Tuesday, April 20

Reader: “Oh, that we might know the Lord!”

Response: “Let us press on to know him.”

Scripture: Hosea 5:15-6:6  

Then I will return to my place

    until they admit their guilt and turn to me.

For as soon as trouble comes,

    they will earnestly search for me.

“Come, let us return to the Lord.

He has torn us to pieces;

    now he will heal us.

He has injured us;

    now he will bandage our wounds.

In just a short time he will restore us,

    so that we may live in his presence.

Oh, that we might know the Lord!

    Let us press on to know him.

He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn

    or the coming of rains in early spring.”

“O Israel and Judah,

    what should I do with you?” asks the Lord.

“For your love vanishes like the morning mist

    and disappears like dew in the sunlight.

I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces—

    to slaughter you with my words,

    with judgments as inescapable as light.

I want you to show love,

    not offer sacrifices.

I want you to know me

    more than I want burnt offerings.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:     

The book of Hosea, his name means “deliverance,” is dealing with the faithfulness of God to his people and Israel’s unfaithfulness to their Lord. That seems to be the common theme of the whole First Testament! By God’s instruction, faithful Hosea is married to his unfaithful wife, Gomar, who is a prostitute, illustrating God’s painful relationship to his people Israel. 

Our section of Scripture opens with the powerful reminder that God’s discipline is for the purpose of bringing his people to the place of admitting their guilt and returning   to him. His discipline is not as much punitive as it is to cause the people to grasp the reality of their actions and repent. God is the source of their grief, the one who has “torn” them and who then offers healing. The purpose of this healing is to bring them back into an intimate relationship with him. He loves them. We can certainly understand the desire to be close to those we love and the great pain when we are alienated from those very people. God is no different. His heart also breaks in our rebellion.

I’d like to make a simple observation about the phrase, “Oh that we might know him.” In typical Hebrew fashion the idea is repeated with different words, “Let us press on to know him.” In our day, there can be much time spent gaining more and more knowledge about God. In fact, at the end of today’s passage this idea reappears. The “know” in this case has to do with a transparent, intimate communion with God as one would have with a spouse. God often speaks of his broken relationship with Israel in terms of adultery. They have been unfaithful to him. And in fact, this book of Hosea is the playing out of that relationship as portrayed in Hosea and Gomar’s relationship.

God, in speaking like an exasperated parent says, “O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” You are fickle, untrustworthy, unreliable . . . your love fades, evaporates. I destroyed you with the words of the prophets. I made clear what is expected of you. I want you to show love to me, not simply go through the motions of worshiping me. (Here it comes again.) I want you to know me more than do things for me. What is there about us that would rather do things for God, then stop and spend time getting to know God? My guess is we need to be more human beings than human doings.

I keep writing about this theme but it’s throughout all of Scripture―knowing God in an intimate way. My tendency is to accumulate knowledge about God and the Scriptures because both are very interesting and inspiring. Dealing with God directly, as you would with another person, is different. With Hosea’s pen, our Lord is making clear his desire is for you and me to know him intimately. Paul underscores this same theme in his letter to the Philippians, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” (3:10) “Knowing God” is to be the starting place, the middle place and the ending place. Let’s keep at it!

Music: “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee”   Ivan Griffin, Trinity Episcopal

Prayer: Father, I want to know thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus’ name. Amen.              ―A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.31

Monday, April 19

Reader: “We should love one another.”

Response: “Yes, we should love one another.”

Scripture: I John 3:10-16   

So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.

This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

Chances are good that this epistle was written toward the end of the Apostle John’s life. These words come from someone who knew, ate with, touched, conversed, travelled with, talked with the risen Christ and watched him ascend to heaven. In this letter, John is admonishing Christians to live out their faith daily in loving brothers and sisters in Christ. Faith should show up in actions. 

One additional note. In our current days of uncertainty, distrust and animosity in our world, there are some helpful words here for those who profess Christ. How do we relate to those who think differently? How do we manage anger? How do Christians interact with other Christians with whom they differ? John was dealing with the very same challenges.

It is important to realize that John writes in black and white. There are no shadows of in between. That is why it is most important to understand what the Scripture is saying. The opening of this section is a perfect example. “Children of God and children of the devil.” See what I mean? Nothing in between! What does he mean by “Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God?” We have to understand the “live righteously” part. Does that mean one who does not sin?

“To live righteously” does not mean one will no longer sin, but that one lives in a right relationship to God, a life of repentance and humility. In John’s day, there was false teaching that the spiritual and physical were completely separate (Gnostics) and that whatever happened with the physical body had no bearing on the spiritual. Of course this led to all kinds of debauchery.

John then moves to the concrete example of Cain and Abel in further explaining righteousness and its roots. As you know, Cain was all about Cain. The fact that the offering he decided to give to God was not accepted by God made him very angry.The fact that his brother had made an offering according to God’s design which was accepted, added fuel to his fire. Before he killed his brother, God said to Cain, you will be accepted “if you do what is right,” in other words, if you act righteously (Gen.4:7). Further, “if you refuse, sin is at the door.” Cain did not repent and killed his brother. The proper sacrifice to God meant acceptance from God. The whole point was relationship and communion with God. 

In our passage, the Scripture is talking about what’s in our heart and what’s at the root of action. Cain’s action of killing his brother led to observable bloodshed. But bloodshed by hatred from the heart is seen by God who judges accordingly. The Word of God speaks of “roots of bitterness.” Growing up on the farm there would be times when we had to take down a tree only to see shoots sprout from the stump and continue to grow. The roots were not dead. In order to kill the roots, we drilled holes in the stump, poured diesel fuel in the holes, let it soak in and then burned the stump, killing the roots. We cannot simply cut down the tree of hatred, we need to kill its roots of bitterness.

God’s words via John are simple, “Anyone who hates another brother or sister [in Christ] is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” A life-style of committing murder is not reflective of the children of God. Loving brothers and sisters is reflective of being a child of God. The perfect model of how to live toward our fellow Christians is given to us in Jesus Christ who sacrificially gave his life for us. I think we can do better in loving each other. The world is watching . . . so is the Savior.

Music: “If Ye Love Me”    Tenebrae

Prayer:    (Two prayers today!)

O blessed Lord, who hast commanded us to love one another, grant us grace that having received thine undeserved bounty, we may love everyone in thee and for thee. We implore thy clemency for all; but especially for the friends whom thy love has given to us. Love thou them, O thou fountain of love, and make them to love thee with all their heart, that they may will, and speak and do those things only which are pleasing to thee.   ―St. Anselm, 1033-1109, Oxford Book of Prayer, p.113

Help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go―let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example―by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to you.             ―John Henry Newman, 1801-1890, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.70

Third Sunday of Easter, April 18

Reader: “Through faith in the name of Jesus,” 

Response: “this man was healed.”

Scripture: Acts 3:12-19

Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd. “People of Israel,” he said, “what is so surprising about this? And why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness? For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this. This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him. You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!

“Through faith in the name of Jesus, this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus’ name has healed him before your very eyes.

“Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things. Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

Can you imagine standing in the crowd and seeing this healing of a man crippled from birth? (I’m assuming you read yesterday and watched the video. If you missed it, you may want to do yesterday’s devotional before doing today’s.) In the sentence that goes between the two passages, Luke tells us that the healed man held tightly to Peter and John. I can visualize it, Peter on one side, the man in the middle with a huge grin on his face, and John on the other side and a vast crowd staring at the three men. We find later in Acts that about 2,000 were converted from this sermon of Peter’s so we know a large crowd was listening. 

Peter once again took advantage of the situation and proclaimed the gospel to his Jewish audience. In typical Jewish fashion, he begins with a question, immediately drawing the crowd into what he has to say. The natural assumption would be that the person who was able to do this miracle was either a magician or someone with miraculous powers. Remember, Jesus was accused of getting his power to do miracles from the devil. So Peter is making sure the people know the source of the miracle.

Peter identifies with the crowd and goes immediately to their common Jewish heritage by appealing to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Remember our comments regarding the Jewish understanding of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from a couple of days ago where God said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Peter was in the process of tying what this Jewish crowd believed about the patriarchs and helping them see that the God of the patriarchs brought glory to Jesus. It was this very same Jesus that they killed a little over seven weeks ago.

He continues addressing the crowd from first hand eyewitness experience. Instead of recognizing who Jesus really was, you people killed the author of all life! But, God overruled your ignorance and raised Jesus from the dead. We know it is true, because we were there and saw it with our own eyes. Peter continues.

We did not heal the man standing between us, Jesus did because we had faith in him. When you saw him stand up and be healed a few minutes ago, you were privileged to see the risen Lord at work before your very eyes! I know you were ignorant when you voted to kill the Savior. But God was in the process of fulfilling what our prophets said would happen. You just missed the whole thing! So repent of your sin and ignorance and turn to God.

Ignorance has never been bliss. We live in a world of spiritual ignorance and apathy. One of the reasons for these devotionals is to help all of us grow in wisdom and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. Peter wanted to make sure that the people weren’t just intrigued or excited by the miracle, but prodded their interest or curiosity to go deeper into the source of the healing. As we’ve said previously, Jesus never did a miracle to impress or “wow” anyone. They were always tied to revealing who he was as the Son of God. Miracles never pointed to the event itself, but to the one who was the source. Why? They were done for the purpose of those watching to put their trust in God and recognize Jesus for who he was. 

As we stand in the world of today’s crowd, we may be fortunate to see God do something before our very eyes. I pray we will recognize his work and point those standing around us to the Savior.

Music: “Walk in Jerusalem Just Like John”    Buddy Greene & The Isaacs

Prayer: 

Lord and Master, we beg you to be our help and comfort. Save those who are in trouble, have mercy on the lonely, lift up the fallen, show yourself to the needy, heal the ungodly, convert the wanderers from your people, feed the hungry, raise up the weak, comfort the faint-hearted, let all the peoples know that you are God alone and Jesus Christ is your Son, and we are your People, the sheep of your pasture, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.              ―St. Clement of Rome, In the Presence of My Father, p.198

Saturday, April 17

Reader: “I don’t have any silver or gold for you.” 

Response: “But I’ll give you what I have.”

Scripture:  Acts 3:1-10 

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.

Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.

All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

The impact of the resurrection and ascension was spreading. Something more than a spiritual revival was happening. A vibrant and bold movement was underway affecting all levels of society. Such an occurrence had never before transpired. The society and culture were being uprooted. The high were being brought low and the low raised. People were being treated not as a class or category in the society but as individual persons who were part of the whole of society. The class injustice was being rectified by this fulfilled version of Judaism in what came to be called Christianity.

Peter and John went to the Temple in the usual Jewish practice of prayer at set times during the day. (The hours for prayer were 6 AM, 9 AM, 12PM and 3PM. The separation of Judaism and Christianity occurred later. Followers of Jesus were, at this time, still worshiping at the Temple on the Sabbath and celebrating the Resurrection and the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, the first day of the week.) It was common for beggars to situate themselves at places where many people passed by. Such was the case here as Peter and John passed by the well-known daily beggar. 

How often have you heard in dealing with panhandlers in our day, “Don’t look them in the eye,” or “avoid direct eye contact.” It may be in Peter’s case that the invalid looked down as he begged. Peter did not follow the “avoid eye contact” advice. He, as we, realized we are dealing with human beings made in the image of God. In other words, “look them in the eyes” which is what he demanded of the crippled man. 

Though he expected to receive some money, Peter gave to him something he never imagined, the ability to walk and end his life-long lameness. Peter took him by the right hand, helped him up and God healed him on the spot! The man jumped up and began to walk and leap for joy! He joined Peter and John as they all entered the Temple. The people standing there saw the whole thing and were astounded!

Six weeks earlier, these same two men, Peter and John, were hiding in a room hoping not to be found out as followers of Jesus. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit they are boldly proclaiming the gospel that transforms, the gospel of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, the good news of salvation in Jesus alone. I’m thinking the world in which we all live needs to hear the gospel of salvation, hope, transformation, forgiveness and healing. I have a suspicion that followers of Christ, including you and me, have been too silent, too demure, too pusillanimous (remember this new word from the Lenten devotional!) and too passive in proclaiming the truth. Certainly those who oppose Christianity have no such timidity. Of course our cultures embrace an animosity toward the Christian faith. Like Peter, let us be filled today with the Holy Spirit, look people in the eye and speak the truth. We can play a part in changing the culture like Peter and John.

Bonus: Jesus healing the paralytic from “The Chosen.” (5:38) If you are not familiar with this series you are missing something that is marvelous! Peter and John had seen Jesus do this and in the above pericope, they had the chance to do the same!

Music: “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus”   Ruut Sullinen

Prayer:

O God, from whom to be turned is to fall, to whom to be turned is to rise, and with whom to stand is to abide forever; grant us in all our duties your help, in all our  perplexities your guidance, in all our dangers your protection, and in all our sorrows your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.   ―Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 AD, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.19

Friday, April 16

Reader: “Please speak to me, my lord,” 

Response: “for you have strengthened me.”

Scripture: Daniel 10:2-19

When this vision came to me, I, Daniel, had been in mourning for three whole weeks. All that time I had eaten no rich food. No meat or wine crossed my lips, and I used no fragrant lotions until those three weeks had passed.

On April 23, as I was standing on the bank of the great Tigris River, I looked up and saw a man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people.

Only I, Daniel, saw this vision. The men with me saw nothing, but they were suddenly terrified and ran away to hide. So I was left there all alone to see this amazing vision. My strength left me, my face grew deathly pale, and I felt very weak. Then I heard the man speak, and when I heard the sound of his voice, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground. Just then a hand touched me and lifted me, still trembling, to my hands and knees. And the man said to me, “Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up, still trembling.

Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.”

While he was speaking to me, I looked down at the ground, unable to say a word. Then the one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing in front of me, “I am filled with anguish because of the vision I have seen, my lord, and I am very weak. How can someone like me, your servant, talk to you, my lord? My strength is gone, and I can hardly breathe.”

Then the one who looked like a man touched me again, and I felt my strength returning. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!” As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, “Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

The nature of this passage is definitely different from the previous pericopes. The books of Daniel and Revelation in particular are filled with prophetic visions. As such, we are reminded that the Bible is a library of different kinds of literature . . .  history, poetry, letters, doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, and prophecy. This portion of Daniel is concerned with preparing Daniel for the vision that is to come in the future.

Notice prophets never ask for visions of the coming days, they just come at God’s determination. On another note, you may find it strange that the Bible puts in a specific date like April 23rd. Working with the ancient Hebrew calendars and the very specific records of the Persians, the date of this heavenly visit to Daniel is actually April 23, 536 B.C. Now to the text itself. 

The description of the man dressed in linen is remarkably similar to the description of the Son of Man in Revelation 1:13-16. Scholars are not sure whether this person is an angelic being or Jesus himself. On another note, as happens in other places in Scripture, not everyone present saw or heard the same thing when a miraculous event happened. Remember in another instance, when people said it thundered but Jesus heard the Father speak (Jn.12:28-30). Such was the case here. The people sensed something supernatural was going on, became fearful and ran away leaving only Daniel. The supernatural can bring fear.

I’d like you to put yourself in the place of Daniel. You are all alone. You are seeing a frightening figure of a man standing before you. He addresses you and you pass out face down. Sudden visits from heavenly beings generally produced great fear in humans which I can fully understand! As you lay on the ground with your face in the sand, a hand touches your shoulder and lifts you up to stand on your trembling feet. I would still be petrified as to what was going on. I don’t know if this being who lifted me is friend or foe. Then I hear words for the first time. “Daniel you are precious to God.” And I’m thinking “Good, this is a friend! God is not going to kill me.” There is some relief as I learn this messenger from God has come to tell me what will happen in the future. God has responded to my prayers. At this point I am still unable to talk  until another heavenly being touches my lips. Then I began to speak though still overwhelmed and struggling for breath. I am touched again and my strength returns. I hear for a reassuring second time, “Don’t be afraid, for you are very precious to God.” Then I hear the comforting words “peace, be strong, be encouraged!” That would be some experience. Do you sense the seriousness of Daniel’s call and the importance of the upcoming vision?

So how does this fit with what is happening in your life today on April 16th? A few things to consider, the heavenly being came to Daniel in response to his prayers. Our prayers make a difference, they are not just religious, therapeutic exercises. God does hear them. When you pray, you have the divine ear of the Creator of the universe. So let’s pay attention, we’re not just talking to ourselves! PRAY. Second, every follower of Jesus is precious to God including you and me. YOU ARE PRECIOUS TO GOD. Third, God provides the strength we need to do what he has asked us to. GOD IS YOUR SOURCE OF STRENGTH. Fourth, in the realm of the spiritual world, there are those working for good and those working for evil as evidenced by the reference to Michael, the archangel, in his struggle to come to Daniel. That conflict is not yet over. EVIL IN OUR WORLD IS REAL. In that we are reminded that “we battle not against flesh and blood enemies but against evil rulers and authorities of an unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). THERE IS SPIRITUAL WARFARE UNDERWAY TODAY IN THIS WORLD. SEE BEYOND THE SURFACE OF THE NEWS EVENTS. Pray for our nations and our world.

Music: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”  Southwestern University Singers and Festival Mass Choir    arr. Dan Forrest

Prayer:  

O Lord God, Thou art my protecting arm, fortress, refuge, shield and buckler. Fight for me and my foes must flee; uphold me and I cannot fall; strengthen me and I stand unmoved, unmoveable; equip me and I shall receive no wound; stand by me and Satan will depart; anoint my lips with a song of salvation and I shall shout thy victory. May I discern the deadly viper in its real malignity, tear it with holy indignation from my breast, resolutely turn from its every snare, refuse to hold polluting dalliance with it. Blessed Lord Jesus, at thy cross may I be taught the awful miseries from which I am saved, ponder what the word ‘lost’ implies and see the fires of eternal destruction. Then may I cling more closely to thy broken self, adhere to thee with firmer faith, be devoted to thee with total being, detest sin as strongly as thy love to me is strong, and may holiness be the atmosphere in which I live. These things I pray through Jesus Christ, the Destroyer of all that is evil. Amen.                                                                                     ―The Valley of Vision. p.100

Thursday, April 15

Reader: “The Lord will answer” 

Response: “when I call to him.”

Scripture: Psalm 4

Answer me when I call to you,

    O God who declares me innocent.

Free me from my troubles.

    Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people ruin my reputation?

    How long will you make groundless accusations?

    How long will you continue your lies? 

Interlude

You can be sure of this:

    The Lord set apart the godly for himself.

    The Lord will answer when I call to him.

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.

    Think about it overnight and remain silent.

 Interlude

Offer sacrifices in the right spirit,

    and trust the Lord.

Many people say, “Who will show us better times?”

    Let your face smile on us, Lord.

You have given me greater joy

    than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.

In peace I will lie down and sleep,

    for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

Have you ever prayed and it seemed like you were talking to yourself? God was on another call and you were on hold. You wanted to leave a message and get a call back. You and the psalmist are in the same place. What I appreciate in this psalm is the openness and honesty of David’s words. His heart is bare before the Lord. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if God immediately granted every request you made? What a disaster! Among other things, you would have no sense of patience. No real maturity. Children want things right away and want what they want!  They can’t wait. “Free me from my troubles” and please do it now. Lord have mercy!  

The next two sections continue the lament with the question of “How long will you people ruin my reputation?” The godly one is suffering from lies being told about him, treacherous plans being made against him in an effort to destroy him. Does that ever happen now? The godly suffer from the wicked in every age. The good news is that God sets apart the godly for himself and he does respond to his own in his time.

What follows are two lines that every person on earth should take to heart. Don’t let anger control you. If we are honest, we have seen anger and hatred be the driving, controlling force of political activity world-wide in recent times. How many times have you sent a “hot” email or spoken out of anger “just to get it off your chest.” Did you feel better afterwards? Did it make the situation better? I know I sound like your father or mother! The psalmist here is trying to help us. When you are about to lose control, sleep on it. Don’t do anything now. Think about it overnight. Write that email. DON’T send it. Sleep on it. Read it again in the morning. Then delete it. Then go to the Lord and put your trust in him. But then there are times after a night’s sleep and more thinking and praying when you do pick up the hammer and nail the “95 Theses” to the door.

The concluding portion of the psalm leaves the lament behind as David acts on trusting God. He gives us the beautiful image of the face of God smiling on his people. The Scriptures make a point of describing God’s blessing as turning his face toward his people. The opposite is also true with the displeasure of God being described as his turning his back on his children. But here we are reminded of the glorious Aaronic blessing where we read “may he make his face to shine upon you” or “may he turn his face toward you.” Such an action is an indication of God’s favor. In this particular blessing peace follows. 

A word about that peace. In the early 1970’s my father was killed in a farming accident in Illinois. We were all out of the house by then and my mother, who was fifty-six at the time, lived alone. Since we were living in California at the time, I remember asking her some months after the funeral if she was ever afraid to be alone at night. She told me a few days after the service she read this psalm. When she came to the last sentence she said she claimed it and went to sleep and never worried about being safe the rest of her days. She died at ninety-eight. The Lord was her Shepherd.

Where there is agitation and unrest at the beginning of the psalm, David finds comfort, safety and shalom at the end. The Lord is near and brings inner joy. The outward circumstances have been put in their proper place. The trust and closeness to God frees the inner being. Anger, lies, jealousy, and bitterness never have and never will produce godly peace. God will take your call now. You never were on hold.

Music:  “O Lord, Hear My Prayer”    Xara

Prayer: (From Psalm 138)  I thank you, Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard all I said. In the sight of angels I sing to you, and bow low towards your holy Temple. I thank your name for your faithful love, for you made your promise greater than your name. When I called to you, you answered me, and made my soul wax strong. From far above the Lord you see the lowly, but from far away you mark the proud. Though I am ever in distress, you keep me alive, infuriate my foes. You stretch out your hand and keep me safe, your right hand does all things for me. Lord, your love is an endless thing, do not forsake me, whom you have formed.     ―translated by Laurence Brett, In the Presence of My Father, p.224, adapted Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, April 14

Reader: “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures,” 

Response: “and you don’t know the power of God.”

Scripture: Mark 12:18-27   

Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”

Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.

“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Today’s pericope stays with the topic of the resurrection and is the third of three trick questions posed to Jesus by the Sadducees in order to trap him. The first had to do with the source of Jesus’ authority regarding the miracles he was doing. The second addressed the issue of paying taxes to Caesar and this third challenge concerned the resurrection of the dead.

A little background on the Sadducees gives added insight into the passage. This group of leaders were primarily engaged at the Temple. They were the landowners, the wealthy, religious and sophisticated side of Judaism. They did not believe in the existence of angels nor in the resurrection of the dead. To them, death was extinction. They differed from the Pharisees in that they were more politically savvy and got along better with the Romans. Believing only in the five books of Moses, they interpreted the law even more rigidly than the Pharisees. They loved to debate religious teachers. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, we hear no more of the Sadducees.  

They struck out in their first two challenges to Jesus as he exposed their foolishness, shortsightedness and lack of understanding of his authority and paying taxes. This third failure completes their day! The question applies their understanding of the law to use it to trap and expose him showing the fallacy of the existence of life after death. Since they didn’t believe in life after death, they hoped to get him to admit that they were right and embarrass him.

We now come to their question to Jesus. There was a law that said that when a man died with no children, his brother was to marry his widow and have children with her in order to maintain the family name. (Remember the book of Ruth. This practice is known as a levirate marriage.) In their trick question they carried this hypothetical situation seven times, the number of perfection. Then came their clincher to disprove life after death. “In heaven, which of the seven brothers got to be married to her?” 

While the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Job and Psalms all talk of life after death and resurrection, Jesus didn’t quote any of them because the Sadducees did not accept those writings in their Bible, the Torah. So Jesus answered their question using the Pentateuch, their own Scriptures. He went right after their ignorance with the words, “Your mistake is that you don’t know your own Scriptures and you also don’t know God’s power!” 

The Sadducees certainly knew the story of Moses and the burning bush and the phrase, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Jesus continued. “In other words, Sadducees, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still living! The verb is present tense! You have made a serious error in your logic in the attempt to trap me. You are also seriously ignorant of God’s power.” Game, set, match! The Sadducees thought that if there were a resurrection, it would have to be some kind of extension of earthly marital life. Jesus corrected their assumption to say that resurrection life is comparable to the life angels experience in heaven.

I am indebted to *F. Dreyfus and William Lane for this additional thought regarding  “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” In first century Judaism, this phrase was a significant part of Jewish prayers. Inherent in the phrase is the idea of God as Savior and protector. This aspect was part of the covenant God made with his people. Remember we have mentioned the nature of the suzerain covenant includes protection on the part of the king. At a deeper level beyond the thinking of the Sadducees, Jesus is making the point that God is protector of the living. He cannot be the Savior and protector of the extinct! That makes no sense.

In this passage Jesus also gave you and me some insight into life in heaven. In Luke’s account of this interaction, he recorded this additional information from Jesus. Angels do not reproduce. God created a set number. In heaven we will not reproduce. The intimacy of marriage will be replaced by an unimaginable fellowship with God and other believers. In this respect we’ll be like the angels (Lk. 20:36). Like the Sadducees, I fear we too are ignorant of the power of God and the glories of heaven. We’ve got something to look forward to!

*Dreyfus, F., and Lane, William, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI. p.429-430

Music: “Beautiful Savior” St. Olaf Choir and Alums  Kenneth Jennings conducting

Prayer:

Forgiving Lord of heaven and earth, why is it that we, like the Sadducees, are so engrossed in our own worlds? All too often we believe that we have it all figured out. Forgive us for our arrogance and belief in ourselves and our wisdom. The truth is, it is embarrassing how proud we are of us when the truth settles in. Thank you that our Savior took our debt upon himself gaining the victory on the cross. His most glorious resurrection clearly confirms our life with you. Help us to more and more think in heavenly terms. Help us to spend more and more time with you in your holy word that we might hear your voice and know your mind during our time down here on earth, away from our true home. Until the time of seeing you face to face, grant us grace, humility, faithfulness and wisdom for the living of these days. In the name of the God of the living Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Amen.   ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, April 13

Reader: “He prayed three times a day,” 

Response: “just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.”

Scripture: Daniel 6:1-28      

Darius the Mede decided to divide the kingdom into 120 provinces, and he appointed a high officer to rule over each province. The king also chose Daniel and two others as administrators to supervise the high officers and protect the king’s interests. Daniel soon proved himself more capable than all the other administrators and high officers. Because of Daniel’s great ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”

So the administrators and high officers went to the king and said, “Long live King Darius! We are all in agreement—we administrators, officials, high officers, advisers, and governors—that the king should make a law that will be strictly enforced. Give orders that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions. And now, Your Majesty, issue and sign this law so it cannot be changed, an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.” So King Darius signed the law.

But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human—except to you, Your Majesty—will be thrown into the den of lions?”

“Yes,” the king replied, “that decision stands; it is an official law of the Medes and Persians that cannot be revoked.”

Then they told the king, “That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.”

Hearing this, the king was deeply troubled, and he tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament.

In the evening the men went together to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you know that according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, no law that the king signs can be changed.”

So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”

A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting. He refused his usual entertainment and couldn’t sleep at all that night.

Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel answered, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”

The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God.

Then the king gave orders to arrest the men who had maliciously accused Daniel. He had them thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den.

Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world:

“Peace and prosperity to you!

“I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel.

For he is the living God,

    and he will endure forever.

His kingdom will never be destroyed,

    and his rule will never end.

He rescues and saves his people;

    he performs miraculous signs and wonders

    in the heavens and on earth.

He has rescued Daniel

    from the power of the lions.”

So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

After Shadrach, Meshach and Abdnego yesterday, how could we not do the story of Daniel in the lion’s den today? But there are more reasons as we’ll see. By this time in his life, Daniel was between eighty and eighty-five years old. He was serving his third king, Darius the Mede. As a young man he had served Nebuchadnezzar and then Belshazzar and now Darius. (Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian may have been two names for the same person or they could have been two different men ruling in the Medo-Persian empire.) Daniel served them all with great distinction and a vibrant testimony to the living God. In all those years in a foreign and pagan culture, Daniel did not get pushed off course in his faith and devotion to God. He served with honor in the leader’s eyes of that world, without absorbing the surrounding culture, a model for us.

There are similarities and differences in the stories of the Three in the furnace and Daniel in the den. Both were subjects of great jealousy and violent wicked plots to end their lives in torturous ways through fooling gullible kings with bogus laws. In both instances the question posed by the kings was, “Is your God able to save you?” The power of God was in question. While there is no record the either king embraced the living God as the sole god, they nevertheless proclaimed protection for the Hebrew God and uttered words of praise. 

It is interesting the administrators and high officials saw Daniel’s religion as having rules that needed to be followed. Daniel’s daily prayer was not a matter of following rules, but rather, living out a communion with his God. So when he heard of the decree to pray only to the king, naturally, Daniel would not do so as his allegiance was not to Darius, but to YHWH. The Three had the very same reason not to bow to the golden image. Like in the earlier story, the evil perpetrators waited for their moment and reported the violations to the king. Then there were the arrests, one to the furnace and one to the den of lions. 

This is Eastertide. You might be asking, why these stories from the book of Daniel? Both are shadow types of the resurrection. Think how Jesus’ situation parallels these stories. Both the furnace and the den were a type of tomb. Innocent men were falsely condemned and sentenced to violent painful deaths. All the victims were steadfast in their ultimate trust in God. In Daniel’s case, he was thrown into the den which was then sealed with the king’s seal and the administrator’s seal in the same manner that Jesus’ tomb was secured with Caesar’s seal. Like Pilate’s wife (Mt.27:19), both kings had trouble sleeping the night. Like Pilate, both kings knew of the victim’s innocence. In fact, the words of Darius are strikingly similar to Pilates’. Darius “tried to think of a way to save Daniel.” In Luke’s words, “Pilate tried to release him, but . . .”  Like Jesus, the four Old Testament men were delivered victorious from their “tombs.” What was to be certain death was miraculously averted by the power of God’s intervention. And both Nebuchadnezar and Darius referred to the God of the Jews as the “living God” in contrast to their dead idols. Further, in Daniel’s case, the betrayers, like Judas, received a deadly sentence for their evil plans. On a passing note, the ruling Gentile powers pronounced death to the persecuted Jewish subjects. There is one massive difference between the four death-sentenced Jews and Jesus. All four were spared death in their “resurrection.” Jesus was not spared death but died conquering death once for all in achieving his and our resurrection.

In these famous First Testament stories of Jewish history we have precursors to the New Testament resurrection of Jesus and what is to us, the certainty of our own resurrection. The Lion from the tribe of Judah is the one who has rescued us from the fires of hell and tomb of death. Hallelujah! 

Music:  “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?”  arr. Hogan   Nathaniel Dett Chorale

Prayer: O Lord, give us grace, we beseech Thee, to hear and obey Thy voice which saith to every one of us, “This the way, walk ye in it.” Nevertheless, let us not hear it behind us saying, “This is the way;” but rather before us saying, “Follow me.” When Thou puttest us forth, go before us; when the way is too great for us, carry us; in the darkness of death, comfort us; in the day of resurrection, satisfy us.This I pray in the name of Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign, one God, world without end. Amen.                        ―Book of Uncommon Prayer, Christina Rossetti, p.127

Monday, April 12

Reader: “They defied the king’s command and were willing to die” 

Response: “rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”   

Scripture: Daniel 3:1-30     (We pick up in the book of Daniel where we left off.)

King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

So at the sound of the musical instruments, all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments and throw them into the blazing furnace. [The flames shot seventy-five feet in the air according to the apocryphal song of the Three Holy Children.] And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw them in. So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.

But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.

“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”

Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” 

So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!” 

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon. 

Reader: “The word of the Lord.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

As a little boy in Sunday School, this story and Daniel in the lion’s den were two of my favorites! God comes to the rescue and the bad guys are humbled. Good wins over evil. People show great courage and do what is right and don’t give in and abandon their God. Even a second grader can understand that lesson.

Let’s delve into this classic and look at some of the dynamics. Daniel had just told Nebuchadnezzar the details of the king’s dream with the interpretation. As a result, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego at Daniel’s request had been promoted to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon! Suddenly, all the officials, governors, judges, treasurers had new bosses, the Hebrew whiz kids. Does the word “jealousy” come to mind?

You know what happens next. The music sounds and everyone bows low to the ground. (It reminds me of seeing pictures of masses of Muslims bowing on their prayer rugs.) There are times even in our days when there is great pressure to conform to the “correct” group. A failure to comply is to invite condemnation. Three young men standing amidst hundreds or even thousands bowing to the ground were easy to spot and the jealous government officials were only too happy to report the violation of the king’s command to Nebuchadnezzar.

The king gave the Three a second chance to save their lives―they were his superstars after all―and submit to the command to worship the idol. The king’s question, “Is it true?”, may have had an element of asking if they had deliberately refused to bow. (This is the only place this Aramaic word is used in the OT.) That may partially explain Nebuchadnezzar’s following explosive rage at their answer. In the king’s eyes, they had committed treason against god. 

Their forthright response further confirmed their refusal to abandon their faith in God. They were very willing to die rather than bow to a false god. Even at this point, their words of response hinted of being spared. They knew the history of God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel time after time. They believed he could do it again on their behalf if he chose, but if not, they would never yield. Did you notice in your reading of this passage that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego never once prayed for deliverance from their situation? God sent his *angel and they were delivered whereupon Nebuchadnezzar declared that every nation, race or language must not speak against God! While he came to honor Israel’s God, we do not sense he ever worshiped God exclusively. He probably had a “Coexist” bumper sticker on the back of his camel! 

(*”Angel” Some translations use the phrase “like the Son of God.” As we have said many times, the First Testament has types of Christ figures throughout. Moses is a type of Christ figure. There are also what we call “theophanies of Christ.” This appearance of a fourth person with the Three is considered as an actual appearance or manifestation of the pre-incarnate Son and Word of God. Jacob wrestling with God and the three visitors to Abram and Sarai would be two other examples of theophanies.)

Did you notice that Nebuchadnezzar had previous knowledge of God Most High. The three young men had obviously not been silent about the identity of the God of Israel. They were witnesses to the truth in a hostile environment. We live in a world that is hostile to Christianity and at times a government rules in conflict with the Church, the Body of Christ. As followers of Christ, let us stand straight and declare our allegiance to our King as citizens and heirs of his Kingdom. You may have a chance to do so today. 

Here is a link to the full apocryphal text which praises the God of all creation. This is inserted between v. 23 and 24 in Daniel chapter three in Bibles that contain the Apocrypha. Generally speaking, Apocryphal texts are sacred Old and New Testament texts that were generally not canonized, that is, accepted as the divinely inspired word of God. The Orthodox and Roman Catholics have included them in their Scriptures. https://bible.usccb.org/bible/daniel/3?23 

Music:  “Song of the Three Holy Children”        Orthodox Christian 

Bonus: “Canticle of Daniel”   A contemporary setting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWzqPov0k3E

Prayer:Lord Jesus Christ, my Creator and Savior of my soul and body, I bow before you in overwhelming gratitude and wonder. Your word says you knit me together in my mother’s womb and saw me before I was even born. You recorded every day and every moment of my life before there was even one. The mystery is that you have never recorded an end to my life. You know that I will dwell with you eternally because of what you have done on the behalf of me and all of your children. I look forward, though I cannot imagine how this would be, to thanking you face to face in my unimaginable resurrection body and bowing before you in perfect worship. . . . my words fail, but you know my speechless heart.          ―Daniel Sharp

Second Sunday of Easter, April 11

Reader: “You believe because you have seen me.”

Response: “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Scripture:  John 20:24-31 

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

Reader: “The powerful word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

Last Sunday morning Peter and John had been to the empty tomb and had left befuddled as to what had happened to the body of Jesus. Then Jesus appeared to them last Sunday night while they were timidly hiding in a room behind locked doors. Fear of worldly forces and circumstances can often consume Christians when they lose focus on God’s power and sovereignty. Such was the case of the cowering disciples. Into this situation, the dead Jesus they saw on the cross three days previous, suddenly appears in their midst very much alive coming through the locked door. Thomas was not present with the rest of the disciples that Easter Sunday evening.

Here we are a week later. Once again the disciples have gathered still in hiding though this time Thomas is with them. Sometimes, I fear, he gets a bad rap. Thomas was very much a realist. It was he who said, when Jesus informed the disciples that he was going back to Jerusalem to wake Lazarus from his sleep, “let’s all go and die with you.” He understood the real danger of Jesus’ returning at that time (Jn.11:16). It was Thomas who wanted clarity on “the way” where Jesus was going (Jn. 14:5). Thomas was not shy about expressing himself in wanting to grasp the full significance of Jesus’ ministry. He was definitely not a “let’s just go with the flow” kind of guy. He wanted solid evidence.

We don’t know why Thomas was not with the other disciples that first Sunday, but he had heard from them regarding Jesus’ appearance that remarkable night and he wasn’t buying it. He wanted proof for himself. Can you imagine his reaction when Jesus appeared again? I can almost hear the conversation . . .

Jesus, “So Thomas, good to see you. Missed you last Sunday. I heard you say something about touching my hands and my side? 

Thomas, “Uh . . . umm . . .uh”

Jesus, “I’m here. Go ahead. What’s holding you back?” 

Can you imagine the swirling thoughts going on in the psyche of that disciple? Thomas, overwhelmed, spontaneously erupts with the great declaration, “My Lord and my God!” This acclimation was not only a personal testimony of belief, it was an echoing of the proclamation at the beginning of John’s gospel. “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Scripture does not say if Thomas ever did touch Jesus’ side.

Jesus concludes this encounter with the prophetic words that include us, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” In a sense, we are like Thomas in that we’ve never seen Jesus. In one way, it’s like we are in the week between the resurrection and Jesus’ appearance to the disciples eight days later. But unlike Thomas, we do believe in Jesus’ resurrection. We’re just waiting for his return on the “eighth day,” the Day of the New Creation as it’s referred to in both Testaments, when “every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him” (Rev.1:7). Thomas’ realism has done the skeptics and all of us a great favor. He is risen indeed!

Music: “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Messiah   Robert Shaw (The conclusion of Messiah)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYqa4_3Lc48    Glorious AMEN!!

Bonus:

 “I Have Seen the Lord”        Vigil

Prayer:Show us, O God, most holy, according to the measure of our mortal sight, the glory of the risen Christ, for as the rising sun breaks upon the night shadows and day leaps into joy, so has Christ overcome the powers of darkness and of death, and has disclosed to us the wonders of your power and love. Truly, you have risen, O Lord! Let the gospel trumpets speak, and the news as of holy fire, burning and flaming and inextinguishable, run to the ends of the earth. You have risen, O Lord! Let all creation greet the good tidings, with jubilant shout; for its time of release has come, the long night is past, the Savior lives and rides and reigns in triumph now and throughout all ages. Amen.                     ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.97

Saturday, April 10

Reader: “God is the greatest of gods,” 

Response: “the Lord over kings.”

Scripture: Daniel 2:24-49   

Then Daniel went in to see Arioch, whom the king had ordered to execute the wise men of Babylon. Daniel said to him, “Don’t kill the wise men. Take me to the king, and I will tell him the meaning of his dream.”

Arioch quickly took Daniel to the king and said, “I have found one of the captives from Judah who will tell the king the meaning of his dream!”

The king said to Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar), “Is this true? Can you tell me what my dream was and what it means?”

Daniel replied, “There are no wise men, enchanters, magicians, or fortune-tellers who can reveal the king’s secret. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future. Now I will tell you your dream and the visions you saw as you lay on your bed.

“While Your Majesty was sleeping, you dreamed about coming events. He who reveals secrets has shown you what is going to happen. And it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart.

“In your vision, Your Majesty, you saw standing before you a huge, shining statue of a man. It was a frightening sight. The head of the statue was made of fine gold. Its chest and arms were silver, its belly and thighs were bronze, its legs were iron, and its feet were a combination of iron and baked clay. As you watched, a rock was cut from a mountain, but not by human hands. It struck the feet of iron and clay, smashing them to bits. The whole statue was crushed into small pieces of iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold. Then the wind blew them away without a trace, like chaff on a threshing floor. But the rock that knocked the statue down became a great mountain that covered the whole earth.

“That was the dream. Now we will tell the king what it means. Your Majesty, you are the greatest of kings. The God of heaven has given you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor. He has made you the ruler over all the inhabited world and has put even the wild animals and birds under your control. You are the head of gold.

“But after your kingdom comes to an end, another kingdom, inferior to yours, will rise to take your place. After that kingdom has fallen, yet a third kingdom, represented by bronze, will rise to rule the world. Following that kingdom, there will be a fourth one, as strong as iron. That kingdom will smash and crush all previous empires, just as iron smashes and crushes everything it strikes. The feet and toes you saw were a combination of iron and baked clay, showing that this kingdom will be divided. Like iron mixed with clay, it will have some of the strength of iron. But while some parts of it will be as strong as iron, other parts will be as weak as clay. This mixture of iron and clay also shows that these kingdoms will try to strengthen themselves by forming alliances with each other through intermarriage. But they will not hold together, just as iron and clay do not mix.

“During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. The dream is true, and its meaning is certain.”

Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.”

Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:     

Following up on yesterday, we carry the story forward. At this point God has revealed to Daniel the details and interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. In fact, it happened the night after the four prayed. Daniel went to the king’s executioner with the news who then took him to the king. In great detail he told the king his dream and interpreted it for him. 

Daniel’s method of revealing this hidden information is interesting to me. He didn’t begin by going immediately to the specifics but rather helped the king to see things in proper context, in reality. You’ll recall the words of the enchanters about the fact that only the gods could reveal something like this and that they “do not live among people here on earth.” It was at this point that the Nebuchadnezzar blew up. Here, Daniel said the same thing, but then what follows is different. Rather than saying there are no gods living on earth who can tell the king his dream, Daniel begins the conversation with, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets and this God has shown Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future. Now I will tell you your dream” and what it means. Notice how Daniel pointed the king to the true and living God as the source of his knowledge. He changed the way Nebuchadnezzar thought about the dream and vision. He sought to shift the king’s attention toward the God in heaven. In other words, Daniel confronted the king with the truth and reality of the sovereign Ruler of the universe.

Can you imagine Nebuchadnezzar’s shock as he sat there hearing his dream and vision described in great detail? He had witnessed a miracle and bowed to worship Daniel affirming Daniel’s God, the greatest of the gods and Lord over kings. Daniel was promoted and asked the king that his three friends be assigned to be in charge of the affairs of the province of Babylon. Daniel was then able to remain with Nebuchadnezzar to influence his decisions. 

What can we learn from this passage? Daniel seemed to be especially good at diffusing difficult people with a calm manner through his trust in God. He was also direct in his conversations with God in solving difficult situations. He was able to understand the mind set of Nebuchadnezzar and respond accordingly rather than coming to the conversation with his own agenda. The result was that Nebuchadnezzar was able to admit that Daniel’s God was even over him, something he was unable to do when approached by the enchanters. 

The world in which we live is filled with Nebuchadnezzars with very different ideas and personalities. Daniel is an Old Testament version of Jesus in dealing with difficult situations. Like Jesus, he continually pointed people to the Father. We have the pattern!

Music: “O Breath of Life”     Emu Music

Prayer:Grant Almighty God, that as thou hast showed to us by evidence so remarkable that all things are under thy command, and that we who live in this world through thy favor are as nothing, for thou couldst reduce us to nothing in a moment,―O grant that being conscious of thy power we may reverently fear thy hand, and be wholly devoted to thy glory; and as thou kindly offerest thyself to us as a Father, may we be drawn by this kindness and surrender and never labor for anything throughout life but to glorify thy name as thou hast redeemed us through thine only-begotten Son, so that we may also enjoy through him that eternal inheritance which is laid up for us in heaven. Amen.                ―Devotions and Prayers of John Calvin, p.49

Friday, April 9

Reader: “Praise the name of God forever and ever,”

Response: “for he has all wisdom and power.”

Scripture: Daniel 2:1-23       

One night during the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had such disturbing dreams that he couldn’t sleep. He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and he demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed. As they stood before the king, he said, “I have had a dream that deeply troubles me, and I must know what it means.”

Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “Long live the king! Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.”

But the king said to the astrologers, “I am serious about this. If you don’t tell me what my dream was and what it means, you will be torn limb from limb, and your houses will be turned into heaps of rubble! But if you tell me what I dreamed and what the dream means, I will give you many wonderful gifts and honors. Just tell me the dream and what it means!”

They said again, “Please, Your Majesty. Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.”

The king replied, “I know what you are doing! You’re stalling for time because you know I am serious when I say, ‘If you don’t tell me the dream, you are doomed.’ So you have conspired to tell me lies, hoping I will change my mind. But tell me the dream, and then I’ll know that you can tell me what it means.”

The astrologers replied to the king, “No one on earth can tell the king his dream! And no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician, enchanter, or astrologer! The king’s demand is impossible. No one except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live here among people.”

The king was furious when he heard this, and he ordered that all the wise men of Babylon be executed. And because of the king’s decree, men were sent to find and kill Daniel and his friends.

When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” So Arioch told him all that had happened. Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant.

Then Daniel went home and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. He urged them to ask the God of heaven to show them his mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon. That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. He said,

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,

    for he has all wisdom and power.

He controls the course of world events;

    he removes kings and sets up other kings.

He gives wisdom to the wise

    and knowledge to the scholars.

He reveals deep and mysterious things

    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,

    though he is surrounded by light.

I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors,

    for you have given me wisdom and strength.

You have told me what we asked of you

    and revealed to us what the king demanded.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We continue on with Daniel today as we look at the incident with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Remember, Nebuchadnezzar is the first king he served so Daniel is still a very young man. You know the story. The king had a very troubling dream. In this particular culture, great meaning was attached to dreams. Astrologers and magicians made a living interpreting dreams so the king called to them for their interpretation, a field called oneiromancy. As usual they asked the king to tell them the dream. As the king was not in a good mood, things did not go well. He demanded they tell him the dream and its meaning. Not having divine powers they, of course, could not do this at which point the king promised to kill them for their inability to meet his demand. 

The astrologer’s realistic response got them into even more trouble. You see, the king was supposed to be treated as divinity, as a god. Here is their death knell comment. “No one except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live here among people.” In other words, king, you are not a god! With that, Nebuchadnezzar lost it completely and ordered all the wise men to be executed immediately. His divinity had been directly insulted.

When the king’s enforcer came to kill them all, Daniel, calm and cool as ever, went to see the king and ask for a little more time. Isn’t it interesting that when the sorcerers asked for more time earlier, the king refused, but here, he did not refuse Daniel’s request. Though this portion of Daniel is written in Aramic, the trade language of the region, Daniel still calls his brothers by their Hebrew names. The culture had not changed him. The four young men prayed asking God specifically to show mercy to Daniel and reveal the dream and its interpretation so that not only they, but all the astrologers, enchanters, magicians and sorcerers would not be killed. That very night God disclosed everything to him. Daniel responded with a song of praise acknowledging the greatness of God. 

