Tuesday, May 17

Tuesday, May 17

Reader: “Why were you not afraid” 

Response: “to kill the Lord’s anointed one?”

Scripture: 2 Samuel 1:4-27

“What happened?” David demanded. “Tell me how the battle went.”

The man replied, “Our entire army fled from the battle. Many of the men are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.”

“How do you know Saul and Jonathan are dead?” David demanded of the young man.

The man answered, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear with the enemy chariots and charioteers closing in on him. When he turned and saw me, he cried out for me to come to him. ‘How can I help?’ I asked him.

“He responded, ‘Who are you?’

“‘I am an Amalekite,’ I told him.

“Then he begged me, ‘Come over here and put me out of my misery, for I am in terrible pain and want to die.’

“So I killed him,” the Amalekite told David, “for I knew he couldn’t live. Then I took his crown and his armband, and I have brought them here to you, my lord.”

David and his men tore their clothes in sorrow when they heard the news. They mourned and wept and fasted all day for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the Lord’s army and the nation of Israel, because they had died by the sword that day.

Then David said to the young man who had brought the news, “Where are you from?”

And he replied, “I am a foreigner, an Amalekite, who lives in your land.”

“Why were you not afraid to kill the Lord’s anointed one?” David asked.

Then David said to one of his men, “Kill him!” So the man thrust his sword into the Amalekite and killed him. “You have condemned yourself,” David said, “for you yourself confessed that you killed the Lord’s anointed one.”

Then David composed a funeral song for Saul and Jonathan, and he commanded that it be taught to the people of Judah. It is known as the Song of the Bow, and it is recorded in The Book of Jashar.

Your pride and joy, O Israel, lies dead on the hills!

    Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!

Don’t announce the news in Gath,

    don’t proclaim it in the streets of Ashkelon,

or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice

    and the pagans will laugh in triumph.

O mountains of Gilboa,

    let there be no dew or rain upon you,

    nor fruitful fields producing offerings of grain.

For there the shield of the mighty heroes was defiled;

    the shield of Saul will no longer be anointed with oil.

The bow of Jonathan was powerful,

    and the sword of Saul did its mighty work.

They shed the blood of their enemies

    and pierced the bodies of mighty heroes.

How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan!

    They were together in life and in death.

They were swifter than eagles,

    stronger than lions.

O women of Israel, weep for Saul,

for he dressed you in luxurious scarlet clothing,

    in garments decorated with gold.

Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle!

    Jonathan lies dead on the hills.

How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan!

    Oh, how much I loved you!

And your love for me was deep,

    deeper than the love of women!

Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!

    Stripped of their weapons, they lie dead.

Some thoughts:  

Today’s passage contains an interesting story revealing a unique insight. You’ll recall the boy, David, was anointed king of Israel by Samuel while Saul was still the reigning king. In spite of Samuel’s anointing, David did not usurp Saul’s position, but continued to honor him as God’s anointed. David was willing to wait on God’s timing for his own ascension to the throne of all Israel.

In our story, David and his men had just defeated the Amalekites and Saul and Jonathan had been in a battle with the Philistines. Saul’s war was about 100 miles from where David was so that would be about a three day journey by foot for one person. Coming from Saul’s battle field, the messenger arrived in David’s camp to tell him the news of the death of Saul and Jonathan, thinking it would please David to know his way to the throne was now cleared. (Another of Saul’s sons, Ishbosheth made himself king of Israel for a few years as David was king of Judah. But over a seven year period his power diminished and David became king of all of Israel and Judah.) 

Unfortunately for the messenger, he was lying to David apparently hoping for some kind of reward. He did not actually kill Saul as Saul committed suicide. (I Samuel 31:4-6) Chances are he was pillaging the dead and got to Saul before the Philistines found him. “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa . . .” Happened, really? His third lie was that Saul begged “me to kill him.” Saul did not beg him but rather fell on his own sword. 

That David had highest regard for the Lord’s anointing is evidenced by his next question to the messenger, “Why were you not afraid to kill the Lord’s anointed one?” In David’s view, to do so was an affront to God’s choice of a leader. He ordered the messenger killed. David’s life was consistent with this view as he had several opportunities to kill king Saul himself as Saul made multiple attempts to take David’s life, yet he was continuous in his support of Saul as king of Israel.

Out of love and honor, the poet king wrote a funeral lament in honor of Saul and his son, Jonathan. Not surprisingly you’ll notice his comments on Saul had to do more with his position and warrior skill than with his character. His comments on Jonathan have a different tone. Though Jonathan had rights to Saul’s throne, he acknowledged that David was God’s anointed one to succeed his father. David and Jonathan had become very best and very close friends to Saul’s chagrin. From Jonathan’s perspective, his love and friendship with David involved personal loss and risk. At one point, Saul even threw a spear at Jonathan attempting to kill him for this friendship. David’s expression that “your love for me was deeper than the love of women” in no way implies a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan though modern day advocates for homosexual life styles in religious communities choose to misinterpret and twist this and other passages to support their erroneous and false argument. David had multiple wives and Jonathan was likewise married. All the biblical references to David and Jonathan’s relationship lack any use of sexual language in describing their close friendship. They were simply two men with a very close and deep friendship who loved each other as brothers would. In fact, David virtually adopted one of Jonathan’s sons as part of the royal family following Jonathan’s death.

There is a powerful word here about honoring those God allows in leadership positions. 

“. . . all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted. . .” (Romans 13:1-2) As a person, Saul was certainly not worth honoring, but David honored him anyway, living out Romans thirteen! What else did David do? He focused on the Lord. Read Psalms 57-63 to see his thoughts as he was running from Saul’s murderous attempts on his life. What do we do in such a situation? Do what David did. Empty your soul before the Lord and pray for the leaders and for God’s glory to be revealed.

Music: “Death Shall Not Destroy”     Washington Master Chorale   (arr. Shaw-Parker)

Prayer:O Thou Desire of all nations, in the knowledge of whose love and power there is salvation for all the peoples of the earth, hasten the day, I beseech Thee, when all men shall acknowledge Thee as Lord over all. Hasten the day when our earthly society shall become the kingdom of Christ. Hasten the day when Thy presence and the strong hand of Thy purpose shall be found not only in the hearts of a few wise and brave men but throughout the broad land, in court and council-chamber, in workshop and marketplace, in the city and in the fields. And whatever I myself can do, give me grace this day to begin; through Jesus Christ. Amen. ―John Baillie from A Diary of Private Prayer, p.69

Monday, May 16

Monday, May 16

Reader: “How wonderful and pleasant it is”

Response: “when brothers live together in harmony!

Scripture: Psalm 133    

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.

How wonderful and pleasant it is

    when brothers live together in harmony!

For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil

    that was poured over Aaron’s head,

    that ran down his beard

    and onto the border of his robe.

Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon

    that falls on the mountains of Zion.

And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing,

    even life everlasting.

Some thoughts:

Psalm 133 is in the next to the last group of psalms known as the Songs of Ascent. (120-134) They are grouped into five units of three, with this psalm being in the grouping which focuses on covenant (132), community (133), and sanctuary (134).

The generally accepted and most logical understanding is that this body of psalms were recited as Jews made one of the three yearly pilgrimages up to Jerusalem. (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles)

The reference to brothers could be those related by blood, professional colleagues, or committed relationships. Pleasant is a good word to describe tranquility. We’ve certainly all experienced how delightful it is when people’s relationships go smoothly.

A word about oil being poured over Aaron’s head. Oil was associated with joy and was often scented with various fragrances. Oil was used to anoint priests and kings in the First Testament. It was used to ordain and consecrate priests for holy ministry. Mentioning that it ran down his beard and onto his robe was indicative of his complete consecration. The oil empowered the anointed one with the power of the Holy Spirit for the task at hand. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” were the words of Isaiah. (Isaiah 61:1) The anointing with oil always indicated the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It marked the anointed one as set apart for service to the Lord. Messiah means “anointed one.” The oil was a precious symbol of a holy task in this instance. Though it was perfume rather than oil, one can’t help but think of Mary, the sister of Martha, anointing Jesus, our High Priest, just prior to his crucifixion.

In the final reference, David likens unity to the dew on Mt. Hermon. We may not think much about morning dews. But in an arid world, every drop of moisture is precious. Lavish dew like that on Mt. Hermon speaks of divine blessing and refreshment. I know when we had a “dry spell” on the farm in the summer, we were glad whenever there was a heavy dew and the dew ran down the corn stock leaves. Hardly the same, but you get the idea!

You’ve noticed one recurring word in each of the short sections: harmony with brothers, harmony with anointing, and harmony that brings the refreshment of everlasting life. What makes harmony harmony? As you might guess, I want to reflect on harmony as it relates to Western music because there are theological implications in God’s invention of harmony. There are rules for harmony. Every one of seven notes in a key has a specific relationship to every other note in that key. Since there are twelve notes, this means five notes do not naturally fit into that key. But it is possible to work the harmonic structure so they can be added and still have beautiful harmony. They are called “accidentals” when that happens. Quite often they are used to help the “harmony” move to an entirely new key. The point is, all twelve notes have some sort of relationship. It is the skilled composer who is able to create the harmony. The Holy Spirit is the Composer who is able to create unity within the Body of Christ. He is able to take very different “notes,” some of which do not fit the “key” and orchestrate beautiful harmony in the church, bringing unity into the body of Christ. 

Another factor in producing harmony is the element of time. It is possible to have all the right notes but have them out of sync. They all have to be going at the same tempo, the same speed. There are times when one note has to wait on another for the composition to move ahead. There are other times when they all need to take a “rest!” Frankly, rests build anticipation for what lies ahead and are essential in making beautiful music. There’s more but I need to stop! Suffice it to say, unity and harmony in the body of Christ, his Church, is glorious. In David’s words it is wonderful, pleasant, precious, and refreshing all of which is the result of the Lord’s blessing. 

Music: “Benedictus”     Karl Jenkins   from “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace”

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in excelsis.

Prayer:

O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee and be satisfied. My  heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage. Then shall I be prepared to behold Thee in full splendor in the day when Thou shalt appear to be glorified in Thy saints and admired in all them that believe. Amen.                              ―A.W. Tozer from The Pursuit of God, p.98

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15

Reader: “Look, God’s home is now among his people!” 

Response: “He will live with them, and they will be his people.” 

Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6  

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.

Some thoughts:

Following yesterday’s devotional we come to the description of the ultimate destiny to which the whole of the Bible has been pointing. Human history and the history of creation has come to a close. Final Judgment is completed, God’s eternal Kingdom has begun under the rule of the King of kings and Lord of lords and he shall reign forever and ever. That “forever” is underway! John attempts to describe this new world. It may not be so much a new planet or solar system as much as a new world that has never been, like nothing ever experienced since the Fall of man. But it’s more than a new earth for it also involves a new heaven. The old creation of Genesis 1 has decayed and has disappeared. (II Peter 3:10-11) And the sea was gone.

Some people, especially those who live by the ocean, are concerned that there will be no sea in the new creation. Again, it’s important to have a little understanding of John’s time. The sea was viewed by some as a place of evil and danger, unsettled waters. (The Flood, Red Sea, Jonah, Paul’s shipwrecks, Jesus stilling the storm) Some commentators believe John was using the sea being gone as a symbol of no more evil, uncertainty, or peril. And so he new heaven and earth had none of the former tension, sin, or treachery. 

There are differing opinions as to whether the new Jerusalem is an actual city or a symbol of the church in a perfect eternal state. In either case, did you notice how communal it is? It is about the family of God. Nothing is solo about the Christian faith. There is no “God and me;” no “I’m a Christian but I don’t need the church.” The church is not a man made idea. God is the designer of this body, his body.  

We come next to one of the most longed for few sentences in the whole Bible. God literally lives among his people. Tears, sorrow, crying, pain, and death are all gone. They no longer exist, nor will they ever exist again. Sadness, sin, and evil are extinct.

Did you notice the negative way to describe blessedness? Since humans have never experienced this kind of world, except for Adam and Eve for a short time, we have to describe it by saying what is not present. In truth, we really have no idea what the coming world will be like. I can’t help thinking of the woman at the well when Jesus tells her he will give her living water to drink. He was describing something she couldn’t imagine. 

With his words, John encourages the followers of Christ to remain faithful to the end when God and children live together in the new Jerusalem. I’m very sure we have no idea of what it will be like to live in this situation. Our God consumes the very Beginning, the Alpha, because he has never not been and he likewise consumes the Ending, the Omega, because he is without end. And we live in his presence forever! This is what lies ahead for you and me and it’s already begun!

Some different expressions of praising God.

Music: “E’en So Lord Jesus”   Paul Manz   Choir of St. John’s College

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; habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end. Amen.―John Donne  1571-1621 from Erdmanns’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.52

Saturday, May 14

Saturday, May 14

Reader: “We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,”  

Response: “the one who is and who always was.”

Scripture: Daniel 7:27-28 and Revelation 11:16-19

Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him.” 

That was the end of the vision. I, Daniel, was terrified by my thoughts and my face was pale with fear, but I kept these things to myself.

The twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell with their faces to the ground and worshiped him. And they said,

We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,

   the one who is and who always was, 

for now you have assumed your great power

    and have begun to reign.

The nations were filled with wrath,

    but now the time of your wrath has come.

It is time to judge the dead

    and reward your servants the prophets,

    as well as your holy people,

and all who fear your name,

    from the least to the greatest.

It is time to destroy

    all who have caused destruction on the earth.”

Then, in heaven, the Temple of God was opened and the Ark of his covenant could be seen inside the Temple. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and roared, and there was an earthquake and a terrible hailstorm.

Some thoughts:

We continue in both Daniel and Revelation today from yesterday’s pericope. Daniel’s prophecy was some 700 years prior to John’s revelation yet Daniel describes what John is seeing and their message is the same. Let’s look a little deeper into the Revelation passage. In keeping with apocalyptic literature understanding, the twenty-four elders are thought by some commentators to represent the people of God. Other commentators have connected them with the twenty-four divisions of the Levitical priesthood, still others have connected them with the twelve tribes of the Old Covenant and the twelve apostles of the New Covenant, and still others have espoused them to be some angelic order representing all people! If the twenty-four elders are not the people of God, they certainly represent all the children of God. The bottom line is they fall on their faces in worshiping God. What I want us to see is what they sang.

We are familiar with the phrase concerning God as the one “who was, and is, and is to come.” Did you notice one of these tripart phrases is missing? There is no “is to come!” Though the substance of this song is yet to occur, it is so certain that it is celebrated as having already taken place. In this scene John is describing eternity which has begun and God has begun to reign. The “is to come” came and is underway! 

In Psalm 2 we read where the nations rage against the Lord and the Messiah battling to break free from God. Now, God’s wrath and judgment finally come against the rebellious nations bringing their destruction and the prophecy of Psalm 2 is fulfilled. The dead are judged and destroyed and the prophets and the faithful are rewarded. Chapters twenty and twenty-one of Revelation expand the understanding of these verses. 

The last two sentences of our passage today close the first half of the book of Revelation as the Temple of God and the Ark of the Covenant are symbols of God’s presence. For in the First Testament those two places were where his presence dwelt among the people. When God gave Moses the plans for building the Ark and the Tabernacle and when he gave King David the plans for Solomon to build the Temple, both men were told these were a copy of what was in heaven. The Ark is a reminder of God’s intimate fellowship with his people, the way opened by the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. The heavenly pyrotechnics described are evidence that the end of the world and God’s judgment have come.

How might we think about all of this? Rest assured, all the atrocities of war, true injustice, and evil will be dealt with in full by the wrath of God. Think of God’s wrath as his passionate love of good and hatred of sin. God poured out his wrath on his Son as he bore the sin of the world, not because he hated his Son, but because he hated sin and evil. We can be grateful that God is not indifferent to sin. The cross proves that. His wrath grows out of his love as strange as that may seem. Our God is to be feared and not taken lightly, as the passage of Scripture today underscores. 

Music: “Is Not His Word Like A Fire”   from “Elijah”     Will Liverman (Terrific!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOrTsfn_YsA      Jer 23:29; Psalm 7:11-12

Prayer:

Father in heaven, thank you for the assurance this passage gives knowing that evil does not get away with it. Satan and his evil work will be dealt with in full. Thank you also for your great love in your Son Jesus, that you would pour out your wrath on the sin he bore in my place and the sins he bore for the whole world. Knowing the anguish it caused both you and him is way beyond our understanding or ability to comprehend. But thank you. I pray, Lord, that the atrocities going on in our world would stop. May those who do such evil repent and willingly bow before you now for eventually they will do so. Lord have mercy on our world. We are an arrogant and willful people. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. Amen.

     ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, May 12

Thursday, May 12

Reader: “Son of man, let all my words sink deep” 

Response: “into your own heart first.”

Scripture: Ezekiel 2:8-3:11

Son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not join them in their rebellion. Open your mouth, and eat what I give you.”

Then I looked and saw a hand reaching out to me. It held a scroll, which he unrolled. And I saw that both sides were covered with funeral songs, words of sorrow, and pronouncements of doom.

The voice said to me, “Son of man, eat what I am giving you—eat this scroll! Then go and give its message to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. “Fill your stomach with this,” he said. And when I ate it, it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Then he said, “Son of man, go to the people of Israel and give them my messages. I am not sending you to a foreign people whose language you cannot understand. No, I am not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen! But the people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to me! For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn. But look, I have made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels.”

Then he added, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.”

Some thoughts:

You’ve noticed that God referred to Ezekiel as ‘son of man,’ the same phrase Jesus used to refer to himself, though Ezekiel never used the phrase in referring to himself.

(Hebrew ben-’adam “son of Adam”) He was simply to be God’s mouthpiece. Whereas God touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal and put words in Jeremiah’s mouth, he gave Ezekiel a scroll to eat. In Jeremiah’s case, he is expressing the immanence of God. God is using Jeremiah’s mouth. In Ezekiel’s case, he reflects more of God’s transcendence. It is important to notice that there was writing on both sides of the scroll which was not usual. Normally, the writing was only on the inside unless there was great finality or significance contained in the message. Such is the case here. The message to be delivered to Israel is of heavy judgment.

The first Adam disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here the ‘son of Adam’ obeys God’s command to eat the words of judgment. While the words tasted sweet going down as he filled his stomach. By eating the scroll, Ezekiel is to make the message to be delivered his own. It is to become part of his being. This is an important point for us to notice. Before Ezekiel takes his message to the rebellious people, he is to let God’s words sink deep into his own heart and absorb them into his own life. He must let God’s words make an impact on how he lives, otherwise, he will be another hypocritical prophet. In his word from the Lord he is told that the people won’t listen to him, but he is to persist anyway. God made Ezekiel as tough and relentless as the people who will reject him. In the latter part of his ministry as his prophecies began to come true the nation began to change. The heart of his message was of purity, holiness, and resurrection. He encouraged the exiles to remain faithful through their dark hours.

The parallels are so similar to our day. We live in a world hostile to God’s truth. Like Ezekiel, we are to absorb God’s word into our lives―eat and digest his word, his life and tell others whether they listen or not. We need to learn to live with rejection. It is the word that is significant, not the rejection. Look how often the saints in the Bible dealt with rejection. But. . .there were also moments of healing, repentance, and restoration. The same can be true today. Continue to live in Christ and speak the truth in love.

Music: “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel”     St. Olaf Choir

Prayer:Almighty God, who forgivest all things to those who cry unto Thee, grant unto us that, whatsoever of life there may be remaining for us, we may give diligent heed at this very hour to Thy call; that, so coming unto Thee, we may find work in Thy vineyard, and do it faithfully unto the end; beseeching Thee to forgive the wasted hours of the past, and of thy graciousness to see that there be no more. For all time to come grant us to serve Thee diligently and dutifully, that at last we may hear Thy voice saying unto us, “Well done, good and faithful servants: enter ye into the joy of your Lord.” So be it unto us all, through Jesus Christ our Lord―Amen.  ―George Dawson, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.213

Wednesday, May 11

Wednesday, May 11

Reader: “You, a mere man,” 

Response: “claim to be God.”

Scripture: John 10:31-42

Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?”

They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus replied, “It is written in your own Scriptures that God said to certain leaders of the people, ‘I say, you are gods!’ And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered. So if those people who received God’s message were called ‘gods,’ why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”

Once again they tried to arrest him, but he got away and left them. He went beyond the Jordan River near the place where John was first baptizing and stayed there awhile. And many followed him. “John didn’t perform miraculous signs,” they remarked to one another, “but everything he said about this man has come true.” And many who were there believed in Jesus.

Some thoughts:

As we have mentioned many times, the average Jew in Jesus’ day knew the First Testament very well, far better than most people today. They were clearly familiar with chapter thirty-four of Ezekiel where God condemns the kings of Judah as being terrible shepherds and not caring for the flock. The second part of this chapter describes the Sovereign Lord as the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep and makes judgments about them. This Shepherd came from the lineage of King David with its obvious Messianic implications.

Just prior to the passage you read, Jesus had made the claim among the crowd to be the Good Shepherd. The people clearly made the connection between what he said and Ezekiel’s passage. For those who didn’t make the connection, Jesus had helped them by also stating that he and the Father were one. Now there was no doubt as to his identity. The people’s response was to pick up stones to kill him for blasphemy.

Notice the intent of Jesus’ question and how he focuses their thoughts on the central point he is making. His question is about the good works he has done―the healings, causing the blind to see, and the crippled to walk. He forces them to acknowledge his claim to be the Son of God. He then goes to the Scriptures where the word ‘god’ is applied to humans in Psalm 82:6. If the Scriptures themselves apply the word to human beings then why the consternation over Jesus’ saying he was the Son of God? I recognize we could have quite a discussion here over the use of the word “god” in relation to “God,” but that is for another time. In a way, I think maybe Jesus trapped them in their use of the word God. At any rate, we went back to citing his works given to him by the Father to underscore his identity. If they had trouble with his words, they could not deny his actions to authenticate his words. Nevertheless, their rejection of him continued in their attempts to arrest him.  Even at this, many believed him based on his works and words. 

A brief observation: in Jesus’ early ministry he did many miracles to demonstrate his identity, but later on he relied more on what he said in calling himself the Son of Man.

The people most responsive to him tended to be the common small town people while the social, political, and religious establishments, the upper crust, more commonly rejected him as a threat. It’s always fascinating to study Jesus’ thought process in observing his interaction with people. Why does the Good Shepherd say what he says when he says it? Asking those kinds of questions is a good practice when you are reading the gospels.

Music: “The Lord’s My Shepherd”     Stuart Townend

Prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast once for all received us under thy protection, and hast promised that our salvation would be so much under thy care, that whatever Satan and the whole world may contrive thou wilt yet keep us safe and secure,―O grant that being endued with perseverance, we may remain within our borders, and not be carried away here and there either by craft or by wicked counsels; and since thou hast already made open to us an access to thee in the person of thine only-begotten Son, O grant that we, the sheep, may rely on him as our Shepherd, and resignedly abide under his protection until at length we be removed from all dangers into that eternal rest which has been obtained for us by the blood of Christ thine only Son. Amen.                          ―John Calvin, from Devotions and Prayers of John Calvin, p.51

Tuesday, May 10

Tuesday, May 10

Reader: “Enough, you princes of Israel!” 

Response: “Stop your violence and oppression and do what is just and right.”

Scripture: Ezekiel 45:1-9

“When you divide the land among the tribes of Israel, you must set aside a section for the Lord as his holy portion. This piece of land will be 8 1⁄3 miles long and 6 2⁄3 miles wide. The entire area will be holy. A section of this land, measuring 875 feet by 875 feet, will be set aside for the Temple. An additional strip of land 87 1⁄2 feet wide is to be left empty all around it. Within the larger sacred area, measure out a portion of land 8 1⁄3 miles long and 3 1⁄3 miles wide. Within it the sanctuary of the Most Holy Place will be located. This area will be holy, set aside for the priests who minister to the Lord in the sanctuary. They will use it for their homes, and my Temple will be located within it. The strip of sacred land next to it, also 8 1⁄3 miles long and 3 1⁄3 miles wide, will be a living area for the Levites who work at the Temple. It will be their possession and a place for their towns.

“Adjacent to the larger sacred area will be a section of land 8 1⁄3 miles long and 1 2⁄3 miles wide. This will be set aside for a city where anyone in Israel can live.

“Two special sections of land will be set apart for the prince. One section will share a border with the east side of the sacred lands and city, and the second section will share a border on the west side. Then the far eastern and western borders of the prince’s lands will line up with the eastern and western boundaries of the tribal areas. These sections of land will be the prince’s allotment. Then my princes will no longer oppress and rob my people; they will assign the rest of the land to the people, giving an allotment to each tribe.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Enough, you princes of Israel! Stop your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Quit robbing and cheating my people out of their land. Stop expelling them from their homes, says the Sovereign Lord.

p.1381 of NLT Study Bible

Some thoughts:

After reading today’s pericope my guess you are wondering what in the world this has to do with your life today. Let’s take a closer look. Admittedly these seem to be tedious details to what end? Ezekiel is both a priest and a prophet. First off, his descriptions are different from those given to Moses and to King David in the building of the Tabernacle and the plans for the Temple which Solomon built in Jerusalem. (Chapters 40:1-43:27) This temple described by Ezekiel was never built. His description both of the temple and of the divisions of the land are theological statements. 

His vision describes a new world in which there are boundaries between the holy and the unholy. But the human pattern on earth is treating the holy, the sacred, as common with little to no regard for the holiness of God. I am sure you will have no trouble in noting how our society, our various cultures have muddied or completely ignored the boundaries of the sacred. In large parts of society, humans have become their own gods deciding what is truth and what is moral―setting their own boundaries. To them, the God of the Bible is irrelevant, a myth, or non-existent.

In Ezekiel’s day, the wickedness of the people and their idolatrous worship had driven the presence of the Lord out of the Temple. The princes and rulers were to treat the people fairly and not oppress and cheat them as they were doing. If God was to again dwell with his people, then the holy and the unholy boundaries must be re-established. Read today’s pericope as a theological statement. Ezekiel is describing a “zone of holiness” if you will from a pre-Messiah Jewish perspective. This Temple is at the geographic and spiritual heart of the new Israel. The presence of the holy God was at the very center of everything. Everything revolved around the Lord. 

What Ezekiel described in such detail in this section (chapters 40-48) of which we read a middle portion, concluded with naming this city Yahweh Shammah, “The Lord is There.” It is worth noting that the end of the book of Revelation gives the same message. (Rev 21-22) All holiness is fulfilled in Christ. The presence of God is now with his people. There will be no temple for God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.

Our words for today remind us that our God is holy and desires to dwell in the midst of our bodies for they are the temple and his dwelling place within us. “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (I Cor 6:19-20) Living within God’s boundaries results in a holy life honoring God. Would Yahweh Shammah describe your life?

Music: “Sanctus”  Faure     Voces8

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory,

Hosanna in the highest.

Prayer:Thanks be to thee, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which thou hast won for us, for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us. O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and brother, may we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.   ―Richard of Chichester   (1197-1253) from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.31

Monday, May 9

Monday, May 9

Reader: “Who will not fear you, Lord, and glorify your name?”

Response: “For you alone are holy.”

Scripture: Revelation 15:1-4              

Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your works,

    O Lord God, the Almighty.

Just and true are your ways,

    O King of the nations.

Who will not fear you, Lord,

    and glorify your name?

    For you alone are holy.

All nations will come and worship before you,

    for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”

Some thoughts:

As you know, the Revelation of John concerns the role of Jesus, the Lamb, in bringing human history to a close culminating in the final judgment of the nations and peoples of the world. In this particular passage, John sees another vision of seven angels and seven plagues yet to come as God’s wrath against his enemies comes to completion. The devil is destroyed and cast into the pit of hell forever. The plagues described have a great similarity to the plagues of Egypt at the Exodus. A reminder, seven is the number of completion and perfection and appears throughout the book of the Revelation.

Sometimes it’s a little hard to step into the middle of a larger picture with just a few verses. To help give these few sentences a little context, the people mentioned had remained faithful to God and had been victorious over the beast’s attempt to destroy them. The glass sea mixed with fire may be symbolic of their victory through testing; the fire could also signal impending judgment. The harps symbolize a final eternal peace and were often used in celebration and in worship. Contrary to popular thought, this description does not mean we will sit in heaven and play harps throughout eternity!

The reference to both the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb is interesting. You’ll recall following the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s entire army, Moses wrote a song of victory. (Exodus 15) Here the similar but greater Deliverer has brought the ultimate victory over a similar but greater foe with another song of triumph. God connects and unites the old and new covenants. The songs celebrate the redeeming acts of God concerning the Israelites and the saints in heaven. As the redeemer Moses triumphed over Pharoah so the greater Redeemer Christ triumphed over death, evil, and the devil. 

The text of the song itself is a magnificent affirmation of our Lord with virtually every line coming from one of the psalms or writings of the prophets. (E.g. Ps 11:2; Ps 86:9; Jer 10:6-7; Amos 4:13; Mal 1:11) In addition to his glory, (the “weightiness” of God,) his ways of truth and justice are foundational to humanity. Who wouldn’t fear and glorify God? The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is no one. In the end, all nations will recognize that God’s righteous deeds are just and true. 

What are we to glean from this passage? God will judge all wickedness and evil. No one gets away with evil, even if it seems like they do in this life. The day of reckoning is certain. There are no hung juries. Everyone will stand before God; he is not fooled nor is justice mocked. Every knee will bend before God. The believers in Christ have nothing to fear. The blood of the Lamb has covered them and they have been passed over and eternally redeemed. The righteousness of Jesus has been imputed to them and for that we sing, “Great and marvelous are your works, O Lord God, the Almighty. Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations.” In uncertain times, there is great certainty in our Savior and in our future. Your harp is being tuned!

Music: “Rex Tremendae”  Berlioz     Philharmonia Orchestra  John Nelson conducting

Another setting of the Day of Judgment. This is part of the Berlioz Requiem.

Rex treméndae majestátis,

King of terrifying majesty,

Qui salvándos sálvas gratis,

Who freely saves the saved:

Sálva me fons pietátis.

Save me, fount of pity.

Confutatis maledictis Jesu

When the cursed are confounded, Jesus,

Flammis acribus addictis

[and] Consigned to the fierce flames

Voca me

Call me [to be with the blessed]

Prayer:

Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.    ―Revelation 1:5-6

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8

Reader: “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne”

Response: “and from the Lamb!”

Scripture:  Revelation 7:9-17    

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne

    and from the Lamb!”

And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. They sang,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

    and thanksgiving and honor

and power and strength belong to our God

    forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

“That is why they stand in front of God’s throne

    and serve him day and night in his Temple.

And he who sits on the throne

    will give them shelter.

They will never again be hungry or thirsty;

    they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.

For the Lamb on the throne

    will be their Shepherd.

He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.

    And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Some thoughts:  

Two days ago we wrote about the breaking of the six seals by the Lamb. Today we want to finish that section. You may want to go back and reread that entry. The book of the Revelation of John is probably the most widely and variously interpreted book in all of Scripture. One thing to keep in mind is that John is describing the indescribable. He’s been given a vision of the ending of this world and the central role of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God in the culmination of human history. With words that are limited and inadequate in their power, he describes the indescribable the best he can. 

The passage we are concerned with takes place in the throne room of heaven. (cf. Isaiah 6, Daniel 7) The numberless crowd described are those believers from “every nation and tribe and people and language.” Have you ever wondered why the “and” is between each division? Why not just put commas? Could it be that the Spirit is making a point of the distinctiveness of each classification? When people become believers, they do not lose their distinctiveness; but gain their true identity in Christ. These people make up the worldwide Church. Would that our present world would understand this truth as the racial and ethnic struggles continue. God fulfilled his promise to Abraham to be the father of many nations.

The believers are dressed in white robes, signifying the resurrection glory and the imputed righteousness of Christ. Palm branches were a sign of victory in the Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures. Together with willow, myrtle, and citron branches they formed the lulab which were waved as the Jews recited Ps.118:25 crying “O Lord, save us!” which translates in Hebrew as “Hosanna!” The waving of palm branches explains the hopeful celebration occurring on Palm Sunday. We then have another glorious angelic hymn framed by “Amen!” and seven words of worship, the perfect number, each separated by the conjunction “and” again bringing heightened foci to each expression. 

That John is very conscious in the midst of this vision is evidenced by his conversation with one of the twenty-four elders. (Often in a vision, one of the characters will ask a rhetorical question for the purpose of giving further explanation of the vision. Such is the case here.) The elder identifies the vast crowd as those who have died in the tribulation. It is paradoxical that the robes are made white by washing them in the blood of the Lamb. The washing of the robes is an expression of exercising faith in Christ. It is the righteousness of Christ with which the crowd is clothed. The phrase “serve him day and night” is an expression meaning continuously. It is not referring to a literal day and night for John tells us elsewhere there is no night there in heaven (22:5). 

This pericope concludes with a description of the crowd’s worship of God before his throne. They will never be hungry or thirsty, (remember the “living water” Jesus promised to the woman at the well in the heat of the day?) Then there is the beautiful irony of the Lamb being the Shepherd and caring for his sheep.

So, how does all of this strike you? What’s the purpose? Through the revelation to John, God has given us a marvelous word of encouragement for our time on earth. We’ve been given a peek into what lies ahead. All the injustices, pains, sorrows, losses, frustrations, joys, successes, failures, disappointments, and triumphs will be replaced by a life more spectacular than we can begin to imagine as we are in the very presence of our God who loves us and gave himself to make possible our dwelling with him for all eternity! This is all true and helps put the events of our lives today and this world into heavenly perspective. 

Music: “Blessing, Glory, and Wisdom”  JS Bach     Columbine Chorale

This is a setting of the hymn text of our passage.

Prayer:Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.         ―from BCP

Saturday, May 7

Saturday, May 7

Reader: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else,” 

Response: “and he will give you everything you need.”

Scripture: Luke 12:29-32

“And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

Some thoughts:

While the similar pericope in Matthew (6:33) may be more familiar, there are nuances in this passage that draw our attention. Notice Jesus does not address the lazy here, but the worried. In this section of Jesus’ teaching he is describing what the mindset of a citizen of God’s Kingdom should be. In reading the first sentence I can’t help but remember the rush on toilet paper several months ago! Fearful, worried people can become hoarders very quickly! Deep within the natural human heart is a desire for more of whatever. What I have isn’t enough, I need and want more. How can I get it? People who are not believers have no relationship with God. They have no conception; they are on their own. No wonder they are fearful. 

Jesus describes these thoughts of unbelievers everywhere in the world. Is that your observation? Does it even describe you at times? For the believer, such attitudes reflect a lack of belief, a lack of faith in God and God’s provision. It also makes a statement about our view of God’s character and his lack of love. The definition of worry is living out our true belief that God doesn’t care, know, or do anything about our situation. Jesus’ words make the truth so clear: “your Father already knows your needs.” God is always ahead of you! He sees the big picture―you don’t. 

If we are not to worry about the basics, what are we supposed to do? Jesus tells us to seek the Kingdom of God above all else. What does that mean? Seeking God’s Kingdom means embracing God’s value system, God’s perspective―which means studying the Scriptures so the Holy Spirit can teach us what his perspective is on everything. Seeking God’s Kingdom means following his purpose and plan for restoring his creation. Seeking God’s Kingdom means submitting to his authority continuously. Seeking God’s Kingdom means laying aside my kingdom and working for his. Seeking God’s Kingdom means his Kingdom is not my highest priority, it is my only priority. In doing so, he will provide everything I need. 

The fact that Jesus calls us his “little flock” cannot but help remind us of Psalm 23 and our Good Shepherd. Notice how Jesus describes the Father in ways that humans can relate to, further underscoring the humanity of the character of God. As glorious as God is far, far above our comprehension, he is also able to relate to the lowest of his children. What we also learn in Jesus’ words here is that it makes the Father happy to give us his Kingdom. He knows it will bring us the greatest joy and fulfillment. Being in communion with God is the greatest joy in the world because that is what you and I were made for. How could it not be our greatest joy? Of course, you can worry if you want to!!  If you are worried, (or even if you’re not) listen to today’s music! It will make your day!

Music: “Just a Little Talk with Jesus”   Jehovah Shalom 

Prayer:O God most high, most glorious, the thought of thine infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but thou art forever at perfect peace. Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfillment, they stand fast as the eternal hills. Thy power knows no bond, thy goodness no stint. Thou bringest order out of confusion, and my defeats are thy victories: The Lord God omnipotent reigneth. I come to thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows, to leave every concern entirely to thee, every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood. Revive deep spirituality in my heart; let me live near to the great shepherd, hear his voice, know its tones, follow its calls. Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth, from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit. Give me a growing intensity of faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know; let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence, know in it the power of the Spirit. Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill; unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget thee. Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots; grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to thee, that all else is trifling. Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy. Abide in me, gracious God. Amen. ―from The Valley of Vision, p. 129

Friday, May 6

Friday, May 6

Reader: “As I watched,”

Response: “The Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll.”

Scripture: Revelation 6:1-7:4

As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll. Then I heard one of the four living beings say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked up and saw a white horse standing there. Its rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on his head. He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.

When the Lamb broke the second seal, I heard the second living being say, “Come!” Then another horse appeared, a red one. Its rider was given a mighty sword and the authority to take peace from the earth. And there was war and slaughter everywhere.

When the Lamb broke the third seal, I heard the third living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a black horse, and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice from among the four living beings say, “A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley will cost a day’s pay. And don’t waste the olive oil and wine.”

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a horse whose color was pale green. Its rider was named Death, and his companion was the Grave. These two were given authority over one-fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and famine and disease and wild animals.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.

