Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 9

 David's Righteousness

2 Samuel 22:1-4, 26-34 (ESV) And David spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies… With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down. For you are my lamp, O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.”

The Old Testament reading for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (2 Samuel 22:26-34) is a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord from King David, after the Lord has given him deliverance from his enemies. It is a variant of Psalm 18, also ascribed to King David.

Looked at from a historical perspective, this Psalm seems like pure fiction, since David says, “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight” (2 Samuel 22:25). What a howler! Just ten chapters earlier, we had seen the sorry story of David and Bathsheba, when his unclean, lustful heart led him first to commit adultery and then to the unrighteous murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. This event led not to reward for David but for a curse on his household. In addition, David comes across as a weak, pathetic father and ruler on numerous subsequent occasions.

However, the Old Testament is more than just a historical text, while remaining no less than that. God’s Word is about theology, about who God is and how He deals with His people. After the Lord had sent the prophet Nathan to confront David over his sin, David confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Then Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). In other words, David’s righteousness is not of works but from the Lord’s forgiveness.

Psalm 51 is the appointed Psalm for Trinity 9, the prayer for forgiveness David prayed after his plunge into sin. Psalm 32 is another penitential Psalm of David, which St. Paul quotes in Romans 4:5-8 in order to teach the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works of the Law: “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”

This is the righteousness and cleanness David—and all believers—possess: not a righteousness and cleanness of works, but one received by grace through faith, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

In his commentary on Psalm 51, Dr. Luther says, “The proper subject of theology is man guilty of sin and condemned, and God the Justifier and Savior of man the sinner. Whatever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject, is error and poison” (Luther’s Works 12: 311). While historical study involves the evaluation of people’s works, theological study involves the acknowledgment that all men are sinners but that God has sent Christ to justify and save us through His blood and righteousness.

Indeed, 2 Samuel 22 (and Psalm 18) aren’t primarily about King David but about the Son of David, Jesus Christ: “For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever” (2 Samuel 22:50–51). The word translated “anointed” here is mashiyach, the Hebrew word from which we get “Messiah” in English. This Psalm—like all the Scriptures—is only completely fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah (aka Christ, from the Greek christos, the equivalent of mashiyach).

Prayer: God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we give You thanks for David who, through the Psalter, gave Your people hymns to sing with joy in our worship on earth so that we may glimpse Your beauty. Bring us to the fulfillment of that hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Monday of Trinity 9

 The Way of Escape

1 Corinthians 1:1-17 (ESV) For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

The Epistle for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (1 Corinthians 10:6-13) highlights major pitfalls on the Christian journey through life that can disqualify us, destroy us in the wilderness before we reach the Promised Land. St. Paul lists four of them as examples.

The first pitfall is idolatry: that is, placing anyone or anything before the Lord—for example, the Israelites put partying, playing, and leisure ahead of God; they valued the pleasures of this life above disciplined service to the Lord.

The second pitfall is sexual immorality; notice how thousands of Israelites died for their sexual sins. This is reinforced in the New Testament, which says, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). That is a grave threat against all sexual sin.

The third pitfall is putting Christ to the test, which is, according to Exodus 17:7, being faithless and asking, “Is the LORD among us or not?”, that is, doubting His gracious care over your life.

And the fourth pitfall is grumbling, being discontent with the life that God has given you. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).

Examine your life, and repent of all the ensnaring sins that keep dragging you down. But as you think about these sins, remember that St. Paul isn’t saying that these are unforgivable sins—if you have committed them or are caught up in them right now, it is not too late to repent.

Yet Paul is warning that these are deadly sins because they can destroy faith in Christ. But take heart! St. Paul goes on to say, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

In spite of the popularity of the expression, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” His Word never actually says that! What He does promise, however, is much better: The “way of escape” from temptation is in your Lord and Savior. He is your only hope in this life and for the next.

When you are tempted to self-righteousness and sins of the flesh, pray to the Lord for His help to overcome the temptation, as Dr. Luther says in the Large Catechism, “Take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and speak to God from the heart like this: ‘Dear Father, You have asked me to pray. Don’t let me fall because of temptations.’ Then you will see that the temptations must stop and finally confess themselves conquered” (Large Catechism III, Sixth Petition).