Read the words of Daniel’s song of praise again noting the verbs associated with God. The hymn begins and ends with words of adoration and in between are the specifics of the praise. Here are some very powerful words for our day and we work through the difficulties in our nations and our world. In Daniel’s exact words: “God controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings (even Nebuchadnezzar!). He gives wisdom to the wise (not fools), knowledge to scholars ( not the ignorant). He reveals and he knows mysteries. Daniel acknowledges the past and praises God for his dealings with his ancestors. He then expresses his deep gratitude to God for revealing the king’s dream and its interpretation. 

Like yesterday’s devotional, we see how God continues to give and interact with his children. Daniel has given us a pattern for our own interaction with God in the midst of unique and interesting times. Realize: 1) God is in control of world events. 2) He set up rulers and removes rulers according to his plans. 3) He gives wisdom to those who are wise enough to ask. 4) He understands everything. 5) Being in God’s hands is the very best place to be, ask Daniel.

Music: “If Thou Will Suffer God to Guide Thee”      Calvin Alumni Singers

Prayer:O merciful God, be Thou now unto me a strong tower of defense, I humbly entreat Thee. Give me grace to await Thy leisure, and patiently to bear what Thou doest unto me; neither doubting or distrusting Thy goodness towards me; for Thou knowest what is good for me better than I do. Therefore do with me in all things what Thou wilt; only arm me, I beseech Thee, with Thine armor, that I may stand fast; above all things, taking to me the shield of faith; praying always that I may refer myself wholly to Thy will, abiding Thy pleasure, and comforting myself in those troubles which it shall please Thee to send me, seeing such troubles are profitable for me; and I am assuredly persuaded that all Thou doest cannot but be well; and unto Thee be all honor and glory. Amen.          ―Prayer Ancient and Modern, p.118 

Thursday, April 8

Reader: “Daniel was determined”

Response: “not to defile himself. ”

Scripture:  Daniel 1:1-21    

During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god.

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:

Daniel was called Belteshazzar.

Hananiah was called Shadrach.

Mishael was called Meshach.

Azariah was called Abednego.

But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.”

Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. “At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king’s food. Then make your decision in light of what you see.” The attendant agreed to Daniel’s suggestion and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others. 

God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams.

When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.

Daniel remained in the royal service until the first year of the reign of King Cyrus.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

With the Resurrection still fresh in our minds, I can’t help but think how many times Daniel was “resurrected” from a difficult situation. We come today to a most familiar story from the First Testament, the story of Daniel and his three Jewish friends. As we walk through the events of Babylon overrunning Jerusalem, we see how four young men exercise faith in the midst of a hostile environment. I’d like us to reflect on how we respond to hostility toward Christianity in our world in light of Daniel and his friend’s response to their situation.

Daniel is a young man closely following the Lord at this point of the story. Daniel’s ruler is Jehoiakim who has led the nation of Judah in rebellion against Israel’s God. In other words, a godly young man is living in his own country under godless leadership. To make matters worse, Judah is overrun by the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar in accordance with the Lord’s grand design. Daniel’s family had roots in royalty (King David’s line) and as a result his family was exiled to Babylon in 605 BC; more people came later in 597 BC (Ezekiel), and the rest in 586 BC. Daniel is probably between ten and eighteen years old at this point and he is handsome! According to the historian Josephus, it was common for young men in this situation to be made eunuchs. 

Nebuchadnezzar attempted to convert Daniel (meaning “God is my judge”) and his friends to the social and religious ways of Babylon. Changing their names to Babylonian names was part of that indoctrination and an attempt to rewrite their past history, a common practice when attempting to change a culture. Without offending his overseers, Daniel offered an alternative demonstrating his wisdom. We should also note that God caused Daniel to be in favor with his captors receiving their respect and affection. Apparently, Daniel was a nice guy without an “attitude.” 

When Daniel talked with the chief of staff in regards to wanting a different diet, the chief was reluctant. You’ll note that Daniel did not give up but made the same request of the underling of the chief who agreed to Daniel’s suggestion. Do you get the idea that Daniel is both persistent and gracious? Incidentally, Daniel and Joseph are the only two people in Scripture about whom nothing bad is said . . . other than Jesus. 

After their ten day test, the Hebrew young men were healthier and sharper than the other young men who ate the food assigned by the king. After the training period was over, Daniel and his friends were interviewed and selected by the king to enter his service being superior in every way to his magicians and enchanters. The result was that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah had great influence on the leadership of a pagan nation though they were captives! In fact, Daniel served under four kings, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede and Cyrus. His wisdom, insight and ability to interpret dreams was legendary. He was a legend in his own time! He served in the court of Babylon the entire seventy years of exile and was probably in his eighties when thrown into the lion’s den. It is interesting that a righteous person who honored God’s way would be attacked in an attempt to destroy the person. Whether it is Haman in the book of Esther or the jealous officials in the book of Daniel, in both cases the accusers fell into their own trap. Hatred of righteousness pays a heavy price.

In conclusion, did you notice a number of very significant phrases in today’s pericope? “The Lord gave him . . . (Nebuchadnezzar)”, “The Lord permitted him . . .”,  “God had given the chief of staff . . .”, “God gave these four young men . . .” and “God gave Daniel.” The first words concerning Daniel personally were “Daniel was determined . . .” In those words we learn of Daniel’s character and faith in the midst of a difficult situation. Match that with the four phrases above and you see the unfolding plan of God for a man and for a nation. Daniel spent that vast majority of his life living in a foreign land and making an impact on that land. You must see the parallel to our day. Friends, we are living in a foreign land, citizens of heaven our true home. In a sense, we are living in a “home away from home.” Let us live with Daniel’s determination trusting in all the “Lord gave!” May we impact our world as Daniel did his.

Music: “Be Still My Soul”     Libera

Prayer: (Reminds me of Daniel)

Teach us, Lord, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do your will. Amen.                                                                                             ―St. Ignatius of Loyola   

Wednesday, April 7

Reader: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” 

Response: “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”

Scripture: Mark 16:1-8 

Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

This drawing is based on the discovery of some 61 such rolling stone tombs.

Have you ever noticed how much specific detailed description is given in the Scriptures in regard to Jesus’ burial and the events that followed? Have you ever wondered why the gospel writers took such pain? They were eyewitnesses describing details. Fairy tales are very light on specifics if you’ve ever noticed. Made up stories focus on action and motives. Details are unimportant and boring.

Read today’s passage again noting specifics. 1) It was Saturday evening after sundown―Sabbath was over so what followed was legal. 2) Three women (one more than the two required witnesses by Jewish law (Deut.19:15) were witnesses to the resurrection even though they were confused as to the empty tomb. 3) We know what the women did and why―they purchased burial spices to cover the stench of the decaying body which had already been wrapped with spices (embalmed). 4) Early Sunday morning just at sunrise, a specific time is given―we are recording chronological history, not making up a story―the three women headed to the tomb with their purchased spices. 5) On the way, they discussed how they were going to be able to roll the massive stone away from the tomb entrance, a real problem for them. 6) Upon arrival they discovered the stone had already been rolled away from the entrance and a young man wearing a white robe was in the tomb sitting on the right side. Again, we have specific details: the man present was young, clothed in white and sitting on the right side. 7) Note how specific were the words of the angel: the person in the tomb was Jesus of Nazareth, the one crucified. He isn’t here; he is raised from the dead. His body was here, but since he’s alive, it’s gone. He leaves no doubt as to who, when and what happened. 8) Mark, the gospel writer, records the details of the conversation the angel had with the women. How did he know what was said? The information in the gospel of Mark came largely from Peter. We learn from a different gospel writer that the angel told the women to go tell the disciples and Peter what had happened. In that way, Peter knew the content of what had happened (Jn.20:2). 9) The women were so overwhelmed with what they all encountered that they ran from the tomb trembling and confused. Shortly thereafter, they told the disciples and in a measure of special grace, they told Peter in person as well. What an astounding event they experienced firsthand. 

Since Jewish law considered women to be ineligible witnesses, the fact that their testimony was accepted is further evidence of the truth of the resurrection. The early Church would not have invented a story with women as the primary source witnesses. The fact that the women were the first ones to relay the resurrection further confirms it as historical fact. This event, with this many eye-witnesses and this many details speaks forcefully of truth. Should you ever run into someone who says the resurrection of Jesus was a story that was passed down word of mouth and subject to error and exaggeration, remind them that people who told the story were the people in the story. The resurrection of Jesus is based on primary source material and it is the truth. The question is, do they believe the truth? The challenge to the disciples and to us is to spread this good news to everyone,

Music: “I’ve Just Seen Jesus”    Sandi Patty & Larnelle Harris   A gospel classic.

Prayer:

It is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our whole heart and mind and voice, to praise you, the invisible, almighty, and eternal God, and your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam’s sin, and by his blood delivered your faithful people. You brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land. All who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. For he broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose bodily, victorious from the grave. How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son. How wonderful when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord. How blessed when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God. Let us live in simple transparency this day. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ―adapted Daniel Sharp from Easter Vigil prayer, BCP

Tuesday, April 6

Reader: “Thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death” 

Response: “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:50-58     

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

In following up on yesterday’s pericope, we continue on with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It is patently obvious that your body and mine will be or are in the process of failing. These bodies of ours for a vast number of reasons, cannot exist let alone function in the heavenly realm. That world lasts eternally. Clearly our physical bodies do not! A sin-contaminated earthly body cannot dwell in a holy heavenly kingdom.

At the same time I’m intrigued with the phrase “we will not all die, but we will all be transformed!” We think of Christian’s lives as being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit while here on earth. Here we have Christian bodies being transformed at the moment of death. Death itself becomes the moment of transformation which is why Paul says we do not all die, we are transformed. Once again he gives no explanation of how that happens, only that it does in the blink of an eye. Have you realized this takes away the fear of your death? There is no long process like a seed being planted, germinating and eventually popping through the ground growing into a fully developed plant. At the moment of death we are instantly transformed into our immortal bodies.

The latter part of this passage is concerned with the Second Coming of the Lord though the description of the resurrected body still applies. Paul picks up this emphasis again in I Thes. 4:15-17. If we are still alive on earth when that great day happens, our bodies will be instantly changed as will those of believers coming out of the graves. You and I will then have a body that will never die, the last one we’ll ever have! No more aging, sickness, infirmities or mental deterioration. The real challenge for us is to try to put into words something of which we have no experience. We can write the words, but in truth we cannot fully comprehend what we have said. Such a world is a glorious mystery to anticipate.

Paul then quotes Hosea 13:14 with the reference to the “sting of death.” The life of Adam and Eve in the Garden was sinless and perfect. Life for them at that point was eternal. Communion with God was holy. Heaven had come to earth. Sin entered shattering their (and our) heavenly kingdom with a fatal sting. The law proved the power of sin. Human beings could not obey the law resulting in a spiritual and physical death which lasted until Calvary whereupon partial restoration was possible. The spiritual communion with God could be restored, though sin hung round the earthly premises and physical death continued to reign. But for the believer, that earthly death was a misnomer! The redeemed death brought a mortal body transformation to an immortal body. Death was eternally defeated through the glorious victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death.

I love this last part of today’s passage. Theological truth should always have practical application as one of my professors commented to me when we were discussion theology. Paul evidently agreed! His words: work enthusiastically for the Lord. Nothing we do for the Lord is ever in vain. If you and I are involved in what God is doing, his work will go on even after we have left this earth. Think of all the Christians you’ve encountered in your life who have since left this world that continue to influence your walk with the Lord. The fruit of their labor continues even though they are no longer present. What work for the Lord are you doing that will continue after you are gone?

Music: “Death, Where is Thy Sting?”      6th movement Brahms Requiem extract

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfhY31XoN14    Sung in German you’ll have no trouble translating!!   Tod=death   wo ist= where is    seig= sting  This portion of the sixth movement is mocking death, having lost its power. 

Bonus: “Mornin’ Trumpet”       arr. Parker-Shaw      Santa Fe Desert Chorale

Prayer:

My risen Lord, I feel thy strong protection; I see thee stand among the graves today. I hear thee say, “I am the Way, the Life, the Resurrection.” And all the burdens I have sadly carried grow light as blossoms on this April day; my cross becomes a staff. I journey gladly these resurrection days, having come through the Sea, I continue on to my final home across the Jordan to the Promised Land.   ―Author Unknown, adapted Daniel Sharp

Monday, April 5

These are unusual and difficult days throughout our world. So I want to encourage you in the truth, truth that remains constant and unaffected by any event. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. We rest in him. The early church celebrated Easter not just one day, but extended the focus on the risen Lord over the following fifty days through Ascension to Pentecost. In keeping with that tradition, we continue with the daily devotionals through Eastertide!

The purpose of these daily encounters with Scripture remains the same: 1) They can provide an opportunity to encounter the Lord daily speaking through his written Word. 2) They can give us a better grasp of the whole unity of the Bible as one grand story and increase our knowledge of this Library of Books. 3) They can help get us into the daily pattern of reading Scripture. 4) They can give us a daily encounter with vocal music of substance to inspire our faith. 5) And the concluding prayers can introduce us to some of the saints of the past and “sinners” from the present! I can think of no better way to start the day. As always, I appreciate your helping to pass the word along. As always, subscribing is free at:  sharpdevotional.com

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Dan

© Daniel Sharp 2021

Monday, April 5

Reader: “Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die,” 

Response: “but they will be raised to live forever.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:35-49  

But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.

There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.

The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.

Reader: “The Word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

Following the glory of the great celebration of the resurrection yesterday, it is no surprise that today our attention would turn to our own resurrection. People in Paul’s day wondered some of the very same things we are curious about. What happens to our soul and spirit when we die? That personality, that being that is “you,” where does that go, what happens to it and what kind of a “resurrection body” do we have after death? Notice, there is no question at all if there is life after death, or if there is a resurrection of human beings, or if we have some kind of a body after we die. The Scriptures give us clear help in stretching our understanding. 

Once again, let’s walk our way through this passage. As far as the first question, as to how the dead will be raised, Paul gives us no help. God did it and he didn’t explain the “how.” How does one explain a miracle, the impossible? When it comes to creation, for example, God simply said and it was. Maybe the “how” of  resurrection is the same. God simply speaks. The actual process remains a mystery.

The second question is a little more concrete. What will our resurrection bodies be like? In addressing this question, Paul gives us an analogy of a seed. The point is a   seed of corn grows into a corn plant. Being planted in the earth is part of the necessary process to produce a stalk of corn. The germination of the seed (resurrection) is the process which produces the corn plant. The seed looks very different from the  mature corn plant it produces. Yet the two states of the process, planting and germination of the seed are related. Such is the case of a resurrection body. 

If the life in our earthly body is the “seed” stage and when we die we get “planted in the earth,” but what happens then? Having left our earthly body in the ground as “dust returns to dust,” what will our heavenly body be like? Paul is clear. God gives us the body he wants us to have. The “seed” determines the species of the body. Earthly and heavenly bodies differ. We may see a glorious earthly body, but it is nothing like a heavenly body! But the “you” is a “resurrected you.” You haven’t lost your personhood. 

Do we have hints in other parts of Scripture as to what a heavenly body might look like? Angels have bodies different from human bodies which is probably why fear was often present at an angel visitation. They are a different kind of “seed.” There are a set number of angels from creation and they do not procreate. We have a hint in the “appearance” of Samuel in the account of Saul and the witch of Endor. His body had a shape like Samuel and the voice of Samuel. There was some connection between Samuel’s earthly body and his body from the nether world. The spirit and soul of Samuel had not changed, but this “body” was unlike his earthly body.

As we have mentioned before, Moses and Elijah at the Mount of Transfiguration appeared in their heavenly bodies which were distinct from each other and from the bodies of the disciples. Jesus likewise appeared in his glorified body which differed still more. The glory and brilliance of the heavenly body was a stark contrast to the glory of the earthly bodies of the disciples. Paul also uses the sun, moon, and stars as his example of different bodies and differing degrees of glory.

After giving these analogies, Paul moves away from the physical descriptions of bodies and turns our attention to the spirit and soul side of death. The earthly body is planted in the ground but is raised to live forever. It is buried in brokenness, but raised in glory. It is buried in weakness, but raised in strength. It is buried as a natural human body, but raised as a spiritual body. Such is the case of every person trusting in Christ. The contrast is between earthly temporal and the spiritual heavenly and eternal.

If we go back to creation, we find that Adam’s physical being was created first and then the Spirit of God breathed into him and man became a living soul (Gen.2:7). Notice that God created man in that order, body first then soul and spirit. Unlike other parts of God’s creation which are not formed in “the image of God,” Adam was a human being because he possessed a body, soul, and spirit.  Adam came from the dust of the earth while Christ came from the glories of heaven. Though we are presently “earthly” people, we will be “heavenly” people. Christ’s resurrection made this possible.

So how does all of this settle out? Put as simply as possible: everyone dies and is resurrected in the future, those trusting in Christ to everlasting life in the presence of God and others to judgment (Jn.5:28-29). Our resurrected bodies will have properties and capabilities very different from our earthly bodies. They will be glorious, strong, immortal, perfectly spiritual and like Jesus’ own uniquely “physical” resurrected body (I Cor.15:35-58). A reminder, he ate food in his resurrected body (Luke 24:36-41). Our heavenly body will have different properties than our present body. We will clearly not be a floating “spirit” playing a harp! We will be recognizable as who we are as unique persons with fully redeemed souls and spirits. Because of the physical resurrection of Jesus and his ascension to the right hand of the Father, all of these things will come to pass for you and for me. Can you imagine what it will be like to have been made perfect body, soul, and spirit by Christ, glorifying our great God? We have something to look forward to! Hallelujah!

Music:  “Et resurrexit”  Bach from b minor mass   English Consort

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8BCArASBkI      This tempo is a little quick but communicates the joy of the resurrection!

Prayer:

O God, we give thanks that your Son, Jesus Christ, who has shared our earthly life, has now ascended to prepare our heavenly life. Grant that, through coming to know him by faith on earth, we may come to know him by sight in heaven. Amen.   

                     ―from the Gelasian Sacramentary, Prayers for Easter, p.103

Lenten Music 2021

Feb.17  “With Broken Heart and Contrite Sigh” St. Patrick Presbyterian Church 

Feb.18  “Psalm 51”    The Sons of Korah

Feb 19  “Hear My Prayer O Lord” Purcell Voces8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Q33UL7ugc

Feb.20   “Lord, I Want to Be Like Jesus”             Fernando Ortega

Feb.21  “What Wondrous Love Is This”   St. Olaf Choir

Feb.22 “Out of the Depths” The Genevans

Feb.23 “The Corinthian Song”     Sam Robson       Beautiful and remarkable!

Feb.24  “A Poor Wayfaring Stranger”         Sam Robson         Gorgeous!  Eternal perspective.

Feb.25   “Jesus Paid It All”   Fernando Ortega    Beautiful arrangement of this tune.

Bonuses: “Jesus Paid It All”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfUNU-sPwbQ   Celtic Worship

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sN5L8qtDR60     Choral Arrangement

Feb.26 “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”  Kristin and Keith Getty

Feb.27   “The God of Abraham Praise”      Grace Community Church Congregation

Feb.28  “I’d Rather Have Jesus”     Alison Krauss

Mar.1 “The Omnipotence”    Schubert       Hour of Power Choir

Mar.2 “Benedictus”    Karl Jenkins      7:40 minutes

Mar.3  “Phos Hilaron”     Owain Park          The Gesualdo Six

Mar.4 “Cornerstone”   Shawn Kirchner      Loma Linda Academy

Mar.5  “Holy, Holy, Holy is God the Lord”  No. 35 from  Elijah Oratorio  Mendelssohn

Mar. 6  “Behold, God the Lord Passed By”     from  Elijah     St. Olaf Chapel Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omqpFDmK6VQ

Mar. 7  “And Can It Be?”   Brits hymn sing

Mar.8  “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”      BuPyeong Methodist Church, The 74th Anniversary Service Immanuel Symphony Orchestra United Choir

Mar.9 “The Sign of the Son”  Simon Khorolskiy   in Russian with English translation

Mar.10 “Miserere Mei, Deus”    Tenebrae Choir      Exquisite!!!!!!    Psalm 51

Mar.11   “Agnus Dei”         Vlaams Radiokoor   (It wouldn’t be Lent without hearing this glorious setting aof a confessional prayer at least once!    “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”)

March 12  “Have Thine Own Way Lord”     Fountain Valley Academy

Bonus:

“Have Thine Own Way Lord”   Philippine Madrigal Singers (in Italy)

Mar. 13  “Behold, People Have Walked in Great Darkness”    Philippe Sly, Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra

Mar. 14   “God So Loved the World”    Te Deum Chamber Choir 

Mar.15  “How Firm A Foundation”   First Plymouth Church Lincoln, Nebraska

Mar.16 “Hear My Prayer, O Lord”      Purcell       Voces8     

Mar. 17 “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”  BuPyeong Methodist Church  S.Korean

Bonus:

“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”      Glorious Philharmonic Choir (African)

Mar. 18  “Saints Bound for Heaven”   Missouri State University Chorale https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onObQOmUWws

Bonus: “Goin Home”  Dvorak   Sissel            When we all get to Zion!

Mar. 19  “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven”   Douglas Marshall et al.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lik0hbDKIs

Bonus:

“Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven, 800 voice choir

Mar. 20 “O Nata Lux” Morten Lauridsen,  Los Angeles Master Chorale,  Paul Salamunovich, conductor. This is one movement of a larger piece, Lux Aeterna. The piece was premiered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 1997. 

Mar. 21  “Hallelujah, What A Savior”           Gaither Vocal Band

Mar.22 “The Lord is an Everlasting God”     St. Olaf Choir

Mar.23  “Avinu Malkeinu”    Park Avenue Synagogue New York   Azi Schwartz Cantor

Mar. 24 “Walk as Children of Light”  St. Olaf College Choir

Mar. 25  “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”   Jake Armerding

Mar.26   “Christus Factus Est”   Gregorian Chant   note how the direction of the melody is affected by the text (particularly “exalted”)    The text is easy to follow.

Mar. 27  “Jesus Shall Reign”      Grace Community

Mar.28 Palm Sunday “Ride On King Jesus”  Moses Hogan Singers

Bonuses!

“Ride on King Jesus”  Jessye Norman

“Hosanna to the Song of David”    Cambridge Singers

Mar. 29 “The Blind Man Stood on the Road and Cried”       Josh White     Don’t miss it!

Mar.30 “He Was Wounded for Our Transgressions”    Gramophone Chorus   Ghana

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNvIRc-7c9o     from Messiah

Mar.31 “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted” Fernando Ortega  and Quintessence Ensemble

Bonus: “What Wondrous Love Is This”    Chelsea Moon and Franz Brothers

Apr.1  “Ubi Caritas”  Paul Mealor    Composer Mealor appears during the applause.

“Ubi Caritas”   Ola Gjeilo  Central Washington Chamber Choir with the composer on piano.

Apr.2 “All We Like Sheep” from Messiah   Robert Shaw Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g799LFGqiv8  Note the “joy” of the disobedient, frolicking sheep and the contrast of “and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Handel got it and Shaw understood it.

Bonus:

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Fernando Ortega

Apr.3  “Messiah” Part II    Rivertree Singers & Friends Choral Festival

Apr.4 “Hallelujah Chorus”  Sir Colin Davishttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

“Hallelujah Chorus”    Robert Shaw

Note the difference in the conductor’s interpretation of this very familiar piece. In the first one, Sir Colin Davis is more leisurely enjoying the piece as we’ve heard it a thousand times. In contrast, Mr. Shaw has a fresh drive in the piece and has some slight stretches in phrasing at key times. Mr. Shaw is letting the music portray the text, “hallelujah!” I’m sorry it’s a visually fuzzy recording, but this rendition is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

“I Know the My Redeemer Liveth” Sylvia McNair     Sung by a believer.

“Worthy is the Lamb”     Robert Shaw

“Messiah” part 3  Octopus Symphony Chorus

PRAYER BOOKS

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. Appleton, OUP

Valley of Vision, ed. Bennett, Banner of Truth Pub.

Prayers Ancient and Modern, Mary Wilder Tileston, Little, Brown & Co. Boston, MA 1903

A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie, Scribner’s 

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, compiled by Veronica Zindel

Celtic Daily Prayer, Andy Raine and John Skinner  Northumbria Community

The Quiet Corner, ed. Shirwood Wirt, Fleming H. Revell

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal,1979

Guideposts Prayers for Easter, Julie Hogan,  Ideals

Prayers for Sunday Services, St. Andrews Press, Edinburgh

The Book of Uncommon Prayer, Word Publishing, Dallas

© Daniel Sharp 2021 

RESOURCE BOOKS

All Scripture is taken from the New Living Translation Second Edition, Tyndale House Publishing, Inc. Carol Stream, IL

Alexander, J.A., Geneva Series Commentary: Acts of the Apostles, Banner of Truth

   Trust, London

Borchert, Gerald, The New American Commentary: John 1-11, Broadman & Holman

    Publishers, Nashville

Borchert, Gerald, The New American Commentary: John 12-21, Broadman & Holman

    Publishers, Nashville

Brink, Emily, The Worship SourceBook, Baker Books, Faith Alive Christian Resources,

     Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, MI

Erdman, Charles, Pastoral Epistles, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Erdman, Charles, John, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Erdman, Charles, Matthew, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Erdman, Charles,  Romans, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Erdman, Charles, I Corinthians, Westminster Press, Philadelphia

Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books, Toronto

Howard, Kevin & Rosenthal, Marvin, The Feasts of the Lord, Thomas Nelson, Nashville

Jeffers, Ron, Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire Vol.1: Sacred Latin 

   Texts, Earthsongs, Corvallis, Oregon

Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, MacMillan Publishing, New York, NY

MacArthur, John, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews, Moody Press, 

    Chicago

Martin, Ralph, Worship in the Early Church, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI

Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: John,  

     Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI

Oesterley, W.O.E., The Jewish Background of the Christian Liturgy, Peter Smith,

     Gloucester, MA

Prager, Dennis, The Rational Bible: Exodus, God, Slavery, and Freedom, Regnery

     Faith, Washington D.C.

Smith, Robert, Concordia Commentary: Acts, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis

Spangler, Ann & Tverberg, Lois, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan, Grand

     Rapids, MI

Trepp, Leo, Judaism: Development and Life, Dickinson Publishing, Belmont, CA

Walvoord, John, Philippians: Triumph in Christ, Moody Press, Chicago

Easter Sunday, April 4

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:1-7; 12-28

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

    O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Some thoughts:

I can think of nothing better to say than what Paul has written! The Lord has risen indeed and everything is changed forever. “Forever” means that chronological time as we know it ceases to be. Death is the departure from this world to the world for which we were created, there to live eternally in the presence of our glorious Lord. “No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.” Truly, truly, I say to you, in the resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ makes all of this possible and certain. Glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Hallelujah! 

Music: “Hallelujah Chorus”  Sir Colin Davis Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

“Hallelujah Chorus”    Robert Shaw

Note the difference in the conductors interpretation of this very familiar piece. In the first one, Sir Colin Davis is more leisurely enjoying the piece as we’ve heard it a thousand times. In contrast, Mr. Shaw has a fresh drive in the piece and has some slight stretches in phrasing at key times. Mr. Shaw is letting the music portray the text, “hallelujah!” I’m sorry it’s a visually fuzzy recording, but this rendition is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

“I Know the My Redeemer Liveth”   Sylvia McNair      

“Worthy is the Lamb”     Robert Shaw

“Messiah” part 3  Octopus Symphony Chorus

Prayer:

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.                                                                            

                                ―Jude, the earthly half brother of Jesus

Friends,

I want to thank you again for journeying together these past six and a half weeks leading to this glorious day, but this is not the end! The devotionals continue tomorrow and run through Pentecost, May 23rd. Our goal is to learn to walk with the Lord and to spend time with him each day, not just reading but interacting with him in prayer and in his word.   

To those of you who passed the link along, thank you! Word of mouth and the internet is our way of spreading the word. 


The Lord be with you,

Dan

dansharp9@gmail.com

Here in one place is the Music List, the Prayer Books and Resource books if you’re interested. 

© Daniel Sharp 2021

Holy Saturday, April 3

Reader: “Since the tomb was close at hand,”

Response: “they laid Jesus there.”

Scripture:  John 19:38-42

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God. ” 

Some thoughts:

Some background on the above paragraph may be helpful. Joseph of Arimathea was an influential leader and member of the Sanhedrin who did not support the idea to kill Jesus (Mk.15:43). Nicodemus, who had visited Jesus at night, likewise a member of that same high council, had earlier defended Jesus before the Pharisees claiming the law was not being followed in judging Jesus (Jn.7:50-52). These two men took a significant risk in asking for the body of Jesus as they could have been ousted from the Sanhedrin for their actions. In contrast, all the disciples fled in fear for their own lives (Jn. 20:19).

Taking a body off a cross required official permission to prevent friends from taking a body before death had occurred and reviving the crucified person. Jewish law prevented dead bodies from remaining within the city walls overnight, so corpses were removed, washed, anointed with perfumes and wrapped in linen strips, though some were wrapped in a single shroud. They were buried on the same day as the death occurred.The seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes was an unusually large amount, the quantity reserved for a king. Jesus received a king’s burial that Friday evening before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath thanks to Joseph and Nicodemus.

(It was believed that that soul lingered by the corpse for three days before departing. Jesus waited to resurrect Lazarus until the fourth day confirming in the Jewish mind that Lazarus had actually died and that Jesus was not reviving a fainted body or bringing him out of a coma.) 

We read in Luke’s gospel that a group of women had also purchased spices after the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evening when shops reopened, not to embalm Jesus’ body, but to help cover the stench of a decaying corpse. By the time they made their purchase, it was too late to go to the tomb, so they planned to come back early on  Sunday morning to finish their task (Mk. 16:1-2). We turn now to looking at the impact of the event.  

Had you or I been one of the believers in Jesus, this day of the crucifixion would have been the worst of our lives. We had seen what Jesus had done with our own eyes. We followed him everywhere. We’d seen him raise Lazarus and were at the party at Mary and Martha’s house. We were there when he healed blind people instantly and saw him walk on water and so much more. We heard him say firsthand that he was the Son of God. He actually forgave our sin, something only God could do. He said the kingdom of heaven was among us. He rode into Jerusalem as king! Then everything went south, and he was killed. I guess we were wrong about him. Talk about being depressed!

But think about it. What were his last words? He said, “It is finished.” What did he mean by that? Had we been fooled? 

(This next part is a bit of a review in case you missed it the first time, but it’s significant in the biggest picture.)

Later, we would learn that what was finished was the work he came to do. If I recall, there was another time when, after the sixth day of the week, God the Father had finished his work of creation and rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath, and called it holy. But unlike the other six days of creation, God did not say “it was evening and it was morning” in regard to this seventh day. Why omit those words? In a similar pattern, the Son of God also finished his work on the sixth day of the week and rested in the tomb on the holy Sabbath. But Jesus rose on the eighth day ushering in a new era as he paved the way for resurrection for all believers. 

God did not say “it was evening and it was morning” in regards to his Sabbath rest at creation because we have yet to enter our final rest.  Our Sabbath Day is not over as we await the Eighth Day, our future resurrection when Jesus returns in the Second Coming to lead all people ultimately either to eternal life or to judgment (2  Cor. 5:1-10). As Paul writes in First Corinthians, “Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.” We are currently in that Sabbath awaiting his return. Then the Sabbath will have an “evening and morning” as we enter eternal life where there is no evening and morning but one glorious day!

Music:  “Messiah” Part II    Rivertree Singers & Friends Choral Festival

Prayer:

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.   ―BCP

Good Friday, April 2

Find a Good Friday Service to attend if your church does not have one.

Reader: “He was pierced for our rebellion” 

Response: “crushed for our iniquity.”

Scripture: Isaiah 52:13-53:12        

(Additional readings on your own: Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42) 

See, my servant will prosper;

    he will be highly exalted.

But many were amazed when they saw him.

    His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,

    and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.

And he will startle many nations.

    Kings will stand speechless in his presence.

For they will see what they had not been told;

    they will understand what they had not heard about.

Who has believed our message?

    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?

My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,

    like a root in dry ground.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,

    nothing to attract us to him.

He was despised and rejected—

    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,

    a punishment for his own sins!

But he was pierced for our rebellion,

    crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

    He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.

Yet the Lord laid on him

    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,

    yet he never said a word.

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,

    he did not open his mouth.

Unjustly condemned,

    he was led away.

No one cared that he died without descendants,

    that his life was cut short in midstream.

But he was struck down

    for the rebellion of my people.

He had done no wrong

    and had never deceived anyone.

But he was buried like a criminal;

    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him

    and cause him grief.

Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,

    he will have many descendants.

He will enjoy a long life,

    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,

    he will be satisfied.

And because of his experience,

    my righteous servant will make it possible

for many to be counted righteous,

    for he will bear all their sins.

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,

    because he exposed himself to death.

He was counted among the rebels.

    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

Reader: “The Lamb of God” 

Response: “who takes away the sin of the world” 

Some thoughts:

Isaiah 52 and 53 are key prophetic passages in the First Testament and in some Jewish circles, chapter 53 is the “forbidden” chapter. The words of Isaiah clearly refer to Jesus and the Passion. Let’s look a little closer at the text and its structure.

Twice he is referred to as “my servant,” a phrase so associated with Jesus in his final days on earth and demonstrated so clearly in the washing of the disciples’ feet. As was (and is) often the case, Jesus was not what the people expected. In the end, he is exalted, but there are no indications of such at the beginning. This pericope describes the beating and humiliation of Christ on Good Friday. People were amazed when they saw what the soldiers had done to him. They virtually pulverized him almost beyond recognition as a human. Jesus looked nothing like a rescuer as he stood silently before his accusers. How could this one be the powerful savior of the world? Who could actually believe this was God’s plan? Then we come to a list of attributes, descriptions and correlations explaining and describing this servant.

Apparently this servant was rather plain. There was no outward beauty or charisma. He didn’t look like you would expect the Son of God to look. He wasn’t handsome, but on the low side of “ordinary.” He was rejected, even disliked and actually despised. He experienced much sorrow and great grief in his lifetime. In his moments of great loss, people ignored him. In truth, they didn’t really care about him at all and thought he had done something wrong. God was paying him back. He was viewed as a kind of loser because the things he went through were perceived to be his own fault. It was assumed he was getting what he deserved. Are we talking about Jesus? So much for the human viewpoint. Now to God’s viewpoint.

The truth is, he was pierced because of our persistent, continual rebellion against God. He was crushed by God because of our sins. He was beaten so that we might experience wholeness, shalom, with God, and he was whipped so we could be healed in our relationship to God and could be restored. Crushing, beating, and whipping were the usual punishments for crime. In this case, our crime was sinning against God. He took what should rightly have been ours.

Sheep have a natural tendency to wander off. Growing up, we had sheep on our farm. They are stubborn, dumb, near sighted and very easily frightened, but their hearing is excellent. That Isaiah compares us to sheep is really quite accurate! Is there any doubt that our society and culture have left God’s path to follow our own brilliant way, shutting out the voice of God? Humans are definitely sheep following the flock wherever it goes. Sheep are not independent thinkers. They are followers. Unfortunately, sheep today follow the loudest shepherd with little discernment as to the shepherd’s voice or where they are headed.

God has laid upon the servant the sins of everyone who has ever lived. In spite of the horrendous fatal burden of bearing the sins of the world, the servant never said a word. He was silent throughout. I’ve mentioned in previous year’s devotionals how sheep are silent when they are being sheared. They just sit quietly on their bottoms as the wool is removed. Our servant was led away, a man who remained silent as he was unjustly condemned. Having done nothing wrong, he was killed and buried like a criminal and virtually no one cared. 

As it was, his life was the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Since he had no sin of his own as a human, this God-man was able to carry our sin effectively, and God’s justice was perfectly eternally satisfied. He died the death we should have died. As a result, we gain the life of one who is viewed by God as righteous. This servant is accorded great honor having utterly destroyed the power of sin, death and hell. He made the way for countless people to be healed, forgiven and restored to God and freed from the stranglehold of sin. This is the day that life-shattering transaction occurred. The glory is, this power of Christ continues to transform lives in our day! 

Music: “All We Like Sheep” from Messiah   Robert Shaw Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g799LFGqiv8  Note the “joy” of the disobedient, frolicking sheep and the contrast of “and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Handel got it and Shaw understood it.

Bonus:

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Fernando Ortega

                                            “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”

                                  Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

O sacred head, now wounded,

with grief and shame weighed down,

now scornfully surrounded

with thorns, thine only crown,

O sacred head, what glory,

what bliss till now was thine,

yet, though despised and gory,

I joy to call thee mine.

What thou, my Lord, has suffered

was all for sinners’ gain,

mine, mine was the transgression,

but thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior!

‘tis I deserve thy place;

look on me with thy favor,

and grant to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow

to thank thee, dearest friend,

for this thy dying sorrow,

Thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever,

and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never

outlive my love to thee.

Prayer:

Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross. He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon his face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also thy glorious Resurrection.                            ―Hymns for Good Friday, Orthodox

Maundy Thursday, April 1

Find a Maundy Thursday worship service to go to tonight if your church does not have one.

Reader: “A new commandment I give you”

Response: “love one another.”

Scripture: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”  “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”    Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”  Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.”

Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Reader: “These words were recorded by John, who was present when this happened.” 

Response: “Thank you, Lord, that we have this firsthand account.” 

Some thoughts:  

John’s gospel was the last of the four gospels to be written, roughly around 90 AD. The result was that John covered some material not found in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), nor does he repeat some of the material unique to them. As a result, it is John who gives us unique details on the events of Jesus’ last days. For example, while John does not record the observance of the Passover meal as do the Synoptics, he includes foot washing which is found only in his gospel. Here also we discover the details of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial being predicted. Chapters thirteen through nineteen cover only a little over twenty-four hours! Chapters fourteen through sixteen give great details of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples during the meal on this Maundy Thursday. If you’ve ever wondered what Jesus prayed when he went to the mountains to pray to his Father, chapter seventeen is a marvelous opportunity to listen in on Jesus praying to his Father in heaven.  

I want to make an observation on something the rabbi, Jesus, did.  Rabbis had disciples called talmudeen, a small group of people who followed them around wherever they went and did whatever the rabbi did. They copied his every move. They left their homes, left everything and followed him in order to become like him. (Think “The Chosen”) May we become modern day talmudeen of the Scriptures as we encounter the Savior daily in the Book that is Truth. The rabbi chose the talmudeen, they didn’t choose him (Jn.15:16). 

In this setting the disciples’ rabbi, humbled himself and took the role of a slave. He knelt before them and washed their feet! Unheard of! A rabbi would never ever do such a thing. His talmudeen would be honored to wash his feet. Jesus was demonstrating personal humility and servanthood. He was once again laying aside every personal right he had. Do you realize he also washed the feet of Judas, knowing that within minutes Judas would leave to betray him?  What do you think was going on in Jesus’ mind . . . in Judas’ mind? 

Many of you know I teach at The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (iws.edu). As part of the course, we include foot washing with our students. It is an honor to wash the feet of our students from all over the world. They often are very reticent to wash the professor’s feet. And frankly, it is humbling to take off your shoes and have someone wash your feet. This “servant” thing Jesus was driving at measures your pride very quickly. Though not shared by all, it is my personal opinion and experience that the practice of foot washing has tremendous significance and impact even today for many of the same reasons that it touched the hearts of the disciples so deeply. It is very humbling to have another wash your feet, and it is a great honor to wash another’s feet.  

 The apostle John did us a further great favor by recording these final conversations of Jesus. Take some time tonight and read chapters thirteen through seventeen in one sitting putting yourself in the midst of the disciples. This is the evening those conversations took place so long ago.

Music: These pieces came from last year and are still the best settings I’ve found. This is a magnificent text for a broken and disunified church and world. Jesus Christ, is the  sole unifier of the human race.

 “Ubi Caritas”  Paul Mealor    Composer Mealor appears during the applause.

“Ubi Caritas”   Ola Gjeilo  Central Washington Chamber Choir with the composer on piano.

Lest you think no young composers are writing beautiful music!

                                   Ubi Caritas-author unknown

                        ancient text specifically written for Maundy Thursday

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

Christ’s love has gathered us

into one.

Let us rejoice and be glad in Him.

Let us fear, and love the living God.

And may we love each other

with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

As we are gathered into one body,

Beware, lest we be divided in mind.

Let evil impulses stop,

let controversy cease,

And may Christ our God

be in our midst.

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

And may we with the saints also,

See Thy face in glory,

O Christ our God:

The joy that is immense and good,

Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Prayer:

Lord Christ, our Servant and Savior, on earth you washed the feet of your disciples, and now through your cross, resurrection and ascension, you always live to make intercession for us: Give us grace to be your faithful disciples, your talmudeen, and servants to the end of our days here on earth until we join you in the glory of your everlasting kingdom. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reign one God, world without end. Amen.   

                            ―the Worship Sourcebook, p.599, adapted Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, March 31

Reader: “I have set my face like a stone,”

Response: “determined to do his will.”

Scripture:      Isaiah 50:4-9a 

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom,

    so that I know how to comfort the weary.

Morning by morning he wakens me

    and opens my understanding to his will.

The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,

    and I have listened.

    I have not rebelled or turned away.

I offered my back to those who beat me

    and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.

I did not hide my face

    from mockery and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,

    I will not be disgraced.

Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,

    determined to do his will.

    And I know that I will not be put to shame.

He who gives me justice is near.

    Who will dare to bring charges against me now?

Where are my accusers?

    Let them appear!

See, the Sovereign Lord is on my side!

    Who will declare me guilty? 

Reader: “This is the troubling word of God.” 

Response: “Lord, have mercy.” 

Some thoughts:  

These have been and are tumultuous times. Since I write these devotionals well ahead of the day you actually read them, I’m always a little curious if the problems that are apparent today will be solved by the time you read this. My guess is not! I sense there is a fair amount of fear among the people around us due to so many uncertainties in regard to the health situation and political unrest. Isaiah has a great input for our hearts and minds.

He uses the words “Sovereign LORD.” Supreme rank, power, authority or monarch are words used to describe sovereign. Isaiah knew that no being was higher than the Sovereign LORD. (Note the letters of LORD=YHWH). What Isaiah pens that follows are God’s words of wisdom and comfort for the weary and also words for people in our day. How many times have you heard or felt, “I’m so tired and weary of all this anger, rancor and vitriol. What’s wrong with people? Can’t we have some peace?” The answer may surprise you, but Isaiah spells it out. “Morning by morning he [the Sovereign LORD] wakens me and opens my understanding to his will! Have you ever thought that it is God who wakes you up in the morning? To gain perspective on reality, try this every day. When you wake up, before you do anything else say, “Good morning, LORD.” . . . as opposed to “Good Lord, it’s morning!” Then ask the Lord to “open your understanding to his will for you today.” When you start the day in dialogue with God, everything else comes into focus, and you gain God’s perspective. The next sentence underscores this truth. The Sovereign LORD speaks; this is a two way communication.  (This is also the reason the emails go out at 5:00 AM. I’m hoping you are interacting with the Lord through these devotionals the first thing in the morning if possible.) 

This section of the book concerns the suffering servant, Isaiah, but the parallels with Jesus’ own experience are too close to be coincidental. The beating, the pulling out of his beard, the mockery and spitting upon him are all a description of Jesus’ experience at the hands of the Romans.

There is also the powerful phrase “I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will.” Some translations use the word “flint” instead of “stone,” the idea being something extremely hard, immoveable, unbreakable. The same phrase was used of Jesus’ determination as the time drew near for his return to heaven (Luke 9:51). We see in Isaiah and later in Jesus, the absolute commitment to doing the will of the Father and the complete assurance of complete vindication. Their greater concern was in doing the Father’s will. In Isaiah’s words, “I have not rebelled or turned away.” And “Who will declare me guilty?” Answer? No one. My enemies are destroyed.

Here again we have in the First Testament a prophetic description, an Isaiah shadow, which finds complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ. “Truly, truly,” I say unto you, the Scriptures are a unified book with one glorious message from the Sovereign LORD who wakes us each morning wanting to talk about his plans for our day. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

Music: “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted” Fernando Ortega and Quintessence Ensemble

Bonus: “What Wondrous Love Is This”    Chelsea Moon and Franz Brothers

                         -Appalachian folk hymn

What wondrous love is this,

O my soul, O my soul

What wondrous love is this, O my soul,

What wondrous love is this,

That caused the Lord of bliss

to bear the dreadful curse

for my soul, for my soul,

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

Prayer:

Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life―to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth…I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message…Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!―Jesus praying for us, from John 17

Tuesday, March 30

Reader: “Now the time has come” 

Response: “for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.”

Scripture: John 12:20-36

Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.

Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.

Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine. The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this to indicate how he was going to die.

The crowd responded, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?”

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

In this pericope, we have reached the pivotal point in this whole gospel. Let’s take a look as to why. There are three references to “time” in this passage of Scripture: first, “the time has come to enter into glory;” second, when Jesus refers to the “time for judgment” and third, “put your trust in the light while there is still time.” The first refers to Jesus’ mission to the world; the second, to the reason for the mission and the third, the challenge to trust in the Son of Man of the mission while there is still time. The appointment with death and the upcoming sacrifice of his life is but days away. The public ministry has come to an end. (Note the last sentence of this passage. It’s important to note that John does not always relate encounters with Jesus in chronological order.)

What is the significance of Greeks coming to Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover? Up to this time, Jesus and his disciples had preached and reached out to the Jews. (By now his fame had spread beyond Jewish circles which is also what troubled the Pharisees and other Jewish leadership, hence their plan to kill him.) Philip and Andrew were Greek names, so that may be why the Greeks came to them. The Greek inquisitor’s words were, “Sir, we want to see Jesus,” by which they meant, “Since you guys are disciples, can you set up an appointment for us to meet with him?” Interestingly, Jesus answered their question in a much broader way. In this passage, the reference to the “Greeks” actually means to all the gentiles, in other words, everyone in the world, a revolutionary point. 

Jesus, after having said numerous times to this point in the gospel, “My time has not yet come,” now responds with the pivotal phrase in the whole gospel. “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.” Whenever you read the phrase, “I tell you the truth,” or “truly, truly” in some translations, that is another way of saying, “What I’m about to say is extremely important and of great significance, so pay close attention!” Jesus was saying that he was about to complete what he came to do and return in glory back to heaven. Those listening didn’t get it. So he gives a parable.