I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood. Then the stars of the sky fell to the earth like green figs falling from a tree shaken by a strong wind. The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places.

Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?”

Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, “Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.”

And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel:

Some thoughts:

In apocalyptic literature it is important to realize that numbers, images, and creatures are symbolic of the greater picture of God’s perspective and unfolding plan for the world and its inhabitants. To try to identify specific people, nations, and movements with specific passages is speculative at best and probably not wise. But that does not water down the profound meaning of the writing.

Yesterday we read in Chapter 5 of Revelation where the Lamb that was slain was worthy to open the seven seals of the scroll. Today we read of his opening six of the seals. The first four horses (four seals) summarize the power structures of the world. In the breaking of the first seal we read of a rider on a white horse carrying a bow, a Greco-Roman symbol of war. The theme? Continuous battles to win wars.

The breaking of the second seal revealed a red horse (symbolic of blood), a sword, and more wars and slaughter, massive blood shed both civil and international. The breaking of the third seal unveiled a black horse and rider with a pair of scales disclosing massive inflation of the basic staples in life (symbolized by the cost of bread), famine, and general economic disaster. Yet, prices of luxuries (oil and wine) would remain unchanged indicating social imbalance and divide between poor and wealthy. With the fourth seal came a pale green horse and rider whose name was Death. The pale green was the color for depicting a corpse in the ancient world. Not even death would spare a sinner from judgment. In these four seals we have summarized the power structures of man governing the world leading to war, violence, economic imbalance, plague, famine, and death. (cf. Ezekiel 14:21) Notice all the troubles have to do with the sinfulness of man’s greed and lust for power over others. In this godless scenario, death is the end awaiting final judgment.

The Lamb then opened the fifth seal to disclose the martyred souls residing under the altar, the location of blood in the First Testament sacrificial system. We’re familiar with these words, “for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord.” (Leviticus 17:11) In the breaking of this seal, the martyrs themselves are in place of the blood, having given themselves totally as a burnt sacrifice to the Lord. 

Their cry of “how long O Lord” is not so much for vengeance as longing for the final judgment and end of the world. In the meantime, they were to rest. The white robes are symbolic of the martyrs’ victory. The white robes were a Jewish symbol of the resurrection and also symbolic of purity and eternal life.  

We come at last to the sixth seal in today’s reading giving us a glimpse of the cataclysmic ending of the whole created order. The great day of God’s wrath has come. What is described is beyond our imagination as God unleashes the final judgment on the unredeemed. All of these descriptions appear in various prophecies in the Old Testament. What is very clear is that God protects his faithful followers, his own as he tells the angels of destruction to wait until “we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.” Again, rather than speculate as to exactly what that will look like, the main point is that God cares for and protects his own from ultimate harm. They need not fear judgment. Then we get to the famous 144,000, symbolically meaning a “fixed and full completion.” (12 tribes x 12 apostles (Church) x 1000) It is generally understood that this symbolic number refers to the Church at large in the end time since the distresses are worldwide. It would seem odd if God’s protection were only of the Jews and not his Church. 

So what do we glean from this pericope? God is certainly going to judge the world and bring human history on earth to a close separating the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. Jesus is central in every action and the only  one who makes redemption possible. God has complete charge of everything including caring for his own. All the faithful, his Church, rejoice in his presence for all eternity and all of this because of his great love for his children. 

Music: “Rex Tremendae”  from Mozart Requiem    Wiener Philharmoniker, Karajan.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sGp1tXoyes       Glorious!

Rex treméndae majestátis,

King of terrifying majesty,

Qui salvándos sálvas gratis,

Who freely saves the saved:

Sálva me fons pietátis.

Save me, fount of pity.

Prayer:Who can tell what a day may bring forth? Cause me therefore, gracious God, to live every day as if it were to be my last, for I know not but that it may be such. Cause me to live now as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. O grant that I may not die with any guilt on my conscience, or any known sin unrepented of, but that I may be found in Christ, who is my only Savior and Redeemer.  ―Thomas à Kempis 1380-1471, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.38

May 5

Thursday, May 5

Reader: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 

Response: “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory.” 

Scripture:  Revelation 5:1-10

Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.

Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

    and break its seals and open it.

For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation.

And you have caused them to become

    a Kingdom of priests for our God.

    And they will reign on the earth.”

Some thoughts:

There are a few basic things to remember when reading and studying apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Symbols and numbers are key and pictures and images are not meant to be literal descriptions, but rather instruments in the unfolding of God’s divine plan for the world. Our pericope for today further explains the great significance of the Messiah’s role in the revealing of God’s kingdom.

Like we read a few days ago, John is in the throne room of heaven with God sitting upon his throne holding a scroll in his right hand. The right hand always signifies power and authority. In those days scrolls were the most common form of “books” though there were some codices as well. (A codex was similar to our books in that pages of papyrus were folded and stitched together.) The fact that there was writing on both sides of the scroll is significant in that it means God’s plans for history are complete. Often only the inside of a scroll had the writing. The backside was also written upon when more needed to be said. 

A “testament” type of scroll always carried seven seals. For example, if you had a last will and testament scroll, it always was witnessed by seven witnesses, each putting their own seal on the seven wax seals. Each person opened their own seal at the reading of the will. Different kinds of scrolls had different numbers of seals. Here John describes a scroll with seven seals, a testament scroll. The strong angel with a loud voice indicates a big and major announcement to everyone in heaven, on earth, and in hades (under the earth), the place of the dead. The question is, “Who is worthy to break the seals, open the scroll, and read it?” 

Certainly no human being on earth was worthy and no created being in heaven was worthy. The realm of the dead produced no one as all had already been defeated by death. Then the twenty-four elders spoke up proclaiming the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Heir to David’s throne, both references to the Messiah, as being worthy to open both the seven seals and the scroll. In his resurrection he was the victor over death! As the slaughtered Lamb stands between the throne, the four creatures, and the twenty-four elders, he clearly is the central figure bringing everything together. The twenty-four elders represent the Old Covenant (the twelve tribes) and the New Covenant (the twelve apostles, the Church) as interpreted by many scholars. The seven (perfect number indicating wholeness or completeness, perfection) horns speak of perfect power and the seven eyes of complete knowledge. The Lamb is also related to the perfect Spirit of God. (Revelation 1:4) 

As the slain Lamb took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne, all those present fell to the ground in worship. Their harps were instruments used to accompany singing and the bowls of incense represented the prayers of the saints ascending to God. The glorious text of the song they sang concludes the reading for today.

What is so clear in this vision is the centrality of Jesus’ sacrificial death and what his death made possible. The accomplishment of God’s plan for the world was impossible apart from the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. He was the only being worthy to open God’s scroll of his kingdom. The significance of Christ’s victory over death is why the early Church celebrated Easter all the way to Pentecost. 

Music: “Worthy Is the Lamb”   from Messiah    Voces8 and Barnaby Smith

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS2osOLEe0U       This is the finest recording  of this piece I have come across in years. It comes close to capturing Revelation. (I have heard Voces8 live and they are that good!!) The best 8:46 seconds of your day!

Prayer:

Blessing and honor and glory and power and riches and wisdom and strength belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb for all eternity. Amen and amen!   ―the Apostle John

Thursday, May 5

Thursday, May 5

Reader: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 

Response: “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory.” 

Scripture:   Rev. 5:1-10

Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.

Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.

Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

    and break its seals and open it.

For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation.

And you have caused them to become

    a Kingdom of priests for our God.

    And they will reign on the earth.”

Some thoughts:

There are a few basic things to remember when reading and studying apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Symbols and numbers are key and pictures and images are not meant to be literal descriptions, but rather instruments in the unfolding of God’s divine plan for the world. Our pericope for today further explains the great significance of the Messiah’s role in the revealing of God’s kingdom.

Like we read a few days ago, John is in the throne room of heaven with God sitting upon his throne holding a scroll in his right hand. The right hand always signifies power and authority. In those days scrolls were the most common form of “books” though there were some codices as well. (A codex was similar to our books in that pages of papyrus were folded and stitched together.) The fact that there was writing on both sides of the scroll is significant in that it means God’s plans for history are complete. Often only the inside of a scroll had the writing. The backside was also written upon when more needed to be said. 

A “testament” type of scroll always carried seven seals. For example, if you had a last will and testament scroll, it always was witnessed by seven witnesses, each putting their own seal on the seven wax seals. Each person opened their own seal and the reading of the will. Different kinds of scrolls had different numbers of seals. Here John describes a scroll with seven seals, a testament scroll. The strong angel with a loud voice indicates a big and major announcement to everyone in heaven, on earth, and in hades (under the earth), the place of the dead. The question is, “Who is worthy to break the seals, open the scroll, and read it?” 

Certainly no human being on earth was worthy and no created being in heaven was worthy. The realm of the dead produced no one as all had already been defeated by death. Then the twenty-four elders spoke up proclaiming the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Heir to David’s throne, both references to the Messiah, as being worthy to open both the seven seals and the scroll. In his resurrection he was the victor over death! As the slaughtered Lamb stands between the throne, the four creatures, and the twenty-four elders, he clearly is the central figure bringing everything together. The twenty-four elders represent the Old Covenant (the twelve tribes) and the New Covenant (the twelve apostles, the Church) as interpreted by many scholars. The seven (perfect number indicating wholeness or completeness, perfection) horns speak of perfect power and the seven eyes of complete knowledge. The Lamb is also related to the perfect Spirit of God. (Revelation 1:4) 

As the slain Lamb took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne, all those present fell to the ground in worship. Their harps were instruments used to accompany singing and the bowls of incense represented the prayers of the saints ascending to God. The glorious text of the song they sang concludes the reading for today.

What is so clear in this vision is the centrality of Jesus’ sacrificial death and what his death made possible. The accomplishment of God’s plan for the world was impossible apart from the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. He was the only being worthy to open God’s scroll of his kingdom. The significance of Christ’s victory over death is why the early Church celebrated Easter all the way to Pentecost. 

Music: “Worthy Is the Lamb”   from Messiah    Voces8 and Barnaby Smith

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS2osOLEe0U       This is the finest recording  of this piece I have come across in years. It comes close to capturing Revelation. (I have heard Voces8 live and they are that good!!) The best 8:46 seconds of your day!

Prayer:

Blessing and honor and glory and power and riches and wisdom and strength belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb for all eternity. Amen and amen!   ―the Apostle John

Wednesday, May 4

Wednesday, May 4

Reader: “Oh, Lord, please leave me—”

Response: “I’m such a sinful man.”

Scripture: Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!”  And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Some thoughts:

Those of you who went to Sunday School as little kids years ago may remember the little song, “I Will Make You Fishers of Men,” which often followed the telling of this story. You may even remember the hand motions that go with it! All three of the Synoptics relate this event, but Luke gives the most detailed account.

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, large crowds followed him everywhere. People were pushing so close, he needed to give himself a little space from them in order to address the whole crowd. So he asked to borrow a boat. Speaking from a boat with his voice carrying over the water would actually help the acoustics. (The human voice has been heard for a distance of 10 miles at night over still water.) Jesus borrowed one of Peter’s boats and sat in it as he taught the crowd. Rabbis usually sat when they taught. 

During the day fish often go to the deeper water where it is cooler and come more to the surface to feed at night when the surface water is not as warm. There is some irony in Jesus’ directive as a Jewish rabbi tells professional fishermen how to fish! There are some oddities in his request. First, he told them to go to deep water to fish during the day. Second, their nets are not deep water nets. Third, they had been fishing all night and caught nothing, why would they catch something at this time in the day? Fourth, fish have more trouble seeing the nets at night in reduced light. In other words, fish have better luck seeing and avoiding the nets in daylight. 

After reminding Jesus of their fishing frustration during the previous night, Peter gave a kind of reluctant, “OK, we’ll do it if you say so!” And you know what happened. The miracle put Peter on his knees before the Lord repenting of his sin. The other gospels record Jesus’ words, “Come, follow me.” Immediately, Peter and Andrew and James and John left everything on the spot and followed Jesus the rest of their lives.

So what is here for us? When the Lord asks you to do something, do it right away, don’t wait. Following Jesus is for life. Don’t be afraid, he knows what’s coming. Jesus still does miracles. The morning of each new day begins with his words, “Come, follow me”―including today. “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men . . .”

Music: “Lift High the Cross”    Chris Rupp

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 as I follow you the rest of my days on earth. This I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.  ―Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662 from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.56, adapted Daniel Sharp

Bonus Clip: from “The Chosen” Jesus calls Peter    9:35https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z49zw1jMPo4

Tuesday, May 3

Tuesday, May 3

Reader: “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.”

Response: “And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.”

Scripture: Acts 26:1-19

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You may speak in your defense.”

So Paul, gesturing with his hand, started his defense: “I am fortunate, King Agrippa, that you are the one hearing my defense today against all these accusations made by the Jewish leaders, for I know you are an expert on all Jewish customs and controversies. Now please listen to me patiently!

“As the Jewish leaders are well aware, I was given a thorough Jewish training from my earliest childhood among my own people and in Jerusalem. If they would admit it, they know that I have been a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of our religion. Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. In fact, that is why the twelve tribes of Israel zealously worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, Your Majesty, they accuse me “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. for having this hope! Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?

“I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.

“One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’

“‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’

And so, King Agrippa, I obeyed that vision from heaven.

Some thoughts:

My guess is that most of us are familiar with this story. Paul has been arrested for preaching the gospel. He is in the process of appealing his case before Herod the Great’s great-grandson, King Agrippa II, the morally corrupt Jewish ruler in Palestine.

The Romans consulted him on Jewish legal matters, hence his presence to hear Paul’s defense. In spite of the fact that King Agrippa has an incestuous relationship with his sister, Paul treats him with respect several times referring to him as Your Majesty. The principle here is giving respect to people whose values and way of life is antithetical to godliness.

Notice the structure of Paul’s defense. He commends Aprippa’s knowledge of Jewish law. Paul then tells of his past by giving his Jewish background and credentials. This information is important because of what he is being accused of by the Jewish leadership. He is also establishing how diligent he was in practicing his Jewish faith, even to the point of casting his vote to have Christians killed. Because he was such a devout and committed practitioner of Judaism dedicated to wiping out the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, it makes his conversion to Christianity all the more astounding yet believable. At this point, Agrippa has learned of his past, what Paul used to believe. 

Paul then moves on to describe the transition that happened which caused the great transformation in his life. In succinct specific detail he recounts the story of his conversion to believing in Jesus. Paul includes the actual words of Jesus in his vision which details Paul’s future ministry to the Gentiles. Notice also Paul brings out how Jesus forgives sins and accepts not only Jews but non-Jews as well. Paul lays out a very reasoned argument for his faith. He is focused on Christ Jesus, rather than the sins of the people he’s talking to. Obviously something in Paul’s words is registering with Agrippa because his response a few verses after this passage is, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” Agrippa clearly picks up the implications of Paul’s argument.

In these few verses we are given a model of both defending and articulating our journey of faith. Paul told about his life before he became a Christian. He told how he became a Christian both the event and the process of repentance for sin and turning to God for forgiveness. And he challenged Agrippa to believe and confess his sin. Put in the fewest words: this is who I was before, what happened, how it happened, it can happen to you as well. Something to keep in mind the next time you are asked about your faith. 

Music: “Rock of Ages”    James Ward     Beautiful different tune. Don’t miss it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UznDZGOLTM8     Video of composer singing and playing piano.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAriYu_4tgs  Composer singing with text and still pictures. Same recording.

Prayer:

Jesus of Nazareth and of heaven, you have made your abode on earth for a few short years that Jews and Gentiles, all peoples might have a place to go when we leave this earth. You are the uniter of heaven and earth. You transformed Paul’s life by speaking to him from heaven. You still speak from heaven to people on earth. Your gospel is truly living thousands of years later for it continues to transform millions of lives including mine. The ordered simplicity of Paul’s defense inspires me to share your glorious news. Help me look for opportunities to share it. This world is so lost, so rebellious, and so arrogant in pursuing evil and corruption of every kind that the gospel is our only hope. Have mercy on us Lord and may we, your children like Paul, speak the truth in love.  

There is no other way. This we pray in the glorious name of Jesus, amen.  

                                                       ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, May 2

Monday, May 2

Reader: “I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?”

Response: “My help comes from the Lord.”

Scripture: Psalm 121

I look up to the mountains—

    does my help come from there?

My help comes from the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;

    the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel

    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!

    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day,

    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm

    and watches over your life.

 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,

    both now and forever.

Some thoughts:

Worship at “high places” in the First Testament was roundly condemned as it was often a trap for the Israelites. Sometimes these places were called hilltop shrines. Pagan worship centered around such locations with the belief that the worshiper was closer to the gods because of the elevation of the site. The Israelites were repeatedly drawn to adopt this form of worship and many times embrace the pagan rituals. (cf. Deut 12:2)

So the question this psalm raises could be viewed in a couple ways. If we read it as a rhetorical question, then our answer would be negative. In other words, no, my help in living my life does not come from mountain top gods. They are useless.

A second way to look at the opening question is to view or understand the reference to the mountain as a symbol of God’s strength. (Psalm 95:4) In this case the question is answered in the following sentence. “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Afterall, he is the one who made the mountain!

At this point it may be worth noting the prominence mountains played in Scripture as a location of God speaking to his people. (This might be an interesting topic for you to pursue!) Here are some examples: God made a covenant with Noah on Mt. Ararat; the Tower of Babel was the people’s attempt to build their own mountain to bring glory to themselves; God tested Abraham’s faith in his attempted sacrifice of Isaac on Mt. Moriah; Moses received the Law and interacted with God several times on Mt. Sinai and viewed the promised land from Mt. Nebo while being reminded of his disobedience to the Lord; Israelites announcing their allegiance to God by pronouncing God’s blessings and cursings from Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim;  Solomon building the Temple on Mt. Moriah; Elijah challenging the priests of Baal of Mt. Carmel; Elijah talking with the Lord on Mt. Horeb (Sinai); the devil taking Jesus to the top of a “very high mountain” to tempt him with the kingdoms of the world; Jesus often going up to the mountains to pray to his Father; the Sermon on the Mount (plain); the Transfiguration; Jesus descending the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday and leaving earth from there at his Ascension. Observe what God did in each of these situations. What is the thread?

The psalmist goes on to cite the Creator Lord’s care of his children. The one who made them is certainly able to watch and protect them for he is present with them. The sun and moon were regarded as deities but God is Lord over the sun and moon. They too praise him. (Psalm 148:3) The bottom line is that the Lord watches over you today and, in fact, for all eternity. Rest in his care and take a trip to the mountains!

Music: “Psalm 121”  Tower of David   sung in Hebrew with English subtitles

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5UgI6SWVbQ      3:43    Wonderful

“My Help”   Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir     (Psalm 121)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWydssGbUBc     7:54

Prayer:O Lord Jesus Christ, whom men saw on the mountain top transfigured with the splendor of God; Lord Christ, whom they saw at thy ascension girt about with the light of heaven, thy pierced hands stretched out in blessing over the world: open our eyes to see thee as thou art, and help us so to know thee that we may love thee and the world which thou didst come to save. Lord Jesus, hidden from our sight, yet really present to our faith, we acknowledge you to be Savior of the world and King of the new creation. Above our weakness and despair, above our strife and disunity, above our sin and rebellion, above the impersonal forces which threaten to crush us, you rule. Your life reigns supreme and can bring hope and peace and pardon and freedom. In our need of these gifts, we look to you. Lord Jesus Christ, lifted high over all, we worship and adore you. Amen. ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.99

Third Sunday of Easter, May 1

Third Sunday of Easter, May 1

Reader: “Jesus said, “feed my sheep.”

Response: “Jesus said, “follow me.”

Scripture: John 21:1-19  

Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”

“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”

“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.

“Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

“Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

Some thoughts:

You may have noticed that this resurrection appearance has several ties to earlier appearances and events in Jesus’ interaction with his disciples. Matthew records that at  the resurrection Jesus told the women to have the disciples go to Galilee and he would meet them there. This pericope fulfills his words. You’ll recall that much of Jesus’ ministry with the disciples was in and around the region and the Sea of Galilee. I’m guessing these seven disciples picked up many of the connections between the pre-resurrection and post-resurrection encounters with Jesus. Let’s explore some of them.

The disciples returned to fishing again and this night caught nothing. The same thing happened three years earlier when Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, the author of this book, had a night of futile fishing. (Luke 5:1-10) In this instance it’s morning and there is a man standing on the beach who asks them if they’ve caught any fish. Upon hearing their answer, he tells them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat. You have to wonder, did that ring a bell in the minds of the disciples? Déjà vu?

I have a feeling John was the first to pick up what was going on with his comment,”It’s the Lord!” That’s all Peter needed to hear. He was in the water on his way to shore! In Peter’s encounter with the Lord years earlier in a similar situation, his words were, “Depart from me Lord, I’m a sinner.” Here, he makes his way to the Lord as fast as he can. He didn’t need to walk on the water this time to know it was the Lord! (Matthew 14:28-29)

Two times in the New Testament there is mention of a charcoal fire. One is here and the other is when Peter warmed himself in the dark of night by the charcoal fire where he denied he even knew the Lord. It is fitting that the restoration of Peter took place in the light of a new day by another charcoal fire. What had been a reminder of failure became a symbol of restoration.

Jesus’ breakfast consisted of fish and bread, perhaps a reminder to the disciples of the feeding of the 5,000 or even when Jesus asked the disciples for a piece of fish to eat the evening of his resurrection to prove he wasn’t a ghost. But by this point they all realized they were in the presence of the risen Christ.  

As we consider Jesus’ interaction with Peter around the question of loving him, most Greek scholars treat the two different Greek words concerning “love” as synonyms. Too much can be made of the differing words when the main point is Jesus’ charge to Peter to take care of the flock. Peter, James, and John were the disciples in Jesus’ inner circle and Peter was the leader of the three. Following his tragic failure in front of all the disciples, (“Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”), Jesus restores him to leadership in front of James and John and four other disciples. One cannot miss the three-fold restoration mirroring the three-fold denial. Jesus brings Peter’s ministry full circle in foretelling him of his death bringing glory to God. In Jesus’ foreknowledge of Peter’s life, we also learn there will be no more denials of his Savior.

What are some things for us to glean? We are reminded that every part of our life is significant in God’s master plan. Past or even future failures are not final. Jesus is tender in granting forgiveness. He is in the life restoration business. No person or situation is ever hopeless. Meals with believing friends are an important part of living out faith. Jesus takes the initiative in dealing with his children. His children recognize him in their midst. Pray today for people you know who are on the other side of Peter’s situation―still distant from the Lord. (Luke 18:1-8 the persistent widow)

Music: “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah”   Brits Hymn Sing

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? An unruly tongue; a fretful disposition: an unwillingness to bear the burdens of others: high professions joined to low attainments: fine words hiding shabby thoughts: a friendly face masking a cold heart: I thank Thee, O loving Father, that, holy and transcendent as thou art, Thou hast through all ages shown Thyself to be accessible to the prayers of erring mortals such as I; and especially I praise Thy name that in the gospel of Jesus Christ 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 despair over my miserable sins give place to joy in Thine adorable goodness. So let me lie down tonight thinking, not of myself and my own affairs, but of others who need Thy help and of the work that I can do for their sakes in the vineyard of Thy world. Amen.   ―John Baillie, from A Diary of Private Prayer, p.119

Saturday, April 30

Saturday, April 30

Reader: “The Lord appeared again to Abraham”

Response: “near the oak grove.”

Scripture:    Genesis 18:1-8 

The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

Some thoughts:

In early days before there was written Scripture, the Incarnation, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God sometimes appeared in an angelic or human type form and talked with people. (Called “theophanies.” Later in time theophanies tended to occur when the person was asleep (Jacob), though God spoke to Moses “face to face.” Ex 33.11) 

Though he is nearly 100 years old, apparently Abraham gets around quite well as he “ran” here and there in serving his guests, one of whom is generally understood to be the Lord himself along with two angels. In this most familiar passage note the contrast in Abraham’s hospitality to that of the wicked citizens of Sodom. Washing the feet of guests was common practice. Abraham may well have realized who his guests were as he had interacted with the Lord on previous occasions. (Chapters 12,15,17) His use of the word Lord, (the Hebrew text uses adonai, the word usually meaning God), would seem to indicate that Abraham had a good idea he was talking with God. Notice also when the three men appeared, Abraham prostrated himself before the Lord, as he is the one Abraham addressed. By the end of their time together, he certainly knew he was dealing with the Lord as he bargained for the sparing of Sodom.  

Some twenty-five years earlier the Lord had made a covenant with Abram. Sharing a meal together was an important part of either making or confirming a covenant. During the previous year the Lord had come to Abram, confirmed the covenant he had made, changed Abram’s name to Abraham, the father of nations, and solidified the covenant with circumcision. It appears that the Lord had come in person to solidify his covenant with Abraham by sharing a meal, a standard part of covenant making. The fact that Abraham also served meat at this meal tells us it was well above the normal practice in serving guests. Fellowship with God around a meal is part of communing with God. Our eucharist serves in a similar way. (Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42) God invites his people to share the bread and cup, his body and his blood, with his own as a renewal and reminder of the New Covenant. 

In Hebrews 13:2 we are reminded: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.” My late brother-in-law, Bob Webber, used to comment frequently that “hospitality was the mark of the Holy Spirit.” Have you ever noticed how hospitable Jesus was and how often he encountered people around a meal? His is a pattern for us to emulate.

Music: “Come Share the Lord”    Manilo Barry Davids & Lauren Solomons 

Prayer:

Lord God, we live in a world where it seems people are becoming more and more isolated from one another. We’ve turned inward and become more and more self-focused. Many Christians have quit gathering with other believers for worship becoming more and more isolated even neglecting sharing in the Lord’s Supper. Father, quicken our hearts to reach out to all those around us. May community and hospitality grow through the work of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, amen.      ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, April 29

Friday, April 29

Reader: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!

    The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

Response: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—

    the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-4  

 It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!

    The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

Revelation 4:1-11

Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.” And instantly I was in the Spirit, and I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it. The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow. Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal.

In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—

    the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,

    to receive glory and honor and power.

For you created all things,

    and they exist because you created what you pleased.”

See also: Ezekiel 1:4-28

Some thoughts:

In these two passages we have Isaiah and John both having visions describing the throne of God. Of interest to us is what we can glean about God from studying their descriptions. Both describe God as sitting on a throne, an indication of absolute power, authority, and majesty. God’s words to John, “Come up here,” reminds one of his words to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “Come up here to me.” (Ex.24:1) In both cases God had something to say first to Moses and then to John some fifteen hundred years later. In Isaiah’s case, God’s words were a call to ministry.

In John’s vision, the throne was surrounded by a rainbow, reminiscent of God’s everlasting covenant with Noah. Neither Isaiah nor John try to give us a specific description of the face of God sitting on the throne. John uses gemstones and brilliant colors for his description of the scene. Included are twenty-four elders perhaps symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel (the Old Covenant) and the twelve apostles (the New Covenant). In the time of John, torches were often set before rulers to reflect their authority. The torches described here may represent the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit with seven being the number of perfection. The four living creatures represent four created beings: the lion representing wild animals; the ox representing domesticated animals; the human representing all of humanity; and the eagle representing birds. (cp. Eze 1:10). Ancient people associated fish with the sea which was viewed as evil, so nothing of sea life is mentioned. In the ancient world whatever physical attribute was most prominent indicated that feature was the strength of that particular being. So creatures covered with eyes probably indicate a gift of knowledge or understanding. Those beings are ever diligent in observing everything all the time, never sleeping.

The Trisagion, or “Holy, holy, holy,” appears in both Isaiah and Revelation. To repeat a word makes it emphatic. To triple the word, makes it ultimate. “Holy” is the only word tripled in speaking of God. Love, mercy, just, or kindness are never repeated thrice in describing God. While those words are words describing God’s character, “holy” is different. Of multiple meanings, one is to be “set apart.” For example, God’s love is holy love; his mercy is holy mercy; his justice is holy justice. God is set apart from everything in existence. Everything has an origin; it was created, it had a source. God is the only uncreated Being. He never wasn’t. That can be said of nothing else that is. These men’s visions point us to the mysterious and wondrous holy God.  

What do we glean from the visions of these men concerning God? Our holy God cares about his people and seeks communion with us. He is all authority. He shares the throne with no one. There is no other God. All bow before him. He alone is worthy of our worship. He is overwhelmingly beyond us yet is earnestly desirous of redeeming his children to live with him throughout eternity. Those are all things we know and have heard before, but are they changing the way we live? In Peter’s words, “you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15-16) If your world is like mine, I don’t hear words urging people to live holy lives very often. Holiness doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of people’s minds in their daily living. Let us encourage each other. Again in Peter’s words, “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.” (I Peter 2:9) One day will be our turn to be called to “come up” and we shall see God in his holiness. What will he say? Let’s spend the rest of our days here on earth preparing for that moment.

Music: “Take Time to Be Holy”   Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing to the tune Slane

Two different settings of the Isaiah and Revelation holiness texts below by two different composers seeking to express the glory of God’s holiness.

“Sanctus”        Faure        Voces8

 “Sanctus”     Durufle            Atlanta Symphony and Chorus    Robert Shaw 

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory

Hosanna in the highest!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

Prayer:It is right and proper that we should give you praise and hymns and glory O uncreated Father of Jesus Christ, who is your only Son. We praise you, God uncreated, unsearchable, ineffable, beyond the grasp of any created being.  We praise you because you are known by the Only Son, proclaimed and explained by him to created beings and known in turn by them. We praise you because you know the Son and reveal to the saints the glories that are his. We praise you because you are known by the Word you begot and are seen by the saints and understood by them after a fashion. We praise you, Father, invisible, Giver of immortality. You are the source of life and light, the source of all grace and truth; you love men and you love the poor, you seek reconciliation with all men and draw them all to you by sending your dear Son to visit them. We beg you, make us really alive. Give us the spirit of light, that we may know you, the supremely true, and your envoy, Jesus Christ. Give us the Holy Spirit and enable us to discourse at large upon your ineffable mysteries. May the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit speak in us and praise you through us, for you are high above all princedoms, powers, virtues and dominations, above everything that can be named, both in this world and the world to come . . .  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Heaven is full, earth is full of your wonderful glory . . . ―Bishop Serapion, 4th century, from The Oxford Book of Prayer P. 64

Thursday, April 28

Thursday, April 28

Reader: “The holiness of God” 

Response: “will be displayed by his righteousness.”

Scripture: Isaiah 5:11-17

What sorrow for those who get up early in the morning

    looking for a drink of alcohol

and spend long evenings drinking wine

    to make themselves flaming drunk.

They furnish wine and lovely music at their grand parties—

    lyre and harp, tambourine and flute—

but they never think about the Lord

    or notice what he is doing.

So my people will go into exile far away

    because they do not know me.

Those who are great and honored will starve,

    and the common people will die of thirst.

The grave is licking its lips in anticipation,

    opening its mouth wide.

The great and the lowly

    and all the drunken mob will be swallowed up.

Humanity will be destroyed, and people brought down;

    even the arrogant will lower their eyes in humiliation.

But the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will be exalted by his justice.

    The holiness of God will be displayed by his righteousness.

In that day lambs will find good pastures,

    and fattened sheep and young goats will feed among the ruins.

Some thoughts:

Isaiah’s ministry spanned the years 740-701 BC. In this section of Scripture Isaiah warns of coming judgment against Judah for its unfaithfulness to God. The warning you just read is the second of six pronouncements. This particular woe (“what sorrow”) has to do with the indulgent lifestyle on display by Israel and Judah. The first sentence cites the love of pleasure and lack of any self-control. At this point, Israel and Judah are partying societies with no concern for and even a denial of ever facing God. There is no godly influence or concern anywhere to be seen. I’m reminded of an apropos line from Psalm 30:6 “Nothing can stop me now.” The Jewish society in Isaiah’s day sounds a great deal like the one in which we live.

Our world is consumed with all kinds of pleasure seeking stimulants. Go to any large city at 2 AM in the morning and the second sentence in the reading for today is most likely a description of what you will see. Our societies have worldly heroes and very secular cultural icons admired by millions. Many business and entertainment leaders are consumed with themselves, their power, and their desire to control society. There is corruption in our governments at all levels. Like Judah and Israel, our world has come off the rails without knowing it. The thinking of the prophets of old, and frankly of many followers of Christ today, is, how can someone not think about God? We have a job to do. Pray for repentance for our world’s unbridled arrogance and foolish ways.

The middle section of our passage about the “grave licking its lips” and “humanity will be destroyed” is frightening. Without repentance, the course is set. Eternal death awaits. Death has been described as “the uninvited guest to every home.” The grave has a voracious appetite. Everyone enters it, the powerful, the weak, the wealthy, the pauper, the famous, the unknown, the proud, the humble, the arrogant, the cynic. . . The grave is non-selective and accepts, or rather demands all attend. For the rebel, God who had been ignored, will be seen and honored for who he is. Every knee will bend before the Creator and giver of life, willingly or unwillingly. The glorious truth is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has swallowed up the grave itself forever! The glory of the resurrection!

PS. In Isaiah’s words to his people, judgment is coming. Part of those words came to pass in Isaiah’s lifetime; Israel was crushed and hauled off to Assyria in 722 BC as slaves due specifically to their rejection of God. Isaiah’s message was clear: you cannot flaunt disobedience to God and escape God’s judgment . . . ever. As a result, many citizens of Israel died in Assyria and never saw their homeland again. Judah’s judgment came 136 years later in 586 BC when they were exiled to Babylon. It was not until 1948 AD that Israel was again returned to its homeland as a free nation.

The irony is that as the people of Israel, Judah, and people in our world chase after everything seeking fulfillment, the answer to their search is found in coming to the One they are running from. Note today’s music.

Music: “Come”      Dan Forrest

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 lovingkindness an answer to our every need; for the sake of Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    

                                      ―Source Unknown, The Quiet Corner, p.91

Wednesday, April 27

Wednesday, April 27

Reader: “Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body;”

Response: “they cannot do any more to you after that.”

Scripture: Luke 12:4-12          

“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.

“What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”

Some thoughts:

This pericope comes from the period in Jesus’ growing public ministry where the crowds are now in the thousands even as opposition from the religious leaders increases. Knowing that persecution is coming to his friends, Jesus gives realistic encouragement to his followers. While people can kill your body, they can’t touch your soul. Since God will ultimately judge your soul, it is more important to be concerned about your soul and your relationship to God. 

As you know, hell, gehenna, in Greek, was a garbage dump in a ravine on the southwest side of Jerusalem where trash was burned. It had also been a place of infant sacrifices to Baal during one of Judah’s times of pagan worship. (II Chron 28:3; 33:6, Jer 32:35) In this passage, Jesus clearly teaches the coming judgment and the reality of hell. His listeners have a visual image.

In the next short section, by referring to something as insignificant as a sparrow or the hairs of our head, Jesus is making the argument from the lesser to the greater. In other words, if God cares about and keeps track of such things that are so minor as birds and the hairs on your head, how can you doubt how much he values and cares for you? I see the possibility of a little bit of Jesus’ humor here. With a twinkle in his eye, he looks at me and says, “Dan, you are worth more than a whole flock of birds to me! So don’t be afraid of what lies ahead.”

Continuing on in the passage, we dare not underestimate the importance and significance of acknowledging our allegiance to Christ in every situation, private and especially in public in a world antagonistic to Christianity. Affirming our faith in Jesus while on earth assures our Savior will acknowledge us in heaven. This is no time to be silent or timid in regard to faith.

The blaspheming of the Holy Spirit here seems to be a complete denial of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To reject the witness of the Holy Spirit as to the truth of God’s gospel is unforgivable. God cannot accept one who ultimately rejects him. 

Finally, Jesus brings further comfort to ease fears for the persecution to come with assuring words. Knowing human anxiety and their penchant for worrying about what to say in a moment of questioning, Jesus assures his followers that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say. Don’t worry about a defense ahead of time. Trust the Spirit to provide the right words at the very time they are needed. The assurance and encouragement given by Jesus to his followers not only gave them direction for the days ahead, but also for all of us in these days of hostility toward Christians we find throughout the world. Public acknowledgement of our Christian faith is important especially as apostasy increases in the church.

Music: “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”    Syliva Burnside      Exquisite

Bonus: “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” Mahalia Jackson (filmed years ago. No one better)

Prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we must carry on a warfare in this world, and as it is thy will to try us with many contests,―O grant that we may never faint, however extreme may be the trials which we may have to endure; and as thou hast favored us with so great an honor as to make us the framers and builders of thy spiritual temple, may every one of us present and consecrate ourselves wholly to thee; and inasmuch as each of us has received some peculiar gift, may we strive to employ it in building this temple, so that thou mayest be worshiped among us perpetually; and especially may each of us offer ourselves wholly as a spiritual sacrifice to thee, until we shall at length be renewed in thine image, and be received into a full participation of that glory which has been attained for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. Amen.                      ―John Calvin from Devotions and Prayers of John Calvin, p.85

Tuesday, April 26

Tuesday, April 26

Reader: “Don’t be afraid . . .”

Response:  “of what you are about to suffer.”

Scripture: Revelation 2:8-11

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.

Some thoughts:

The above are the words of Jesus via John addressing the church in Smyrna, one of the seven churches in what is modern day Turkey. Smyrna is the modern day city of Izmir. Jesus is identified as the First and Last, the Alpha and the Omega. 