But when you have given in to any temptation and have sinned against your gracious Lord, turn in repentance to the Gospel, turn to your Baptism into Christ, turn to Confession and Absolution, turn to the Sacrament of the Altar where Christ gives you His true body and true blood under the bread and wine, given and shed for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

In one of the catechisms produced at the time of the Reformation in the 1500s, this question is posed: “How is our faith strengthened in adversity and comforted in temptation? Answer: by the Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Lord’s altar is a place we can flee in times of affliction and temptation. Our Lord is there for us with forgiveness, healing, and comfort. The real presence of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in our mouths is the greatest weapon we can wield against the real presence of Satan in this world to tempt us.

Come to think of it, why do you suppose St. Paul promises that God will give a way of escape in the face of temptation and then immediately proceeds to talk about the Lord’s Supper? Don’t neglect this life-giving gift!


Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, through Your Son You have promised us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Govern our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that in our daily need, and especially in all time of temptation, we may seek Your help and, by a true and lively faith in Your Word, obtain all that You have promised; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Saturday of Trinity 8

 Suffering to Be Glorified

Romans 8:12-17 (ESV) So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Epistle Reading for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity)

The second type of soil Jesus describes in the parable of the four types of soil (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21) is when the seed falls on rocky ground with only a thin layer of topsoil, which springs up quickly but whose roots cannot go deep enough to get sufficient water and nutrients, so the sun quickly kills it. Jesus explains, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”

This situation involves a shallow faith in Jesus, one that says, “Oh, Jesus is great, I love Jesus,” and maintains enthusiasm as long as times are good, as long as he does not face any challenges or trials. I am afraid that many Christians who buy into the health, wealth, and success theology of false teachers like Joel Osteen end up burning out when times get tough. Contrary to teachers who would make the Christian life out to be a cakewalk with a heavenly conclusion, Jesus says we may be persecuted for His sake (Matthew 5:11). St. Paul encouraged the Christians at Antioch to continue in the faith but also said “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Tribulation does not sound like a blessing, but Paul comforts us in the Trinity 8 Epistle reading by saying, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Suffering and trials precede glory, just as they did for Jesus and Paul. This is God’s will for Christ and for us, and that is God’s gracious working in our lives, for our good. Tribulations call our rocky soil to repentance. So we should not have any false understanding of the Christian life: it will be filled with troubles, and the Gospel does not include a provision for great wealth, perfect health, and emotional happiness.

In fact, health, wealth, and happiness can choke God’s Word in our lives and snuff it out. The third situation Jesus describes in the parable is the seeds that fell among thorns. After the plants grew up the thorns choked and killed them. Jesus explains, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

One theme that resounds throughout the Bible is the deceitfulness of riches and worldly pleasures. If we place the accumulation of wealth or personal happiness before the Word of God, we will be choked to eternal death through these fleshly things. As St. Paul says in our Epistle, “If you live according to the flesh you will die.” The flesh describes all of our sinful ventures for worldly success and happiness that take the place of God’s Word in our lives. That doesn’t only include money. Anything we put ahead of God’s Word becomes an idol, or a thorn. Worrying about day to day things like food and clothing is just as thorny as greed. So the thorn-infested soil calls us to repentance as well.

Jesus concludes the parable, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23). May the Lord always grant us grace to be good, fruitful soil!

Prayer (LSB 685: 2, 4):

Let us suffer here with Jesus

    And with patience bear our cross.

Joy will follow all our sadness;

    Where He is, there is no loss.

Though today we sow no laughter,

    We shall reap celestial joy;

    All discomforts that annoy

Shall give way to mirth hereafter.

    Jesus, here I share Your woe;

    Help me there Your joy to know.

 

Let us also live with Jesus.

    He has risen from the dead

That to life we may awaken.

    Jesus, You are now our head.

We are Your own living members;

    Where You live, there we shall be

    In Your presence constantly,

Living there with You forever.

    Jesus, let me faithful be,

    Life eternal grant to me. Amen.


