Monday, November 30, 2020
Friday, November 20, 2020
The Steadfastness of Job
There are false teachers who teach that if you believe firmly enough in God nothing bad will ever happen to you. Try that out on Job. He suffered not because he didn’t believe enough but because he did believe. He trusted in God. He was righteous before God through faith in God’s promises. That is precisely why Job suffered. God wanted to make an example of Job, to show that Job trusted in God’s Word and not simply in all the blessings God gave him.
So one by one God lifted his protective hand from Job and permitted the devil to take away his possessions, his family, his dignity, his health. The only thing God wouldn’t let the devil touch was Job’s life. But Job didn't know that. Only we, the readers of the book of Job, know that. To all appearances, it looked to Job as if God had become his enemy. And yet Job trusted in God even when God appeared to have abandoned him and seemed to turn against him.
That’s the kind of faith that these last days of the world call for: the faith of Job that stubbornly sticks to the promises of God no matter what, come what may. It is a faith that is firmly grounded in God’s Word, a faith that knows the difference between God’s commands and His promises, a faith that clings to the cross of Christ against sin, death, and hell even when sin, death, and hell are in our own backyard and threatening to knock down the door.
St. James wrote: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:7-11).
Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, because of Your tender love toward us sinners You have given us Your Son that, believing in Him, we might have everlasting life. Continue to grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may remain steadfast in this faith to the end and finally come to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Thursday, November 19, 2020
What Jesus Sees
And ended death’s long reign,
Who healed the sick and raised the dead
And bore our grief and pain:
We know our years on earth are few,
That death is always near.
Come now to us, O Lord of Life;
Bring hope that conquers fear!
Knelt down before Your feet:
“My precious daughter’s gripped by death!
Come now and death defeat!”
A multitude had gathered round
To hear the truth You taught,
But, leaving them, You turned to help
A father sore distraught.
Whose limbs with death grew cold.
“She is not dead; she only sleeps!”
The weeping folk You told.
And then You took her hand and called,
“My child, I bid you rise!”
She rose! And all stood round You, Lord,
With awed and wond’ring eyes!
And bears us toward the tomb.
Death’s dark’ning cloud hangs like a pall
That threatens earth with doom.
But You have broken death’s embrace
And torn away its sting.
Restore to life our mortal race!
Raise us, O Risen King! Amen.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Rendering to God and Caesar
Matthew 22:15-22 (ESV) Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
In the Gospel reading for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity, the Pharisees were flattering Jesus, hoping to trap Him in His own words by fawning over Him. They said, quite insincerely, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” Ironically, all of that was true, though the Pharisees hoped that when Jesus heard those things He would be made to trip up, play the hypocrite, and give them cause for bringing public charges against Him and discrediting His movement.
Their entrapment goes like this: “Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
If Jesus were to answer, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” then He would have alienated Jewish nationalists who wanted independence from Rome for Israel and who said that God alone was their King, to whom they owed tribute. Jesus would have lost support of the people by saying, “Yes.”
If Jesus were to answer, “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” then He would have pleased the nationalists but would have been guilty of sedition, incitement of resistance to lawful authority. This would have made Jesus an enemy of Caesar, which surely would have caused Him to lose His head.
So Jesus appeared to be trapped. But then He called their hand, and their hypocrisy. “Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought Him a denarius.”
Obviously they were not opposed to using pagan money, because they had some on hand.
“And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.”
Jesus simply speaks the truth. He offers a brilliant answer that springs Him from the trap set by the Pharisees and makes them look like fools, simply by being honest and true to God’s Word. No doubt, this reveals Jesus as a master teacher, clever, and wise as a serpent while innocent as a dove. He upholds the Fourth and First Commandments: we are to give to the government what is owed to the government, and we are to give back to God what is owed to Him.
But there is something far more profound in Jesus’ words than the simple teaching that we owe taxes and obedience to the government, and total obedience to God. Jesus here describes His own way of life.
In His life, Jesus never broke the Fourth Commandment, which requires obedience to Caesar. That would have been sin. Even when He was unjustly convicted and sentenced to death by Caesar’s government, He did not protest. Because of that conviction, the life of Jesus was owed to Caesar, and He willingly gave it up on the cross. Jesus did not resist, but knew that through Caesar’s unjust execution, He would die for the sins of all people of all time.
