Thursday, April 30, 2020

Thursday of Easter 3

The Shepherd Boy

1 Samuel 16:1–13 (ESV) The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.”  And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.”  Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

The Lord delivered Israel out of Egyptian slavery in 1446 BC and led them into the promised land in 1406. After the deaths of Moses and Joshua, various judges exercised leadership in Israel, from about 1380 to 1050 BC. Israel, however, wanted a king; they foolishly rejected the Lord’s kingship over them (1 Samuel 8:1-9).

Saul reigned from 1050 until 1010. He wickedly disobeyed the Lord’s Word (1 Samuel 13:1-14; 15:23), and so the Lord rejected him and chose “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) to replace him. In about 1025 David was anointed to succeed Saul as king (1 Samuel 16:1-13) and took the throne in 1010.

The Lord sent the prophet Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to replace Saul (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Samuel was surprised to find that the Lord chose the youngest one, David. Samuel anointed him with oil, and the Holy Spirit was with David from that day forward. He would go from shepherding sheep to shepherding God’s people.

David’s experience as a shepherd served him well when he volunteered to take on the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17). The apparent weakness of David’s sling and stones against Goliath foreshadowed the apparent weakness of Jesus’ death on the cross used to defeat our great enemy, Satan.

David the shepherd penned Psalm 23, which confesses that “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The Lord Himself promised to be the shepherd of His people (Ezekiel 34:15-16; Isaiah 40:10-11). He would mightily defeat His enemies and show compassion by recovering lost sheep. The Lord’s “servant David” was promised to be the “one shepherd” over His people (Ezekiel 34:23-24). The Lord had promised David an offspring who would rule Israel eternally—the Davidic King, or Messiah (2 Samuel 7:8-17). Jesus fulfilled the promise that the Lord Himself would shepherd Israel as well as the promise that David would shepherd Israel forever. Jesus is the One born in Bethlehem who “will shepherd My people Israel” (Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2, 4). King Jesus received “the throne of His father David” to reign “over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:32-33). All of these passages proclaim the glorious reality that Jesus is our flesh-and-blood Good Shepherd (John 10), indeed, “the Great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), who will take care of the Lord’s flock forever!

The shepherd’s rod and staff (Psalm 23:4) were used to discipline, defend, rescue, and lead the sheep. The rod of God’s Law disciplines and leads us, and the staff of God’s Gospel rescues us from sin, comforts our consciences, and fights off the accusations of Satan.

Psalm 23:5-6 evokes our Lord’s service to us in the church. He anoints us with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and prepares a table and overflowing cup in the Lord’s Supper. Washed and fed by the Lord, we enjoy the Lord’s goodness and mercy now and look forward to dwelling in His house forever, where, “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” (Revelation 7:17).

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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 3

What's It to You?

John 21:20–25 (ESV) Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Jesus had spent three years with Peter and the other apostles, teaching them about Himself, and now Jesus had appeared to Peter and the other apostles at least three times to affirm that He indeed was alive, and that He is Lord and God. Jesus had just told Peter to go out and be a pastor, a shepherd to the Church, as Jesus gave the threefold command, “Feed My lambs. Tend My sheep. Feed My sheep.” Then Jesus told Peter that he would be persecuted for his faith and die a martyr’s death. And finally Jesus said, “Follow Me.”

But then Peter fell into one of our most common sins: he became a busybody. He forgot his calling and started sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. Peter got really curious about what would happen to St. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, so Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Peter knew that he himself was going to face martyrdom, but he wanted to know what would happen to John. And Jesus replies very sharply: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” Today we would say, “What’s it to you?” or “That’s none of your business.” And that’s all Jesus tells Peter concerning the fate of St. John. “What’s it to you? You—you follow Me!”

Peter was curious, like we are. He wanted to know the ins and outs of God’s work in the world. He wanted to stick his nose into other people’s affairs and compare his lot with theirs. He wanted to compare how the Lord was treating him with how the Lord was treating others. So Jesus says to us, as He said to Peter, “What’s it to you? You follow Me!”