Friday, August 7, 2020

Friday of Trinity 8

 Like a Hammer

Jeremiah 23:16-29 (ESV) Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ ” For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” [Old Testament Reading for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity] 

The fact that there are so many false prophets in the world is not surprising, given what Jeremiah himself wrote about the human heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is especially true of those who delude themselves with false doctrine: “They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 7:12).

In fact, the hearts of all sinners are “desperately sick” and “diamond-hard” and refuse to hear the Word of the Lord because all people are “by nature children of wrath” and “dead in our trespasses” (Ephesians 2:3, 5). In Ezekiel 36:25-28 the prophet predicts the day when, in Holy Baptism, the Lord sprinkles us with clean water and gives us “a new heart,” removing the “heart of stone” and giving us “a heart of flesh,” with His Spirit in us, causing us to believe and walk according to His Word. He makes us His people, and promises to be our God, by grace—for left to nature, our hearts would still be “diamond-hard.”

Even after receiving a “new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26), sometimes our hearts become rocky and resistant to the Lord’s will. In such times, God speaks His Law to us, which is “like a hammer” (Jeremiah 23:29). Martin Luther commented, “This is God’s thunderbolt. By the Law He strikes down both obvious sinners and false saints. He declares no one to be in the right, but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer. As Jeremiah says, ‘Is not My word like … a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’ (23:29). This is not active contrition or manufactured repentance. It is passive contrition, true sorrow of heart, suffering, and the sensation of death” (Concordia, 272).

But at that moment He also sends the Gospel, telling us that “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). He reassures us that righteousness cannot be achieved by the Law, but Christ’s righteousness is freely given in the Gospel, to be received by faith. “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says… ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:5-6, 8-10).

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 8

Foolish Hearts Cleansed by God's Wisdom

Mark 7:14-23 (ESV) Jesus called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Jesus has great news for you! You face the constant accusations of health experts and the news media about how bad it is to eat cheeseburgers or how ashamed you should be about indulging in a slice of cheesecake or how guilty you should feel about trying out that chicken fried banana at the county fair. But Jesus calls all foods clean, all foods morally neutral: “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him,” Jesus says, and that includes Blue Bell and blood sausage.

In moderation, of course. Gluttony is still a sin, whether you gorge yourself on tofu or tamales. But concerning what sort of foods you eat, don’t let anyone get into your conscience, the way that the Jews in Jesus’ day had. The Pharisees would let a matter as simple as the man-made tradition of ceremonial hand-washing be a factor for being right with God, so Jesus lambasted Pharisees of all times and places for elevating human tradition while ignoring God’s Word.

But what matters for our consciences is far more serious than dietary rules. Jesus said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And Jesus was not saying that bodily functions that come out of us defile us; no, He is clear that what defiles us, what makes us impure and unclean before Him, is not foods but a wicked heart and its wicked thoughts, words, and deeds. Those things must matter to our consciences.

Your heart is the source of all your sin, and it is the culprit that provokes God’s wrath. Jesus says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Some preachers tell you to give your heart to Jesus, but based on His description here, why in the world would He want it? He wouldn’t. Our foolish hearts are not fit for His holy presence. In fact, placing our corrupted hearts in the presence of God is like throwing gasoline into a fire—total destruction for the gasoline or our hearts.

Let us then repent and have our foolish hearts cleansed by the wisdom of God! St. Paul wrote, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God…And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24, 30-31).

This is no worldly sort of wisdom that can be acquired from the voice of experts, but a heavenly wisdom that sounds foolish to the worldly wise. For Christ, who is our wisdom from God, is our righteousness that shields us from God’s wrath because “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Christ is our redemption because He “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him,” Jesus says, but there is something outside a person that by going into him can cleanse him. As the Gospel is proclaimed into our ears, the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts, cleansing our hearts by faith (Acts 15:9). As the Absolution of Christ is spoken into your conscience, it drives out the accusations of all laws, and creates in you new hearts and right spirits. As the waters of Holy Baptism poured forth from Jesus’ pierced side, the love of God was poured into your heart “through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5), given to all of us who are baptized. And while no foods can defile us any longer, there is a food that can and does purify and sanctify our sinful hearts, the pierced body and poured out blood of our Lord Jesus given to us under the bread and wine.