But even more profoundly, Jesus rendered to God the things that are God’s. He always rendered perfect, unwavering trust, love, and obedience to His Father. He did not doubt His Father’s love, did not forsake His Father’s will, did not place His confidence in anyone else than in God alone. As He died, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).
Just as Adam’s sin caused all of us to be sinners and receive the sentence of temporal and eternal death, so now Christ’s perfect obedience has caused all of us to be declared righteous, as St. Paul wrote: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Just as Adam’s sin happened only once but its effects span the ages, so also Christ’s death has an eternal impact. The Epistle to the Hebrews (10:12) says, “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” A single sacrifice for all the hypocritical sins of all times, and that forgiveness has been accomplished for you, too.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessèd is the man who takes refuge in him!
What shall I render to the Lord
for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord! Amen.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Maintaining the Temple
For it is my worship home.
This earth has no better place,
Here I see my Savior’s face.
I through Him become Your child.
Abba, Father, give me grace
In Your courts Your love to trace.
Touch my lips, unloose my tongue
That my joyful soul may bless
Christ the Lord, my righteousness.
God of love, to mine attend.
Hear me, for Your Spirit pleads;
Hear, for Jesus intercedes.
Fill my soul with humble awe
Till Your Gospel bring to me
Life and immortality.
Peace and pardon in Your name,
Through their voice, by faith, may I
Hear You speaking from the sky.
May my heart within me burn,
And at evening let me say,
“I have walked with God today.” Amen.
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
You taught us, Lord, to pray;
But You alone can grant us grace
To live the words we say.
The unforgiving heart
That broods on wrongs and will not let
Old bitterness depart?
The truth we dimly knew:
What trivial debts are owed to us,
How great our debt to You!
And bid resentment cease;
Then, bound to all in bonds of love,
Our lives will spread Your peace. Amen.
Friday, November 6, 2020
Out of the Great Tribulation
Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV) After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Though it grieves our flesh, one of the tasks the Lord has given us to is to suffer, experiencing trials and tribulations, and remain patient and faithful in the midst of suffering. This contradicts the popular misconception that becoming a Christian means that you’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise, and you will have your best life now. Rather listen to what Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus tells us of a particularly rich blessing when we suffer precisely because we are Christians. This is most clearly seen when we are scorned for confessing our faith, but it also includes the quiet witness shown by Christians as they suffer all the trials of this life and yet remain faithful. Though the world shouts at us, “God is dead. If He were real, and if He really loved you, then you wouldn’t suffer the way you do.” This is being reviled for the sake of Christ, because the world thinks that being a child of God means to have every blessing in this life, but we learn from the life of our Lord that being God’s child—being a saint—doesn’t mean cruising through life pain-free, but the opposite is the case: children of God suffer because their Lord suffered.
When St. John saw the saints in heaven, the elder told him, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” We are in the great tribulation right now. Our consciences plague us because of sin. Our bodies cry out for relief from pain and illness. Our spirits are broken by grief as we lose one loved one after another. Our souls cringe and whimper as they face the prospect of dying and facing God’s judgment. Those tribulations are real, and Satan wants to point us to them and convince us to renounce our Lord Jesus. But find strength in this: you have washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb by being baptized, absolved, or fed the body and blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus is what turns away God’s wrath against your sin, and that eliminates from your future the eternal tribulation of hell.
In the meantime, as we live in the great tribulation of this miserable world, the Lord Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. Just as Jesus never wavered or gave up hope in His Father even on the cross, when He was dying for the sin of the world, so also the Lord Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him in order to strengthen their faith in the midst of trials and temptations. Jesus gives us His own body and blood as a certain pledge that He is 100% with us to protect us from the devil’s assaults. Jesus and the Spirit intercede to the Father on our behalf, uttering effective prayers that preserve you in the Christian faith even when attacked by sin, death, and hell.
Prayer: O Lord God, heavenly Father, we give You thanks that of Your great goodness and mercy Your only-begotten Son became incarnate to redeem us from sin and everlasting death. Enlighten our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that we may forever give You thanks for Your grace and be strengthened in all times of tribulation and temptation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.