Smyrna was a city with strong Roman ties and a large Jewish population. There was heavy persecution of the Christians from Rome, but especially from the Jewish element, many of whom were cultural Jews strongly allied with the Romans. There were also religious Jews who adamantly rejected the Messiah as blasphemous. In Jesus’ reference to “the synagogue of Satan,” he is condemning those Jews who reject the gospel. In the words of Paul, “A true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. True circumcision . . . is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit.” (Romans 2:29) 

The Christians of the Smyrna church were suffering economic hardship as a result of persecution for their profession of faith in Jesus. While there is earthly suffering and poverty throughout the ages, there is at the same time the accumulation of heavenly riches. In his words of encouragement, Jesus tells these believers in Smyrna not to fear what lies ahead. The ten day reference is most likely symbolic of a measured period of time, rather than a literal ten days. Remaining faithful is important for the reward is great, the crown of life.

The “crown” referred to here is the wreath that goes to the winner of the race rather than a diadem. It emphasizes more the festive joy of winning the race than a position of royal authority as in a king or queen’s crown. The underlying thought in Jesus’ words is to remain faithful through the end. The suffering and persecution won’t last forever. There is a glorious celebration coming, that of eternal life. The reference to not being harmed by the second death refers to the final judgment where those who have rejected Christ and are thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15)

This message from Jesus speaks to believers everywhere in the world today. There are those who are suffering greatly for their profession of faith in Christ. Nine in ten Christians killed for their faith are in Africa. Nigeria leads the world with 3,530 martyrs, one of which was one of my students at IWS. The country with the most attacks on churches is China (3,088). It is no mistake, wherever you live, hostility toward Christianity and Judeo-Christian values are under attack. Pray to be faithful to our Lord, to speak his name and to listen to what the Spirit is saying. Remember, we are rich far beyond this time on earth. 

Music: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”   arr. Dan Forrest      Glorious setting!!!!

Prayer:O Lord God, thou art my protecting arm, fortress, refuge, shield, 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; give me abhorrence of all evil, as a vile monster that defies thy law, casts off thy yoke, defiles my nature, spreads misery. Teach me to look to Jesus on his cross and so to know sin’s loathsomeness in thy sight. There is no pardon but through thy Son’s death, no cleansing but in his precious blood, no atonement but his to expiate evil. Show me the shame, the agony, the bruises of incarnate God, that I may read boundless guilt in the boundless price; 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, 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. Amen. ―from The Valley of Vision, p. 100

Monday, April 25

Monday, April 25

Reader: “Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord . . .” 

Response: “and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.”

Scripture: Ezra 7:1-10

Many years later, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, there was a man named Ezra. He was the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the high priest. 

This Ezra was a scribe who was well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given to the people of Israel. He came up to Jerusalem from Babylon, and the king gave him everything he asked for, because the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him. Some of the people of Israel, as well as some of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and Temple servants, traveled up to Jerusalem with him in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes’ reign.

Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in August of that year. He had arranged to leave Babylon on April 8, the first day of the new year, and he arrived at Jerusalem on August 4, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.

Some thoughts:

This is an interesting reading today because I’m guessing you are wondering about all the unusual names, a travel itinerary, and a work plan. I don’t see many parents looking at a newborn and naming him Uzzi or Bukki! So what is there in today’s pericope? It turns out, quite a bit.

Since Ezra is probably not one of the better known characters in the Bible, a little background can give us a little more insight into this passage. You’ll recall that Aaron, the Levite, Moses’ brother, was the first high priest appointed by God during the forty year desert wanderings. The succeeding priests by Law needed to come from the priestly line of Aaron through Zadok, the priest during the reigns of King David and Solomon. Tracing his lineage back to Aaron, Ezra gives us his pedigree as a priest. In addition, we learn he is a scribe. Scribes were much more than copyists. A scribe was a student of the Torah and was qualified to teach, preach, and interpret the Scriptures. Ezra was both a priest and a scribe. In the New Testament a scribe was perceived in a negative light, but not so in the First Testament where he was respected.

King Artaxerxes, king of Persia, was a strong supporter of Ezra, as “God’s hand was upon him.” We read this phrase twice in this passage. Ezra clearly submitted himself to the will of God. The result was Ezra got what he asked for from the king in various kinds of support as he journeyed from Babylon back to Jerusalem. The lesson here is the hand of God resting upon an enterprise will always succeed because it is accomplishing God’s desire. You can be sure Ezra had conversed with the Lord about this endeavor. The result of his return to Jerusalem was a revival among God’s people. Sin was confronted and repentance followed.

I want to center in on a powerful commentary on Ezra which challenges each one of us. Note the last sentence. There are four guiding words for us―determined, study, obey,  and teach. Ezra was determined: he was unwavering in his self discipline. We are challenged to embrace a deep study of the Scriptures, without which our understanding will be shallow, weak, thin, and often skewed. Ezra was determined to obey what he was learning through his study. We are challenged to apply what we discover through our study to our own lives. Failure to implement what has been discovered will lead to a theoretical, intellectual, esoteric, or academic understanding which results in a hypocritical position. We may gain factual knowledge, but fail to experience the transformational fruit that obedience provides. Finally, as a scribe, Ezra was committed to teaching the people of Israel what he was learning and experiencing in his own life. 

Again, we are challenged to teach the Scriptures to those around us, to share the fruit of God’s word growing out of our own lives. There are those who are teachers of the Bible, but in another sense we all teach when we share with one another our experiences with the Lord or something we’ve discovered in our study of his word. Again, the purpose of these devotionals is to do exactly what Ezra is determined to do: study, apply, teach. Teaching can even be as simple as sharing the link with someone else who may benefit from a daily time with the Lord in his word.  (sharpdevotional.com)

   (Some insights gained from Daniel Block’s, For the Glory of God, p.350,& NLB,p.800)

Music: “Lord, Speak to Me that I May Speak”      Riverside Choir

(A text that expresses and applies today’s devotional.)

Prayer:Almighty God, our heavenly Father, without whose help labor is useless, without whose light search is vain, invigorate my studies, and direct my inquiries, that I may, by due diligence and right discernment, establish myself and others in Thy holy faith. Take not, O Lord, thy Holy Spirit from me; let not evil thoughts have dominion in my mind. Let me not linger in ignorance, but enlighten and support me, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.      ―Samuel Johnson from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.22

Sunday, April 24

Second Sunday of Easter, April 24

Reader: “We must obey God” 

Response: “rather than any human authority.”

Scripture:  Acts 5:27-32 

Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”

But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Some thoughts:

I want to back up a bit on yesterday’s discussion regarding persecution of the disciples to give a little broader context. The Jewish religious leaders held the Temple in Jerusalem in highest regard for it was the dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant and the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. But the death and resurrection of the Messiah had changed everything. The Temple curtain was torn in two and direct access to the Father was opened to all. The earthly high priest was replaced by the heavenly High Priest, Jesus. 

At Pentecost, which had already happened by this point, it became clear that a relationship with God was for everyone, not just the Jews. Not only that, the Holy Spirit filled the apostles as they spoke with the power from God. Now in the absence of Jesus,  God dwelt within his believers. The new “Temple” took up residence in believer’s hearts. The Jewish leaders refused to accept this fulfillment of Scripture which the prophets had foretold. 

Remember, Jesus had spent forty days after his resurrection teaching and explaining the Scriptures and teaching about his Kingdom. Now the apostles are proclaiming the message of God’s Kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit. Adding to the frustration and anger of the Sadducees, this teaching of Jesus and miraculous acts wouldn’t go away even after they killed him! In their minds they needed to squelch this exploding movement, hence the persecution. While the persecution did eventually drive many believers out of Jerusalem, it only served to spread the gospel to other peoples and nations, exactly what Jesus foretold! 

As we read yesterday, this newly forming community of followers of Jesus from various ethnic groups was a drastic change from a closed Jewish community of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Now you can understand when the high council and high priest were so angry when they confronted the apostles and their response was “we must obey God rather than human authority.”  In other words, you are not the authorities in our life of faith. We don’t go through you to get to God. The bluntness of Peter and the apostles’ response was convicting and infuriating to the high council. Notice how specific each phrase is in the response. Obey God, not human authority (not you high council).  God of our ancestors (apostles identify as Jews―traitors in the eyes of the high council). The God of the Torah raised the Messiah whom you killed by putting him on the cross―a place of being divinely cursed. God undid your work and put him in the place of honor at his right hand. God did it so people of Israel, you Rulers of the Jews, would repent of your sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses along with the Holy Spirit of God as to the truth of what we have said. God has undone everything you have done.

Do you see how very offensive and convicting every point in Peter and the apostles’ response was to the high priest and high council? What can we learn? The apostles’ interaction with the leadership was without hemming and hawing. It was direct, succinct, and very clear. Notice they again told the gospel story so con. Here is a model for conversations regarding the message of the Savior. He came to forgive sinners who repent. There is a lesson for our world today. It is clear the apostles’ deepest allegiance and identity was to Jesus, not to their ethnic roots, skin color, or language. The Jewish leadership was unwilling to grasp that truth as are many today.

Music: “And Can It Be that I Should Gain”      fabioramsey

Prayer:

O heavenly Father, the Father of all wisdom, understanding, and true strength, I beseech Thee, look mercifully upon me, and send Thy Holy spirit into my breast; that when I must join to fight in the field for the glory of Thy holy Name, then I, being strengthened with the defense of Thy right hand, may manfully stand in the confession of Thy faith, and of Thy truth, and continue in the same unto the end of my life, through our Lord Jesus Christ―Amen.   From Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.151

Saturday, April 23

Saturday, April 23

Reader: “The [angel] told them, “Go to the Temple . . .” 

Response: “and give the people this message of life!”

Scripture: Acts 5:17-26

The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail, and brought them out. Then he told them, “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life!” So at daybreak the apostles entered the Temple, as they were told, and immediately began teaching.

When the high priest and his officials arrived, they convened the high council—the full assembly of the elders of Israel. Then they sent for the apostles to be brought from the jail for trial. But when the Temple guards went to the jail, the men were gone. So they returned to the council and reported, “The jail was securely locked, with the guards standing outside, but when we opened the gates, no one was there!”

When the captain of the Temple guard and the leading priests heard this, they were perplexed, wondering where it would all end. Then someone arrived with startling news: “The men you put in jail are standing in the Temple, teaching the people!”

The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them.

Some thoughts:

In the weeks following the resurrection, the gospel spread like wildfire. When we look at the time frame for today’s Scripture, this event occurred within days or weeks of Pentecost. Jesus has ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit has empowered all apostles and they are preaching the good news everywhere! They are performing healing miracles among the people and casting out those possessed by demons. Crowds of believing men and women from Jerusalem and the surrounding villages are gathering daily in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade in front of the Temple to hear the apostles teach. You can imagine the excitement brought about by the Holy Spirit at work transforming lives.

Remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount?  “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” To be sure, persecution started almost as soon as Jesus left the tomb!

Now, rather than just going after Jesus, anyone who was a follower was fair game for the self-righteous Sadducees and high council.

At the core of the persecution was jealousy. The authority, pomp, and glory of the Sadducees was not only challenged, it was condemned! The message of the apostles of Jesus was a clear threat to their position. The solution? Arrest them, put them in jail and then figure out what to do. At least they couldn’t preach while in jail. Unbeknownst to the Jewish leadership, they were dealing with God. As they met the next morning to plan a course of action against the apostles, to their great astonishment the apostles were out of jail, even though it was still locked tightly. They were back preaching! I love The Message’s wording at this point: “The high priests were puzzled, ‘What’s going on here anyway?’” So the Jewish leaders went to arrest them again, but did so very timidly so as not to cause a riot and get themselves stoned by the people. 

What can we glean from this account? The good news of redemption in Christ is always offensive to the world. It confronts sin and the sin nature. People who reject Jesus do not want to be told or admit that their sin is a problem with God. They want to be in charge of their own life. They want to be in the position of God. They want to live by their own standards and not be confronted or measured by some other standard, especially God’s. So rather than admit their failure to measure up and confess their sin,  in their pride, they reject the offer of God’s grace.

I think there may be another factor as well. If someone does believe in Jesus and endeavors to live a God-honoring life, it proves that someone can do it and embrace Christianity. Such a person takes away the argument that “no one could live like that” which then further convicts the person of the world. A righteous life inevitably brings judgment on an unrighteous life, hence persecution of the believing person. Persecution for being a follower of Christ is natural and to be expected. Jesus himself said so. So “salt” the culture and let your light shine. The “flavor” of the culture is bad and it’s dark out there!

Music: “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”     Arr. Nelson   Glenn Memorial UMC Choir

Prayer:

Lord, give me a disciple’s tongue, that I may know how to reply to the lost. Lord, supply the words I need to bring hope to the hopeless. Lord, give me a disciple’s heart, that I may embrace another’s broken heart. Lord, give me a disciple’s understanding, that I may grasp the significance of the moment. Lord, give me a disciple’s patience, that rests in the sovereignty of my Father in heaven. These things I pray in the precious name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen. 

                     ―from In the Presence of My Father, p.131, adapted Daniel Sharp

Friday, April 22

Friday, April 22

Reader: “Look at my hands. Look at my feet.” 

Response: “You can see that it’s really me.”

Scripture: Luke 24:33-49

And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!

“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.

Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”

Some thoughts:

We continue the story of the last two days. Jesus had just vanished in the presence of the two travelers to Emmaus. Understandably they were excited and wanted to head back to Jerusalem as quickly as possible with their news. My guess is that they had previously come from the gathering of disciples and had decided to head back to Emmaus for the evening when Jesus ran into them. At any rate, their plans changed and they made a quick seven mile trip back to Jerusalem. Having found the disciples and the others still together, they excitedly began to unfold their story. As they spoke in the midst of everyone, Jesus suddenly became visible, appearing out of nothing, out of thin air! Understandably, the group was frightened, dare I say “spooked?” His words, “Peace be with you” did not exactly calm them down. 

Put yourself in the room. What’s your response when a person who is supposed to be dead materializes out of thin air and begins to talk with you? He helps those gathered begin to process what they are experiencing by pointing out his nail-pierced hands and feet. Those are real identity markers for Jesus. He invites them to touch him to prove to them he’s not a ghost nor an apparition. How do you process something like this? He further helps them figure out the reality of what they are seeing by asking for something to eat, a very human activity. Ghosts don’t eat. Then, what I think is hilarious, Luke tells us they all stood and watched Jesus eat a piece of fish! Can you see them standing around with their mouths open? My guess is Jesus was laughing as he ate!

Then he reminded them of all he had said before he was crucified. And like the two men on the road to Emmaus, he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 

While what happened to Jesus in terms of his death and resurrection were most important, the forgiveness of sins for those who repent was the thing of greatest significance. Salvation was offered to people of all nations on earth. Jesus told them what to do about this message. Stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven. I can easily imagine the gathered group of disciples pinching themselves wondering if what they were seeing and hearing was real or was it a dream? Yet, all of what Jesus said came to pass and the disciples turned the world upside down. Now it’s our turn to keep it going.

Music: “O Church Arise”    Keith and Kristyn Getty

Prayer:

Blessed Christ, who in this glad and memorable day didst first fulfill thy promise of thy presence with thine own, revealing thyself as alive to those who mourned thee as dead: come to us now, find the secret way to all our hearts, lift the pierced hands in benediction over us, breathe upon us the peace that thou alone canst give. Amen.                         ―J.J. Paradise from Guideposts Prayers for Easter, p.73

Thursday, April 21

Thursday, April 21

Reader: “Some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this

                morning”

Response: “they said his body was missing.”

Scripture: Luke 24:13-32

The Walk to Emmaus (Late Sunday afternoon of Resurrection Day)

That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”“What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”

Some thoughts:

We continue on with the events of that first Easter Sunday afternoon. We may be inclined to think of Jesus’ disciples as his primary followers; such was not the case. Those dozen men traveled and lived with him, but there were hundreds of additional men and women who were also disciples. Such were the two conversing on their way back home to Emmaus. Put yourself as the third person walking along with them when suddenly someone who has been following in the distance catches up with the three of you. He notices how animated your conversation has been and naturally asks what you have been talking about so intently. So we stopped walking. (In Luke’s usual attention to details, he tells us of the sad countenance of the two travelers. He also tells us that “[we] were kept from recognizing him” by God.)

We tell him what we’ve been talking about and he plays dumb. (Notice how Jesus enters the conversation by asking questions.) One of the things that really puzzled us, since we thought Jesus was the Messiah, was his suffering and death. We did not expect that to happen. Having heard us express our understanding of what happened and our puzzlement, Jesus now talks with us. 

He chided us for not believing what our prophets told us in the First Testament then asked a rhetorical question. What followed was a Bible study I would love to have heard; Jesus teaching the Old Testament! I have a feeling there is so much more in those books then even the most brilliant biblical scholar alive today has never discovered. 

Then we come to the last section. Now our little quartet of people is coming into town, (I’m personally wishing we had more miles to travel since hearing him explain the Scriptures was so enlightening), so we invited him to stay overnight since it is approaching sundown. He agreed and then something miraculous happened! We sat down to eat. He took the bread, broke it and gave it to us. Instantly God opened our eyes and we recognized who he was! The living Messiah, the crucified Jesus of Nazareth! Then, just as quick, he vanished instantly. The space where he was was nothing but air!  

And what is the point of this kind of retelling of what you’ve just read in the Scriptures?

I want us to enter into the events of the Bible and not read it “from afar” because it is a living story. The One on the road to Emmaus still teaches the Scriptures via his Holy Spirit. You are reading history, but this history is alive. It is not a story book.  I quote Jesus’ own words, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.” You see, much of the prophecy of the Bible is yet to be fulfilled. We live in the middle of the pages. Let the Spirit teach us as we read and study his Word. The Scriptures point to Jesus, the source of our life. (Jn. 5:39-40) May you encounter the living Jesus today.

Music: “The Angel Rolled the Stone Away”  arr. Jester Hairston

This video is from the 1980’s prior to the building of the glass Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, which happened a few years later. Jester Hairston arranged this setting and is the conductor. 

Prayer:Almighty Father, it is through your mercy we can come with joy to greet the risen Christ and not through any merit in ourselves. We know that we are guilty of the very sins that drove him to the cross―disloyalty and cowardice . . . jealousy and twisted thinking . . . wrong values and shortsighted vision . . .. Father, in the love that radiates from Jesus’ empty cross and tomb, forgive: then raise us up on to the level of a new and finer life in Christ. Let the joy of Christ-alive reach deep down into us, the recollection of Christ-crucified dictate our values and our thinking and our speaking―till our actions and our attitudes are purified and Christ is reflected in us. This we pray through Jesus Christ, our risen and returning Lord. Amen.     ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.96

Wednesday, April 20

Wednesday, April 20

Reader: “Why are you looking among the dead” 

Response: “for someone who is alive?”

Scripture: Luke 24:1-12

But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

Some thoughts:

My guess is that you heard this or a similar passage from the Gospels this past Sunday.

All the gospel writers add their unique perspectives which accounts for the slight variations in telling the resurrection story. We are all aware of its theological significance in bringing redemption to the world, but I’d like to put us in the place of the disciples and followers of Jesus and explore the event as it might have been from their point of view. Afterall, something like this happened only once in all of time. 

First off, I remind us that chapter and verse designations are arbitrary. So to get a better grasp of the setting, I want to go back a couple of verses from the previous chapter. 

“As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.”

Note the women followed Joseph and Nicodemus to see where they put the body. Then the women went home to prepare spices to take to the tomb to help mollify the odor of Jesus’ decaying body. It was still Friday evening prior to sundown. But they ran out of time and the sun set beginning the Sabbath so they had to stop their preparations. So very early Sunday morning they headed to the tomb to finish their work only to discover that the stone had been rolled away. Highly unusual. Very strange. A complete surprise to them. So they walked somewhat bewildered into the tomb. The body of Jesus was not there! (Of the gospel writers, Luke, the physician, is most interested in the physical reality of what happened by the phrase he chose―“in bodily form.”) 

To add to the strangeness of the early morning, two men in brilliant white, other-worldly clothes suddenly appeared from nowhere. The women did what we would probably do, they fell to the ground in terror. Both men told the women what had happened and what Jesus had said. (Unlike the other gospels, Luke actually includes what Jesus had said would happen.) The fact that the men knew what Jesus had earlier said to the women further added to the mystery of the morning. The fact that both men gave witness is in accord with First Testament law: two witnesses are the minimum for validation. (Deut. 17:6,19:15) God does not miss details! Other such biblical examples include: Simeon and Anna with infant Jesus, the two thieves on the cross, and two servants who traveled with Abraham and Isaac to Mt. Moriah. I love the way the angels told the women the news. Translated: “Why are you looking in a cemetery for someone who is not dead? He’s living! He’s not here!” I can almost hear the women’s thoughts, “What?”

I think this last portion clarifies how hard it was for Jesus’ followers to comprehend what had happened. Though a woman’s testimony was not accepted as valid in those days, Luke has no hesitation to record it. The women are now named as they run back to the eleven and the rest of Jesus’ followers to tell what had happened. It’s still early in the morning. To say the story sounded like “nonsense” is an understatement. Their story was too fantastic to be believed and the gathered people didn’t believe the women. Mary Magdalene, however, told Peter who, along with John, decided to go look for himself. After going into the empty tomb, Peter went home, still wondering what had happened.

After reading this account again, I can begin to empathize with those early believers. It is too easy for me all these years later to have a somewhat casual or passive response to the resurrection. It changed the world! We dare not minimize the physical reality of such an event for it is essential to process what happened that Easter morning.  And experiencing the reality of that same living Savior in our lives today is hard to put into words. The resurrection can seem so distant from my world. I believe, Lord, help the dullness of my heart and mind.

Music: “Thine Be the Glory”    from Coventry Cathedral in England (Church of England)

In 1940, German bombing left the medieval cathedral as a hollowed out shell. In 1962 a new cathedral was built incorporating the old cathedral. Note how the congregation turns during the closing hymn as the cross passes by ending up facing the back of the cathedral. In the ruins stands an altar of burnt timbers and a cross of nails.

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 the ages. Amen.                                  ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.97

Tuesday, April 19

Tuesday, April 19

Reader: “It has come at last—salvation and power”

Response: “and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.”

Scripture: Revelation 12:1-12

Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.

Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.

She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.

Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.

Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—

    salvation and power

and the Kingdom of our God,

    and the authority of his Christ.

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters

    has been thrown down to earth—

the one who accuses them

    before our God day and night.

And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb

    and by their testimony.

And they did not love their lives so much

    that they were afraid to die.

Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!

    And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!

But terror will come on the earth and the sea,

    for the devil has come down to you in great anger,

    knowing that he has little time.”

Some thoughts:

As one might expect in apocalyptic literature, there are a variety of interpretations. I wish to keep the Easter theme in mind as we look at this passage. In the first section the woman’s identity has been interpreted in a couple of major ways. Some commentators see her as Mary and others see her as the nation of Israel or even God’s people, the Church. The son born of the woman is Jesus. Some would read that the agony of the woman’s waiting to give birth may be a reflection of the drama of Israel waiting to be delivered by the Messiah, or even the end of the age. The moon beneath the woman’s feet represents her dominion over the earth. The twelve stars might refer to the twelve apostles or to the tribes of Israel. At any rate, as she was about to give birth to the Messiah, the devil awaits to kill him as soon as he is born. The child being “snatched away” by God and fleeing to the wilderness most likely refers to Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt to flee Herod’s death orders. The ascent to God speaks of Christ’s Ascension. 

The next reference is to a war in heaven. Here we encounter Michael, one of the two named angels in the Bible, the other being Gabriel. The book of Daniel has more to say about Michael (12:1 & 10:21). Here and in other places he battles with the devil. Remember Satan is a fallen angel and a large group of angels rejected God and with the devil, fell from heaven to earth. The battle between God’s people and the devil continues to this day as is so evident in our world.

Knowing he has already been defeated by the resurrection of Christ, the lying accuser has a limited time to create chaos, evil, death, and destruction on earth. He can only do what God allows and he has no control over his own time. I am struck by the phrase of the relentless nature of his attacks. He is the one who “accuses the brothers and sisters before God day and night.” And he still does!  But he has been defeated by the blood of the Lamb and their testimonies of lives redeemed. To his great rage, the followers of Christ were not afraid to die. Their fear of death was gone! That is the card he held since the dawn of creation and Adam and Eve’s exit from the Garden. He tries over and over to destroy the mission of God’s Son so his next best thing was to create havoc and all manner of evil amongst God’s children. Satan knows his day is soon coming to an end when he is again cast from his residence: from heaven to earth is past; earth is present; then comes final judgment of the devil and his angels and he is cast into the pit of hell for all eternity.

The resurrection is truly a cosmic victory of God on every possible level and we are the beneficiaries of God’s great grace. We have nothing to fear in this world.

I would encourage you to take some time to check out an enlightening video overview of the book of Revelation (both parts) at: bibleproject.com. If you are not familiar with this website, you should be. It is most helpful in your study of the Scriptures. It is a marvelous resource.

Music: “The Strife Is O’er”    Chet Valley

Prayer:  (Marvelous prayer today from a “saint” from the past!)

O God that art the only hope of the world, the only refuge for unhappy men, abiding in the faithfulness of heaven, give me sterling succor in this testing place. O King, protect thy man from utter ruin lest the weak faith surrender to the tyrant, facing innumerable blows alone. Remember I am dust, and wind, and shadow, and life as fleeting as the flower of grass. But may the eternal mercy which hath shone from time of old rescue thy servant from the jaws of the lion. Thou who didst come from on high in the cloak of flesh, strike down the dragon with that two-edged word, whereby our mortal flesh can war with the winds and beat down strongholds, with our Captain God. Amen.      ―Bede, 672-735 from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p. 125

Monday, April 18

              Eastertide 2022

These continue to be 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, our Sovereign Lord. The early church celebrated Easter not just one day, but rejoiced in the risen Lord over the following fifty days through Ascension to Pentecost. In keeping with that tradition, we’ll continue with the daily devotionals through Eastertide all the way to Pentecost June 5th!

The purpose of these daily encounters with Scripture remains the same: 1) They can provide a daily opportunity to encounter the Lord 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

dansharp9@gmail.com

© Daniel Sharp 2022

Monday, April 18

Reader: “Let us celebrate the festival”

Response: “with the new bread of sincerity and truth.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 5:6b-8

Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth.

Some thoughts:

Can you imagine being one of the early disciples and trying to process what had just happened this day after the resurrection? A few more than a dozen people had actually seen the risen Lord at this point. I’m sure they were pinching themselves and telling each other that Jesus was real. They had just seen Jesus do the miracle of miracles! This one was bigger than Lazarus’ coming back to life! They knew Jesus had been killed. They saw his mortal wounds. I’m guessing the spectacular nature of the physical resurrection was foremost in their minds. Understanding the ramifications would come later.

Some twenty years later we have Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth (his first letter has apparently been lost). The concern here is there are people in the church who are living in unrepentant sin and the church was tolerating it. Paul refers to the First Testament image of “yeast in the dough.” While this church is multi-ethnic, there is a substantial Jewish element in the congregation. They will understand the yeast (sin) and dough illustration. 

You’ll recall the Jews were to rid their houses of yeast prior to Passover and to bake bread without yeast as part of the Passover celebration. Yeast was frequently viewed as sin infiltrating the community. Yeastless Passover bread was viewed as being pure, i.e. without the presence of sin permeating the body of Christ. Paul then makes the specific reference to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ the Passover Lamb of God. The wonder of the physical resurrection in the early days has moved on to the point of Paul’s helping the people grasp the implications of the sacrificial act of Jesus, namely sins are forgiven once and for all and holy living is possible and expected. Paul’s direct words― don’t let sin creep into the community of faith. 

Such is the message for us and for our churches these days. Like the city of Corinth, 

our personal lives and our churches are pressed by the various cultures around us to include “the yeast of social and political acceptability and of unbridled tolerance and acceptance of every viewpoint.” In contrast, Paul challenges the people of Corinth and us as well to celebrate the truth of the gospel with sincere and loving hearts to a very confused and “yeast-filled” world around us.

Music: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”      Chris Rupp  

Prayer:Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification; grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. ―from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

Easter Sunday, April 17

Easter Sunday, April 17

Reader: “Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam,” 

Response: “Everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.”

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Some thoughts:

Have you ever thought how worthless life would be if there were no eternal life with God? All the suffering, war, persecution, hunger, pain, and disease would be for nothing. That kind of cruelty is unimaginable. There would never be any justice for wrongdoing. If our hope in Christ was only good in this life, and he doesn’t solve or relieve every trouble we face, what is the point of putting trust in him? He gives grace to deal with difficulties, but in the end we still die. If this is the case, Jesus is nothing more than a medicine to ease the pain of a depressing life, then death and that’s it. Oblivion. Annihilation. Not something to look forward to! No, there is eternal life for everyone either in the presence of God or apart from God. Hell is as real as heaven.

In the prior sentences we are reminded that if Christ did not actually rise from the dead, then the whole thing is a fraud and we have been sinisterly fooled. BUT (what a great three letter word), in fact, that is not the case. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Sin lost its grip and was crushed to an eternally fatal death this Resurrection day. Jesus is the pioneer (Heb. 12:2 NIV) and perfecter of our faith. A pioneer is one who jumps overboard on a floundering ship, swims to land with a rope providing a way for everyone on the sinking ship to arrive safely on shore. Jesus is the pioneer of our faith. 

Adam is the father of our death. Jesus is our brother of eternal life. Christ killed death. He is coming back to earth and when he does, we’ll all be raised to eternal life. Death no longer has power over people. In Jesus, we have defeated death! Though your physical body and mine will at some point die, we don’t die, we just change addresses! We go home, the home we were made for. Christ will destroy every ruler and every power and set up his Father’s Kingdom. 

No, life is not worthless and Christians are not to be pitied. By the grace of God, we know the most glorious Savior!

Music: “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”     Sylvia McNair

Prayer:

O God, who by thine only begotten Son hast overcome death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; grant, we beseech thee, that those who have been redeemed by his Passion may rejoice in his Resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.  

    ―The Galasian Sacrementary, from Guideposts Prayers for Easter, p.64

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Beginning tomorrow the Eastertide daily devotionals will continue taking us through Ascension Day and on to Pentecost on June 5th. You don’t have to do anything; they will appear in your email box each morning.
Copyright © 2022 Daniel Sharp

Holy Saturday, April 16

Holy Saturday, April 16

Reader:  “That deceiver once said while he was still alive:”

Response:  ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’

Scripture:  Matthew 27:57-66 & Job 14:1-14

​​As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.

The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.

 “How frail is humanity!

    How short is life, how full of trouble!

We blossom like a flower and then wither.

    Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.

Must you keep an eye on such a frail creature

    and demand an accounting from me?

Who can bring purity out of an impure person?

    No one!

You have decided the length of our lives.

    You know how many months we will live,

    and we are not given a minute longer.

So leave us alone and let us rest!

    We are like hired hands, so let us finish our work in peace.

“Even a tree has more hope!

    If it is cut down, it will sprout again

    and grow new branches.

Though its roots have grown old in the earth

    and its stump decays,

at the scent of water it will bud

    and sprout again like a new seedling.

“But when people die, their strength is gone.

    They breathe their last, and then where are they?

As water evaporates from a lake

    and a river disappears in drought,

people are laid to rest and do not rise again.

    Until the heavens are no more, they will not wake up

    nor be roused from their sleep.

“I wish you would hide me in the grave

    and forget me there until your anger has passed.

    But mark your calendar to think of me again!

Can the dead live again?

    If so, this would give me hope through all my years of struggle,

    and I would eagerly await the release of death.

Some thoughts:

For the early followers of Jesus this sabbath was surely the most hopelessly crushing day of disillusionment. Whatever the expectation one held regarding the Messiah, it was utterly destroyed. Joseph followed the proper Jewish law of burying the body before sundown. You’ll note the two Marys watched what Joseph did and knew exactly where Jesus was buried. Pilate made sure the tomb was sealed with a Roman insignia to prevent possible tampering and stationed two guards as well to insure the integrity of the tomb. I want to tie this burial to the pericope in Job and look at the three emboldened questions.

Who can bring purity out of an impure person?

They breathe their last, and then where are they?

Can the dead live again?

Jesus’ “sabbath rest” in the tomb was profound in answering Job’s questions in his conversation with God. The Pure One was laid to rest having absorbed all the impurities of every person who has ever lived or will live. Only a sinless person can do that. The reason Jesus was killed is because he claimed to be that person. His resurrection confirmed that he was, indeed, that person. While we don’t know the details of all that was transpiring during the time his body lay in the tomb, we do know he was victorious over death!  

It is curious to me that in many conversations I’ve heard in past months concerning death, I have yet to hear one serious conversation regarding where people go when they die. It usually ends up with something like “they were a good person” and so they’ll “go to a better place.” We don’t know that, but we do know specifically where Jesus was on this Holy Saturday.  His body was in the grave and his spirit was in Paradise. For in his own words to the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” the place of the righteous dead. Then there is that curious line in Job: “But mark your calendar to think of me again!” The grave is not the final resting place. It’s like saying, “I’m in the grave for now, but I won’t always be here.” That’s true of Job and that’s true of us and our loved ones who have put their trust in Christ.

While we know where we are after death, we’ve also answered Job’s last question with an absolute positive YES! We live again because Saturday’s graveyard lost its hold on death. Jesus, our Savior, broke its stranglehold on sin forever! The fear of death was annihilated. That Sabbath Rest ushered in a New Creation on the eighth day!

Music: “Agnus Dei”   Ola Gjeilo    Tallgrass Chamber Choir

Agnus Dei,      qui tollis                peccata      mundi

Lamb of God  who takes away    the sins    of the world

Miserere        nobis

Have mercy  on us.     ( this text repeats)

Agnus Dei,      qui tollis                peccata      mundi

Lamb of God  who takes away    the sins    of the world

Dona nobis   pacem

Grant  us      peace

Prayer:

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose 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 holy is this night, 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 is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God. All glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit world without end. Amen.                ―Book of Common Prayer

Beginning this coming Monday the Eastertide daily devotionals will continue taking us through Ascension Day and on to Pentecost on June 5th. You don’t have to do anything; they will appear in your email box each morning.

Good Friday, April 15

Good Friday, April 15

Some thoughts: Today we’ve combined some prophetic passages from the First Testament interspersed into the account of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion in place of the usual commentary on the Scripture passage of the day. Following the Last Supper and Jesus’ Upper Room discourse (John 14-17), we continue the story . . .

Reader: “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow 

                our own,” 

Response: “Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”

Scripture: John 18:1-19:42   

After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.

Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”

And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

“I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”

Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”

So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. First they took him to Annas, since he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest at that time. Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, “It’s better that one man should die for the people.”

Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?”

“No,” he said, “I am not.”

Because it was cold, the household servants and the guards had made a charcoal fire. They stood around it, warming themselves, and Peter stood with them, warming himself.

Inside, the high priest began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them. Jesus replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said.”

Then one of the Temple guards standing nearby slapped Jesus across the face. “Is that the way to answer the high priest?” he demanded.

Jesus replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?”

Then Annas bound Jesus and sent him to Caiaphas, the high priest.

Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.”

But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?”  Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.

Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”

“We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.

“Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.

“Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied. (This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.)

Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.

Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”

But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)

Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

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. (Isaiah 52:14)

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.   (Isaiah 53:3)

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.   (Isaiah 53:8)

Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”

When they saw him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

“Take him yourselves and crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”

The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 

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.   (Isaiah 53:7)

“Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement (in Hebrew, Gabbatha). It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.

Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?    (Psalm 22:1)

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.     (Isaiah 53:5-6)

And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.

Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”

Pilate replied, “No, what I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. So they said, “Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.” (Psalm 22:18) So that is what they did.

        “Everyone who sees me mock me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, “Is 

             this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him! If the Lord

              loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!”  (Psalm 22:7-8)

        “My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They 

              have pierced my hands and feet.” (Psalm 22:15)

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.

Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” 

“My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

(Psalm 22:15)

A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was Passover week).  “If anyone has committed a crime worthy of death and is executed and hung on a tree, the body must not remain hanging from the tree overnight. You must bury the body that same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God.” (Deut.21:22-23) So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. “For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken!” (Psalm 34:20) One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe. These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, “Not one of his bones will be broken,”  and “They will look on the one they pierced and mourn for him as for an only son.” (Zechariah 12:10)

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. “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.” (Isaiah 53:9) 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.

Music: “Surely He Died on Calvary”    arr. Moses Hogan

Bonus: “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word”    Golden Gate Quartet    classic quartet!

“He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM8SULN_G_w     Tesfa Wondemagegnehu   solo

                                                                                                                        Marvelous!

Prayer:

Before the Cross Savior, who in human flesh conquered tears by crying, pain by suffering, death by dying, we, your servants, gather before the Cross to commemorate your Passion and to contemplate anew the wonder of your compassionate love. As we listen to your gracious words, uttered with dying lips, illumine our souls that we may know the truth, melt our hearts that we may hate our sin, nerve our wills that we may do your bidding, to the glory of your name and our own eternal gain. In the name of Jesus, amen.

        ―Charles Henry Brent from Guideposts Prayers for Easter, p.50

Beginning this coming Monday the Eastertide daily devotionals will continue taking us through Ascension Day and on to Pentecost on June 5th. You don’t have to do anything; they will appear in your email box each morning.

Maundy Thursday, April 14

Maundy Thursday, April 14

Reader: “When I see the blood,”

Response: “I will pass over you.”

Scripture: Exodus 12:1-14

While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the Lord gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: “From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. If a family is too small to eat a whole animal, let them share with another family in the neighborhood. Divide the animal according to the size of each family and how much they can eat. The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.

“Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast. Do not eat any of the meat raw or boiled in water. The whole animal—including the head, legs, and internal organs—must be roasted over a fire. Do not leave any of it until the next morning. Burn whatever is not eaten before morning.

“These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover. On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.

“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time.

Some thoughts:

We’ve often referred to First Testament events as shadows of New Testament events. The Passover is one of the most familiar and obvious. In light of today being Maundy Thursday, I’d like to make some observations regarding the significance of the two Passover events. If we put ourselves in the place of the Israelites on that night we are learning some things about the God we worship. We have no idea that this is a shadow of the Messiah’s redemption of the world 1400 years later. All we know is that we are to take a perfect, spotless lamb, kill it and spread its blood on the doorposts of our house and stay inside. We are to trust the blood to spare us from death. People who are not covered by the blood will die tonight. We will then leave our slavery to the Egyptians.

We are to gather our family in our home. We roast the lamb and quickly eat a meal together as a family. We are to burn any part that is left over. That the lamb is to be completely consumed indicates a total commitment as in a burnt sacrifice. Our whole community is to observe this festival. Our community also invites foreigners to join in as the blood covers them as well. God is doing something for all of us and our only job is to believe and do what he says. The sparing of our lives is totally dependent upon him. We could bring death upon ourselves through disobedience and skip putting blood on the doorposts. The blood sacrifice is what “buys us back,” redeems us, as a firstborn belonging to God. 

On this sacred night, Jesus gathered his “family of disciples” and observed the Passover meal giving it a new meaning. He was to be the human Lamb of God who would literally shed his own perfect sinless blood that the angel of eternal death might pass over all who put their trust in the Lamb of God. The lamb’s blood applied on the wooden doorposts in Egypt was superseded by the blood of the Lamb of God shed on the arms of the wooden cross. Like the first Passover in which the family of Israelites ate the sacrificial lamb, on this Maundy Thursday the family of God partakes of the Lord’s Supper for Jesus says, “Take and eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this to remember me. This cup is the new covenant between God and his people―an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 

I trust you’ll be able to find a Maundy Thursday service somewhere tonight if you do not have one in your own church.

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 one who makes a family a family. He offers us himself as our sacred meal. 

 “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 and resurrection you always live to make intercession for us: give us grace to be your faithful disciples and servants to our lives’ end; for your name’s sake. Amen.      ―Stephen Smalley, from Guideposts Prayers for Easter, p.41

Beginning this coming Monday the Eastertide daily devotionals will continue taking us through Ascension Day and on to Pentecost on June 5th. You don’t have to do anything; they will appear in your email box each morning.

Wednesday, April 13

Wednesday, April 13

Reader: “I tell you the truth,”

Response: “one of you will betray me!”

Scripture: John 13:21-32

Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”

The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. 

When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. So Judas left at once, going out into the night.

As soon as Judas left the room, 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.

Some thoughts:

As we read this passage, it strikes me that the disciples did not understand what seems so clear to us. The thought that one of the twelve who had been traveling with Jesus for three years would betray their rabbi, their master, did not compute. So Peter’s question to John to ask Jesus who it was who would betray him was not surprising. It would be like asking who in your family is going to betray you. The key to betrayal is having gained complete trust. That is one of the reasons divorce is so hard. A man and woman gave each other their pledge to be married for life. They trusted one another completely and built the marriage on that trust. Then to discover you have been played the fool is devastating to your core. Betrayal is treachery.

Jesus answered John’s question as to the identity of the betrayer by stating an action he would take. In what may have been a last chance for Judas to change his mind, Jesus broke bread with Judas, a sign of fellowship, as they had undoubtedly done many times before. Jesus had already washed Judas’ feet. With no change of heart, Satan then entered Judas and immediately Jesus told Judas to leave. The chilling words “he went out into the night” were symbolic. Judas left the Light of the world to enter into the dark world of Satan.

While the disciples still had no clue, Jesus knew the entire time what Judas was in the process of doing yet did not intervene in Judas’ betrayal plan. Nor did Jesus confront Judas about his stealing money from the disciples’ money bag. Jesus gave Judas ample time to repent of his ways. Even at this point, the disciples still did not understand what Judas had in mind. It was only in the Garden of Gethsemane did Judas’ nefarious plot become clear. In their panic they joined the betrayal of the Savior and fled. 

I can say with certainty that every one of us has been betrayed at some point in our life and my guess is also that we have been the betrayer upon occasion. If not outwardly in deed, certainly inwardly in thought or mind. Face it, we have betrayed our Lord. At a  personal level, the pain comes in realizing that someone loved their own interest more than they loved you. They truly didn’t care that their desire was at your expense or that their actions hurt you. Frankly, you were not on their mind and of no concern to them.  Our pain comes from a devaluation and lack of respect for us. Betrayal is the epitome of selfishness. 

Did you notice how Jesus was affected by Judas’ betrayal? The opening sentence says he was “deeply troubled.” What was about to happen had a powerful unsettling effect on Jesus. His humanity is evidenced in his sorrow. Betrayal is a nasty thing hurting not only the betrayer and the betrayed on earth, but the One we betray who resides in heaven and within us. Part of the significance of this week is that Jesus died to restore the repentant betrayer.  But notice the concluding sentences, “As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory and God will be glorified because of him.” There is life even after a devastating betrayal. Jesus is our model.

Music: “Ah, Holy Jesus”    Fernando Ortega

Prayer:

O Lord, my maker and protector, who hast graciously sent me into this world, to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which thou hast required. And while it shall please thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious and doubts impossible to be solved. Let me rejoice in the light which thou hast imparted and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which thou receivest shall be satisfied with knowledge. Grant this O Lord, for Jesus Christ’s sake, amen.             ―Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.116

Tuesday, April 12

Tuesday, April 12

Reader: “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction!”

Response: “But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 1:18-31

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”

Some thoughts:

In previous years of Lenten devotionals, we approached Holy Week from more of a chronological perspective, following the daily events in Jesus’ life as the week unfolded. This year I want to shift the focus a bit and look at the events from the world’s viewpoint.

Paul helps us here giving the overview in the first two sentences of today’s passage. Read them again.

The message of the cross, that all people are sinners and in need of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, is, I dare say, irrelevant and presumptuous to the majority of people in the world. To them it’s religious froth. Philosophers look within seeking brilliant human answers to these questions regarding: the existence of evil, of why there is something rather than nothing, is the universe real, free will, does God exist, is there life after death, where did we get the idea of morality and where does it come from? How do you answer these questions apart from the Scriptures? Philosophers wax eloquently and endlessly in their wisdom coming to no conclusions. “God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.”

Some scholars and theologians continue to search for the historical Jesus. Every year around Christmas time magazines publish articles about true Christianity, the historical Jesus, the gospel of Thomas, and other apocryphal writings. There are current ongoing debates as to Paul’s underlying perspective in his writings or the idea of Open Theism for a couple of examples. The point here is not to get into a discussion of the above, but to notice that scholars can be lost in their own speculations. In no way do we wish to minimize scholarship and study, but there can be the temptation to get lost in discussion and debate pushing to prove “my argument is better than your argument.”  “God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.”

We come next to the world’s brilliant debaters. (You may recall the clip on March 28th of Christopher Hutchins debating John Lennox.) Paul dealt with debate in his era and it continues to today. In Paul’s day it was the Jews and the Greeks who sought proof. The modern day “Jews” are the “follow the science crowd.” Science is their god with the answers to solve problems except science is not God, but was invented by God as such. This is the “I’ll believe it when I see the results” group. As we have discovered, the scientific facts aren’t always true. Finally, we have the brilliant intellects in love with technology who have no room for God. Religion and faith are foolishness in their minds. The one who controls the technology is in the place of God as we see their attempts to control information.

For these kinds of people, the redemption of the entire creation is irrelevant, pointless, and meaningless. The fact that God, the Creator, would redeem simple, insignificant people like you and me in the world’s eyes, is complete foolishness. We are nothing, nobodies. Yet because of Christ making us right with God through the cross, we are made pure, holy, and freed from sin because Jesus accomplished it on our behalf. The events of this week changed the course of history and the universe for those who receive him. No debate. 

Music: “My Song Is Love Unknown”    Sylvia Burnside       New artist. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOEjZb-rHc0         Beautiful voice!!!

My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me,

love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.

Oh, who am I, that for my sake

my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from his blest throne salvation to bestow,

but man made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know!

But oh, my friend, my friend indeed,

who at my need his life did spend!

Why? What hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?

He made the lame to run, he gave the blind their sight.

Sweet injuries! Yet they at these

themselves displease and ‘gainst him rise.

Here might I stay and sing; this story so divine,

never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine.

This is my friend, in whose sweet praise

I all my days could gladly spend!

Prayer:

O merciful Father, who in compassion for Thy sinful children didst send Thy Son Jesus Christ to be the Savior of the world: Give us Grace to serve one another in all lowliness, and to enter into the fellowship of his sufferings, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit one God, world without end. Amen.   ―Book of Common Worship

Monday, April 11

Monday, April 11

Reader: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time” 

Response: “and secured our redemption forever.”

Scripture:  Hebrews 9:11-15

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of animals—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.

Some thoughts:

Have you ever thought that Christianity was almost too fantastical to actually be true? Holy Week is a real world affirmation of God’s perfect plan to restore what is impossibly broken. Imagine if you didn’t believe communication with God was possible. There is an infinite separation between human beings and God. Getting in contact with God is not something that could ever occur, in fact so remote that the idea of such a thing ever happening doesn’t even exist. Then you find out that God in his infinite power and person has condescended to take on human form in the person of his Son and has come to earth to provide a path for people to actually commune with him!

This Son of God, Jesus, will act as a High Priest, a go-between for humans and God. Since he is in fact God, it is possible, but some things have to happen first. Enter Holy Week. While maintaining an earthly human element, this connection must also work in the heavenly realm. So while in the Tabernacle we had a shadow of this heavenly realm here on earth, it was nevertheless made with human hands.  But shadows are phantom shapes of the real thing. We needed the real thing, something not made with human hands.

The same thing goes for the sacrifices. So with our human High Priest we did blood sacrifices over and over, again shadowing an ultimate sacrifice which would  permanently solve the human separation from God problem. During this final week of Jesus’ life on earth, God in Christ completed his mission. God in human form shed his own blood, the very blood of God to bridge what for us was an impossibility. Without God intervening on our behalf, we have no chance, no hope, no chance of ever communing with God. We are doomed for eternal separation. 

But we have a living God/Man High Priest who during this week finished his mission on earth and returned to heaven to intercede on our behalf. The people that were with him when all of this happened wrote about it so we’d all know what happened and what is possible for us. These next seven days are the climax of his time on our planet. It is a remarkable story about a remarkable human God/man, the Incarnate Jesus Christ, who continues to live and transform the lives of millions of people. Let’s help spread the news.

Music: “What Wondrous Love Is This?”   Yuriy Kravets      “Plain Mennonites” (PA.)

“What Wondrous Love Is This?”     St. Olaf Concert Choir        Gorgeous, exquisite!

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, we have no words in our language or any language to express our gratitude for what you willingly did on behalf of human beings to make it possible for us to ever be in the presence of our Father, our Creator. Thank you for redeeming us from being hopelessly eternally buried in our own sin. The agony you endured, the separation from the realm of heaven you chose escapes our comprehension. I’m overwhelmed and can barely begin to process what you have done. All we can say is we love you, I love you. Help me live in a way that honors you. This I pray through your great name Jesus. Amen.               ―Daniel Sharp

Palm Sunday in Lent, April 10

Palm Sunday in Lent, April 10

Reader: “The stone that the builders rejected”

Response: “has now become the cornerstone.”

Scripture: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!

    His faithful love endures forever.

Let all Israel repeat: “His faithful love endures forever.”

Open for me the gates where the righteous enter,

    and I will go in and thank the Lord.

These gates lead to the presence of the Lord,

    and the godly enter there.

I thank you for answering my prayer

    and giving me victory!

The stone that the builders rejected

    has now become the cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing,

    and it is wonderful to see.

This is the day the Lord has made.

    We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Please, Lord, please save us.

    Please, Lord, please give us success.

Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

    We bless you from the house of the Lord.

The Lord is God, shining upon us.

    Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar.

 You are my God, and I will praise you!

    You are my God, and I will exalt you!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!

    His faithful love endures forever.

Some thoughts:

Psalm 118 is the last of the Hallel psalms (113-118) and is recited after the Passover meal. This is also one of the psalms which has both present and future meanings. God has delivered the psalmist from death for which he rejoices and gives thanks to God. In this psalm we have these well-known sentences, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful to see.” These sentences are quoted by Jesus himself after telling the parable of the evil tenant farmers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this account. Peter also quotes these words in his Pentecost sermon and again in his first epistle. 

We’ve all heard “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” To what day does the “this” refer? We may think, “God has given us another day. We’ll rejoice and enjoy the day for all it brings.” Actually I think the “this” goes much deeper. The “this” refers to the previous “this is the Lord’s doing.” What is the Lord’s doing? The rejected one, the Messiah, is the cornerstone of building a whole new people. The day of the Lord’s victory has already come. But we await its consummation in the meantime. This great day is here and is yet to come to its fullness. 

We then have the words so familiar to Palm Sunday, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  The shouting of “Hosanna,” meaning “save us” comes from the previous sentence, “Please Lord, please save us.” The people understood this psalm messianically. There is even the haunting phrase, “Take the sacrifice and bind it with cords on the altar” reminding us of Jesus being bound to the cross and part of the crucifixion process. The arms were normally bound to the cross bar as the nails by themselves could not support the weight of an unbound person. The psalm concludes with a word of praise in anticipation of God’s ultimate victory and rescue of a fallen people. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. 

What strikes me is though the people knew the psalm and grasped a messianic understanding to a degree, that Palm Sunday crowd missed what was happening. Ultimately, many of those doing the cheering became the ones who rejected the cornerstone because of preconceived ideas of what should happen. Such is a powerful word to us. We are often quick to draw conclusions because we operate in an earthly time frame. God doesn’t. His faithful love endures forever. Don’t rush God and don’t tell him how to do things. Draw near to him each day and wait patiently.

Music: “Hosanna in the Highest”     CUEA CSA CHOIR GABA ELDORET

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQDSB7DfOnI    Do not miss!

Bonus: “Ride on King Jesus”  Reginald Smith, Jr.   Or this one either!!

“Ride on King Jesus”     Robert Shaw Festival Singers   (Or this one―choral setting)

Prayer:

Jesus, King of the universe, ride on in humble majesty: Lord, this Palm Sunday may we recognize in you the Lord who comes to his world, and join with full heart in the children’s “hosannas.” Ride on through conflict and debate, ride on, through prayer and betrayal: Lord, this Palm Sunday forgive me my evasions of truth . . .my weakness which leaves me sleeping even while in others you suffer and are anguished; my cowardice that does not risk the consequences of publicly acknowledging you as Lord. Ride on to the empty tomb and your rising in triumph, ride on to raise up your church, a new body for your service. Ride on, King Jesus, to renew the whole earth in your image. In compassion come to help us.                                 ―Author Unknown, from Guideposts Prayers for Easter, p.30-31

Saturday, April 9, (Lazarus Saturday)

Saturday, April 9       (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 the 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.”

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, Mary is tuned to the Savior and Judas is tuned to Judas the thief. Matthew tells us that all the disciples complained about what Mary had done. (Matt. 26:8) They were concerned that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor, a noble reason. But notice John tells us a little more about Judas’ motive. Any way you look at it, Judas was motivated by greed. He was the one who said the nard should have been sold for a year’s wages. He was always thinking dollars. His real motive was to steal more money from the coffer. 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus allowed Judas to be in charge of the money since  he knew he was a thief? I’m guessing Jesus may have been giving him a chance to overcome his lust for money. He traveled with Jesus for three years. Jesus gave him apostolic authority as one of the twelve. He washed his feet. He let him take part in the Last Supper. Yet, as you trace the few references to him, Judas was clearly operating with a different agenda. At any rate he makes a crass comment and is rebuked quite strongly by Jesus. It was not that he misunderstood Jesus and his mission, Judas had the heart of an evil thief whose greed for money led to his betrayal. He may also have wanted to force Jesus’ hand to set up his kingdom.

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.” Except for the sharp rebuke of Peter, (Matt.16:23), 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. 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. We now move into the final week of Jesus’ earthly life.

Music: “Jesus Shall Reign”      Grace Community

Prayer:

O thou that hearest prayer, teach me to pray, I confess that in religious exercises the language of my lips and the feelings of my heart have not always agreed. Let thy Spirit help my infirmities, for I know not what to pray for as I ought. May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers, or that I am rich unless rich toward thee. May I value things in relation to eternity. May I seek my happiness in thy favor, image, presence, and service.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.     ―from The Valley of Vision, p.106   

Friday, April 8

Friday, April 8

Reader: “For only as a human being could he die,”

Response: “and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.”

Scripture: Hebrews 2:10-18

God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.

    I will praise you among your assembled people.”

He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,”

    that is, “I and the children God has given me.”

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

Some thoughts:

Several years ago I had the opportunity to speak on Christianity to middle schoolers in an exclusive private secular school in San Diego. A Rabbi, an Imam, and a Priest were also speakers in the series. (I know it sounds like the beginning of a joke!) I presented this idea to the students: You had all the power in the world to do anything you could imagine. You made a tiny little world run by a colony of ants. And you needed to communicate with the ants since they were having trouble getting along. What would be the best way to communicate with them to help solve their problem? After several ‘other world’ ideas, one student said, “The best way to connect with the ants would be to become an ant since you had that power. The class thought that would be a good idea. And then I asked them, “How do you think the ants would respond?” I will never forget one little girl’s answer, “We’d kill you because we don’t want you telling us what to do.” That’s a picture of Christianity. God became a human being, one of us to solve our alienation from each other and from him.  We responded by killing him on the cross, but he rose from the dead to provide a way for us to get back to God.

This passage in Hebrews carries that same message. Human beings have a fatal sin problem which alienates them from their Creator. The sin problem makes us slaves to death. And there is absolutely nothing we can do to solve it. Nothing. The sacrificial deaths of animals was a type, but did not solve the problem. Sin causes death and fear of death causes sin. That fear leads to bondage to sin. Philo, a Jewish philosopher during the time of Christ, made the observation that “nothing is so calculated to enslave the mind as a fear of death.” (The recent pandemic has certainly proved that statement to be true.) I’ve seen people paranoid with fear of death.

The only way to solve the sin and alienation problem would be for a perfect sinless human being to die to break the power of the devil and the fear of death. Sin brings death, but if you have no sin, you have no death. But if you die with no sin, death is defeated byu God. God couldn’t die simply as God and solve the human sin problem. Only by being completely human in every way, and being sinless and being completely God in every way and dying could the power of the devil and sin be broken. The fact that the Temple curtain was ripped open giving humans direct access to God proved that God the Father accepted the sacrificial death of his perfect human Son of God. If Jesus wasn’t truly and completely God in sinless human form, the cross would be worthless. His death would be worthless. Our lives would be without any hope ever. The resurrection proves the deity and humanity of Jesus.

But Christ’s humanity also means that the Son completely identifies with humans in every possible way having suffered and being subjected to everything normal human beings go through. The result is he is able to help his human brothers and sisters in everything we face. He is our faithful High Priest interceding on our behalf as one who knows and understands. Rest in him today in every situation.

Music: “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor”     St. Luke Cathedral

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhEr6asRRBg     Choir of King’s College

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,

All for love’s sake becamest poor;

Thrones for a manger didst surrender,

Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,

All for love’s sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,

All for love’s sake becamest man;

Stooping so low, but sinners raising

Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,

All for love’s sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,

Saviour and King, we worship thee.

Emmanuel, within us dwelling,

Make us what thou wouldst have us be.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,

Saviour and King, we worship thee.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Thou wast poor and in misery, a captive and forsaken as I am. Thou knowest all men’s distress; Thou abidest with me when all others have deserted me. Thou doest not forget me, but seekest me. Thou willest that I should know thee and turn to thee. Lord, I hear thy call and follow thee; do thou help me.                    ―Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.91

Thursday, April 7

Thursday, April 7

Reader: “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard,” 

Response: “or we may drift away from it.”

Scripture: Hebrews 2:1-9

So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.

And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. For in one place the Scriptures say,

“What are mere mortals that you should think about them,

    or a son of man that you should care for him?

Yet for a little while you made them a little lower than the angels

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You gave them authority over all things.”

Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. What we do see is Jesus, who for a little while was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.

Some thoughts:

The book of Hebrews gives multiple warnings about paying attention to the truth of God’s message of salvation. One such caution occurs in our passage. The Greek word for “drift” gives us a visual picture of its meaning. The idea is of a boat in a harbor with sailors aboard. But with no one paying attention to what is happening as they drift out of the harbor into treacherous, deadly ocean waters. The warning: careless neglect or outright rejection of God’s truth will bring dire consequences. The Jewish readers had previously read the truth in the Torah, but more recently Jesus, God in human flesh, had spoken the truth of salvation and confirmed it with various miracles. The message from the writer of Hebrews? God has offered new life and forgiveness. Don’t be indifferent! Pay attention.

Neglect and rejection to the gospel was true in the early days of the church and such is true in our own day. It is too easy to measure truth by our personal standards; to be absorbed with self. You see it all around you. “You have your truth, I have mine.” In addition there are several shades of theological gray teaching circulating in our Christian world as well. It is imperative that we know the Scriptures and develop critical theological thinking. . .(part of the reason for these daily devotionals.) One of the themes of the season of Lent is examining our own spiritual state and asking ourselves how we are doing spiritually. Are we progressing or are we being hounded by the same old sins? Are we drifting?

The last half of today’s reading concerns the humanity of Jesus in response to what was said in chapter one of Hebrews where the writer has shown that Jesus was superior to angels. That may seem obvious to us, but to his Jewish readers such was not the case. To the First Testament Jewish mind, angels were clearly superior to men and were the agents who delivered God’s Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. After all, several places in the New Testament attest to that belief. (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:2) His readers grappled with this superiority idea since Jesus was human yet died; therefore he must rank lower than angels. Yet he was God? The writer quotes from Psalm 8 that man, for a time, is a little lower than the angels. We see Jesus exhibiting great humility as he lowered himself for a time. By God’s grace, Jesus has tasted death for all humanity resulting in the truth that one day, all things will be under human authority including the angels. 

So what can we draw from this passage? We are reminded once again of the biggest picture that God is unfolding and not be consumed with the latest reports on what is happening in the world and to let those events dictate and rule our lives. We dare not drift from what we know is certain and true. God is sovereign over all things. We rest in him. Let us not drift out of his safe harbor through neglect.

Music: “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name”   Festival Choir Thallander Foundation

Prayer:Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow on me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace  you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.   ―Thomas Aquinas  (1225-1274)  from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.33

Wednesday, April 6

Wednesday, April 6

Reader: “Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem,” 

Response: “where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true.”

Scripture: Luke 18:31-34

Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, “Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.”

But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about.

Some thoughts:

Put yourself in the place of one of the twelve disciples. The miracle working rabbi you’ve been traveling with for the last three years has just told you again what is about to happen in the next few days. This is the fourth time Jesus has given this message to his disciples. (Luke records them 9:22, 44-45; 17:25; 18:31-34) Where in his previous warnings he simply said he would be killed and handed over to the authorities, here he gives a more detailed account as to what will occur. 

In previous trips to Jerusalem, Jesus had not been well received. In fact, he left to avoid being stoned to death on an earlier occasion. You notice Jesus did not put this trip up for a vote. He said simply, “We’re going to Jerusalem where all the words of the prophets will be fulfilled.” And what are those words? The Son of Man, the Messiah, will be mocked, treated disgracefully, spit upon, flogged mercilessly, and killed. But he will overcome death and rise on the third day. Such a description seems pretty clear to us. How could you as a disciple not understand? Let’s look at your Jewish Old Testament understanding of the Messiah. You know it well.  

The Messiah, the Son of Man, will come defeat all the nations and establish an eternal kingdom on earth. (cf. Daniel 7:13-14; Isaiah 9:6,7) Israel will again be restored to its greatness as in the days of King David. The Messiah will be the benevolent glorious King fulfilling God’s covenant with David. You believe Jesus to be that Messiah. In fact, you’ve heard Jesus refer to himself as the Son of Man many, many times. So as you all head up to Jerusalem this time, you have great anticipation that this is finally it! Jesus will take on the Romans, crush them and establish his kingdom for good. You are ready to fight for him. (E.g. Peter pulling his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane.) 

You can perhaps see, as one of his disciples, why the words of Jesus concerning what was going to happen to him would not compute in your mind. They simply do not make sense to you when applied to the Messiah. You may have looked at Isaiah 53 and interpreted that chapter, as did many rabbis, concerning the “suffering servant” as referring to the nation of Israel. At any rate, what Jesus had just said to you made no sense in your mind. Jesus’ words, however, were so odd that they did stick in your mind.

Following his resurrection, the disciples were still asking the question if Jesus was going to set up his kingdom now. (Acts 1:6) It took until Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit for them to finally grasp how Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter fulfilled God’s glorious plan of redemption and reconciliation for all peoples on earth. They then understood those odd words of Jesus on their journey to Jerusalem some two months previous. They saw anew how the events Jesus foretold underscored his love and commitment to do his Father’s will. Now those words that stuck in your mind made sense!

Are there some things for us in this pericope? Sometimes we do not grasp what God is doing. His ways are not our ways. We tend to see two minutes ahead, he sees all of eternity “ahead!” He is trustworthy even when what he does or says doesn’t make sense to us. His ways work out for his glory, though his ways are not without pain and suffering at times. Can we trust when we don’t understand? Look at the contrast between Jesus setting up Israel as a kingdom and defeating the Roman occupation versus dying, paying the penalty for all the sin in the whole world forever and making it possible for every person who has ever lived to spend all of eternity in the presence of God! Always go with God’s plan!

Music: “Hallelujah Chorus”    Handel     Sydney Philharmonic Choirs  Sydney Opera House             A refreshing interpretation of this most loved chorus.

Prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us laboring under so much weakness, with our minds so blinded that our faith falters at things we can’t understand or explain, grant, that by the power of thy Spirit we may be raised up above this world and learn more and more to renounce our own counsels, and so to come to thee, that we may stand fixed in our watch tower, ever hoping through thy power, for whatever thou hast promised  us, though thou shouldest not immediately make it manifest to us. May we be faithful until we see thee face to face when we shall wonder no more. Amen. 

 ―John Calvin from Devotions and Prayers of John Calvin, p.71, adapted Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, April 5

Tuesday, April 5

Reader: “Dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns,”

Response: “You will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.”

Scripture:   I John 2:18-28

Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.  

But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.

I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.

And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.

Some thoughts:   

Human history moves along at a slow steady pace until a crisis occurs―then things adjust and a new era begins and people say, “It will never be the same again” or we need to adjust to “the new normal.” Sound familiar? Something like that is happening in our world right now. John wrote this epistle in a circumstance not unlike ours today. When he said, “the last hour is here,” in looking more closely at the Greek word “hour,” he is not saying it is the last hour but rather, ‘it is a last hour.’ The evidence is the fact that there are many antichrists, false teachers. Here John is not interested in identifying an individual person as the Antichrist. There are many apostate teachers in his situation. These antichrists were in the church teaching false doctrines leading people astray. The word antichrist simply means “instead of Christ.”  

Around 70 A.D. Christians were driven out of Jerusalem due to Roman persecution and the destruction of the Temple. John migrated to the western part of present day Turkey. The writing of this letter occurred sometime after 90 A.D. and followed his writing of the Gospel of John. Here he addressed believers in general, rather than writing to a specific local group. His words were to be aware of false teachers within the infant church. The erroneous doctrine being taught by these teachers was that Jesus was not God in human flesh. In their view, if Jesus was a man with human flesh, he was not God. If he was God, his body was not made of human flesh. In other words, these false teachers were in various forms denouncing the Incarnation. 

The truth of the Holy Spirit’s witness is that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), God in human flesh, the same kind of human flesh everyone has. The Holy Spirit is the purveyor of this truth to every believer and therefore the believer does not need to be dependent on a teacher to be enlightened with God’s truth. The false teachers put themselves in the place of the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit indwells all believers guiding them in the truth. They are not to become disciples of various teachers who give secret knowledge. (E.g. Gnostics)   

So how does all this tie together for us? God had entered the world and society in human form. His person and teaching knocked everything off the established center. As people sorted through things and the challenges he presented, all sorts of voices entered the arena saying, “Follow me, I have the solution, I can explain it.” Our whole world is off center and we hear various voices vying for converts. There are those with great concerns for various causes and ideologies which are in fact their “religions.” Their leaders are the “apostles” for the “faith,” a “faith” that will solve problems and make life better for everyone, especially better for them! I’m sure you can name such sacred or secular “religions.” John’s words to us, “Remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning and you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. In these days, do not get pushed off course. With Jesus there is no establishing a “new normal.” He is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”

Music: “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”   Simon Khorolskiy

Prayer:

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement,lust of power, and idle chatter. Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love. O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother and sister, for You are blessed, now and ever and forever. Amen.   ―Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian, 4th century

Monday, April 4

Monday, April 4

Reader: “By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way”

Response:  “through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.” 

Scripture: Hebrews 10:19-25

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Some thoughts:

In keeping with the “press on” theme of yesterday, the writer of Hebrews gives added insight into the process of “drawing near to God.” In Philippians Paul urges his readers to push on “that you may know him.” Here Hebrew’s author makes three theological points and three practical applications of those points.

The first has to do with entering the very presence of God. How does one enter the presence of God? In the old way, a very thick curtain separated the Most Holy Place from everyone except for the High Priest, who could enter God’s presence only one day a year, Yom Kippur. Many animal blood sacrifices had to be offered for the High Priest and the people in preparation for his meeting with God. Jesus’ shed blood of atonement  opened a new way as the curtain was ripped top to bottom. If you will, as the curtain of separation was torn, so Jesus’ body was torn in his beatings and his blood was shed in sacrifice to make it possible for every person to enter the very presence of God on any day of the year. Jesus’ death and blood of atonement opened the way into God’s presence. 

Second, under the New Covenant, Jesus serves as our immortal High Priest replacing the Old Covenant mortal priest. The blood of the new High Priest opened the way. Jesus became the sacrifice, the curtain, and the High Priest. Therefore we always approach God the Father in worship through Jesus, our eternal High Priest. Jesus is leading our worship as the true Minister of worship. The result is that we can go into worship with cleansed hearts, with guilt free hearts, having been washed clean by the blood of Jesus.

Third, the writer carries this vertical interaction of worshiping God a step farther to encountering fellow worshipers. The worshipers confess faith together and seek ways to encourage one another through acts of kindness and love in anticipation of Christ’s Return. He then slips in a very important admonition: do not neglect to meet together as is the habit of some. I fear the closing of many churches during recent pandemic issues have led many people to neglect gathering in person for worship now that things have opened up. 

Worship is both vertical and horizontal. Two of the primary words for worship in the Scriptures are worship and serve. . . the vertical and the horizontal. People who have rejected God, interestingly, have a similar “pattern of ‘worship’” as outlined in the first chapter of Romans. There is much to say in comparing the two passages, but too much for here!

Music: “Praise to the Lord, the  Almighty”    Fernando Ortega

Bonus:“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”     Ancient of Day    (India)

Prayer:Gracious Lord, Thy name is love, in love receive my prayer. My sins are more than the wide sea’s sand, but where sin abounds, there is grace more abundant. Look to the cross of thy beloved Son, and view the preciousness of his atoning blood; listen to his never-failing intercession, and whisper to my heart, ‘Thy sins are forgiven, be of good cheer, lie down in peace.’ May the matter of my prayer be always wise, humble, submissive, obedient, scriptural, and Christ-like. Give me unwavering faith that supplications are never in vain, that if I seem not to obtain my petitions I shall have larger, richer answers, surpassing all that I ask or think. Unsought, thou hast given me the greatest gift, the person of thy Son, and in him thou wilt give me all I need. In his name, the name of Jesus, this I pray. Amen.            ―The Valley of Vision, p.149

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 3

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 3

Reader:  “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,”

Response: “I press on to reach the end of the race.”

Scripture:   Philippians 3:4b-14 

I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

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.

Some thoughts:

Sometimes I wonder how often we unconsciously do what Paul is pointing at here. Play along with me and do this for yourself. Here’s my example:

I could have confidence before God in my heritage. Afterall, my grandfather was a minister, both sides of my grandparents were wonderful Christians, my parents were loving Christians and we had a Christ-centered family, I was baptized when I was eight, I went to a Christian college, I was an adjunct professor in a seminary, I was ordained in Christian ministry, I teach worship in a graduate school, I served as Minister of Music and Worship in several churches over the span of forty-two years. Surely that counts for something with you God! (You get the idea!!) It doesn’t.

That’s what Paul was doing in this letter. Having been circumcised on the eighth day was strict adherence to the law. He was a pure-blooded Jew from the tribe of Benjamin as was Israel’s first king, Saul, of whom he was named after. The Pharisees, of whom he was a member, were the strictest observers of the Jewish law and he was the strictest of the strict! He obeyed the law without fault, not meaning he was perfect but that he adhered in the strongest and most accurate sense. This included all the additional laws of the rabbis’ doing. 

While we have long since dismissed the idea of our acceptability before God as having anything to do with what we have done or what our lineage is, Paul openly declares what he once thought most important prior to his conversion. He is mentioning this because there were teachers in the Philippian church pretending to have superior authority based on their credentials. He sets the record straight for them and for us that a pedigree of any sort is worthless in light of knowing Christ. Actually the word he uses for worthless is a little crass! 

Our righteousness only comes through faith in our union with Christ. The idea here is that you and I continually strive to know Christ by exercising faith. You notice we never arrive in this life. Here’s the challenge: I want to know Christ and taste for myself the mighty power that raised him from the dead. These daily devotionals are meant to feed that “knowing Christ” part so that when we come to the end of this earthly life, we may experience the resurrection from the dead for ourselves. I like Paul’s phrase, “I press on . . .” The way to do so is to let go of the past. You’ll find the devil is eager for you to remember your past, dwell on it, mourn over it, carry as much regret and guilt as possible. Tell him to leave. It’s all been taken care of and you have a severe case of RAG amnesia! (Regret And Guilt) The pilgrim on the journey says acknowledge, confess, repent, resolve, and press on to the end to receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us!

Two classic recordings!

Music: “Blessed Assurance”    Alan Jackson

Bonus: “Blessed Assurance”    Jubilant Sykes   

Prayer:

We thank you, Father, for those days in the desert when Jesus overcame the temptation  of the evil one. Help us, during these days of Lent, to come close to you and to listen to your voice. Give us strength to overcome the temptation to please ourselves and live life distanced from you. Teach us your way for Jesus’ sake. Christ, give us grace to press on to continue to grow in holiness, to deny ourselves, and to take up our cross and follow you, who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, reign one God, forever and ever, world without end. Amen. ―Guideposts: Prayers for Easter, p.10 adapted Daniel Sharp

Bonus information:

You have noticed that we have left out verse numbers in the Scripture. The biblical writers did not put in verse numbers and chapters. Chapter divisions were devised in 1205 AD and our present day verse numbers were added in the 1550’s. The divisions are completely arbitrary solely for the purpose of locating specific passages. Can you imagine trying to find something in the book of Genesis with its fifty chapters and no chapters or verse markings? The drawback of numbering verses is that we may read them as isolated thoughts and miss the whole context.

Saturday, April 2

Saturday, April 2

Reader:  “Your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’”

Response: “And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord.”

Scripture: Exodus 12:21-27

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel together and said to them, “Go, pick out a lamb or young goat for each of your families, and slaughter the Passover animal. Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of hyssop branches and dip it into the blood. Brush the hyssop across the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. And no one may go out through the door until morning. For the Lord will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the Lord will pass over your home. He will not permit his death angel to enter your house and strike you down.

“Remember, these instructions are a permanent law that you and your descendants must observe forever. When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’” When Moses had finished speaking, all the people bowed down to the ground and worshiped.

Some thoughts:

What strikes me in the above passage is how very earthy, tactile, and visual theology is. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is spelled out in a way a child can understand. Here is a First Testament picture of the cross of Christ. The central point is not so much about setting the Israelites free from slavery, which it does, but on a grander scale, freedom from eternal death. Moses, the Exodus redeemer, is the Christ figure of the true Redeemer, the Christus Victor over sin and death. With the shedding of blood there is redemption.

Let’s back up a bit. God told Moses to dedicate every firstborn child and animal to him, for they belong to God, they are his. (Ex.13:1-2) The firstborn can be bought back, redeemed, by presenting a blood sacrifice in its place. All first born sons (humans) must be bought back, always. If a firstborn animal was not bought back, it was to be killed. (Ex.13:13) You’ll recall Mary and Joseph went to Simeon at the Temple with the forty day old baby Jesus and “bought back” their firstborn with the blood sacrifice of two doves. 

We move back to our passage. The blood over the sides and top of the door posts “covered” Israel’s firstborn sons and animals so when the angel of death saw the blood, he passed over those Jewish homes. The firstborn Israelite humans and animals were both bought back, redeemed. With no blood covering them, such was not the case with the Egyptians as both firstborn animals and humans died when the angel passed over them. 

A short word about the hyssop branches used to apply the blood. Hyssop is a small, very bushy plant. It has many leaves with very short stems making it very easy for it to absorb liquid. It also has somewhat of a peppermint aroma. It is a common plant in the Middle East. In this case, a bunch of hyssop was to be used to spread the blood on the doorposts. Hyssop is also mentioned a couple of times in the New Testament. Do you recall where? Yes, when Jesus hung on the cross in the last hours of his crucifixion, some sour wine was put on a bundle of hyssop and raised on a stick to give him some relief. (John 19:29) The blood of the Passover sacrificial lamb of the Exodus was superseded by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away (not “passes over”) the sins of the world once for all. God himself has redeemed his own firstborn sons and daughters. They are his eternally. He has done everything needed to obtain his own. 