Prayer (LSB 709):

1. The King of love my shepherd is,

    Whose goodness faileth never;

I nothing lack if I am His

    And He is mine forever.

 

2. Where streams of living water flow,

    My ransomed soul He leadeth

And, where the verdant pastures grow,

    With food celestial feedeth.

 

3. Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,

    But yet in love He sought me

And on His shoulder gently laid

    And home rejoicing brought me.

 

4. In death’s dark vale I fear no ill

    With Thee, dear Lord, beside me,

Thy rod and staff my comfort still,

    Thy cross before to guide me.

 

5. Thou spreadst a table in my sight;

    Thine unction grace bestoweth;

And, oh, what transport of delight

    From Thy pure chalice floweth!

 

6. And so through all the length of days

    Thy goodness faileth never;

Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise

    Within Thy house forever! Amen.


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wednesday of Trinity 8

Signs of the Covenants

Genesis 9:1-17 (ESV) And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

God makes a covenant with Noah, his descendants, and every living creature never to destroy life and the earth with a flood again. Some covenants are two-way contracts, in which both parties have obligations to fulfill. However, it is ridiculous to think that animals could ratify or abide by the terms of a covenant. Therefore, it seems that God made this covenant even with the animals to show that the covenant with Noah and all humanity is one-sided, with God taking all the action.

Like God’s covenant with Abraham, then, the Noahic covenant is a set of promises to which God binds Himself, not dependent on human works. When it comes to our salvation, God’s covenants are always one-sided. He is the Giver; we receive His promises in faith. That is the nature of faith: an empty palm that the Lord fills with His goodness!

God attaches a sign to His covenant, the rainbow. Words can easily be forgotten, but when words of promise are attached to a visible sign, the promise is easier to remember and assurance is given that God is kind and merciful.

God has always graciously worked through visible signs in the Old Testament and the New. After the Flood, the rainbow appeared in order to provide proof that God would not subject the world to a similar punishment. God has given Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the Church as visible signs of grace, so that we may know where to find God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation. Unlike the rainbow, however, the New Testament means of grace are active and effective signs. They do not just give assurance of the forgiveness of sins, but they actually forgive the sins of those who receive them.

In Genesis 9:4, God tells Noah, “You must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” This verse is the first of many in the Bible that prohibit the consumption of blood (Leviticus 3:17, Deuteronomy 12:15-16, and others). Here, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, blood is equated with the life of the living being. This fact about blood help us understand the significance of the true presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Until Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, the consumption of blood was absolutely forbidden because it would be taking the life of the eaten object. Yet under the New Covenant (or better, the New Testament), with Christ, we can and should drink His blood—which has already been sacrificed for our sins—in, with, and under the wine. And we drink it precisely because there is life in His blood!

When we partake of the Sacrament, we receive the body given on the cross as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sin of the world; we receive the blood that was shed for our forgiveness; and we share in the resurrected life in Christ’s blood. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (Small Catechism). “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).


Prayer (LSB 575):

1. My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

No merit of my own I claim

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

         

2. When darkness veils His lovely face,

I rest on His unchanging grace;

In ev’ry high and stormy gale

My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

3. His oath, His covenant and blood

Support me in the raging flood;

When ev’ry earthly prop gives way,

He then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

4. When He shall come with trumpet sound,

Oh, may I then in Him be found,

Clothed in His righteousness alone,

Redeemed to stand before His throne!

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand. Amen.


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 8

Learning from the Flood

Genesis 7:1-5 (ESV) Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.

In December 2004, a tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people in Southeast Asia. In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast underwater, and took more than a thousand lives. Hurricane Harvey, in 2017, had fewer than a hundred fatalities, but its devastation of the Texas coastal region was astonishing.

However, no matter how devastating the tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey were, they cannot even begin to compare to the great Flood and the decimation of the world’s population.

One might protest: “It seems so cruel that God would destroy all those people and animals in the Flood. How could He choose to save only eight people and still be a good God?” How would you respond to a friend who said this?