Follow Jesus. With Jesus Christ as Lord and God, you are set free from the burden of trying to be Lord and God over the affairs of others. Everything has been taken out of your hands except one task: “Follow Me!” Follow Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, by hearing His Word, receiving His Sacraments, and then putting His teaching into practice. Jesus says, “You follow Me!” And He promises to take care of the rest. Amen.

Yea, Lord, ’twas Thy rich bounty gave
My body, soul, and all I have
In this poor life of labor.
Lord, grant that I in ev’ry place
May glorify Thy lavish grace
And help and serve my neighbor.
Let no false doctrine me beguile;
Let Satan not my soul defile.
Give strength and patience unto me
To bear my cross and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord,
In death Thy comfort still afford. (LSB 708:2)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Tuesday of Easter 3

Threefold Restoration

John 21:15–19 (ESV) When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

On Maundy Thursday, after Jesus had predicted His death, His disciples' fleeing in fear, and His resurrection three days later, Peter said to Jesus, "Even though they all fall away, I will not.” But Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Three times Peter would deny his Lord, even to the point of denying that he knew Jesus, which led to Peter weeping in sorrow over his failure.

We should recognize in Peter an example to follow in the way he expressed his contrition over what he had done. Unlike Judas, who did have a change of heart but tried to deal with his guilt on his own, Peter had sorrow over his sin that prepared him for the Absolution he would receive on Easter, when Jesus appeared to the apostles, showed them His hands and side, and spoke the forgiving, “Peace be with you.”

And later on, in Galilee, Peter got a special singling-out, a threefold restoration that left no doubt he was in the good graces of Jesus. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep." The threefold admonition of Jesus to Peter negates his threefold denial, and then, “Follow Me,” Jesus said to the restored Peter.

And now He says the same to you. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus says, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Through your Baptism into Christ, you have received a threefold restoration from your fallen, sinful nature: the Triune Name, "Father, Son, Holy Spirit," has been put upon you with the water, removing your guilt and marking you as God's own. You have been given a gift greater than the whole world. You have lost your life in this world for the sake of Christ and have now found your life in Him and His Kingdom, where you are saved from sin, death, and hell and look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. “Come, follow Me,” Jesus says. Come, for it is a truly joyful journey. Amen.

Prayer: O Lord God, You led Your ancient people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide the people of Your Church that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Monday of Easter 3

Strike the Shepherd

Zechariah 13:7–9 (ESV) “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’ ”

On Maundy Thursday, just after instituting the Lord's Supper and explaining that He would give His body and shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of the world, Jesus led the apostles to the Mount of Olives and said, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:27-28). Peter and the others vehemently (and vainly) denied that they would fall away, but they also clearly disbelieved that Jesus would arise and go before them to Galilee, since Easter Sunday finds them huddled together in Jerusalem, fearful of the Jews.

Like Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the apostles’ falling away from Him was a result of their own sin, so they bore guilt for it. However, this also happened in order to fulfill the Scripture, which required the death of the Good Shepherd. Just as God had “given up” Jesus to crucifixion, so also would He Himself strike down Jesus on the cross in order to spare us from eternal death. Jesus cites the Scripture from Zechariah 13:7, which prophesied this.

If the apostles had recalled this whole passage, they would not have protested so much about what was to come. Or they could have recalled Jesus' own Words to them: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father" (John 10:11, 17-18).

If the apostles had had their minds on the things of God rather than on the things of men (Mark 8:33), they would have realized that Jesus’ upcoming death had to happen and was for their benefit. They would have “believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22), and they would not have denied the truthfulness of His Word.

While it is shocking that the Lord Himself would strike down the Shepherd (the Father strikes down the Son), this was the way God fulfilled all righteousness for us, and Zechariah 13:7–9 actually ends on a happy note, with a remnant of God’s people who will say, “The Lord is my God,” which sounds strikingly similar to Thomas' confession to the resurrected Jesus: "My Lord and my God!"

