fact, spare from the fiery destruction that fell on Sodom).

What does this story teach us about our life of Christian prayer?

Abraham shows us how bold and fervent we can and should be in our faith-filled prayers to the Lord because of his great mercy. Abraham “persuaded” the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if he found only ten righteous people in them. Therefore, when you pray, do not quit. Keep appealing to God’s mercy in Christ.

Traditional Second Lesson – Colossians 2:6-15

What encouragements does the apostle Paul give all Christians in verses 6-7?

Paul encourages us to continue to live in Christ Jesus as we are rooted and built up in him, strengthened in our faith and overflowing with thankfulness. Our faith and thankfulness can be especially expressed in a life of fervent, faith-filled prayer.

Why can we confidently put our trust in Christ for salvation and in our life of fervent prayer?

Paul tells us that we can be so confident in Christ because he is the “fullness of the Deity” living in bodily form. In other words, when we put our faith in Jesus, we are putting our faith in the only true God. When we address Jesus in prayer, we are addressing the only true God. The fervent, faith-filled prayer of the Christian is powerful indeed!

Supplemental Second Lesson – James 5:13-18

What does James say the people to whom he was first writing should do if they are sick?

He says they should ask church elders to come and pray over them and put olive oil on them. (Olive oil may have been soothing/medicinal and probably also brought with it a symbol of God’s blessing. That may be one reason elders were to bring it, rather than family or friends.)

What proof does James give that the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well?

To prove that God can and does answer prayer (sometimes dramatically), James gives the example of Elijah. He prayed, and God withheld rain for three years. He prayed again; God brought an end to the drought.

Gospel – Luke 11:1-13

With his illustration in verses 11:5-8, what is Jesus teaching us about our life of prayer? How should we pray?

With his illustration, Jesus is teaching us to be persistent in prayer. In the same way that the man in Jesus’ illustration continued to knock on his neighbor’s door until the neighbor got up to help him, we also should continue to approach the throne of God’s mercy with faith-filled prayers. Thankfully, our loving heavenly Father is much more ready to help us in our need than a grouchy, groggy neighbor!

What encouragement is Jesus giving us about our life of prayer in verses 9-13?

Jesus asserts that if most earthly fathers give their children good things (even though they are sinners), our perfectly loving heavenly Father will be much more likely take care of our every physical and spiritual need abundantly. God promises to work all things together for the eternal good of those who love him. (See Romans 8:28.)

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Faith-Life is Nourished Only Through God’s Gospel Promises

These are the readings for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Doctors sometimes tell sick, weak people to put on some weight. Their body needs proper nourishment. That is true, also, for our souls. Even after we become Christians through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, our faith-life needs daily nourishment to fight against the power of sin inside us and around us. And how is our faith-life nourished? Only through God’s gospel promises in Word and sacrament.

Traditional First Lesson – Genesis 18:1-14

What gospel promise does the Lord once again give to Abraham and Sarah?

The Lord assured this elderly couple that they would have a son within the year.

How did Sarah react, and why? How did Abraham react?

Sarah laughed because she couldn’t believe that such old people would be granted the blessing of a child. However, Abraham believed God, and his faith-life was nourished through the gospel promises. (See Romans 4:18-22.)

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Samuel 3:1-10

When young Samuel woke up and heard someone calling his name, who did he think was calling him?

Samuel thought Eli, the high priest, was calling to him at night.

What did Samuel say to the LORD when he realized who was calling to him?

Samuel said, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

Traditional Second Lesson – Colossians 1:21-29

What kind of relationship did the Colossians once have with God? How did that relationship change?

Paul says that the Colossians (yes, the entire sinful world) were once alienated from God because of sin. But we have been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. (See 1 John 2:2.)

What impact does the revelation of God’s gospel promises have on sinful people?

When the “mystery [a hidden reality] of God,” namely that in Christ God loves and has forgiven all people unconditionally, is revealed to us through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in Word and sacrament, our faith-life is nourished by God’s gospel promises.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Colossians 3:12-17

First Paul tells us to love others, be thankful, etc. Then he tells us to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. What is the connection, probably?

The connection between us loving others, being thankful, etc., and the word of Christ dwelling in us richly is that we will only do the actions in the first group if the word of Christ dwells in us richly. God’s good news in Christ is the power plant for energy to love God and others.

Paul does not picture a group of people sitting passively as one person reads and applies God’s Word to them. What does Paul picture, instead?

Paul is not telling us it is wrong for a pastor to preach to a congregation of Christians, but Paul also envisions Christians teaching and warning each other with all wisdom as we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to each other—all in connection with God’s grace.

Gospel – Luke 10:38-42

When Jesus came to visit their home, with what did Mary and Martha busy themselves, respectively?

Martha busied herself with preparing a meal for Jesus, while Mary busied herself with sitting at Jesus’ feet for the nourishment of her faith-life.

According to Jesus, which sister made better use of her time?

When Martha became upset at Mary, Jesus told Martha that her sister had chosen the more necessary thing.

True or false: Jesus is suggesting that work is a waste of our time.