Growing up on the farm, I remember walking out into the field with dad a week or so after the corn was planted, and watching him dig in the ground to see if the seeds had sprouted. The corn was truly buried in the earth. It was a special joy when a few days later the tender shoots popped up through the ground! In fact, that one seed produced a stalk with at least one ear of corn containing 700-800 kernels! The “burial” of that seed did indeed produce a plentiful harvest. 

Jesus’ point was that his coming burial would produce a plentiful harvest of “new,” redeemed eternal lives of all who put their trust in him. This new life would not be without cost. Following Jesus meant “being where he is.” Did you notice that Jesus’ comments move us out of the biblical moment in which he spoke? His words are present tense, meaning they apply as you read this. Where is Jesus working in your world now? What is he doing? We are to be with him in the midst of his work. That’s where you are supposed to be following him. Have you sprouted?

We move next to being reminded of the humanity of Jesus as he speaks of his personal angst. Remember his weeping at Lazarus’ death, his thirst at the well, his attack on the money changers in the Temple, or his care for his mother at his crucifixion? Jesus was not a passionless gnostic figure. In his words regarding the state of his soul, we are given insight into the inside of Jesus’ mind and heart. The question everyone faces in the midst of a trauma is, “What shall I do? What shall I say?” or simply, “Now what?” We really see Jesus’ thought process and love for us in his words. In effect, “Father, should I ask you to save me from what lies ahead at this point? I know you can, but I can’t do that. Dying for these people is the whole reason I came to earth. I’m going through with it as it will bring glory to your name.”

The Father spoke words of affirmation from heaven as we mentioned a few days ago. Interestingly, Jesus commented that the speaking was for the people’s benefit, not for his! The determination of his “troubled soul” is evidenced by his forthright statement of the defeat of Satan and judgment of this world. The day of reckoning had come. His words, “I will draw everyone to myself” is not a universalist comment in which everyone on earth will be saved but rather a statement focusing on the cross. With such a pronouncement, he is calling people to embrace his person as Savior. He is not calling people to follow his teachings or his example of living. He is calling all of us to follow him. His atoning death draws people to the person of Jesus Christ, the only hope of salvation.

The people still struggled with the idea that a Messiah should die. How does the Son of Man fit in with that idea? Jesus concludes this section and his public ministry with another reference to “light,” alluding to the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, words they would have known. His challenge then and now is to trust in the light now while you have time. Final judgment is coming! At that point Jesus appeared no more in public as the final days of his life on earth unfolded.

What do we draw from this passage? Jesus was fully human and fully divine. He embraced his mission out of love. He was immovable. He sought the glory of the Father above all else. He warned the people of coming judgment. He destroyed forever the ruler of this world, Satan. His forgiveness is extended to all peoples and nations. And most incredibly, we have a marvelous Savior who invites us to be where he is.

Music: “He Was Wounded for Our Transgressions”    Gramophone Chorus   Ghana

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNvIRc-7c9o     from Messiah

Prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, you have said that you are the way, the truth, and the life. Suffer us not to stray from you, who are the way, nor to distrust you, who are the truth, nor to rest in anything other than you, who are the life.      ―Erasmus, 1469-1536                                 Please plan to attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services somewhere if your church does not have them. It will change your Easter Sunday morning!

March 29, Monday of Holy Week

Reader: “Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.”

Response: “He is my chosen one, who pleases me.” 

Scripture:  Isaiah 42:1-9

“Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.

    He is my chosen one, who pleases me.

I have put my Spirit upon him.

    He will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout

    or raise his voice in public.

He will not crush the weakest reed

    or put out a flickering candle.

    He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.

He will not falter or lose heart

    until justice prevails throughout the earth.

    Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.”

God, the LORD, created the heavens and stretched them out.

    He created the earth and everything in it.

He gives breath to everyone,

    life to everyone who walks the earth.

And it is he who says,

“I, the LORD, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.

    I will take you by the hand and guard you,

and I will give you to my people, Israel,

    as a symbol of my covenant with them.

And you will be a light to guide the nations.

    You will open the eyes of the blind.

You will free the captives from prison,

    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.

“I am the LORD; that is my name!

    I will not give my glory to anyone else,

    nor share my praise with carved idols.

Everything I prophesied has come true,

    and now I will prophesy again.

I will tell you the future before it happens.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

As we enter this most significant week in the history of the universe, we look at the remarkable words of Isaiah the prophet written 700 years before Christ. He describes the Messiah’s ministry in fine detail. Let’s walk our way through the passage.

While the Bible never uses the word “trinity,” it nevertheless teaches one God consisting of three persons. The first verse is a classic First Testament example. The “I” and “my” in the opening sentence refer to God the Father. The “he” in the second sentence refers to Jesus and the Spirit in the third sentence refers to the Holy Spirit. Three persons one God. As a reminder, note the text is LORD, that is YHWH, one God. So, here is an example of referring to the trinitarian God.

God speaks through Isaiah concerning his servant, Jesus. Bear in mind the Son of God is with the Father in heaven as Isaiah writes this. The Father is affirming the Son. He promises to give him strength to bear up against what is coming. Already the Son is willing to go on this mission as it were. Have you noticed this affirmation from God the Father also repeats itself several times when Jesus is on earth seven centuries later with the identical words? (Lk.3:22, Mt.3:17, at his Baptism; Mt.17:5 at the Transfiguration; Jn. 12:28-29 during the first days of Holy Week.) I’d like to enlarge a bit on this last reference. 

In John 12:27-30, Jesus utters these words, “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father bring glory to your name.” These words were spoken only a few days before his crucifixion. In response to what Jesus said, a voice (God the Father) spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name and I will do it again.” The people present thought an angel had spoken while others thought it was thunder. Jesus’ response was, “It was for your benefit (people), not mine.” I mention these affirmations of the Messiah’s mission to earth to point out the involvement of the Trinity in all aspects bringing redemption to a very broken world.

Being empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Servant Savior will bring justice to the nations. He will speak tenderly. He will help the weak and give hope. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. He will not fail or faint in dealing with injustice. You note the central theme in this portion of Isaiah’s writing has to do with injustice. The people of Judah were cheating and taking advantage of the poor. The wealthy and power- grabbing ruling class was crushing the ordinary people. It would seem that problem remains in our world today!

Then in the next section Isaiah reminds the people that they are dealing with God the creator, the giver of life, their protector and provider. He will guide and guard the Servant Savior. He will be a light to guide the nations. In Luke 2:32, Simeon speaks these very words when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus for the Presentation at the Temple forty days after his birth. “He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” Once again, we see connections between the Testaments.

When Jesus begins his Galilean public ministry in his home synagogue in Nazareth, he quotes this very passage in Isaiah: “You will open the eye of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons” (Lk.4:18-19) thus identifying for the people of Nazareth that the hometown boy was in fact the long prophesied Messiah from the scroll of Isaiah! The Nazarites couldn’t believe him and tried to stone him for blasphemy. 

Isaiah concludes this portion of our reading with the statement of a true prophet of God. “Everything I prophesied has come true, and now I will prophesy again. I will tell you the truth before it happens.” Seven hundred years later, every word he spoke came to pass verbatim! That is a prophet of God. What do you think the odds are of those things he prophesied that have yet to be fulfilled will come to pass? 

What strikes me in this passage is the “affirming personal care” that is reflected from the Godhead toward the humanity of the Son of God. It wasn’t as though Jesus said, “I’m going on a redemption mission to earth, and since I’m God, there will be nothing to it. I’m God after all.” Were that the case, we could hardly identify with Jesus, and he surely could not feel the pains and weaknesses humans grapple with. It would be more like, “He’s God after all, how can he identify with us?” In this portion of Scripture, we see once again how very human Jesus was but also how very understanding and tender the Father is and how present the Holy Spirit is to help and comfort. The events of Holy Week tie all of this together. Give glory to God.

Music: “The Blind Man Stood on the Road and Cried”       Josh White     Don’t miss it!

Prayer: 

O my God, Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow. When I think upon and converse with thee, ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, then thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness. I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil; for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for it is a heart fashioned after thy own loving heart; for a mind to care for my fellow-men, a mind created after thy own compassionate mind. I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. How I love Thee, my Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reign one God, world without end. Amen.                                ―adapted Daniel Sharp, from The Valley of Vision, p.15.

Palm Sunday, March 28

Reader: “Blessings on the one who comes” 

Response: “in the name of the Lord!”

Scripture: John 12: 1,2,12-16 

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hail to the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.

Look, your King is coming,

    riding on a donkey’s colt.”

His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Just to give us a little context, we retrace recent events. Jesus had raised Lazarus within the last week to ten days. Last night (yesterday’s devotional) there was a party at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus to honor Jesus for the raising of Lazarus. Many people, both friends and the curious, came to see both Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus was just outside Jerusalem at Bethany! The day when the above passage occurred is today, Palm Sunday. 

Like an out-of-control forest fire, word has been circulating about Jesus’ raising a man from the dead. Meanwhile as religious tensions are rising because of the perceived threat that Jesus presented to their power, the Pharisees and Sadducees are plotting to do away with Jesus and with Lazarus as well. Jesus knows this will be his final week on earth. His life and mission since he came to earth have been pointing to these very days. You’ll notice all this coming week that Jesus is completely in charge of everything. To prepare for his entry into Jerusalem, he sends two disciples to get a donkey, one on which no one had ever ridden. He tells them what to say, and it happens just as he said. You know the story quite well. 

I want to make a few observations. In his ride down the Mount of Olives, Jesus was announcing himself as Israel’s king. Notice, Jesus asked for a donkey. When kings rode donkeys, they were coming in humility, peace and reconciliation. When they rode horses, they were coming to do  battle, to fight a war. A donkey was a royal, peaceful limousine as it were. Donkeys are humble animals. They are servant animals. You’ll recall Jesus was later in the week to wash the feet of the disciples as a servant. In fact, the First Testament prophet, Zechariah, prophesied (9:9-10) that Israel’s king would enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey―a donkey’s colt. What is often overlooked is that the passage goes on to say that your king will remove battle chariots and war horses from Jerusalem and destroy all weapons used in battle, and he will “bring peace to the nations.” The people missed the last part of the prophecy. Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world.

King David, an ancestor of Jesus a thousand years earlier, had exited Jerusalem as king on a donkey, fleeing before his son. Incidently, Absalom, who was attempting a coup, rode into Jerusale on a mule, an animal for war. Now the true King of Israel, of King David’s royal line, enters Jerusalem again on a donkey. What is interesting, at some point in the future, the King of kings will again return to set up his eternal kingdom. This time he will be on a white horse as he comes to rule (Rev.19:11) and destroy the forces of evil forever. Jesus’ Palm Sunday trip down the Mount of Olives and the place of Christ’s Ascension is the ultimate place of his final Return at the end of the Age. This road and the Mount of Olives is one of the most significant geographical places on the planet. I remember walking down that road in 1996 being aware of these very things!

As Jesus rode down the hill, great crowds gathered singing “hosanna!” (meaning ‘salvation now’) while waving palm branches as was typical in celebrating a hero. The people were undoubtedly hoping and believing that this Nazarene Rabbi would lead a revolt against the Roman occupation. 160 years earlier against the Seleucid (Hellenistic) occupation, the Maccabees brothers had attempted an overthrow. There was some success in that earlier revolt, though it was eventually crushed and the brothers killed. The people’s hope was that Jesus would set up his own kingdom ousting the hated Romans. Palm branches were waved as a symbolic sign of defiance. This fact was not lost on the foreign occupiers and added to the tensions of the Passover celebration.  

The historian, Josephus, writes that at Passover there were 2 ½ million Jews in Jerusalem, double the size of Rome! Even if he exaggerated, there was a massive swell in the Jewish population. Pilate, the Roman prefect, struggled to keep things under control. The war horse he rode was a show of force in great contrast to the donkey Jesus rode! The political climate was tense on several fronts. So the Romans were justifiably nervous as they were significantly outnumbered as well as intensely hated.

The people sang these glorious words to a victorious king from Psalm 118. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”  What they didn’t realize is that Psalm also has these prophetic words, “Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar,” words that would later in the week be fulfilled as Jesus was bound and crucified as the sacrificial Lamb of God. (v.18) 

It is prophetically ironic the people shouting these texts from the First Testament did not realize the full extent of what they were saying. Within a few days many of them were yelling “crucify him!” when Jesus did not conform to their expectation as to what he should do in regards to the Roman occupation. 

This Triumphal Entry is a kind of picture of our response to God all too often. We are in a difficult situation wanting release from an imposed stress or an outside pressure, and we pray that God will in effect do our will and get us out of our plight. When God doesn’t do what we think he should or in our time frame, we crab, we doubt and we get angry at God or each other. Don’t forget. The point in the Triumphal Entry is not the people’s response, but rather the magnificent, costly unfolding of God’s plan to bring healing and restoration to all people. It was not about the people then, and it is not about us and our wills now. Moreover, we need to be careful we don’t dictate how and when God should act. Rather, we should kneel in the Garden of Gethsemane with our Savior praying, “Not my will, but thine be done.” It has a much better outcome. And let’s be the donkey, carrying Jesus to the world! Remember, it was about Jesus, not the donkey!

Music:  “Ride On King Jesus”  Moses Hogan Singers

Bonuses!

“Ride on King Jesus”  Jessye Norman

“Hosanna to the Song of David”    Cambridge Singers

Prayer:

O Christ, the King of glory who didst enter the holy city in meekness to be made perfect through the suffering of death: give us grace, we beseech thee, in all our life here to take up our cross daily and follow thee, that hereafter we may rejoice with thee in thy heavenly kingdom; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit world without end Amen.  ―Prayers for Easter, p.34

Saturday, March 27 (Lazarus Saturday)

Reader: “You will always have the poor among you,” 

Response: “but you will not always have me.”  

Scripture: John 12:1-11    

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself. Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

What do you do for the person who brought your dead brother to life? It doesn’t happen very often . . . ok, never. You have a party honoring the one who restored your sibling’s life. That is exactly what Mary and Martha did for Jesus in response to his raising Lazarus from the grave. The party honoring Jesus was on a Saturday night, shortly after the brother’s return to this world and six days before the yearly celebration of Passover. As usual, Martha was busy acting as hostess working in the kitchen and serving. And once again, Mary was with Jesus. I see a pattern here!

I have to smile reading this passage. You’ll recall an earlier occasion with Mary, Martha, and Jesus (Lk.10:38-42). Martha was busy preparing a meal and crabbing to Jesus that her sister wasn’t helping but talking with Jesus. In this pericope, we read once again, Martha is tuned to serving and Mary is tuned to Jesus. 

During the meal which included Lazarus and the disciples, Mary took a twelve ounce jar of very expensive perfume from the essence of pure nard. To give us a better understanding of the value of what Mary did, nard is a product of fragrant roots of a plant of the honeysuckle family grown in the Himilayan mountains between 11,000 and 17,000 feet. You can imagine importing the perfume to Palestine would not be cheap. It was worth an entire year’s wage. Now put yourself in Martha and Mary’s home at the party. Can you imagine the aroma of a 12 ounce bottle of potent perfume filling the air?

My guess is that for the following days leading up to the crucifixion, Mary was reminded of the anointing of Jesus as the perfume lingered in her own hair having wiped Jesus’ feet. According to Mark (14:8), she also anointed his head with the oils running down on his garments. During the coming days, my guess is that Jesus also was reminded of this act.

Into this beautiful, honoring, loving and tender moment, Judas is the crude bull in the china shop. Mary is tuned to the Savior and Judas is tuned to Judas the thief, the betrayer. As you trace the few references to him, he was clearly operating in a different world. I am surprised he was given responsibility for taking care of the money set aside for the disciples since John knew he had sticky fingers. At any rate he makes a crass comment and is rebuked quite strongly by Jesus. It was not that Judas misunderstood Jesus and his mission, Judas was inherently an evil thief who cared not the least for the poor.

Jesus’ rebuke of Judas in this case is unlike his response to the disciples on an earlier occasion when a “woman of ill repute” anointed his feet, and he gave them an explanation of the implication of what had happened. (Mt.26:10-13). In this case, Jesus’ words to Judas were very different . . . with a curt, “Leave her alone.” I can’t recall anywhere else in Scripture where Jesus dealt that harshly with a person one on one. He was harsh with groups of people (Pharisees), but never with a one on one conversation that I remember. In his following comments, he was certainly not advocating that we don’t need to care for the poor, but rather drawing attention to the significance of his coming death. Mary had expressed extravagant devotion by what she did.

Then this portion of Scripture concludes with the spiritual “rubber-neckers” crashing the party to see the “man who did it” and the guy he raised from the dead. It kind of reminds me of the people who slow down to see how bad the wreck was. They don’t really care about what happened, they just want to see the unusual, the spectacular. With the astounding resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, the priests decided this man of miracles was becoming far too popular as more and more people were slipping away from their teachings and believing in Jesus. Hence, he needed to be eliminated. The next day after the party, the triumphal procession into Jerusalem, merely confirmed their suspicions and accelerated their murderous plans.

Now that we are on the other side of the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, how might you honor the Savior this day?

Music: “Jesus Shall Reign”      Grace Community

Prayer:

O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life except to spend them for you, with you and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do therefore what seems best to you. Give to me or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that with humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence I may receive the orders of your eternal providence and may equally adore all that comes to me from you.               ―Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.56, Blaise Pascal  (1623-1662)

Friday, March 26

Today’s devotional is a little “heavier” as we focus on the Incarnation.

Reader: “Though he was God,”   

Response: “he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.”  

Scripture:  Philippians 2:5-11

Though he was God,                                 or     Though he was God,

    he did not think of equality with God                 he did not think of equality with God

    as something to cling to.                                   as something to cling to

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;          Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

    he took the humble position of a slave              he took the humble position of a slave

    and was born as a human being.           Or        

                                                                              And was born as a human being

              when he appeared in human form.

When he appeared in human form,                     

    he humbled himself in obedience to God      He humbled himself in obedience to God

    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.             and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor  Therefore, God elevated him

    and gave him the name above all other names,               to the place of highest honor

    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,        and gave him the name above

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,                     all other names.

    and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,

                                                                                           That at the name of Jesus                                                                      

to the glory of God the Father.                                              every knee should bow

                                                                                              and every tongue confess

                                                                                              that Jesus is Lord, to the

                                                                                              glory of God the Father.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

As we prepare to enter Holy Week beginning tomorrow on “Lazarus Saturday,” I think it most important to reflect on this profound passage on the pre-existent Christ to help us grasp a fuller significance of the events of the next several days. I mentioned the other day that this portion of Philippians was a hymn text from the early church. As you noticed, their hymns sang theology, so much so that some of the hymns showed up in Scripture as God’s word! (Quite a testament to first century writers and challenge to today’s writers of songs for worship.) 

On another note, scholars have noticed two possible ways that this hymnic passage might be broken up. I’ve shown you both ideas. The couplet form on the right side is reminiscent of a psalmodic pattern from the First Testament. With this background, let’s look a little closer at the text itself.

Note in the opening stanza of this hymn, Jesus let go of his equality with God, but he retained his complete divinity. He restricted its manifestation and did not use his divine powers for his own benefit. (Notice the purpose of his miracles.) E.g. Lk.5:12-25 (leprosy, paralyzed);  8:22-25 (storm). He never did a miracle for the miracle effect itself. It always had to do with identifying him as the Messiah, as God’s “anointed one.”

“[Jesus] was born as a human being” or “in the likeness of men” (homoiomati= like other men). As such, Jesus represented the whole human race as the Second Adam. Jesus  had all the qualities of the First Adam as a genuine man― before Adam fell and acquired his sin nature. In essence, Jesus was a Second Adam who never fell; thus he provided a path to redemption for those who have fallen which makes the coming week so significant.

Some translations state this passage this way: “Who being (his eternal existence I AM) in the form (morphe=outward appearance) of God (cf. Col.1:15 ikon “He is the image of the invisible God”), did not consider it robbery (harpagmon Grk.―refers to a stolen object tightly clutched!) to be equal with God.” (“Cling” and “robbery” are two translations of the Greek.)  In other words, Christ’s divine equality to God is not something he stole, but he is divine by his very nature. So humbling himself to take on our human nature is no loss or threat to his divinity as the Son of God in offering us salvation. Jesus wore the clothes and acted like the people of his generation! Physically, he was a “normal” person on earth and divine at the same time. He was born of the seed of the woman, not the seed of a man. Without being too graphic, Mary’s egg was fertilized by the Holy Spirit, bringing forth a Son who was both fully human and fully divine and completely sinless. Jesus had to be fully human for his mission of redemption and reconciliation to be authentic and efficacious.

Jesus assuming the position of a “slave” (doulos) was totally unexpected; hence, Peter’s response when Jesus stooped to wash his feet. A prophet, priest and king doing this? Never! Yet this Slave was a servant to the point of being “Obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  (cf.Ps.22 & Isa.53) The uniqueness of Christ’s servant death transformed the entire created order. Though he had the power to come down from the cross at any moment, our Savior completed his mission with “it is finished!” 

To summarize in the words of John Walvoord, “the three Greek words morphe (form), homoiomati (likeness), and schemati (fashioned) state on one hand that Christ was still all that God is after he became incarnate; but that, he had a genuine humanity, manifested in being in form as a servant (slave), like other men except that he was not a sinner, and in outer appearance or fashion looked like a man and acted like a man. The fact is that while Christ was a man on earth, he still was a man after his resurrection and is still a man in glory. While on earth he was God and looked like a man; in glory, while he will retain his humanity, he will resume the appearance of God and his prerogatives of deity.” ― Philippians Commentary, p.56

In looking at the final stanza of the hymn, why “at the name of Jesus” and not state “at the name of the “Lord” or “Christ?” This thought might be the reason: Lord refers to sovereignty; Christ refers to Messiah as anointed Prophet, Priest, King; Jesus means “Savior,” his human name, his salvific work for all humanity. His death on the cross provides the way for humans’  entrance into Glory. In his Ascension to heaven, Jesus experiences the glory he had before his incarnation (Jn.17:5), but he also experiences greater glory still, having defeated sin, suffering, death and evil bringing reconciliation to the entire created order.

We conclude today’s devotional looking at the final lines of this hymnic passage: every human being ever created will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Some people will bend the knee and confess with great joy and some will kneel reluctantly and confess too late. 

Music: “Christus Factus Est”   Gregorian Chant   Note how the direction of the melody is affected by the text (particularly “exalted”)    The text is easy to follow.

Christus factus  est    pro nobis  obediens  usque   ad mortem, mortem autem   crucis.

Christ     made  was  for     us     obedient    even    to   death ,  death    even   of cross.

Propter   quod    et     Deus   exaltavit        illum,   et    dedit    illi       nomen,    

For         which  also   God    has exalted    him,   and  given   him     name,

quod     est     super    omne      nomen.

Which   is       above    every      name.

Prayer:Almighty God, of Thy fullness grant to us who need so much, who lack so much, who have so little, wisdom and strength. Bring our wills to conform unto Thine. Lift our understandings into Thy heavenly light; that we thereby beholding those things which are right, and being drawn by Thy love, may bring our will and our understanding together to Thy service, until at last, body and soul and spirit may be all Thine and Thou be our Father and our Eternal Friend through Jesus Christ our Lord, who for our sake became poor that we might be rich, became weak that we might be strong, conquered death once that we might live forever, became human that we might become the children of God; in his matchless and exalted name. Amen.   ―Prayers Ancient and Modern, George Dawson, p. 84, adapted Daniel Sharp

Thursday, March 25

Reader: “You must have the same attitude” 

Response: “that Christ Jesus had. “

Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11 

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,

    he did not think of equality with God

    as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

    he took the humble position of a slave

    and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

    he humbled himself in obedience to God

    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor

    and gave him the name above all other names,

    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

    and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

Hundreds of thousands of words, a plethora of articles and books and not a few doctoral dissertations and master’s theses have been written dealing with this passage of Scripture for it is one of the richest and most profound in the New Testament. And most scholars believe it contains one of the early church hymn texts. What do we have to add? Probably almost nothing, but then that is not our purpose. The idea of these devotionals is to remind ourselves each time we read the Scriptures, “Lord, show me what you want me to see today.”

Here goes. Paul opens this section of his letter with four rhetorical questions, all expecting a positive response. Encouragement in Christ? Yes. Comfort in his love? Yes. Fellowship together in the Spirit? Yes. Tender hearts and compassion? Yes. “Then do it! Live it!” were Paul’s impassioned words.

Something is staring at me in these questions. All of them point to physical presence. While notes and calls and zooming (Is this a new verb?) are nice, there is nothing like encouragement from someone in person. Comfort expressed with flowers or Hallmark cards can help in rough times, but there is nothing like comforting words or a hug in person. Again, watching a live stream worship service may seem like fellowship on a Sunday morning, but it is sadly lacking compared to being in the physical presence with other believers. “Virtual tender hearts” pales in contrast to the real thing. 

Now we’ll get very close to meddling! Granted there are those people in this Coronavirus era, with serious health issues due to age or physical circumstances that make attending an in person worship service an unwise risk. We are not addressing you! Understand, my complaint is not about live stream worship, but about spiritual slothfulness. A comment I have heard all too frequently goes something like this. “I kind of like watching church in my PJ’s with a scone and a cup of coffee. I can even watch in bed. I don’t have to get up and get dressed or do makeup or shave. We don’t have a hassle with getting everyone ready and out the door. Everyone’s happy; a stress free morning! Plus we’re all safer.” The same people have no problem going to the grocery store, Home Depot, Marshall’s, or restaurants, etc. 

Meanwhile, I’m aware of a group of persecuted Christians in another part of the world who meet in boats in the middle of a huge lake in the dark of night to worship silently, mouthing together words of hymns so they will not be heard or found out. There are those in Africa who walk hours to get to a worship service. The body of Christ needs each other physically. Your missing worship, deprives the body of Christ of its wholeness. If you are of the PJ and scone crowd, get to church.

Parents, by your lazy attitude about attending worship in person, you are teaching your children worship isn’t that important; it’s optional. Do not be surprised when they get older if they don’t always attend worship. You’ve trained them well. (Ouch!) Those of you who are past having children at home, worship is not about you, it’s about the body of Christ proclaiming together and enacting the story of the gospel. I’ve made my point.

End of prod, moving on! Paul then, in a very clear challenge to the Philippians and to us, writes flat out, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” And what was that attitude? One of humility and servanthood.Paul’s next sentence is “Don’t be selfish . . . don’t look out only for your own interests.” Granted, this section of Scripture is drawing our attention to the humility of Jesus and servanthood, but one of the central messages of the whole book has to do with fellowship, unity, being of one mind, not being centered on yourself and your own convenience. Attending worship is a personal discipline. Having been in ministry over forty years, I figured I’ve personally been in well over 6,000 worship services. Some days I didn’t feel like it! I know, it was my job, but more significantly, it was my own time of fellowship with the body of Christ I belonged to.

We’ll conclude today’s devotional with one thought from the hymn and then tomorrow seek to address this hymn in more detail. “Though he was God, [Jesus] did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.” How did this play out in Jesus’ earthly life? Jesus never took advantage of being God. He never said, “I don’t have to do that, I’m God” (“I always do what pleases him.” John 8:29) or “I don’t have to pay taxes, I’m God.” (“ . . .  we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”Mt. 17:27, ) or “Since I’m God, I can do anything I want.” (“I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father has taught me.” Jn. 8:28)  or “I can say anything I want, I’m God.” (“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” Jn. 12:49)  With these few examples, you see how clearly and practically Jesus gave up his equality with God as something he clung to. Like Jesus, let each of us today lay aside ourselves and serve those around us. The world needs servants and the church needs bodies.

Music: “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”   Jake Armerding

Prayer:    O God, I crave Thy blessing upon this day of rest and refreshment. Let me rejoice today in Thy worship and find gladness in the singing of Thy praises. Forbid, I beseech thee, that only my body should be refreshed today and not my spirit. Give me grace for such an act of self-recollection as may again bring together the scattered forces of my soul. Enable me to step aside for a little while from the busy life of common days and take thought about its meaning and its end. May Jesus Christ be today the companion of my thoughts so that His divine manhood may more and more take root within my soul. May He be in me and I in Him, even as Thou wert in Him and through Him mayest be in me and I at rest in Thee. I pray for all human hearts that today are lifted up to Thee in earnest desire, and for every group of men and women who are met together to praise and magnify Thy name. Whatever be their mode of worship, be graciously pleased to accept their humble offices of prayer and praise, and lead them into life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.        ―A Diary of Private Prayer,  p.133

Wednesday, March 24

Reader: “For when you see me,” 

Response: “you are seeing the one who sent me.” 

Scripture:  John 12:34-50     

The crowd responded, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?”

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.

But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:

“Lord, who has believed our message?

    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,

“The Lord has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their hearts—

so that their eyes cannot see,

    and their hearts cannot understand,

and they cannot turn to me

    and have me heal them.”

Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory. Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   (I shared a version of this story on Facebook. It relates to today’s passage.)

A couple of months ago, I went to the hospital to pray for a friend of several years who was in serious physical health. In full disclosure, this friend was an avowed atheist. We had talked over the years, and my prayers for this person were appreciated. Truthfully, I did pray daily, as specific prayer for various people and circumstances is part of my daily morning routine. When I got to the hospital, the attending nurse told me that my friend had passed away 50 minutes earlier. I was devastated and went to the waiting room to process what had just happened. What follows is part of the processing of reality.

Here was a person who openly rejected belief in God, had dismissed the work of Christ on the cross for their personal salvation and entered eternity, apparently without any personal relationship to God. I say “apparently” because only God knows the heart. We don’t. But all their outward words indicated a complete rejection. Understand, simply believing in God is not the point, devils do that. It is a matter of confessing one’s own sin before God, repenting and receiving the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is no other way into the eternal presence of God according to what Jesus said in the Bible. John 14:6. Accepting what Christ has done on our behalf alone is the prerequisite for heaven and eternal life in the presence of God. I grieve greatly for my friend.

What is weighing on my heart is the absolute truth of the existence of heaven and hell. We hear so often when someone passes that they are in “a better place.” The Bible never once makes a general statement of people dying and going to a “better place.” We may feel better in saying such, but that does not make it true.  

When Jesus was on the cross, his word to the repentant thief was, “today you shall be with me in paradise.” He said nothing to the other thief who had hurled words of disdain. It is fair to surmise: that thief did not end up in paradise but in hell. Jesus often talked about the reality of heaven and hell in the Bible. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a classic example. Hell is an eternally tormented place apart from the presence of God. I can’t imagine being in such a place.

Turning to today’s pericope: during Jesus’ time on earth, the crowds grappled with the question, “Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” In their understanding, the Messiah would live forever, so if this Jesus was the Messiah, why was he talking about dying? The crowd reminds me of myself too often. I figure out what God should do, only to discover his ways and plans are not all the way I think! I’m in spiritual shadows and Jesus claimed to be the light. Disconnection! So people, come out of the dark, recognize that the light is right in front of you! Respond to it while there is still time! Jesus’ words lead to eternal life which has already begun for the believer. Bury yourself in his Word and encounter the Light.

Jesus came to this world on human terms to help humans be able to relate to God in a way to bring them redemption and the possibility of relating to God on God’s terms through Christ, the Messiah. There is no other way to accomplish this marvelous good news. The option is for humans to reject Jesus and remain in darkness. Jesus’ mission was to redeem those who would believe, not to judge those who rejected him. On the Day of Judgment, their own rejection of their only hope, Jesus, will condemn them. 

The day is coming when there will be no more time to respond to Jesus’ invitation.  Death is so final. When someone dies, it is not “over.” The person is not annihilated. They continue to exist, though not on earth. There are no “do overs” in life. “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27) Continue to pray and proclaim the truth to those around you who do not know the Savior. Death always arrives, is never late, never reschedules and never cancels. Though I arrived 50 minutes too late, death was not. 

Music: “Walk as Children of Light”  St. Olaf College Choir

Prayer:   

We beseech thee, good Lord, that it may please thee to give us true repentance: to forgive us all our sins, negligences, indifferences, and ignorances; and to imbue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, to amend our lives according to thy holy word. Forbid it that we should ever wander into the shadows of darkness and unbelief. And grant that we may walk in the light of thy path ever before us, trusting in the brilliance of thy countenance as children of the light. This we pray in the name of Jesus our Lord, who lives with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

                   ―Prayers for Easter, Thomas Cranmer, p.26, adapted Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, March 23

Reader: Listen carefully,” 

Response: “all of you.” 

Scripture: Acts 2:14-24

Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days,’ God says,

    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy.

    Your young men will see visions,

    and your old men will dream dreams.

In those days I will pour out my Spirit

    even on my servants—men and women alike—

    and they will prophesy.

And I will cause wonders in the heavens above

    and signs on the earth below—

    blood and fire and clouds of smoke.

The sun will become dark,

    and the moon will turn blood red

    before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.

But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord

    will be saved.’

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.    

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Let’s get some background and context on this most familiar passage. To give you an idea of the length of time we’re talking about, fifty days ago was February 2nd, Groundhog’s Day, five days before the Super Bowl, or for those of you who are more “spiritual” (!), the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple before Simeon (forty days after his birth). Pentecost occurred fifty days after the Resurrection and ten days after Jesus physically left this earth at the Ascension. Pentecost was an Old Testament Jewish Feast fifty days (seven weeks) after the Feast of First Fruits which required all Jewish men to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem regardless of where they lived, hence the presence of devout Jews from Europe, northern Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Pentecost marked the beginning of the spring wheat harvest and the end of the Passover season. It was one of three “solemn feasts,” so declared by the Lord. (Feast of Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles being the other two.) No work was permitted on this day. Everyone was at the Temple.

The normal morning service for this Feast had just concluded at 9 AM. On this day, breakfast was normally eaten around 10 AM after worship. Into this setting was the rush of a mighty wind coming suddenly without warning and the loud noise of many people speaking in many languages at the same time proclaiming the wonderful things God had done. As people came running to see what was going on, there came a derogatory drinking comment directed at Peter, whose response was, “Look, it’s 9 AM. We haven’t even had breakfast yet! It’s too early to be drunk!”

Peter then stepped forward along with the other eleven apostles and began to speak. Opening his sermon in familiar territory, the First Testament, known very well by his audience, he proceeded to unpack various prophecies proclaiming the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, beginning with Joel. Peter pointed out that God the Father had endorsed Jesus’ ministry by doing various miracles through him, mighty acts they themselves had seen and heard. His powerful words continued. Though it was part of God’s overall grand plan, you Jews, with the help of the Gentiles, rejected Jesus and crucified the Messiah. But God raised him from the dead, thus overcoming death once for all. 

There are so many things going on here. There is no space or time in this format to address them all, but here are a few to consider. 1) Repentance is at the heart of the gospel. Repentance was and is a major theme in each of the Lord’s “solemn feasts.” So it is not surprising that Peter would urge the people to repent. It was a call to both Jews and Gentiles. 2) We’ll have to address the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all peoples at another time.  3) The Jewish Feasts belong to God. They are his holidays, not man’s. 4) The Hebrew word for “feasts” means “appointed times.” They are times God has set aside for his people to meet with him. 5) There are seven appointed feasts total (see Lev.23 for a summary), all of which have direct correlation to the events in Christ’s life. Beginning with Passover and Christ voluntarily giving his life for the sins of the world and concluding with the establishment of the messianic Kingdom at the Second Coming (Tabernacles). In essence, the feasts are a kind of “rehearsal” of what is yet to come. For some of the words of prophecy from Joel that you just read are yet to come. 

In this season of Lent, we are reminded over and over of the importance of confession and repentance of our own sin and the wonder of what the Savior has done in his journey to the cross. God’s plan is so masterful and wondrous. He uses ordinary fisherman like Peter in unfolding it. He also uses you and me. Hear a song of confession and repentance from a Yom Kippur service.

Music: “Avinu Malkeinu”    Park Avenue Synagogue New York   Azi Schwartz Cantor

Avinu Malkeinu    (Translation of the Hebrew)    from Yom Kippur Service 

Our Father, our King, we have sinned before Thee.

Our Father, our King, we have no King but Thee.

Our Father, our King, grant unto us a year of happiness.

Our Father, our King, keep far from our country pestilence, war and famine

Our Father, our King, inscribe us for blessing in the book of life.

Our Father, our King, pardon and blot out our sins.

Our Father, our King, graciously our petitions.

Our Father, our King, be merciful and answer us;

though we can plead no merit,

deal with us according to Thy lovingkindness and help us. Amen.

Prayer:  O unapproachable Light, how can I fold these guilty hands before Thee? How can I pray to Thee with lips that have spoken false and churlish words? A heart hardened with vindictive passions; an unruly tongue: a fretful disposition: an unwillingness to bear the burdens of others: an undue willingness to let others bear my burdens: high  professions joined to low attainments: fine words hiding shabby thoughts: a friendly face masking a cold heart: many neglected opportunities and many uncultivated talents: much love and beauty unappreciated and many blessings unacknowledged: all these I confess to Thee, O God. I praise Thy name that in the gospel of Jesus Chrsit Thou hast opened up a new and living way into Thy presence, making Thy mercy free to all who have nothing else to plead. Let me now find peace of the heart by fleeing from myself and taking refuge in Thee. This I pray through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign one God, forever and ever. Amen.  ―from A Diary of Private Prayer, p.119

Monday, March 22

Reader: “You are my servant”

Response: “You have been chosen to know me.” 

Scripture: Isaiah 43:8-13   

Bring out the people who have eyes but are blind,

    who have ears but are deaf.

Gather the nations together!

    Assemble the peoples of the world!

Which of their idols has ever foretold such things?

    Which can predict what will happen tomorrow?

Where are the witnesses of such predictions?

    Who can verify that they spoke the truth?

“But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord.

    “You are my servant.

You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,

    and understand that I alone am God.

There is no other God—

    there never has been, and there never will be.

I, yes I, am the Lord,

    and there is no other Savior.

First I predicted your rescue,

    then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.

No foreign god has ever done this.

    You are witnesses that I am the only God,”

    says the Lord.

“From eternity to eternity I am God.

    No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.

    No one can undo what I have done.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.  

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

That the times in which we live are very uncertain is not news. While some of us may be more anxious in recent days, in looking through history, there have been worse days. The words of Isaiah come to us today to bring comfort and certainty. Yes, this writing of the prophet is absolutely true. We live in an era that is afraid of “absolutes.” Not only are we afraid but in rejection of absolutes particularly when it comes to faith and Christian belief which frankly explains the mess our world is in.

In the early portion of the chapter concerning the Israelites, through Isaiah God reminds the people that he has ransomed them. “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. . . I love you.” But his chosen people are deaf and blind. Into this setting Isaiah introduces a contrast between the idols of the world and the God of Israel. The nations of the world are called together to pit their god against Israel’s God in answering four questions. Have any of their gods foretold what will happen in the future? . . . predicted what will happen tomorrow . . . any witnesses on behalf of the gods to verify . . . any other witnesses to verify their truthfulness? Crickets.

As blind and dumb as you are, Israel, God says, I have, nevertheless chosen you to know me, believe in me and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God―never has been, never will be. I am the Lord. There is no other Savior.

In a secular world where humans have usurped the throne and become their own gods, I am reminded of a passage earlier in the Book of Isaiah (14:13,14) “I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.” Note the three “I will’s.” “I will ascend, I will preside, I will climb” expresses the mindset of our culture: ambition, power, greed. 

This pericope (per-Rick-ko-pee―just in case you wondered!) then answers the four questions raised previously. God predicted the rescue of the Israelites and did it! The world is the witness to the truth of what God did to this very day! No man made or imagined god has ever done anything like what God did for his chosen people. God has never not been! (From eternity to eternity.) By his saying “I am God,” we are reminded of God’s words to Moses when he asked at the burning bush, “Whom shall I say sent me?” Think about it, “am” is always in the present. It is a time-less word. In other words, it is not a chronological word. It is not measurable. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “The present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole . . .” 

Then we have this marvelous conclusion to today’s passage, “No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done.” Those are the most comforting, loving words you’ll ever read! Why would anyone ever settle for their own god and their own wisdom when they could respond to the One who created them in the first place? Ambition, power, greed are pretty dreadful reasons. Pray for our world and its leaders.  

Music: “The Lord is an Everlasting God”     St. Olaf Choir      Kenneth Jennings

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is God who sits above the circle of the earth

       who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

       and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

“To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?”

         says the Holy One. 

Lift up your eyes and see: who created these 

        and numbers them, calling them all by name? 

Not one is missing. 

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

     the Creator of the ends of the earth,

     who does not faint or grow weary;

     whose understanding is unsearchable.

God gives power to the faint,

     and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

     and the young will fall exhausted.

 But those who wait for the Lord

     shall renew their strength,

     they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

     they shall run and not be weary,

     they shall walk and not faint.

Have you not heard? Have you not known?

-Isaiah 40:21-22, 25-26, 28-31

Bonus: from “The Chosen”   Jesus and Mary Magdalene

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDa-QMnEhCs

This clip comes straight out of today’s passage in Isaiah. In the story, when Mary Magdalene was a little girl, she and her father memorized the passage Jesus quotes at the end of the 3:46 minute clip. If you are not familiar with “The Chosen,” you should be. Check it out at www.thechosen.com. It’s free.

Prayer:  

God of eternity, in whose image we have been created, we lift up our hearts to you in  wonder. How it is Lord, that you, the Creator of the universe, show such compassion in the giving of your Son to make possible the redemption to such arrogant people is a wonder we cannot begin to fathom. Yet, you have called us to be your people―your representatives within this world. We marvel that we are called by our individual names. Being your ambassadors is a task too great for us to bear in our own strength, but we bless you for the Holy Spirit who can make good what is lacking in us. Let him come upon us that we may run and not grow weary; that we may walk and not grow faint.                     ―Prayers for Sunday Service, p.81, adapted Daniel Sharp 

Sunday, March 21, Fifth Sunday in Lent

Reader: “God heard his prayers” 

Response: “because of his deep reverence for God.” 

Scripture:     Hebrews 5:5-10

That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,

“You are my Son.

    Today I have become your Father.”

And in another passage God said to him,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”  

While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

A couple of days ago we wrote about Jesus being our High Priest and the difference between his priesthood and the priesthood of Aaron. We also noted that holding such an office involved receiving a direct call from God as was the case with Aaron. With this in mind, we come to today’s passage.

The humility of the Son of God comes out again in this opening sentence. Jesus did not assume because he was God’s Son, that he would automatically become the High Priest. He knew the person for that position was chosen by God the Father alone. To represent the people before God, the High Priest must be fully human, again underscoring the humanity of Jesus. Were he not completely human in every way, he could not serve as an authentic priest for all humanity. At the same time, this High Priest must be holy, sinless and pure, in otherwords, deity. Jesus is that perfect human-divine person. The author of Hebrews then quotes two different Psalms. The first highlights the divinity of Christ (Ps.2:7). The latter highlights the humanity of Christ (Ps.110:4). (We’ll save the discussion of Melchizedek for another time when we work with Hebrews chapter seven.)

The writer of this epistle goes back to the humanity of Jesus in this next little section. It’s interesting to me that he uses the phrase “while Jesus was here on earth.” In my mind he is making a distinction between dwelling in heaven and dwelling on earth. On earth Jesus offered prayer and pleading to the Father in heaven, who was able to “rescue him from death.”  A better translation might be “rescue him out of death.” In other words, Jesus was asking the Father not to be left in the state of death. For you’ll recall Jesus saying just prior to Maundy Thursday in John’s gospel (12:27-28), “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.” [italics mine] These words might also be a reference to Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked the Father “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” In other words, was there some other way to accomplish salvation?

God the Father was the only one able to design another way to bring about salvation; but this was God’s plan, the atoning death of his only Son. The Bible says God heard his Son’s prayer because of his deep reverence for his Father. But nothing changed. He kept on praying anyway two more times. After the third time, with no other word from his Father, Jesus awoke the sleeping disciples as the arresting crowd approached.

It would seem to me that this is a significant point in regard to our prayer life. Because nothing changes that we can see when we pray, does not mean that God did not hear our prayer. Hearing our prayers does not necessarily nor automatically bind God into doing something we can see. The most important thing is that God hears the cries of his children. God hears you. God knows the plans he has for you and me. That is why we too are to pray, “thy will be done.”

That “Jesus learned obedience” is a mind boggling and instructive truth.  In like manner, we are to embrace the moment with obedience when we are called upon to suffer.  Through great and unimaginable suffering in every way, Jesus identified completely with humanity. Suffering was God’s qualifier to serve as this High Priest. Jesus embraced suffering through his obedience with the result that he became the foundation and pathway to eternal life to all who obey him. Those seven little one syllable words he uttered in the Garden of Gethsemane changed all of creation for all eternity. The humility of Jesus is more and more wondrous the more time I spend in the Scriptures.

What a marvelous, humble High Priest we have who lives to intercede on our behalf.

Music: “Hallelujah, What A Savior”           Gaither Vocal Band

Prayer:

Benign Lord, I praise thee continually for permission to approach the throne of grace, and to spread my wants and desires before thee. I am not worthy of thy blessings and mercies for I am far gone from original righteousness. My depraved nature reveals itself in disobedience and rebellion. My early days discovered in me discontent, pride, envy, revenge. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor the multiplied transgressions of later years, my failure to improve time and talents, my abuse of mercies and means, my wasted sabbaths, my perverted seasons of grace, my long neglect of thy great salvation, my disregard of the friend of sinners. While I confess my guilt, help me to feel it deeply, with self-abhorrence and self-despair, yet to remember there is hope in thee, and to see the Lamb that takes away sin. Through him may I return to thee, listen to thee, trust in thee, delight in thy law, obey thee, be upheld by thee. Preserve my understanding from error, my affections from love of idols, my lips from speaking guile my conduct from stain of vice, my character from appearance of evil, that I may be harmless, blameless, rebukeless, exemplary, useful, light-giving, prudent, zealous for thy glory and the good of my fellowmen. Amen.  The Valley of Vision, p.145

Saturday, March 20

A week from today our attention will turn to a party honoring Jesus at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the day before Palm Sunday. The raising of Lazarus from the dead was a well-known event shortly before Holy Week that spurred on the Pharisees’ plan to kill Jesus. John recounts this most significant factor in bringing about the death of Jesus. John is the only gospel writer to record the full account of what happened. 

Reader: “Did I not tell you that if you believed,”

Response: “you would see the glory of God?”

Scripture: John 11:1-57

A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. [on Tuesday of Holy Week.] Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.

So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

“Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, on the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” So Mary immediately went to him.

Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” 

Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”

Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”

He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world.

So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.

It was now almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, and many people from all over the country arrived in Jerusalem several days early so they could go through the purification ceremony before Passover began. They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to each other, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” Meanwhile, the leading priests and Pharisees had publicly ordered that anyone seeing Jesus must report it immediately so they could arrest him.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.  