O ever be our guide,
Our shepherd, and our pride,
Our staff and song.
Jesus, O Christ of God,
By Your enduring Word
Lead us where You have trod;
Make our faith strong. (LSB 864:4)

Prayer requests: for Bessie Mahaffey and Alma Gause, under hospice care; for our homebound members: Joe and Lynn Cottle, Carolyn Dube, Duane Gruetzner, Delma Roitsch, Willard and Ann Teinert, Joycelynn Harvey, Virginia Wilkins, Cheryl Kieschnick, Wilbur Gaskamp, Doris George, Alice Kovar, Helen Ray Gustafson, Uce Gruetzner, Ruth Wissen.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Saturday of Easter 2

Life in His Name

Acts 4:1–12 (ESV) And as Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

In John 20:30-31, the purpose statement of the entire Gospel is given. St. John recorded a selection of Jesus’ signs and the history of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection in order that the recipients of his Gospel “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [they] may have life in His name.”

On Pentecost, to those who had come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). To be baptized in Jesus’ name is to be baptized God’s name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). Only the name of Jesus can save; only God’s name can give life, and Baptism is the means for placing God’s name upon us. The goal of John’s Gospel--in fact, of the entire Bible!--is to persuade sinners to recognize Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God,” to confess Him, and to receive the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins in Baptism.

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. Amen.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday of Easter 2

From God's Heart to Yours

Matthew 18:15–22 (ESV) Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times."

When a man is ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry, John 20:21-23 is read to him in order to emphasize that the Lord, working through the Church, is giving him the authority to exercise the Office of the Keys—that is, the authority to forgive sins and to withhold forgiveness publicly. Our Lutheran Confessions express this: “Our teachers’ position is this: the authority of the Keys (Matthew 16:19), or the authority of the bishops—according to the Gospel—is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. Christ sends out His apostles with this command, ‘As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld’ (John 20:21-23)” [Concordia, Augsburg Confession 28.6].

The Lutheran Confessions teach that pastors are successors to the apostles insofar as their calling is to proclaim the Gospel and give out the Sacraments, just as the apostles did. The Lord calls pastors “to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent” (Small Catechism, Office of the Keys). It is also true that we should confess our sins to one another and forgive each other, and that any layperson can pronounce forgiveness upon another person who is feeling burdened by the weight of his sins. But pastors are specifically set apart by the Church to do this, as the Small Catechism says, “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us…this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”

It is comforting to know that we have pastors who are available to pronounce forgiveness to us when we are troubled by our sins. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” When I look into my heart, I see only sin and death, which can lead me to despair. On the other hand, my heart can deceive me into thinking that my sins are not a big deal. The blessing of having a pastor to call us to repentance and to be available to pronounce forgiveness to us is that we do not have to focus on what is inside of us—our sinful hearts—but on the Lord’s heart as it is revealed in the forgiveness of sins.

We can certainly get comfort from reading about the forgiveness of sins in the Bible, but particularly for deeply troubled sinners, pastors have experience helping them find comfort in times of need. The main point is that we are not to look inside of ourselves for forgiveness, but outside, to where God's Word points us—to Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion—rather than focusing on whether or not we have enough faith in our hearts.

Prayer: Father of mercies and God of all consolation, before You all hearts are laid bare and no secrets are concealed. Open the lips of Your children that they may not hide their iniquity and so waste away in deceit, but in truth acknowledge their sin and receive Your word of absolution. Guide Your servants in the Office of the Holy Ministry, by Your Word and Spirit, to rightly discharge this holy office with faithfulness and mercy, wisdom and compassion. Guard the door of their lips that they never utter what is divulged in confession and, by the word of pardon that You have placed on their lips, grant that those whose bones have been crushed by the weight of Your wrath might be restored with the forgiveness purchased by the blood of Your Son; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Thursday of Easter 2

