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.
Thursday, November 5, 2020
Shall see the Lord’s salvation;
Baptized into the death of Christ,
They are a new creation.
Through Christ’s redemption they shall stand
Among the glorious, heav’nly band
Of ev’ry tribe and nation.
Grant us Your Holy Spirit.
Help us in our infirmity
Through Jesus’ blood and merit.
Grant us to grow in grace each day
That by this sacrament we may
Eternal life inherit. Amen.
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Not Sight, but Faith in the Word
John 4:46-54 (ESV) So Jesus came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
In the Gospel reading for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, there is no question that the father’s love for his dying son was sincere; and he was looking for help in the right place by going to Jesus. But the man was coming to Jesus with a secular faith, not a Christian faith, similar to the way we take our children to the doctor with confidence that they can come up with the right diagnosis and treatment for most maladies. When we have problems, we go to people that we expect can help, and the father knew that Jesus could get the job done—Jesus had healed plenty of people before. But the father wasn’t coming to Jesus with faith in Him as Lord and Savior from sin and hell.
This can be seen first because the father wasn’t going to Jesus looking for eternal life but only the preservation of the life of his son. In the man’s prayer to Jesus he wasn’t asking too much of Jesus but actually far too little of Him, for our loving God sent His Son to give everlasting life, not just temporary healing. Our deepest need is redemption from sin and salvation from hell, not just a healthy family. So Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” that is, keep first things first.
The second offense the father perpetrated against Jesus was to grossly underestimate Christ’s Person and power. The father had heard and maybe even witnessed that Jesus was a wonder-worker, but he hadn’t yet come to believe in Jesus as the only-begotten Son of God in the flesh, the same One who spoke the world into existence, as we heard in Genesis 1-2 this morning. The father of the sick boy insisted that Jesus come down to Capernaum to heal his son. He thought the 20-mile journey was necessary for Jesus to help; the father wanted to see with his own eyes while Jesus did the healing. So the man’s motto was, “Seeing signs is believing.”
But that’s not how God’s Kingdom works. Jesus teaches us that seeing signs isn’t believing; rather “we live by faith” in His Word and “not by sight,” and “faith comes by hearing…the Word of Christ,” not by witnessing signs and wonders. This is why Jesus is so stern with the father and with everyone who insists on living by sight and not by faith alone. He reproaches them in the Gospel reading, “Unless all you people see signs and wonders, you never believe!”
All of us must repent, for we sinners are like the boy’s father, wanting Jesus to come down right away and take care of our problems; we want society reformed according to God’s Word; we want instant answers to our prayers as visible proof that God is on our side; we crave miraculous healings and visions of the afterlife and signs that we have made correct decisions. We are always looking for signs of God’s goodness and presence in day to day events. So when we try to live by sight and not by faith alone, Jesus rebukes us, saying, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you refuse to believe.” And He calls on us to repent of the idea that seeing is believing.
Jesus shows us that seeing isn’t believing when He responds to the father’s begging for help not with a visible miracle but just with a Word, saying, “Go, your son is alive and well!” Jesus gave him nothing to see, just a Word to hang onto. And then the Holy Spirit worked a miracle in that father’s heart by the Word of Jesus, for St. John tells us that the man believed the Word that Jesus had spoken and went on his way.
The father started out on the difficult 20 mile journey back to Capernaum trusting that Jesus would keep His promise, and when he finally met up with his servants, they told him that a great sign had occurred, that the boy was healthy again, and it had happened at the very moment Jesus had said the boy was alive and well. And then another miracle of the Holy Spirit occurred: the man and his whole household came to believe in Jesus not just as a great wonder worker but as the Christ, their Lord and Savior, the Son of God who came into the world to seek and to save the lost. Jesus had shown through this miracle that His Word is completely trustworthy and therefore everything He teaches about Himself is true; when He teaches that He is the Savior of the world, the only faithful response is, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.”
Likewise, Jesus leaves us with only His Word and promises to go on. This isn’t what the sinful world is looking for. As St. Paul says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom.” All sinners are looking for some experience of the divine to prove His goodness and presence. But what does St. Paul say that we Christians are to preach and believe? He says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.” So while that “word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” “the power of God for salvation to all who believe.”
The Word of the cross, the Word of forgiveness of sins, the Word of grace that is attached to the sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper—that is the Word given to us by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. That Word is all we have to go on, it’s all we’ve got. So if Jesus and His Word are not the only ground and foundation of our confidence, then our hopes are misplaced. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,” we sing in the hymn.
In fact, the greatest signs and wonders that Jesus leaves behind for us are the miraculous sacraments that come from His Word: Holy Baptism, where He combines His Word with water to bring dead sinners to life in Him; Holy Absolution, where He speaks pardon to the guilty for the sake of His sufferings and death; and the Lord’s Supper, where by the power of His creative Word Jesus makes bread His body and wine His blood so that He can feed us with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. These are the most amazing, wonderful signs Jesus gives to us in this life and they assure us of that much greater, fuller life that we look forward to in heaven.
So while seeing signs isn’t believing, believing does come by hearing; faith comes by hearing the Word of your Lord Jesus Christ, who promises you this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
No gracious words we hear
From Him who spoke as none e’er spoke,
But we believe Him near.
Nor follow where He trod;
But in His promise we rejoice
And cry “My Lord and God!”
And may our faith abound
To call on You when You are near
And seek where You are found.
Are found in means divine:
Beneath the water and the Word,
Beneath the bread and wine.
In realms of clearer light
We may behold You as You are,
With full and endless sight. Amen.
Monday, November 2, 2020
Defend Your Turf, Christian Soldiers!
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
Friday, October 30, 2020
When You Fast...
Matthew 4:1-11 (ESV) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
As we read yesterday, in Matthew 6, the third and final “practice of righteousness” that Jesus identifies is fasting. This one is probably the least commonly practiced—and understood—of the three. Doing mercy to others? Check. Daily prayer? You bet. But fasting? That doesn’t sound very Lutheran! But check your Small Catechism (known as “the Layman’s Bible”), as well as the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:16-18, where Jesus says when you fast, not if.
At the same time, He does not make this into a new law that allows us to justify ourselves before God. Nor is he imposing an impossible burden on Christians that could harm them physically (for example, the church has traditionally discouraged fasting among pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and the infirm, for whom it might be detrimental). Rather, Jesus is inviting us to participate in a Christian discipline that He Himself took part in and that He promises to be a blessing to us (“your Father who sees in secret will reward you”).
Martin Luther commends fasting to Christians in the Small Catechism: “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training” before going to Holy Communion. But he then goes on to emphasize that these are not the elements that make us worthy of receiving the Sacrament. Only faith in the forgiveness of sins distributed in the Sacrament prepares us to receive it for our benefit, and only unbelief disqualifies.
Nonetheless, fasting can teach us several things. Most obviously, it shows us that we are mortal. We begin to hunger quickly and recall that we need food to survive. We would perish without it. This reminds us to prepare for death by living in repentance. But above all, it reminds us of where true life is found: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Fasting leads us to hunger for true bread that satisfies, especially that bread that is Christ’s body, along with the wine that is His blood, in the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:35, 50–51). May we constantly hunger for this Bread and be satisfied as He comes to feed us in His Word and Sacraments!
1. O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame,
And to this world Himself He came.
His holy fast and hungered sore;
For us temptation sharp He knew;
For us the tempter overthrew.
For us His daily works He wrought,
By words and signs and actions thus
Still seeking not Himself but us.
For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us He gave His dying breath.
For us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
For love so deep, so high, so broad;
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore. Amen.