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Did you notice the “buts” in this pericope? This little four-letter word packs power! It always sets up contrasts which clarify perspectives. Let’s look at a few examples. “But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’ sickness . . . happened for the glory of God.” ―Jesus understood the grander plan of God. A second “but”: “But his disciples objected, “Rabbi . . .” We don’t understand why you want to go back where the people were trying to stone you. It makes no sense! ―The bigger issue was not about the fear of being stoned but bringing glory to God. 

Another “but”: Martha’s words, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” ―Martha understood that God was not limited to earthly chronology. Still another “but”: “But some said, ‘This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’” ―If he did that, why couldn’t he do this? Just two more: in Jesus’ words, “But I said it out loud for the sake of all those people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” ―Jesus tells us why he said what he said. Finally a “but” from some observers of this resurrection of Lazarus, “But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” ―Some observers of the resurrection of Lazarus believed in Jesus and others saw this event as trouble for the Jewish high council.

What’s the point? In this particular event when God acted, some of the people perceived the bigger picture of what God was doing and believed in Jesus while others failed to grasp the true significance. I also am far too guilty of “But Lord, I thought that . . .” I am too centered on what I perceive to be happening. In contrast, we see Jesus totally tuned to the Father in the raising of Lazarus. We never once read anywhere in Scripture of Jesus’ conversation with his Father uttering these words, “But Father, I thought that . . .” There is a model here for us to continually tune our hearts to God’s bigger plan and not rush to our conclusions too fast. Do you find yourself observing the events of the day and putting them into your own story as to what is happening in the world and then reacting to your own interpretation? It is possible God may be doing something you don’t even know about! We need to roll the stone away from our theological tombs more often and see the power of our great Savior working in the world in which we live.

A few months earlier during the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus had made reference that he was the “light of the world,” a messianic reference. The people picked up the inference, thought he was blaspheming God and tried to stone him. He escaped Jerusalem and headed back to the region of Galilee where things were quieter, though his notoriety continued to grow. A couple of months later Jesus was in Jerusalem again. This time it was for Hanakkuh, during which time he claimed that he and the Father were one, which resulted in another stoning attempt. Jesus and his disciples quickly left Jerusalem again. So you can see the disciples’ reluctance to head back to Jerusalem this third time!

Jesus’ words of “there are twelve hours in the daylight” was a way of telling the disciples that God, his Father, had given him a task to do. Those who attempted to stone him were in the dark. In John’s gospel, light is a symbol of clarity and truth and darkness is a symbol of doubt, “being in the dark,” not knowing. (Note, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dark of the night searching for the truth.) Now Jesus was headed back to Jerusalem to accomplish his Father’s will by bringing the light of truth to the people. The disciples were still “stuck in the fear of the dark,” still stumbling and not understanding the presence of  “light of the world” in their midst. Passover was approaching and now it was God’s time for Jesus’ mission on earth to come to completion. 

Friends, as we approach Holy Week, John writes elsewhere concerning this same theme in I John 1:6-7. “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”  In a world of such divisiveness both within and without the church, let us walk in God’s light focusing on Jesus; then we will have fellowship with one another. Unity is only possible in Christ.

Music:    “O Nata Lux” Morten Lauridsen,  Los Angeles Master Chorale,  Paul Salamunovich, conductor. This is one movement of a larger piece, Lux Aeterna. The piece was premiered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 1997. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, here I am again praying with words, words, and more words. I seem stuck with the same ones all the time. I have trouble finding the right ones to express my love and complete gratitude for what you have done and continue to do on my behalf. Words are so limiting! If you had not done what you did on the cross, there would be no hope at all. I cannot begin to imagine what that would be like without you. I would be depressed and have to pretend that somehow life made sense, but based on what I wouldn’t know. To keep sane, I wouldn’t think about it but live for the moment getting lost in music or technology or . . . something, anything. But thank you Lord that you have brought light into the world, eternal light that enlightens all darkness, including mine. Your word brings eternal light, hope, truth, salvation. This I pray through Jesus Christ, who with you and the unity of the Holy Spirit, reign one God forever and ever. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp  

Friday, March 19

Reader: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do,” 

Response: “yet he did not sin.” 

Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:4   

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs.

And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

There are a couple of foci in this pericope. The first is concerning a heavenly High Priest and the second is drawing our attention to an earthly high priest. The initial discussion centers on Jesus. It is interesting that the writer reminds us that Jesus entered heaven, a statement which helps us recall that he was at one time on earth with us. In contrast to the earthly high priest, who would meet the presence of God in the Holy of Holies once a year, Jesus, our High Priest, sits at the right hand of God in heaven itself, not one day a year, but for all eternity. While Hebrew’s author is building his case pointing to the humanity of this High Priest, as one who fully understands human weakness even as he dwells in heaven, he is also telling us of God’s gracious character toward those on earth. Heaven and earth are connected via this Priest.

I don’t know what temptation you faced most recently, but our High Priest faced it too. In fact, every temptation you have ever faced and all those you gave in to, and all those that lie ahead, your Lord faced without ever sinning even once. Being reminded of such perfection, makes me feel more guilty and embarrassed when I fail to resist tempting situations. I am ashamed to go to God in confession. I want to forget about it hoping it will just diffuse, melt and go away like a melting snow drift. Then eventually I’ll forget about it and feel better, and never actually deal with my failure. The devil whispers that tactic quite effectively. 

That doesn’t fly with our High Priest who urges us to come boldly, (yes, that’s his word), to the very throne of God, confessing our sin, having been promised mercy―because the one interceding on our behalf, our High Priest, knows exactly what we have dealt with in our failure. In our confession, we get the credit for his victory over the very thing that defeated us. He is merciful to the repentant heart at the point where we need it most. Shame and Guilt are defeated foes.

The latter part of this passage puts us back with the earthly high priest. He likewise acts as intercessor between the people and God but from the earth below. In contrast he offers sacrifices and gifts to God to atone for the sins of the people repeatedly. Like our High Priest, he is able to deal gently with people in their failures, because he himself is also subject to the very same temptations and weaknesses as those he is serving. But because he also sins, he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins which does not ultimately solve our sin problem. 

In conclusion, a high priest can only be called to such a position by God. Not even Jesus assumed the position. In truth, we have a human High Priest who sits at the right hand of the Father, who is also the Son of God, completely God who intercedes on our behalf. His representing us to the Godhead will never cease―ever. So, come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. Your High Priest is already there on your behalf.

Music: “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven”   Douglas Marshall et al. (Doug was our organist for the 11 years I was at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA. Terrific is an understatement! Wonderful man of God and fantastic organist and organ builder.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lik0hbDKIs

Bonus: “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven”  Choir of 800 Singers at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA for the Fred Bock Institute of Music at Fuller Seminary (I had the opportunity to participate in this festival when we were in ministry in San Diego.)

Prayer:  

Blessed Lord Jesus, no human mind could conceive or invent the gospel. Acting in eternal grace, thou art both its messenger and its message, lived out on earth through infinite compassion, applying thy life to insult, injury, death, that I might be redeemed, ransomed, freed. Blessed be thou, O Father for contriving this way, eternal thanks to thee, O Lamb of God, for opening this way, praise everlasting to thee, O Holy Spirit, for applying this way to my heart. Glorious Trinity, impress the gospel on my soul, until its virtue diffuses every faculty. Let it be heard, acknowledged, professed, felt. Teach me to secure this mighty blessing; help me to give up every darling lust, to submit heart and life to its command, to have it in my will, controlling my affections, molding my understanding; to adhere strictly to the rules of true religion, not departing from them in any instance, nor for any advantage in order to escape evil, inconvenience or danger. Take me to the cross to seek glory from its infamy; strip me of every pleasing pretense of righteousness by my own doings. O gracious redeemer, I have neglected thee too long, often crucified thee, crucified thee afresh by my impenitence, put thee to open shame. I thank thee for the patience that has borne with me so long, and for the grace that now makes me willing to be thine. O unite me to thyself with inseparable bonds, that nothing may ever draw me back from thee, my Lord, my Savior. Amen.

                                                             ―The Valley of Vision,p.35

Thursday, March 18

Reader: “Today when you hear his voice,”

Response: “don’t harden your hearts.”  

Scripture:  Hebrews 4:1-13    

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,

“In my anger I took an oath:

    ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”

even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:

“Today when you hear his voice,

    don’t harden your hearts.”

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts: 

As you read, I’m sure you noticed one particular word recurring again and again, the word “rest.” In fact, it occurs fourteen times in thirteen verses. That must mean it is a central idea in this pericope! This word “rest” has a much more profound meaning than when you or I say, “I’m going to sit down and rest a while.” So, let’s delve into the reason for the author’s interest in this particular word.

Remember, in this part of the book of Hebrews, the writer is attempting to prove Jesus’ superiority to the angels, to Moses and to Joshua. The rebellious Israelites in the desert are the prime examples. The previous section describes their failures to trust what God had said. The wonderful news is that God’s promise to enter his rest still stands, as it does to this very day! Remember where Jesus says to his disciples on Maundy Thursday in the Upper Room, “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also”? That is the place of ultimate rest. Fearing God means experiencing reverence and awe toward God. Jesus’ words about preparing a place for people does absolutely no good if the people do not exercise faith in God. 

The wandering Israelites in the desert are a primary example. They did not listen to God and exhibited no faith. The result? Hundreds of thousands of them died off during those forty years. Based on the size of the mass, I figured at least 40-50 people died every day for forty years. (There was one day, for example when 23,000 died as a result of God’s judgment of their sins.) God’s plan was that they would have an eternal rest in his presence. Their lack of faith resulted in God saying, “They will never enter my place of rest.” Those are not words anyone ever wants to hear from God.

I want to deal a bit with the theology of rest and creation. You’ll recall the  words of Scripture at the end of the sixth day of creation. “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” This seventh day is the only day of creation pronounced as “holy,” a sacred day set apart from the other six. This idea of a holy day of rest came with creation itself. God has always planned for this unique day. The key to entering this day of rest is obedience and faith in God. 

The reference to Joshua is a kind of play on the name of Jesus. For, as you know, they are the same word, Joshua is Hebrew and the Greek name for Joshua is Jesus. Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, but the people fell into unbelief very quickly and eventually were exiled, thus they never attained the “rest” God had in mind. But Jesus changed that. I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. On the sixth day of Holy Week, Jesus’ words from the cross were, “It is finished!” What was finished? The work of redeeming the fallen creation was finished and Jesus “rested” on the Sabbath in the tomb. The unique aspect of the seventh day of creation was that there was no “it was evening and it was morning,” the phrase repeated at the end of each of the first six days of creation. Why? The seventh day of creation has still not ended.

Jesus rose on the eighth day, ushering in the first day of the new creation. As the Scripture says, “there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God.” (That’s us!) So let us do our best to enter that rest. In the meantime as we await our final rest, let our “innermost thoughts and desires” be weighed by the powerful word of God, the two-edged sword for we are accountable to God. I rest my case!

Music: “Saints Bound for Heaven”   Missouri State University Chorale

Bonus: “Goin Home”  Dvorak  Sissel            When we all get to Zion!

Prayer: Bring us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end.    ―John Donne, 1571-1631

Wednesday, March 17

Reader: “At the right time,” 

Response: “I, the Lord, will make it happen.” 

Scripture:  Isaiah 60:15-22

“Though you were once despised and hated,

    with no one traveling through you,

I will make you beautiful forever,

    a joy to all generations.

Powerful kings and mighty nations

    will satisfy your every need,

as though you were a child

    nursing at the breast of a queen.

You will know at last that I, the Lord,

    am your Savior and your Redeemer,

    the Mighty One of Israel.

I will exchange your bronze for gold,

    your iron for silver,

your wood for bronze,

    and your stones for iron.

I will make peace your leader

    and righteousness your ruler.

Violence will disappear from your land;

    the desolation and destruction of war will end.

Salvation will surround you like city walls,

    and praise will be on the lips of all who enter there.

“No longer will you need the sun to shine by day,

    nor the moon to give its light by night,

for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light,

    and your God will be your glory.

Your sun will never set;

    your moon will not go down.

For the Lord will be your everlasting light.

    Your days of mourning will come to an end.

 All your people will be righteous.

    They will possess their land forever,

for I will plant them there with my own hands

    in order to bring myself glory.

The smallest family will become a thousand people,

and the tiniest group will become a mighty nation.

    At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts: 

If you have some time, read the first fifteen verses of this chapter. One thing to note in Isaiah is that “Zion is a theological name for Jerusalem, the City of God” (NLT Bible, notes p.1195). There is no more significant city in all of the world. Zion is a symbol of God’s presence. The Temple that Solomon built was symbolically called Mt. Zion. In Solomon’s day, God dwelt in the Holy of Holies above the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. To be a citizen of Zion meant that one had been redeemed by God.

In this portion of Scripture, Isaiah is describing a future day following the return of the Lord. We will see the Lord in all his glory. There will be peace, trust, justice, righteousness, purity and holiness. There will be no impurity, idolatry, rebellion against God, unrighteousness and immorality anywhere. The citizens of Zion have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and are pure and holy. Do you realize no one who has ever lived, except those who were physically in the presence of Jesus during his days on earth, has ever been with a perfectly pure and holy person? I wonder what that would be like.  Read again a description of those days. “I will make peace your leader and righteousness your ruler.” No fraud here. “Violence will disappear from your land.” That would be a welcome relief in this world. “War will end.” Yes! “Praise will be on the lips of all who enter there.” Can you imagine our leadership openly praising God without being mocked? We won’t even need the sun or moon for God himself will be our light. Think of that! God will bring back his people to Zion from everywhere in the world. 

Earlier in this chapter Isaiah writes, “And what do I see flying like clouds to Israel, like doves to their nests?  . . . They are bringing the people of Israel home from far away, carrying their silver and gold. They will honor the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel.”

(I’m sure you are aware that there are agencies now dedicated to flying Jews from all around the world home to Israel.) Isn’t it amazing how Isaiah described this roughly 700 years before Christ?

All of this is to bring glory to God. I’m afraid we live in a world that is so consumed with itself that the thought, let alone the act, of bringing glory to God is not even on our radar. How can you bring glory to God today? Stop and think about it before you read on. That is what will happen in Zion when we get there. The last sentence of today’s reading gives me chills, “At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.” Jesus’ journey to the cross made all of this possible. Glory to you, Lord, God.

Music: “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”  BuPyeong Methodist Church  (S.Korean)

“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”      Glorious Philharmonic Choir (African)

Prayer:  Fix thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not at the uneven motions of the world, but steadily go on to our glorious home; neither censuring our journey by the weather we meet with, nor turning out of the way for anything that befalls us. The winds are often rough, and our own weight presses us downwards. Reach forth, O Lord, thy hand, thy saving hand, and speedily deliver us. Teach us, O Lord, to use this transitory life as pilgrims returning to their beloved home; that we may take what our journey requires, and not think of settling in a foreign country.    ―John Wesley, 1703-1791

Tuesday, March 16

Reader: “If you think you are standing strong,”

Response: “be careful not to fall.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 10:1-13  

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.”And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day.

Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

Dennis Prager, a conservative Jewish talk show host, made this observation in one of his books on The Rational Bible. “Memory permeates faith. No memory, no faith.” Think about the importance of memory. The portion of Scripture for today begins with, “I don’t want you to forget dear brothers and sisters . . .” It is important to remember history as it truly was. Memory is a marvelous thing. It is necessary for sanity. One of the reasons God gave the Jewish people the festivals of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of First Fruits, Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Feast of Tabernacles, was to remind, bring back to memory what God had done for his people and to remind the people of what not to do. Past history was and is one of our most valuable and essential teachers. 

So here, Paul walks the Corinthians through a portion of Israel’s history. Corinth was a pagan city known for sexual immorality and a godless pagan culture. There were Romans, Greeks, Jews and other ethnic groups from all around the Mediterranean Sea inhabiting the city. Also, Corinth was strategically located on the east to west trade route which further invited a wide span of cultures intermingling. So Paul wanted the Jews to bring to memory their ancestral and historical heritage. His epistle also informed those non-Jews of God’s dealing with rebellious people.

God had provided for his people in the past. Christ was the Rock in the desert, literally the source of living water. God guided the Israelites with the cloud. He baptized them via their journey through the Red Sea. Yet, (what an unsettling word,) God was not pleased with them and that generation died in the wilderness. There were serious consequences for rebellion as 23,000 died in a single day. His reference was to serve as a warning to the current Corinthian population to examine and repent of their sinful ways. 

Moses wrote down all that happened to serve as recorded memory for future generations of God’s people. (Deut.31:9) He instructed the priests to read to the people God’s instructions on how to live in relationship to Him. Paul is doing the same thing here. He is describing what happens to people who give in to temptation which is a form of rebellion against God.

The good news comes in the last two sentences. While temptation comes to every person, “God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” And we go back again to the first words, “I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters . . .” In this case, memory is our friend. “Memory permeates faith.” 

Music: “Hear My Prayer, O Lord”      Purcell       Voces8     

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OISUntqbXvc  
Prayer: Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant. Cause me to hear, cause me to know, teach me to do, lead me to obedience.
―Henry Martyn, 1781-1812

Monday, March 15

Reader: “But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house.” 

Response: “And we are God’s house.”

Scripture:  Hebrews 3:1-6 

And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest. For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully when he was entrusted with God’s entire house.

But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

As always when reading or studying a passage of Scripture, it is essential to recognize the context. Since this pericope starts with “And so,” or “Therefore,” what has preceded these paragraphs? Most of the readers were probably Jewish, but God-fearing Gentiles also worshiped with Jews in the synagogue. In the previous section, emphasis was placed on Jesus’ superiority over the angels.  It is important to understand how much the Jews revered Moses. He was the greatest human being in history. He had talked with God face to face. God gave him the Ten Commandments in God’s own handwriting! He was “the friend of God.” So, in this section the writer is building his case that Jesus is superior to Moses. The “brothers and sisters” addressed here are believers, “who belong to God,” with those “called to heaven.” What often escapes us earth dwellers is that we are connected with our heavenly brothers and sisters now. When we are worshiping, we are joining with those who have gone before us now. We all make up the same family.

Having said that, as his family, we are to think carefully about Jesus, our Apostle (“messenger”) and High Priest. There is something here that continues building the premise of Jesus’ superiority over Moses. In the First Testament, Moses was the “apostle” and Aaron, his brother, the high priest. An apostle was God’s spokesman to humans and a high priest was the people’s spokesman to God. Fulfilling those roles was how Moses and Aaron functioned in leading the Israelites those years in the desert. Jesus is superior to both men, for he serves simultaneously as both Apostle and High Priest. 

Carrying on, Moses faithfully served God’s entire house, that is, God’s called people, the believers. But there is a huge difference in regard to Jesus and the “entire house.” 

We speak of Frank Lloyd Wright houses. Those homes are valuable and interesting because of the architect. The writer of Hebrews brings home this point. The builder is the one to be honored. God is to be honored to the uttermost. He is the builder of everything! Jesus is that builder. He is God. Moses was a faithful servant in the house, but he didn’t build it. He was a partial type of Christ as apostle and redeemer of the children of Israel from slavery. 

But then something interesting happens in this passage as it concludes in the last two sentences. We move from recorded history to present day. The verbs move to present tense. Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. This includes us sitting here reading these words. This house is alive and you are part of it. As part of God’s  house which is currently under construction, we continue to trust the builder. He’s the architect. He knows what he is doing. His plans are perfect. There are no “change orders.” Members of the earthbound house, our Foundation is secure and our hope is in our Builder. He will never leave this building project and will see it through to the end! He has promised. In fact, he died to get it right.

Music: “How Firm A Foundation”   First Plymouth Church Lincoln, Nebraska

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JdIrdKPfHA     
Prayer: O Lord God, our Father and Creator, all thy lovingkindness is in thy Son. I plead his blood to pay my debts of wrong. As you build your house, your church of which I am a part, accept his worthiness for my unworthiness, his sinlessness for my transgressions, his purity for my uncleanness, his sincerity for my guile, his truth for my deceits, his meekness for my pride, his constancy for my backslidings, his love for my enmity, his fullness for my emptiness, his faithfulness for my treachery, his obedience for my lawlessness, his glory for my shame, his devotedness for my waywardness, his holy life for my unchaste ways, his righteousness for my dead works, his death for my life.   ―Valley of Vision, p. 157, adapted Daniel Sharp

Sunday, March 14, Fourth Sunday in Lent

Reader: “For this is how God loved the world:” 

Response: “He gave his one and only Son.”

Scripture:  Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21   (I just noticed this John reference is also today’s date. 3/14/21!)

Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.

Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!

John 3:14-21

And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent him into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

The “serpent in the wilderness event” is one of the more curious occurrences for the Israelites in their desert wanderings. People have often read the account wondering what in the world was going on. The children of God had been bitten by terrifying snakes and yet God had Moses make a replica of a serpent on a pole. If the people would just look at this ugly image of the reptile, they would be healed? That doesn’t make much sense, yet it does if we do a little biblical work. 

The people had been in rebellion against God again. What a surprise! They complained about the “horrible manna” and that they had nothing to eat or drink. In a nutshell they were rejecting God’s provision. The Lord was teaching them to trust him day by day. They had to exercise faith each day. Yesterday’s faith doesn’t carry over to today. They needed to trust God now. That principle applies to us who read this as well. 

But the serpent on the pole, what’s with that? What we have here is Old Testament typology. What we mean by typology is an interpretation of First Testament events which prefigure a New Testament event in which Christ, in his Incarnation, fulfills the Old Testament event. These two passages from Numbers and John give us a perfect illustration. It is the case of a type in which the antitype ends in fulfilment with Christ.

Let’s walk through this a little further. The image of the serpent on the pole prefigures Christ upon the cross. But why a snake? Go back to the Garden of Eden. The snake in effect “bit” Adam, for he also tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree with the result being his physical and spiritual death. “So all the days Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.” Gen.5:5. The serpent on the pole was motionless signaling that its power to bring death had ended. The serpent was dead, and powerless to inflict more death. The dead Christ on the cross (Jn.3:14-15) signaled the end of the power of death, hence the victorious words of victory proclaimed to the lifeless serpent on the pole, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” The serpent in the Garden, the devil, was crushed and mortally wounded. “Serpent on the pole. You are without breath, motionless, powerless, dead even though you have the shape of a serpent.” The devil is defeated. Look to the Savior.

As the Israelites, bitten by the serpent, (as sinners, we have all been bitten by the serpent), looked to the pole, they saw a creature who had no more power to inflict the sting of death. These children of God were in effect looking to the victorious Christ, the one who had defeated the old head-crushed serpent in the Garden of Eden. How do we know this? Jesus himself drew upon this Old Testament “Christ story” in helping Nicodemus connect the dots between the Testaments. The Old Testament is filled with such Christ stories. Looking at the serpent on the pole brought healing in the form of life and recovery from the snake bite to those Israelites in the First Testament. 

Looking to Christ, the one lifted up on the cross, brings spiritual healing and eternal life to all people who look to the Savior. It is interesting that the symbol for the medical profession is a serpent on the pole. I wonder how many people know the story and what it represents?

The sad thing is that by King Hezekiah’s time, some 700 years later, the Israelites, now in Jerusalem, were worshiping the bronze serpent on the pole and offering sacrifices to it. Under Hezekiah’s reforms, the serpent image was broken up along with the Asherah poles. Ignorance of true history is devastating. Rather than being reminded that the serpent had been defeated and was the path to healing, it was worshiped as something that had power. Hezekiah turned the nation to again embrace Yahweh. 

This season of Lent causes us to again reflect on Jesus’ own journey to this life-giving cross which goes through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Note it is a “shadow,” not the end.

Music: “God So Loved the World” Te Deum Chamber Choir (A classic beautifully sung.)

Prayer:  

O God our Father, help us to nail to the cross of thy dear Son the whole body of our death, the wrong desires of the heart, the sinful devisings of the mind, the corrupt apprehensions of the eyes, the cruel words of the tongue, the ill employment of hands and feet; that the old man being crucified and done away, the new man may live and grow into the glorious likeness of the same thy Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.   ―Eric Milner-White, 1884-1964

Saturday, March 13

Reader: “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,”

Response: “you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 

Scripture:  John 3:1-13  

 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe me if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

From episode seven of “The Chosen.” If you are not already familiar with this series, you should be! The movie clip begins at about 50 seconds. It is a portrayal of the passage you just read. I would agree with Dallas Jenkins, watching the first seven episodes will give you an even greater understanding of the dynamics of this clip. Don’t skip this. In the clip, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness with questions. He has seen firsthand some of the miracles Jesus has done and wants to know more.

Some thoughts:  

If we remember that there were no verse or chapter breaks in the original manuscripts of Scripture, it is often wise to look beyond verse and chapter divisions when reading a passage. Such is the case here. The last two verses prior to this chapter speak of miraculous signs Jesus did with the result that many people began to believe in him. But Jesus also knew how fickle they were. One of the persons who had seen some of these wondrous displays of God’s power was Nicodemus. So when he came to Jesus when it was dark, he had previously seen Jesus do the miraculous. To Nicodemus’ credit, he was trying to figure who this miracle worker was. 

John, of all the gospel writers, makes the most use of the symbolism of light and dark in portraying people who see Jesus as the Light and those who don’t as people dwelling in the dark (John 1:4-9). John is here portraying a man representing all mankind. John makes this link by using the same word, anthropos, for mankind (2:25) and for man (3:1). In a sense, Nicodemus is symbolic of everyone who lives in darkness searching for the Light. Notice he doesn’t attribute the miracles he’s seen to magic or trickery but rather to the presence of God in the person performing the acts. Hence, Nicodemus is earnest in his seeking. 

If you were Jesus and Nicodemus had just said what he said, how would you have responded? The Pharisees had a specific image of what the Kingdom of God should look like. So Jesus goes right after the Pharisee misunderstanding. The entrance into the Kingdom is not via legalism, by the law, but by spiritual birth. So Nicodemus asks for more clarification with his question. Jesus’ answer is that entrance comes by water and the Spirit. It is an act of God. 

It seems to me people “in the dark” in our world have the same pharisaical understanding of Christianity. In other words, it is a system of rules which should make you a better person. Being a Christian is not about being a better, more loving, more caring person. I’m not sure how many people grasp the truth that it is the Holy Spirit who is the father of the new birth. There is nothing human about the new birth. If one is to be a citizen of heaven, that is of another world. Birth into that world must originate from that world. There is no “human” way to get there. In the last part of this pericope, Jesus makes this truth so clear. “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man (the name Jesus most often used in referring to himself) has come down from heaven.” Like Nicodemus, during the season of Lent, we continue to reflect on the wonder of the new birth made possible by God’s decided action toward us. Toward you!

Music: “Behold, People Have Walked in Great Darkness”    Philippe Sly, Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiLJC6p3sjM   Prayer:  May God support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.                                         ―John Henry Newman 1801-1890

Friday, March 12

Yesterday you were supposed to see a picture of a rainbow. Unfortunately, the platform we are using is not able to transfer a picture. So just use your imagination to visualize a perfect full rainbow which it was!

Reader: “At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ”

Response: “—everything in heaven and on earth.”

Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14   

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.

God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

Reader: “This is the word of the Lord.”   

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:   

When we begin to grasp the wonder and significance of this passage, honestly, it is overwhelming! Read the first sentence and the last sentence back to back. In a nutshell, that is why you are on earth. God knew about you and loved you even before he created the world. Since our first parents brought sin and death into the world, and as a result, we became eternal orphans without hope. But God in his great grace, adopted us into his family through Christ, making us heirs with his Son. God wanted to do this. It brought him pleasure. Think about it. You bring God pleasure! (By the way, when Paul refers to “mystery,” it is generally understood to mean something that was formerly hidden and now revealed. It has nothing to do with secret knowledge of some sort.) 

Sometimes we may be inclined to think with billions of people in the world and all the people who have lived in the past, that God has probably lost us in the great mass of humanity. Not so! The shed blood of Christ at his death was specifically on your behalf. It was very personal. Without it, you have no hope. The fact of our adoption is not the end of the story by any means. We’ve been given wisdom and understanding. Understanding about what? God’s plan. Paul spells it out in a few succinct phrases. “At the right time he will bring everything together under the  authority of Christ―everything in heaven and on earth.”  

As we battle the tensions and anxieties of living on earth, we are here confronted with ultimate truth. In the words of T. Chalmers, “God never forgets His purposes, though he executes them in His own way and at His own pace.” Or as E.K. Simpson states,”[God] is the unhurried Arbiter of time and its manifold issues. At the center of the wheeling orbs subsists unruffled calm, a serenity tranquil as that of the azure skies on a cloudless midsummer morning, ‘one of those heavenly days which cannot die.’” What a beautiful way to say “at the right time he will bring everything together . . .” Paul goes on to write that this marvelous Good News extends beyond the Jews to all peoples. God marks his own with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is his guarantee of our eternal inheritance. 

The above passage begins with “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.” The middle part in speaking of God’s plan says, “At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth” and concludes with “He did this so we would praise and glorify him.” The season of Lent is partially about examining our own hearts and depth of love for our Savior. One question, “Why are we so rebellious and think we know better than God?” Just asking.

Music: “Have Thine Own Way Lord”     Fountain Valley Academy

Bonus:  “Have Thine Own Way Lord”  Philippine Madrigal Singers  (from Italy!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gb_htn9KjM 
Prayer: Come now, little man turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let your burdensome distractions wait, free yourself awhile for God and rest awhile in him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything except God and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, ‘I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek.’ ―Anselm 1033-1109  

Thursday, March 11

Reader: “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you . . . “

Response: “and with all living creatures, for all generations to come.”

Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17

Then God told Noah and his sons, “I hereby confirm my covenant with you and your descendants, and with all the animals that were on the boat with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals—every living creature on earth. Yes, I am confirming my covenant with you. Never again will flood waters kill all living creatures; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”

Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.”

Reader: “This is the word of the Lord.”   

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:   

Something pretty interesting just happened. To begin each day’s devotional, I look in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B for the various scriptural references for that day and choose one to write about. Today’s date had a passage in Ephesians, one in Genesis and a Psalm. I narrowed my choice to Ephesians and Genesis. Ephesians was about God’s grace toward people, and Genesis was about Noah and the covenant of the rainbow. As I was debating which passage to select, I looked up out the window in front of my desk and there it was, a full beautiful rainbow, the one you see in the picture! So, I said thank you Lord . . . Genesis it is! 

The first reference in Scripture to a covenant occurs here, right after the great Flood. The concept of a covenant goes throughout the Scriptures. To review, a covenant is a binding relationship between two parties rooted in a commitment to each other which includes promises to one another as well as obligations to each other. An honored faithful covenant brings peace and harmony to the parties involved. In this instance, God took the initiative to make a covenant with Noah, his descendants and all the animals that were in the ark with Noah.

For example, when two people marry and make a covenant to live together in holy matrimony for the rest of their lives, the wedding ring is often a visible reminder, symbol and witness to their vows. It is the covenant they have made to each other. Notice that both husband and wife each wear a ring. When God wrote the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of stone, both copies were put in the Ark of the Covenant. One copy was a reminder for God and the other copy for Moses and the people. 

In the instance you just read, God declared the rainbow to be the sign of his covenant with Noah and all living creatures. In God’s own words, “When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant . . .” God saw the rainbow in the picture I took and remembered his covenant. I saw the same rainbow and remembered God’s covenant to Noah’s descendants (me) and all living creatures on the earth. God declared,”I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood.”  

Prior to the Flood, God’s heartbreaking words were, “I am sorry I ever made them” (Gen.6:7). But once again, God came after his creation. From God’s perspective, the rainbow is a sign of his covenant and unfailing loving commitment to all people and living creatures. It is ironic, that our world sees the symbol of the rainbow as a defiance, a rebellion and rejection of God’s word with man deciding his own truth just like in the days of Noah! Our world continues to break God’s heart. So the next time you see a rainbow, thank God for his grace and his mercy toward this fallen race. 

Music: “Agnus Dei” Vlaams Radiokoor   (It wouldn’t be Lent without hearing this glorious setting of a confessional prayer at least once!    “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”)

Prayer: 

I bless Thee, O most holy God, for the unfathomable love whereby Thou hast ordained that spirit with spirit can meet and that I a weak and erring mortal, should have this ready access to the heart of Him who moves the stars. With bitterness and true compunction of heart I acknowledge before Thee the gross and selfish thoughts that I so often allow to enter my mind and to influence my deeds. I confess, O God―that often I let my mind wander down unclean and forbidden ways; that often I deceive myself as to where my plain duty lies; that often, by concealing my real motives, I pretend to be better than I am; that often my honesty is only a matter of policy; that often my affection for my friends is only a refined form of caring for myself; that often I do good deeds only that they may be seen of men, and shun evil ones only because I fear they may be found out. Give me grace, O God, to pray now with pure and sincere desire for all those with whom I have had to do this day. Let me remember now my friends with love and my enemies with forgiveness, entrusting them all as I now entrust my own soul and body, to Thy protecting care; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

                                                                   ―John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.75Book Recommendation: A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie, Scribners

Wednesday, March 10

Reader: “My Temple will be called a house of prayer” 

Response: “for all nations.”

Scripture: Mark 11:15-19

When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.

That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

We mentioned yesterday concerning the unity of the whole of Scripture. One of the ways this happens has to do with passages from the First Testament being quoted in the New Testament shedding light or fulfilling a prophecy. One of the things to remember about Jesus’ day was that ordinary Jews knew the Old Testament extremely well, far better than the average Christian today. Jesus knew it inside and out, not because he was God, but because as a young boy he studied it. “He grew in wisdom and stature.” The fact that Jesus “grew” speaks of his humanity as a human boy. He hadn’t arrived on earth in full wisdom. Afterall, the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” 

So in this pericope, Jesus quotes Isaiah (Is.56:7) in regard to the Temple being a house of prayer for all nations, and he quotes Jeremiah (Jer.7:11) in condemning the moneychangers for making it a “house of thieves.” The Temple had become a place of commerce and dishonest commerce at that! The priests were involved in the process of buying and selling and earning commissions in the transactions. The purity of the Temple as a place of worship that Hezekiah had tried to re-establish during the time of Isaiah had once again fallen into disrepute by the time of Jeremiah some 70-80 years later, hence Jeremiah’s comment about it being a “house of thieves.” Notice how Jesus reiterates the true purpose of the Temple from God’s perspective. It was a place to reach out to all nations (Gentiles!) while condemning man’s utilitarian greedy design for the Temple. 

As often happens, when the position of the arrogant elite leadership is threatened by someone from the “outside,” the reaction is often a vigorous attempt to destroy that person; in Jesus’ case, kill the one who would dare challenge the ruling class. The elite’s problem was that the lowly people, all those who were not elite, loved his teaching. Though that was not his purpose or point, Jesus had power far greater power than the elite. Did you notice what Jesus did after “cleansing the Temple?” He left town! So clear to all, his point was that the purpose of the Temple was a place of worship and prayer for all people: period. He did not seek power to establish a kingdom. He was never after earthly power. Even after the resurrection, the disciples did not understand. And just prior to his Ascension, the disciples again asked if he was going to establish his kingdom now. They could not conceive of a leader who was not after power. To them, Jesus was incomprehensible. In every age, the elite thirst for power and control, then and now.

The Temple is central throughout Scripture which makes Paul’s statement in I Cor.3:16 all the more astounding when he says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” Lent is a season for reflection on the cleanliness of our own temples. Is there anything you need to throw out? Any “moneychanger” sins you’re hoarding? May our world learn to be about building God’s kingdom rather than striving for power.

Music: “Miserere Mei, Deus”    Tenebrae Choir      Exquisite!!!!!!    Psalm 51

This is a setting of the confession text of Psalm 51. You may want to turn to Psalm 51 in your Bible as you listen and watch. This is why God designed the human voice. . . to sing his praise and confess our sin and to know the joy of being forgiven!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Intercessor, may our hearts be open to you, to see as you see.  May we be obedient to your voice. May we learn to be quiet and listen to you. May your voice become more and more familiar to our ears. May our life of prayer with you multiply many times throughout the day. We ask that you’d bring things to our minds during the day that need prayer. May we be free to pray with those in need as we go through the mornings, afternoons and evenings of our lives. In all of this, may you receive glory. Thank you for praying for us continually. And thank you for beautiful music. Forgive us for abusing this glorious gift. We pray this in your tender name. Amen.                           ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, March 9

One of the joys of reading the Scriptures from cover to cover (and I encourage you to do this every year!), is that we can begin to see the astounding unity of this entire library of God’s word. Every part feeds every other part. The Bible is its own commentary on itself! Case in point. Today I’ve included three passages: one from the OT writings, one from the psalms, and a New Testament epistle. I wanted us to see the relationship. (Yes, it will take you a little longer to read today!) 

Reader: “Christ was offered once for all time . . .”

Response: “as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people.” 

Scripture: Hebrews 9:23-28; Psalm 84; 2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 16-19  

That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice.

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,

    O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

 I long, yes, I faint with longing

    to enter the courts of the Lord.

With my whole being, body and soul,

    I will shout joyfully to the living God.

 Even the sparrow finds a home,

    and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young

at a place near your altar,

    O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!

What joy for those who can live in your house,

    always singing your praises.        Interlude 

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,

    who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

 When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,

    it will become a place of refreshing springs.

    The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.

They will continue to grow stronger,

    and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, hear my prayer.

    Listen, O God of Jacob.     Interlude

O God, look with favor upon the king, our shield!

    Show favor to the one you have anointed.

A single day in your courts

    is better than a thousand anywhere else!

I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God

    than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.

For the Lord God is our sun and our shield.

    He gives us grace and glory.

The Lord will withhold no good thing

    from those who do what is right.

O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,

    what joy for those who trust in you.

2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 16-19 

Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became the king of Judah, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done.

In the very first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah reopened the doors of the Temple of the Lord and repaired them. He summoned the priests and Levites to meet him at the courtyard east of the Temple. He said to them, “Listen to me, you Levites! Purify yourselves, and purify the Temple of the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Remove all the defiled things from the sanctuary. Our ancestors were unfaithful and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They abandoned the Lord and his dwelling place; they turned their backs on him. They also shut the doors to the Temple’s entry room, and they snuffed out the lamps. They stopped burning incense and presenting burnt offerings at the sanctuary of the God of Israel.

“That is why the Lord’s anger has fallen upon Judah and Jerusalem. He has made them an object of dread, horror, and ridicule, as you can see with your own eyes. Because of this, our fathers have been killed in battle, and our sons and daughters and wives have been captured. But now I will make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us. My sons, do not neglect your duties any longer! The Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him, and to lead the people in worship and present offerings to him.The priests went into the sanctuary of the Temple of the Lord to cleanse it, and they took out to the Temple courtyard all the defiled things they found. From there the Levites carted it all out to the Kidron Valley.

They began the work in early spring, on the first day of the new year, and in eight days they had reached the entry room of the Lord’s Temple. Then they purified the Temple of the Lord itself, which took another eight days. So the entire task was completed in sixteen days.

Then the Levites went to King Hezekiah and gave him this report: “We have cleansed the entire Temple of the Lord, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the table of the Bread of the Presence with all its utensils. We have also recovered all the items discarded by King Ahaz when he was unfaithful and closed the Temple. They are now in front of the altar of the Lord, purified and ready for use.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

To gain the full impact of the Hebrews passage, it is important to know the history of the Tabernacle which later became more permanent with the Temple in Jerusalem. Their function was identical. In looking at the psalm, we are reminded that the observant Jew made three pilgrimages a year to Jerusalem to observe Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Being physically present in the courts of the Temple was a joy, giving a sense of “here is where I belong forever! I don’t ever want to leave.” The reason was the pilgrim was near the presence of the Lord who dwelt in a cloud in the Holy of Holies behind the curtain. The pilgrim was envious of the birds whose nests were at the Temple, plus the priests got to live there. This Temple in Jerusalem was God’s dwelling place on earth and the lover of God wanted to be as close to him as possible and that place was at the Temple. 

In looking at the Chronicles passage we find a good king, Hezekiah, wanting to repair and restore this Temple which had fallen into disrepair and closed under the godless king Ahaz. Note that only Levites and priests, those directly descended from the line of Aaron, were able to do the repairs in accordance with God’s directive. They purified themselves and all the utensils used in the Temple according to the law because it was the earthly place of purity, holiness, and worship. But we learn in the Hebrews passage that the earthly sanctuaries were but a shadow, a copy, of things in heaven which is why God was so specific in giving Moses and David instructions on how to build both the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem. 

While the priests purified the earthly Temple with the blood of unblemished animals, the heavenly realm was purified once and for all with the blood of God’s Son, the eternal High Priest. The fact that God tore the veil opening the way into the Holy of Holies is evidence that God accepted this sacrifice as payment for our sin and the sin of the whole world since the beginning of time. As a result, God’s people had become a kingdom of priests! At that moment, the sin of Adam and Eve was atoned for and every sin since then. (In passing, the writer of Hebrews notes that human beings die but once; there is no reincarnation! Following death comes judgment, but not a judgment regarding salvation since trusting in Christ has already secured eternal life for the believer.) Little did Hezekiah realize in his efforts to restore the Temple, that another would come later to model in an ultimate way true worship in spirit and in truth and that the temple would be God’s own people filled with his Holy Spirit. When the Son comes again, he will bring the full completion of salvation to all who are eagerly awaiting his return. 

In these three passages we see once again the unity of the whole of Scripture, God’s one glorious plan of which he has chosen us to be a part.

Music: “The Sign of the Son”  Simon Khorolskiy   in Russian with English translation

Simon has produced many videos proclaiming the gospel in unique ways to the Russian people. There are some in English as well. Check out “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Sustainer and Provider, help us to be your hands and feet to those in need. You have given to us so lavishly in so many varied ways. Tune our hearts to your own generous heart that we may more and more see as you see and do something about it. May the gradual transformation of our being into your likeness lead to the transformation of our doing and your doing through us lead to a transformation of the world around us. Thank you for coming to us in our great need. You are our only hope and salvation. May we bring hope, the hope found in you, to those around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.   

        ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, March 8

Reader: “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God” 

Response: “and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”

Scripture: I Corinthians 3:10-23 

Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,

“He traps the wise

    in the snare of their own cleverness.”

And again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;

    he knows they are worthless.”

So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you— whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

While this is a rather familiar passage of Scripture, it brings to light some sobering, pertinent truths. Let’s look at the context. Paul is writing from Ephesus. He had previously written a letter (which is lost) and so this is his second letter to the Corinthians. The church at Corinth was multi-ethnic and quite immature with many new Christians from all walks of life. Everyone was a first generation Christian. None of the people in the church had grown up with believing parents. The Christian faith was that new (!), consequently, they didn’t know very much. Just prior to what you read today, there was a discussion on Apollos groupies versus Paul groupies versus Peter groupies! Paul straightened them out using the analogy of growing plants and building a building, the point being the builder is immaterial. It’s the building that matters! He continues pointing out the important thing above all is that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the building. He is the foundation and starting point in the “building” that’s going on in you. The significance is in what God does in a person that matters, not who the teacher is.

We live in a world where there is a temptation among Christians to latch on to a particular, popular pastor and their teaching. Many of the famous pastors put out their own “study Bibles” containing their notes on Scripture. While such Bibles can be most helpful, commentaries on Scripture are not Scripture. Paul was combating a little bit of that mindset on the part of the people. There is great encouragement to build on the foundation of Christ. Anyone can do it and it is important that we be active in the building of the Kingdom. 

Did you notice the list of building materials in the passage? He starts with the most expensive (gold) and digresses to the cheapest (straw). We come now to the sobering truth to which we earlier referred. All of your work and mine for the Kingdom will be subject to the fire of judgment day. Our God is a consuming fire. He spoke to Moses from the fire of a burning bush. He spoke to the Israelites from a fiery cloud on Mt. Sinai. The fire of judgment came from heaven on several occasions, E.g. Nadab and Abihu, Elijah and the priests of Baal, Sodom and Gomorrah. The materials you and I are building with are significant. Straw burns to ashes. Are you at the “job site” watching or are you part of the construction team and what are your building materials?

You and I are this temple of God with the Holy Spirit indwelling us. As you read this, you may be saying, “I sure don’t feel like I’m a temple of God, nor do I feel very holy.” Think or feel? We need to think like God, that is, like Christ who indwells us. The work that he does in and through us will withstand the fires of judgment to the glory of God. At the “job site,” you and I are to “work out” what God in his grace has “worked in” us as we work as a part of his kingdom. All of us working together make up the temple of God. This truth is one of the reasons why it is so important that God’s people gather together physically in worship, to remind ourselves of this great truth. The church is not made up of people checking in remotely, but rather, people gathering and working in community . . . “Where two or three are gathered.” 

Music: “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”      BuPyeong Methodist Church, The 74th Anniversary Service Immanuel Symphony Orchestra United Choir

Prayer:

Lord God, your claims are absolute; we must accept them without bargaining. You are always right. Your demands are so full of blessings! I thank you for your severity as Redeemer, I thank You for never having allowed us to mingle the odor of death with Your perfume of eternity. I shall go towards You as towards my state of rest and my eternal life. In Your two hands You hold my being; and You are my reward, because the perfection of my being lies in You. Grant that I may love more and more of this life of faith, wholly irradiated by hope; grant that I may love this desert-place where You have put my soul, this immense plain with You in the center, where I stand always before You and someday soon, by Your Grace, by Your side. Amen.                                                                                                 ―Florence Allshorn, from The Quiet Corner, p.93

Sunday, March 7, Third Sunday in Lent

Reader: “I am the Lord your God,” 

Response: “You must not have any other god but me.”

Scripture:   Ex.20:1-17

Then God gave the people all these instructions:

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

“You must not have any other god but me.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You must not murder.

“You must not commit adultery.

“You must not steal.

“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

Reader: “The written Word of the Lord in his own hand.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

With the backdrop of yesterday’s appearance of God on Mt. Sinai, we have today’s pericope. The Ten Commandments, or in Hebrew, the “ten words,” provide the only document we have in God’s own handwriting! These words are the beginnings of the 

suzerain covenant God made with his people. It is laid out in the usual form of such a covenant. First, God names himself as the one offering the covenant (v.1). Second, the historical circumstances that led to the covenant are articulated (v.2).  God is demonstrating he is intimately interested in his people and how they are to live in relation to himself. He is not a creator who abandoned his handiwork to let the people fend for themselves. Third, the stipulations of and terms of the covenant are delineated (v.3-17). These Commandments are unique in all the world. No god has ever interacted personally with people save YHWH. (In the world religions, there is nothing personal in relation to Allah, Buddah, Krishna, Vishnu, or Taoism.) The “Ten Words” give instructions on how to live in relation to the One making the covenant, but also, how to live in relation to other people. 