Enfleshed for Good

John 20:24–29 (ESV)  Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Back in 1997, the Heaven’s Gate cult made headlines because its members thought that there was a UFO trailing the Hale-Bopp comet which would retrieve their souls if they committed suicide. Thirty-nine people took their lives in an effort to transport their souls to the “afterlife.” The basic presupposition behind their actions was that the physical body is unpleasant baggage from which the soul needs to be freed. Though most people recognize that the members of the Heaven’s Gate were out of their minds for believing that a UFO was coming behind the comet, the surprising fact is that roughly two-thirds of the world’s people share the cult’s presuppositions about the physical realm. Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and Shintoists share the common Eastern religious idea that there are two eternal principles (or gods) in the world—one of matter and one of spirit. They believe that human beings are from the spirit god, but somehow, either by design or by fall, they’ve become trapped in material bodies. The goal of life, then, is to be freed from the body. Salvation is found in the putting off of our earthly flesh.

How distinct Christianity is from these Eastern religions! God the Son—who, as God, is Spirit (John 4:24)—took on human flesh in the Incarnation. Thomas didn't reach out and touch a ghost, but his living Lord! This proves that God deems the material world worthwhile, even worth redeeming, and that material things are not inherently bad. God created us with both bodies and souls, and said, “It is good.” He does not ever say, “flesh is bad/spirit is good,” but rather, “I created you good, but sin has corrupted both body and soul.” Jesus has a human body and soul for eternity. He is enfleshed for good, for our good. He did not die to be liberated from His body, but He died to liberate mankind in body and soul from sin. His resurrection was a bodily one, and ours will also be a bodily one, as we confess in the creeds.

God’s Word teaches us that physical things like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper bestow grace upon us. In some Christian denominations, however, there is a mentality that the Lord does not use material things to bestow grace, since they think that “spiritual” means “non-material.” Yet this is a pagan philosophy and not a Biblical one. The only things that are truly “spiritual” are “Spirit-ual.” The Holy Spirit, through His Word (cf. John 6:63), attaches Himself to tangible things—like circumcision and animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, and water, bread, and wine in the New Testament—to sanctify and preserve His people.

Prayer: Almighty God, our great Redeemer, in the sacrifice of Your Son You put to death our sinful flesh and in His rising restored our life. Grant that we may always cling to Christ by faith in this life that at the last we may rejoice to stand in our own flesh and see You face to face; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 2

The Breath of Life

Genesis 2:4–9 (ESV) These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The first words of both Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 are “In the beginning…” St. John wanted his reader to have the creation account in mind when reading about God’s redemption of the creation from sin and death through the Word made flesh.

John 20:22 says that Jesus breathed on His disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit. Without God’s breath of life, the man would not be a living creature, that is, have physical life. Jesus does not make it a habit of breathing on people (on Easter is the only time He does it), and like the creation account, Jesus (who is God) breathes upon man.

But the difference is that in Genesis, God breathes physical life, whereas in John 20, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto His disciples. The reason they receive the Holy Spirit is so that they have the authority to forgive sins—which is the way God bestows eternal life! Just as God breathed physical life into man in Genesis 2, so now does God breathe spiritual life into the Church in John 20, and He continues to give this life to us through Word and Sacrament!

Prayer: Almighty God, through Your Word and Spirit You most wonderfully created all things, and through the Word made flesh You brought new life to fallen humanity. Grant that in Your mercy we may be conformed to the image of Him who shares fully in our humanity, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Tuesday of Easter 2

Heaven Unlocked

Matthew 16:13–19 (ESV) Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The rock on which Jesus will build His Church is the apostolic confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” the same One who “will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The Father revealed that message to Peter, who served as a representative of all of Jesus’ apostles. Matthew 16:19 indicates that the apostles will receive the “Keys” on behalf of the Church, for they will be charged with binding and loosing sins, which locks or unlocks the Kingdom of Heaven to sinners. That promise is fulfilled on Easter in John 20:21-23: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus give the apostles the Holy Spirit in order that they could forgive sins and withhold forgiveness in the Church, a task that continues in the Church today through the exercise of the Office of the Keys. The use of the Keys in the Church isn’t some “power grab” by which we enslave the consciences of believers, but it is Christ’s gift to the Church so that we can be confident that the forgiveness delivered through Word and Sacrament “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (Small Catechism).