In conclusion, Moses writes, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.” (Lev.17:11) The writer of Hebrews states, “ In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” (Heb.9:22) The shed blood of Jesus has forever ended sacrifice. He is the ultimate Passover Lamb defeating death forever.

Music: “Behold the Lamb of God”   Gramophone Chorus   (Ghana)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSA4nQ9NxmM    So sensitive.

Prayer:Blessed Lord Jesus, before thy cross I kneel and see the heinousness of my sin, my iniquity that caused thee to be ‘made a curse’, the evil that excites the severity of divine wrath. Show me the enormity of my guilt by the crown of thorns, the pierced hands and feet, the bruised body, the dying cries. Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God, its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought. Infinite must be the evil and guilt that demands such a price. Sin is my malady, my monster, my foe, my viper; born in my birth, alive in my life, strong in my character, dominating my faculties, following me as a shadow, intermingling with my every thought, my chain that holds me captive in the empire of my soul. Yet thy compassions yearn over me, thy heart hastens to my rescue, thy love endured my curse, thy mercy bore my deserved stripes. Let me walk humbly in the lowest depths of humiliation, bathed in thy blood, tender of conscience, triumphing gloriously as an heir of salvation. This I pray through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.         ―The Valley of Vision,  p. 41

Friday, April 1

Friday, April 1

Reader: “I, yes I, am the Lord,”

Response: “and there is no other Savior.”

Scripture: Isaiah 43:8-15  

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.”

The Lord’s Promise of Victory

This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

“For your sakes I will send an army against Babylon,

    forcing the Babylonians to flee in those ships they are so proud of.

I am the Lord, your Holy One,

    Israel’s Creator and King.

Some thoughts:

Today’s passage is the following text to yesterday’s reading. As a consequence of their rebellion against God, the Israelites are living as slaves and servants in exile serving the Babylonians. It seems Israel was always fascinated with the gods of the peoples around them. Like the Israelites, people who are “off the rails” inevitably have huge blindspots. We’ve all met or have been around someone who just couldn’t “get something through their head.” They are deaf to the words being spoken to them. They can’t hear what you are saying. The mind can’t let go of what they perceive to be in order to recognize there may be another way to look at things. And we say they are “blind to the truth.” Like Isaiah, we live in such a world. Sometimes, we are that person!

So God challenges his people with four rhetorical questions which are intended to help them get out of the spiritual maze they are in. The questions are amazingly contemporary. Like the rebellious Israelites, people have many gods in our world: science is a god; physical fitness is a god; money is a god; physical appearance is a god; sports and recreation are gods; and clearly, politics is a god. We even have modern day prophets who claim God has told them what is going to happen in the future. When it doesn’t happen, they and their followers fade into oblivion.The point being, the gods of this world are not God.

The LORD reminds his wayward children that he has chosen them so that they might  know him, believe in him, and understand that he is the only God there is. For example, the gods of this world pull hard at the Christian family. I’m saddened at how easy it is for young families to skip church for a Sunday soccer tournament, or a weekend camping trip, or a Sunday boating or day at the beach, or to simply sleep in. Such a perspective reflects a very weak and unbiblical ecclesiology (theology and understanding of the Church). What’s more, such a response to corporate worship teaches our children that gathering as the corporate body of Christ is insignificant. (Heb. 10:25) As the day of the Lord draws nearer it is more important than ever for God’s people to get together. In times of crisis, everyone needs community as so clearly evidenced in times of war.

Finally, there is the most comforting and beautiful promise tucked in near the end of today’s pericope. “From eternity to eternity I am God.  No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done. This is what the LORD says―your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” None of this world’s gods can provide the care and security of our God. Rest in him today.

Music: “Children of the Heavenly Father”   arr. Clausen       Concordia Choir

             “Children of the Heavenly Father” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAq-PZ6KbF0   arr. Wilberg Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Prayer:O Thou Good Omnipotent, who so carest for every one of us, as if Thou cared for him alone; and so for all, as if all were but one! Blessed is the man who loveth Thee, and his friend in Thee, and his enemy for Thee. For he only loses none dear to him, to whom all are dear in Him who cannot be lost. And who is that but our God, the God that made heaven and earth, and filleth them, even by filling them creating them. And Thy law is truth, and truth is Thyself. I behold how some things pass away that others may replace them, but Thou dost never depart, O God my Father supremely good. Beauty of all things beautiful. To Thee will I intrust whatsoever I have received from Thee, so shall I lose nothing. Thou madest me for Thyself, and my heart is restless until it repose in Thee―Amen.       ―St. Augustine, 354-430 A.D. from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.52

Thursday, March 31

Thursday, March 31

Reader: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.”

Response:  “I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7         

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.

    O Israel, the one who formed you says,

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.

    I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you go through deep waters,

    I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty,

    you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,

    you will not be burned up;

    the flames will not consume you.

For I am the Lord, your God,

    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;

    I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.

Others were given in exchange for you.

    I traded their lives for yours

because you are precious to me.

    You are honored, and I love you.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

    I will gather you and your children from east and west.

I will say to the north and south,

    ‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel

    from the distant corners of the earth.

Bring all who claim me as their God,

    for I have made them for my glory.

    It was I who created them.’”

Some thoughts:  

As I write this today, things in the world are very unsettled. Russia has just invaded Ukraine. Inflation in the United States is the highest it has been in forty years along with a host of other problems and many people are afraid . . . but you don’t need to be reminded of the current situation when you read a devotional! It just doesn’t help. What we can do is to pray. But most of us are powerless at the moment to cause any great change in the world situation. So how do we navigate these tempestuous waters?

Isaiah has powerful and encouraging words. I would almost say it is the “normal” situation in the First Testament―Israel is in big trouble, again. Israel has been plundered and the Lord is reminding them that they belong to him. His promised care of his children, Israel (Jacob), applies to all who become his children through faith in Christ. Note, he starts his encouragement with “I created you.” Those are comforting words both then and now. It is easy to think of this creation act of being true in Bible times. But while God created Adam, Esther, David, and Ruth, somehow it seems different when I apply the same idea to me. God personally formed me to be me just like Moses. God is the one who made me and I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. God goes on to redeem me and give me a name in the Lamb’s book of Life. Then we come to the beautiful phrase in the words of our Creator, “I called you by name and you are mine.” 

What’s more, we then have the promise of his presence when we go through deep waters. In the last part of this passage, the LORD enlarges the number of his children to include all people from the far corners of the earth “who claim me as their God.” Then we have the beautiful reason for our coming into being―you and I were created to bring glory to God. In Ephesians, Paul picks up this same theme. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Eph. 2:10)

In the midst of so much uncertainty, we can still bring glory to God as I just saw and heard a large group of Ukrainians singing hymns in the underground subway stations in Kiev. (I’ve been on those subways when I was in Kiev years ago and some are 350 feet below ground level! They are some of the deepest in the world.) Remember, God speaking, “I have called you by name, _____________, you are mine. . . I will be with you.”                                                                   (your name here)

Music: “The Lord’s My Shepherd”    Rutter      John Rutter conducting  800  voice choir in Los Angeles. Nancy and I had the joy of singing in this choir with our choir when we were in San Diego. You can see Nancy the fourth one from the left in row 36. I was in row 47!!

Prayer: 

O Lord Jesus, may we not think of Thy coming as a distant event that took place once and has never been repeated. May we know that Thou art still here walking among us, by our sides, whispering over our shoulders, tugging at our sleeves, smiling upon us when we need encouragement and help.       ―Peter Marshall from The Quiet Corner, p.28

Bonus: From The Chosen, Season 1,  Episode 1    Jesus and Mary Magdalene as he casts the demons from her. In the story, her father taught her Isaiah 43:1 when she was a little girl to quote whenever she was afraid. I have found The Chosen to be helpful in gaining a better understanding of the humanity of Jesus. As of this writing, the various episodes have been viewed nearly 368,000,000 times world wide.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiStHMNE16Q

Wednesday, March 30

Wednesday, March 30

Reader: “What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked.”

Response: “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”

Scripture: II Kings 4:1-7  

 One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.”

“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”

“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied.

And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.”

So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim!

“Bring me another jar,” she said to one of her sons.

“There aren’t any more!” he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.

When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, “Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.”

Some thoughts:  

While this may not be one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, there are several insightful lessons here. In the days of Elisha, prophets of God had groups of “apprentice prophets,” if you will. Elisha was in such a group following Elijah. You’ll recall, as Elijah was getting ready to ascend to heaven in a chariot of fire, Elisha asked him for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. His request was granted as Elisha did exactly double the number of miracles his mentor had done. (This “apprentice” practice was in operation in Jesus’ day as his disciples, ‘talmidim,’ functioned in the same way.)

One of Elisha’s talmidim had died and his widow had come to Elisha for help. She was in a tough place. What Elisha did reminded me of the incident of Jesus changing the water to wine at the wedding feast. Jesus’ mother came to him with a problem―no more wine. The widow came to Elisha with a problem―no more money. Elisha and Jesus worked with the resources that were available (neighbor’s jars, empty water jars).

In Elisha’s case, the woman poured the oil miraculously filling all the gathered jars. There was so much oil, she was able to sell it and pay off her debt and still have plenty to live on. In the case of the water to wine miracle, Jesus produced 180 gallons of wine!

Both miracles resulted in creating a lavish amount, examples of God’s generosity. 

What observations can we make here? God works with ordinary resources which are available. We should not be shy in going to a benevolent God for help in any situation. God is in charge of the timing. God’s ways are not our ways.The widow had no idea what to do and couldn’t have guessed what Elisha would do. Jesus’ mother had no idea what was about to happen, she just knew “do whatever he tells you.” Friends, that’s our position in coming to the Lord with a problem, we need to do whatever he tells us. Keep your ears and eyes open today, you never know what’s going to happen.

Music: “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”       OrganPower (Marshall and Ogletree)

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

Prayer: 

Almighty God, Lord of the storm and of the calm, the vexed sea and the quiet haven, of day and of night, of life and of death―grant unto us so to have our hearts stayed upon Thy faithfulness, Thine unchanging and love, that, whatsoever betide us, however black the cloud or dark the night, with quiet faith trusting in Thee, we may look upon Thee with untroubled eye, and walking in lowliness towards Thee, and in lovingness towards one another, abide all storms and troubles of this mortal life, beseeching Thee that they may turn to the soul’s true good. We ask it for Thy mercy’s sake, shown in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.          ―George Dawson, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.161

Tuesday, March 29

Tuesday, March 29

Reader: “Blessed are those” 

Response: “who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”

Scripture: Revelation 19:9-10

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”

Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.”

Some thoughts:  

Today we are in the Apocalypse. This pericope contains the fourth of the seven beatitudes in the book, each of which is an encouragement and affirmation to believers to look to the culmination of the journey of faith, the wedding Feast of the Lamb in heaven (1:3; 14:13; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14). This Feast is referring to the marriage of Christ to his Bride, the Church. Jesus often used meals to explain the fellowship of the Kingdom of God. Jesus also told several parables about weddings and guests being invited and being prepared. There were those people who ignored the invitation so everyone was invited to the wedding feast (Mt.22:1-14). The parable concludes with “many are called but few are chosen.” Here in John’s revelation, to be called is a blessing not to be missed! It is a high calling to be invited by God to a banquet he has prepared! The concept of a sacred meal between God’s people and the Messiah is common in Jewish thought.

John apparently thought he was talking with the Lord, for he fell down to worship him. But the angel’s response was about as direct as possible, “Don’t do that!” What comes clear in the response is that both humans and angels are servants of God. Both bow before the LORD God.

So what does this have to do with Lent and “A Journey to the Cross”? When you and I came to faith in Jesus Christ, we were born into a spiritual world and had to be born a second time, thus began our eternal journey. It has a starting point and is headed toward, we’ve learned, a glorious feast with our Savior which will occur in the Kingdom of God. This passage is an affirmation that you and I are headed in that direction. In a world that is often in turmoil, it’s so important to be reminded that this world is not our final destination. We’re on a journey. There is a difference between saying “we are on a journey” and having this eternal perspective shape the way we live day to day. Jesus’ journey to the cross made living this way possible.

Music: “Hark! I Hear the Harps Eternal”  arr. Alice Parker  Los Angeles Master Chorale

“Hark! I Hear the Harps Eternal”    arr. Parker       GhostLight Chorus    (same arrangement sung in a “shaped note” tradition!)

Prayer: 

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.             ―A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.20

Monday, March 28

Monday, March 28

Reader: “Only fools say in their hearts,”

Response: “There is no God.”

Scripture: Psalm 53

Only fools say in their hearts,

    “There is no God.”

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;

    not one of them does good!

God looks down from heaven

    on the entire human race;

he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,

    if anyone seeks God.

But no, all have turned away;

    all have become corrupt.

No one does good,

    not a single one!

Will those who do evil never learn?

    They eat up my people like bread

    and wouldn’t think of praying to God.

Terror will grip them,

    terror like they have never known before.

God will scatter the bones of your enemies.

    You will put them to shame, for God has rejected them.

Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel?

    When God restores his people,

    Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice.

Some thoughts:  

In a conversation with one of my neighbors, this person told me he did not believe there was a God. He told me that it was illogical to believe that a God created the world. In his view, there was no evidence of God, rather, the universe all happened by chance. Everything we see evolved over billions of years by random coincidence. His heartfelt conviction classified him as a fool.  

But as we read further in this psalm, we see that there is not a single one of us that does good. This is another way of saying, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) It is God’s grace that has kept us from being fools. Those who deny God are blinded and, as the Scripture here says, “will never learn.” Their judgment follows. 

(When it says that God will “scatter their bones,” it is another way of bringing shame on them for their rejection of him. (Ezek.6:5) Leaving the fallen unburied was common in battle and a way of disrespecting the enemy. The treatment of bones was significant. You’ll recall Joseph requested his bones be buried in Canaan. The Israelites kept them during their 400 years in Egypt and honored his request. Yes, a box of his bones went through the Red Sea!)

The way of the fool is the way of deception. A fool actually thinks he is wise. Satan is known as a liar, a deceiver. Eve played the fool in the Garden of Eden. And what was the serpent’s promise? You will be like God, knowing both good and evil, in other words, you will become wise like God. Your wisdom will make you just like God. Fools always have an inflated view of their own wisdom, often having disdain for anyone who would believe in God. Listen to any atheist and you will inevitably hear an egotist.  

The final sentences present a second question and an answer. Belief in God brings salvation to his people. The one who believes in God is on the path to redemption via the grace of God. My friend and neighbor has since passed from this earth. Though I prayed for him daily, I do not know if he ever abandoned the “fool” label. 

Music: “The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God”    Beethoven  Holy Childhood Schola Cantorum

“The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God”          from The Creation     Haydn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_fChOv4Ycw             Robert Shaw

Prayer: 

O Fountain of all good, destroy in me every lofty thought, break pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds, annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness, implant in me true lowliness of spirit, abase me to self-loathing and self-abhorrence, open in me a fount of penitential tears, break me, then bind me up; thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling for my God; then can the Father take up his abode in me, then can the blessed Jesus come with healing in his touch, then can the Holy Spirit descend in sanctifying grace; O Holy Trinity, three Persons and one God, inhabit me, a temple consecrated to thy glory. Let angels sing for sinners repenting, prodigals restored, backsliders reclaimed, Satan’s captives released, blind eyes opened, broken hearts bound up, the despondent cheered, the self-righteous stripped, the formalist driven from a refuge of lies, the ignorant enlightened, and saints built up in their holy faith. I ask great things of a great God. Amen. ―from The Valley of Vision,  p.6

Bonus: Christopher Hutchins (atheist) and John Lennox (Christian) debate.  (13:45 long I apologize for the meme insertions into the video. I could have done without them.) An atheist’s perspective and Christian viewpoint. Among other things, what do you notice about the demeanor of each man?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s1OcPwK_gE

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 27

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 27

Reader: “For God was in Christ,” 

Response: “reconciling the world to himself.”

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21  

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Some thoughts:  

Any time a sentence begins with a “so” we need to look back at what was previously said. In this case Paul was contrasting looking at Christ from an earthly human point of view, before his conversion, with looking at Christ from an eternal perspective after his conversion. People who are not reconciled to God naturally view one another from more of an earthbound mindset. This point of view makes judgments based on race, skin color, wealth, ethnic background, actions, social positions, opinions, and so forth leading to misunderstandings and conflict. 

Paul is making a point that true evaluation comes from the Spirit. Becoming a Christian introduces one to a completely new perspective and outlook towards others. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a young Jewish man in Montreal many years ago who had become a believer in the Messiah. His words: “When I became a Christian, I became aware of a whole new world that I never knew existed.” That has always stuck with me. We walk daily among people who have no idea there is a spiritually transforming world and an entirely different way to look at others and at life. The social unrest we see all around us is clear evidence of such a lack of understanding and experiencing of the transforming work of Christ in their lives.

In giving additional insight into understanding reconciliation, Paul uses the phrase “belongs to Christ.” Other translations shorten it to “if anyone is in Christ.” To belong to Christ means we have: 1) security in him; 2) we’ve been accepted by God; 3) our future is with him where he is in heaven; 4) we have the Holy Spirit within us, hence we participate in his divine nature; 5) we know the truth; 6) we have an eternal identity in Jesus; 7) we have his presence within us. In what is perhaps the clearest verse in all of Scripture as to God’s action toward his creation is found here: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.”  Without God’s action of reconciliation, you and I are doomed to hell. We have no other options. We are without hope. What would it be like to know there was a holy God, but there was no way to know him or ever be accepted by him, only condemned?

Instead, we have the wonderful message of reconciliation which comes from God and returns us to God through Jesus Christ. What is at the root of this word reconcile? It denotes “to change.” It is God who invites all sinful and alienated peoples to receive his gracious reconciliation. Paul further reminds us that all who have been saved by God’s grace have been given the responsibility to share the message of reconciliation. God’s greatest desire is that the people he created would be restored in their relationship to him.  

Can you imagine what it would be like if everyone would be reconciled to God? That would mean people would be reconciled to one another as well. Living each day with a heavenly point of view toward others should certainly change how we relate to those people around us. We are Christ’s ambassadors. You may be the only reconciled person someone comes across today; make the most of it. Remember, we don’t speak for God, he speaks his word through us. 

Music:  “What Language Shall I Borrow?”    Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO2d0AD5wBg   Fernando Ortega with stills from “The Passion of Christ”   This always reminds me how seriously God took sin that the death of Jesus was necessary to bring about reconciliation. Generally speaking, I’m not sure we take sin as seriously as God does. Something to think about.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere. Flood my soul with your Spirit and life; penetrate and possess my whole being so completely that my life may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul with whom I come in contact may feel your presence within my soul. Let them look up and no longer see me, but only you, Jesus. Amen.   ―John Henry Newman, The Presence of My Father, p.131

Saturday, March 26

Saturday, March 26

Reader: “What joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,”

Response: “whose lives are lived in complete honesty!”

Scripture: Psalm 32

Oh, what joy for those

    whose disobedience is forgiven,

    whose sin is put out of sight!

Yes, what joy for those

    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,

    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

When I refused to confess my sin,

    my body wasted away,

    and I groaned all day long.

Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.

    My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. 

Interlude

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you

    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.

I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”

    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 

Interlude

Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,

    that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.

For you are my hiding place;

    you protect me from trouble.

    You surround me with songs of victory.      

Interlude

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.

    I will advise you and watch over you.

Do not be like a senseless horse or mule

    that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

Many sorrows come to the wicked,

    but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.

So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!

    Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

Some thoughts:  

Have you ever put off confessing to someone you wronged? You blew your top at a person you love, but sort of avoided confessing and asking their forgiveness and let it ride hoping things would just calm down and go away? My guess is that we have all done that. So how did that work out for you? Never mind answering, I know.

David’s psalm today is filled with wisdom for such a situation. There is downright joy in being forgiven and having a weight lifted off your chest. I remember quite well when one of our boys was about four or five years old and had done something that required discipling. He was crabby and very unhappy. With the punishment and confession came forgiveness and restoration. I will never forget his words at the conclusion, “Daddy, I’m happy now!” What had been a somber heavy-hearted little boy turned downright joyful in his confession and experience of being forgiven. Our family rule was we never bring the instance up again. The phrase “You did it again!” was off limits.

The second sentence of this psalm concerning guilt has intrigued me. I find it relatively easy for me to clear the record of my sin, but the sense of guilt remains! My standards are a little more vague than God’s. It appears I have to be brutally honest in the confession business! But in spite of my best attempts, there is only one who can clear my record of sin. When I make no excuses or “clarifying points” with God and am completely transparent (it’s harder than you think) with the Lord and call it sin and not a mistake or any of the other “explanations” I give, I find he clears my guilty conscience. Refusing to admit and confess my sin eats away at me. I know from first-hand experience. I’m grateful for the indwelling Holy Spirit because he is relentless in conviction. I don’t ever want to lose that relationship, even when it hurts. The Lord is always our safest place. He looks after us and cares for us.

David writes this beautiful sentence about what happens when “I finally confess.” Did you notice that God doesn’t make us do penance for a while after we’ve been forgiven? There is nothing you have to do except confess. Penance and consequences for sin are two different things. People are not always as gracious in dealing with forgiveness. Granting forgiveness to others is a godly quality . . . “forgive us our debts and we forgive our debtors.” 

In the concluding portion of this psalm we have a new speaker, the Lord. He is our hiding place. He is the one who guides and protects and forgives. Why would we ever be in rebellion against him? Do you see? A transparent pure heart toward the Lord is central to joy in your life. If you want to pray for something for yourself, pray for honesty and purity in your conversations with the Lord. Carrying guilt eats you up, depresses you, robs you of joy, and clouds your relationship with the Lord. That’s what David said and what I’ve experienced. Not a place you want to live.

Music: “Psalm 32”   ForeverBeSure     (New ensemble)

Prayer: O Thou great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I may see what is therein, and sweep the rubbish from thy dwelling place.  ―An African schoolgirl’s prayer from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.108

Friday, March 25

Friday, March 25

Reader: “I am the Lord’s servant.” 

Response: “May everything you have said about me come true.”

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38   The Annunciation

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.

Some thoughts:  

Some of you may be thinking, “Dan, you are working too hard. You are mixed up, this is Lent not Advent!” Actually, there is another reason for today’s passage. I’d like to have us look at “Why this passage today?” Rather than commenting on the text, (you can go to Advent 2021, December 19th to read my comments on the text), I’d like us to look at the “why” this would appear as today’s devotional.

You’ve already figured out that today is exactly nine months until the Nativity, Christmas Day. Sometimes we read accounts in Scripture apart from any timeline. The Bible can simply be a book of collected stories about God. For example, in my mind it happened like this: the angel came to Mary today to tell her that she would conceive the Son of God. A couple of days later, Mary left to visit her aunt to tell her the news. She stayed until the end of June and then went back home to Nazareth and a little later went to Bethlehem and had her baby. After a little while Jesus was twelve and went to the Temple. Then he showed up at the Jordan River and John baptized him. My brain ran it all together and it didn’t take that long for everything to happen. It’s a story after all. But it’s also an account of historical events.

One of the great things about observing some aspects of the Christian Year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Ordinary Time) is that it puts the Christ events in real time. All of time centers in Christ. It moves the Bible from being a collection of stories involving Jesus to putting those accounts into chronological time, into time as I know it, earthly time. Imagine you were Mary being visited this morning by Gabriel and telling you you would have the Son of God. What would you be thinking this afternoon? How do you explain this to Joseph? Nine months is a long time until next December. But see, the purpose of the Bible is not to give a day by day account of Jesus’ life, it’s purpose is, as John put it “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.” (John 20:31) Acknowledging Easter on April 17th and the Ascension forty days later on May 26th this year for example, helps me grasp the humanity of Jesus, the reality of his time on earth. Everything didn’t happen in the time it takes to read a few chapters. What does this mean for you and me? Jesus knows and understands how long it takes for things to happen, to change, to resolve. He knows how long forty days in the desert is in earthly time and he also grasps that eternity is not a length of time. He is not outside of time, rather all time is in him. He created it. That’s our Savior!

Music: “O God Our Help in Ages Past”   Chet Valley Churches

Bonus: “O God Our Help in Ages Past”        Robert Shaw

Prayer: 

O eternal God, though Thou art not such as I can see with my eyes or touch with my hands, yet grant me this day a clear conviction of Thy reality and power. Let me not go forth to my work believing only in the world of sense and time, but give me grace to understand that the world I cannot see or touch is the most real world of all. My life today will be lived in time, but eternal issues will be concerned in it. The needs of my body will be clamant, but it is for the needs of my soul that I must care most. My business will be with things material, but behind them let me be aware of things spiritual. Let me keep steadily in mind that the things that matter are not money or possessions, not houses or lands, not bodily comfort or bodily pleasure; but truth and honor and meekness and helpfulness and a pure love of Thyself. Make me wise to see all things today under the form of eternity, and make me brave to face all the changes in my life which such a vision may entail: through the grace of Christ my Savior. Amen.                                         ―John Baillie from A Diary of Private Prayer, p.53

Thursday, March 24

Thursday, March 24

Reader: “For the things we see now will soon be gone,” 

Response: “but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

Scripture:  2 Cor. 4:16-5:5

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

Some thoughts:  

This has to be one of the most encouraging passages in all of Scripture! God is making an eternal body for you and me! Paul is the author here and in the earlier part of this letter he explained why he will never give up preaching the gospel because of the glory converted souls bring to the glory of God. Then we arrive at today’s passage as it begins with “That is why I never give up.”

Those are also good words for us. No one would doubt that there is great consternation in our world. There is much fear among many people regarding diseases. There is certainly political unrest. There is widespread lack of trust toward governments. Among several denominations there are theological conflicts and division. Racial unrest is fanned. Christianity, the nuclear family, sexuality, and marriage are all under attack. Parts of technology are straining for control of people’s lives. International conflicts abound . . . In contrast to all of this, we have the above message from Paul 2,000 years ago that is a message for today. With the exception of today’s level of technology, the other things mentioned were present in Paul’s day as well!

The perspective he spelled out here should be read every day! We are all aging, even the body of an eight year old. We age to physical maturity and then we continue to wear down growing old to the point of death. Cheery thoughts, aren’t they? But the glory is our spirits do not wear out. They can be renewed daily by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our spirits don’t have to age, they can continue to grow and mature! We’ve all met elderly people in their 90’s whose spirits are in their 30’s! God has given to them the big picture to view, one that is “out of this world!”

How dare Paul say our “troubles are small and won’t last very long?” He is writing not from a human perspective but from God’s perspective. The ultimate conclusion of his (and our) focus is not to be on the seen circumstances which press in on us today. All of the great concerns surrounding us will pass soon away. Do you remember the great concern and some pretty foolish reactions as to what would happen when the calendar turned from 1999 to 2,000? Or all the current doomsday predictions regarding the end of the planet or life as we know it? We’ve already forgotten the K2 worries!

Paul fleshes out the ramifications in the last portion of today’s reading. He has begun this section talking about how our earthly bodies are fading but then describes our heavenly, our eternal bodies, the ones God makes! In this pericope Paul answers a question many people have, “In heaven will we just be floating spirits? What will we be like?” The answer. We will have new bodies made by God, bodies impervious to aging. We will not be floating ethereal spirits. 

It’s interesting that Paul uses the image of our bodies being tents. You’ll recall God housed himself in the tent of the Tabernacle in the desert. John talks about Jesus “tabernacling” among us. (John 1:14) In an earlier letter to the Corinthians, Paul refers to our bodies as temples indwelt by the Holy Spirit, God’s guarantee that this is all going to take place when “our earthly tent is taken down.” (I Cor.6:19) What is the most important factor in the housing market? Location, location, location. The location of our new home changes (heaven in God’s presence). God is our realtor (he’s chosen the perfect location), our banker (he’s covered all the cost), and our builder (he’s created and prepared the place for us). His grace has covered it all. All glory to God! 

Music: “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus”      Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk95fTwZrMk      Exquisite!   

Prayer: 

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging and a holy rest and peace at last through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  ―John Henry from Guideposts Prayers for Easter,  p.102

A Bonus Prayer!

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older, and will some day be old. Keep me from getting talkative, and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end. Keep my mind from the recital of endless details—give me wings to come to the point. I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains—they are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. Help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken. Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint—some of them are so hard to live with—but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.      

           —attributed to a seventeenth-century nun, though actually of unknown origin,   

                                 Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.53

Wednesday, March 23

Wednesday, March 23

Reader: “What is the Kingdom of God like?” 

Response: “How can I illustrate it?”

Scripture: Luke 13:10-21

One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!

But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”

But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”

This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did.

Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Some thoughts:  

As always, it is important to understand the context in every passage of Scripture. At this point in Jesus’ ministry his popularity is exploding. The crowds are not in the dozens or hundreds, but in the multiple thousands of those flocking to see this one they have heard so much about and hear his message regarding the Kingdom of God. As he traveled in Galilee he taught first in the village synagogues as visiting rabbis were often invited to teach and make commentary on the Torah. Gradually as hostility toward Jesus  increased, he was ostracized from synagogues and so continued teaching in the countryside to increasing crowds of people. In this case, the last instance in Luke’s gospel where Jesus speaks in a synagogue, the Jewish leaders and people had just witnessed a miracle. The Jewish leaders’ concern was that in doing so, Jesus had broken one of their self-designed laws! Never mind the power display they had just seen in instantly healing a woman with an eighteen year illness caused by an evil spirit! Jesus’ popularity was threatening the rabbis’ positions, but their greatest concern was in what he was claiming. It was revolutionary; it was, according to them, blasphemy!

Following this miracle, Jesus told two related parables. Remember, what Jesus is teaching these people is entirely new to them. He is talking about faith and its relationship to the Kingdom of God in a way they have never heard. You’ve read both the mustard seed and the yeast parables. In their interpretation, some commentators have described the birds that land in its branches as people from everywhere becoming part of the Kingdom of God. The large tree represents a place of safety and protection. Others point out the contrast between the size of the seed and the large tree it becomes, relating it to a growing Kingdom of God. And such was the case as the gospel quickly spread throughout the known world all around the Mediterranean Sea. 

There is still another thought I believe comes from a slightly different viewpoint. The viewpoint is that Jesus is describing a picture of something very small and seemingly insignificant which has tremendous transforming power. (Jesus himself?) The contrast is not so much the size differential between the seed and the tree as the power inherent in the seed that produces something as grand as a large tree. Secondly, dough without yeast and dough with yeast are entirely different. Yeast in this case, though tiny, is a powerful transforming agent. The Kingdom of God is like that. Jesus’ burial in the tomb was the mustard seed and Pentecost with the advent of the Holy Spirit was the yeast in the dough. There is transforming power that results in a growing Kingdom which permeates the whole world from that day to this. The scope of Christianity is for every part of the world including your part. Being very small, how do you reflect the Kingdom of God today? 

Music: “You Can Tell the World About This” arr. Moses Hogan   Nathaniel Dett Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBwOAwsw_JQ    GLORIOUS!!!

Prayer: O Lord, forget what I have been, sanctify what I am; and order what I shall be that your glorious Kingdom may advance throughout the world  and transform lives of lost people. I pray specifically for ______, ______, and _______, as I continue to pray for their salvation. In some way may the Seed of salvation be planted in their souls and the Yeast of transformation bring them into your Kingdom. And use me as you will in the process. This I pray through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God world without end. Amen.    ―Anonymous, adapted Daniel Sharp from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.160

Tuesday, March 22

Tuesday, March 22

Reader: “For merely listening to the law”

Response: “doesn’t make us right with God.”

Scripture: Romans 2:12-16

When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.

Some thoughts:  

Today’s reading in Romans reminds us that the Bible is a unified library of books containing personal letters, poetry, theology, prophecy, history, parables, narration of conversations, and songs of worship. The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli) tended to look at the main focus of this book to be salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ by God’s grace alone apart from any human effort. The five solas were key: sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria (which J.S. Bach put at the end of all his compositions S.D.G.). Translated: By Scripture alone, By Grace alone, By Faith alone, By Christ alone, and For the Glory of God alone.

In holding a different perspective, many contemporary interpreters of Romans view the Reformers perspective as missing the first-century Jewish understanding of their position before God. In this letter Paul was attempting to correct this Jewish mindset. You’ll recall many of Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees and Sadducees were because the Jews believed they were saved because they were children of Abraham. In their minds they endeavored to keep the Law in order to maintain their relationship with God. They believed the kingdom of God was only for them. So when Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. . . “ (John 10:16), he was indicating that he had come for all peoples. That Jesus so often ministered to the Gentiles was a great source of irritation to the Jewish leadership. One can see why contemporary scholars would hold the position that Paul was addressing in correcting the exclusivity of the Jewish mindset.

For example, within the first few verses of this epistle, Paul spells out several times that his mission is to tell the Gentiles what God has done for them and that salvation in Jesus Christ is for everyone. Paul builds his case in the last part of the first chapter declaring that everyone “knows the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.” At the beginning of the second chapter Paul addresses the Jews directly concerning their rejection of God and their accountability to God.  

We then come to the pericope for today. Having addressed the Jews’ situation in the first part of this chapter, Paul then turns his attention to the Gentiles and the law. Obedience becomes central in his argument. He reminds us all that God uses natural revelation to awaken people to the reality of God. The Gentiles will be judged on how they respond to what can be seen all around them. The Scriptures reveal that God’s law is written in every heart, Jew or Gentile. Everyone has a conscience which tells them when they do right or wrong. The truth is people do not always obey their conscience. Even though the Gentiles did not have the written law, they will be judged by God based on how they have responded to their conscience. 

How is this passage relevant in today’s world? Did you notice the central point Paul is driving at is that race and ethnicity have nothing to do with salvation. The gospel is for  every human being. Being a child of God is the main point, not if you are Jew, Greek, Roman, Asian, African, European, American, Latino, Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian, Australian, etc. In our culture so focused on race, gender confusion, we need to hear Paul’s words anew. Having been made in the image of God, all human identity is found in Christ alone. “In Christ now meet both east and west, in him meet south and north; all Christly souls are one in him throughout the whole wide earth.”

Music: “In Christ There Is No East or West”     

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpITJOShix0   British Christian Music  

                                                              tune St. Stephen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRCc1zU6kIM    St. Michael’s  Choir  tune McKee

Prayer: 

To you, O Son of God, Lord Jesus Christ, as you pray to the eternal Father, we pray, make us one in him. Enlighten our personal distress and that of our society. May  stubborn wills yield to the truth. May cold hearts thaw through the work of thy Spirit. May arrogance and self-righteousness be convicted by the truth. And may the truth of “for God so loved the world” burn deeply into our hearts. Receive us into the fellowship of those who believe. Turn our hearts, O Christ to everlasting truth and healing harmony.   ―Phil Melanchthon  1497-1560 from Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, p.46 (He was a friend of Martin Luther’s)  Adapted Daniel Sharp

Monday, March 21

Monday, March 21

Reader: ““Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.”

Response: “Remind me that my days are numbered—

    how fleeting my life is.”

Scripture: Psalm 39

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of David.

I said to myself, “I will watch what I do

    and not sin in what I say.

I will hold my tongue

    when the ungodly are around me.”

But as I stood there in silence—

    not even speaking of good things—

    the turmoil within me grew worse.

The more I thought about it,

    the hotter I got,

    igniting a fire of words:

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.

    Remind me that my days are numbered—

    how fleeting my life is.

You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.

    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;

    at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude

We are merely moving shadows,

    and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.

We heap up wealth,

    not knowing who will spend it.

And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?

    My only hope is in you.

Rescue me from my rebellion.

    Do not let fools mock me.

I am silent before you; I won’t say a word,

    for my punishment is from you.

But please stop striking me!

    I am exhausted by the blows from your hand.

When you discipline us for our sins,

    you consume like a moth what is precious to us.

    Each of us is but a breath. Interlude

Hear my prayer, O Lord!

    Listen to my cries for help!

    Don’t ignore my tears.

For I am your guest—

    a traveler passing through,

    as my ancestors were before me.

Leave me alone so I can smile again

    before I am gone and exist no more.

Some thoughts:  

This is quite a psalm! Can you imagine saying to God (and I bet you have said this to God at some point), “Leave me alone so I can smile again.” Jeduthun was one of three   Levitical musician leaders appointed by King David. I’m curious why David wrote this psalm for Jeduthun. David is evidently under a stress of some kind and is processing!  His pattern of handling it has certainly happened in our lives. We start out with the determination to hold our tongues, to keep our mouths shut and not add to the problem. We were hearing bad things being said and did not give a counterbalance with the positive perspective. The more bad things being said, the madder we got internally. Though this is the description of David’s heart, it has been mine as well at times.

Finally, when he could hold it in no longer he spoke, but notice to whom he spoke. “LORD, remind me . . .” He didn’t parade his thoughts before the ungodly. No pearls before pigs. His thoughts were moved from his present frustrating situation to a more godly perspective. In truth, our time on earth is quite brief. (Ps.139:16) The reference to the width of the hand, or “handbreadth” as it is sometimes translated, is an ancient measure of about 4 ½ inches. (For example, horses’ heights are measured in “hands.”) Here it is used to denote a brief span of time, as short as a breath, a wisp of air. David is thinking our days are numbered and we need to weigh our time wisely. We can spend a lifetime accumulating, but when we are gone, all those things go to someone else and what have we accomplished? 