Left to themselves, humans choose truth to be relative. In fact, our culture  wants to make the rules and make up its own truth. Consider the current views of family, marriage, gender, sexuality, law, power, freedom, abortion . . . Can you doubt me? God gave the Israelites absolutes, timeless absolutes that apply not only to the Jews, but to all people of the world. One of the challenges facing not only the United States, but world-wide as well, is the abandonment of absolute truth as given by God. Like our first parents, our secular world doubts what God has said, even doubts that God exists. The serpent’s question to Eve was, “Did God say?” Our world has responded to that query with an “I’ll decide what God said or meant . . . or simply god who? I have put myself in God’s place and have become my own god.” One of my humanistic friends even makes reference to discovering the “god within you.” It is both interesting and sad to watch people throughout the world seek to discover meaning and a “homebase” during this global health problem. People are off center. The search includes everything and everywhere except God and redemption in Jesus Christ. Any absolute is off the table . . . and we see the mess we are in.

I would guess there are more Christians than we might imagine who could not recite the Ten Commandments. We seldom, if ever, recite them in worship. In fact, I would also not be surprised that another portion of the Christian population is uncertain if they still apply to today. Lent is a season of reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross, his great passion to bring redemption to a fallen world. The “Ten Words” stand against all of us in that we have broken every single one of the ten. There is One who has never broken a single one, yet he paid the penalty on behalf of all the “breakers” of the law. Praise to our living gracious Lord!

Music: “And Can It Be?”   Brits hymn sing

Prayer: 

Forgive them all, O Lord: our sins of omission and our sins of commission; the sins of our youth and the sins of our riper years; the sins of our souls and the sins of our bodies; our secret and our more open sins; our sins of ignorance and surprise, and our more deliberate and presumptuous sin; the sins we have done to please ourselves and the sins we have done to please others; the sins we know and remember, and the sins we have forgotten; the sins we have striven to hide from others and the sins by which we have made others offend; forgive them, O Lord, forgive them all for his sake, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, and now stands at thy right hand to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                                    ―John Wesley, The Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.62

Saturday, March 6

Reader: “Mark off a boundary all around the mountain” 

Response: “to set it apart as holy.”

Scripture:   Exodus 19:16-25  

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain.

Then the Lord told Moses, “Go back down and warn the people not to break through the boundaries to see the Lord, or they will die. Even the priests who regularly come near to the Lord must purify themselves so that the Lord does not break out and destroy them.”

“But Lord,” Moses protested, “the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. You already warned us. You told me, ‘Mark off a boundary all around the mountain to set it apart as holy.’”

But the Lord said, “Go down and bring Aaron back up with you. In the meantime, do not let the priests or the people break through to approach the Lord, or he will break out and destroy them.”

So Moses went down to the people and told them what the Lord had said. 

Reader: “This is God’s word as recorded by Moses.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God for these powerful words.”

Some thoughts:

Have you ever been very, very close to a lightning strike? Close enough to hear the “fry” and smell the ozone? And the thunder crack . . . it’s terrifying. Living in the supposed “lightning capital of the US,” I can vouch for some possibility of truth. A lightning bolt hit between our house and our neighbor’s and blew out an electrical box in Nancy’s closet and melted a circuit board in the pool pump. We smelled the air! The whole house shook! And we’ve experienced several earthquakes both in California and in Washington where the whole house “rolled” like a wave at sea! Then there was the California fires stopping a block from our house. It was not calming! The force of nature is frightening. 

Now, put yourself in the Israelites’ place. You know that this is the day you are going to meet the Lord. You are at Mt. Sinai in the morning, ready for the encounter, but you are not sure what is going to happen. Then you hear the rumble of thunder which grows louder and louder . . . and you are not sure how loud it is going to be . . . but it keeps increasing. In the midst of the ever increasing roar, lightning flashes everywhere and you watch a dense cloud descending on the mountain top. In addition to all you hear and see, comes a very loud, long blast from a trumpet. Then Moses says, “Come on, we’re going to meet YHWH!” Underneath you are saying, “And I’m going to die!” You all stop at the foot of the mountain―remembering the part about not crossing the boundary. Smoke billows from the top of the mountain like the smoke from a brick kiln, reminding you of your former days of brick making in Egypt. Then the whole mountain begins to shake violently while the blast from the horn grows still louder and louder, showing you that even nature is subservient and trembles before God. 

Such was the encounter where the Israelites learned first hand of the mysterious, covenant-making, fearsome, totally separate, independent, and sovereign God over all his creation.  As the people stood shaking in terror, God called Moses to join him at the top of the mountain. And you are thinking, “We’ll never see Moses again!” In his conversation with God, Moses was told to go back down the mountain and remind the people to stay put, the priests to purify themselves, and to come back bringing Aaron with him. God knew his people’s curiosity would tempt them to get a closer look at this rarest of events, hence the second warning from Moses. 

Fear is not an uncommon response when God does something miraculous in overcoming natural law. Recall the story of Jesus casting the demons into the herd of pigs. When the townspeople heard the news from the man who had been healed by Jesus, what was their response? They were afraid and asked Jesus to leave! Remember when Jesus walked on the water, the disciples were terrified. 

In the case of the Israelites, shortly after this frightening encounter with God at Mt. Sinai, they received the Ten Commandments written in God’s own hand. The Lord of heaven and earth was showing them who it was that was making a covenant with them. God wanted them to begin to get a grasp of the one with whom they were dealing. Is it possible during these days of Lent, we may have too casual an attitude toward God? How might such slackness reveal itself? Perhaps in a casual attitude toward our own sin, our worship attendance, treating absolutes as relatives, thinking that God doesn’t really care that much about little things . . .  I’m sure you can come up with others!

Music: “Behold, God the Lord Passed By”     from  Elijah     St. Olaf Chapel Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omqpFDmK6VQ

This is the place in the oratorio where, on Mt. Sinai, Elijah encounters the Lord who gives him a word of encouragement. Elijah learns he is not alone in proclaiming the truth. Like the Israelites, he also gains a much bigger picture of the awesome power of his God.

Behold, God the Lord passed by, and a mighty wind

Rent the mountains around, break in pieces the rocks

Break them before the Lord.

But yet the Lord was not in the tempest.

Behold, God the Lord passed by!

And the sea was upheaved, and the earth was shaken

But yet, the Lord was not in the earthquake.

And after the earthquake there came a fire

But yet, the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire there came a still small voice.

And in that still small voice onward came the Lord.

Prayer: O hidden Source of life, let me now meditate upon the great and gracious plan by which Thou hast brought it to pass that a mortal man like me should look up to Thee and call Thee Father. In the beginning Thou, the Uncreated, making all things out of nothing: Space and time and material substance: all things that creep and fly, the beasts of the forest, the fowls of the air, the fish of the sea: and at last man, in Thine own image, to have fellowship with Thyself: then when, in the corruption and disobedience of his heart, that image had been defaced: a gracious design for its restoration through the gift of Thine only-begotten Son: new life in Him, and a new access to Thy holy presence. O hidden love of God, whose will it is that all created spirits should live everlastingly in pure and perfect fellowship with Thyself, grant that in my life today I may do nothing to defeat this Thy most gracious purpose. Let me keep in mind how Thy whole creation groans and travails, waiting for the perfect appearing of the sons of God; and let me welcome every influence of Thy Spirit upon my own that may the more speedily make for that end.     ―John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.57

Friday, March 5

Reader: “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses,” 

Response: “so the people themselves can hear me.”

Scripture: Exodus 19:9b-15 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you. Then they will always trust you.”

Moses told the Lord what the people had said. Then the Lord told Moses, “Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death. No hand may touch the person or animal that crosses the boundary; instead, stone them or shoot them with arrows. They must be put to death.’ However, when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, then the people may go up on the mountain.”

So Moses went down to the people. He consecrated them for worship, and they washed their clothes. He told them, “Get ready for the third day, and until then abstain from having sexual intercourse.”

Reader: “The Word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

I want you for a moment to pretend you know nothing of God, virtually nothing. Think about it. What did the Israelites know about God up to this point? A million plus people heard something about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their sacrifices on piles of stones as they worshiped God. But this group of people, who had just escaped 400 years, the last many years in horrible slavery in a very pagan Egypt, had memories of cobras, charms, divination, magic and multitudes of Egyptian gods. There were no synagogues, tabernacles or temples for Jewish worship. They were a persecuted people. They were in the process of learning more about their God, now that they were a free people, away from Egyptian influence. They experienced God’s power in their crossing the Red Sea, bringing water from a rock and providing daily manna. 

At this point they are about to enter into a suzerain-vassal treaty with God. (This is a treaty made between a great king and a conquered people. “In such a treaty, the conquered people would declare their absolute loyalty to the king and obedience to his demands. The king, for his part, would promise to care for the conquered people and protect them from any enemies who might attack them.”―NLT Study Bible notes, p.157) This meeting is to be the people’s first direct encounter with God and they are going to learn more about this God firsthand! God is going to speak in a cloud, though they will not see him. They will only hear him. Though not appearing in a physical form, the people conclude God is very much alive! He tells the people to “stay pure” for the next three days. 

The Israelite’s clothes were to be clean for the occasion of hearing the Lord speak. Why did God want them to wash their clothes? Seems like an odd request to us. What difference does it make? In the words of Dennis Prager, “The clothing people wear reflects their level of respect for the situation and the people involved.” (Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible, Exodus, p.214) Think about it. Do you dress up in your best when you go to a wedding? You don’t show up in your backyard work clothes. (President Reagan never took off his coat and tie when he was in the Oval Office, even when he was alone out of respect for the Office of President.) 

God is impressing upon his people that they are meeting with their Creator. When I was growing up, we had our Sunday clothes and Sunday shoes. They were our best clothes,  wearing them only on Sunday. We were going to meet with the Lord. In general, our clothes often reflect our attitude toward any given situation. Is it possible that our lack of concern regarding our dress at worship is more an indication of our theology of God? Just asking!  Apparently, God does care. Along the same lines, the Israelites were to refrain from having sexual intercourse in the days leading up to their worship of God. Why? Again, their minds and hearts were to be focused on their encounter with the living God. Back to our passage. Remember, the Israelites are learning for the firsthand about their God and what he requires of them. Maybe we can pick up some pointers too.

Why did crossing the boundary on the mountain mean certain death? God was impressing “holiness” upon his people. The people were learning first hand that “holiness” was a very serious matter from God’s perspective and YHWH was not someone to be toyed with. Notice, enforcing death upon the offender does not involve touching them in bringing about their death. In effect, holiness has killed them. In that sense the victim is sacred, a kind of burnt sacrifice. In this passage, God’s children were learning about their heavenly Father and we are as well. Remember, the New Testament interprets the First Testament, but it does not invalidate it. We live in a world, including a Christian world, that is very “me and my comfort” oriented, all too often  including our approach to worship. Some things to think about.

Music:  “Holy, Holy, Holy is God the Lord”  No. 35 from  Elijah Oratorio  Mendelssohn

“Holy, holy, holy is God the Lord,

The Lord God of Sabaoth!

Now his glory has filled all the earth.”

Prayer:

Almighty God, forgive my doubt, my anger, my complaining, my pride, my greed, my selfishness, my sinful thoughts, my impatience, my laziness . . . my, my, my, my . . . Lord, I’m so full of me. I am a self-absorbed sinner through and through. Lord Jesus, I am realizing how little I pursue you to know you beyond my own perception of you.  By your grace and nourishment I will endeavor to pursue you through the desert of this world until I cross the Jordan into the Promised Land and see your glorious face where no sin abounds and where all is perfectly holy. In the name of the One who was, is, and is to come, even Jesus, my Savior. Amen.   ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, March 4

Reader: “And you are living stones”

Response: “that God is building into his spiritual temple.”

Scripture: I Peter 2:4-10 

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,

    chosen for great honor,

and anyone who trusts in him

    will never be disgraced.”

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected

    has now become the cornerstone.”

And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,

    the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people;

    now you are God’s people.

Once you received no mercy;

    now you have received God’s mercy. 

Reader: “These are God’s words to us.” 

Response: “Thank you Lord.”

Some thoughts:

Going back a bit in the Jewish history in the First Testament will help give us a greater grasp on the passage you just read. You’ll recall the very specific directions God gave to Moses in setting up the Tabernacle during the years of desert wandering. Exact details were given as regards to the priestly garb. There was no doubt as to which people would be eligible to become priests, only those men from the tribe of Levi who were also from the family of Aaron were eligible. They functioned as mediators between YHWH and the people. 

Moving ahead 400 years to the time of the early kings, David was again given a very detailed plan as to the building of the great Temple in Jerusalem under the leadership of King Solomon. The Temple in Jerusalem was tremendously important as it was the place where God met his people in worship. The Ark of the Covenant dwelt in the Holy of Holies, the earthly abode of YHWH. Centuries later with the arrival of the Messiah, the Jews heard these startling words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  “When Jesus said ‘this temple,’ he meant his own body.” (John 2:19,21) 

We come now to our passage with Peter helping people grasp the fulfillment of Jesus’ words as well as showing them their new role in relation to the true Temple. Though rejected by his own, Jesus became the chief cornerstone of the spiritual Temple, one not made with hands. God declares through Peter that believers in Christ are living stones being built into this spiritual Temple of God. Not only are we living stones currently, we are also holy priests . . . and we are not Jewish, not Levites, nor from the line of Aaron! How is this possible? Our status is real because of the mediation of Jesus Christ. Our priestly worship accesses the Father through our High Priest, who lives forever. In addition we carry on the priestly ministry of Christ, the singular Light to our darkened world. Once we were part of that lost people, orphans wandering in hopelessness, but now we have been adopted as God’s own children. What is more, we are actually heirs in God’s family and living stones in his holy, invisible Temple which exists right now in your very heart.

Here is a clip from Episode 8 of “The Chosen” in which Jesus meets the woman at the well to help her see where the true Temple is located.  It’s a little over 8 minutes in length and worth every second. Don’t skip this clip!

Music: “Cornerstone”   Shawn Kirchner      Loma Linda Academy

Prayer:

My God, I feel it is heaven to please thee, and to be what thou wouldst have me be. O that I were holy as thou art holy, pure as Christ is pure, perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!

These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book, and shall I break them? Must I break them? Am I under such a necessity as long as I live here? Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner, that I grieve this blessed God, who is infinite in goodness and grace! O, if he would punish me for my sins, it would not wound my heart so deep to offend him; but though I sin continually, he continually repeats his kindness to me. At times I feel I could bear any suffering, but how can I dishonor this glorious God? What shall I do to glorify and worship this best of beings? But, alas, I cannot live and not sin. O may angels glorify him incessantly, and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower before the blessed king of heaven! I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise; but when I have done all I can to eternity I shall not be able to offer more than a small fraction of the homage that the glorious God deserves. Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.     ―The Valley of Vision, p.128

Wednesday, March 3

Reader: “Put your trust in the light”

Response: “while there is still time.”

Scripture: John 12:36-43

“Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.

But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:

“Lord, who has believed our message?

    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,

“The Lord has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their hearts—

so that their eyes cannot see,

    and their hearts cannot understand,

and they cannot turn to me

    and have me heal them.”

Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory. Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

What is it about human beings that makes us so stubborn? God called the Israelites, his chosen people, “stiff-necked.” In one of the times I heard him speak, Dr. Walter Kaiser, a marvelous Old Testament scholar, commented something like, “Whenever you read about the stubbornness and stupidity of the Israelites, think of yourself! You are them!” I have to agree. Jesus’ words here are that we are to trust the light while there is still time. It surely applied then as the people were in his presence, but it also applies to now. 

Jesus had done miraculous things while the people stood and watched it happen! (Think of several of the episodes of “The Chosen.” ―check out on YouTube if you haven’t) The purpose of the miracles is to establish the identity of God’s Son, that people might recognize the Light of the world. Some believed and some were stubborn and hardened their hearts. As a result, the Son “set” and the Light was gone. The time of the light had passed. It is dangerous to reject the truth of the light when it is present. We are inclined to think that the Son won’t “set” and that there will always be a second or third chance to respond to the Lord.  After all, we live in the world of “do-overs,” as anyone knows who has ever played a board game with a four year old!

Then there were those silent, pusillanimous (learned a new word!), timid people who did respond, even some of the Jewish leaders believed, but they didn’t want anyone to know because they did not want to lose their social and religious status. How silent of a follower of Christ are you? Though the time is long past by now, I’m remembering how very vocal some Christians were during the election cycle on expressing their political points of view, oftentimes with a fair amount of omniscience! I had to wonder during those days, if their zeal for the gospel was as heartfelt as their political persuasion. We are to live for the praise of God our Father in heaven, hallowed be his name. The Son will set. Let us be diligent about our Father’s business sharing the news of the Light and not be pusillanimous! But oh . . . oh, when that Son does rise again!! 

Music: “Phos Hilaron”     Owain Park          The Gesualdo Six

This is the earliest Christian hymn still in use. It is from the 3rd century. Here is an English translation of the Greek text, its original language.

Hail, gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,

Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest, 

Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,

The lights of evening round us shine,

We hymn the Father, Son and Holy Spirit divine.

Worthy are you at all times to be sung with undefiled tongue,

Son of our God, giver of life, alone:

Therefore in all the world your glories, Lord, they own.

Prayer:

Father in heaven, I’m afraid that we, as your children, are far too fickle in faithfulness. You give us light when the sun comes up each day, and after a period of time, the sun sets and it is dark. We assume that the sun will come up again tomorrow. It always has. Your word is clear that we need to act while we have the light because the sun does not come up forever. One day will be the last one and you’ll return to earth and nothing will be the same. Help us to speak out while we still have the Light and the eternal Son has not “set” bringing an end to this world as we know it. May the praise of God mean more than the praise and acceptance of man. In your grace, give to us a holy  abandonment in sharing the good news in a world filled with people stumbling,  searching and groping in their darkness. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, March 2

Reader: “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for;” 

Response: “it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”

Scripture: Hebrews 11:1-3; 13-19 

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

Reader: “This is God’s word.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

When it comes to theology, if we have the idea that profound truths need complex words to plumb the depths of meaning, we need to read Hebrews 11:3 . . . “what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” A string of one syllable words, yet words that wilt the most brilliant of minds! There are three different examples in this pericope that I’d like to touch on, all having to do with faith and different aspects of seeing. 

To begin with, faith is a certainty whose key ingredient is invisibility! We trust things we can see and touch; little faith is required. Things change when we are asked to put faith in something that is invisible, silent and for all practical purposes non-existent! Such was the requirement of those living in the First Testament times in trusting what was yet to come. 

Now, we come to the BIG one, “the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” Spend a few minutes thinking through those few words. (I’m saying this again in case you missed it yesterday!) Going the speed of light, you would circle the earth at the equator seven times every second! You could travel to the Moon in a second and a half, eight minutes to the Sun, twelve and a half minutes to Mars. Universe distance is measured in light years, the distance light travels at the speed of light (187,000 miles per second!) for a whole year and I’m looking out the window this evening as I write this. The star I’m looking at is 140 light years away! All God did was say, “Let there be” and there was! 

The more amazing thing is that the atoms and molecules to create the universe came from “nothing.” God didn’t go to a store to get materials to make things, there was no “store!” Even time didn’t exist. Believing these words requires faith. In the words of the late Stephen Hawking in speaking of the creation of the universe, “We have finally found something that does not have a cause because [before the Big Bang] there was no time for a cause to exist in . . . because there was no time for a creator to have existed. When people ask me if a god created the universe, I tell them that the question makes no sense. Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang, so there is no time for God to make the universe in.” (A Brief History of Time) Unfortunately for Mr. Hawking, he thought like a human, failing to realize that God has always existed outside time; God is the only uncreated Being who has never not existed. Everything seen and unseen is a direct result of God’s action and will. 

The second idea emerging in relation to faith, is people who grasp what Hawking never did. They realize this world is not their home, their final resting place. They understand, in fact, they are made for another world. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. We are all foreigners, nomads on this planet. Like people of old, we take the unseen by faith. As of yet, we can’t clearly see the world for which we were made. 

Finally, we have the example of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham saw descendents yet unborn and obeyed God in what for all practical purposes seemed like the end of his earthly line with Isaac’s death.  But Abraham didn’t see it that way. Let’s pretend to follow Abraham’s thinking. “Isaac is the specific promised covenant child given to Sarah and to me by God. He is the one God chose to bless, not Ishmael. It is through Isaac  that our family will grow. If I kill him as God has asked me to do, it means that God will bring him back to life in order for God to keep his promise to me. God doesn’t ever lie, so I’ll obey him and slay Isaac and God will raise him from the dead.” Abraham acted in faith because he was so committed to God . . . and in effect, God raised Isaac from the dead [in Abraham’s thought process.] The question is simple, “Do you have faith in God?” The answer requires neither complex nor profound words. A simple “yes” or “no” will do. 

Music: “Benedictus”    Karl Jenkins      7:40 minutes

This piece comes from a larger work, decrying the futility of war. My purpose in picking this is entirely different. We’ve been writing about the wonder of putting faith in God who in creation simply “said” and it was. This gives us a chance to see beyond our world into the distant reaches of the universe. Part of the way through the music, we hear the glorious words (in Latin) “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” Though the very end of the clip shows the destruction of this world, I have only to think of Jesus’ glorious words, “I will make all things new!” What a glorious loving God who gave himself to redeem his fallen creation by giving himself to bring restoration to everything.

Prayer:Go forth into the world in peace, be of good courage, hold fast to that which is good, render to no one evil for evil, strengthen the faint hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honor all people, love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you and remain with you now and always. Amen.       ―1928 Book of Common Prayer

Monday, March 1

Reader: “Your throne, O God,” 

Response: “endures forever and ever.”

Scripture: Hebrews 1:8-12  

But to the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.

    You rule with a scepter of justice.

You love justice and hate evil.

    Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you,

    pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.”

He also says to the Son,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth

    and made the heavens with your hands.

They will perish, but you remain forever.

    They will wear out like old clothing.

You will fold them up like a cloak

    and discard them like old clothing.

But you are always the same;

    you will live forever.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

During this season of Lent, we turn attention to Jesus’ journey to the cross bringing about redemption for the whole created order, that is, not only the salvation of people, but also the restoration of a fallen creation. It is always important to view any aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry in the larger context than a single event. In our passage in Hebrews, we read of this fuller picture. Let’s take in a closer look at the structure. 

In contrasting the superiority of Jesus over the angels, who were held in highest esteem by the Jews, the writer of Hebrews harkens to two of the Psalms, 45 and 102. He addresses three roles Jesus plays, that of ruler, creator and ultimate judge of all creation. Jesus is addressed as God and reigns from an everlasting throne. Jesus is our divine, eternal Ruler. He rules with perfect justice which he loves. Because of our limitations, it doesn’t always look that way. We do know he hates evil. But again, from our finite perspective, it seems that evil often escapes justice. 

Of Christ, the psalmist writes that God the Father has anointed you, remembering that Messiah means “the anointed one.” Throughout the Scriptures, oil often represents the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Not only is Jesus the Ruler, he is Creator as this middle portion of our text declares. This material is taken from Psalm 102. The earth and all the heavens are the handiwork of the Son of God. 

Think of everything you see as you go through today as belonging to Jesus. I often go for walks at night and wonder at the vastness and beauty of the sky. I saw Mars so clearly last night. It’s 140 million miles away. Traveling at the speed of light, it would take about 12 ½  minutes to get there! It takes a second and a half to get to the moon! The speed of light is circling the earth at the equator seven times per second! Astronomy measures distances in light “years,” the distance light travels in a year at the speed of light! Our Jesus spoke the universe into being! Sometimes I think the purpose of the vastness of the universe is to give finite people a sense of the magnitude of our God. Think of the sheer difference in size of one person compared to the scope of the cosmos! This creation will perish but he is eternal. He is our God! To help us out in every way, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ.

Finally, our Savior is also Judge and will bring creation to an end. He folds it up like a piece of clothing. There are some fascinating mathematical principles here in regards to “folding up the skies,” but are too complicated to explain in this forum and are outside our purposes. We have to leave it that our God is beyond what we can grasp, yet simple enough that a child can understand the gospel. 

Our pericope closes with the foundational “you are always the same forever,” harkening to the later passage in Hebrews, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb.13:8) The word “forever” occurs three times in this passage; forever Ruling, forever beyond creation, forever Savior. In all the swirl of whatever is going on in the world today, Jesus is the same solid, eternal Rock beyond the ages. We can trust him as our ruler, creator and judge. We’re in good hands!

Music:  “The Omnipotence”    Schubert       Hour of Power Choir

Prayer:

You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you; you are the eternal Father; all creation worships you. To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might; Heaven and earth are full of your glory. The glorious company of apostles praise you; the noble fellowship of prophets praise you; the white-robed army of martyrs praise you. Throughout the whole world the holy church acclaims you, Father of majesty unbounded, your true and only Son worthy of all worship, and the Holy Spirit advocate and guide. To you eternal God, three in one we give you praise. Amen.-Te Deum, 4th century

Sunday, February 28 Second Sunday in Lent

Reader: “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view,”

Response: “not from God’s.”

Scripture:  Mark 8:31-38

Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.

Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

Visualize this text in your mind. Put yourself as one of the disciples walking along with Jesus. You are on the road to Caesarea Philippi, which is northeast about half way between the Sea of Galilee and the city of Damascus. As you and the other disciples move down the road in conversation, Jesus asks all of you, “Who do you say I am?” Keep in mind you were there when Jesus had fed the 4,000 and walked on water. You had seen him do miracles first hand. Now in kind of an embarrassingly blunt conversation he tells you that the Son of Man (how he always referred to himself) is going to suffer great physical harm, the Jewish leadership is going to reject him, they are going to kill him, and three days later he will rise from the dead. Try processing that. It is quite a conversation! 

Peter, who had moments before declared Jesus to be the Messiah, stepped off the road, taking Jesus with him and reprimanded him for saying such things. Afterall, Jesus was in the process of bringing in the kingdom of God! Jesus getting killed was not part of Peter’s idea of how things should go. From the side of the road, Jesus turned and looked at all the disciples and gained their attention. Then he turned directly to Peter with very strong words. “Get behind me, Satan!” The devil was seeking once more to destroy Jesus’ mission as he had via King Herod’s decree in Bethlehem and at his temptation.

Remember, the story of Jesus’ temptation ended with the devil departing “for a more opportune time.” This moment was one of those times. Be clear, Peter was not possessed by the devil as was Judas. However, Jesus recognized the biggest picture of what was happening. 

Once again, Jesus challenged his disciples (and us) to view things from God’s perspective, (which is why we spend time in his word daily so we would increasingly grow in grasping the mind and heart of our God.) Jesus’ conversation with his disciples expanded to include the gathering crowd as he returned to the implications of his earlier words with his disciples concerning what lay ahead for him, namely suffering, death, and resurrection. He made clear to all of his disciples that they were to lay aside self and selfish ambition, and like Simon of Cyrene, pick up the cross of the Savior and carry it to their personal Golgotha. 

A soul, your soul is worth more than this world or anything in it. Stand firm, friend, as his disciple, for he’s coming back and establishing his kingdom of God here on earth. In the words of the martyr Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 

Music: “I’d Rather Have Jesus”     Alison Krauss

Prayer:

Lord, bless to me this season of Lent. Let me fast most truly and profitably, by feeding in prayer on thy Spirit: reveal me to myself in light of thy holiness. Suffer me never to think that I have knowledge enough to need no teaching, wisdom enough to need no correction, talents enough to need no grace, goodness enough to need no progress, humility enough to need no repentance, devotion enough to need no quickening, strength sufficient without thy Spirit; lest, standing still, I fall back for evermore. Show me the desires that should be disciplined, and sloths to be slain. Show me the omissions to be made up and the habits to be mended. And behind these, weaken, humble and annihilate in me self-will, self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, self-assertion, vainglory. May my whole effort be to return to thee; O make it serious and sincere persevering and fruitful in result, by the help of thy Holy Spirit and to thy glory, my Lord and my God. Amen.                                                      ―from Prayers for the Christian Year, p.80

Saturday, February 27

Reader: “The moment you began praying,”

Response: “a command was given.”

Scripture: Genesis 16:7-15  

The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied.

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.”

And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.

So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. 

Reader: “This is the word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

This portion of Scripture is interesting and fascinating when we go a little below the surface. Hagar, you’ll recall, was the servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. You know the story. Sarai was unable to have children so she suggested, as was the custom in such situations, that she have children through her servant girl. At this point in the story, Hagar is pregnant by Abram and has become very arrogant and disrespectful toward Sarai. In response, Sarai treated Hagar harshly, so harshly that she ran away. Then the above passage occurs. 

The opening phrase, “the angel of the Lord,” was the Lord himself, a theophany or a manifestation of God speaking with the authority of God. (There are several such occurrences in the Old Testament.  E.g. Gen.21:17; Ex.3:2; Judg.6:11) The words from the angel (Lord) told Hagar to return to Sarai and submit to her authority with the promise that she would have many, many descendents. This is the same promise given to Abram. 

The next sentence has an interesting parallel in the New Testament. Do these words ring a bell? “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him . . .” and then a description of what he will do and be. Right! Those words are remarkably similar to the words of Gabriel in announcing to Mary the birth of Jesus. (Lk. 1:31-32) 

The name given Hagar’s son was Ishmael meaning “God hears.” Then come the words describing the nature of Ishmael which has sadly proven to be true through the centuries. Hagar was an Egyptian and Ishmael married an Egyptian. True to the prophetic word, Ismael raised up a wild and hostile nation living in the desert with continual warring with all his relatives, including the offspring of Isaac, the nation of Israel. Even after the death of Ishmael, his descendents continue to fight among themselves (Gen.25:18). (The Muslim world traces its roots to Ishmael and Abraham.) 

After this encounter, Hagar referred to the Lord with the name of “The God who sees me” and named the well where this encounter occurred “Beer-lahai-roi” which means “well of the Living One who sees me.” So once again, you may be asking, “What does this have to do with Lent?” 1) God has a master plan of redemption that is not tied to days, months, or years. Abram and Sarai’s interpretation was tied to earthly time. “We’ve waited on God eleven years, now we need to move ahead.” Bad idea. Ishmael and 4,000 years of Arab/Israeli conflict! 2) We have a God who hears and sees into the details of your life right now. 3) It is best not to improvise on God’s design for your life. It doesn’t work out so well! 4) Hagar encountered the Lord when she submitted and returned to her mistress. 5) There was Hagar’s confrontation with reality in her comment, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” It is essential that we are honest in our dealings with the Lord and not pretend we encounter him or our image of him. The Lenten season is about repenting and reflecting on the Lord with complete transparency. 

Music: “The God of Abraham Praise”      Grace Community Church Congregation

Prayer:  

Gracious and compassionate Father, we confess that too often we have been impatient and acted in frustration rather than waiting for you. We have not heeded David’s words of “Let all that I am wait quietly before God.” (Ps.62:5) And in moving ahead of you, we have messed things up. I’m afraid we haven’t actually believed you see and hear in earthly time. Too often we just say words, wait a while and then go ahead and do what we think best and assume that’s what you have in mind. Good Lord, help us to slow down! Help us to submit to you, to lay aside our urgency, our impatience, our twitchiness to do something, anything. May we learn to be quiet, hold still, and wait. It is one of the godly qualities in all of Scripture. Every single “great” of the Bible had long periods of waiting for you. The impatient ones were always in trouble. Lord Jesus, give me the grace to wait that I might truly encounter your life-giving Spirit. This I pray in the name of Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit is one God, world without end. Amen. 

                                                                                          ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, February 26

Reader: “Abraham believed God,”

Response: “and God counted him as righteous.”

Scripture: Romans 4:1-12 

Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it:

“Oh, what joy for those

    whose disobedience is forgiven,

    whose sins are put out of sight.

Yes, what joy for those

    whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”

Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised!

Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are counted as righteous because of their faith. And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

I remember when I was a little kid, we’d take four hour trips to Grandpa and Grandma Lantz’s house in Winona Lake, Indiana. On the way we three kids would play the alphabet game which was finding the letters of the alphabet in order off of billboards. It was a “silent” game in which you only talked when you hit the “z!” (After 65 years, I only recently discovered the reason for that rule!) Anyway, the sign on the side of the road that said “Get right with God” was a valuable find because of “igh.” In this passage, we read of “being right with God.” How foundational is that? 

Every person you see today and every person in existence is not, nor ever has been, naturally “right with God.” Adam and Eve were initially “right with God.” Then came the problem that put us all in the “unright” stage. Paul’s words make it clear that it is not possible for us humans to put ourselves into a right position with God by any effort we make. That is why this passage is profound. Abraham was able to find himself in a right position with God, not by his own efforts, but by believing God’s effort on his behalf. 

In looking at David’s words above, I’m wondering if you and I actually experience the joy of having our sins forgiven or do we just say the words and move on? Do we grasp the significance and abhorrence of our sin in God’s eyes? I confess, I find that too often my own sin isn’t that big of deal in my own eyes revealing the deadness of my spirit. Perhaps I’d be more joyful if I had a more realistic understanding of what God has done on my behalf and horrid my sin is. Something to think about.

The last part of this pericope has to do with the sign of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, circumcision. Part of the question at the time of the writing of Romans was, “Do Gentile believers have to be circumcised to become believers? I.e. Do they have to keep Jewish law?” Paul points out that Abraham believed God and was viewed as righteous by God even before he was circumcised. In other words, righteousness before God depends on faith alone. That faith is a gift as a result of God’s grace. There is nothing of human effort involved in this transaction. Let that sink in. Your relationship to God is the direct and sole result of God’s free gracious gift to you. As we reflect on our relationship to the Lord this Lenten season, don’t hurry past this singular, magnificent and eternal truth.

Music: “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”  Kristin and Keith Getty

Prayer:  O Lord, perfect, we beseech Thee, the faith of us who believe, and sow the good seed of faith in their hearts who as yet lack it; that we all may look steadfastly unto Thee, and run with patience the race that is set before us. Give us grace to show our faith by our works; teach us to walk by faith having respect unto the promises: which of Thy mercy make good to us in Thine own good time, O our most Gracious Lord God and Savior. Amen.  ―Christina Rossetti, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.70

Thursday, February 25

Reader: “ We are made right with God . . .”  

Response: “by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.”

Scripture: Romans 3:21-31  

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Where do you begin with a passage like this? Volumes and volumes of commentaries and dozens of books have been written on the theological concepts addressed in these few sentences. The season of Lent is a time to reflect on the journey of Christ as his death approached. It is also a time to evaluate where we are as individuals in relation to this journey with Jesus. I’d like us to look at these words in that light. Keeping the law of Moses perfectly was the way to God. But the law actually convicted us because it demonstrated that it is impossible for us to obey it perfectly. What it did was to show us our sin and our sin nature. Bottom line, we know we cannot keep the law. We are damned. Realizing that truth is progress! 

Enter Romans 3. God initiated the solution. He provided a way for us to be made right with him without having to do what is impossible for us, that of keeping the law perfectly. We are to place our faith in Jesus Christ. This proposition from God applies to anyone in the world. By doing so, God graciously declares us righteous, that is, he views us in the light of the righteousness of his sinless Son, Jesus, who, more than keeping the law fulfilled the law perfectly! There is a penalty for breaking the law, which we have done innumerable times. Unfortunately, that price is death. But, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, dying in our place. He took upon himself all the sins of all the people of the world and gave his life blood in their place. His death and resurrection means that all our sins, past, present and future are paid for by Jesus. 

For example, people in the past who sinned in the First Testament, did not receive the  ultimate punishment for their sins, since God “held back” that punishment in looking forward to the coming of Christ’s sacrifice. The sins of people who lived after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, have their sins covered as well, including people who have yet to be born! God’s time is on an eternal clock rather than a 24/7 clock. (“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”) As one commentator put it, “Believers are totally justified, just not yet.” (Moellering, Concordia Commentary on I TImothy, p.39)

Believing in Jesus is an act that functions in the time frame of the eternal clock. We are acquitted from our sins solely by our faith. Nothing we do makes any contribution to our being made right with God. There is a very popular and widely held view that upon death, God weighs the good and bad and that if the good deeds outweigh the bad actions, then that person receives eternal life in heaven. TOTAL LIE! This view was actually expressed by a current political leader who announced that he would walk right into heaven and they’d be glad to see him because he had done so much good! The bottom line is that when we exercise faith in what Christ has done on our behalf, we are actually fulfilling the law, the very words of Jesus. “I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” (Mt.5:17) Be mindful that Jesus’ journey to the cross resulting in his death was and is our journey as well. Remember, we are not simply living on a 24/7 clock, but dwelling in God’s eternal time.

Music: “Jesus Paid It All”   Fernando Ortega    Beautiful arrangement of this tune.

Bonuses: “Jesus Paid It All”   Celtic Worship

“Jesus Paid It All”    Choral Arrangement

Prayer: My Father, I could never have sought my happiness in thy love, unless thou hadst first loved me. Thy spirit has encouraged me by grace to seek thee, has made known to me thy reconciliation in Jesus, has taught me to believe it, has helped me to take thee for my God and portion. May he grant me to grow in the knowledge and experience of thy love, and walk in it all the way to glory. Blessed forever be thy fatherly affection, which chose me to be one of thy children by faith in Jesus: I thank thee for giving me the desire to live as such. In Jesus, my brother, I have my new birth, every restraining power, every renewing grace. By the Spirit may I daily live to thee, rejoice in thy love, find it the same to me as to thy Son, and become rooted and grounded in it as a house on a rock. Magnify thy love to me according to its greatness, and not according to my deserts or prayers, and whatever increase thou givest, let it draw out greater love to thee. In my Savior’s name I pray. Amen.   ―The Valley of Vision, p.53

Wednesday, February 24

Reader: “Every word of God proves true.”

Response:  “He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.”  

Scripture:  Proverbs 30:1-9  

The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh contain this message.

I am weary, O God;

    I am weary and worn out, O God.

I am too stupid to be human,

    and I lack common sense.

I have not mastered human wisdom,

    nor do I know the Holy One.

Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?

    Who holds the wind in his fists?

Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?

    Who has created the whole wide world?

What is his name—and his son’s name?

    Tell me if you know!

Every word of God proves true.

    He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.

Do not add to his words,

    or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.

O God, I beg two favors from you;

    let me have them before I die.

First, help me never to tell a lie.

    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!

    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.

For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”

    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Have you ever felt like the above opening sentences? I’m tired Lord. Worn out; no energy; tired thinking. I feel dumb and do dumb things. And Lord, I really don’t know you very well at all. Agur hit the nail on the head. If we are honest, we aren’t always up and have things in order and under control. Why is it that we continually wrestle life to control it? The interesting thing is, acknowledging the above is actually the beginning of gaining wisdom! The five questions Agur asks all have the same answer and it is “Jesus.” He contrasts his own ignorance with the wisdom and power of God. The Lord is his strength and protection. 

I’m struck with the single admonition not to add words to what God has said. Remember Eve in the Garden of Eden during her temptation? What did she do in answering the serpent’s challenge? She added words to what God had said. Jude says the same thing in the New Testament (v.3). I have to smile at his two favors from God before he dies. “Help me never tell a lie.” I greatly admire his transparency. If we are honest, we all lie; not always on purpose. But we do “slide from the whole truth” at times. His second request for a favor already shows how he is becoming wise and perhaps not as “stupid” as he earlier proclaimed! 

You’ve all heard various answers to the question, “How much money is enough money?” John D. Rockefeller’s answer was “just a little more.” At the time his net worth was 1% of the entire US economy making Bill Gates and Warren Buffett look like paupers. Perhaps that is why Jesus said it is very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is too easy to be wed to this world with the feeling “I don’t need the Lord. I’ve got plenty of money for everything I want” forgetting Jesus’ words, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” (Lk. 12:20) My guess is Rockefeller would answer that question very differently now that the reality of eternity has set in. 

Agur also makes an interesting connection between stealing and insulting God’s holy name. I must confess, I’m not always aware that I am representing God’s name. As a Christian, I am a member of God’s family. I am aware that I am a “Sharp” and represent my family and do not want to embarrass our family name. I have a heritage of a godly father, godly grandfathers, and some godly great grandfathers. I don’t want to be the one to “mess up” the family name. How much greater significance is representing God’s family name! When I do misrepresent my Lord, I am actually taking his name in vain. It seems to me that Agur was anything but “too stupid to be human!” Live today telling the truth, resting in the Lord and representing well both of your families’ names.

Music:  “A Poor Wayfaring Stranger”         Sam Robson         Gorgeous!  Eternal perspective.

Prayer:

Why is it, Lord, that we think trying to keep rules is enough? It’s so easy to be a Pharisee and feel good about ourselves that we haven’t done anything terrible, at least terrible in our eyes. We look at other people and we aren’t as rude as that driver, or as foul mouthed as that co-worker or as self-centered as our neighbor. We don’t talk about ourselves all the time when we are with others. We’re doing OK. But Lord, our hearts are deceptive and dull toward you. We read the Bible more from obligation rather than to converse with you. We pray once in a while or when we think of it, but we too seldom encounter you in our prayers. God of mercy, forgive our foolish ways. May our hearts burn for you. Don’t let us stay the same, please . . . please. In our Savior’s glorious name. Amen.  

                                                                                                           ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, February 23

Reader: “Search for peace,” 

Response:  “and work to maintain it.”

Scripture: 1 Peter 3:8-18a

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. For the Scriptures say,

“If you want to enjoy life

    and see many happy days,

keep your tongue from speaking evil

    and your lips from telling lies.

Turn away from evil and do good.

    Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,

    and his ears are open to their prayers.

But the Lord turns his face

    against those who do evil.” 

Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.  

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:    

Peter, who was not a shy person, known for speaking before thinking at times, writes this very articulate portion of his letter in giving instructions regarding relationships to fellow believers as well as unbelievers. I have a feeling Peter learned this the hard way. Note the words he uses here. Be united in thought, sympathize, love, be tender-hearted, . . . keep a humble attitude. Are those words you normally associate with Peter? The Holy Spirit clearly transformed his life. 

Having been in a long period of very stressful months due to a troublesome disease and rancorous politics, we have observed plenty of occasions where brothers and sisters in the Lord have hardly reflected Peter’s words towards each other. Retaliation with insults have been far too frequent. Blessing those with different opinions has been all too rare. This model of self-righteous Christian interaction has frankly been embarrassing for our faith. Peter quotes David’s psalm (Ps. 34:12-16) for wise counsel. “Keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. . . Search for peace and work to maintain it.” 

It is all too easy for us to think of God as being far away looking after the universe and not actually watching individual people in real time . . . like now! Yet, Peter writes, “the eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” He watches those people too! 

In the Scriptures, the description of the “Lord turning his face toward you” is a sign of his favor, his blessing (Numbers 6:24-26). It’s the reverse of “turning your back on someone” as a sign of disfavor and abandonment. Remember Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with his face shining so bright? Same idea. Notice that Peter is very realistic. People are not always nice, even believers. So Peter’s words are to bear the abuse rather than striking back. God sees what happened and is pleased when you don’t retaliate. Worship the Lord as the Lord of your life. Your conduct can be a beautiful witness to God’s grace in your life. Be ready to bear witness to Christ with gentleness and respect to the other person. Suffering for doing good, if that is what God wants, is better than suffering for shooting off at your mouth and bearing the consequences of foolishness. Peter should know! It would be good if we could do some healing of our tongues in the coming months.

Music: “The Corinthian Song”     Sam Robson       Beautiful and remarkable!

Prayer:

O Everlasting God, let the light of Thine eternity now fall upon my passing days. O holy God, let the light of Thy perfect righteousness fall upon my sinful ways. O most merciful God, let the light of Thy life pierce to the most secret corners of my heart and overcome the darkness of sin within me.  Am I living as my conscience approves? Am I demanding of others a higher standard of conduct than I demand of myself? Am I taking a less charitable view of the failings of my neighbor than I am of my own? Am I standing in public for principles which I do not practise in private? Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God. Do I ever allow the thought of my own gain to take precedence over the interests of the community? To which do I give the benefit of the doubt, when my course is not clear? Is the sympathy I show to others who are in trouble commensurate with the pity I would expend on myself if the same things happened to me? Let my answer before Thee be truthful, O God. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.                                            ―John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.99

Monday, February 22

Reader: “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Response:  “But then I recall all you have done, O Lord.”

Scripture:  Psalm 77 

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.

    Oh, that God would listen to me!

When I was in deep trouble,

    I searched for the Lord.

All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,

    but my soul was not comforted.

I think of God, and I moan,

    overwhelmed with longing for his help. 

                          Interlude

You don’t let me sleep.

    I am too distressed even to pray!

I think of the good old days,

    long since ended,

when my nights were filled with joyful songs.

    I search my soul and ponder the difference now.

Has the Lord rejected me forever?

    Will he never again be kind to me?

Is his unfailing love gone forever?

    Have his promises permanently failed?

Has God forgotten to be gracious?

    Has he slammed the door on his compassion? 

                      Interlude

And I said, “This is my fate;

    the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;

    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.

They are constantly in my thoughts.

    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

O God, your ways are holy.

    Is there any god as mighty as you?

You are the God of great wonders!

    You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,

    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.   

                      Interlude

When the Red Sea saw you, O God,

    its waters looked and trembled!

    The sea quaked to its very depths.

The clouds poured down rain;

    the thunder rumbled in the sky.

    Your arrows of lightning flashed.

Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;

    the lightning lit up the world!

    The earth trembled and shook.

Your road led through the sea,

    your pathway through the mighty waters—

    a pathway no one knew was there!

You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,

    with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

How often has this psalm been your prayer? One cannot but help notice the progression of emotions from the opening cry to the closing thoughts. There is a lesson for us here. The first section is completely internally focused. There are seven “I’s,” a “me” and a “my,” and God is referred to in the third person five times. What is clear is a frustrated passion wanting soul comfort. In our encounters with the Lord, we often begin the same way, starting with ourselves, our perspective, our feelings. “God, where are you?” I certainly have prayed this prayer more than once! I don’t know how significant the “Interlude” is, but it almost seems to say, “time out, get your thoughts together.” 

Apparently the “time out” didn’t change much of anything. In this next section there are still seven references to I, me, and my with seven references to the Lord in the third person with only one reference in the second person where God is addressed directly. (I mention this only to point out the progression of the prayer.) 

Several years ago I had a difficult upcoming meeting with the senior pastor. I truly didn’t know what to pray. I couldn’t formulate a thought or a word to offer to God so I just said, “Lord, you’ll have to do this. I don’t have a clue about anything!” He was faithful in the meeting and brought great clarity! 