Prayer: Almighty, everlasting God, for our many sins we justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who won for us forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant us a true confession that, dead to sin, we may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may be ever watchful and live true and godly lives in Your service; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Monday of Easter 2

No Fear

John 20:19–20 (ESV) On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

The afternoon of Easter Sunday finds the disciples behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” Notwithstanding that they should have been in Galilee awaiting Jesus' resurrection appearance to them, their fear was not irrational. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus had told them, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours" (John 15:18–20).

Jesus often taught that the pattern of His followers’ lives would follow the shape of His own life. We all know that His life involved rejection and crucifixion. The Jews were eager to wipe out the “Jesus movement,” so the disciples would have feared that they were next, for they had publicly professed faith in Him and proclaimed the Gospel. But they had forgotten Jesus’ promises: “I chose you out of the world” (John 15:19) and “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). They didn’t have anything to fear, but they did anyway because they were faithless sinners like us.

Nonetheless, Jesus does not rebuke their fearfulness but absolves them when He says to the disciples “Peace be with you” and then shows them His scarred hands and side. Then the disciples were overjoyed, not fearful! Even though they would end up facing great opposition and even persecution as disciples of Jesus, they knew that their greatest fear - condemnation under God's Law - had been alleviated: "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:10). The Incarnate Son of God poured out His precious blood on the cross, making peace between God and mankind. Since we have been washed in the blood of Jesus through Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, we too are at peace with God, and there could be no greater cause for rejoicing than that!

Prayer: O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works, give to us, Your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Prayer requests: for Bessie Mahaffey and Alma Gause, under hospice care; for our homebound members: Joe and Lynn Cottle, Carolyn Dube, Duane Gruetzner, Delma Roitsch, Willard and Ann Teinert, Joycelynn Harvey, Virginia Wilkins, Cheryl Kieschnick, Wilbur Gaskamp, Doris George, Alice Kovar, Helen Ray Gustafson, Uce Gruetzner, Ruth Wissen.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Easter Saturday

Daily Dying, Daily Rising

Romans 6:1–14 (ESV) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

There are two places in Luther's Small Catechism that feature the resurrection of Jesus. First, of course, is the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. In the explanation, Dr. Luther connects our eternal life with Christ’s: “that I may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom…just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

St. Paul likewise connects Baptism into Christ with the assurance of our future resurrection: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Rom 6:5).

The other place in the Small Catechism that references resurrection is in the explanation of what Baptism indicates, which cites Romans 6:4 and teaches that Baptism signifies that our old sinful flesh “should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” 

This is the new life that results from us being buried with Christ in Baptism and raised up with Him. This shows us that Baptism provides us not only with comfort for our guilty consciences and promise of future resurrection but also the pattern of constant repentance in our lives: daily dying to sin, daily rising with Christ to new life.

Or, to put it in different terms, Jesus says to us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Even as we rejoice this week that Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!, we continue to labor here in this world of sin and woe and are reminded that self-discipline and suffering are God's gifts to us for becoming more Christlike and for instilling in us a longing for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come when Christ returns on the last day.

"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" (Rom 8:16-17).

Prayer: Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon ourselves the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life in which Your Son, Jesus Christ, came to visit us in great humility, that on the Last Day, when He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer requests: for the family of Jeri Gruetzner, who was laid to rest on April 13; for Bessie Mahaffey and Alma Gause, under hospice care.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Easter Friday

A New Creation

1 Corinthians 15:20–26, 42-49 (ESV) But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death....
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Given the promised perfection of heaven, there is a danger that we can become “so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use.” On the other hand, there are some liberal theologians who attempt to portray Christianity as totally focused on trying to effect change in the world.