False. Jesus is simply pointing out that the nourishment of our faith-life through the gospel is far more necessary than worrying about earthly needs. (See Matthew 6:25-34.) Work is a blessing from God as we are given the opportunity to serve him and one another in unselfish love. Martha showed her selfishness when she became angry at Mary. Instead she should have graciously accepted the task of preparing the meal by herself without any thought of what Mary was doing! Instead of being angry at Mary, she should have rejoiced that Mary was being granted such a wonderful opportunity to be nourished through the gospel.

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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Faith-Life Reveals Itself in Love for Others

These are the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

We cannot see into other people’s hearts, but we can discern Christian faith by its fruits in words and actions. God tells us that love, joy, peace, patience, and more make up the fruit of faith. (See Galatians 5:22,23.) If we truly have crossed over from death to life, it will show in love for others, as James has written: “I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

Traditional First Lesson – Deuteronomy 30:9-14

What summary of God’s law does Moses give the children of Israel in these verses?

Moses summarizes the law as obedience to God and his commandments. All of God’s commandments can be summarized in one word: love. (See Mark 12:28-34; Romans 13:8-10.)

In light of verses 11-14, what do many people seem to think they have to do in order to please the Lord God?

These verses suggest that many people have thought the Lord is “too difficult” to please, that he requires all kinds of heroic acts on our part. But Moses argues with that false idea: “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it.” Simply put, God wants us to love him and one another.

Supplemental First Lesson – Deuteronomy 24:17-22

In general, how did God command the children of Israel to treat foreigners, orphans, and widows?

God commanded the Israelites to treat foreigners, orphans, and widows with kindness and generosity.

Twice God gives a simple reason for such commands. What is that reason?

God told the Israelites to be kind and generous to those in need because the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt.

Traditional Second Lesson – Colossians 1:1-14

Why did Paul have reason to thank God for the Colossians?

Paul thanked God for the Colossians because he had heard of their wonderful faith-life, which revealed itself in love.

What prayer did Paul continuously pray on behalf of the Colossians?

Paul’s prayer was that the Colossians might be built up even more in their faith, that they “may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way” (verse 10). Paul teaches that love is a natural consequence of faith.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Romans 12:9-21

When others mistreat us, what should we not do? Why not? (See 12:19.)

We should not take revenge. If someone harms us, revenge is God’s job. He will repay.

What should we do then, according to Paul? (See 12:20,21.)

We should overcome evil with good. Specifically, if our enemy is hungry, we should feed him. If our enemy is thirsty, we should give him something to drink. By doing this, Paul says, we will heap burning coals on our enemy’s head. (This picture seems to mean causing one’s enemy to feel ashamed of his or her conduct in comparison to the kindness shown to him or her.)

Gospel – Luke 10:25-37

What is the first reason why Jesus told this story? (See Luke 10:29a.)

Jesus told this story first to counteract the way we all want to justify ourselves. We have not kept God’s law!

Why were the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable unwilling to help the man victimized by robbers?

The priest and Levite seem to have been more concerned about their service in the temple, which would bring them honor, than they were concerned about the fulfillment of God’s will, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Self-love trumped love of others. True God-given faith-life reveals itself in sacrificing for others.

What is surprising about the Samaritan’s willingness to help this Jewish man, and what do his actions teach us about true Christian love?

The Samaritan’s willingness to help would have been a surprising twist to Jesus’ listeners and a slap in the face to many Jews of Jesus’ day. Most Jews looked down on their Samaritan cousins, thinking of them as unreligious half-breeds. But the Samaritan’s actions model Christ’s own love, which selflessly serves others—even an enemy. (See Matthew 5:43-48.)

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Sends Out Seventy-Two Men to Proclaim Peace

These are the readings for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

“Peace” or “shalom” (Hebrew) is more than the absence of hostility between God and us. It is wholeness in every way, bought by the blood of Christ. Today’s lessons show the part we all have in proclaiming God’s peace near and far.

Traditional First Lesson – Isaiah 66:10-14

By picturing Jerusalem as our mother, what does Isaiah say Jerusalem will do for us? (See 66:12.)

Jerusalem, that is, God’s church of all believers in Jesus everywhere, will give us continuous, overflowing comfort and peace through the good news of our Lord Jesus.

When we see God’s comfort, what will we do? (See 66:14.)

When we see God’s comfort in Christ, we will rejoice and flourish as we see God’s power at work. Still, he will show his fury to his foes.

Supplemental First Lesson – 1 Kings 17:1-16

When many Israelites turned to Baal, the storm god, in what two ways did God punish them? (See 17:1-3.)

God judged and punished his Israelite people by a) sending no rain (not even any dew) for several years and by taking his spokesman Elijah away from them so that they received no messages from the Lord.

A Canaanite woman helped Elijah, though, and saw a miracle. List several surprises in this part of the story.

It is surprising that a Canaanite woman, not an Israelite, helped Elijah. And how she helped! “It is difficult to know which to wonder most at: Elijah’s calmness, consistency, and readiness of faith; or the widow’s almost incredible simplicity of trustfulness” (Alfred Edersheim).