This is a tough question, but perhaps a response like this would be a place to start: We know that the wages of sin is death, and that all have sinned and deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment. In Noah’s time, everyone was guilty, including Noah and his family. Yet Noah and his family had received the gift of faith, and God had forgiven their sins and declared them righteous. The rest of the world had not repented and had grown indifferent to God. So God was fully justified in bringing their lives to an end.

This does seem cruel to human reason, but in the face of this we must confess, based on Scripture, that God is just and good, and those people had rejected His righteousness and goodness. Moreover, it is never for us to question why some people are saved and others are not. We know from God’s Word that He desires that all people be saved, but we also know that He lets Himself be rejected. Since only God knows the answer to this paradox, we must let Him be God and trust that He will work everything for the good of those who love Him.

Above all, what we should learn from the Flood account is what Jesus teaches: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:36-42).

The wicked were going about business as usual when the Flood came. There was nothing inherently wrong with marrying and eating and drinking, since these are just necessities of life; but since the people were set in their sinful ways and lacked faith in God, they were not included in the promise to Noah.

Today, the wicked go about their business as usual with no regard for God or His final judgment. They perform sinful, perverted acts with no fear of consequences. When we see Christian brothers and sisters participating in the deeds of unbelievers, such as drunkenness, sexual immorality, and lying, we should warn them that they are putting themselves in great danger by willfully disobeying God’s Law and embracing the world’s wickedness. While Christians are always in the world, they should emulate Noah and not be of the world.

We will, of course, face trials and temptations in the world, but God’s dealings with Noah are a pledge that He will also see us through such trials: “For if God did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:5, 9-10).

Prayer (“The Flood Prayer”):

Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, yet led Your people Israel through the water on dry ground, foreshadowing this washing of Your Holy Baptism. Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. We pray that You would behold us all according to Your boundless mercy and bless us with true faith by the Holy Spirit, that through this saving flood all sin in us, which has been inherited from Adam and which we ourselves have committed since, would be drowned and die. Grant that we be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that, with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Monday of Trinity 8

Flood of Wickedness, Flood of Righteousness

Genesis 6:5-22 (ESV) The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

Much like the narrative of creation, it is difficult for us to understand how the great Flood and Noah’s construction of the ark could have happened. There have been some archaeological and geographical findings that are best explained by a worldwide flood. But like faithful Noah, we just take God’s Word on it. In His inspired and inerrant Word, the Bible, He teaches us that this story really happened. The New Testament mentions it in several points, and even Jesus talks about it in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Since Jesus is always truthful and never deceives, we can be confident that the Flood was all part of God’s plan. Thanks be to Him that He did not destroy all of humanity but preserved a little church for Himself!

Moses records that “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). The depth of depravity of man’s heart led him to commit acts of violence and corruption. It is truly remarkable that God was grieved that He had made the earth and felt pain over it. Yet His love for the world was greater than His grief, for He spared our race through Noah’s family. After the Flood, God still recognized that mankind’s heart was full of evil, but He decided not to wipe out the earth again. Rather, He punished His own Son for our sin to redeem us. Today, our hearts are still evil, but when we receive the Holy Spirit, we are given new life and can now struggle against our evil hearts.

Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord, which means that God chose Noah to be saved by grace. The Holy Spirit had given Noah the gift of faith. 2 Peter 2:5 says that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness.” While it was true that Noah was blameless in comparison to his fellow men, his moral character was a result of the righteousness he had received by faith, not the other way around. He “walked with God,” that is, he trusted in the Lord and was declared righteous on this account. Hebrews 11:7 shows that because Noah had faith, he obeyed the Lord’s command to build the ark even though he could not see the impending catastrophe with his eyes. He received the gift of the Lord’s righteousness through faith in God’s Word of promise.

Though the Holy Christian Church seems small and insignificant in the eyes of the world, it is the ark that keeps us from drowning in the Flood of the world’s hatred of God. God Himself shuts us into the ark through Holy Baptism, and He watches over and keeps us safely inside. The Church floats along under God’s care during its time of waiting until Christ returns. Since in Baptism our sins are drowned and we are united with Christ’s resurrection, we can be confident that God has saved us and given us eternal life. As St. Peter writes, “In the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared…eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21). The flood of righteousness we receive in Baptism washes away our wickedness and clothes us in salvation!