St. Paul helps us avoid the extremes of Christians either withdrawing from the world or becoming worldly. He argues that we must have hope in Christ in this life and in the world to come, otherwise we would be the most pathetic, deluded people on earth. But since Christ is raised from the dead, we have hope now and forever, since God has given us “the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” On this basis, Paul also urges steadfastness and diligence in the daily labors of our vocations, confident that our labor is not in vain but is God-pleasing and beneficial to our neighbors.

Nonetheless, Christianity’s primary message always has to be the Gospel of eternal resurrected life. While we face many literal or figurative enemies in this life, St. Paul identifies Death as Enemy #1 in 1 Corinthians 15:26. Death is our greatest enemy, ever since Adam’s sin. Christ has conquered death Himself already, and on the last day He will abolish it for good, for all who are made alive in Him by faith.

After death is destroyed, there will be nothing left but a new and perfect creation. In Isaiah 65:17, the LORD says, “I create new heavens and a new earth.” We do experience a “new creation” in a sense right now, since “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). But God’s work of recreation will only be complete in the final resurrection, as St. Peter says: “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13).

The righteousness that dwells there will be the perfect righteousness and holiness of God. Revelation 21 provides a beautiful image of the new creation. Especially note how heaven is not merely spiritual but gloriously tangible, with no shred of the sin and sorrow of the present creation:

Revelation 21:1–5 (ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when You were lifted up on the cross, the entire world experienced birth pains as the cosmos was rocked as Your death gave birth to a new creation. Focus our eyes on Your holy cross that we may see it as a tree of life preparing us for Your final coming in judgment as the Son of Man; for You live and reign with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Prayer requests: for the family of Jeri Gruetzner, who was laid to rest on April 13; for Bessie Mahaffey and Alma Gause, under hospice care.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Easter Thursday

In the Garden

John 20:1–18 (ESV) Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Without the literal, physical death and resurrection of God’s Son in human flesh, we would have no hope of forgiveness and justification from God. Therefore, the historical account of Christ’s resurrection is our starting point for Easter.

If we visualize the account of Easter morning recorded in John 20:1–18, parts of the passage strongly suggest eyewitness testimony. God certainly did author some parts of the Bible by narrating them directly to a human author; for example, the details of Genesis 1–2 were not witnessed by any humans until they were created, so Moses had to have been told the story directly from God. Yet in much of Scripture, God uses eyewitness testimony to reveal His work to us, and there are vivid details in this account of the resurrection that either John observed himself (such as the linen clothes lying in the tomb, with the face cloth folded neatly) or others witnessed (the interaction between Jesus and Mary Magdalene).

Given the unprecedented nature of the resurrection, it also seems that the confusion and hectic hurrying of Mary, Simon, and John is certainly “true to life.” The account has an air of excitement and uncertainty, which would have accompanied such a momentous event.

In addition to John’s truthfulness in narrating this account, there is also irony and allusion in it. When Mary says to Jesus, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him”?, the double irony of Mary’s statement is that He is the one who took His own body out of the tomb, and He is not lying dead anywhere but standing right in front of her!

In the biblical context, it also is hard not to think of the Garden of Eden when there is a reference to a garden. As Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden for their sin and could not eat of the tree of life, now by the tree of Jesus’ cross He has reopened the gates to Paradise and is both buried and raised in a garden. Now, to those who believe and are baptized, He “will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7). Also consider His words to the thief on the cross: “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

While there is no direct reference to Baptism in John 20:1–18, there are some interesting parallels between these events and what Baptism does. In John 20:16, Mary does not recognize Jesus until He calls her by name! Likewise, we do not know our Lord until He seeks us out and calls us by name and claims us as our own in Holy Baptism. In John 20:17, Jesus refers to His brothers and “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Baptism creates the family of God, in which we are incorporated into our Big Brother Jesus so that His Father is our Father, His God is our God. And He has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us there!

Prayer: Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Prayer requests: for the family of Jeri Gruetzner, who was laid to rest on April 13; for Bessie Mahaffey and Alma Gause, under hospice care.