Asaph, the one praying begins to harken back to the good old days while wondering what has happened. Notice then the verbs associated with God’s relationship to Asaph as Asaph perceives―rejected, never again, gone forever, permanently failed, forgotten, slammed the door, and turned his hand against. Notice when we are down and self-focused how we turn to absolute negatives to express our feelings . . . never, forever, permanently. Then comes the four word perspective . . . “But then I recall.” God is no longer addressed in the third person, but in the second person. There are twenty-one references addressing God directly in the rest of the psalm. There is only one direct reference to the Lord in the first ten verses. There are but three “I’s” and one “my” in the last 10 verses as opposed to eighteen in the first ten. These later “I’s” have the verbs “recall, remember, cannot stop thinking” in contrast to the negative responses in the early part of the psalm. 

In the end of the psalm, Asaph turns his attention to what God has done in the past. He looks to the Lord’s history of caring for his people to regain perspective. Then there is one quiet line that is so powerful. “Your pathway through the mighty waters―a pathway no one knew was there! That is our great God! The next time you or I feel ourselves falling into the first part of this psalm, be sure to read the last half. The Lord knows the way through the wilderness, even when there are no paths we can see! Reminder―we’re not God!

Music: “Out of the Depths”    The Genevans

Optional Bonus:

“My Lord Knows the Way through the Wilderness”   (Old childrens’ song, cute)          

 A dad and his children sing this song. Note the little girl when dad is talking at the end!

Prayer: Don’t talk today in prayer, listen to the Lord’s words of truth spoken to you for this day.

Let nothing disturb you; let nothing dismay you; all things pass: I never change. Patience attains all it strives for. The one who has me finds they lack nothing: I alone suffice. 

           ―adapted from Teresa of Avila, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.51

Sunday, February 21 First Sunday in Lent

Reader: “Christ suffered for our sins” 

Response: “once for all time.”

Scripture: I Peter 3:18-22

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.

So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts: 

In this first epistle of Peter, he gives to us a unique passage in all of the Bible. But let’s start at the beginning. This opening sentence reminds us of a very similar passage in Hebrews (9:26,28). His one-time suffering and death made possible our pathway home to God. Think about it. That “one time” is sufficient for all people forever! Peter goes on to say that in the physical death, Jesus’ body died on Friday but his spirit was raised to life. (On the third day, the physical body was raised to life.) At Jesus’ death, his body went into the grave, his spirit went to the Father (“Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands”), and his soul went to paradise ―the bosom of Abraham― (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Lk. 23:43.  Hades is the place of the dead. One part is called paradise, the place of the righteous dead in the presence of Jesus, and the other part of hades is the gloomy place of the unrighteous dead who await final judgment. A chasm separates the two). 

When Peter writes that Jesus was raised to life, the word refers to life as God has it. It is the life of God the Father himself which he gave to his Incarnate Son which is the life passed on to us in Christ Jesus. The Greek word is zoe (life), from which we get the word zoology and zoo. This kind of life of God is the very life from which we’ve been alienated as a result of the Fall. It is a life which has moral associations which are inseparable from holiness and righteousness. It is life we are called to live. 

The next section is one of the more difficult ones to understand in Scripture. It has been interpreted several ways through the centuries. Without going into a long discussion, I’ll briefly summarize some of the basic views (there are more). 1) Christ goes to those who have been disobedient to God and preaches the Good News to them. The idea that people have a second chance after death to receive the gospel is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. In fact, Hebrews 9:27 makes very clear that “it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this the judgment.” Clearly, there is no second chance. 2) Another interpretation reads that Christ preached through Noah’s voice urging people to repent in Noah’s day. Those people are now in death’s prison. 3) A third view is that the ‘spirits in prison’ are evil spiritual beings (fallen angels) and Christ proclaimed to them his victory over death. (There is an important principle involved here. No doctrine should be based on a singular ambiguous passage. Difficult passages should be interpreted by those that are clear, not the other way around.) Peter then refers to Noah and his response of faith in God. In a way, Noah and his family were resurrected from certain death through the “baptismal” waters of the Flood. 

He then concludes this portion stating Christ is now in heaven, seated at God’s right hand with all the spirit world in submission to him. What does all this mean for us this day? It tells us that there was a great master plan from the beginning to bring restoration to a fallen creation and that Christ’s work on earth is completed. He is currently, as you read this, seated at the Father’s right hand in his glorified human body interceding on our behalf according to Scripture. This is not simply a theological idea, but reality. Finally, we are reminded that we are citizens of heaven even while here on earth as we await the Lord’s return. Tune your heart heavenward today.

Music: “What Wondrous Love Is This”   St. Olaf Choir

Prayer:

Bless us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end. Amen.                                             ―John Donne, A Book of Uncommon Prayer, p.52

Saturday, February 20th

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t. Also, pastors and music ministers, feel free to encourage your congregations and musicians to subscribe as part of our corporate preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Reader: “Be encouraged, my child!” 

Response: “Your sins are forgiven.”

Scripture: Matthew 9:2-13

Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up and went home! Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

We have a little addition to our pattern today. I’d like you to watch this clip before reading the commentary. It is portraying what you have just read. Matthew is one of the guys sitting on the roof with the children taking notes! 

Film Clip: Jesus heals the paralytic from “The Chosen”

Some thoughts:  

There are some profound things going on in this passage. The first encounter with Jesus clearly demonstrates a recurring pattern in all of Jesus’ miracles. The second account helps us understand the implication of the first incident. One of the consistent truths of Jesus’ miracles is that he always did them for a single purpose, regardless of the miracle itself and an example of such is clearly demonstrated here. The certain point of the miracle is always to establish his identity as the Son of God. There is one line Jesus says in the clip that makes things so clear. Something like, “anyone can say words about cleansing sin, but you don’t really know if the sin was cleansed. Humanly, there is no way to tell. So, rather than say ‘your sins are cleansed,’ I’ll do something miraculous so you can see I have the authority to forgive sins as the Son of God.” 

Most of the religious leaders rejected what they saw with their own eyes and sought to kill Jesus. Now as then, people in our day simply dismiss Jesus as a moral teacher from ages past, nothing more, effectively killing him again. As we reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross during these days of the Lenten season, let us remember that moral teachers cannot forgive sin. All sin is against God. So, he alone is in a position to forgive and also because he is the only One who could pay the penalty. 

We look next at the second part of this passage. Since Jesus’ mission on earth was to save sinners, he went to people who knew they were sinners, a model for us. How much time do we spend with people who need the Lord? Maybe we could make a point of trying to spend more time with those in need of the Savior during these special days. Showing mercy to others is the mark of a life honored and affirmed by God. Jesus went after Matthew. He was among the most hated persons of his day . . . a crooked Jew who had sold out his own people to the occupying Romans. Tax collectors were very wealthy and very dishonest. Jesus befriended and embraced the despised man and called him to become one of his disciples! Matthew knew he needed a savior and he followed. The result was a transformed life. All of us have Matthews all around us. Let’s call them to follow the Master. With things as fractured as they are in the world, now is a time to be bold.

Music: “Lord, I Want to Be Like Jesus”             Fernando Ortega

Prayer: 

O God, our ever-living Refuge, with grateful hearts we lay at Thy feet the folded hours when Thou knowest us but we know not Thee; and with joy receive from Thy hand once more our open task and conscious communion with Thy life and thoughts. Day by day liken us more to the spirits of the departed wise and good; and fit us in our generation to carry on their work below till we are ready for more perfect union with them above. And if ever we faint under any appointed cross and say, “It is too hard to bear,” may we look to the steps of the Man of Sorrows toiling on to Calvary, and pass freely into Thy hand, and become one with Him and Thee. Dedicate us to the joyful service of Thy will; and own us as Thy children in time and in eternity. Amen.                                        ―James Martineau, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.139

Friday, February 19

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t. Also, pastors and music ministers, feel free to encourage your congregations and musicians to subscribe as part of our corporate preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Reader: “O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act!”

Response: “For your own sake, do not delay.”

Scripture: Daniel 9:15-25a  

“O Lord our God, you brought lasting honor to your name by rescuing your people from Egypt in a great display of power. But we have sinned and are full of wickedness. In view of all your faithful mercies, Lord, please turn your furious anger away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain. All the neighboring nations mock Jerusalem and your people because of our sins and the sins of our ancestors.

“O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary.

“O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.

“O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your city bear your name.”

I went on praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people, pleading with the Lord my God for Jerusalem, his holy mountain. As I was praying, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, came swiftly to me at the time of the evening sacrifice. He explained to me, “Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given. And now I am here to tell you what it was, for you are very precious to God. Listen carefully so that you can understand the meaning of your vision.

“A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. Now listen and understand!

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:   

There is an interesting aspect to Daniel’s prayer which is something I have seldom heard, if ever, when someone is praying. His words . . . “for your name’s sake, smile on your people again.” In other words, he’s appealing to the Lord’s reputation as viewed by  the surrounding unbelieving peoples. The nations are laughing at “the children of God,” which in an indirect way, is laughing at God. Note the second commandment here, that we are not to take God’s name in vain. Put simply, the Israelites are representing God in vain; they are  poor ambassadors of their LORD. Jerusalem, the city of God, the city they are to care for and about, lies in ruins as a result of their rebellion. In a nutshell, they are a disgrace as the people of God. Hence, Daniel’s fervent prayer of confession. 

Confession comes from the Greek word homologeo, meaning “same word, to speak the same thing.” Confession means simply, “we agree with what God has said, we agree with his opinion, his word of judgment.” We abandon our assessment and conclusion and embrace his word on the situation, realizing his unfailing love is perfect, which means his view is also absolutely perfect. 

Daniel’s words are simple and straightforward. “Lord, you are in the right,” which also says that “we are in the wrong.” Thankfully, we have a God who is, in Daniel’s words, “merciful and forgiving.” What is true of Israel in Daniel’s day is true of all of our nations in our day as well, (realizing many of you reading this are not from the USA). Daniel speaks of the consequences of sin and rebellion against God, who is true to his word in judgment as well as in blessing. In his plea, Daniel prays three-fold, “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord listen and act . . . Not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.” Isn’t that the heart of all of our prayers? When we think of national repentance, notice that Daniel starts with confessing his own sin first and then the sins of his people. 

There is one other interesting thing that occurs here. “The moment you began praying , a command was given.” Sometimes we may think that our prayers don’t result in immediate action, that God files our prayers in the “get to it later” box. Not so. Daniel’s  prayer had an immediate effect. Realize God acts through your prayer. The prayer itself doesn’t change things. It is through prayer that God changes things, including the one doing the praying! Through prayer, we can be involved directly in what God is doing.

Music: ““Hear My Prayer O Lord” Purcell Voces8      One of the finest choral groups singing today.      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Q33UL7ugc

Prayer:O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate world. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your world—the creation that you made—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your whole created order, forgive our determined rebellion and repeated rejection of you. We have greatly sinned and repent of our evil ways. We have not loved as we ought; we have not valued babies waiting to be born; we have failed to care for the poor as we should; we have twisted the clear truth of your word to satisfy our own bent desires in living our lives. We have become, no, we are arrogant. O Lord, hear, O Lord forgive. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    ―adapted from Daniel 9. Daniel Sharp

Thursday, February 18

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t. Also, pastors and music ministers, feel free to encourage your congregations and musicians to subscribe as part of our corporate preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Reader: “I prayed to the Lord my God . . .” 

Response: “and confessed.”  

Scripture: Daniel 9:1-14

It was the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, the son of Ahasuerus, who became king of the Babylonians. During the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the Lord, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants, the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, you are in the right; but as you see, our faces are covered with shame. This is true of all of us, including the people of Judah and Jerusalem and all Israel, scattered near and far, wherever you have driven us because of our disloyalty to you. O Lord, we and our kings, princes, and ancestors are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him. We have not obeyed the Lord our God, for we have not followed the instructions he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has disobeyed your instruction and turned away, refusing to listen to your voice.

“So now the solemn curses and judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured down on us because of our sin. You have kept your word and done to us and our rulers exactly as you warned. Never has there been such a disaster as happened in Jerusalem. Every curse written against us in the Law of Moses has come true. Yet we have refused to seek mercy from the Lord our God by turning from our sins and recognizing his truth. Therefore, the Lord has brought upon us the disaster he prepared. The Lord our God was right to do all of these things, for we did not obey him.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:  

Yesterday on Ash Wednesday, we said nothing about the imposition of ashes. In the passage you just read concerning Daniel, we find him fasting and praying in sackcloth and ashes, a common expression of repentance throughout the Scriptures. We offer a brief word about that practice. Sackcloth is a very coarse, uncomfortable material against the skin. If you think of wearing clothes made solely of burlap (hemp), you are on the right track. The uncomfortable, irritating sackcloth served as an outward sign of sorrow and repentance, the picture being the lack of outward physical comfort paralleling the lack of inner spiritual comfort. The ashes reflected equally sorrow, despair and death. They also reminded one of the shortness of life. Humans, having been made originally from dust, eventually return again to dust. These two actions were to reflect humility and a repentant heart. We turn now to Daniel’s remarkable prayer demonstrating these very qualities. Daniel had read Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Israel’s rebellion and the horrible consequences his people would experience as a result. 

With the difficult days we have experienced in our own world these past months, note the appropriateness of the content of his prayer. It is a powerful declaration of confession and repentance. What is the overall structure? In the opening section of this pericope, he begins with truth: you are a great and awesome God who always speaks truth and keeps your word. You love those who are obedient to your word. The trouble is us! Note the words used for our response to God’s truth. We have sinned, done wrong, rebelled, scorned, and refused to listen! Other than that, we’re good! Not really. God’s prophets spoke his word, the truth, and we turned a deaf ear. Who is the “we?” Our leaders, our teachers, our ancestors and ourselves. The problem? We had a better idea; we would decide what was true. We would sit in judgment of God, weighing the truth of God’s word against our knowledge as we decided where God was lacking. 

Like Thomas Jefferson, in our infinite wisdom, we would decide which parts to leave out and which to embrace. (Thomas Jefferson actually took a knife to the pages of Scripture and removed all the parts he didn’t agree with―everything having to do with the miraculous.) This passage ends with judgment and severe discipline from the Lord, just as he promised. When will we ever learn? God speaks truth and keeps his word. We live in a society throughout the world that fails again and again to realize there are consequences for rebelling against God’s word. Disobedience and failure to repent pays a rough wage. But they always pay in full. Sober words for these days. National repentance begins with you and me.

Film clip from “The Chosen”   Peter’s repentance       Powerful!!

Music:  Psalm 51 A Broken Spirit and Contrite Heart          The Sons of Korah

 “Holy, Holy, Holy”  Audrey Assad  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgHrNNM23p8

Prayer:

Holy Lord, I have sinned times without number and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find thy mind in thy Word, of neglect to seek thee in my daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, but I bless thee that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ. Go on to subdue my corruptions and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor listings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but do thou rule over me in liberty and power. I thank thee that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have. I have prayed from lusts and been rejected. I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with thy patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers and fitting me to accept it. Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to thy rule. I thank thee for thy wisdom and thy love, for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject, for sometimes putting me into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross. Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of thy grace in me, everything that prevents me taking delight in thee, then I shall bless thee, God of Jeshurun*, for helping me be upright. This I pray through your Son Jesus Christ. By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.         ―The Valley of Vision, p.77
*A poetic name for the Hebrew Scriptures.

February 17, Ash Wednesday

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t.

Reader: “Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.”

Response: “Tell my people of their sins.”

Scripture:  Isaiah 58:1-12

“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.

    Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.

Tell my people Israel of their sins!

    Yet they act so pious!

They come to the Temple every day

    and seem delighted to learn all about me.

They act like a righteous nation

    that would never abandon the laws of its God.

They ask me to take action on their behalf,

    pretending they want to be near me.

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.

    ‘Why aren’t you impressed?

We have been very hard on ourselves,

    and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond.

    “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.

Even while you fast,

    you keep oppressing your workers.

What good is fasting

    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?

This kind of fasting

    will never get you anywhere with me.

You humble yourselves

    by going through the motions of penance,

bowing your heads

    like reeds bending in the wind.

You dress in burlap

    and cover yourselves with ashes.

Is this what you call fasting?

    Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;

    lighten the burden of those who work for you.

Let the oppressed go free,

    and remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry,

    and give shelter to the homeless.

Give clothes to those who need them,

    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,

    and your wounds will quickly heal.

Your godliness will lead you forward,

    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer.

    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.

    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

Feed the hungry,

    and help those in trouble.

Then your light will shine out from the darkness,

    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The Lord will guide you continually,

    giving you water when you are dry

    and restoring your strength.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

    like an ever-flowing spring.

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.

    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls

    and a restorer of homes.

Reader: The word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

As we live through the season of Lent this year, I am confident in saying that the things in the world and in our lives are much different than at this time last year. What is the same as last year is that God is sovereign and unchangeable. In this pericope, God instructs the prophet Isaiah to speak the truth to his people in no uncertain terms! The sins of Israel are not unlike our own as nation’s, no matter where you are living in the world. (There are subscribers from around the world.) We all can identify! I’m afraid there is a fair amount of “pretend,” feel good worship happening too often. How could we say such? Look at the results. Israel’s fasts were very self-focused. There were quarrels and failure to treat other people with respect. In other words Israelites, “Your conduct toward each other is awful. Your words and actions don’t jive. The heart of your relationship with God is false. You are not honest with God.” 

Fasting was a regular practice of the Israelites and frankly, ought to be in our lives today as well. After all, Jesus said, “When” you fast, not “if” you fast. With good health in mind, perhaps you may wish to fast in some way during this season in order to more deeply focus on your walk with God. 

The Israelites, however, were fasting to impress God, manipulate God into doing what they wanted. In a sense they were bargaining with the Creator. It was an outward show. God looks at what is done, not what is said. God is also very clear about what he expects. For example, if someone is wrongly imprisoned, what have you done to correct the situation? How have you helped people who are in need of food, shelter, or clothes? Or, are you all “intending to do?” Actions like these bring healing. These are good actions for a fractured society like ours. God is more specific yet. “Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!”  

We have certainly seen plenty of such. Let’s get specific in this Lenten season. Are there relatives in your family you could help in some way?  Rather than “giving up something for Lent,” is there something you could take on? Maybe fast a meal, or a day a week to pray specifically for something or someone instead of eating? Perhaps you make a covenant with the Lord to pray daily for that person who annoys you to death. You might even decide to use half the time you pray to be quiet and listen for God’s voice. If you are like me, I tend to spend my time of prayer mostly talking and doing little listening. God’s fasting is action. Read the passage again, noting God’s phrase, “This is the kind of fasting I want”. This Lenten season in 2021 only happens one time in all of eternity. Let’s live for eternity through these days.
  

Though Haddon Robinson preached one of the most memorable sermons I’ve heard in my 48 years in ministry, this sermon in 2012 relates specifically to today’s passage. There are two minutes of intro, then he preaches. Frankly from my perspective, he is one of the best preachers I’ve ever heard. He passed away in July 2017 at age 86.

Bonus: “Have You Heard The One About…The Case Study Of A Mugging?” – Haddon W. Robinson     28 minutes  (2 minutes intro)

Music: “With Broken Heart and Contrite Sigh” St. Patrick Presbyterian Church 

With broken heart and contrite sigh,

A trembling sinner, Lord, I cry: 

Thy pard’ning grace is rich and free

 O God, be merciful to me.

I smite upon my troubled breast,

With deep and conscious guilt oppressed;

Christ and His cross my only plea:

  O God, be merciful to me.

Far off I stand with tearful eyes,

Nor dare uplift them to the skies;

But Thou dost all my anguish see,

  O God, be merciful to me.

Nor alms, or deeds that I have done,

Can for a single sin atone;

To Calvary alone I flee;

  O God, be merciful to me.

And when redeemed from sin and hell,

With all the ransomed throng I dwell,

My raptured song shall ever be,

  God has been merciful to me.

Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  ―BCP

The Preface

LENT – A Journey to the Cross 2021

How excited can you get about a season that starts by focusing on the certainty of death . . . yours specifically? Cheer up, you’re going to die sooner or later! As C.S. Lewis commented, “100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased!” Well, yes and no. You will die physically at some point, but that’s not the end. God has the last word and it is not death for those who die in Christ Jesus. A better word for Christians is “departure.” You depart this life for eternal life beyond death.

For many people being reminded about death and having to “give something up” are the primary thoughts regarding Lent. . .and are two good reasons to think about something else! The truth is, they are not really the point of Lent at all. The root of the word “lent” simply means “spring” new life, buds, blossoms, the end of the long winter. Sounds more like life than death to me. Though observing a season of fasting and prayer were practiced regularly during the first centuries of the church, the days prior to Easter were initially devoted to the final preparations for those being baptized into a new life in Christ.The primary time for baptisms was Easter Sunday. By the fourth century we began to see more widespread evidence of a six week period of preparation for Easter by the whole Christian community, with fasting, almsgiving, and prayer being key elements. You see then, Lent is not a Catholic thing as many people believe. Though it was at times subject to abuse in the Roman Catholic church. 

The heart of the Christian faith is our participation in the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as Lord. Those things affect us personally. While Advent is concerned with the final Judgment, the Incarnation, and the birth of Jesus, this season points us to the price paid for redemption bringing new life. It is our prayer that these days leading up to Easter Sunday will further shape us into the image of Christ as we reflect with repentant hearts what he has done to free us from the bondage of our sinful selves. 

A short word about the Scripture passages themselves. The Bible was written originally without chapters and verse numbers. With that in mind, I left out the verse numbers so that it reads a little differently. I find it easier to grasp the whole thought this way. I trust you will find the same. The translation I used is the New Living Translation. The music we have chosen comes from a wide variety of sources and ensembles simply reflecting the wonder and creativity of God’s handiwork. Nothing you hear or see is original, the composers have simply rearranged the notes God made!
One final word, feel free to pass the link along to family, friends, and co-workers around the country and the world who may benefit from these free devotionals. The link to subscribe is: sharpdevotional.com. You enter your name and email. It’s that simple and thank you for subscribing and passing the link along! Then they will receive the emails in their boxes each morning at 5:02 EST.  Of course subscribing is free.

Transfiguration Sunday, February 14

Reader: “This is my dearly loved Son.”    

Response: “Listen to him.”

Scripture: Mark 9:1-10

Jesus went on to say, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!”

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 

Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus.

Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were 

gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.

As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

This particular passage provides us with a marvelous connection between the Old and the New Testaments, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. A little context may be helpful. Previously, Jesus and his disciples left the region of Galilee and headed northeast towards Caesarea Philippi. Their discussion on the way concerned Jesus’ identity. It was in this conversation that Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah. After telling the disciples to tell no one that he was in fact the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus  told them about his upcoming death and resurrection. 

About a week later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up a high mountain to be alone. Scholars have not identified which mountain it was. The significance is not in the specific mountain, but that the event happened on a mountain carries great importance. The three disciples saw Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in conversation together. In a discouraging moment, Elijah travelled to Mt. Sinai where he heard the voice of God and saw his backside as God passed by. You’ll recall that Moses received the Law from God on Mt. Sinai. As he descended with the Law tablets, his face shone so brightly, he was veiled until it faded. Both men encountered God directly and now they speak with the Messiah face to face.

In the case of the Transfiguration, the three disciples got a fleeting glimpse of the brilliant, shining glorified Savior. When Jesus appeared in this state, Moses and Elijah were gone.  It was clear, neither Elijah or Moses was an equal with Jesus. At this point, the Old Covenant, the Law, was still in effect, but that was about to change. The discussion among Moses, Elijah, and Jesus was about this great change coming. The word used is Jesus’ “exodus!” from this world. Unlike the great Exodus led by Moses, this Redeemer set the entire world free from slavery to sin and death permanently. He would fulfill both the Law, (making it obsolete, Heb. 8:13 “When God speaks of a new covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete.”), and likewise, fulfill all the Old Testament prophetic writings. 

In Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writing of the prophets [Elijah et al]. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Mt.5:17) If you will, Jesus is closing the loop with Moses and Elijah on the mountain! Have you ever noticed how many significant events took place on mountains? The unity of Scripture is never more apparent than in this passage. Like at his baptism, God the Father, affirms the upcoming work of his Son with his voice from the cloud. 

As we have mentioned often previously, in the Bible, the cloud represents the physical presence of God. (Cloud of fire in the desert, cloud over the Ark of the Covenant, cloud at the Ascension, etc.) Here, like later in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James, and John fell asleep and failed to grasp the significance of the moment. God’s words to the three were so clear, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” Interestingly, Moses used that very phrase, “listen to him” (Deut.18:15) in speaking of the great Prophet to come (Messiah). Those words ought to ring daily in our ears. These disciples had trouble understanding what “rising from the dead” meant. Hindsight is easy, but we are called to faith which is why we need to “listen to him.”

We begin the Lenten “Journey with Jesus” this coming Wednesday! You’ll receive your first email Wednesday morning.

Music: “Christ Upon the Mountain Peak” 

Jesus on the mountain peak, 

stands alone in glory blazing. 

Let us, if we dare to speak, 

join the saints and angels praising. 

Hallelujah!

Trembling at his feet we saw 

Moses and Elijah speaking. 

All the prophets and the law 

shout through them their joyful greeting. 

Hallelujah!

Swift the cloud of glory came, 

God proclaiming in its thunder 

Jesus as the Son by name! 

Nations, cry aloud in wonder! 

Hallelujah!

This is God’s beloved Son! 

Law and prophets sing before him; 

first and last and only One. 

All creation shall adore him! 

Hallelujah!

Prayer: 

Father, at the transfiguration in glory of your only-begotten Son, you confirmed the mysteries of faith when the prophets Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. You foreshadowed what we shall be when you bring your sonship to its perfection. Grant that by listening to the voice of Jesus we may become heirs with him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. O Christ, you led Peter, James and John down from the mountain and into the suffering world: when our hearts crave permanence, may we know the permanence of your love as you take us with you on your way. O Christ, you will transfigure our poor earthly bodies and conform them to your glorious body; we pray to you for our brothers and sisters who are dying: that they may be changed into your likeness, from glory to glory. Amen.                                                                ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.83

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 7

Reader: “Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand?”

Response: “Are you deaf to the words of God— ” 

Scripture: Isaiah 40:21-31

Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand?

    Are you deaf to the words of God—

the words he gave before the world began?

    Are you so ignorant?

God sits above the circle of the earth.

    The people below seem like grasshoppers to him!

He spreads out the heavens like a curtain

    and makes his tent from them.

He judges the great people of the world

    and brings them all to nothing.

They hardly get started, barely taking root,

    when he blows on them and they wither.

    The wind carries them off like chaff.

“To whom will you compare me?

    Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.

Look up into the heavens.

    Who created all the stars?

He brings them out like an army, one after another,

    calling each by its name.

Because of his great power and incomparable strength,

    not a single one is missing.

O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?

    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?

Have you never heard?

    Have you never understood?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of all the earth.

He never grows weak or weary.

    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

He gives power to the weak

    and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired,

    and young men will fall in exhaustion.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

    They will soar high on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary.

    They will walk and not faint.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

What a magnificent, mind-stretching reminder of our God! It is interesting to me that the first words of this passage have to do with hearing. We go back to the very beginning of creation and how did it come into being? Sound. God spoke! God is not a mute idol, he speaks. Remember, for the Jewish understanding of hearing, it was measured by doing. Do not be deaf to the words of God. All creation speaks of God. 

Isaiah describes the immensity  of God in creation-like terms. People are like grasshoppers in comparison. The universe is his tent! I have an app on my phone called SkyView which enables you to look at the location stars and planets on your phone, along with the Hubble Telescope and International Space Station from anywhere in the world. With it, you just hold your phone up to the sky or point it to the floor (to see the other side of the world!) and you can begin to see the vastness of God’s creation. There is a little circle and you put the circle on the star and it will tell you how many light years away the star is and what it’s name is! Everything you see is part of God’s “tent.” (The app is free.) 

With all the hype about everything people are and do, the next verses are a powerful perspective adjuster! God judges the “great” people of the world and puts them in their proper place. I love the phrase, “they hardly get started.” Not that I’m a great person, but I’ve said my whole life, “I’m just getting started.” Though I’m semi-retired, I still have the sense that I’m just getting started in life. Actually, that is the truth. Life on this earth is the preface to the glorious life that lies ahead for the believer. Even if I live to 100, I’ve only just begun. 

Isaiah then refers back again to the stars of the universe enfolding people in perspective of the massive expanse. He gives a clear picture of minuteness of human beings in contrast to the immensity of all creation. Isaiah concludes this pericope reminding the Israelites and us how very personal God is toward his people. He gives strength to the weak and strong alike. He never wears out. He understands everything perfectly all the time. In spite of his incomprehensible greatness to humans, the sky, the clouds, the earth, sun, moon, stars, galaxies, the universe are all his, yet,  he is intimately and personally involved in the life of those created in his own image. Stop and dwell on the previous sentence. Those who trust the LORD will find new strength. That includes us today!

Music: “The Omnipotence”    Schubert    Hour of Power Choir   excellent!!

Prayer: 

Our Father in heaven and on earth and everywhere else, thank you for your renewing strength and tireless love. We find great comfort in knowing you see our troubles, our fears, our weaknesses. We are not alone in our struggles. You give us power when we are weak, strength when we have run out of everything and are ready to quit, understanding when we are confused or troubled, assurance when we are afraid, and faith when we waver in unbelief. There is none your equal and in that we rejoice greatly! Thank you for speaking so clearly in your Word. The wonder of who you are, and that you comunicate and care about us “grasshoppers,” is easy to put into words, but difficult to grasp. All we can say is we love you and thank you for loving us in such a glorious way. We pray this in the name of Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit, remain one God forever and ever. Amen.                     ―Daniel Sharp

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, January 31

Reader: “I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites.”

Response: “I will put my words in his mouth.”    

Scripture: Deuteronomy 18:15-22

Moses continued, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you yourselves requested of the Lord your God when you were assembled at Mount Sinai. You said, ‘Don’t let us hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore or see this blazing fire, for we will die.’

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘What they have said is right. I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf. But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in my name or who speaks in the name of another god must die.’

“But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?’ If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

This is a most interesting passage because, once again, it is describing both the present and the future. Moses was unique among all human beings who have ever lived. Though there were many Old Testament prophets, Moses was unique. What was it that set him apart? We read at the end of the book of Deuteronomy that, “There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.” (Deut. 34:10). This face to face encounter with God set him apart. 

In this passage, he tells the people that this same LORD of theirs would raise up another super Israelite prophet like himself and that they were to listen to him (Deut.18:15). Israel had a penchant for ignoring prophets. The people were afraid to hear the voice of the LORD themselves. (Deut.5:24-31) The Jews were looking for this Prophet referred to by Moses. They wondered outwardly if John the Baptist was that Prophet (John 1:21). This later Prophet would speak the very words God wished to communicate to his people. In Moses’ mind as he spoke to the people, to reject the words of the Prophet was to reject the words of God. The Prophet’s words and God’s words were one in the same. Jesus, the Prophet to whom Moses is referring, said, “I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49). 

In contrast, a false prophet who speaks in the name of the LORD faces death. This last statement seems to appeal more to the immediate situation in Moses’ day. The sad truth is, some of the First Testament prophets of God were stoned because the people rejected God’s word through the prophets, naming them as false prophets! (E.g. Tradition says that Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt and Isaiah was sawn in two.) 

The last couple of verses are known as the test of a prophet of the LORD. A true prophet of God is never wrong in what he or she says. If there is a prediction of a future event that does not transpire, they are no prophet of the LORD. The standard is 100% accuracy every time. If something predicted does not come true, one may disregard what was said. In our day, with many predictions and dreams regarding the future of the world, we need to be very cautious in responding to prophetic visions. One “vision” may come perfectly true. The next “vision” must also be perfectly true, and every “vision” afterwards must be completely accurate. 99 out of 100 is good, but is a failure as a prophet of God. It behooves us to know the Scriptures and weigh words very carefully in accordance with God’s word in our days of fantastic claims.

Music: “God Has Spoken By His Prophets”

Prayer: O God, I bless thee for the happy moment when I first saw thy law fulfilled in Christ, wrath appeased, death destroyed, sin forgiven, my soul saved. Ever since, Thou hast been faithful to me, daily have I proved the power of Jesus’ blood, daily have I known the strength of the Spirit, my teacher, director, sanctifier. I want no other rock to build upon than that I have, desire no other hope than that of gospel truth, need no other look than that which gazes on the cross. Forgive me if I have tried to add anything to the one foundation, if I have unconsciously relied upon my knowledge, experience, deeds, and not seen them as filthy rags, if I have attempted to complete what is perfect in Christ; May my cry be always, only Jesus, only Jesus! O God, hear me, do for me more than I ask, think, or dream. In my Savior’s name I pray. Amen. ―from The Valley of Vision, p.54

Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 24

Reader: “Let all that I am wait quietly before God,”    

Response: “for my hope is in him.”

Scripture: Psalm 62:5-12

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,

    for my hope is in him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,

    my fortress where I will not be shaken.

My victory and honor come from God alone.

    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.

O my people, trust in him at all times.

    Pour out your heart to him,

    for God is our refuge.  

Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind,

    and the powerful are not what they appear to be.

If you weigh them on the scales,

    together they are lighter than a breath of air.

Don’t make your living by extortion

    or put your hope in stealing.

And if your wealth increases,

    don’t make it the center of your life.

God has spoken plainly,

    and I have heard it many times:

Power, O God, belongs to you;

    unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.

Surely you repay all people

    according to what they have done.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:
The first sentence of this passage could very easily be a “life verse.” Those words put everything regarding the portion of life that we live on this earth into perspective. It is the most sublime place of rest. Have you ever noticed how much waiting there is in the Bible? Noah waited a 100 years for the flood he knew was coming; Abraham waited twenty-five years for Isaac; Rebekah and Rachel waited for children; Israelites endured 430 years of slavery before the Exodus; then wandered forty years in the wilderness while the older unfaithful generation died off; Zechariah and Elizabeth waited an entire lifetime for a son of their own; Jesus waited another two days after receiving word that Lazarus was very ill before he went to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; the early believers were told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem to receive power on high; God is waiting now before sending his Son to establish his kingdom and bring this world to and end. God is giving people time to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins.

As I write today’s devotional in mid-September, things are generally pretty intense in our country. Politics is hitting its full nasty stride. People are going out of their way to write pointed tart messages to whoever will read what they write. Some longtime friendships are experiencing stress as a result. Then in contrast, we have this beautiful focusing sentence! There is no fear here. God is my rock and my salvation. 

There is a line in the old German hymn, “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee,” that has been translated, “built on the rock that naught can move.” I love that translation because it is so perfect. NOTHING can move God. He is the source of everything in existence. Whatever is going on in the country where you live (we’ve just had an inauguration -hopefully- in the US), King David wrote these words, “O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.” No one arrives in a position of power without God allowing it. He sets up kings and removes them. Again, David’s words, “The powerful are not what they appear to be.” “Power, O God belongs to you; unfailing love, O Lord, is yours. Surely you repay all people according to what they have done.” “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” Come Lord Jesus, I am waiting. God is our source of hope, not human beings or human leaders.

Music: “In God is My Salvation”    Ole Miss Men’s Glee Club

“If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee”     Calvin Alumni Choir

Prayer:Father in heaven, who hast brought us to this day, let the peace of Thy love descend upon us. May every stormy passion be subdued, every unquiet thought cast out, every earthly care and anxiety forgotten that in the calm of Thy loving Presence we may find a remedy for our souls’ unrest, and in Thy loving-kindness an answer to our every need; for the sake of Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.     ―Source Unknown, The Quiet Corner, p.91

Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 17

Friends, I have a confession to make! I wrote something in last Sunday’s devotional that was not true. There was one sentence that said Jesus was tempted by the Devil and then he was baptised by John. That is exactly backwards for many reasons! (One of our sharp subscribers graciously and kindly asked if what I wrote was true.) I was working between John’s gospel, which says nothing of Jesus’ temptation, and Luke’s gospel which, like the other synoptics all record the temptation of Jesus. I’m not sure where my brain was when I typed that. Even missed it in the proof reading! I actually know the right order. Anyway, I will try to be more diligent in proofing things.

Reader: “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee” 

Response: “was the first time Jesus revealed his glory.”

Scripture: John 2:1-12

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”  [This is all TRUE!]

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As we have mentioned previously, Epiphany is associated with the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the wedding at Cana of Galilee. John is the only gospel writer who records this latter event. Sometimes the other writers refered to supernatural acts that Jesus did as miracles, but not John. He describes them as “signs.” When Jesus did something like turning the water to wine, it was to act as a sign pointing to his identity as the Son of man. 

In John’s gospel, he describes seven (perfection in Jewish thought) signs: changing water to wine, curing the nobleman’s son, healing the paralytic, feeding the five thousand, walking on water, opening the eyes of a blind man, and raising Lazarus from the dead. Every single act pointed beyond the immediate event but to the truth that the Kingdom of God had come among them in the person of Jesus Christ. That this event was a Jewish wedding is of great significance. With this sign, Jesus was going public. 

John mentions that this event occurred on “the third day.” Is there significance stating that? Perhaps. Some scholars have reasoned that Jesus was ushering in a new creation, similar in concept to his resurrection on the third day. Many Jewish weddings occur on Tuesday, the third day of the week because on the third day of creation, God said, “It is good” two times and the brides took that expression as a double blessing on their marriage! 

We look next at Jesus’ interaction with his mother. Mary is referred to in this gospel only as the “mother of Jesus.” What may seem to us as a rather harsh response in our day in referring to her as “woman,” was not exactly so in Jesus’ day. It was an address of respect and distinction. Mary appears in only one other story in John’s gospel and it is at the foot of the cross. It is there while hanging on the cross that Jesus again addresses his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” Likewise, following his resurrection, Jesus speaks to Mary Magdalene with the words, “Dear woman, why are you crying?” 

What is established in this pericope is that the relationship between Jesus and his mother is now different. Jesus responds to his heavenly Father, not his earthly mother. When he says at the wedding, “My time is not yet come,” that is a clear indication that he is not operating on an “earthly clock.” Time and timing are a recurrent theme throughout John’s gospel. Jesus was tuned to his Father’s will which meant he was always in exactly the right place at the right time doing the right thing bringing glory to God. God’s action in our world is made manifest in the flesh of Jesus Christ!  

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”
 

Music: “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise    (You’ll note this hymn has all three Epiphany themes!)

Songs of thankfulness and praise,

Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise,

Manifested by the star

To the sages from afar;

Branch of royal David’s stem

In thy birth at Bethlehem;

Praises be to thee addressed,

God in flesh made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,

Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;

And at Cana, wedding guest,

In thy Godhead manifest;

Manifest in pow’r divine,

Changing water into wine;

Praises be to thee addressed,

God in flesh made manifest.

Grant us grace to see thee, Lord.

Mirrored in thy holy Word;

May we imitate thee now,

And be pure, as pure art thou;

That we like to thee may be

At thy great Epiphany;

And may praise thee, ever-blessed,

God in flesh made manifest.

Prayer:O God, you made of one blood all nations, and, by a star in the East, revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel. Enable us who know your presence with us so to proclaim his unsearchable riches, that all may come to his light and bow before the brightness of his rising, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.    ―Lawrence Hull Stookey  from The United Methodist Publising House

First Sunday after Epiphany January 10

Reader: “John saw Jesus coming toward him and said,” 

Response: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Scripture:  John 1:29-34

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

We just passed Epiphany a couple of days ago. There are three themes that are associated with this day, one of which is the baptism of Jesus, which is celebrated the first Sunday after Epiphany. People have asked me, “Since Jesus was perfect, why did he need to be baptized?” That is a perfectly logical question. John’s baptism was for the repentance of sin, yet Jesus was sinless, so why the necessity? In subjecting himself to baptism, Jesus openly took the sin of all people upon himself. He fully embraced his humanity. He placed, as it were, himself upon the altar as the substitute for our sin. In submitting to John’s baptism, he shows solidarity with a fallen human race and becomes our Redeemer and Reconciler. Jesus’ baptism was also an affirmation of the validity of John’s baptism ministry. His baptism indicated to his Father in heaven his embracing of the mission he came to do, a task that would involve great suffering and death. It is Luke who tells us that as Jesus was being baptized, he was praying and communing with the Father, the heavens opened and a dove came from heaven and rested on him, an affirmation from the Father. In the Scriptures, a dove symbolizes purity, innocence, and loveliness (dove’s role in Noah and the Ark Gen.8:9-12). In fact, throughout the Bible, God on different occasions revealed himself in a visible shape to humans. There is the cloud in the desert, the glorious light hovering over the Ark of the Covenant, or the tongues of fire at Pentecost. An additional word here may be helpful. That the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon Jesus, did not mean that the Lord Jesus was not previously filled with the Holy Spirit. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and filled as a human from conception. The baptism is a public declaration of his Messiahship. This event marks the beginning of his public ministry. Remember the baptism occurs right after his temptation by the devil. God the Father declares a wonderful affirmation, “Thou art my beloved Son in thee I am well pleased.” On two other occasions the Father spoke words of encouragement in relation to Jesus’ mission on earth. One was at the Transfiguration when Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming “exodus” from the earth (Luke 9:28-35) and the other one was when Jesus was talking to a crowd during Holy Week about his upcoming sacrifice and God thundered from heaven (John 12:28-29). To me, these affirmations from the Father indicate how close was the Father and the Son’s relationship during Jesus’ time on earth. These words of encouragement also underscore the humanity of Jesus. Humans need to be affirmed and encouraged in their calls to ministry. Think about it, Jesus’ mission was understood by no one on earth, not even the disciples! How lonely would that be? It was only after the resurrection did people begin to get it and even then, many people still rejected Christ’s work of salvation, even as they do today. You can begin to see how crucial was John’s baptism of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 Music: “Baptized in Water”     Chris Brunelle

Prayer:

Dearest Lord Jesus, when we begin to try to comprehend what it must have been like to leave the glories of heaven, where you had been for all eternity, and willingly humble yourself to become a human being, we must confess, we have no idea what that was like―and even that is an understatement. We wonder about the under-the-breath  remarks made to Mary and Joseph about your “miraculous birth” and the snide comments behind their backs. What must it have been like being the big brother among your brothers and sisters? Even at twelve you were about your Father’s business and no one understood, not even your earthly mom and dad. Virtually your whole life here, people were often confused as to what you had come to do. When you died there was but a single convert and he died within minutes of confessing you. Your life and mission seemed a complete defeat and yet . . . you defeated death, the devil, evil, and paid with your life blood for the sins of the entire world. We say the words, believe the words, trust the words, and try to grasp the wonder of what you have done. We simply fall to our knees with heads bowed low in deepest gratitede for your sacrifice. We love you, Lord. Our language doesn’t have the words to express our hearts. You are our singular hope of eternal life in your presence. Glory to you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.                                                           ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, January 17       Look for the next devotional next Sunday and each Sunday between now and Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17th

Advent 2020 In Closing

Friends,

I want to thank you all for sharing these past thirty-nine days and for sharing these devotionals with friends. Our prayer as always is that we are drawn closer and deeper in our encounters with the Lord through his word. More than simply reading a passage, may we develop a daily pattern of hearing the voice of the Lord as we read. I trust the music and prayers have likewise encouraged and edified you. Blessings on you all and thank you for your kind words of encouragement.

I also want to thank you for subscribing this year. I want to mention something to you if the Lord so moves you. Doing these devotionals is not without actual cost―e.g. getting the material into the proper format and year-round monthly rentals to the email host. I checked into setting up a 501c (3) and found it wasn’t feasible for writing these devotionals. If you would like to help with expenses, you can make a donation which is not tax deductible. The subscriptions are always and always will be completely free. There is certainly no obligation to contribute, but if you would like to, please make your check to: Dan Sharp, 4017 Isle Vista Ave, Belle Isle, FL 32812.  Or you can also contribute via my PayPal account.  dansharp9@gmail.com 

As the Advent and Christmastide season closes, I would like to thank all of you who contributed to the devotional ministry. May the Lord bless you in this coming year.

Plus there is an additional feature this year. You will be receiving a devotional each Sunday, beginning next Sunday, January 10th, and for the next six weeks until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17th at which time, the Lenten devotionals begin going from Ash Wednesday all the way through Pentecost on May 23rd. You do not need to resubscribe.

I’ve enclosed the list of music links for each day for your enjoyment beneath the list of source books for the prayers.

THE SOURCE BOOKS FOR THE PRAYERS

The Pursuit of God, AW Tozer, Christian Publications

The Book of Uncommon Prayer, ed. Constance and Daniel Pollock, Word Publishing

Early Christian Prayers,  ed. Hamman, Regnery Publishing

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. Appleton, OUP

Valley of Vision, ed. Bennett, Banner of Truth Pub.

Prayers Ancient and Modern, Mary Wilder Tileston, 1897

A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, compiled by Veronica Zindel

Celtic Daily Prayer, Andy Raine and John Skinner  Northumbria Community

The Quiet Corner, ed. Shirwood Wirt, Fleming H. Revell

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal,1979, 1928    (BCP)

Peter Marshall’s Lasting Prayers, Droke House Publishers

THE MUSIC LINKS FOR ADVENT 2020

Nov.29  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”  arr. Alice Parker

Nov.30 “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending” Litchfield Cathedral Choir

Dec.1 “Joy to the World”   John Rutter and Cambridge Choir      

Dec.2  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”   Salt Lake Vocal Artists  These 8 minutes will help you be quiet. Just listen. It’s gorgeous!!!    Arr. Dan Forrest

Bonus:           beautiful!

 “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”     Nordic Choir of Luther College

Dec.3 “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns

Dec.4 “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” Home Free with Kenny Rogers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7GR-c8-tKI DO NOT MISS THIS!!!!!

Dec.5 “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”   Geneva Christian Choir

Dec.6 “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”    from the musical “Godspell”

Dec.7  “Advent Hymn”   Christy Nockels

Dec.8 “Benedictus”   Karl Jenkins        Beautiful music almost beyond belief!

Dec.9  “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen”     Libera

Dec. 10 “Go Tell It on the Mountain”    Home Free     ―an energetic setting!

Dec.11  What Child Is This? Home Free

Dec.12 “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Caitelen

Dec.13 “Glory to God In the Highest”  Messiah

Dec.14  “I Wonder as I Wander”  Simon Khorolskiy

Dec.15 ““O Come, Let Us Adore Him”    Voctave (I admit, this is a repeat from last year!)

Dec.16  “Behold the Lamb of God”       from Messiah        Mogens Dahl Chamber Choir

Dec.17 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”   Mississippi College Choir

Bonus:        (Leave it to the Mormons . . . except for the theology!!)

 “Angels from the Realms of Glory”  BYU Idaho Dept. of Music

Dec.18 “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”       Chris Rupp and the Fox and the Hound

Bonus:   Interesting fact. Chris Rupp a former member of Home Free (below) went out on his own (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly) though he still sings with Home Free sometimes.

 “Angels We Have Heard on High”    Home Free   (I know, a repeat from other years. But in case you missed it then. This is really one of the best versions. Not over produced IMO.