The next part of the text seems as if it could come from the book of Job! David reminds himself that his only hope is in God. It was a common idea that rebellion toward God brought suffering and difficulty. His assumption was that he was being disciplined by God at least partially for some of his past sins. One can’t help but notice his ambiguity in handling his situation. In one moment his words are “My only hope is in you, God.” “Rescue me from my rebellion.” “I won’t say a word.” “Please stop striking me!” “I’m exhausted by the blows from your hand.” “Listen to my cries for help!” “I’m your guest.” “Leave me alone so I can smile again before I am gone.” In other words, “Since I’m here on earth as your guest only for a short time, can’t you treat me a little better?”

What do you notice in these words? David is completely honest with God. God receives his uncertainty and David doesn’t hide it. His relationship with the LORD is transparent. We are reminded that our time on earth is truly but a wisp and we do well to live with this truth in mind.

Music: “Hear My Prayer O Lord”   Purcell    Voces8

“Hear My Prayer O Lord”   arr. Moses Hogan     Sam Robson 

Prayer: O Lord, shew forth Thy loving kindness, I entreat Thee, to all persons who in this world feel themselves neglected or little loved, or forgotten. Be Thou their beloved Companion, and let communion with Thee be to them more dear than tenderest earthly intercourse. Teach them to discern Thee in all with whom they come in contact, and to love and serve Thee in them. On earth grant them comfort by the repentance of any who have wronged them, and in heaven comfort in the communion of all saints with each other and with Thee―Amen.    Cristian Rossetti from Prayers Ancient and Modern p. 207

Third Sunday in Lent, March 20

Third Sunday in Lent, March 20

Reader: “I tell you again that unless you repent,”

Response: “you will perish, too.” 

Scripture:  Luke 13:1-9

About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” 

Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”

Some thoughts:  

In Jesus’ day it was a common belief that when something bad happened to a person it was caused by some bad behavior by that person and, conversely, good things happen when the person does good things! Jesus addresses that erroneous belief in this passage. Pilate was a hated evil ruler who had recently gained notoriety by his murdering some Galileans as they worshiped in the Temple. Jesus cited a contemporary intentional evil act toward someone doing good (worshiping) and a random accident which also killed people to clarify the truth that all people need to repent of their sin. What was the connection? The people logically thought: those people deserved what they got since they must have done something wrong and God was punishing them. Conversely, “since nothing bad has befallen me, I must be OK with God and there is nothing of which I need to repent.” Jesus’ point was that when bad things happen to people, whether intentional or accidental, such are not indicators of one’s spiritual purity before God. Jesus is reminding the people that all people sin and need to live a life of repentance. Had the Galileans or the people by the wall known what was coming, they could have saved themselves. Jesus is giving that warning to the people about what is coming if they refuse to heed his words, repent, and believe in the kingdom of God.

We need to get rid of that whisper of the devil which tells us even today that “God will get even with you for messing up. That’s the way God is. He’s vengeful.” The devil’s goal is to distort the character of God into being a Deity of revenge. This kind of thinking reminds us of Job’s friend’s erroneous council! The truth is all people are sinners and need to repent of their sin. Bad things are not always a result of bad behavior. We live in a fallen world, temporarily ruled by the devil and sin. The important thing is to live in a life of repentance and humbling of one’s self before God. The “perishing” of the unrepentant person Jesus speaks of refers to an eternal death while repentance and trusting in God leads to eternal life.

We have two avocado trees. This year one tree had between 180-200 avocados! Our neighborhood was well supplied with free fruit. The other tree had exactly one avocado, same as last year! I’m curious what will happen this coming year. This year I fertilized and pruned them both again just like last year. We’re giving it another chance! It’s our “Israel!” The rebellious nation of Israel was often portrayed as an unfruitful fig tree or a vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7, Micah 7:1, John 15:1-8) The word “garden” above can actually be translated “vineyard” making Jesus’ point doubly clear. He is warning the people that judgment is coming as represented by the cutting down of the fig tree. The bottom line is his urging the people to repent of their sins and believe in him. In the illustration, God’s grace is extended a year beyond the owner’s three years, but it is not infinite toward the unrepentant. A moment of judgment does come without mercy. Repent while it is today. Now is the day of salvation.

I can’t help but think our world is living in that year of grace, but judgment is most certainly coming to the unrepentant. Let us live with repentant hearts as citizens of another world and produce fruit while we live in this one. God’s mercy and grace is infinite towards those who live a life of repentance. 

Music: “Agnus Dei”     Samuel Barber          Vlaams Radiokoor   

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Prayer: 

O Lord, bend my hands and cut them off, for I have often struck thee with a wayward will, when these fingers should embrace thee by faith. I am not yet weaned from all created glory, honor, wisdom, and esteem of others, for I have a secret motif to eye my name in all I do. Let me not only speak the word sin, but see the thing itself. Give me to view a discovered sinfulness, to know that though my sins are crucified they are never wholly mortified. Hatred, malice, ill-will, vain-glory that hungers for and hunts after man’s approval and applause, all are crucified, forgiven, but they rise again in my sinful heart. O my crucified but never wholly mortified sinfulness! O my life-long damage and daily shame! O my indwelling and besetting sins! O the tormenting slavery of a sinful heart! Destroy, O God, the dark guest within whose hidden presence makes my life a hell. Yet thou hast not left me here without grace. The cross still stands and meets my needs in the deepest straits of the soul. I thank thee that my remembrance of it is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword which preached forth thy deliverance. The memory of my great sins, my many temptations, my falls, bring afresh into my mind the remembrance of thy great help, of thy support from heaven, of the great grace that saved such a wretch as I am. There is no treasure so wonderful as that continuous experience of thy grace toward me which alone can subdue the risings of sin within: Give me more of it. Amen.―from Valley of Vision, “The Dark Guest,” p.71

Saturday, March 19

Saturday, March 19

Reader: “What you say”

Response: “flows from what is in your heart.”

Scripture: Luke 6:43-45

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

Some thoughts:  

The season of Lent is a time of examining our hearts as we look to the heart of Jesus as he prepares for the culmination of his earthly ministry, the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement. Today is a heart focus. This pericope comes from Luke’s account of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” While there are many similarities to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” Luke’s writing contains additional information while omitting other teachings. There is no reason to believe Jesus said or used illustrations only one time. For example, the content of Mt. 7:15-20 and Mt. 12:33-35 spoken on two different occasions contain the same material as what you have just read in Luke. Remember Jesus traveled around the whole region of Galilee, an area containing more than 200 villages and somewhere between 200,000 and 700,000 people during his day as he spoke both in synagogues and to large crowds proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. As often as he spoke, he undoubtedly repeated himself in various situations.

This short portion of Scripture continues the thought of the previous section. The disciples were following the rabbi Jesus trying to grasp everything he was teaching, in order to become more like him. This pattern of following a rabbi was common in Jesus’ day. A rabbi would choose his students. We have mentioned this in previous devotionals; the disciples were called the talmidim, “students of sages.” A rabbi would take on twelve students who would leave all to follow and study with him hoping to become just like him in thought and living. In fact, Jesus had many more than twelve disciples. He just chose these twelve to be with him more intimately. (Lk.6:11) These words are directed to the twelve specifically, though there was a large crowd in attendance. A few verses earlier Luke records Jesus saying, “the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.” Jesus is making a point of the necessity of consistency between source and product.

The illustration Jesus used here points to what he valued (and values) so highly―the condition of the heart toward God. A proverb of King Solomon says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) Infact, throughout the Scriptures we hear this message over and over:

Proverbs  4:23 “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

Jeremiah 17:9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”  KJV

Mark 7:21-23 “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”

Matthew 6:21 “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

In a world which lives on short sound bites, grandiose statements, and manicured and doctored appearances, God calls us to look at the fruit the heart produces. Is there continuity in what is said and what is lived? What is the fruit of the words or ideas? Both in people and organizations, what are the actual “figs and grapes” produced, not the propaganda, not the image, just the fruit? Jesus has given all of us a good challenge as to how to live today. The charge remains day after day. Feed your heart on his word every day, they all count. Our Source and our fruit should be connected. As Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from a treasury of a good heart.” And Jesus living in that heart is what makes it good. The fruit is often joy!

Music: “I Can Tell the World”    Nathaniel Dett Chorale    (Don’t miss it!!)

Prayer: 

From all blindness of heart, from pride,vainglory, and hypocrisy: from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good Lord, deliver us. Amen.   ―Book of Common Prayer

Friday, March 18

Friday, March 18

Reader: “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit” 

Response: “and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

Scripture: Revelation 3:1-6

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars:

“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.

“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

Some thoughts:  

The book of Revelation is in some ways probably the most mysterious book in the Bible, however, its overall message is very clear and glorious for those who believe in what God has done for his creation. A brief word about Sardis itself can help us see the connection to today’s world.

Today it is known as Sart and is located in the western part of Turkey. The ancient city was known for great wealth and impregnable geographic location. At the time of John’s writing of Revelation, the city had fallen into decline. It appears they were living on their past reputation as being vibrant. There were many prosperous Jews living in the city, also known as Sephardic. In its past, the city, though considered unassailable, had fallen on two different occasions due to slack watchmen and over-confidence, hence John’s use of the words “be watchful,” a better translation than “wake up.” The people needed to be diligent and aware of what was actually happening. 

The people in the church to which he is giving Jesus’ message are not alive in faith, but dead! These are Jesus’ own words and his assessment of their church life. There is a little bit of life in a few people in the church, but even that is dying out. The words of Jesus are to “go back to the beginning of what you first heard and believed. Repent!

Judgment is coming unexpectedly!”

What is the deadness of the church? What has caused it? Sardis was a cosmopolitan city on a main trade route. Pagan worship was everywhere. The Christian church was so compromised that it fit right into the culture. There was no persecution because the church was agreeable to syncretic worship, much like the coexist stickers you see on car bumpers today. There is some irony in Christ’s words in calling the church dead because one of the pagan gods, Cybele, was purportedly able to raise the dead to life! 

There is a word of hope for the few in the church who have not “soiled their clothes with evil.” In this case, “soiled” refers to an impure life while white is the color of the garments of the redeemed throughout Scripture who have been made worthy by the blood of Christ. These clothes allude to purity, victory, resurrection, even baptism into a new life, as catechumens were often given white garments to wear upon their baptism and first communion. The names of all believers are written in the Book of Life. (By the 4th century, at the beginning of Lent, the catechumin’s names were written in the church record book, called “The Heavenly Book.”)

Now a question: If Jesus were sending a letter to the Christian Church today, what might it say? What is the reputation of his Church? Dead or alive? Or something in between? How much is the Church seeking to be relevant through compromising God’s truth on marriage, sexuality, gospel, or integrity. Does the Church seek to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying? Are the clothes “soiled” with compromise? Are the ears tuned to hear God’s Spirit? Our days are not all that different from Sardis in John’s time. May our actions and those of the Church hold firm and meet “the requirements of our God” in Jesus’ words. 

Music: “The Church’s One Foundation”            Classic Hymns (India)

Prayer: O Lord, my maker and protector who hast graciously sent me into this world, to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which thou hast required. When I behold the works of thy hands and consider the course of thy providence, give me grace always to remember that thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor thy ways my ways. And while it shall please thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious and doubts impossible to be solved. Let me rejoice in the light which thou hast imparted, let me serve thee with active zeal and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which thou receivest shall be satisfied with knowledge. Amen. ―Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, from The Book of Uncommon Prayer, p.85-86

Friday, March 18

Reader: “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit” 

Response: “and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

Scripture: Revelation 3:1-6

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars:

“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.

“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

Some thoughts:  

The book of Revelation is in some ways probably the most mysterious book in the Bible, however, its overall message is very clear and glorious for those who believe in what God has done for his creation. A brief word about Sardis itself can help us see the connection to today’s world.

Today it is known as Sart and is located in the western part of Turkey. The ancient city was known for great wealth and impregnable geographic location. At the time of John’s writing of Revelation, the city had fallen into decline. It appears they were living on their past reputation as being vibrant. There were many prosperous Jews living in the city, also known as Sephardic. In its past, the city, though considered unassailable, had fallen on two different occasions due to slack watchmen and over-confidence, hence John’s use of the words “be watchful,” a better translation than “wake up.” The people needed to be diligent and aware of what was actually happening. 

The people in the church to which he is giving Jesus’ message are not alive in faith, but dead! These are Jesus’ own words and his assessment of their church life. There is a little bit of life in a few people in the church, but even that is dying out. The words of Jesus are to “go back to the beginning of what you first heard and believed. Repent!

Judgment is coming unexpectedly!”

What is the deadness of the church? What has caused it? Sardis was a cosmopolitan city on a main trade route. Pagan worship was everywhere. The Christian church was so compromised that it fit right into the culture. There was no persecution because the church was agreeable to syncretic worship, much like the coexist stickers you see on car bumpers today. There is some irony in Christ’s words in calling the church dead because one of the pagan gods, Cybele, was purportedly able to raise the dead to life! 

There is a word of hope for the few in the church who have not “soiled their clothes with evil.” In this case, “soiled” refers to an impure life while white is the color of the garments of the redeemed throughout Scripture who have been made worthy by the blood of Christ. These clothes allude to purity, victory, resurrection, even baptism into a new life, as catechumens were often given white garments to wear upon their baptism and first communion. The names of all believers are written in the Book of Life. (By the 4th century, at the beginning of Lent, the catechumin’s names were written in the church record book, called “The Heavenly Book.”)

Now a question: If Jesus were sending a letter to the Christian Church today, what might it say? What is the reputation of his Church? Dead or alive? Or something in between? How much is the Church seeking to be relevant through compromising God’s truth on marriage, sexuality, gospel, or integrity. Does the Church seek to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying? Are the clothes “soiled” with compromise? Are the ears tuned to hear God’s Spirit? Our days are not all that different from Sardis in John’s time. May our actions and those of the Church hold firm and meet “the requirements of our God” in Jesus’ words. 

Music: “The Church’s One Foundation”            Classic Hymns (India)

Prayer: O Lord, my maker and protector who hast graciously sent me into this world, to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which thou hast required. When I behold the works of thy hands and consider the course of thy providence, give me grace always to remember that thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor thy ways my ways. And while it shall please thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious and doubts impossible to be solved. Let me rejoice in the light which thou hast imparted, let me serve thee with active zeal and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which thou receivest shall be satisfied with knowledge. Amen. ―Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, from The Book of Uncommon Prayer, p.85-86

Thursday, March 17

Thursday, March 17

Reader: “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.”

Response: “My soul thirsts for you.”

Scripture: Psalm 63:1-8 

O God, you are my God;

    I earnestly search for you.

My soul thirsts for you;

    my whole body longs for you

in this parched and weary land

    where there is no water.

I have seen you in your sanctuary

    and gazed upon your power and glory.

Your unfailing love is better than life itself;

    how I praise you!

I will praise you as long as I live,

    lifting up my hands to you in prayer.

You satisfy me more than the richest feast.

    I will praise you with songs of joy.

I lie awake thinking of you,

    meditating on you through the night.

Because you are my helper,

    I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.

I cling to you;

    your strong right hand holds me securely.

Some thoughts:  

I want to follow up yesterday’s devotional with King David’s response in a situation similar to that of King Jehoshaphat. The basic question is, “How do I deal with fear?” As I write these words, there is no doubt our society has an underlying fear of the virus and their own death or the premature death of loved ones. Some of the concerns are logical and others are irrational. 

David was being pursued by Saul in order to kill him. He is alone in the wilderness and running for his life. How does he gain perspective in this frightening situation? Notice his starting place. “God, you are my God.” He has firmly established who he is in God’s sight. He belongs to God and God belongs to him. They are in communion. He describes his love for God as his thirst for water in a desert land. This description paints a powerful longing.

He then reflects back on worshiping God. In the Temple was the dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant, the place of God’s presence. It was there he experienced God’s love in community. We get the idea of how much this all meant to David as he declares he values God’s love even more than living, more than his own life. Is our longing for God that strong?

The place of reflection shifts from the Temple to his bed at night. How often have you and I milled things over in our minds as we lay awake waiting to fall asleep? David is not “milling things over,” he is meditating on God. True meditation takes time; it is “off the clock.” It requires focus, concentration, and unhurried thinking. When was the last time you or I had such a time? Night time is kind of a natural time for reflection. The darkness and quietness of the evening can help take away distractions as we consider our relationship to the LORD. Such times may become a discipline we can embrace.

This portion of Scripture concludes with a beautiful description of the reason for David’s lack of fear even as he is being hunted down to be killed. It is two-fold. “I cling to you [LORD].” And “your strong right hand holds me securely.” David holds on to God even as he is held by God’s strong right hand. (The right hand always denotes great strength in the Scriptures.) I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians to work out your own salvation with fear and deep reverence, for God is at work in you giving you the power and desire to do what pleases him. (Phil.2:12-13) And again Paul reminds us in these words to Timothy, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (I TIm. 1:7) No irrational fear here. When we are tempted to be fearful, remember David’s beautiful words, God’s strong right hand holds you securely.

Music: “God Moves in A Mysterious Way”      Hymns of Grace    Beautiful story and music.

Prayer: Be, Lord, within me to strengthen me . . . without me to preserve me . . . over me to shelter me . . . beneath me to support me . . . before me to direct me . . . behind me to bring me back . . . round about me to fortify me.  ―Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) from The Quiet Corner, p.56

Wednesday, March 16

Wednesday, March 16 

Reader: “Give thanks to the Lord”

Response: “his faithful love endures forever!”

Scripture: II Chronicles 20:1-24

After this, the armies of the Moabites, Ammonites, and some of the Meunites declared war on Jehoshaphat. Messengers came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army from Edom is marching against you from beyond the Dead Sea. They are already at Hazazon-tamar.” (This was another name for En-gedi.)

Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.

Jehoshaphat stood before the community of Judah and Jerusalem in front of the new courtyard at the Temple of the Lord. He prayed, “O Lord, God of our ancestors, you alone are the God who is in heaven. You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth. You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against you! O our God, did you not drive out those who lived in this land when your people Israel arrived? And did you not give this land forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham? Your people settled here and built this Temple to honor your name. They said, ‘Whenever we are faced with any calamity such as war, plague, or famine, we can come to stand in your presence before this Temple where your name is honored. We can cry out to you to save us, and you will hear us and rescue us.’

“And now see what the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir are doing. You would not let our ancestors invade those nations when Israel left Egypt, so they went around them and did not destroy them. Now see how they reward us! For they have come to throw us out of your land, which you gave us as an inheritance. O our God, won’t you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.”

As all the men of Judah stood before the Lord with their little ones, wives, and children, the Spirit of the Lord came upon one of the men standing there. His name was Jahaziel son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite who was a descendant of Asaph.

He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!”

Then King Jehoshaphat bowed low with his face to the ground. And all the people of Judah and Jerusalem did the same, worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites from the clans of Kohath and Korah stood to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud shout.

Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. On the way Jehoshaphat stopped and said, “Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.”

After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang:

“Give thanks to the Lord;

    his faithful love endures forever!”

At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves. The armies of Moab and Ammon turned against their allies from Mount Seir and killed every one of them. After they had destroyed the army of Seir, they began attacking each other. So when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see. Not a single one of the enemy had escaped.

Some thoughts:  

We’re all well acquainted with kings David and Solomon, but king Jehoshaphat is another matter is my guess. In this passage we gain insight into Judah’s leader. There were times when he showed wisdom. In appointing judges, his charge to them was to remember not to please the people, but to please the Lord in their judgments. Fear the Lord and judge with integrity. Impressive advice. If only that were the case today in our courts. This particular advice comes from the previous chapter.

Israel had a continual problem with the Moabites and Ammonites dating back to the Israelites’ conclusion of forty years in the wilderness when they sought to enter Canaan. The Moabites and Ammonites refused to let them pass through their lands. You might recall those two tribes date back 1200 years earlier when the father of Moab and Ammon was none other than Lot and their mothers were Lot’s daughters! Sin always pays in full. Now the tribes are coming after Israel again.

What strikes me about Jehoshaphat is his response when confronted with his own fears. He immediately sought the LORD for guidance. He also showed leadership in ordering all his people to fast. In this time of crisis the people in the surrounding villages all came to Jerusalem to join together as a community to strengthen and encourage one another. Notice they did not “go it alone” in facing the crisis. 

I can’t help but think of the health stresses of the past couple of years and the importance of the role of the community, especially in the church. The strength of not being together has adversely affected some people. Isolation has contributed in a large way to loneliness, fear, and depression. In some cases in-person fellowship has taken a hit as people have gotten used to not attending their churches.

Jehoshaphat understood the importance of community in moments of crisis. The people came together to seek the LORD’S help as one. Their king led in prayer in front of all his people. It was important for his subjects to hear and see their leader as he sighted  God’s past history of faithfulness to his people. Notice he started with bottom line truths. Each phrase of his prayer has God as the central focus. His prayer then cited the Israelites past responses when faced with the calamities of war, plagues, or famine of coming to God’s dwelling place, the Temple, to cry out in prayer. 

It is not until this point that he gets to addressing their current situation. His transparency is childlike. In a word, the bad guys are coming to get us, won’t you stop them? They are bigger than we are and we don’t know what to do. We’re looking to you for help. So God stepped forth in the person of Jahaziel, a priest. His words were astonishing! Don’t be discouraged people, this battle is the LORD’S, not yours. March out against them, but you don’t need to fight, SING! Then the best word of all, “the LORD is with you!” They concluded the time together by all bowing down and worshiping their faithful God. 

As they marched out the next morning, their leader again gave them a word of encouragement and you know the rest! I am challenged by this passage to see how the leader and people responded when truly facing a life and death situation. They came together and prayed and worshiped. Their eyes were continually on the LORD rather than being consumed with the immediate crisis. They were realistic and did not deny there were Moabites and Ammonites coming to kill them, but the enemy was not their focus. We’ve been given a good model of response as we deal with some of the serious challenges we face. Keep our minds set on God rather than on the crisis or our fears of what might happen.

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

Bonus: “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee”      Diane Bish, Organ

Prayer: Write your blessed Name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly engraved, that no prosperity, no adversity shall ever move me from your love. Be to me a strong tower of defense, a comforter in tribulation, a deliverer in distress, a very present help in trouble, and a guide to heaven through the many temptations and dangers of this life.     ―Thomas à  Kempis,   1380–1471, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.38

Tuesday, March 15

Tuesday, March 15

Reader: “The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.” 

Response: “But he does not excuse the guilty.”

Scripture: Numbers 14:10-25      

But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the Tabernacle. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are!”

But Moses objected. “What will the Egyptians think when they hear about it?” he asked the Lord. “They know full well the power you displayed in rescuing your people from Egypt. Now if you destroy them, the Egyptians will send a report to the inhabitants of this land, who have already heard that you live among your people. They know, Lord, that you have appeared to your people face to face and that your pillar of cloud hovers over them. They know that you go before them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Now if you slaughter all these people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of your fame will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring them into the land he swore to give them, so he killed them in the wilderness.’

“Please, Lord, prove that your power is as great as you have claimed. For you said, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’ In keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of this people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”

Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested. But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it. But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land. Now turn around, and don’t go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.

Some thoughts:  

(Remember, when you read stories in the Bible of rebellious Israelites interacting with God, think of our society as modern day “Israelites” interacting with God. We are them!)

In our story, the twelve spies had just come back from checking out the land God had promised his children. The report of ten of the spies was if we go into their land, they will kill us. Those people are huge! The two spies, Caleb and Joshua, said let’s go and take the land God has given us. We can trust him. But the people wanted to stone them to death and fire Moses and Aaron and go back to slavery in Egypt in spite of the many miracles God had done to get them to this place! In a word, they preferred the old horrible life to trusting God and putting themselves in his care for what lay ahead. Then we come to today’s portion of Scripture.

We discover that God has run out of patience with these rebellious people. He appeared in his shekinah glory at the Tabernacle in the sight of all his people and had a conversation with Moses. He asked two questions: How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they ever believe me? In their conversation, God contemplated destroying the Israelites  all together and starting over with descendents of Moses. You just read how Moses bargained with God quoting God’s own words.

In this pericope we get added insight into God’s character. What do we learn? 1) God is slow to anger. . .but his slowness is not infinite. 2) His love is unfailing which does not mean there is never any discipline. His is not a surface love. 3) There are no kinds of sin or rebellion that he will not forgive when there is repentance. 4) Because he is just, he does not excuse the guilty. There are consequences to wrong behavior not because God doesn’t love his people, but because he does love his people. 5) Unbelief brings death. What is interesting to me is that the Isralites’ unbelief in God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan fearing the “giants of the land” would kill them, when actually their lack of belief in God’s word caused them to die in the desert never having  seen the Promised Land. How often has our own unbelief in God at different times prevented us from experiencing what he had in mind?

God pardoned the Israelites at Moses’ request to not wipe them out with a plague. Notice God addressed the two questions he had asked earlier. The people saw his glorious presence over the Tabernacle and they had experienced the many miracles he had done on their behalf both in Egypt and in the wilderness yet they rejected him. Their sentence was death in the wilderness, never to see Canaan. And at least 600,000 died during the forty year period of wandering. (This means approximately 41 people died everyday for 40 years!) But their children, along with Joshua and Caleb, entered the Promised Land. One of the saddest phrases in this passage is “Now turn around. . .and set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.” What should have been an eleven day journey to the gift given by God turned into a forty year long wandering in a desert ending in death, all because of a lack of belief in God’s promise.

It would seem our world is in a “wandering in the desert” mode. Moses asked God to pardon the sins of the people. Let us likewise ask God to pardon the sins of our peoples. Pray that the hearts of the people of our world would soften. As we have seen, there are serious consequences for unbelief.

Hebrews 3:7-19 picks up on this passage with powerful words directed to us:

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Remember what it says:

“Today when you hear his voice,

    don’t harden your hearts

    as Israel did when they rebelled.

Music: “Find Us Faithful”    Steve Green     (A Classic)

Prayer: 

Lord God, this is a tangled, rebellious self-centered power seeking world in which we live. Like the Israelites and the ten spies, our societies, and all too often our leaders, reject you wanting to control their own lives. Often there is outright hostility toward you and your word. All of us are experiencing the discipline of the desert. Our world is parched and thirsty, yet stubbornly holding out, refusing to repent and humble ourselves. Lord Jesus, have mercy on rebellious people. I pray for a great warming of cold hearts, a softening of hardened hearts. Help us, Holy Spirit, to be relentlessly believing. This we pray through your Son, Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.                   ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, March 14

Monday, March 14

Reader:  “Abraham believed God,” 

Response: “and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

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.

Some thoughts:  

I remember the first time I milked the cows all by myself; (well, mom carried the milk to the bulk cooling tank.) That was normally my job but I was busy putting the milkers on and taking them off the cows. Dad had been away at a field demonstration of different varieties of seed corn, differing lengths of maturity, fertilizing, etc. and the demonstration went longer than planned so he wasn’t home when it was time to milk―cows don’t really care about different maturity dates for corn! I remember how excited I was as an eight or nine year old boy to tell dad when he got home that the cows were already milked! I was so proud of what I had done (with mom!) and I knew he was proud of me too! I had earned that feeling by what I had accomplished. I also knew dad was proud of me whether I had milked the cows or not because I was his son. I was also happy because I knew what I had done brought joy to my father. In a very loose way, that milking example is a shadow of God and Abraham. In continuing the discussion from yesterday, Abraham’s righteousness before God did not depend on what he did to make him acceptable to God, but rather his faith in God. 

We live in a world where people “earn respect, earn a degree, earn a promotion, earn a reputation, or earn a living.” We are so ingrained with this earning mindset that the idea of being counted righteous by God because of our faith in him and doing nothing on our part to earn righteousness, is hard for us to grasp fully. We hear “you get what you pay for.” In this case “you get what someone else has paid for.” By the grace of God the record of our sin has been cleared and all we did was to believe what God said. Without imputed righteousness from God, we have absolutely no hope. I’m wondering if we grasp how remarkable and glorious this is?

Back to the passage. There was a question in the church at Rome regarding the rite of circumcision in relation to non-Jewish believers. We saw yesterday the significance and meaning of the act so it is not an insignificant question. Paul speaks very clearly here. Circumcision does not produce righteousness in God’s sight, for Abram was already judged righteous prior to his being circumcised so righteousness is not dependent upon circumcision. God is concerned with the circumcision of the heart as evidenced by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. (Rom.2:29) We learn in another of Paul’s letters that baptism now replaced circumcision as a sign of the covenant. (Col. 2:11-13) 

So while I had great joy as a result of milking the cows, I knew I was “accepted” by dad and mom not because of what I had done, but because I was their son and I had done nothing to earn my way into the family. I simply needed to acknowledge that I was a Sharp. Your righteousness before God is never earned, it is imputed when you exercise faith. Abraham is our model.

Music: “The God of Abraham Praise”    Grace Community Church

Prayer: 

Lord God, your mercy is from everlasting to everlasting to all those that fear you, and your righteousness unto our children’s children to those who keep your covenant, and to those who remember to do what is required. Grant it, Lord Jesus, that I may hour after hour, day after day, and year after year fear you as I receive your mercy and righteousness that I might live and teach it to the generations that follow me. For your faithfulness has no end to your children. Help me to be attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit and be quick to obey. May I have the honesty and integrity of Abraham as he walked with you.This I pray through Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

                  ―Daniel Sharp, adapted from Psalm 103:17,18

Second Sunday in Lent, March 13

Second Sunday in Lent, March 13

Reader: “Abram believed the Lord,” 

Response: “and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18   

Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.”

But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.”

Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.

Then the Lord told him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?”

The Lord told him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” So Abram presented all these to him and killed them. Then he cut each animal down the middle and laid the halves side by side; he did not, however, cut the birds in half. Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away. As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him.  

After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River—

Some thoughts:  

The passage for today begins in an intriguing way with the phrase, “Some time later. . .” It seems that something had just happened and this is a followup to whatever it was. A few chapters back was the call of Abram from God to leave his homeland and go to the land of Canaan. God made a verbal covenant with him that through him and his descendants all the nations of the world would be blessed. In short, God had established a relationship with Abram earlier and is now carrying that further by enacting the formal covenant with him. Note that in both cases, God was the initiator in coming to Abram, this time in a vision with the familiar words, “Do not be afraid.”

In this vision we are privy to a very down to earth transparent conversation between God and Abram concerning his lack of an heir. One has to admire the almost innocent, childlike nature of Abram’s interaction with God. In this case God spelled out specifically what would happen concerning his offspring. (This doesn’t always happen. In fact, most of the time God is short on giving us details when he asks us to trust him. Of course, the nature of faith is believing without seeing. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Heb. 11:1) 

Abam believed what God had promised and it was counted to him as righteousness. This does not mean he never sinned. Remember he lied about his wife being his sister on two separate occasions, so being deemed righteous, does not mean sinless. What it does mean is that he repeatedly returned to faith as a pattern throughout his lifetime. That’s a pattern for us.

Abram’s dialogue with God continued as he expressed some apprehension that what God promised would actually occur. God answered Abram in a very visual, tangible manner. At first blush, the actions described may seem a little strange until we have a better grasp of the significance of the actions. 

Today, when we purchase a portion of land, it comes with a deed and title proving ownership. In Abram’s time, such was not the case. To enact a covenant in those days a contract was made by cutting animals in two split down the middle top to bottom rather than cutting them in half. The two parties then walked down the middle together between the split carcasses repeating the terms of the covenant. In this case, the Lord literally cut a covenant. I have to wonder if this is where we got the expression to “cut a deal?” Just wondering. Jeremiah 34:18-20 mentions this same practice.

The covenant is sealed in blood with the understanding that if I break this agreement, may the same thing happen to me as to these animals. May I give my life with my blood. Then an unusual thing happened, God taking the form of a smoking pot and burning torch walked between the parts by himself as Abram watched, demonstrating this was a unilateral covenant. God signed in for both of them. Abram never signed the covenant. Keeping the covenant was wholly dependent upon God’s faithfulness, not Abram’s, therefore it can never fail either for Abram or for us. This covenant relationship is not between equals. Yet, God out of his great love has committed himself to his people requiring from them faithfulness. Later God initiated the ratification of the covenant with the sign of circumcision, again cutting with the shedding of blood.

God has initiated a relationship with us. He came after you and me. He promised both sides of the deal. He is always perfectly faithful even when we are not. He knew Abram could not be perfectly faithful and he knows we cannot be either. So he covered us at the cross in the shedding of his own blood. 

Music: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”       Dutch Forward

Bonus: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”    Veritas

Prayer: 

Today offer your own prayer of gratitude to the Savior for his faithfulness to you. Begin by recalling as many instances as you can think of and thank him. None of them depend on your faithfulness.

Saturday, March 12

Saturday, March 12

Reader: “How often I have wanted to gather your children together”

Response: “ but you wouldn’t let me.”

Scripture: Matthew 23:37-39

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Some thoughts:  

We have subtitled this Lenten season as “A Journey to the Cross.” One of the aspects of these weeks is to examine the days leading up to the crucifixion through the eyes and words of Jesus. Today’s pericope gives us a window into his passion and love for Israel even though they reject God’s love and care for them. In the previous chapter Jesus declares seven woes castigating the teachers of the law for leading the people astray by rejecting the words of the prophets, God’s messengers. Not only did they reject the prophet’s messages, they killed godly people. Judgment was coming.

Jesus begins his lament by repeating the name of the city twice―Jerusalem, Jerusalem. In Scripture when a word is repeated two times, it is done so for great emphasis. It is turning up to full volume and saying, ”Pay very close attention to what I am about to say.” Then he addresses the people, the Scribes and Pharisees, in the city charging them with killing and stoning those bringing God’s word to the people to repent of their wicked and bent ways. The implication was that the generation Jesus was addressing were likewise judged guilty of all the Old Testament murders of godly people from Abel to Zechariah, perhaps a  contemporary of theirs. And thirdly, he speaks almost more individually with “your, you, your, you, you, and you.” We see in his words a heart-broken Jesus expressing an unrequited love for his children. How he longed to protect his own, but was flatly rejected. Yet he longed for them still to repent of their ways and receive God’s grace.

In reference to “your house being abandoned,” could refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and that God would withdraw his presence from the Temple and both would disappear. Jerusalem had been ransacked before in the exile to Babylon and would again be destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, some thirty-five or so years after Jesus uttered these words. 

While the last words of the passage remind us of the cries of joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, ultimately I think Jesus is referring to his Parousia, his Second Coming when this world comes to a close and he establishes his eternal Kingdom. Note his words uttered here, “I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” and a similar passage occurring later in this gospel during the Last Supper showing the same intensity in Jesus’ words, “Mark my words―I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it again with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” (Mt. 26:29) (Luke’s text is identical to Matthew’s, indicating both men used a common source. 13:34-35) 

You may be wondering at this point, how does this passage relate to me? Or better yet, how do I relate to this passage? Do you see where we are located in these words? We come in right after “your house is abandoned and desolate.” While those words refer most directly to Jerusalem, Israel, and/or the Temple, they are reflective of our age as well. But most significantly, we come in right before the last sentence, which is yet to occur in history. We await the Lord’s return when all people will acknowledge him as a consuming Judge or as a welcomed King.  

Music: “Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord”    Paul Wilbur

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. 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. When Thou dost knock at my heart’s door, let me not keep Thee standing without but welcome Thee with joy and thanksgiving. Let me harbor nothing in my heart that might embarrass Thy presence; let me keep no corner of it closed to Thine influence. Do what Thou wilt with me, O God; make of me what Thou wilt, and change me as Thou wilt, and use me as Thou wilt, both now and in the larger life beyond; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.   

                                                    ―John Baillie, from A Diary of Private Prayer, p. 57

Friday, March 11

Friday, March 11

Reader: “Dear brothers and sisters,”

Response: “We are citizens of heaven.”

Scripture: Philippians 3:17-21

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.”  

Some thoughts:  

It is commonplace nowadays for people to think of life in terms of the sacred and the secular. There are Christian and religious things people do and then there are everyday business, shopping, educational, recreational, and relaxation kinds of activities people engage in. The sacred and secular as described above are pretty much separate worlds in many people’s minds. In this pericope Paul is addressing the matter of conduct as it relates to living out Christian faith. Commentators are divided as to whether Paul is writing to immature Christians, Judiaizers (people who view the Old Testament law as still binding on all Christians), or people antagonistic to believers. And for those people who don’t believe, like Paul, we also live in a world where people brag about shameful things thinking only of this life on earth.

Philippi was a significant city in ancient Rome. It had a cosmopolitan population with retired Roman military personnel, Greek citizens, and some Jews. The language was Latin. This was the hometown of Luke. In addition, it was located on the main trade route between east and west so people from many countries were passing through. It was also a wealthy town with gold and silver mines nearby. All of this to say, it was what we would call a very secular city and at the same time, Christianity was very new, barely thirty years old. 

When Paul writes to “pattern your life after mine” it may seem rather egotistical upon first reading. That is why context is important. The Philippians had virtually no picture of how a Christian should live. Paul was their first model! He freely admitted that he was a sinner saved by the grace of God which he made abundantly clear in his other letters. He wrote that in God’s view as taught in the Scriptures, there is no separation of the sacred and the secular; all of life is sacred. Faith is to be intrinsically connected to conduct. Conduct grows out of a living faith. But with fallen human beings, there is frequently a separation of the two, whether deliberately or unconsciously. That’s the challenge for you and me.