Prayer: O Lord, You kill and You raise to life; You brought the flood upon a wicked and perverse generation, and yet You saved faithful Noah and his family in the ark. Keep us in safety in the ark of Christ’s body, the Church, that Your mercy may come to its fullness and Your salvation be preached to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Saturday of Trinity 7

May God's Kingdom Come

Acts 1:1-11 (ESV) In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

To have a kingdom, you must have a king. In the Old Testament, the Lord gave lofty promises about a future King coming who would be like King David, only better. When Jesus came, He didn’t seem to fit the bill. The wise men could content themselves with Jesus as King, but not Israel. That little baby didn’t really seem like much of a king, even less after He grew up. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Nothing regal about that.

But Jesus insisted that He was bringing the kingdom of God with Him wherever He went. In His first sermon, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And throughout His ministry, especially in His parables, He was telling His disciples what the kingdom of God He was bringing is like; for example, like a mustard seed. But the disciples wanted a kingdom bigger and better than the mustard seed kingdom Jesus described.

We see most clearly that they were clueless when James and John came to Jesus and said, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37), that is, when He would be enthroned as King. This got the other disciples quite angry, because they wanted the top spots too. Jesus told them that the spots at His right and left were already prepared for others, and then gave them the clue revealing for whom they were prepared; He said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). When Jesus gave up His life on the cross, those placed at His right and His left were two thieves, but there the bleeding and dying Man in the middle was most certainly: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” just as the sign above Him said.

The disciples didn’t want a suffering King. They had their own agendas for Christ’s reign. They desired a kingdom of power, so when Jesus was arrested, Peter pulled out His sword to defend Jesus. But Jesus said, “Put that thing away.” Jesus is God the Son, so He could have asked His Father, the King of Heaven, to send down innumerable angels to defend Him. Instead, He chose to walk the way of the cross and reject the way of power and coercion.

There’s something out-of-this world about the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”…Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world….For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:33, 36-37).

The truth is that the kingdom of Jesus is not of this world because it bears no relationship to the kingdoms and political regimes of this world. The truth is that Jesus is the Suffering Servant, the Redeemer King, who laid down His life as a ransom for all. Even the best of secular kings cannot atone for the sin of the world with his death. Even the greatest kingdom in history cannot offer the priceless treasure given in one drop of Jesus’ precious blood. And even the most gracious of earthly rulers still reigns by power and not by self-sacrificing love such as Jesus showed in laying down His life for us.

The Gospel—the message that God has reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus Christ crucified—that is the message of the Kingdom of God, which has come to us even before we prayed for it. His Kingdom of grace comes not with coercive military power or oppressive martial law, but in Christ’s cross, resurrection, ascension, and then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. On that day, those people were made subjects in God’s kingdom, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in Baptism, that same Holy Spirit delivers the forgiveness of sins King Jesus accomplished for all people on the cross and turns sinners into members of the Kingdom of God, all as a free gift.


Prayer (LSB 654):

1. Your kingdom, O God, is my glorious treasure,

    My pearl of incomp’rable worth.

Its value exceeds ev’ry standard of measure,

    Surpassing the wealth of the earth.

Lord, give me Your grace and the pow’r of the Spirit

    To value this treasure aright

That, never allured by the world, I inherit

    Your kingdom of glory and light.

 

2. Your kingdom, O God, is alive with the power

    Your Word and Your Spirit bestow.

Like yeast, they affect the whole measure of flour,

    Enabling Your kingdom to grow.

Empower me, Lord, as I live Your commission,

    Though humble my service may be,

And bring ev’ry planting to perfect fruition,

    A mustard seed grown to a tree.

 

3. Your kingdom, O God, is a field for the growing

    Of seeds that Your mercy has sown;

But still in our midst is the enemy sowing

    The weeds that imperil Your own.

Sustain me, O Lord, till Your day of returning

    And harvest me homeward at last,

To shine in the homeland that quiets all yearning,

    Where sorrow and danger are past. Amen.