Dec.19  “Long Ago Prophets Knew”  A British Christian Music Programme

Would this ever happen in the states???

Bonus: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”    King’s College Choir  Spectacular Brass and Cathedral setting, don’t miss it.

Dec.20 “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” All Angels

Dec.21 “Silent Night”  

 Sissel Kyrkjebϴ    This Norwegian lady has one of the most beautiful soprano voices you will ever hear. Effortless!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK3_Kr2nLtA&list=RDuK3_Kr2nLtA&start_radio=1&t=127&t=0 

Bonus: “Silent Night”   Libera     -Exquisite Boy Choir    The Brits know how to do Christmas!!! Don’t miss this either!

Dec.22 “Hannah’s Prayer Edmund and Gisela Bullock

Dec.23 Magnificat”         JS Bach     GLORIOUS!!!     At the end of every piece he wrote, he put  S.D.G.  Soli Deo Gloria,  “to God alone be glory.”   

Translation:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 

for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo1x-62WmrI

Bonus:

You can watch and listen to the entire Magnificat about 35 minutes long at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YHf3CtEi8E

Dec.24  “Fanfare and Carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful”  arr. David Wilcocks  Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble and Bach Choir

Bonus: “Mary, Did You Know?”  Vocative with Mark Lowrey, (the guy who wrote the song) DON’T MISS THIS!!!! Best setting of this I’ve ever heard. Astounding voices.

Dec.25 “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”     The Brits again!

Bonuses!:

 “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”   King’s College Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4yYb6yCNws 

“Good Christian Men, Rejoice”         Wissmann family

“I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In” 

Dec.26 “Angels We Have Heard on High”   Robert Shaw Chorale  gorgeous choral singing. Terrific arrangement! 

Bonus:  “I Wonder as I Wander”    The King Singers and London Symphony

Dec. 27 “This Little Light of Mine”  arr. Moses Hogan   The National Lutheran Choir

Bonus: 

 “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child”   Christ Church Nashville

Dec.28  “Away in a Manger”    Libera             Angelic!

Bonus: “Away in a Manger”     Home Free       Beautiful video with original tune

Dec.29 “Sing We Now of Christmas”      The Singers   Matthew Culloton

Bonus:      (Had this one from last year. Didn’t think you’d mind!)

  “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”  Mahalia Jackson      She is singing to Jesus and we get to listen! Don’t miss this. There was only one of her. The very best.

Dec.30  “Star Carol” Nathan Pacheco

Bonus:  “A Spotless Rose” Paul Mealor

Dec.31  “Mary Had a Baby”    Nathaniel Dett Chorale   Love it!

I thought these last few days of this year’s devotionals, I’d include a few of the secular classics, not for their theology, but for their beauty, and God loves music and beauty.

Bonus: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”  Home Free Video      Get ready to shed a tear!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=no2ErxNojyo

Jan.1 “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”   Robert Shaw Festival Singers  As you listen to this, watch the text below. If you have ear phones, put them on to listen. Though it is sung in Russian (it’s from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers) you will be able to follow. The soloist sings what you are looking at! Also listen very carefully at the end and you will hear the world famous low Russian basses- in this case Americans! By the way, this is the music sung in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. They are not big on overhead screens! All singing is a cappella. Just the human voice singing to God.

 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,

             as you have promised.

         I have seen your salvation,

             which you have prepared for all people.

         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,

             and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Bonus: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”  Chesnokoff   Male Choir of Donskoy Monastery

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ma8NjcAUOg       Note the stories of the Bible portrayed throughout the sanctuary of this Orthodox Church.

Jan.2  “Personent Hodie”    arr. Lara Hoggard      Choralis    (wait for the light!)

Bonus:

 “On This Day Earth Shall Ring”  St Malachy’s college choir

   “The Christmas Song”     The King’s Singers’

Jan.3  “Twas’ in the Moon of Wintertime”    Cambridge Singers

Bonuses!  “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Andy Williams

  “The Little Drummer Boy”       The King’s Singers

Jan.4 “We Three Kings of Orient Are”   Robert Shaw Chorale       wonderful setting

Bonus: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”     Casting Crowns      The message to our world.

Jan.5   “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks    Dan Forrest 

Atlanta Master Chorale

Bonus:  “Have Yourself A Merry

Little Christmas”    Michael Bublé     Beautiful!

Jan.6  “As with Gladness Men of Old”     from Ipswich, England

Bonus:

“We Three Kings”     Kings College   (of course!)

“Auld Lang Syne” Home Free

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFcSfqYqHs4© Daniel Sharp 2020

Wednesday, January 6, The Epiphany of the Lord

Reader: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” 

Response: “We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 

Scripture:   Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,

    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,

for a ruler will come from you

    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

Epiphany is a day which turns our attention to the visit of the magi. Other noted themes are Jesus’ performing the miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee and John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus. Central on the day is the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as evidenced by the visit of the Magi. A few days ago we spoke of the mystery of God being revealed. I’m not sure we of the 21st century grasp the full drama of such a revelation. For at least 2,000 years the basic understanding was that God was the God of Israel. The Israelites were his people who were blessed and disciplined alternately all through the First Testament. It seemed there was more of the latter and less of the former! The New Testament continued in the same vein. The opening words are: “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham.” That’s about as Jewish an introduction as there is! 

Jesus said time and again he had come to bring his message to the Jews. He taught from synagogue to synagogue and proclaimed the kingdom of God in the open to anyone who would listen. At times told his disciples to go only to the lost house of Israel. At the same time, he used illustrations from the First Testament demonstrating the breadth of the gospel when his own people, the Jews, rejected his message (E.g.Naaman, widow of Zarephath). But we see from his birth, the visit of the Magi was an epiphany to the Jews and to early believers. These Gentile kings worshiped Christ. This baby had come to bring redemption to the whole world. 

We live in a world that has things exactly backwards. Rather than having one Savior for all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages―God’s design to bring redemption, the secular world has decided people are free to make their own gods and all religions are equally valid . . . or no religion is fine as well. Rather than worship a sovereign God who is creator of all that is and has designed a plan and purpose for all people, people have chosen to become their own god and become the judges of God while rejecting his Son. Pray this year that “people who walk in darkness” may see a great light, the Light of the World. May it be a year of epiphanies for us all. Lord knows we need them!

Music: “As with Gladness Men of Old”     from Ipswich, England

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sp5 2sx2_GYs

“We Three Kings”     Kings College   (of course!)

Bonus: “Auld Lang Syne”     Home Free   Don’t miss this!!

Prayer:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: grant that your people, illumined by our Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  ―BCP

© Daniel Sharp 2020

Tuesday, January 5

Reader: “The Lord said to my Lord,”

Response: “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies.” 

Scripture: Psalm 110

The LORD said to my Lord, 

    “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand

until I humble your enemies,

    making them a footstool under your feet.”

The Lord will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem;

    you will rule over your enemies.

When you go to war,

    your people will serve you willingly.

You are arrayed in holy garments,

    and your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew.

The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow:

    “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord stands at your right hand to protect you.

    He will strike down many kings when his anger erupts.

He will punish the nations

    and fill their lands with corpses;

    he will shatter heads over the whole earth.

But he himself will be refreshed from brooks along the way.

    He will be victorious. 

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

An epiphany is about gaining new insight into a situation or process. In other words, the “light goes on!” Let’s look a little closer at this text. You have probably noticed before or had someone explain the difference between “LORD” and “Lord.” But just in case, when the text is “LORD,” the Hebrew YHWH, the transliterated name of God is referred to. When Moses was at the burning bush and asked God, “Who shall I say sent me (to lead the Israelites out of Egypt)? What is his name?” God’s answer was “I AM WHO I AM” or  “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” That is to say, God is self-sufficient, self-existent, the only being in the universe that is not dependent upon something else for his existence. God is outside of creation. He is the uncreated Creator of all that was, is, or ever will be. This is the God of Mt. Sinai, Israel’s LORD. 

Later on, the Jews regarded the name of God as too holy to be pronounced. The name was never said out loud, so Adonai, meaning lord or master, was substituted when the spoken text referred to YHWH. When the text is “Lord,” and not “LORD,” it’s meaning is ‘my master, my superior.’ I hope you are not confused! Jesus quoted this very text (Lk.20:42-44) in claiming he was the Messiah. So you would read it, God the Father said to his Son, (a son of King David), “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies.” 

The right hand of God was the place of authority and strength. In the court of the Sanhedrin, it was also the place of acquittal whereas the court position on the left hand side was of conviction. The New Testament has several references to Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33 (Ascension); 7:55-56; (Stephen’s martyrdom); Heb.1:3. Now, the question Jesus was driving home was, “Why would king David address his son as his Lord?”  . . . unless his son was his Messiah. The implication to the Pharisees was that this “son of David” was more than just a human being. They had much trouble grasping that God would ever come in human flesh, which was the central focus at the opening of John’s gospel. As you read the psalm, notice particularly the spelling of Lord or LORD. When it is LORD, the reference is to God the Father (Is.63:16). When the spelling is Lord, the reference is to the Son, the Messiah. 

One other note concerning this pericope, there is the reference where the LORD says to the Lord, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Kings in the First Testament, while being patrons of the Temple, never functioned as priests. In contrast, the Messiah served as both king and high priest. Melchizedek, was both priest and king of Jerusalem in spite of not being from the tribe of Levi and lineage of Aaron. In like manner, Jesus likewise served as King, Priest, and also Prophet, though he was from the tribe of Judah from the lineage of David not Aaron. King Jesus, the Messiah, will ultimately rule the nations and set up his eternal kingdom. A flesh and blood Messiah who would reach out to all peoples and tribes and tongues was the mystery of the Old Testament and a great surprise to the Jews and Jewish leaders of the New Testament.

Music: “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks    Dan Forrest  Atlanta Master Chorale

Bonus:  “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”    Michael Bublé     Beautiful!

Prayer:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  ―BCP

Monday, January 4

Reader: “It is sin to know what you ought to do” 

Response: “and then not do it.” 

Scripture:   James 4:11-17

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

In many ways the book of James is the “Proverbs” of the New Testament. It also harkens to the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Then there is the reminder of the “beam in the eye” reference. Paul likewise in Romans addresses the “judging a brother” concern. Notice speaking evil is associated with judging and violating God’s law. To what law is James referring? It’s the law of loving your neighbor as yourself. 

We certainly make judgments all the time. Discernment is vitally important, but delighting in criticizing another crosses the boundary. James seems to know how humans enjoy finding faults in others. Then there is this wonderful line, “Your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.” James knows us too well! God alone is the Judge. 

The past portion of our reading is a warning about being too self-confident about today and tomorrow. The future is always uncertain from our perspective but never from God’s. All our days are numbered before there was even one of them (Ps.139:16). All of us have had something happen in our lives that was unexpected. We had our plans and then instantly everything changed. James has introduced this measuring phrase, “If the Lord wants us to . . .” or in our words “Lord willing.” Rather than walking around “Lord willing” everything, James is reminding us of the significance of not forgetting about God as we make all our plans and decisions for the future. It is the Lord who has authority over our lives. 

James’ final short word is powerful. Knowing what we ought to do and not doing it is sin. The converse is true as well: knowing what we ought not do and doing it is sin. Sometimes our problem is we don’t know whether or not we should do or not do. In such cases, it seems wisdom would say wait until you know for certain so you are acting in faith and confidence. Wise words from James as we begin another year!

Music:  “We Three Kings of Orient Are”   Robert Shaw Chorale     a wonderful setting

Bonus: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”     Casting Crowns      The message to our world.

Prayer:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, who knowest our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking, lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, and by Thy great mercy defend us; for the love of Thine only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.   ―BCP

Sunday, January 3, Second Sunday in Christmastide

Reader: “Because of Christ and our faith in him,” 

Response: “we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” 

Scripture:  Ephesians 3:3-14

As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets.

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.

Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored.

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

The marking of the twelve days of Christmas dates all the way back to the Council of Tours in 567 AD. These coming days provide a good opportunity to reflect on the implications of the birth of Christ. In this passage, Paul refers to God revealing his mysterious plan to himself. That revelation surely refers to his Damascus road experience where he was confronted with the truth that Jesus was the Messiah he was persecuting. The Jews, knowing they were God’s chosen people, had believed that God was intended only for them. Such was Paul’s mindset prior to his trip to Damascus. A blinding encounter, literally he “saw the light” and instantly was confronted with the truth of Jesus by Jesus himself. 

Here Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus helping them to grasp and reinforcing the truth that the church includes Jews and Gentiles who are united as one body in Jesus Christ. The church is the Israel of God, the new children of God. Paul is stating that what God had kept secret was that the gospel would be for all people. It would appear that Paul was well aware of his previous life of persecuting Christians and was most grateful that God had touched his life and given him the privilege of proclaiming the gospel to the very people he persecuted and to the Gentiles as well! What an act of grace from God! 

I’d like to touch on the part of the passage that talks about coming into God’s presence boldly and with confidence. Frankly, that’s something I’ve wrestled with from time to time. It’s easy to pray and talk about the things on my heart and those situations I’m concerned about. It’s when I think about what is actually happening in my prayer that causes me to pause. By that I mean, I’m talking with the Creator of the universe, God who has never not existed, who knows everything about everything, who simply spoke creation into being with no expenditure effort, who intimately knows everyone who has ever existed, who rejoices at the salvation of one person, who longs that all people would repent . . .  And now I am talking and interacting with God through Jesus Christ? Seriously, why would a God like that care about me? Isn’t my prayer a bit presumptuous? 

What I discover is that I’m a bit too “me” conscious. Look again at what Paul wrote here, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly . . .” The reason God hears my prayer is because of Christ and my trust in him. If I were to come on my own merits, it would truly be terminally hopeless. What does Hebrews say? “Since we have a great High Priest . . .” (Heb.4:14-16). It is Jesus who intercedes on our behalf. Being human, Jesus identifies completely and understands us better than we understand ourselves. So I can pray to the Father with confidence and boldness.

Music:  “Twas’ in the Moon of Wintertime”    Cambridge Singers

Bonuses!   A secular tune! Not a lot of theology here! Just joy!

  “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”     Andy Williams

  “The Little Drummer Boy”       The King’s Singers

Prayer: 

Almighty and eternal God, Thou art hidden from my sight: Thou art beyond the understanding of my mind: Thy thoughts are not as my thoughts: Thy ways are past finding out.

Yet hast Thou breathed Thy Spirit into my life:

Yet hast thou formed my mind to seek Thee:

Yet hast Thou inclined my heart to love Thee:

Yet hast Thou made me restless for the rest that is in Thee: 

Yet hast Thou planted within me a hunger and thirst that make me dissatisfied with all the joys of earth.I bless Thee for that knocking at my heart’s door that warns me of Thy waiting presence. I bless Thee for Thy hand upon my life, and for the sure knowledge that, however I may falter and fail, yet underneath are Thine everlasting arms. Let me today embark on no undertaking that is not in line with Thy will for my life, nor shrink from any sacrifice which Thy will may demand. Suggest, direct, control every movement of my mind; for my Lord Christ’s sake. Amen.    ―John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.21

Saturday, January 2, Christmastide

Reader: “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,”   

Response:  “but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Scripture:  Proverbs 1:1-7

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,

     to help them understand the insights of the wise.

Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,

     to help them do what is right, just, and fair.

These proverbs will give insight to the simple,

     knowledge and discernment to the young.

Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.

     Let those with understanding receive guidance

by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,

     the words of the wise and their riddles.

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,

     but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Imagine you had a twenty-three-year-old son or daughter launching out on their own entering the workforce. They came to you for advice (I said this was imaginary!), what would be your counsel? King Solomon, a man renown for his insights into all manner of wisdom, has helped us out with the book of Proverbs. He begins by telling us that the purpose of proverbs is to teach wisdom and discipline in living life. His first basic principle is fearing the Lord. A right relationship to God is the foundation on which everything else is built. It’s the rock. 

If I might be so bold, what are you doing in a disciplined manner to cultivate this “fear of the Lord?” One of the primary ways is to carve out a block of time each day with the Scriptures studying, reading, meditating on, praying through in which you encounter the living Lord. It doesn’t happen any other way apart from time with the Scriptures. Every time you sit down with your Bible ask the Lord to show you what he wants you to see. 

Take this passage for instance. Let’s walk our way through it. Our topic is proverbs. We begin with a purpose statement. The purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline. Ask yourself why? In typical Jewsih fashion, the second half of the verse answers the question the first half raised. The purpose of wisdom and discipline is to better understand the insights of people who are already wise. Learn from those with experience. Another purpose of wisdom and discipline is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives. The idea of wisdom and discipline is that they are practical and should affect the way one lives. They are also apparently instrumental in producing success. They are also useful in helping one in doing right, making just and fair decisions. 

How much clambering do we hear today about justice? The source of such is the fear of the Lord. We’ve seen some things about the purpose of proverbs, but what else will they do? Proverbs give insight to the person who is subject to doing stupid things and not thinking things through. It will help them get insight into themselves and how they think. Proverbs can give knowledge and the ability to discern to those young people with little experience. There is no ultimate “arrival” place with wisdom; it’s always possible to become even wiser. Exploring the meaning of proverbs and parables brings understanding. With understanding, wisdom brings guidance. Fearing the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, hence the wise person will commit to nurturing their relationship with the Lord. For example, a proverb from my wise godfearing father was, “You never have to apologize for what you didn’t say.” Wisdom. When you are reading Scripture, always ask yourself, “Why did it say that? And why did they use those words?”

Music: “Personent Hodie”    arr. Lara Hoggard      Choralis    (wait for the light!)

Bonus:

 “On This Day Earth Shall Ring”  St Malachy’s college choir

Bonus:   “The Christmas Song”     The King’s Singers’

Prayer:Lord, teach me to listen. The times are noisy and my ears are weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them. Give me the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to Thee, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” Let me hear Thee speaking in my heart. Let me get used to the sound of Thy Voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away and the only sound will be the music of Thy speaking Voice. Amen.     ―A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.82

Friday, January 1, Christmastide

Reader: “He was named Jesus,”  

Response: “the name given him by the angel.”  

Scripture: Luke 2:21-40

Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

       “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,

             as you have promised.

         I have seen your salvation,

             which you have prepared for all people.

         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,

             and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Some thoughts:

As we mentioned the other day, Jesus’ parents were devout observant Jews, meaning they obeyed the Jewish law. According to the law, baby boys were circumcised and given their name on the eighth day after their birth. Why so specific about this particular day? It’s in accordance with the ancient Jewish law as given and as it turns out, there is a good medical reason as well. Normally, prothrombin, the material that causes blood to clot reaches 100%, though not in the very first days after birth. On the eighth day it hits 110%, the only time it ever gets that high, and then settles back to the normal level. So circumcision on the eighth day allows the blood its maximum clotting potential. God thought of everything! The naming of the person is to reflect their character, hence Jesus means “God is salvation.” Then after his circumcision (it’s eight days since Christmas Day), Mary and Joseph went back to the Temple forty days later for the rite of purification (February 2nd is forty days from the birth). Again, this was according to the law that the firstborn belonged to the Lord. A sacrifice of redemption was offered. Apparently Mary and Joseph were poor as their sacrificial offering was the offering of the poor. Normally the offering would be an unblemished lamb. If not a lamb, then two turtle doves or two pigeons. Having offered the two birds as redemption, Mary would later offer their Son, the Lamb of God, as the ultimate unblemished lamb, the redemptive sacrifice. 

We are reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, the place of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the words of Abraham, “God himself will provide the lamb for the whole burnt offering.” A reminder here, the “whole burnt offering” represented the total commitment of surrendering body, soul, and spirit to God; only the ashes remained.  Simeon, who may or may not have been a priest, the text doesn’t say, was nevertheless a devout believer. The Holy Spirit has revealed to him he would not die before actually seeing the Messiah. On the particular day, that same Spirit told him to go to the Temple. 

When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to present him as the law required, Simeon immediately recognized who he had in his arms. Simeon’s words have been set musically many, many times. Though many translations say “die in peace,” the best translation is “depart or dismiss” in peace. Not death, but a departure from this life to the next. That is actually a better description of death for the believer. In his words are also the certainty that this little baby is the Savior of all peoples, tribes and nations. 

One final note, as the women were the first to proclaim the risen Savior, so here Anna, the devout elderly widow, was the first to talk about this six week old baby to all who had been waiting expectantly for God to come and rescue his people. What do we learn from this pericope? God works in the details. He is tuned to every life and every aspect of every life, including yours and mine.

Music: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”   Robert Shaw Festival Singers  As you listen to this, watch the text below. If you have ear phones, put them on to listen. Though it is sung in Russian (it’s from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers) you will be able to follow. The soloist sings what you are looking at! Also listen very carefully at the end and you will hear the world famous low Russian basses- in this case Americans! By the way, this is the music sung in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. They are not big on overhead screens! All Orthodox singing is a cappella. Just the human voice communing with God in song, a lost practice in much of the worship today as all too often the voice is drowned out. 

 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,

             as you have promised.

         I have seen your salvation,

             which you have prepared for all people.

         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,

             and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Bonus: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”  Chesnokoff   Male Choir of Donskoy Monastery

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ma8NjcAUOg       Note the stories of the Bible portrayed on the walls and ceiling throughout the sanctuary of this Orthodox Church.

Prayer:

Lord God my Father in heaven, when I come to the end of my days and depart this world to enter Paradise in the presence of Jesus, grant that life in this world would have brought glory to you. While I am still here, I ask that your Holy Spirit would continually prod me to your world. May I not be so preoccupied with my days here, that I fail to live with heaven as my home. This world is temporary. I was made to live in your world. May I live in such a manner here, that when I depart this life, my adjustment to heaven will be less of a shock. May my communion with you and your word be daily in all the coming year. This is my desire and prayer through Jesus Christ, my hope and salvation. Amen.                                                                                    ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, December 31, Christmastide

Reader: “I am the light of the world.” 

Response: “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness.”

Scripture: John 8:12-19

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.”

Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”

“Where is your father?” they asked.

Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Every year around this time, there is some “new study” wondering if Jesus was an actual historical person? Who really, was he? Was he married? How could someone be born of a virgin? Etc. In fact, that was the very question which surfaced in each of the first chapters of John’s gospel. Chapter one, Nathaneal’s question 1:49, chapter two miracle at Cana 2:11, chapter three Nicodemas 3:34, chapter four woman at the well 4:26, chapter five Jesus forgave sin 5:18, chapter six feeding 5,000 6:14, and chapter seven miracles 7:26. The seventh chapter takes place in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles, a celebration with Messianic implications. In the latter part of the chapter, at the climax of the feast, Jesus spoke as being the source of “living water.” The Jewish crowd picked up on the Messianic implications of such a statement hearkening back to Moses’ comment about a greater Prophet would arise from among the Jews. There was division among the people as to if Jesus was or was not the Messiah. At the end of chapter seven there is a later insertion in the first verses of chapter eight in regards to the woman caught in adultery (7:53-8:11). So 8:12 should be read right after 7:52 since it is in the very same setting and carries the same theme further. When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Again, hearing this as a Jew in Jesus’ day would (and did) trigger a Messianic connection. 

God’s presence throughout the First Testament very often was signaled by light. “Let there be light” at creation, light in the burning bush, light leading the Israelites in the desert, the great light hovering over the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. The Feast of Tabernacles had a great celebration of light in the Temple, the eighth and last day when countless lamps and lights were lit in commemoration of days gone by. That’s what was going on when Jesus made his statement that he was the light of the world! He was, in effect, claiming to be God, thereby identifying with the light of God hovering over the Ark! 

The Pharisees understood exactly what he was claiming and quickly bristled at the statement. Jesus took up their challenge reminding them that there needed to be two witnesses to prove the validity of a fact. The two witnesses as to his identity were his Father in heaven and himself. (Note how often in Scripture there are two witnesses validating an act or statement: E.g. two servants accompanying Abraham and Isaac, two angels visited Lot before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses and the burning bush,  two thieves crucified with Jesus, two angels at the tomb and at the ascension, and many more examples.) 

The challenge in our day is the same in perhaps a more passive way. First, my guess is that most people never think about Jesus at all unless there is some kind of crisis. People who dismiss Jesus, are actually dismissing their own caricature of Jesus. I find social media comments about Jesus most often ill-informed, not really knowing what the Scriptures actually say and taking things completely out of context. The challenge and calling for all of us this coming year is to let Jesus speak through us in a world trying hopelessly to manufacture its own light and truth. Let’s be one of those two witnesses! 

Music: “Mary Had a Baby”    Nathaniel Dett Chorale   Love it!

I thought these last few days of this year’s devotionals, I’d include a few of the secular classics, not for their theology, but for their beauty and familiarity, since God loves music and beauty. He invented both!

Bonus: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”  Home Free Video      Get ready to shed a tear(s)!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=no2ErxNojyo 

Prayer:Most gracious Father, who hast been infinitely merciful to us, not only in the year past, but through all the years of our life, be pleased to accept our most unfeigned thanks for Thine innumerable blessings to us; graciously pardoning the manifold sins and infirmities of our life past, and bountifully bestowing upon us all Thine abundant grace. And, every year which Thou shalt be pleased to add to our lives, add also, we humbly implore Thee, more strength to our faith, more ardor to our love, and a greater perfection to our obedience; and grant that, in a humble sincerity and constant perseverance, we may serve Thee most faithfully the remainder of our lives, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.     ―Charles How (1661-1745), Prayers Ancient and Modern

Wednesday, December 30, Christmastide

Reader: “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord,” 

Response: “and a thousand years is like a day.” 

Scripture:  2 Peter 3:8-13

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.  

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

A passage such as this, helps us put the nativity in context. The birth of Jesus introduces the “earthly portion” of the redemption, the re-creation plan of God. In Peter’s epistle, he is addressing a viewpoint held by some in his day and many, many people including Christians in our day who doubt a literal, visible, glorious reappearing of Jesus Christ. Peter has written this second epistle to warn them yet again. It’s very clear that those in the early church believed Jesus would return during their lifetimes. But he did not return. 

Peter’s letter helps us get outside of our human perspective and reasoning. How so? He reminds his readers that time is relative. Our God is in time and at the same moment , wholly apart from time, in a sense, above, outside and beyond time. Remember, “In the beginning God created . . .” In that one statement we see that God is uncreated and beyond time altogether. What seems to us like a long delay in God’s time is but a present moment. We need to be able to think in other dimensions than our earthly ones. 

To make this point I’m going to try to condense a C.S. Lewis illustration. Imagine you are writing a novel. In your story, Mary is sitting in a chair reading a book. There is a knock at her door (in your novel.) At this point in your writing, you decide to go get a drink of water, which you do, then are distracted, grab a cookie and empty a waste basket. You come back, sit down, eat the rest of your cookie, pick up your pen and begin writing again. Your story continues. . . Mary put down her book, got up and answered the door. 

Now as someone reads your novel, the time you spent in getting a drink, eating and emptying the waste basket appears nowhere in your novel. The time frame in the novel and the time frame in your getting a drink are in two different worlds. This example is a rough idea of what Peter is getting at in saying a thousand years are as a day and a day as a thousand years. (This idea is also why God can hear a million prayers at the same time giving complete attention to each one.) 

So time is one factor. Peter also addresses the delay factor making clear that God is desirous of giving people time to repent and receive salvation, not wishing that anyone perish because the Day of Judgment is final. Peter also exhorts people not to become complacent in their waiting. By saying Christ’s return will come as a thief in the night, it means without warning, catching us by surprise. 

I’m reminded of the days of Noah when the flood came without warning and destroyed the entire world with the exception of those in the ark, an ark Noah and his sons had labored to build over the span of 100 years! Do you think there were any days when they wondered if a flood was really going to come, since people didn’t even know what a flood was? Was there any ridicule of Noah and his family? Surely so. Just like there is ridicule from some people in our day concerning the return of the Lord as a fantasy and not something to be taken literally. God’s word says unequivocally that the Lord will return as he promised and establish the new heavens and new earth filled with God’s righteousness. 

When you see the exactness of all of the Old Testament prophecies in predicting the coming Messiah and when you read what Jesus said about his return and when you understand the relative nature of time in earthly and heavenly dimensions, I would believe exactly what the Scripture records. There is also a basic pattern throughout the Bible and it is this: there is an awful lot of waiting for fulfillment. E.g. the Flood; Abraham/Sarah and all the infertility issues throughout the Scriptures; 400 years of slavery in Egypt before the exodus; Joseph waiting 13 years to get out of prison; 40 years in the wilderness; 400 years of silence between the Testaments; fasting 40 days in the wilderness then temptation; waiting for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and so forth. Then you look at your own experience and all the things you are praying about, much of the Christian life has to do with exhibiting faith as we wait. But when God acts . . . !!

Music: “Star Carol” Nathan Pacheco

Bonus:  “A Spotless Rose” Paul Mealor

A spotless rose is blowing, sprung from a tender root,

Of ancient seers’ foreshowing, of Jesse promised fruit;

Its fairest bud unfolds to light 

Amid the cold, cold winter

And in the dark midnight.

The Rose which I a singing whereof Isaiah said,

Is from its sweet root springing in Mary, purest Maid;

For through our God’s great love and might

The blessed babe she bare us 

On a cold, cold winter’s night.

Prayer:  Let nothing disturb you, let nothing dismay you; all things pass: God never changes. Patience attains all it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.     ―Teresa of Avila, (1515-1582), Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.51

Tuesday, December 29, Christmastide

Reader: “The Lord has honored me,”

Response: “and my God has given me “ 

Scripture:  Isaiah 49:5-15

And now the Lord speaks—

    the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,

    who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.

The Lord has honored me,

    and my God has given me strength.

He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.

    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,

    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The Lord, the Redeemer

    and Holy One of Israel,

says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations,

    to the one who is the servant of rulers:

“Kings will stand at attention when you pass by.

    Princes will also bow low

because of the Lord, the faithful one,

    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Promises of Israel’s Restoration

This is what the Lord says:

“At just the right time, I will respond to you.

    On the day of salvation I will help you.

I will protect you and give you to the people

    as my covenant with them.

Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel

    and assign it to its own people again.

I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’

    and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’

They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures

    and on hills that were previously bare.

They will neither hunger nor thirst.

    The searing sun will not reach them anymore.

For the Lord in his mercy will lead them;

    he will lead them beside cool waters.

And I will make my mountains into level paths for them.

    The highways will be raised above the valleys.

See, my people will return from far away,

    from lands to the north and west,

    and from as far south as Egypt.”

Sing for joy, O heavens!

    Rejoice, O earth!

    Burst into song, O mountains!

For the Lord has comforted his people

    and will have compassion on them in their suffering.

Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;

    the Lord has forgotten us.”

“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?

    Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?

But even if that were possible,

    I would not forget you!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You’ll recall all the way back in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans and made a covenant. Part of that covenant stated that all nations would be blessed through him, his family, Israel, and eventually through the Messiah. The problem was that Israel, acting as God’s servant, was unfaithful and had been disciplined and hauled off to Babylon as exiles. God intended to rescue Israel from captivity, but how to atone for their sin? The answer is in the Messiah, the Servant of God. In the first verse of this chapter, through Isaiah, the Servant of the Lord proclaims, “Listen to me, all you in distant lands! Pay attention, you who are far away! [Israelites in exile] The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” (Remember the words of Gabriel to Mary? “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”) 

With that backdrop, we go to today’s pericope. Again the Servant of the Lord is speaking. “The one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.” You can’t but help notice God’s interest and call from the moment of conception and the beginning of mortal life which clearly begins long before physical birth (Psalm 139:13-16). Such was the case for Samson, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, and every person who was ever conceived. God knows every day of every person from the moment their life began in the womb.  

Though Israel failed in its role to bring blessing to the nations, God’s humble Servant stepped in and brought redemption to Israel and to the Gentile nations of the whole world even though receiving continuing rejection by God’s chosen people. In spite of this, the Servant would bring his people back to their homeland. There will again be rejoicing! He does not forget his people. Note the verbs in this passage. “I will respond, I will help, I will protect, I will reestablish.” The last sentences of this passage are so powerful. “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! Even when his children fail, as we do, God’s love and compassion for them and us remains constant and overwhelming. What a marvelous Savior!

Music: “Sing We Now of Christmas”      The Singers   Matthew Culloton

Bonus:      (Had this one from last year. Didn’t think you’d mind!)

  “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”  Mahalia Jackson      She is singing to Jesus and we get to listen! Don’t miss this. There was only one of her. The very best.

Prayer: 

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast, in various ways, testified and daily also dost prove how dear and precious to thee are mankind, as we enjoy daily so many and so remarkable proofs of thy goodness and favor,―O grant that we may learn to rely wholly on thy goodness, so many examples of which thou settest before us, and which thou wouldst have us continually to experience, that we may not only pass through our earthly course, but also confidently aspire to the hope of that blessed and celestial life which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ alone our Lord. Amen.                        

               ―John Calvin, Devotions & Prayers of John Calvin, p.55

Monday, December 28, Christmastide

Reader: “This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:” 

Response: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”  

Scripture: Matthew 2:13-18

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A cry was heard in Ramah—

    weeping and great mourning.

Rachel weeps for her children,

    refusing to be comforted,

    for they are dead.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

This third day in Christmastide has been observed since the fifth century in parts of the Western Church as the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a remembrance of Herod’s slaughter of the boys in Bethlehem in a desperate effort to kill Jesus. At a deeper level, Herod was used by the devil in an effort to thwart God’s plan of redemption. God had previously communicated news to Joseph regarding Mary’s pregnancy via an angel and here again an angelic visitation in a dream warns them to leave Bethlehem because the murdering king is seeking to kill their baby boy. Joseph gathers up Mary, the baby  Jesus, and leaves that very night for Egypt. 

After the birth of Jesus, we don’t know how long Mary and Joseph may have stayed in Bethlehem. In Luke’s account, he refers to Jesus as a baby. In Matthew’s record, he refers to Jesus as a child. It is Matthew who records the visit of the magi sometime after the birth of the Savior. There is reason to believe that Mary and Joseph may have stayed a while in Bethlehem after the census before escaping to Egypt, noting that Herod’s decree was to kill all boys under two years of age. 

Herod, “king of the Jews” was hated by the Jews. He descended from the Edomites (Esau’s lineage rather than Jacob’s) which meant he was not a descendant of King David and not considered to be Jewish since the blessing fell on Jacob and not Esau. He was also despised for his collaboration with the occupying Romans. Knowing he was not accepted by the Jews meant that he was paranoid, always afraid someone would take his throne. He killed two of his wives, his brother, three of his sons, two husbands of his sister, among others, out of fear that they were plotting against him! He kept kosher law so people said it was safer to be his pig than his son! 

In a similar story some 1400 years earlier, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, likewise ordered all baby Jewish boys to be killed in a kind of prefiguring of Herod’s cruelty. Moses, the redeemer of the Israelites, like Jesus, the Redeemer of all peoples, was spared to lead the people out of bondage in Egypt to freedom. Here, once again, God calls the ultimate Redeemer to lead his people out of the bondage of sin to forgiveness and freedom.  

The reference to Rachel weeping for her children may seem odd and bears some comment. Jeremiah recorded (38:15) the people of Israel being led into exile passing by the village of Ramah on their way to captivity in Babylon. Ramah was right near Bethlehem. You’ll recall Jacob’s wife, Rachel, dying giving birth in Bethlehem to Benjamin, one of the twelve sons of Israel (Jacob). She was buried in Ramah. The idea is that from her grave, Rachel is weeping as the Israelites, descendants of her sons pass by her grave on the way into Babylonian captivity. But Jeremiah records that the Lord tells her they will return to the homeland in these words, “Let your voice cease from its bitter weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work . . . they will return.” (Jer.31:15-16) 

Just as the Jews would return from exile to their homeland, so Jesus would return from his exile in Egypt back to Israel. Since Rachel had lived about 800 years before Jeremiah, it is interesting that Rachel is apparently still aware of what is happening on earth. But then we have Samuel coming from the grave to appear to King Saul knowing Saul’s situation, Moses and Elijah appearing at the Transfiguration to talk with Jesus about his upcoming “exodus” from earth. It would appear that, in some cases at least, people who have died are aware of what is happening on earth to some degree. This is not doctrine, just interesting! This is another example of the unity of the whole of Scripture. 

Music: “Away in a Manger”    Libera             Angelic!

Bonus: “Away in a Manger”     Home Free  Beautiful video with the original 1887 tune.

Prayer:

Almighty God, who canst give the light that in darkness shall make us glad, the life that in gloom shall make us joy, and the peace that amidst discord shall bring us quietness, let us live this day in that light, that life, and that peace, so that we may gain the victory over those things that press us down, and over the flesh that so often encumbers us, and over death that seemeth for a moment to win the victory. Thus we, being filled with inward peace, and light, and life, may walk all the days of this our mortal life, doing our work as the business of our Father, glorifying it, because it is Thy will, knowing that what Thou givest Thou givest in love. Bestow upon us the greatest and last blessing, that we, being in Thy presence, may be like unto Thee for evermore. These things we do ask, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                                       ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.205

Sunday, December 27, First Sunday in Christmastide

Reader: “In the beginning the Word already existed.”

Response: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

Scripture:  John 1:1-14

In the beginning the Word already existed.

    The Word was with God,

    and the Word was God.

He existed in the beginning with God.

God created everything through him,

    and nothing was created except through him.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,

    and his life brought light to everyone.

The light shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness can never extinguish it.

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

The New Testament contains what many scholars believe are texts of hymns the early church sang. Such is the case for these first few lines in John’s gospel. In those early days of the church, hymns were a way of teaching faith and doctrine, a lesson from which many of the songwriters of today could greatly benefit. Volumes and volumes have been written on these fourteen verses, a centerpiece of the Christian faith. 

Notice how this passage echoes the beginning of Genesis which says “In the beginning God created . . .” John writes, “God created everything through him” [Jesus],thereby equating Jesus, the Logos, as God. “The Word was God” and also revealed God. John establishes the eternality of the Word. “For Jewish people, the logos was the word of the Lord, an expression of God’s wisdom and creative power. By Jesus’ time, the logos was viewed as coming from God and having his personality.”[The NLT Study Bible, p.1768] Recall in Genesis how God breathed the breath of life into man and he became a living person or a human being, unique among all of God’s creation. John writes that the Word gave life to everything that was created and this kind of life brought light to everyone. 

Light is a central theme in all of this gospel. Remember also in Genesis that light was created right after the heavens and the earth. The creation of light destroyed the darkness. John writes so beautifully that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it. This statement has profound implications. Notice darkness is always at war with the light. I don’t know this, but I would venture that more crimes are committed at night than in the day. (Riots tend to happen more frequently at night it seems.) 

Through the centuries there have been countless failed attempts to stamp out Christians and Christianity. Here, God’s Word says very clearly that that will never happen. Such a statement can also help us to identify “darkness” and the work of the evil one when such a nation, people, or movement seeks to destroy the work of the gospel. The smallest light is visible in any darkness. No matter how dark the darkness is, darkness cannot ever extinguish the tiniest light. 

While there is so much that could be said about this Prologue, I want to make a brief comment about the final sentence where it says “he [Logos] became human and made his home among us.” Some translations will read “he became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Greek word for “human” or “flesh” is sarx. To this point we learned that the Logos was God, Creator, giver of life, and unknown by his creation. The Gnostics, one of the people John was addressing, believed Jesus was not truly human, more of a “spiritual” type being. They did not believe Jesus died on the cross for example. John bluntly states that the Word [Logos] became flesh, human flesh, i.e. was a human being in every way, and made his home among us. This truth was especially hard for the Jews and Greeks who could not conceive of God having human flesh. The Greek word for “made his home” refers to a dwelling or tabernacle. For the Jewish readers, that immediately reminded them of the wilderness Tabernacle and God’s presence among them those forty years. Now, Jesus dwells in that Temple, and we are that temple. God in Christ is a human being, just like them. Seeing him is seeing the glory of God’s only Son. You and I are here to let that unquenchable light shine with the light of the Son, as temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19).

Music: “This Little Light of Mine”    arr.Moses Hogan  The National Lutheran Choir

Bonus: 

 “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child”   Christ Church Nashville

Prayer:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hast sent thy Son to take upon him our nature, and hast made him to become the Son of man, that we might become the sons of God: grant that we, being conformed to his humility and sufferings, may be partakers of his resurrection. We bless and adore you, O Christ: Son of God, yet born of Mary; Son of God, yet our brother; eternal Word, yet a child without speech; clothed in glory, yet wrapped in swaddling bands; Lord of heaven and earth, yet lying in a manger. We confess that we have lost our childlike innocence; we have despised what is tender and pure and corrupted ourselves with worldly opinion and secular culture. Forgive us, O God, and make us like little children whose lights shine in the darkness, lights of faith, of hope, and of love; so that we may again worship with wonder and awe at your manger throne. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

 ―Prayers for Sunday Services, p.76, adapted Daniel Sharp

Saturday, December 26, Christmastide

Reader: “Lord Jesus,”

Response: “receive my spirit.” 

Scripture: Acts 7:51-60

 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

Traditionally, this passage has been read the day after Christmas. For those unfamiliar with this tradition, it may seem like an odd choice.  But there is a reason. Stephen was the first adult martyr of the faith. This passage occurs at the end of a powerful message and challenge he gave to the Jewish leaders. He chided them for resisting the testimony of the Holy Spirit, reminding them of their long history of killing the prophets who predicted the coming of the Messiah. When he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” that pushed them over the edge. When he identified Jesus as the divine Son of Man spoken of in the book of Daniel, it was akin to blasphemy, deserving of stoning to death under the law, which they did. 

In his dying moments, Stephen prayed words similar to those of Jesus on the cross, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin.” Already following Christ brought persecution and sorrow as Saul, a consenting witness to the death of Stephen, was to learn. The soul of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was indeed pierced as Simeon had prophesied at Jesus’ dedication forty days after his birth (Lk.2:35). From the beginning, following Jesus was not without cost, then or now.  

Music: “Angels We Have Heard on High”   Robert Shaw Chorale  gorgeous choral singing. Terrific arrangement! 

Bonus:  “I Wonder as I Wander”    The King Singers and London Symphony

Prayer: Lord God, I am no longer my own, but Thine. Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee. Let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.        ―The Methodist Covenant Prayer, Celtic Daily Prayer, p30

Friday, December 25, Christmas Day

Reminder: the Sharp Devotionals go all the way to Epiphany, January 6th, and then some!    

Reader: “Shout to the Lord, all the earth;”

Response: “break out in praise and sing for joy! ”  

Scripture: Psalm 98

Sing a new song to the Lord,

    for he has done wonderful deeds.

His right hand has won a mighty victory;

    his holy arm has shown his saving power!

The Lord has announced his victory

    and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!

He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.

    The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;

    break out in praise and sing for joy!

Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,

    with the harp and melodious song,

    with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.

    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!

    Let the earth and all living things join in.

Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!

Let the hills sing out their songs of joy

    before the Lord,

    for he is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with justice,

    and the nations with fairness.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

On this glorious Christmas day this psalm helps us grasp the magnificent scope of our celebration. Put yourself back in those days of Israel. For those who recognized what had happened, God had actually arrived. He was faithful to Israel after centuries of longing! It was truly a “new song” for certain! And the Child had come for all nations.

One of the major forms of praise is singing, which can express great joy! The psalmist urges us to voice our praise with voice and instrument, to make a symphony of sound! Sometimes we may be inclined to think that only humans can voice praise to God. Again, the psalmist reminds us that the birth of the Messiah and his coming restoration was not only of human beings but of all creation. The crashing of ocean waves and breaching whales create their own spectacular music. We never tire of watching. If you have ever been near the rapids of a river, or stood by a massive waterfall, you can’t help but sense the “rejoicing” of the water. Do hills sing? Even apart from “the hills are alive with the sound of music”(!), anytime you have ever walked in a meadow in the early morning or sat at the top of a hill for an extended period of time, you will hear music of a different sort, 

God’s creation singing its song of praise. The psalmist concludes with the powerful reminder that God is coming to earth again to judge the world with justice and he will treat all nations with fairness. In these days when justice is of great concern, we are reminded that God is the ultimate judge and that he alone is the arbiter of fairness. This may seem a bit of an odd passage and comments for a Christmas Day, but it is a reminder of the massive scope of the significance of Jesus’ birth which impacts everything on earth and in the heavens. Christmas is not a one day event from the historical past. It is a miraculous day which impacts everything forever!

Music: “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”     The Brits again!

Bonuses!    (I’ve taken the liberty to add some bonus music, including some wonderful settings of a few secular classics.)

 “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”   King’s College Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4yYb6yCNws 

“I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In”    Blackmore’s Night

“Good Christian Men, Rejoice”         Wissmann family

Prayer: 

Glory be to thee, O Christ, whose praises the angels sing, whom the heights of heaven adore. In the miracle of thy stable-birth and in the mystery of thine incarnation thy people everywhere rejoice this day. To thy name help us to bow the knee and all its worshipping, bow the head and all its thinking, bow the will and all its choosing, bow the heart and all its loving.  

Glory be to thee, O Father, who by the birth of thy Son didst give a great light to dawn on the world’s darkness. Glory be to thee, O Holy Spirit, who hast,  again in these days, hung forth a star in the lowly heaven of every Christian soul and seekest to lead us in the ways of humility and the paths of peace. Blessed be God, the only God: three persons in one eternity of love. Blessed be God for all that he is. Blessed be God for all that he has done. Blessed in his Church on earth and blessed in the height of heaven.

 Grant, O Father, that we who celebrate his nativity with deep devotion may also find the day of judgment a day of mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, born colored and poor, welcomed by working men and kings, come to our world and heal our deep divisions, that we may be not white and black, male and female, employer and employed, but the children of God, seeing you, our Lord in one another. All glory to you, great God, for the gift of your Son, light in darkness and hope of the world, whom you have sent to save mankind. With singing angels, let us praise your name, and tell the earth his story, so that men may believe, rejoice, and bow down, acknowledging your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                              ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, Edinburg, p.74

Thursday, December 24, Christmas Eve

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world has come!” (As you light the Christ candle.)   

Reader: “Glory to God in highest heaven,”

Response: “and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

   “Glory to God in highest heaven,

    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. 

Reader: “The glorious word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

I would guess you have heard this passage read on Christmas Eve almost as many times as you are years old! Think of it. It’s the magnificent culmination of thousands of years of anticipation in such an understated entrance of God into the world. At the risk of repeating what you already know, I thought I’d add some context to this most familiar account. 