The Apostle finishes this thought with the reminder that Christians are citizens of heaven. We tend to think of living on earth as a dual citizenship; we live here but we are going to heaven. Would it be different if we thought of all our interaction here on earth as heavenly conduct? In truth, we are aliens, pilgrims on this planet temporarily but God created us to live with him in heaven, which is why at our core we do not have a sense of ultimate rest now. There is a part of us that continually looks forward to what’s next. Even when we get old we look forward to what’s coming! Paul reminds us that we are going to get immortal glorious bodies like the resurrection body of Jesus! God has the power and will do it as he brings everything under his control. That is something to look forward to!

It is remarkably easy to become focused solely on the here and now, upon this world with all the plethora of “secular” activities making up what we call life and forget the biggest picture. All too often we make time for all these “activities” and then add on, if there is time, the “religious” things. (E.g. People attend worship in person if it “works out this weekend.”) Paul points out very forcefully this division of sacred/secular is a corrupt way of life and a faulty way to think. How different our lives would be if we thought of every encounter, everytime, every activity, every conversation no matter the topic as sacred interaction. What is it that makes the activity or conversation sacred? Something to think about!

Here’s an idea. I just read a short piece by a friend of mine, Dean Moyer. His article was roughly on what Paul addressed in our passage. He used as an example to embrace this idea―ask a person in conversation, what was (is) the best part of their day. It may open the door out of the usual and mundane “How’s it goin’?”  Try it! 

Music: “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”    Squirrel 24 !

Prayer:       Almighty and eternal God, there is no number of Thy days or of Thy mercies: Thou hast sent us into this world to serve Thee, and to live according to Thy laws. Let Thy Holy Spirit lead us with wisdom and perception. Grant that every part of every day may be lived in holiness and godliness. O dear Lord, look upon us in mercy and pity and forgive us when we embrace and are encumbered with the cares of this world forgetting Thy sovereign love and power. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.  ―Jeremy Taylor   1613-1667 from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.214    (©1897!!)

Thursday, March 10

Thursday, March 10

Reader: “The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—”

Response: “is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Scripture: Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

    so why should I be afraid?

The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,

    so why should I tremble?

When evil people come to devour me,

    when my enemies and foes attack me,

    they will stumble and fall.

Though a mighty army surrounds me,

    my heart will not be afraid.

Even if I am attacked,

    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—

    the thing I seek most—

is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

    delighting in the Lord’s perfections

    and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come;

    he will hide me in his sanctuary.

    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high

    above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,

    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.

    Be merciful and answer me!

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”

    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Do not turn your back on me.

    Do not reject your servant in anger.

    You have always been my helper.

Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,

    O God of my salvation!

Even if my father and mother abandon me,

    the Lord will hold me close.

Teach me how to live, O Lord.

    Lead me along the right path,

    for my enemies are waiting for me.

Do not let me fall into their hands.

    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;

    with every breath they threaten me with violence.

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness

    while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord.

    Be brave and courageous.

    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Some thoughts:  

This is an interesting psalm following yesterday’s passage in Job. Though Job addressed his friend’s charges outwardly as to his great losses, inwardly the Lord was his light and salvation. The Lord was his fortress, his anchor, even though it did not look like it. Job could not be persuaded otherwise by his friends. There is a lesson here. If we are to dwell on the outward appearance of things or situations, we can draw the same conclusions as Job’s friends. . .God is judging us for some wrongdoing or sin. Remember the Lord protected Job’s life and would not allow Satan to kill him. In this psalm, David likewise expresses confidence in the Lord’s protection.

The Psalmist David’s highest desire is to live in the house of the Lord all his life. He wants to live in the presence of the Lord for safety and security. I find it interesting he mentions being placed by God on a high rock. In the desert wanderings of the Israelites, there was frequent mention of a rock. It was a source of life giving water and was a shadow, a type of Christ figure in the Old Testament. “All of [our ancestors] drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them and that rock was Christ.” (I Cor. 10:4) O that we might remember that we are living in the presence of God right now.

In the second half of this psalm, the focus shifts to a lament. I find it humbling that the Lord asks us to “Come and talk with him!” My next thought is, “What should we talk about?” David may help us out in answering  my question with the last part of the psalm

with these words, “Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path.” There are those around us today who attack Christian belief as hate speech. Christianity is mocked on university campuses. Faith in Jesus Christ is not politically correct. The Church is under persecution worldwide. The situation for Christians and others in Afghanistan is deadly. These are tough days everywhere. We need to know how to live wisely and pray with fervor.

The psalmist expresses confidence in the Lord’s goodness in his day and we can do the same in ours. He concludes with wonderful words for us and I think this is what the Lord has to say in our conversation, “Wait patiently for Me. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for Me. If I take care of the birds of the air, I’ll certainly care for you.” 

Music: “The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation”    Stonebrier Community Church Choir  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPhoWvIyX-Q     (The classic setting.)

Prayer: Let nothing disturb thee, nothing affright thee; all things are passing; our God never changeth; patient endurance attaineth to all things; who God possesseth in nothing is wanting; alone God sufficeth.   ―St. Teresa of Avila  from The Little Book of Prayers, p.110

Wednesday, March 9

Wednesday, March 9

Reader: “The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away.”

Response: “Praise the name of the Lord!”

Scripture: Job 1:1-22

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. He also had many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area.

Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them. “Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan.

Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”

Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

“All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.

One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: “Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said,

“I came naked from my mother’s womb,

    and I will be naked when I leave.

The Lord gave me what I had,

    and the Lord has taken it away.

Praise the name of the Lord!”

In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

Some thoughts:  

The last three days we’ve considered the temptation of Jesus by the devil. As we have mentioned before, temptation can be a form of testing. Today we look at a unique testing of a person in the First Testament, none other than Job. The consensus is that Job lived around the time of the patriarchs or roughly around 2,000 B.C. in the land of Uz, probably on the east side of the Jordan River.

This chapter gives us the setting of the familiar story.  The numbers seven and three are numbers of great blessing (E.g. 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 7 sons, 3 daughters). Wealth was measured in possessions in this era. Put simply, Job was wealthy and blessed by God. One of the reasons we can get a rough idea of the historical time frame is that Job served as a priest to his own family. Job lived well before the founding of the nation of Israel. Under Moses’ leadership the priesthood was established in Israel with Aaron serving as the High Priest. Job was clearly a God-fearing man of great integrity. Though he wasn’t sinless, he was righteous in God’s sight in living a repentant life.

Satan, as we have been reminded over the last several days, is committed to doing whatever is necessary to sever people’s relation to God then and now. Here we see his attempt to do just that as God allowed him to test Job. You know the story. What is clear is Satan’s lack of understanding of trust because he is charging that Job only trusts God because of all the wealth God has given him. The devil’s test (and desire) is simple, take away the wealth and Job will reject God. Occasionally that happens in our world today when a person suffers financial or material loss, is stricken with a serious disease, or experiences the tragic death of a loved one and becomes embittered and blames God. Satan still works that angle.

In rapid succession Job learned that he had lost everything including all his children. Then we have his remarkable response. As was the custom of showing grief at that time in the Near East, he tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground and worshiped God. What did those actions communicate? He trusted in the sovereignty of God. He clearly did not blame God for the terrible tragedy that had befallen him. Note his words (my paraphrase). “I came into this world by your hand Lord and I’ll leave this world by your hand. I brought nothing with me and I’ll take nothing with me when I leave. You have given me everything and it’s yours to take away. My life is in your hands. I praise your name.” Did you notice how Satan’s assertions always lead away from God? Job’s comments lead toward God. He does not blame God for his circumstances. Interestingly, God never did tell Job the “why” of his suffering nor of Satan’s test. Likewise, God does not nor is he obligated to tell us the “why” of difficult events in our world.

I want to share a brief personal story related directly to this account  of Job. In 1966 when I was a freshman in college at Wheaton, I came home from a choir concert one Sunday night. I had a note in my mailbox to call my parents immediately. My mom ―answered the phone with these words of Job, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. This evening your brother, David, passed away very suddenly.” I was devastated. We had shared the same bedroom our whole lives. At the time, David was a freshman in high school. Though mom and dad grieved deeply, I never heard a word of bitterness toward God from either of them ever. Their faith was unshaken. Six years later I got another call to immediately call home. Mom again answered the phone with another quote from Job (13:15), “‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.’ Dan, dad was killed in a farming accident this afternoon.” Mom and Dad understood in real life what it is to trust in every circumstance. Their example as parents responding to tragedy has had a profound impact on my life and that of my sister’s to this day. Job gave all of us the model.

Music:  “Be Still My Soul”  Voces8           Glorious!!!

Prayer: 

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.     ―Jude, 24-25

Tuesday, March 8

Tuesday, March 8

Reader: “You must not test” 

Response: “the Lord your God.”

Scripture: Luke 4:9-13

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.

Some thoughts:  

Whether the movement among the three temptations was in thought (most probably), in a vision, or in actuality, we come to the third temptation, the temptation to test God’s care of his own. From the pinnacle of the Temple to the ground was about 100 feet or ten stories high. Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12, but did so out of context. For he left out a key phrase, “For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.” Some translations read “in all your ways.” There are conditions to this promise. This section of the psalm begins with, “If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter . . .” In other words, protection comes to those who walk in the path of trust and faithfulness to God. The promise does not apply to those who act foolishly to test God. Whenever the devil quotes Scripture you can be sure it is out of context!  

The Scriptures say that the devil left Jesus for “a more opportune time.” The devil wasn’t done with Jesus. He tried to kill him at birth via King Herod. He undoubtedly tempted him all through his growing up years. We have this occurrence. Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going to the cross and Jesus addressed him with a strong rebuke, “get behind me Satan.” Satan entered Judas for the purpose of betraying Jesus and there was the mighty struggle in Gethsemane as Jesus sweated drops of blood. The devil was relentless then and he is relentless now.

The first question in the Bible comes from none other than the devil, “Did God really say?” Can you trust God to tell you the whole truth? Test him. Exert your own will. See for yourself. What is your experience? Aren’t you curious if God will come through? This method of Satan is as old as God forming Adam from the dust of the earth. The bottom line in the three temptations to Jesus was the same: exert your own will and bypass your Father’s plan of salvation by taking power and glory for yourself now. Had Jesus yielded, there would be no perfect sacrifice, no redemption, no salvation, no eternal life, and eternal separation from God with no possibility of restoration . . .ever. 

Glory to God for our victorious Christ! 

Music: “I Need Thee Every Hour”   Sam Robson   I’ve used this before but perfect for today.

Some testimonials to this piece: “This song got me through more than a few missions flying combat in Afghanistan during the spring of 2014.”

“Sam, this is deeply personal, but you were a very big part of my accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  I heard this and fell to my knees in worship.  I have not been the same since for I have been truly changed.  You had a hand in my Saving… Just thought you should know.”

Prayer: 

O Lord, never suffer us to think that we can stand by ourselves and not need thee. Amen. 

                ―John Donne, (1571-1631) from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.52 

Monday, March 7

Monday, March 7

Reader: “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God”

Response: “and serve only him.’”

Scripture: Luke 4:5-8

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God

    and serve only him.’”

Some thoughts:  

(Luke’s recording of the order of the three temptations differs slightly from Matthew’s and Mark simply mentions that Jesus was tempted forty days in the desert. John makes no mention of the temptation at all. John wrote his gospel some 30-40 years after the Synopics were already in circulation so most of his content is unique from theirs and his readers would most likely have been familiar with the temptation account.) 

I want to focus a bit on the nature of temptation Jesus faced and the temptations that face us. Since Jesus is God, could he really be tempted since he never sinned and was perfect and holy? Because all people are sinful humans, everyone gives in to temptation. We are clearly not sinless! In that sense we have never experienced the maximum magnetic pull of temptation because there comes that moment when we quit resisting and yield. We have never faced as strong a temptation as Jesus because we’ve always given in before it gets to that place. In Jesus’ case, however, he never ever yielded which means he experienced the maximum attractiveness of the temptation the devil could create. As a result, he was able to resist stronger temptations than we’ll ever face because he faced the maximum and was victorious over the devil. That strongest temptation you have? . . . He was victorious over it and as a result, he understands what you deal with and is able to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 2:18 & 4:15)

I would now like us to turn our attention to the second temptation. Has Satan’s strategy changed? In the Garden of Eden the first temptation to Eve dealt with food, satisfying the self―though God had provided all the food Adam and Eve needed. The second temptation of Eve was for power. She wanted God’s power of knowing good and evil. As the Scripture says, “She wanted the wisdom it would give her.” She and Adam asserted their own wills, independent from God’s provision and care. Notice, this temptation to Jesus also deals with power, ruling power, but again it goes deeper.

The devil knows Jesus came into the world to set up a Messianic Kingdom and rule as King of kings and Lord of lords in God’s time. What he proposed to Jesus was a compromise. Remember Satan is a liar. He cannot give power in this world to whomever he chooses. His words, “I will give it all to you. . .” were a lie. He has not been given that power by God. He is not equal with God. God has given him permission to be ruler over this world in so far as sin rules the hearts and lives of people, leaders, and nations. Jesus even called him the prince of this world. (Jn. 12:31) Nevertheless, God holds the ultimate reins. Satan can do nothing without God’s permissive will. In this temptation the devil is trying to get Jesus to take a shortcut from the suffering, pain, and agony of the cross. I.e. Jesus can have the power, glory and authority of ruling the kingdoms of the world now and skip the cross altogether. . .if he will bow down and worship Satan. 

In the serpent’s ploy in the Garden, when he said you will be “like God,” it was another way of saying, “Be independent; be your own god. Rule your own life.” In doing so our first parents fell headlong right into the devil’s trap and they became citizens of Satan’s rule on earth. They exchanged the worship and communion with their Creator for a lie in believing themselves to be like God. Is it not common today to hear in some circles the encouragement to discover the god, the divine within ourselves? The same old lie of the devil. This tactic has worked relentlessly since the dawn of creation. 

For a second time, Jesus answered Satan by quoting from Deuteronomy, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” (Deut.6:13) That terse answer put everything in immediate perspective and cut the devil off. Power, glory, and control are not gods. Those earthly reasons were not why Jesus came as he demonstrated on Palm Sunday to the people’s great disappointment when he refused to overthrow Roman occupation and reestablish the kingdom of Israel on earth. Jesus came as a servant to do his Father’s will. For Jesus, the path to power and glory and establishing his Kingdom was through suffering and the cross. He would not be deterred for his obedience to his Father was unwavering.

There is but one God and there are no others. Adam and Eve’s fateful choice made clear man is to worship God and God alone. Humans will never be gods in spite of New Age teaching or Mormon doctrine which says, “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”  Lorenzo Snow (1814-1901, fifth president, LDS) 

May we not fall to the temptation to strive to attain earthly glory, but rather arise to worship and serve our great God. Let us do so this day and in all the days to follow until we at last stand before the Throne, having come to the end of our earthly journey. I chose a piece of music today which reminds us all what Jesus endured by not taking the devil’s “shortcut” to eliminate the cross. How wondrous is the love of our Savior!

*I am indebted to: Norvel Geldenhuys, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke, p.158-164 for some of the insights regarding the temptation of Christ.

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

Prayer: 

Lord Jesus, you suffered for me―what am I suffering for you?     ―Corrie ten BoomFrom Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.88

First Sunday in Lent, March 6

First Sunday in Lent, March 6

(Over the next three days, I’d like us to look at the three temptations Satan put before Jesus.)

Reader: “Then the devil said to him . . .”

Response: “But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say . . .”

Scripture: Luke 4:1-4

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”

Some thoughts:  

Following Jesus’ baptism (See Jan.9, 2022 Epiphany season devotional), what may seem to us as rather odd, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days. In a similar way, the Spirit of God led the Israelites into the wilderness at the Exodus to test them. You’ll recall another forty day testing period when twelve spies went into Canaan as the Israelites remained in the desert. When the report came back, the people refused to put their trust in God with the result of their remaining in the desert one year for each of the days the spies were gone, an eleven day journey that took forty years! That unbelieving generation died in the desert, never reaching Canaan. In contrast, Jesus endured the forty days in the wilderness, never yielding to the devil’s ploys to short-circuit God’s plan of redemption. The result of his overcoming the devil’s temptation is that all who put their trust in him, unlike the unbelieving Israelites, do enter Canaan, heaven on earth.

What is interesting to me is the Israelites clammering for bread during the wanderings and God provided daily manna. Then they complained about the manna! In Satan’s challenge for Jesus to turn the stones into bread, he was tempting the humanity of Christ. Jesus, who was fasting through his ordeal and very hungry, responded to the devil with “man does not live by bread alone.” The “flesh,” the fully human Incarnate Son of God rejected the devil. This kind of temptation is common to all whereby the appeal is to please or gratify some aspect of the self forgetting our true relationship to God. Note the contrast between Jesus’ empty stomach and his being filled with the Spirit and the Israelites’ stomachs full of manna but empty in Spirit.

Jesus is a positive contrast at every point to the Israelites. Notice the root of the devil’s temptation. Of course there is the appeal of food to a man who has been fasting for forty days. But I want us to look at a more profound temptation that lies in the challenge to Jesus as the Son of God. It is this―Satan attacked Jesus’ identity. Did you recognize the not so subtle “if”? Another way to say it is, “Since you are truly God’s Son, prove it by doing what I’m challenging you to do. Use your divine power to satisfy your own needs. Exert your own will. Exert your independence from your Father. Be your own person!”

I immediately recall Jesus’ words, “I can do nothing on my own. . .I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” (John 5:30) Jesus always knew who he was as evidenced from the time he was a child of twelve at the Temple. When asked by Mary why you “did this to us,” Jesus’ response was, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The devil knew who Jesus was which made his strategy foolish. But as always, Satan continually attempted to destroy God’s mission of sending his Son to redeem the world. Jesus knew who he was before the foundation of the world. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: “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.” (Heb.1:2-3) You see how weak Satan’s appeal was to Jesus as to his identity. Jesus submitted himself to his Father and refused to exert his own will independent of his Father’s. 

Why do I mention this? It is the same strategy of Satan today as we see the evidence all round us. Two things: he challenges people’s identity and appeals to their individuality in exercising their own power and will to satisfy their own desires. Here are some examples: note how much focus parts of our society have placed on race, skin color, ethnicity, gender confusion, sexual orientation as measures of personal identity and at the same rejecting or dismissing the truth that all persons are made in the image of God, the one true source of everyone’s identity. Jesus’ ministry underscored this truth as he challenged the Jews to think beyond race, skin color, and social station as male or female and realize our truest identity is in Christ

While Satan’s strategy was dismissed by the Savior, it appears to be working very well in today’s world in leading people from the truth. This season of Lent is about repentance from the sin in our own lives but also about repenting as a people embracing the truth of God. May we be more aware of our own sin and let us pray for cultural repentance.

Music: “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”    Fernando Ortega and Amy Grant  

Prayer: O Lord, who has taught us that to gain the whole world and to lose our souls is great folly, grant us the grace so to lose ourselves [in Thee] that we may truly find ourselves anew in the life of grace, and so to forget ourselves that we may be remembered in your kingdom.     ―Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971, from The Oxford Book of Prayers, p.119, adapted Daniel Sharp

Saturday, March 5

Saturday, March 5

Reader: “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;”

Response: “He is my God, and I trust him.”

Scripture: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16   

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

This I declare about the Lord:

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

    He is my God, and I trust him.

If you make the Lord your refuge,

    if you make the Most High your shelter,

no evil will conquer you;

    no plague will come near your home.

For he will order his angels

    to protect you wherever you go.

They will hold you up with their hands

    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

You will trample upon lions and cobras;

    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.

    I will protect those who trust in my name.

When they call on me, I will answer;

    I will be with them in trouble.

    I will rescue and honor them.

I will reward them with a long life

    and give them my salvation.”

Some thoughts:  

As you recall, the entire book of Psalms is subdivided into five books. This psalm is part of  book four (Psalms 90-106). Book three was a series of psalms of lament concerning Israel’s and King David’s troubles. Book four is a response of hope to book three, highlighting the LORD’s rule over the whole created order and his eternal kingdom overcoming all the chaos, disorder, rebellion, and evil. 

Here the psalmist reminds the people that God is a shelter for those who put their trust in him. He does not make this promise to those who don’t. God is the place of ultimate safety, not the wisdom of man, science, or technology. None of these three is ultimately trustworthy. God alone is. On difficult days, the Lord is our place of safety. We need not fear for he knows us well and has numbered each of our days. Our life is in his hands. Could we be in a safer place? Yet the world’s perspective is that man’s wisdom, “trust the science,” and technology and AI [artificial intelligence] is where we turn to solve our ultimate problems. We see the failure for those things to deliver all around us. We find that experts are not always experts.

After the poet again encourages the people to make the Most High their shelter and protector, he then quotes the LORD’s words directly. Note the eight promises God makes and the conditions: 

“For those who love me, I will rescue.” 

“For those who trust in my name, I will protect.” 

“When they call on me, I will answer.” 

“I will be with them in trouble.” 

“I will rescue and honor them.” 

“I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

Did you notice the part we play in all of this? Just a couple of things. 1) Make the LORD your refuge; 2) make the Most High your shelter. How do we do that? Love God. Trust God. That’s it. Loving and trust should be easy but we live in a troubled world that pulls us incessantly, relentlessly into the immediate circumstances, seeking to draw us away from an eternal perspective. While we are certainly not promised that life will be trouble free, God has assured us he will always hear and answer our cries. Emmanuel will always be “with his people.” His children are never alone, even though it might seem like it at times or that he doesn’t hear our prayers. Look at those eight underlined verbs above. Those are eternal verbs! Those are God’s eternal promises to you today. 

Reject the voices of fear, of deceit, of lies, hopelessness, hatred, confusion, and division you may hear today. Your response? Love and trust the Most High no matter what. You are a citizen of a kingdom of another world, an eternal one. Let’s live like it.

Music: “God Is Our Refuge and Strength”   arr. Pote  Hour of Power Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzch6FBW1io     Excellent recording!

Prayer: 

O God my Father, who art often closest to me when I am farthest from Thee and who art near at hand even when I feel that Thou hast forsaken me, mercifully grant that the defeat of my self-will may be the triumph in me of Thine eternal purpose. 

May I grow more sure of Thy reality and power:

May I attain a clearer mind as to the meaning of my life on earth: 

May I strengthen my hold upon life eternal:

May I look more and more to things unseen:

May my desires grow less unruly and my imaginations more pure:

May my love for my fellow men grow deeper and more tender, and may I be more willing to take their burdens upon myself. This I pray through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.                ―John Baillie, from A Diary of Private Prayer, p.131

Friday, March 4

Friday, March 4

Reader: “I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment.” 

Response: “I will claim you as my own people.”

Scripture: Exodus 6:1-13 

Then the Lord told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!”

And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh—‘the Lord.’ I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them. And I reaffirmed my covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners. You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them.

“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”

So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go back to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave his country.”

“But Lord!” Moses objected. “My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker!”

But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them orders for the Israelites and for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Some thoughts:  

Let’s look a little deeper at this account. Things are developing on several levels. First, it is important to remember that Pharaoh considered himself a god to be worshiped and obeyed. When the Israelites wanted to go to the desert to worship their God, that was an affront to the Egyptian ruler. So one of the dynamics transpiring is that God is directly confronting Pharaoh on his claim (and on his gods via the coming plagues). Moses is the mouthpiece delivering this message.

Second, in the past God had appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El-Shaddai meaning “God Almighty.” That may be the only name they knew; we don’t know. God established his covenant with the patriarchs roughly 600 years earlier in promising that the land of Canaan would be their home. God’s covenant was with an individual, Abraham, and then with a family, Isaac and Jacob. Now hundreds of years later, God is unfolding his covenant with a vast nation of more than one million people! The people have heard of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They even have the 400 year old bones of Joseph in their possession!

So here, in response to Moses’ complaint to God about doing nothing to help his people, God reminds Moses of their encounter on Mt. Sinai. It was there that he asked God, “Who shall I say sent me?” upon learning he was to deliver the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh. God gave Moses a name previously unknown to him, Yahweh, meaning “The LORD.”

What is happening here? The people of Israel have not experienced the hand of God. In a nutshell, they didn’t really know God first hand. They had just heard about him. There was no intimacy with the LORD. He was more of an idea to them, not a relational God. So God reassured Moses that he did hear the groans of his people and that he had not forgotten his covenant promise to them. In fact, he was laying the groundwork to give his people their own first hand experience with their covenant keeping God. This truth is underscored with the sentence, “I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt.” 

God’s desire always is that his children know him intimately. One of the purposes of the Exodus is for his people to experience him first hand, now they would encounter God for themselves. To know implies intimate knowledge and experience. It is the same word used to describe human sexual relations as in the case of Adam and Eve. (Gen.4:1) 

In focusing on their terrible circumstances, the people were not interested in listening to Moses’ words. But God did not give up and sent both Moses and Aaron back to Pharaoh with the same message: let the people go. Even if the people refused to listen to God’s words of deliverance, God continued on course. Because of the people’s closed mind to God’s word, what should have been a week and a half trip to Canaan took forty years and that generation of Israelites never did see the Promised Land even though they experienced crossing the Red Sea! You’ll recall through their own disobedience to the LORD, Moses and Aaron likewise failed to enter the Canaan. 

Centering our attention on the immediate troubling or fearful circumstances because those are what we can see and hear, can be a great hindrance to faith and trusting God. The Israelites didn’t know God at this point and so had trouble putting their faith in him and his word. They had no intimacy with God. I’m wondering when we are fearful of things in the world in which we live, is it because we know more about God than knowing God himself?  Cultivate intimacy with God; you’ll find it is more rewarding than the journey itself.

Music:  “Holy is God the Lord” from Elijah Oratorio   Gabrieli Consort

Holy, holy, holy is God the Lord

    The Lord of Sabaoth

Now his glory hath filled all the earth.

Prayer: 

O make thy way plain before my face. Support me this day under all the difficulties I shall meet with. I offer myself to Thee, O God, this day to do in me, and with me, as to thee seems most meet―Amen.      Thomas Wilson 1663-1755 from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.149

Thursday, March 3

Thursday, March 3

Reader: “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord?”  

Response: “And you have done nothing to rescue them!”

Scripture:  Exodus 5:10-23  (Pharaoh had just claimed the Israelite were lazy.)

So the slave drivers and foremen went out and told the people: “This is what Pharaoh says: I will not provide any more straw for you. Go and get it yourselves. Find it wherever you can. But you must produce just as many bricks as before!” So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt in search of stubble to use as straw.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian slave drivers continued to push hard. “Meet your daily quota of bricks, just as you did when we provided you with straw!” they demanded. Then they whipped the Israelite foremen they had put in charge of the work crews. “Why haven’t you met your quotas either yesterday or today?” they demanded.

So the Israelite foremen went to Pharaoh and pleaded with him. “Please don’t treat your servants like this,” they begged. “We are given no straw, but the slave drivers still demand, ‘Make bricks!’ We are being beaten, but it isn’t our fault! Your own people are to blame!”

But Pharaoh shouted, “You’re just lazy! Lazy! That’s why you’re saying, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to the Lord.’ Now get back to work! No straw will be given to you, but you must still produce the full quota of bricks.”

The Israelite foremen could see that they were in serious trouble when they were told, “You must not reduce the number of bricks you make each day.” As they left Pharaoh’s court, they confronted Moses and Aaron, who were waiting outside for them. The foremen said to them, “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!”

Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”

Some thoughts:  

We have subtitled this Lenten season as “A Journey to the Cross.” In John Bunyan’s immortal book, Pilgrim’s Progress, he paints the life of a Christian as a pilgrimage. “From dust we came, to dust we will return (Gen.3:19). In observing Ash Wednesday yesterday, we were again reminded of the transitory nature of this life and the ultimate triumph accomplished by Jesus’ journey to the cross. Jesus did something about our dust. We’d all agree that life is indeed a journey and that it is not a smooth one without difficulties. Such is not news to anyone. But what about this journey, this pilgrimage?

In this pericope our attention is drawn to the familiar story of the Exodus. Moses had been obedient to the Lord which ironically resulted in greater difficulty for his people, reminding us that walking in the Lord’s path will not necessarily make things easier! In this account it seems God is purposely making things worse. But did you notice from the Israelite foremen’s perspective, the trouble was Moses, not God. Moses was the one to blame!

So what did Moses do? He did what we all do, he went to God and complained! “Why are you allowing this to happen [to us and to me] and why don’t you do something about it?” This question is eerily relevant today. Did you ever notice how easy it is to assume God thinks and acts the way we would? After all, he sees what we do and has the power to do something about it. We’re thinking, “If I had God’s power, I’d do something about it!” Oftentimes it would appear he doesn’t do anything to alleviate the situation. Why his reluctance to act? What is God getting at? What do we do then?

While it’s not exactly the same situation, what I’d like us to remember is that in Jesus’ reconciliation journey, never forget that on the cross he cried to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In those hideous moments of pain and alienation, he experienced to the ultimate of what the Israelites in this passage and all of us undergo from time to time on our earthly journey―a sense of abandonment by God. 

I ask again, is there a deeper purpose in God seemingly not acting in an overt way? I’m wondering if the point isn’t that our God would teach us to continue to trust him even in the most difficult of situations, even unresolved or worsening circumstances. As much as we want calm, “sooner than later” resolutions, the focus of God’s concern may be in teaching his people to trust even when things grow worse, even at times that end with  death. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to one of God’s children. It appears God’s highest concern is in making a holy, trusting people regardless of whether or not he alleviates the situation. Of course there are many times when God’s hand changes things for the better.

In this passage God is challenging his people and Moses to grasp the true cost of following him. The kingdom of this world will always clash with God’s people. The ruler of this world is the devil so why should we be surprised? As tough as it may be, and for the Israelites, it was awful resulting in some beating deaths. Regardless of what comes your way today, keep trusting God. He has already been through the waters of death leading to the Celestial City. God’s glory lies ahead! 

Music: “How Firm a Foundation”     arr. Dan Forrest,     Men’s Ensemble

Prayer: 

O God, give us patience when the wicked hurt us. O how impatient and angry we are when we think ourselves unjustly slandered, reviled, and hurt! Christ suffers strokes upon his cheek, the innocent for the guilty; yet we may not abide one rough word for his sake. O Lord, grant us virtue and patience, power and strength, that we may take all adversity with good will, and with a gentle mind overcome it. And if necessity and your honour require us to speak, grant that we may do so with meekness and patience, that the truth and your glory may be defended, and our patience and steadfast continuance perceived. In Jesus’ name, Amen.    ―Miles Coverdale, 1488-1568, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayer, p.44        

Ash Wednesday, March 2

                   LENT   2022

          A Journey to the Cross 

                                   Danish Painter, Carl Heinrich Bloch  1834-1890

                                         The Preface

These last couple of years have certainly increased our awareness of the frailty of life and the certainty of death. Phrases often heard in recent months are: “they died far too young,” “it was so sudden,” “they are in a better place,” or “they are finally at peace.” Really, do we know that? The pandemic has proclaimed loudly to everyone, “Death is real.” The truth is our culture has been in a deep denial of death. As a result of the current health situation fear abounds. We see it all around. Have you noticed that the focus is on avoiding the inevitable. That is natural but everyone is eventually going to die. Not surprisingly I have not read one article, heard one commentary, or seen one podcast on looking beyond death. What happens to you when you die? Suddenly, most people believe in a heaven? If your good outweighs your bad you get in? He or she was such a good person. Is that as deep as we go? Where are the real answers to these questions? The theme of Ash Wednesday addresses these fundamental questions truthfully and definitively!

 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.

Back to Lent. For some people having to give something up, like not eating meat, or focusing on death are their primary thoughts regarding Lent. Such thoughts are a fundamental misunderstanding of Lent. 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; a new life made possible because of Jesus’ journey to the cross. 

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. In the early church the primary time for the baptism of new converts 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 (Matt. 6:1-8). You see then, Lent is not a Catholic thing as many people believe, though it was at times subject to legalism and abuse in the Roman Catholic church. Many Reformers rightly reacted to the abuses, but missed the spiritual discipline at the core of the season.

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 in bringing us new life. It is our prayer that these days leading up to Easter Sunday will further shape and form 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 and grow in our understanding of our new life in Christ.  “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone, a new life has begun.” (2 Cor. 5:17) 

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. Simply enter your name and email 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. A reminder, they are free.  


All Scripture is taken from the New Living Translation Second Edition, Tyndale House Publishing, Inc. Carol Stream, IL  ©2008

dansharp9@gmail.com

© Daniel Sharp 2022

March 2, Ash Wednesday

Reader: “This is the kind of fasting I want:”

Response: “Free the wrongly oppressed, share your food, give clothes.”

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.

Some thoughts:  

In biblical times the use of ashes was an outward symbol of repentance and mourning for one’s sin and a humbling before God. The use of ashes hearkens back to Gen. 3:19, “You were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” (E.g. Job, Jonah, Mordecai, Daniel, Jeremiah, Esther, Tamar) The ashes imposed this day are a reminder that our time on earth is limited and that our Savior has solved our death problem. That is the good news, but what do we do, how do we live in the meantime?

One of my Old Testament professors, (Walter Kaiser I believe,) told the class that whenever you read about Israel’s disasters and think those people were so awful, realize you are Israel. We are no different! As I read the above passage of Scripture, I couldn’t help but agree. While the gospel is individual it is also communal and believers  have significant communal responsibilities. 

Isaiah forcefully and loudly speaks God’s words to his people! Imagine Isaiah speaking these words to you. We gather at church (most Sundays). We’re delighted to hear a good sermon giving us more insight into God and our faith. We are in a small group Bible study. We believe God’s way is best. We pray to God to act on our behalf. We might even read our Bible and pray every day and even fast once in a while, subconsciously thinking, “Surely all this counts for something God.” Well . . . yes and no. Isaiah’s words are challenging and get right to God’s point.

Our relationship to God as individuals and as his people is about the heart and honest transparency. Isaiah’s word (God speaking) is making it very clear that the outward actions are to grow out of the heart relationship, not the other way around.  Actions, however spiritual or otherwise, do not ever produce a heart relationship with God. A living, vital, God-perspective faith should affect the world around us. Going through the outward spiritual motions without a repentant, humble heart doesn’t work. Do the acts stem from obligation or the compassion for Christ?

Isaiah is challenging the Israelites to look beyond earthly faux “spirituality” and realize what God wants from his people. To experience the fullness of the relationship with God both as individuals and as a community of faith, our actions must grow out of a deep love for God. His design is that the Christian community should have a practical impact on the surrounding society―the poor, the weak, the down-trodden, the lonely, the fearful, the broken. Notice, these are the people to whom Jesus most often ministered. May our faith flesh out likewise. Is there someone or something you can do today to lighten someone’s load? The transforming love of Christ in his people brings transforming love to a society so desperately needed in our day. That is why we’ve called the season of Lent a “Journey with Jesus,” a journey that requires our whole life. It did his.

Music: “If with All Your Heart” (Ye people rend your hearts) from Elijah Oratorio   Mendelssohn     Andrew Haji           Concours Musical International de Montreal 

Prayer: In these dark days when negation has so deeply entered into thought, and the futility of life oppressed many souls, when belief and unbelief appear indifferent and what is left is natural passion to express the pride of life, or the empty void of nothingness when the nerve to lie and to create is weakened and suicides increase―O Lord, forgive the failures of your Church to witness to the world that justice should run down as water and righteousness a mighty stream, O Lord, forgive the failure of the Christian life that lies so worldly that few can see the life of Spirit that must proclaim the kingdom of God’s love to glorify his Name.     ―Fr Gilbert Shaw, 1886-1967, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.108

Transfiguration Sunday, February 27

Reader: “This is my Son, my Chosen One.”  

Response: “Listen to him.”

                            Raphael, c.1520

Scripture: Luke 9:28-36

About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.

Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, 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.” 

But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them. Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.”  When the voice finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

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. Notice how Jesus was so tuned to the Father’s timing of his whole redeeming mission on earth. His time had not yet come. Recall how often Jesus uttered that phrase.

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, the prophet, Elijah, had traveled 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 hundreds of years earlier. As he descended with the Law tablets, his face shone so brightly, he was veiled until it faded. Again from Mt. Nebo, Moses left this earth as he looked into the Promised Land. Both Old Testament men encountered God directly and now they speak with the Messiah face to face.

(Notice in the painting that Moses is holding the Tablets and Elijah a prophet’s scroll.)

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 nor Moses were 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 the Messiah’s fulfillment of the Law and the great change coming. The word used is Jesus’ “exodus!” from this world. While the great Exodus led by Moses, a redeemer of Israel, was a shadow of what was to come, now this Redeemer of the entire world came to set all peoples 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! 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 often mentioned 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 in both cases. 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 daily 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

© Daniel Sharp 2022

Sunday, February 20

Reader: “Commit everything you do to the Lord.”

Response: “Trust him, and he will help you.”

Scripture:  Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40  

Don’t worry about the wicked

    or envy those who do wrong.

For like grass, they soon fade away.

    Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

Trust in the Lord and do good.

    Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.

Take delight in the Lord,

    and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.

    Trust him, and he will help you.

 He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,

    and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Be still in the presence of the Lord,

    and wait patiently for him to act.

Don’t worry about evil people who prosper

    or fret about their wicked schemes.

Stop being angry!

    Turn from your rage!

Do not lose your temper—

    it only leads to harm.

For the wicked will be destroyed,

    but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.

Soon the wicked will disappear.

    Though you look for them, they will be gone.

The lowly will possess the land

    and will live in peace and prosperity.

The Lord rescues the godly;

    he is their fortress in times of trouble.