Traditional Second Lesson – Galatians 6:1-10,14-16

In what practical way would we fulfill the law of Christ? (See 6:2.)

By carrying each other’s burdens, we will fulfill the law of Christ.

When Paul says, “a man reaps what he sows,” what does he mean? (See 6:8.)

Paul means that certain actions naturally lead to corresponding results. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

In what alone will we boast? (See 6:14.)

We pray that we may never boast of anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to us, and we to the world.

Supplemental Second Lesson – Philippians 4:10-20

What secret had Paul learned? (See 4:12 especially.)

Paul had learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance.

In 4:13, Paul does not mean that all of us can be world-class violinists or swimmers. What does he mean?

Paul means, as a Greek expert has put it, “As to every circumstance, I am strong in him who strengthens me.” Paul is strong in the Lord Jesus, not in himself.

What promise did Paul give to those who had helped him? (See 4:19.)

Paul promised the generous Philippians (and us), “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Gospel – Luke 10:1–12,16–20

How did Jesus make the seventy-two men whom he sent out the answer to their own prayer? (See 10:1-4.)

Jesus made the seventy-two the answer to their own prayer for more workers in the Lord’s harvest by sending them out on a tour of the towns ahead of him in Judea. (In line with our individual gifts, Jesus also will make us the answer to our own prayers for more workers.)

When we listen to our pastor or someone similar announce the forgiveness of all our sins—or, God forbid the opposite—to whom are we listening? (See 10:6.)

When we listen to our pastor or someone else announce that our sins have been forgiven or are retained, we are listening to Jesus himself. Those words are “as valid and certain,” Luther says in our catechism, “in heaven also, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself.”

In what did Jesus say not to rejoice? In what did he say to rejoice? (See 10:20.)

Jesus said not to rejoice that evil spirits submit to us as we share the gospel but to rejoice that our own names are written in heaven.

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Sets His Face for the Place He will Die

These are the readings for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost.

God’s Word for This Week

Following seems easy. We just go behind the person in front of us. But following Jesus daily for our whole lives requires endurance. It is a struggle between our old and new selves.

Traditional First Lesson – 1 Kings 19:14-21

Why did Elijah despair? (See 19:14.)

Elijah despaired because he felt he had been very zealous for the Lord Almighty, but the Israelites had totally rejected God. He thought he was the only prophet left, and now the Israelites were trying to kill him too.

Besides giving him vital work to do in commissioning others to serve the Lord, how else did the Lord comfort Elijah? (See 19:18.)

The other way the Lord comforted Elijah was by assuring him that he had reserved 7,000 other believers in Israel.

Supplemental First Lesson – Jonah 3:3–4:4

When Jonah finally got to the city where God had sent him and preached there, the people of Nineveh believed God. When he saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, what did God do? (See 3:10.)

When God saw how the Ninevites repented and turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

How angry was Jonah as a result?

Jonah was so angry at God’s patience and mercy—which Jonah knew by heart from God’s description of himself in Exodus 34:6,7—that Jonah got irate. He told God he wanted to die. He refused to answer God when God asked him if he had a right to be so upset. (How similar we can be to Jonah! How opposite Jesus was!)

Traditional Second Lesson – Galatians 5:1,13-25

For what did Jesus set us free? (See 5:1.)

Jesus set us free for freedom—freedom from guilt and the oppression of having to keep God’s whole law; freedom from the demands of the law given just to the Jews of old on Mount Sinai.

How will we want to use our freedom? (See 5:13.)

We will want to use our blood-bought freedom not to indulge our flesh but to serve one another in love.

What happened when we were baptized and brought to faith in Christ? (See verse 24.)

When we were baptized and brought to faith in Christ, we crucified our sinful flesh with its passions and desires.

Supplemental Second Lesson – 2 Corinthians 11:21b-30

When Paul compared himself to the “super-apostles” in Corinth, he did not list all his success. What did he list?

Paul listed as his credentials all the trials he had gone through, including imprisonment, frequent floggings, and many dangers. He had often been near death.

What other constant pressure did Paul feel? (See 11:28.)

Paul also felt daily pressure of his concern for all the Christians in the churches he had helped start and had visited. When the people were weak, he felt weak. When believers fell into sin, it tore Paul up inside.

About what, then, did Paul boast? (See 11:30-32.)

Paul boasted about his weakness, not his strengths. Final case in point: Paul began his ministry by narrowly escaping death in Damascus.

Gospel – Luke 9:51-62

As the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, what did he do? (See 9:51.)

As the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Literally, he “fixed his face for Jerusalem.” He was determined to die for us.

Why didn’t one Samaritan village welcome Jesus? (See 9:53.)

The people of the Samaritan village did not welcome Jesus because he was heading for Jerusalem. Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day usually had a strong dislike for each other. (Yet Jesus had mercy on these people.)

What is the main point for us, as Jesus talks with three men separately about following him? (See 9:57–62.)

The main point for us, as Jesus talks with three men about following him, is full dedication to Jesus and his kingdom. Halfway? No way.

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