At this particular time in Roman history, there were also censuses in Spain, Syria, and Gaul in addition to Judea. Rome had firm control of the Mediterranean world. In some ways, reporting for a census was sort of like producing a birth certificate, except you were the proof you were born there. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about eighty miles. Even riding on a donkey, we’re talking of a trip of several days. But notice the Bible says nothing about a donkey. And I would not assume that Mary was nine months pregnant when they started their eighty mile journey! The phrase “while they were there” seems to indicate they may have been there for an extended period of time. It could well be that they each had relatives living in Bethlehem. Family lineage was huge in the Jewish culture as borne out by the lists of genealogies throughout the Scriptures. At any rate, Jesus was born during their stay there. “There was no lodging available for them” is a much better translation than “there was no room for them at the inn,” especially since there were no inns in Bethlehem at that time! “Lodging” would refer to a guest room in a private house or a public shelter for travelers. Neither were available, hence, the manger and animal shelter served as the delivery room for the King of kings! 

Shepherds were viewed as poor, common humble people who tended their flocks outdoors, sometimes through the cold winter months as well. We don’t know the actual month of Jesus’ birth, though with some biblical reasoning late summer or September is a more likely time from. (E.g. Judean shephards are not in the fields with their flocks in the winter months.) As with Zechariah and to a lesser degree with Mary, the shepherds were frightened at the angels’ appearance, though this angelic entrance into our world was quite a bit more dramatic. The message was clear, a Savior has been born. The angels mention again that Jesus is wrapped snugly in strips of cloth as a sign, the normal custom for newborns in that day and even in ours. Such a practice provides a newborn comfort and security, feeling somewhat similar to the coziness of the womb. 

Luke, who most likely got all this information from Mary herself, gives us this account simply and in a straightforward manner. But think about it. Since the dawn of creation and that devastating moment in the Garden of Eden when a perfect, sinless relationship between man and God was permanently destroyed, humans and all of creation looked forward to a coming Redeemer. We are looking at thousands and thousands of years. Yet, on this particular day, at some point the Creator of the universe emerged from the womb, God in human flesh, fully, completely human in every way and fully divine as he had been for all eternity. Could it have been a more humble entrance? 

The one who created vast worlds measured in light years, arrives as the Light of the world with a cry that pierces his own universe. We can’t begin to imagine the humility involved in such love for ones made in his own image. At some point down the road, we’ll get to join the angels in “Glory to God in highest heaven” and we’ll be there! Merry Christmas!

Music: “Fanfare and Carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful”  arr. David Wilcocks  Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble and Bach Choir

Bonus: “Mary, Did You Know?”  Vocative with Mark Lowrey, (the guy who wrote the song sings it) DON’T MISS THIS!!!! Best setting of this I’ve ever heard. Astounding voices.

Prayer:

O God, who hast caused this holy night to shine with the illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we beseech, that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon the earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with thee and the Holy Spirit he liveth and reigneth, one God in glory, everlasting. Amen.     ―BCP

Wednesday, December 23

Reader: “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.”

Response: “How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” 

Scripture: Luke 1:46b-55

 Mary responded, [following her visit with Elizabeth]

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

    and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation

    to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

He has brought down princes from their thrones

    and exalted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    and sent the rich away with empty hands.

He has helped his servant Israel

    and remembered to be merciful.

For he made this promise to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and his children forever.”

Reader: “The glorious word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

And here we have what is known as the Magnificat, meaning “magnified,” named such for the first word of the Latin text in the Vulgate, as translated by Jerome in the early fifth century. Mary is a most significant person in Scripture and one who has at the same time been controversial as to her position and role in Christendom. In Roman Catholicism she is seen as sinless, the Eastern Orthodox has a slightly different perspective, whereas Protestant theology has yet a different viewpoint. A discussion of the differences is beyond the scope and purpose of these devotionals. 

What I would like to do is for us to note Mary’s involvement in Jesus’ life her entire life and then look at her role in relation to Eve at creation. We saw how Mary, as a young girl, humbly accepted her role to be the bearer of God’s Son. She followed the Jewish law in his circumcision and the redemption of the first born on the fortieth day. She bore at least six other children. She was most concerned when he was lost at the Temple at the age of twelve, but didn’t understand his response. She was present for his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Later she went with her other sons to “bring Jesus home” fearing maybe he had “lost it.” He assured that those who were his disciples were his “real family.” I’m guessing she was wondering what that meant. When he was crucified, she was among those that were present at the cross, as Jesus commended John to take care of her. Following his death and resurrection, she was apparently among the believing community and was named as being part of the praying community at Pentecost. 

The first line of her song proved true “How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” There is a second theological aspect of Mary I would like to touch on. We have read in the Scriptures that Jesus was the second Adam (I Cor. 15:45-48). Paul writes the first Adam became a life-giving being, the second Adam a life-giving spirit. With the first Adam’s fall, sin entered, and his spirit died. The second Adam resisted the devil, remained sinless, and conquered death making possible the renewing of the spirit in man. Likewise, the first Eve was created perfect but fell in sin which led to an entire fallen human race. In effect, she was the mother of death for the human race. Mary, the second Eve, though a sinner from birth, bore the Son of God, the Savior of the world, who brought life to the fallen human race. Thus in a sense, since Jesus was the second Adam, Mary could be viewed as the second Eve, a most significant role in the master plan of God’s redemption and recreation. 

Music: Magnificat” JS Bach     GLORIOUS!!!     At the end of every piece Bach wrote S.D.G.  Soli Deo Gloria,  “to God alone be glory.”   

Translation:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 

for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Bonus:

You can watch and listen to the entire piece about 35 minutes long at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YHf3CtEi8E

Prayer: 

Lord of all creation, we have erred and gone our own way from the beginning. We were born in sin and it didn’t take us long to confirm that truth! Our lives have been a long battle to humble ourselves and walk in your path. Discipline continues to be a challenge for us. We are continually guided by what we think, what we want, and how we feel rather than how you think, what you want, and how you feel. We live all too often by our fallen dead spirit rather than by your transforming Holy Spirit. We have doubted your word like our human mother Eve rather than believe you. Give to us grace and strength to walk in obedience as did your earthly mother, Mary. This we pray through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.                     ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, December 22

Reader: ““My heart rejoices in the Lord!”

Response: “The Lord has made me strong.” 

Scripture:  2 Samuel 2:1-10

 Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!

    The Lord has made me strong.

Now I have an answer for my enemies;

    I rejoice because you rescued me.

No one is holy like the Lord!

    There is no one besides you;

    there is no Rock like our God.

“Stop acting so proud and haughty!

    Don’t speak with such arrogance!

For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;

    he will judge your actions.

The bow of the mighty is now broken,

    and those who stumbled are now strong.

Those who were well fed are now starving,

    and those who were starving are now full.

The childless woman now has seven children,

    and the woman with many children wastes away.

The Lord gives both death and life;

    he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.

The Lord makes some poor and others rich;

    he brings some down and lifts others up.

He lifts the poor from the dust

    and the needy from the garbage dump.

He sets them among princes,

    placing them in seats of honor.

For all the earth is the Lord’s,

    and he has set the world in order.

“He will protect his faithful ones,

    but the wicked will disappear in darkness.

No one will succeed by strength alone.

    Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.

He thunders against them from heaven;

    the Lord judges throughout the earth.

He gives power to his king;

    he increases the strength of his anointed one.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

The good news is that the Lord answered Hannah’s prayer for a child (I Sam.1:19-28). He gave her Samuel who became the first great prophet in Israel. He anointed Israel’s first king, Saul, and its greatest, King David. He confronted Eli with his failure to discipline his own corrupt sons. And Samuel powerfully led Israel through rough waters, challenging them continually to follow the Lord. All of Israel gathered when he died to mourn his death. He was buried at his home in Ramah, which is there to this day. We visited this site when we went to Israel years ago. Samuel even appeared after his death to bring judgment on Saul for his failures following the Lord and to announce his impending death! His ministry continued from the grave, also confirming again that there is life after death.

In today’s passage, Hannah’s song of praise and Mary’s song of praise, which we’ll look at tomorrow, have many of the same themes. Bringing down the rich and powerful and exalting the poor and downtrodden are common references in both songs. For example, as wealthy men, Eli was not a stellar priest to say the least; Saul was an unrighteous ruler in Hannah’s time; and Herod was a terrible ruler in Mary’s day. The poor, Samuel, David, and Jesus were exalted from their humble and lowly positions to be powerful men fulfilling God’s purposes. In other similarities, Samuel and Jesus were both dedicated for God’s service in the Temple. Samuel anointed David for service and John the Baptist through the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus for ministry. In passing, a minor note, Hannah’s song refers to a childless woman who had seven children. She had five more after Samuel. We know that Mary, Jesus’ mother, had at least seven children. Hannah’s song describes Jesus’ ministry in a beautiful way. As you read through her hymn, all the various acts of Jesus easily come to mind. My guess is that Mary knew Hannah’s song well since the Scriptures tell us she was an observant Jew who loved her Lord (Lk.2:41). Both women responded in a beautiful and artful way to the intervention of God entering their lives to advance his plan of redemption. It is interesting that they could have also added their names to the “poor and unassuming.” That’s the same place we all fit in. Let us be as faithful as these women.

Music: “Hannah’s Prayer” Edmund and Gisela Bullock

Bonus:

 “O Holy Night”  Il Divo   You will listen to this one multiple times. Voices from heaven!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5j_XuATgRU      DON’T MISS IT!! One of the best of the whole Advent Season!

Prayer:

Lord, do not permit my trials to be above my strength; and do thou vouchsafe to be my strength and comfort in the time of trial. Give me grace to take in good part whatever shall befall me; and let my heart acknowledge it to be the Lord’s doing, and to come from Thy Providence, and not by chance. May I receive everything from Thy hand with patience and with joy. Amen.                  ―Thomas Wilson (1663-1755), Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.170

Monday, December 21

Reader: “May the God of Israel grant the request . . .”

Response: “you have asked of him.” 

Scripture: I Samuel 1:1-18

There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.

Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”

Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”

As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

“Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

“In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

“Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

This is a story that is all too familiar in the First Testament, the story of a woman dealing with infertility (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, wife of Manoah, Hannah). In those days, being childless carried a heavy stigma of shame in the Hebrew culture. It is borne out in this story. Having dealt with infertility for years before our boys were born, we know the pain of going to bed at night weeping, wondering if God will ever answer our prayers for children. He doesn’t always, but in our case, he gave us two wonderful boys. So when I read this account, I can identify with Hannah’s sadness. I couldn’t help but smile at Elkanah’s typical man’s response to Hannah’s sorrow trying to make his wife feel better―it never works! “Why be downhearted just because you have no children?” You have me―isn’t that better than having ten sons?” (A word of advice, Elkanah, “Spend your time listening to her and empathizing with her, not solving her problem!) 

They had traveled annually to Shiloh, the location of the Tabernacle to offer a sacrifice. Hannah always went, but it was a tough time for her. Not having children only magnified the situation. So again this year she went and poured out her heart to the Lord again and made a desperate vow to the Lord. If God gave her a son, she would give him back to the Lord. Eli, an undisciplined priest, heard her praying and thought she was drunk. Israel was in a spiritual wasteland at this point and Eli, frankly, did not even recognize spiritual fervor when he saw it. She explained to him her situation and he blessed her with “may God grant your request.” Hannah’s countenance changed and her sadness left. She believed God would answer her prayer. 

We’ve often said there are shadows of the New Testament in the Old. Here is another case. This is somewhat similar to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In a way, Eli was similar to the angel speaking to Zechariah. What is also interesting in each of the women I mentioned above who dealt with infertility, all had promised boys, boys that became very significant in the unfolding of God’s plan: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist. All turned into major characters in the Bible. 

What are some lessons here? 1) Don’t try to explain away the pain when someone is having a tough time (Elkanah). Listen and empathize. 2) Continue to pray, making your requests known and leave it in God’s hands. 3) Two wives are more trouble than one! 4) Keep your ears open for people around you today who may need a word of encouragement. 5) Continue to worship no matter what. 6) You are part of God’s larger plan whether you realize it or not. 7) You never know what God has in mind. (As we’ll see tomorrow with Hannah’s pregnancy.) Pray and be at peace.

Music:  “Silent Night”  

 Sissel Kyrkjebϴ    This Norwegian lady has one of the most beautiful soprano voices you will ever hear. Effortless!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK3_Kr2nLtA&list=RDuK3_Kr2nLtA&start_radio=1&t=127&t=0 

Bonus: “Silent Night”   Libera     -Exquisite Boy Choir    The Brits know how to do Christmas!!! Don’t miss this either!

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, all stars, creatures on land and in the sea, all human beings, all things seen and unseen, and all powers and dominions, we humbly bow before you in reverence and awe. As creator of the universe you are, nevertheless, aware of each little detail of life, everyone’s life. What a magnificent God you are! You answer prayer and you answer it perfectly in your time. Grant that we would be persistent in the prayer burdens you give us. Like Hannah, may we pour out our hearts with fervor. Unlike Eli, may we be so tuned to your Spirit that we would recognize our part in the work of your kingdom. As we approach Christmas Day and gatherings of family and friends, tune our spirits to those around us that we may be a voice of hope and encouragement to those with whom we share time. Our Savior entered a hostile world and brought truth and tenderness. Help us to do the same. In Jesus’ name, Amen                                                                      ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, December 20, FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the fourth Advent candle.)

Reader: ““Greetings, favored woman!”

Response: “The Lord is with you!”

Scripture:  Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Think about it. In this passage Luke describes the pinnacle of Old Testament prophecy. All the prophetic announcements pointed to these few minutes of dialogue. Though the passage is very familiar to most of us, I’d like us to walk slowly through Gabriel’s announcement. Six months earlier Gabriel had appeared in Jerusalem to Zechariah to tell him of Elizabeth’s pregnancy carrying John the Baptist. Now he appears seventy miles north in the small village of Nazareth to a young engaged girl who is by herself. In this culture, engagement had the same moral boundaries as marriage, though there was no consummation until the actual marriage ceremony after the husband had prepared their home. Gabriel’s words were, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 

Put yourself in Mary’s place. You are quietly minding your own business and this person, apparently the angel had no “other world” appearance or else Mary was very brave. When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, the Scriptures say he was frightened. Fear was the usual response to an angelic appearance (E.g.shepherds in the fields). At any rate, Mary shows no fear.  She is wondering, “God favors me. . .  the Lord is with me? What does this mean?” Notice Mary accepts Gabriel’s words at face value even though she is confused and unsettled. She’s trying to get a handle on what was said. She’s poised, but troubled. Then we hear from the angel “Don’t be afraid, you’ve found favor with God! And Mary is thinking, “So what does all this mean?” The angel tells her what it means! You are going to conceive and give birth to a son, who you are going to name Jesus. Mary’s head is spinning trying to process the meaning of the words she’s hearing . . . and the angel’s words keep coming. This baby boy you are going to have will be very, very great and in fact, will be called the Son of the Most High. By now Mary is thinking, “Whoa, slow down! I’m still back at the conceiving part.” Gabriel continues, the Lord God will give him the eternal throne of his ancestor, King David, and he will reign over his Kingdom which will never end!” Mary is still back trying to process the conception part. So she asks, “Since I am a virgin and have never been with a man, how is this conception part going to happen? I’m not saying it can’t, but I don’t understand.” 

Then in Luke’s most gracious and delicate manner he relates the angel’s explanation to Mary. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The baby born will be holy and he will be called the Son of God. We have no more details than that. In these words Mary learns that her baby will be holy, sinless. If he is to be the Redeemer of the world, he must be free of all sin in order to pay the price for sinners in the sight of God the Father. At the same time, he must have the exact same human nature in every way, hence born of a woman. In Gabriel’s words, both requirements, holy in God’s sight and perfectly human in God’s sight, have been met in this baby to be born of Mary. Only God could be the Father of Mary’s baby. The incarnation was spelled out. Mary was able to grasp Gabriel’s explanation. Almost as a word of encouragement, he tells her the story of her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy, concluding with a final affirmation, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary gave her response in the most simple and sublime words of submission and trust, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” What poise, what grace, what faith! 

Being a pregnant engaged woman meant gossip, knowing winks, rumors, possible stoning, and a ruined reputation. Undoubtedly she was not believed. Graciously, God sent Gabriel to her fiancé, Joseph, to tell him of the news knowing he would likewise never believe Mary’s story. She followed her Son all through his ministry, all the way to the cross. She was without a doubt, the most remarkable woman who has ever lived.

Music: “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came”    All Angels

Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  ―BCP

Saturday, December 19

Reader: “Surely this man is the Prophet . . .” 

Response: “we’ve been expecting.”  

Scripture: John 7:40-52

When the crowds heard him say this, some of them declared, “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others said, “But he can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born.” So the crowd was divided about him. Some even wanted him arrested, but no one laid a hand on him.

When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

“We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.

“Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.

They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

In reading this passage, it is important to understand the Jewish context. We’ve picked up John’s account midstream. Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, an agrarian feast with Messianic implications. The seven day feast featured the pouring of water each day with a prayer for God to send rain in late autumn. On this last day, being the climax of the whole feast, Jesus was not shy. He had just shouted that “Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” Jesus was referring to Messianic texts in Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel. 

This all happened prior to what you just read. We then come to today’s pericope. That the crowd and the Jewish leaders picked up on Jesus’ claim is evident by their responses. (Remember the Jews knew the Old Testament inside and out.) Some said, “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” (This is a direct reference to Moses’ prediction of the Lord raising up a Prophet like himself (Deut.18:15). Moses was viewed as a kind of super prophet.) Others in the crowd simply said Jesus was the Messiah. Then there was the issue of his birthplace. The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. Why someone didn’t ask Jesus where he was born is a mystery to me! Still others in the celebration wanted to have him arrested for blasphemy. The Temple guards were clearly taken with Jesus’ persona and speech. Nicodemus, a Jewish leader who had met secretly with Jesus earlier and was perhaps in the process of coming to faith, warned against drawing a hasty conclusion without hearing all the evidence. The Pharisees’ concluding comment here was the challenge to Nicodemus to search the Scriptures and he would find―”no prophet ever comes from Galilee!” Unfortunately for them in searching the Scriptures, we do find in Isaiah 9:1-2 a  direct reference to the glory of God coming from Galilee. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” 

What does this say to us? We need to be a people who know the Scriptures―part of the purpose of these daily devotionals. If the Jewish people in Jesus’ day did not know the Old Testament, they would have been completely oblivious to who was in their midst. But they did know the Tanakh (OT), but still many missed him. In our day, when it is popular to be a “spiritual” person―apart from the God of the Bible, it is imperative that we are well-versed in the Scriptures. Unfortunately, much of the so-called spirituality we read today is unbiblical and self-focused. In your conversations in various settings this season, don’t be shy to speak the truth with gentleness and clarity.

Music: “Long Ago Prophets Knew”  A British Christian Music Programme

Would this ever happen in the states???

Bonus: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”    Kings College Choir  Spectacular Brass and Cathedral setting, don’t miss it.

Prayer:

We thank Thee, O God, for the return of the wondrous spell of this Advent season that brings its own sweet joy into our jaded and troubled hearts. Forbid it, Lord, that we should celebrate without understanding the significance of what we celebrate, or, like our counterparts so long ago, fail to see the star or to hear the song of glorious promise. As our hearts yield to the spirit of Christmas, may we discover that it is Thy Holy Spirit who comes―not in sentiment, but a power―to remind us of the only way by which there may be peace on the earth and good will among men. May we not spend Christmas, but keep it, that we may be kept in its hope, through Him who emptied Himself in coming to us that we might be filled with peace and joy in returning to God. Amen.             

     ―Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall, prayer in the US Senate, Friday, December 19, 1947

Friday, December 18

Reader: “I will be his Father,

Response: “and he will be my Son.”  

Scripture: Hebrews 1:5-14

For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus:

“You are my Son.

    Today I have become your Father.[a]”

God also said,

“I will be his Father,

    and he will be my Son.”[b]

And when he brought his supreme[c] Son into the world, God said,[d]

“Let all of God’s angels worship him.”[e]

Regarding the angels, he says,

“He sends his angels like the winds,

    his servants like flames of fire.”[f]

But to the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.

    You rule with a scepter of justice.

You love justice and hate evil.

    Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you,

    pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.”[g]

He also says to the Son,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth

    and made the heavens with your hands.

They will perish, but you remain forever.

    They will wear out like old clothing.

You will fold them up like a cloak

    and discard them like old clothing.

But you are always the same;

    you will live forever.”[h]

And God never said to any of the angels,

“Sit in the place of honor at my right hand

    until I humble your enemies,

    making them a footstool under your feet.”[i]

Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

  1. Or Today I reveal you as my Son. Ps 2:7.
  2. 2 Sam 7:14.
  3. Or firstborn.
  4. Or when he again brings his supreme Son [or firstborn Son] into the world, God will say.
  5. Deut 32:43.
  6. Ps 104:4 (Greek version).
  7. Ps 45:6-7.
  8. Ps 102:25-27.
  9. Ps 110:1.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

Commenting on this passage is a challenge because there is so much here, so I left the footnote references in. The book of Hebrews is a magnificent treatise on understanding Jesus in relation to the Old Testament. The better you know the First Testament, the more you will discover in this epistle. We mentioned yesterday the very high view the Jews had of angels and there was a very valid reason. For example, angels were divine messengers present in visiting Abram and Sarai, in the giving of the Law, at the tomb of Jesus, and at the ascension. The angels were to worship Jesus. 

This passage is an argument for the superiority of Jesus, laid out almost as a court case. First, God the Father is the presenter commenting on his Son, then he comments on the angels, then on his Son, then on angels, then a concluding statement. It is also written as an inclusio, a literary device in which the beginning and ending of a section include the same material. (“God never said to any of the angels.”) I’ve also taken the liberty to include the footnote comments and references. The book of Hebrews quotes massive amounts of the Old Testament in demonstrating how Jesus fulfills and is superior in every way to various OT heroes. The writer begins right away telling his readers that God’s words to Jesus were unique. As lofty as angels were, they were not his Son. This translation uses the word “supreme” in reference to his Son. Sometimes it is translated elsewhere as “first born” which has to do with preeminence, placing him at the highest possible honor at the right hand (the strong hand) of the Father. This word, contrary to Jehovah Witnesses’ propaganda, has nothing to do with physical birth. (Col.1:18) Then there is the powerful statement from God commanding the angels to worship the Son. Then a few verses later, the Father calls the Son God and goes on to describe how he endures forever as creator and ruler over all creation. God’s comments on the person and role of his Son conclude with the invitation to sit in the place of honor at the Father’s right hand until the Father humbles all the enemies of the Son and they bow their necks under the feet of the Son. If that isn’t a strong enough case, the writer of Hebrews makes his concluding statement, “therefore, angels are only servants”―case closed! Readers, adjust your view of angels; Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand, his work completed. 

Reading Jesus’ pedigree in this passage and throughout this remarkable epistle, makes the simple birth of a baby boy to a young mother in a nondescript rustic manger all the more awe-inspiring and mysterious. Who would have ever guessed the Son of God would enter this world in such a manner? 

Music: “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”       Chris Rupp and the Fox and the Hound

Bonus:   Interesting fact. Chris Rupp a former member of Home Free (below) went out on his own (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly) though he still sings with Home Free sometimes.

 “Angels We Have Heard on High”    Home Free   (I know, a repeat from other years. But in case you missed it then. This is really one of the best versions. Not over produced IMO.

Prayer:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; so that on that 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 him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, Amen.  

          ―Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.45

Friends,I want to thank you for subscribing this year. I want to mention something to you if the Lord so moves you. Doing these devotionals is not without actual cost―e.g. getting the material into the proper format and year-round monthly rentals to the email host. I checked into setting up a 501c (3) and found it wasn’t feasible for writing this devotional. If you would like to help with expenses, you can make a donation which is not tax deductible. The subscriptions are always and always will be completely free. There is certainly no obligation to contribute, but if you would like to, please make your check to: Dan Sharp, 4017 Isle Vista Ave, Belle Isle, FL 32812. You can also contribute via my PayPal account.

Thursday, December 17

Reader: “Long ago God spoke many times.” 

Response: “And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.” 

Scripture: Hebrews 1:1-4

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

By now are you beginning to get the picture of how significant a role the Old Testament prophets played in the revealing of God’s grand design for restoration of all of creation? The writer of Hebrews packs so much in these four short verses built around the main clause, “God spoke.”  Genesis opens with “In the beginning God created . . . and God said . . .” Our God acts and our God speaks in a variety of ways. Buddah doesn’t speak. Mohammed doesn’t speak. Confucious doesn’t speak. God speaks! God is persistent in speaking and he is also creative! The writer has set up the different ways God spoke in the “long ago,” contrasting it with how he has spoken in the present era (the era of the writing of Hebrews). 

Think about the various ways God spoke in the First Testament. Of course with the voices of the prophets, but he also spoke in dreams, visions, stories, commands, angelic appearances, theophanies, short dramatizations―breaking pottery or burying things in the ground for example. He even had a donkey speak! God speaking in these final days (the historical era inaugurated by the birth of Jesus) was through his Son. The message was crystal clear, God not only spoke, he had come in the flesh. Along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe. The Son is God. The Son radiates God’s own glory. 

This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek word for “radiates” is used. It is different from all the other words for shine. This unique brightness is not reflective from another source, but rather a dazzling brilliance that comes from within the Son. As God incarnate, he is the source of the brilliance, another affirmation of the deity of Christ. The Son radiates the Father’s glory in the world. The unapproachable light of God is approachable only through the incarnate Christ. (The writer of Hebrews is seeking to show that Jesus, as God’s Son, is superior in every way to the Old Covenant and fulfills it completely. Notice, he carries Jesus’ work all the way through the ascension to his sitting down at the right hand of God the Father, indicating his work of redemption is finished. The high priest never sat down as his work was never finished.) The writer then concludes this short preamble stating Jesus’ superiority to angels. That may seem a little strange to us, but for the Jewish reader, it was a significant statement. Angels were often messengers of God in the Old Testament and held in high esteem. Jesus is superior to the angels. These four verses give a marvelous picture of God’s Son, making his humble birth in a stable all the more wondrous and surprising. 

Music: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”   Mississippi College Singers

Bonus:        (Leave it to the Mormons . . . except for the theology!!)

 “Angels from the Realms of Glory”  BYU Idaho Dept. of Music

Prayer: 

Eternal Light, before whom all darkness is light, and, in comparison with whom, every other light is but darkness, may it please Thee to send forth Thy light and Thy truth, that they may lead us. Purify, we pray Thee, our souls from all impure imaginations, that Thy most beautiful and radiant holy image may again be renewed within us, and, by contemplating Thy glorious perfections, we may feel daily improved within us that Divine similitude. Till this most blessed day break, and the shadows of this world fly away, let Thy Spirit be continually with us, and may we feel the powerful effects of Thy Divine grace constantly directing and supporting our steps; that all our endeavors, throughout the whole remaining part of our lives, may serve to promote the honor of Thy blessed Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord―Amen.           ―Robert Leighton (1611-1684) adapted Daniel Sharp, Prayers Ancient and Modern p.353

Wednesday, December 16

Reader: “The day of judgment is coming,” 

Response: “burning like a furnace.” 

Scripture: Malachi 3:16-4:6               

 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name.

“They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.

“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord,”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We’ve said that often prophets have a rough task with a tough audience. Such was the case for Malachi. In his congregation of Israelites were the disillusioned, the cynical, the callous, the dishonest, the apathetic, the doubters, the skeptics, the arrogant, the defiant, and the downright evil persons. I said it was a tough crowd! All of those people appear in the four chapters of this book. Can you imagine preaching to this collection of humans? In spite of these malcontents, there were a few faithful people whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:17). On the day of judgment they will be spared. Malachi speaks very plainly that a day of final judgment is coming for everyone who has ever lived. For the righteous who have put their trust in God comes abundant blessing and great joy, and for the wicked as described above, being burned up like straw. Malachi closes his message with the words we referred to a couple of days ago. He makes a final appeal for obedience to the Law of Moses, which every Jew knew. He then points the people forward to the coming of Elijah in heralding the great and dreadful day of the Lord and his message to repent and turn to the Savior or . . . receive the curse, which implies total destruction. 

By now you might be getting tired of hearing about the coming judgment and the end of the world as we know it. Come on, Dan, let’s have some more Christmasy thoughts! I’m just writing about what the Bible says. Maybe the Scripture’s great concern with repentance and dealing with sin is that it is important to God! It may be that in general, we view Christmas and the birth of Jesus as a singular event disassociated from the greater Story of God. The result can be that we trivialize the nativity as a sweet sentimental story, kind of like a sacred “Good Night Moon.” For sure, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus with great joy and singing. Don’t hold back, but be aware the baby in the manger is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his own death. 

Music: “Behold the Lamb of God” from Messiah        Mogens Dahl Chamber Choir

Prayer: 

O God, who hast proven Thy love for mankind by sending us Jesus Christ our Lord, and hast illumined our human life by the radiance of his presence, I give Thee thanks for this Thy greatest gift. For my Lord’s arrival in Bethlehem, for his journey to the Temple of his Father, for his days upon earth, for the record of his deeds of love, for the words he spoke for my guidance and help, for his forgiving my sin, for his obedience unto death, for his victory over death, for his ascension to his Father’s right hand, for his intercession on my behalf, and for the presence of his Spirit with me now, I thank thee, O God. And may this season be one of a more profound alleluia! This we pray in the name of the Baby who took away the sins of the world. Amen.  ―A Diary of Private Prayer, p.29, adapted Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, December 15

Reader: “Now repent of your sins and turn to God,” 

Response: “so that your sins may be wiped away.”

Scripture:  Act 3:17-4:4

“Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things. Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people. Listen carefully to everything he tells you.’ Then Moses said, ‘Anyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from God’s people.’

“Starting with Samuel, every prophet spoke about what is happening today. You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors. For God said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.”

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

In following up on yesterday’s comments, Peter picks up that same discussion in his sermon at Pentecost. The people he was speaking to, like many people today, are ignorant of Jesus. In Peter’s day, they killed Jesus. In our day, people effectively kill Jesus by ignoring his death, resurrection, and ascension. His death likewise means nothing to them. Peter proclaimed to the people that God was fulfilling the words of all the prophets regarding the suffering of the Messiah. It wasn’t as though they had had no warning in regards to the Messiah. Peter then reiterated Moses’ esteemed words from Deuteronomy where he spoke of God raising up from among the Jews the ultimate Prophet meaning Jesus. Failure to respond to this Prophet meant being cut off from God. Peter let the people know that they were in the waiting period for the Son of God to return for the final restoration of all things, as are we. 

From the time of Abraham through today, God intends to bless all nations through the people of Israel. Of course, there has always been resistance to the gospel as we read how the religious leaders were very disturbed at the message of Peter and John. The message of the gospel did not fit their narrative of how things should be. The nature of the truth moves everyone off center both then and now. And, there is often a price to pay for proclaiming the truth. As you are in various settings this Advent season, do not shy away from speaking the truth. It’s too important.    

Music: “O Come, Let Us Adore Him”    Voctave (I admit, this is a repeat from last year!)

Prayer:

I kneel before you Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of the glorious riches of Jesus,  he may strengthen me with power through his Spirit in my inner being, so that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith. And I pray that I, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that I may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. This I pray through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.   

 ―adapted Daniel Sharp, the Apostle Paul,  Eph. 3:14-19

Monday, December 14

Reader: “‘Go and tell your master,” 

Response: “Elijah is here.’”   

Scripture: I Kings 18:1-18

Later on, in the third year of the drought, the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain!” So Elijah went to appear before Ahab.

Meanwhile, the famine had become very severe in Samaria. So Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Obadiah was a devoted follower of the Lord. Once when Jezebel had tried to kill all the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had hidden 100 of them in two caves. He put fifty prophets in each cave and supplied them with food and water.) Ahab said to Obadiah, “We must check every spring and valley in the land to see if we can find enough grass to save at least some of my horses and mules.” So they divided the land between them. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.

As Obadiah was walking along, he suddenly saw Elijah coming toward him. Obadiah recognized him at once and bowed low to the ground before him. “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?” he asked.

“Yes, it is,” Elijah replied. “Now go and tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”

“Oh, sir,” Obadiah protested, “what harm have I done to you that you are sending me to my death at the hands of Ahab? For I swear by the Lord your God that the king has searched every nation and kingdom on earth from end to end to find you. And each time he was told, ‘Elijah isn’t here,’ King Ahab forced the king of that nation to swear to the truth of his claim. And now you say, ‘Go and tell your master, “Elijah is here.”’ But as soon as I leave you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you away to who knows where. When Ahab comes and cannot find you, he will kill me. Yet I have been a true servant of the Lord all my life. Has no one told you, my lord, about the time when Jezebel was trying to kill the Lord’s prophets? I hid 100 of them in two caves and supplied them with food and water. And now you say, ‘Go and tell your master, “Elijah is here.”’ Sir, if I do that, Ahab will certainly kill me.”

But Elijah said, “I swear by the Lord Almighty, in whose presence I stand, that I will present myself to Ahab this very day.”

So Obadiah went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”

“I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:  

And you are wondering by now, “What does this passage of Scripture have to do with Advent or Christmas?” Thank you for asking! God’s plan of redeeming his fallen creation spans thousands of years. We are living in the unfolding of that plan in the First Testament as it continues. We’re going to examine a part of that plan which involves the prophet Elijah, whose name means “my God is Yahweh” (El=God, jah=Yahweh). 

Prophets were and are major players in the revealing of God’s truth. Old Testament prophets spoke God’s truth to nations and kings. This pericope mentions a group of 100 prophets. It was common for prophets to get together for study and encouragement. Apparently Elijah exercised leadership in some of these groups (II Kings 2:3-7). A significant portion of the content of the First Testament is the writings and messages of the prophets. Their words were of judgment and on occasion of prophesying the future, not only of events but also of the coming of the Messiah. The closing verses of the book of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, makes reference to Moses as the giver of the Law and Elijah as “the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.” So it is not surprising then that these two “greats”of the Old Testament appear at the Mount of Transfiguration to encourage Jesus just before he embarks on the final weeks of his life on earth. 

Now, in the passage you just read, Elijah did what prophets do. He confronted old Ahab, a wicked Jewish king, and Jezebel, his pagan wife and worshipper of Baal, for their abandonment of the God of Israel. As a result of God’s judgment, Elijah had prophesied a seven year drought. This reading ends with Elijah laying it out plain and simply to Ahab, “I’m not the problem for Israel. You are because of your refusal to obey the Lord.” Down through the ages there have been people used of God to speak the truth into the life and culture of people and of nations. Through the voices of people like Elijah, may there be people in our day who confront leaders and nations with their abandonment of God’s truth and call for repentance. 

Music: “I Wonder as I Wander”  Simon Khorolskiy

Prayer:

Thou blessed Spirit, author of all grace and comfort, Prophet to my soul, come, work repentance in my soul; represent sin to me in its odious colors that I may hate it; melt my heart by the majesty and mercy of God; show me my ruined self and the help there is in him; teach me to behold my creator, his ability to save, his arms outstretched, his heart big for me. Help me not only to receive him but to walk in him, depend upon him, commune with him, be conformed to him, follow him, imperfect, but still pressing forward, not complaining of labor, but valuing rest, not murmuring under trials, but thankful for my state. Perceiving nothing in myself, may I find in Christ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. In his holy name I pray. Amen.                                ―adapted Daniel Sharp, The Valley of Vision, p.17

Sunday, December 13, THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the third (pink) Advent candle. A candle of joy!)

Reader: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,”

Response: “for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” 

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,

    for the Lord has anointed me

    to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted

    and to proclaim that captives will be released

    and prisoners will be freed.

He has sent me to tell those who mourn

    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,

    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

To all who mourn in Israel,

    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,

a joyous blessing instead of mourning,

    festive praise instead of despair.

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks

    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,

    repairing cities destroyed long ago.

They will revive them,

    though they have been deserted for many generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice.

    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.

I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering

    and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their descendants will be recognized

    and honored among the nations.

Everyone will realize that they are a people

    the Lord has blessed.”

I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!

    For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation

    and draped me in a robe of righteousness.

I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding

    or a bride with her jewels.

The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.

    Everyone will praise him!

His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,

    with plants springing up everywhere.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

You’ll recall Jesus quoting this passage in Luke’s gospel (4:18). It was the beginning of his public ministry and he had just finished a forty day fast only to be tempted by the devil. He traveled from Jerusalem back to the region of Galilee where he began to teach in the synagogues from town to town. His fame spread for he taught with unusual authority. So when he came to his hometown, Nazareth, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath as was his usual custom. (Scripture reading was a major and significant part of Jewish worship. In fact, there was a lectionary, a set schedule of readings. For example, the Torah was mapped out on a three year cycle. In Jesus’ case, the reading was from Isaiah 61.) Jesus stood up to read (the usual custom). When he finished, he sat down. Every Jew knew that this passage was a direct reference to the long-awaited Messiah. 

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the First Testament, adds the phrase “and the blind will see” to the phrase “and the prisoners will be freed.” When John the Baptist was in prison and sent a message to Jesus asking if he truly was the Messiah, Jesus again referred to this passage (Lk.7:22-23) as his answer. The Jews had been waiting 400 years since the last prophet and a 1,000 years since King David waiting and looking for the Messiah. Now the local boy, one of the sons of Mary and (assumedly) Joseph named Jesus, (they had at least six other children), claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah! He had grown up among them. They knew him as a teenager! The Nazarites didn’t go for it, thought he was blaspheming, and sought to kill him. 

Isaiah writes that Israel, which has been under great oppression, will be restored. God will bring justice and peace and blessing to his people. This chapter began with the Sovereign Lord proclaiming deliverance and concludes with the Sovereign Lord showing justice to the nations with everyone rejoicing and praising the goodness of our God. 

In the days in which we live, this kind of world may seem far-fetched, unreal, out of reach, . . . impossible. That was the same reaction of the Nazarites when Jesus sat down and said, “The Scripture you just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” Because of the Nazarites’ preconceived ideas and historical knowledge, they were not able to move out of their own mindset and recognize the Savior of the world. Likewise, sometimes we become so familiar with a situation or relationship, that we fail to see its deeper significance―like a spouse, or a child, a friend, or God working in our very midst! We actually miss the eternal value right before our eyes.

Music: ““Glory to God In the Highest”   Messiah

Prayer: O God, quicken to life every power within me, that I may lay hold on eternal things. Open my eyes that I may see; give me acute spiritual perception; enable me to taste Thee and know that Thou art good. Make heaven more real to me than any earthly thing has ever been. Amen.                 ―AW Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.59

Saturday, December 12

Reader: “John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live,” 

Response: “but you didn’t believe him.” 

Scripture: Matthew 21:28-32

“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

In this Advent season, having been in ministry in the church for forty-two years and having planned forty-two Christmas Eve services and having sat through well over 100 such observances with well over 100,000 worshipers, I’ve noticed how some people grasp the significance of the worship while others come for the candle-lighting at the end. We don’t usually see the candle lighting aficionados again until Easter (for the brass and Hallelujah Chorus) or perhaps next Christmas Eve. They are the older son. There is lip service, but no follow through. Then there is the person who stumbles into Christmas Eve off of the street who was looking for a place to get warm and stays for all the services, finds the truth of the gospel and returns the following Sunday, having begun a transformed life. A little understanding of Jewish background might be helpful here. In Jesus’ parable of the two sons, the older boy’s negative response to his father’s command would have been viewed as disrespecting his father’s authority. Yet, he eventually changed his mind and was obedient, while the second son said he would obey his father, yet in actual practice, he refused to go. Jesus is telling this parable during Monday of Holy Week in another effort to help the Jewish leaders see who he is, the Messiah, and who they are. John the Baptist represents the father in the parable and the tax collectors represent the oldest son who said no, but later repented of his way and obeyed the father. The Jewish leaders represent the second son who said yes, but did not go. They were the ones who rejected the message of John the Baptist as to repenting of their sins in preparation for the coming Messiah. Repentance was for “sinners,” not for them. In their minds, they didn’t need to repent. The tax collectors and prostitutes recognized their own sinfulness and repented at the message of John, while the Jewish leaders believed in their moral righteousness and superiority and saw no need for repentance. Jesus assured the former would get into the kingdom and the latter would be cast out. This message was always the challenge of a Christmas Eve service helping people realize the sanctuary is filled with sinners in need of repentance in spite of pretty clothes, candles, and singing “Silent Night.” Remember, Christmas Eve is not about celebrating Jesus’ birthday. He has none. It’s about the Ancient of Days, God’s eternal Son, entering our world in human flesh to save sinners without hope. Remember that this December 24th.

Music: “ “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Caitelen       gorgeous!

Prayer:

O Lord Jesus our God, who called people from their daily work saying to them ‘Come ye after me’, may we your children today hear your voice and gladly answer your call to give our lives to you, to serve your Church, to offer our gifts, and give away our hearts to you only. May our response be not only one of intent, but one of relentless faithful obedience. May we not flack in zeal and spirit. Grant that we may reflect your humble spirit Jesus, and pick up our crosses daily and follow you to the glory of your Father in heaven who with you and the Holy Spirit, reign one God, world without end. Amen. 

                             ―adapted Daniel Sharp

Friday, December 11

Reader: “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,”

Response: “I press on.”

Scripture: Philippians 3:12-16

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

Paul has spent the first part of this chapter writing about the priceless value of knowing Christ. His rich Jewish pedigree and past actions meant nothing to him and in fact, he called them garbage! Gaining the righteousness of Christ was everything. Wanting to know Christ better and better was his singular goal. Then we come to the above passage. Paul’s words certainly speak to me. My desire is to press on to become more and more Christlike. I want him to think and live his life in and through me. But I have noticed something else that rears its ugly head in the midst of my endeavor to press on. It is a voice ever reminding me of my past sins. Often it’s very specific things that happened even decades ago. This voice delights in pointing out these incidents as if it wants me to keep them in my memory bank. With it comes the message, “You will never be a holy person, so quit trying. You are a fraud. Skip the pious act. Your past has nailed you. If people knew about this, you’d be humiliated. Give it up. God knows the truth about you. You can’t fool him.” It is important that we recognize the source of that “voice” and call the father of lies a liar and to go back to hell. There was one truth in all those accusations. God does know the truth about you which is why his Son was born in a manger in Bethlehem to forgive all your sins from the past as well as those in the future. Paul pounded home the point that past conduct has no bearing on obtaining salvation and has no condemning power after salvation. God’s grace extended to people in Jesus Christ brings eternal redemption. “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” is the goal and direction of living out the days of our lives. The ability to forget the past is a mark of spiritual maturity because it recognizes the full impact of Christ’s atonement. After all, God forgets our sins as far as the east is from the west. Our ability to forget our own sins is a mark of godliness. In a season when past actions can bring hurt to a family gathering, it’s important to repent and press on to what lies ahead. And when that “lying voice” comes around, laugh at him and tell him to go back where he came from. 

Music: “What Child Is This?”  Home Free   Sorry for these guys two days in a row but WOW. You at least heard a true bass!!

Prayer: Searcher of hearts, it is a good day to me when thou givest me a glimpse of myself; sin is my greatest evil, but thou art my greatest good. I have cause to loathe myself, and not to seek self-honor, for no one desires to commend his own dunghill. My country, my family, my church fare worse because of my sins, for sinners bring judgment in thinking sins are small, or that God is not angry with them. Let me not take other good men as my example, and think I am good because I am like them, for all good men are not so good as thou desirest, are not always consistent, do not always follow holiness, do not feel eternal good in sore affliction. Show me how to know when a thing is evil which I think is right and good, how to know when what is lawful comes from an evil principle, such as desire for reputation or wealth by usury.  Give me grace to recall my needs, my lack of knowing thy will in Scripture, of wisdom to guide others, of daily repentance, want of which keeps thee at bay, of the spirit of prayer, having words without love, of zeal for thy glory, seeking my own ends, of joy in thee and thy will, of love to others. And let me not lay my water pipe too short of the fountain, never touching the eternal spring, never drawing down water from above.           ―The Valley of Vision,p.69

Thursday, December 10

Reader: “Write my answer plainly on tablets,”

Response: “so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.”

Scripture:  Habakkuk 2:1-5

I will climb up to my watchtower

    and stand at my guardpost.

There I will wait to see what the Lord says

    and how he will answer my complaint.

Then the Lord said to me,

“Write my answer plainly on tablets,

    so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.

This vision is for a future time.

    It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.

If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,

    for it will surely take place.

    It will not be delayed.

“Look at the proud!

    They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked.

    But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.

Wealth is treacherous,

    and the arrogant are never at rest.

They open their mouths as wide as the grave,

    and like death, they are never satisfied.

In their greed they have gathered up many nations

    and swallowed many peoples.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

“When violence and corruption abound and evil appears to rule, the faithful may be tempted to wonder whether God really cares or is really in control.” words from The NLT Study Bible, p.1504. Habakkuk was in a troubling and unsettling situation. Once again, Israel was in trouble for her rebellion against God. They had broken the Covenant again and again and were now the subject of a Babylonian attack. God’s own words were, “I’m raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands. They are notorious for their cruelty and do whatever they like.” Ouch! God is siding with the Babylonians against his own people! Habakkuk asks God the same question we ask in regards to similar situations in our day. His words, “Will you let them get away with this forever?” Our words, “Lord, the bad guys are winning. Are you going to do anything? Whose side are you on?” Notice, the Lord honors honest questions. His response is the text you just read. God’s message is very plain and clear. His words . . . It may seem slow to you, but wait patiently. We are working on my timeline, not yours. Yet you want to avoid the consequences of your actions. You people are absorbed in your perspective, not mine. You respond to the way you think it ought to be if you were in charge. You’re not. This is how I think. I will describe the end for you. Their wealth and arrogance are never satisfied as they overrun people. They have become wealthy by extortion, but that too will abruptly end. It is certain and it is final. While this was God’s answer to Habakkuk’s question, it is also the answer to the world situation today. The Lord is coming back and he will judge the actions of everyone who has ever lived. Yes, their evil lives are crooked, but you who are righteous are to live in faithfulness to God. God will bring justice. Take heart! No one “gets away with it.” In the bustle of this Advent season, the truth of God’s judgment seems so very remote, perhaps even unreal. That’s because we think like earthbound people and the devil is pleased with our thinking! But God came to the manger in Bethlehem, he has come into our hearts, and he is coming again to bring justice in establishing his eternal kingdom. Tell the news!

Music: “Go Tell It on the Mountain”    Home Free     ―an energetic setting!

Prayer:

O Lord, if only my will may remain right and firm towards Thee, do with me whatsoever it shall please Thee. For it cannot be anything but good, whatsoever Thou shalt do with me. If it be Thy will I should be in darkness, be Thou blessed; and if it be Thy will I should be in light, be Thou again blessed. If Thou vouchsafe to comfort me, be Thou blessed; and, if Thou wilt have me afflicted, be Thou ever equally blessed―Amen.  ―Thomas à Kempis, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.92