The Lord helps them,

    rescuing them from the wicked.

He saves them,

    and they find shelter in him.

Some thoughts:

You may be wondering what this psalm has to do with Epiphany. If you recall an epiphany is a new realization of a particular situation. Psalm 37 is one of some eighteen “wisdom” psalms, psalms that give instruction (insight) in dealing with issues, unique circumstances, doubts, and day to day problems that arise in real life. What is a godly response to evil? When will the Lord bring justice? Why doesn’t God act sooner? In this particular psalm we are dealing with a person who has been wronged and besmirched. I would venture to say that has been the case at some point for everyone reading this passage! The words of David are most valuable when considering how King Saul sought to kill him.

He has given us a specific pattern for how to respond in such situations. 1) Don’t envy those who appear to be “getting away with it.” Don’t let them get you off center or under your skin. After all, it is God who says they will fade away. Go with God’s perspective. 2) Trust in the Lord and do the right thing which is growing in wisdom by cultivating and feeding your relationship with the Lord (Prov.3:5,6). He further enlarges on this idea in the second half of this poetic verse. 

[Hebrew poetry often works with parallel structures rather than in rhyming words. In this case an idea is stated and the parallel response adds commentary or further explanation of the original statement. This entire psalm is also arranged as an acrostic with each stanza beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.]

This latter portion is frequently quoted but sometimes misunderstood. There is a sequence here. “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart’s desires.” Too often our reading of the verse is backwards. “Tell the Lord your heart’s desires and he will give them to you!” Nope! When we delight first in the Lord, he is the one who then shapes our heart’s desires. He gives us what he has shaped and in doing so, he fulfills his will for us. 

3) The next little section elaborates the above idea further with the phrase “commit everything you do to the Lord.” God desires to be actively involved in your day to day life! I’m afraid we spend very little time even thinking about this truth, let alone living it. Do you see how conscious this is in David’s mind? He’s writing out of first hand experience. Read some of his other psalms and see how openly conversant he is with the Lord. (E.g. Psalm 28, 30,31) 

4) The next stanza harkens back to the beginning of the psalm with the best advice ever―be still in the presence of the Lord. Notice where it is that you are to be still and wait for him to act. Do you realize how often that pattern occurred for people in the Scriptures? Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Ruth, David, Mary, Jesus, and on and on . . . all the way to you and me! More advice from David. 5) Losing your temper is never helpful. The Lord will take care of the wicked. They will disappear by the Lord’s hand. Be humble. The Lord will take of his own.

In a world where there is much political and social vitriol, loss of morality, grabs for power and control of others under the guise of concern for people, the temptation is to be sucked into the fray. God is well aware of people’s hearts and he will deal accordingly in his time. The bottom line of this psalm is that our God is sovereign. He shepherds his people. The wicked do not win in the end for it is not about winning and losing, it’s about committing your life to the Lord and being still. He saves those that find shelter in him, then and now.

Music: “We Are God’s People”     Lake Avenue Congregational Church

Prayer:O God, give us patience when the wicked hurt us. O how impatient and angry we are when we think ourselves unjustly slandered, reviled, and hurt! Christ suffers strokes upon his cheek, the innocent for the guilty; yet we may not abide one rough word for his sake. O Lord, grant us virtue and patience, power and strength, that we may take all adversity with good will, and with a gentle mind overcome it. And if necessity and your honour require us to speak, grant that we may do so with meekness and patience, that the truth and your glory may be defended, and our patience and steadfast continuance perceived. In Jesus’ name, Amen.    ―Miles Coverdale, 1488-1568, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayer, p.44

Sunday, February 13

Reader: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,”

Response: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.”

Scripture:  Jeremiah 17:5-10 

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,

    who rely on human strength

    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.

They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,

    with no hope for the future.

They will live in the barren wilderness,

    in an uninhabited salty land.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord

    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank,

    with roots that reach deep into the water.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat

    or worried by long months of drought.

Their leaves stay green,

    and they never stop producing fruit.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,

    and desperately wicked.

    Who really knows how bad it is?

But I, the Lord, search all hearts

    and examine secret motives.

I give all people their due rewards,

    according to what their actions deserve.”

Some thoughts:

Today we jump back in history to around 600 BC in the days of Jeremiah, one of the major prophets in the First Testament. (He is considered “major” because of the length of the book!) He also came at a crucial time in Israel’s history. Prophets of God didn’t decide on their own that they would be a prophet, something today’s “prophets” might remember. Prophets are called by God. Biblical prophets spoke only what the Lord told them to speak which meant that they were right 100% of the time, a tough standard for today’s “prophets.” (Deut. 18:21-22) In fact, God spoke to Jeremiah in these powerful and insightful words, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (Yes, human life certainly and clearly begins at conception. Here is yet another example from Scripture of this truth. Jer.1:5)

Today’s pericope is divided into two sections as you noticed. The first part describes a curse and the second a blessing. Sadly, the “curse” section describes our world to a “T.”

Our trust is in human’s wisdom, skill, insight, intelligence, and power. The thought expressed so often is: “If we work together we can accomplish anything. Given enough time, we can solve the problem.” So how are we doing in overcoming the health situation? But notice the second part of the “curse.” Not only do these people rely on themselves, of greater significance, they turn away from the Lord. Today’s cultural hostility toward Christianity in the USA and elsewhere in the world is ample evidence of a cultural and societal heart turned against the Lord.

The truth of Jeremiah’s words concerning the curse are ubiquitous. Have you noticed the rise in hopelessness among our society as evidenced by increased drug use, depression, suicide, and brazen violence? Those rejecting the Lord are truly living in a barren wilderness as shrubs dying in the desert, desperate for water. And it was Jesus talking with the woman at the well that said, “I will give you living water and you will never thirst again.” (Jn.4:14) 

The second half of Jeremiah’s prophecy concerns God’s blessing. One can’t help but read it and think of Psalm 1 written some 300 years earlier. Here, Jeremiah uses some of the same wording. Trusting in the Lord brings hope, the opposite of losing hope with a curse. Rather than a stunted, dying shrub in the desert, blessing is like a healthy tree planted by a river, providing a continual source of water. Rather than dry shriveled roots, these roots go down deep into well-watered soil enabling the tree to withstand difficult times.

(I wonder if Jeremiah was influenced by both Psalm 1 and 2? Notice Psalm 1 concerns the joys of the blessing and the difficulties of those who reject God’s law. Psalm 2 describes the path of the wicked, those who have rejected God. In this pericope, it almost seems as if Jeremiah has condensed Psalm 1 which focuses on blessing and on Psalm 2 which focuses on what happens in rejecting God. Just a thought.)

In concluding this passage, Jeremiah goes to the “heart of the problem” as it were―the human heart. How often we have heard the expression, “I just followed my heart” . . . and some disastrous things have happened as a result. God tells me here that my heart is “the most deceitful of all things!” Those are frightening words. Nothing is more deceptive, delusive than your own heart. That is not good news. And you and I are thinking right about now, “Wow, that is overstated!” Jeremiah must be reading our minds anticipating what we would be thinking because his next sentence nails us. “Who really knows how bad it is?” There is only one being who knows the depth of our bent heart, the Lord. He truly knows us better than we know ourselves. When we ask, “Now, why did I do that?” The Lord knows the answer every time! He rewards us as our actions deserve.

What I have noticed is that the closer my communion with the Lord, the more aware I am of my deceitful heart and bent motives in my actions. I find I have much more difficulty in explaining away my thoughts or conduct. What happened may have looked one way to everyone else, but the real motivation lay elsewhere in a dark spot in my heart. Thank you Jeremiah for shining a penetrating light in the corners of the heart.

Music: “Change My Heart, O God”  Maranatha Music  (an “oldie” that sings truth)

Prayer:

Give us, O Lord, steadfast hearts, which no unworthy thought can drag downwards; unconquered hearts which no tribulation can wear out; upright hearts, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also O Lord God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  ―Thomas à Kempis, 1380-1471, from The Worshiping Church Hymnal, 528  

Sunday, February 6

Reader: “Christ died for our sins,”

Response: “just as the Scriptures said.”

Scripture:  1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 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. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.

But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. So it makes no difference whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already believed.

Some thoughts:

In giving a quick summary of the situation in Corinth, I do so because there are many similarities to our world today. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city populated by former Roman slaves, Greeks, Jews, and other ethnic groups and cultures from around the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, it was a focal point for the east/west trade route. The city was widely known for immorality and prostitution. This second of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth (the first letter is lost―see I Cor.5:9), addresses some of the issues and questions the Corinthians raised in response to his first letter to them. The dating of this epistle is about 53-56 AD, or about twenty years after the resurrection. Of the several topics with which he deals, his focus here is the certainty of what happened that Sunday morning that changed the history of the world.

The Good News for then and now is that Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. Repentance and belief assures the certainty of a future resurrection. The young and very new Corinthian church had some members who did not believe and some others were wavering in regard to a future resurrection. Paul was making his case for the truth of the resurrection. In his letter he includes what is a curious phrase to me―“unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.” What strikes me is that whether you believe an event happened or not does not change the truth. To deny that it happened does not change anything. I mention this obvious point because people today will talk about their own truth. “You have your truth and I have mine.” When it comes to the resurrection, there is God’s truth that it occurred. Unless your truth aligns with God’s, it doesn’t really matter what your “truth” is. God’s truth is absolute. We don’t get to “interpret” truth inspite of our culture.

If there was no resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no Christianity. That’s a pretty simple absolute truth.

Paul goes on to drive home this point of truth with four concrete examples. Interestingly, he starts with Peter. Jesus showed himself to the denying apostle first and in private. The Scriptures don’t give any account of that conversation as much as we might like to know what was said. Peter’s emotions must have been all over the place being filled with tremendous guilt and dread in seeing Jesus, yet he’s the first of the twelve to see the risen Savior. Knowing the great guilt Paul expressed about his own actions toward Christ, he may have had empathy for Peter and simply referred to their meeting. Then Jesus appeared to the next eleven who fled rather than face the arresting soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. We learn more of the conversation between the Savior and the disciples elsewhere in the gospels. Curiously, Paul leaves out mentioning Mary Magdalene, the first person to see the resurrected Lord.

Paul continues to build his case of the absolute truth of the resurrection by citing more than 500 people seeing the resurrected Lord at one time. You have probably heard in an Easter Sunday sermon that this point was that 500 people don’t all hallucinate at the same time. Another point in this regard is that many of those people are still alive to verify the truth. There are many living eye witnesses, not just a few. There may be people even today who say it didn’t happen, but that doesn’t change history and Paul is driving home this point.

It is also interesting that Paul mentions the resurrected Jesus was seen by James. There are several James in the Scriptures, James and John, the disciples “Sons of Thunder.” There is also the disciple, James the Son of Alpheus. But this James is most likely the half brother of Jesus. (James the Apostle and brother of John had most likely been killed before Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians. Acts.12:2, Acts 18:1ff) Before the resurrection Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him as the Messiah. That changed following his rise from the dead. The conversation between Jesus and the brother he grew up with is another conversation that would be interesting to hear! (This James is the one who wrote the New Testament epistle along with his other brother, Jude, who wrote the book bearing his name.) 

Then Paul cites the appearance to all the apostles, most likely a larger group than the Twelve. Note the appearance pattern: Peter (single) then all the apostles (group); James (single) then all the disciples (a larger group.) 

Paul concludes with the example of himself seeing the resurrected Jesus in perhaps the most spectacular fashion, a vision. We are privy to that conversation (Acts 9:1-9). We get a hint of the weight of Paul’s guilt and his deepest gratitude to God for the grace shown to him. We almost have a sense that Paul was working hard to make up for lost time, even while it may appear as if he’s “working off his guilt from his past persecution of the church,” not so! Elsewhere, he makes it so very, very clear that we are saved solely by the grace of God (Eph.2:8,9).

Finally, did you notice how tenderly Jesus treats those who have failed him? Peter, the disciples, his brother, and Paul. He chose to appear bringing reconciliation and forgiveness to those who would put their trust in him even though they have failed him in the past. His pattern is the same for you and me. (Peter might have sung this song with Casting Crowns!)

Music: “Power of the Cross”    Casting Crowns

Prayer:

Almighty God, Spirit of purity and grace, in asking thy forgiveness I cannot claim a right to be forgiven but only cast myself upon thine unbounded love. 

I can plead no merit or desert: 

I can plead no extenuating circumstances: 

I cannot plead the frailty of my nature:

I cannot plead the force of the temptations I encounter:

I cannot plead the persuasions of others who led me astray:

I can only say, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son, my Lord. Amen.

―John Baillie, 1886-1960, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.108

Sunday, January 30

Reader: “When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home,”

Response:  “he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath.”

Scripture:  Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,

    that the blind will see,

that the oppressed will be set free, 

    and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Some thoughts:

One thing to remember is that this passage comes from the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Following his temptation by the devil, Jesus, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit headed north to the region of Galilee to speak in various synagogues. Interestingly, Galilee was a region containing both Jews and Gentiles. So from the outset, the proclamation of the gospel extended beyond the Jews which was not what they expected or wanted. 

Jesus went first to Nazareth to preach in his hometown synagogue. The family was well-known in the synagogue since they attended Sabbath very regularly all Jesus’ growing up years. Now, our grown up “hometown boy” reads from the Torah, specifically the prophet Isaiah. Not only that, he reads a messianic passage and stops abruptly, rolls up the scroll, gives it to the attendant who puts it back in its case. Jesus then sits down with everyone staring at him. What follows astonishes all the people and then this hometown boy claims to be the fulfillment of the messianic Isaiah prophecy he just read! 

There was a mild discussion among the Nazarite villagers. These were people who knew Jesus as a boy. They knew Mary and Joseph, his carpenter father, his four brothers Simon, James, Judas, Joseph, and his sisters. They noted how graciously he spoke. But as he spoke, he reminded them that Elijah ministered to a foreigner in a non-Jewish land and that Elisha did the same, to an enemy Assyrian soldier no less!  In their minds, God and his coming Messiah was only for the Jews, not the “dog” foreigners.That did it, the hometown people mobbed him, intending to kill him. Jesus slipped away. The hometown boy had spoken blasphemy! 

Let’s make some observations about this passage. It’s important to understand the region of Galilee because it tells us some of Jesus’ thinking and ministry and helps us understand the gospel a little better. The people of Galilee, living about ninety miles north of Jerusalem, were outcasts as far as the Jews in Judea were concerned. Jerusalem was the home of the magnificent Temple. Furthermore, there was a significant Gentile presence of the hated Greeks and Romans in Galilee. There were also remnants of the disastrous Assyrian days. The inhabitants had a “curious” uncultured accent in their speech. They were generally uneducated and poor. Yet it was to these people that Jesus went first. In fact, Jesus moved from village synagogue to village synagogue teaching the preaching all throughout the Galilean region healing the sick, curing the blind and lame, casting out demons, and healing all sorts of diseases. . .except in Nazareth where he could do no miracles due to their lack of faith. 

Notice in the map below where most of Jesus’ miracles occurred. Notice also how many “foreigners” he healed and how he moved beyond the confines of Judaism. Much of his ministry occurred in Galilee. 

Map 11, NIV Archeological Study Bible, Zondervan, Mosaic Graphics, copyright©2005 

We are reminded in this larger picture that Jesus came for all human beings. Christianity is the most inclusive faith in the world. It is blind to skin color, cultures, wealth, class,   level of intelligence, and freely offers salvation to all men, women, and children. God’s desire is that every person who has ever lived would come to him through Jesus his Son, the only way to the Father. 

Sometimes when we live in “Nazareth” we fail to see what is right in front of us because we have preconceived ideas of what should be. I pray that this account from the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry in his hometown synagogue may not be repeated in our lives as his ministry continues to and through us these days. He lives and works in us, and his message is still the same, repent and believe.

Music: “God Is Working His Purposes Out”    Melharmonic Virtual Choir

Prayer:Lord God, you have made all peoples who were reborn in Christ a royal and a priestly race; grant us both to desire and to be able to do what you command, that having called your people to eternal life, they may have one faith in their hearts, and one law of love in their lives. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.    ―Gelasian Sacramentary, In the Presence of My Father, p.200  

Sunday, January 23

Reader: “They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses,” 

Response: “which the Lord had given for Israel to obey.”

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-10  

In October, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given for Israel to obey.

So on October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand. He faced the square just inside the Water Gate from early morning until noon and read aloud to everyone who could understand. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform that had been made for the occasion. To his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah. To his left stood Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Ezra stood on the platform in full view of all the people. When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet. Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah—then instructed the people in the Law while everyone remained in their places. They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

Some thoughts:

An epiphany could be described as the moment  “The light just went on!” or “Wow, I’ve never seen this before” or “Now I get it!” In a way, that is what is happening to the Israelites in this setting. They had rebelled and drifted from the Law of Moses (the Pentateuch) and as a result, were crushed and hauled off into exile. Now, around 50,000 Israelites had just come back from their many years living in exile in Babylon. Their own Scriptures had been neglected; they were biblically illiterate! It is into this setting that we read today’s passage of Nehemiah. They had gathered to hear the long-neglected word of God.

You might be surprised to read that this event occurred in October, the 8th 445 BC to  be exact! Really? Very exact ancient Persian calendars coincide exactly with the Hebrew lunar calendars to the place where we can actually know the exact date of this event! We also know that it was Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets, marking the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Why make a point of the exact date? Sometimes we might read these biblical accounts as ancient stories and not as actual history. Visualize this event. Put yourself standing among the people.

The area inside the Water Gate was a large square packed with people, men, women, and young children old enough to understand. It was somewhat unusual for women and children to be at such a gathering but their purpose for being there was unified, they had come to listen to God’s word.  Hearing the Law of Moses was vitally important since it had been neglected for so long. Some people were hearing it for the very first time.  

A high wooden platform had been built for this specific occasion. One reason was for the people to be able to both see and hear as Ezra read as well as to see the scroll. It was important that the thousands of people be able to see him. In addition, six men stood to one side and seven to the other, apparently leaders in the community. When the people saw Ezra, the priest, enter and unroll the scroll, everyone stood. This act could well be the reason many churches today have the congregation stand for the reading  of Scripture out of respect for God’s word. These Israelites stood for five to six hours as Ezra read all morning. At the conclusion he praised the Lord and the people, raising their hands and shouted, “Amen!” Then they bowed with their faces to the ground in worship. Did you notice how physically active their worship was―standing, kneeling, raising hands, and responding in unison? These gestures were not passive worship! 

Since the Law was in Hebrew and the people spoke Aramaic, the language of Babylon (!), a group of Levites translated and helped the people understand what was being read. As the “lights went on” and people began to understand the Scriptures, they began to weep in remorse and sadness for all their failure as the truth became more and more clear. Sometimes the truth can hurt. But their leaders encouraged the people in their repentance not to be downcast as the “joy of the Lord was their strength.”  

There is something so attractive to me about this passage. The Scripture was presented in a dramatic way and treated differently than any other reading. Do we take that kind of care in reading Scripture in our worship? Do we think “this is God speaking to us” as it is read? Are children with their parents in worship hearing God’s word in an intergenerational setting? Is the Bible being explained by knowledgeable people? Do we repent when confronted with God’s truth? Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was a feast day and people shared food, there was a strengthening of the community that day. But what strikes me the most in this whole event is the power of God’s word to convict and transform willing hearts. In reading this passage, I trust little “lights have gone on” in you on several fronts.

Music: “This Little Light of Mine”    Soweto Gospel Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VdBowMtGqA   Voices of Hope Children’s Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-cwM54SiPk   African Children’s Choir

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, how remarkable is it that you have written to us in our own language? It’s hard to comprehend that the Creator of the vast universe and all that exists speaks to  his creation with words, ideas, and thoughts that they can understand. Lord God, you give us guidance, direction, love, wisdom, correction and so much more. Forgive us for treating your Scriptures so lightly and so casually. All too often we listen to them like self-help words in a magazine article and not as God speaking to us. Quicken our hearts and minds as your word is read that we might listen with anticipation, expectation, and a hungering eagerness to hear the voice of your Spirit. These things we pray in the matchless name of our Savior Jesus our Lord. Amen.      ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, January 16, Wedding at Cana

Reader: “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee”

Response: “was the first time Jesus revealed his glory.”

Scripture: John 2:1-11

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.”

“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.

Some thoughts:

There are so many dynamics to this most familiar miracle it’s hard to know where to start. As we have mentioned previously, John’s gospel is not always set in chronological order. His purpose is always in pointing to who Jesus is so that people might believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). 

With this idea in mind, John 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. Each of these acts pointed beyond the immediate event but to the truth that the Kingdom of God had come among them in the person of Jesus Christ. 

There are several “next days” in the preceding verses of chapter one (29,35,43). On each of those days a significant event occurred, each one pointing to Jesus as the Messiah (baptism of Jesus, calling of the first disciples, and calling of additional disciples). We have people being attracted to following Jesus, but nothing overt has yet happened in terms of outward public action, until we come to today’s pericope. 

John mentions that this event occurred on “the third day.” Why mention that it is the third day. Some scholars have reasoned that Jesus was symbolically ushering in a new creation, similar in concept to his resurrection on the third day. Many Jewish weddings occur on Tuesday even today, 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! 

Cana in Galilee was a tiny village a few miles north of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. So it would be a short trip for his mother to attend. Mary is referred to in this gospel only as the “mother of Jesus.” What may seem to us as a rather blunt response in referring to her as “woman,” was not so in Jesus’ day. Rather, 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. We read the same address of women elsewhere. While hanging on the cross Jesus addresses his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” Likewise, following his resurrection, Jesus speaks to Mary Magdalene at the tomb 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. Apparently Joseph had died by this time since he is not mentioned.  When Jesus says at the wedding, “My time is not yet come,” that is a clear indication that he is not operating on an “earthly clock.” We hear this phrase from Jesus’ lips often. Though not referred to here, it is very likely that Jesus conferred with his Father in heaven before performing the miracle since elsewhere John records Jesus’ words: “I can of myself do nothing . . . I do not seek my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me (John 5:30). 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. Apparently Jesus’ time had come and his public ministry began with the changing of the water to the best wine ever created on earth!

Can you imagine your daughter getting married, hosting the wedding reception dinner for 150 of your closest friends and running out of food because you went with a cheap caterer? How embarrassing! The problem at this wedding was much larger. Jewish weddings in Jesus’ day were grand festive occasions, sometimes lasting a week or more! The host was expected to serve food and wine in abundance. It was a significant challenge for poor families to provide adequately. Apparently, that was the situation here. Running out of wine was considered a social disaster of major long-lasting humiliation for the brides’ family and a bumpy start to a new marriage. Jesus, responding to his Father’s will, solved the problem in abundance! He produced between 120 and 180 gallons of the best wine ever made on earth! Someday we’ll have a chance to drink it perhaps! Here again, we have a reminder of the overwhelming sufficiency of the Savior. Jesus’ obedience to the Father never faltered. 

While much more could be said, we need to stop. What is there for us in this account? Notice how Jesus didn’t tell anyone what he had done? He let the results of what he did speak for themselves. He asked the servants to do something (fill the jars) which they did in obedience. He worked a miracle and told them to take a sample to the wine steward. The servants were the ones who witnessed the miracle, not the wine steward. Which people were more impacted by what Jesus did, the guests, wine steward, the bride’s family, Mary, or the servants? Bottom line, people who are tuned to the Savior see the hand of God at work. Tune your heart today to the Father and watch.

Today’s song comes from the Sacred Harp tradition from the mid-1800’s having begun in the late 1700’s. There are sacred harp groups still singing today in the southern United States. This is an Epiphany song making reference to the magi.

Music: “Brightest and Best”

Bonus:  clip of Jesus changing the water to wine from “The Chosen”

This is a scene in episode five of Season One portraying today’s passage. You may want to watch the whole episode. I highly recommend watching “The Chosen” beginning with Season One episode one if you are unfamiliar with this free series.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, may we pay attention to what you are doing today. Forbid it Lord that we should ever minimize anything you do or anything you offer. We confess how very often we are consumed with ourselves, our perspectives, and our inflated opinions. Forgive us for our arrogance and dull spirits. On this day set aside that we might gather as the body of Christ, may we truly encounter you for the sole purpose of worshiping you. All too often we have come as greedy children wanting to be fed with no thought of offering worship to you. We have made ourselves the center of the service. Too often our main reason for going to church is to get a spiritual boost, an emotional uplift. Like those attending the wedding, we can easily be thrilled with the marvelous wine of worship and be oblivious to you, the Messiah, in our midst. Lord Jesus, you are the worship leader, our High Priest, who through the Holy Spirit transforms and carries our offerings to the Father. Have mercy on your children as we seek to know you better and give ourselves wholly to you day after day. These things we pray in the name of Jesus our Redeemer. Amen.                                                                        ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, January 9, 2022 The Baptism of Jesus

       Epiphany 2022

Adoration of the Magi - Marcos Zapata

                                             Preface

Epiphany has three primary themes historically: the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and the miracle of Jesus changing the water to wine at the wedding in Cana. Having focused on the visit of the Magi this past Epiphany Thursday, we’ll explore the baptism of Jesus this Sunday, the wedding miracle next Sunday, and additional Epiphany themes the remaining Sundays leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season on March 2nd. So you will receive an Epiphany devotional each of the next seven Sundays. There will be nothing during the week and then beginning Ash Wednesday you will receive daily devotionals through Pentecost on June 5th.

© Daniel Sharp 2022

Sunday, January 9, 2022 The Baptism of Jesus

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.”

Some thoughts: 

We just passed Epiphany a couple of days ago. Of the three themes that are associated with this day, our attention today is on the baptism of Jesus, which is normally celebrated the first Sunday after Epiphany. You may have wondered, “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 did Jesus insist on being baptized? 

In answer to the question we read in the book of Matthew the straight forward words,  “God requires it” (Mt. 3:15). But why? Jesus’ relationship with the Father was always one of submission to his Father’s will. This situation was no different. That submissive servant’s heart was further evidenced by his actions. In subjecting himself to baptism, Jesus openly identified with the sin of all humanity. In submitting to John’s baptism, he showed solidarity with a fallen human race in becoming our Redeemer Priest. 

Jesus’ baptism was also an affirmation of the validity of John’s baptism ministry. Jesus’ baptism demonstrated to his Father in heaven his embracing of the mission he came to do, a task that would involve his own great suffering and death. It is Luke who tells us that as Jesus was being baptized, he was praying and communing with his Father, and the heavens opened and a dove descended from heaven and rested on him, a further 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 his presence in various visible ways to humans. (This is not to say God came in the form of a dove.) For example, there is the Cloud of God’s presence 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 and filled by the Holy Spirit as a human from the moment of conception. The baptism was a public declaration of his Messiahship. This event marked the beginning of his public ministry. Remember his baptism occured right before his temptation by the devil in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts. God the Father declared 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 this world (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). 

Baptism by immersion, as in Jesus’ case, is also symbolic of dying to self with the old self being buried―put to death. In a way, Jesus was embracing what was to come in the sacrifice of himself for the reconciliation of the world. He was laying aside his privilege and prerogatives as the Son of God. When we talk about “living into our baptism” it is another way of saying we are to die daily to ourselves and embrace the grace of God giving us new life in Christ. We take up that cross again today in living out our baptism.

To me these affirmations from God reflect the relational intimacy between the Father and the Son during Jesus’ time on earth. The Father’s words of encouragement also underscore the humanity of Jesus. Humans need to be affirmed and encouraged in their earthly 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. Now you can begin to see how crucial was John’s baptism of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It opened the door into a new redeemed world.

Music: “Baptized in Water”    Jubilate

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 humbled yourself to become a human being, we must confess, we have no idea what that was like―even that is an understatement. We wonder about the under-the-breath remarks  and the snide comments behind their backs made to Mary and Joseph about your “miraculous birth.” 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 mostly confused as to what you had come to do. When you died there was but a single convert and he also died on the cross 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 gratitude 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

Devotional Resources for Advent 2021

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

The Little Book of Prayers, ed. David Schiller, Workman Publishing, NY

In the Presence of My Father, Laurence Brett, Helicon, Baltimore

Prayers for Sunday Services, St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh

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) 

THE MUSIC LINKS FOR ADVENT 2021

Nov.28  “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending”   John Rutter

Nov.29  “Advent Hymn”    Christy Nockels

Nov.30 “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”   Anna Hawkins

Dec.1  “How Great Thou Art”    Home Free

Bonus: “How Great Thou Art” Alan Jackson

Dec.2  “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry”

Bonus: Song of Zechariah      

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rYw41Tkk_c   Choral chant of Zechariah’s text

Dec.3  ““Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”     First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, NE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=119C58F3dnQ   (This is the right link!!)

Bonus: a slightly “Different version!” of Isaiah 40   George Family and Friends!

Dec.4   “Joy to the world”   JEHOVAH SHALOM ACAPELLA     GREAT new group! from Zambia   Don’t miss them!!!

Dec.5   “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”    Laura Story

Dec.6 “O Little Town of Bethlehem”   Salt Lake Vocal Artists    

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=196EvS9ohbM   (serene and peaceful, gorgeous!)

Dec.7 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”   Here are three very different settings of this ancient and beautiful Advent hymn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJ_-AW4nZnk    Luther College arr. Terre Johnson  You can see the actual music they are playing and follow along.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42_9vcMMlxo   APU Men’s Chorale  

Paul affirms Peter’s message today in the dialogue at the end of this rendition.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chLMSiozhL8   ChurchFolk

Dec.8 “What Child Is This?”  Fernando Ortega

Bonus: “What Child Is This?”  Chris Rupp and Home Free (In case you missed this from last year! Terrific!!

Dec.9 “Break Forth O Beauteous”  Choir of King’s College

Dedc.10  “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”     Chet Valley Churches (England)

Dec.11  “Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming” The Mirandola Ensemble 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPOElaGkNPI    (arrangement)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZB1eagIUxx4   Atlanta Master Chorale  (Original)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3YHODperFM   Alex Stephens   

(arrangement one guy singing all the parts)

Dec.12   “It Came Upon A  Midnight Clear”    The Singers,   arr.Matthew Culloton

Dec.13  “Now Is Born the Divine Christ Child”  Westminster Choir

Dec.14  “ “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”    Luther Nordic Choir

Dec.15  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”   to the tune of Forest Green

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAU5Xg-o-eM     The Brits do sing!

Dec.16 “ “I Wonder As I Wander”    Audry Assad

Bonus:  “I Wonder As I Wander”     Cambridge Singers   arr. John Rutter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whERHDBeygg   Vocore

Dec.17 “On This Day Earth Shall Ring”  URC Psalmody    

“Ideo, in excelsis Deo” is Latin for “Therefore, glory to God in the highest.”

Bonus: “On This Day Earth Shall Ring”    King’s College Cambridge

Dec.18 “O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion”    St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia9xoGmjOHM       For those of you wondering(!) the soloist is what is called a countertenor using a well-developed falsetto.

Dec.19 “Long Ago, Prophets Knew” Chet Valley Churches  

                     (beautiful carol, marvelous text)

Dec.20  “O Magnum Mysterium”   Lauridsen          Voces8   glorious recording!!!!

Bonus: Morten Lauridsen the composer talking about the composition of this masterpiece. Fascinating!    DO NOT MISS THIS

“O Magnum Mysterium”   King’s College Choir  with video

Dec.21 “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine”       Dale Warland Singers

Dec.22 “Angels We Have Heard on High”   Libera

Bonus:   “Angels We Have Heard on High”    Home Free   beautiful arrangement

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teSuDu84kMc        (This is seven years old and I’ve used it before I admit. It’s a wonderful setting that focuses on the text and music and doesn’t try to be clever as some of the other a cappella groups. It’s also been viewed 9.5 million times!)

Dec.23  “Mary Did You Know?”    7thAve Band   (new group) wow!

Dec.24  “Magnificat”  African Sisters

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

“Magnificat”    J.S.  Bach    Ton Koopman        This performance in Bach’s Church!

“Magnificat”  John Rutter    The Cambridge Singers

Dec.25  The Shepherd’s Pipe Carol”    John Rutter   King’s College Choir

“Glory to God”  from Messiah   St. Paul Chamber Orchestra  

“Glory to God” Ron Nelson old and fuzzy video, Cantare Con Vivo, BEAUTIFUL MUSIC!!

Ddec.26  “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”  arr. David Willcocks  Choral Society of Grace Church, New York

Dec.27 “Sing We Now of Christmas”    Prestonwood Choir & Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKzdaEd6Ths    (Prestonwood Baptist, Houston,TX!)

Dec.28  “Away in a Manger”  Anúna

Dec.29  “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Night”   Atlanta Master Chorale

Dec.30  “Go Tell It on the Mountain”    AnthemLights Band

 “Go Tell It on the Mountain”  Home Free

Dec.31   “This Little Light of Mine”     Odetta   

“This Little LIght of Mine”    Soweto Gospel Choir

“This Little Light of Mine”  arr. Moses Hogan     TCU Concert Chorale

​​https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfR-i9iDUs8

Jan.1  “Go Tell It on the Mountain” Mahalia Jackson   The Best!

 “Go Tell It on the Mountain”   Angel City Chorale

Jan.2  “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”  Caitlene       

Jan.3 “Good Christian Men Rejoice”     King’s College Choir

Jan.4 ““Mary Did You Know?”  Mark Lowery and Voctave   A repeat from another year. The best recording of this sung by the guy who wrote it! Fantastic singers!

Jan.5  “Everywhere I Go, Somebody Talkin’ ‘bout Jesus”    Chanticleer

Jan.6 “We Three Kings”     Fox and Hound with Tim Foust

Music Groups for Advent 2021

African Singers        Dec.24

Alan Jackson           Dec.1

Alex Stephens         Dec.11

Angel City Chorale   Jan.1

AnthemLights Band Dec.30

Anúna                       Dec.28

APU Men’s Chorale   Dec.7

Atlanta Master Chorale  Dec.11,29

Audrey Assad             Nov.30, Dec.16

British Choir?                 Dec.2

Caitlene                             Jan.2

Cambridge Singers           Dec.16,24

Cantare Con Vivo                   Dec.25

Chanticleer                              Jan.5

Chet Valley Churches (England) Dec.10,19

Chris Rupp & Home Free             Dec.8

Christy Nockels                   Nov.29

Choir of King’s College         Dec.9,25

Choral Society of Grace Church   Dec.26

ChurchFolk                           Dec.7

Dale Warland Singers         Dec.21

Diocese of St. Benedict       Dec.2

Fernando Ortega                 Dec8

First Plymouth Church               Dec.3

Fox and Hound with Tim Foust   Jan.6

George Family                      Dec.2

Home Free                        Dec.1,22,30

Jehovah Shalom                   Dec.4

John Rutter                     Nov.28   

King’s College Choir   Dec.17, 20, Jan.3

Laura Story                 Dec.5

Libera                          Dec.22

Luther College             Dec.7, 14

Mahalia Jackson            Jan.1

Mirandola Ensemble      Dec.11

Odetta                              Dc.31

Prestonwood Choir               Dec.27

Salt Lake Vocal Artists            Dec.6

Soweto Gospel  Choir          Dec.31

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra   Dec.18,25

TCU Concert Chorale          Dec.31

The Singers                             Dec.12 (Matthew Culloton)

Ton Koopman                    Dec.24

URC Psalmody                 Dec.17

Voces8                            Dec.20

Vocore                           Dec.16

Voctave                         Jan.4

Westminster Choir        Dec.13

7thAve Band                  Dec.23

Scripture Index Advent 2021

I Samuel 1:24-2:11 12/22/21

I Chronicles 28:1-10   12/29/21

2 Chronicles 1:7-13 12/20/21

Psalm 80:1-7          12/17/21

Psalm 90               12/1/21

Isaiah 11:1-9          12/13/21

Isaiah 40:1-15        12/18/21

Jeremiah 31:7-14     1/5/22

Amos 6:1-8           12/9/21

Amos 8:4-12          12/10/21

Micah 5:2-5a          12/15/21

Malachi 3:13-18     12/3/21

Malachi 4:1-6         12/4/21

Matthew 2:1-12        1/6/22

Luke 1:26-38          12/19/21

Luke 1:39-45          12/23/21

Luke 1:57-66         12/11/21

Luke 1:68-79         12/2/21

Luke 2:1-20            12/25/21

Luke 2:41-52          12/26/21

Luke 3:7-18           12/12/21

Luke 7:18-30          12/8/21

Luke 8:16-21            1/3/22

Luke 21:25-36       11/28/21

John 1:1-3, 10-18    1/2/22

John 8:12-19           12/31/21

John 21:19b-24       12/27/21

Acts 7:44-53             1/4/22

Acts 28:23-31          12/14/21

Romans 8:22-25     12/6/21

Philippians 1:3-11     12/5/21

Hebrews 10:10-18   12/16/21

2 Peter 1:2-15          12/7/21

2 Peter 3:1-18           11/29/21

Revelation 21:1-7     12/28/21

Rev.22:12-16            11/30/21

© Daniel Sharp 2021

Thursday, January 6, Epiphany

Reader: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea,” 

Response: “during the reign of King Herod.”

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.

Some thoughts:

Once again we have come to the last of our daily devotionals for the Advent/Christmastide season. Starting this coming Sunday, you will receive a Sunday devotional each week until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent when the daily devotionals will resume. You do not need to re-subscribe.

Traditionally Epiphany has been marked by three most significant events in the life of Jesus, the visit of the magi, his baptism and his first public miracle of changing water to wine at the marriage feast. An epiphany is the moment “the light goes on,” the “Oh, I get it!” moment. One of the unexpected surprises for the Jews was that the Messiah would be for all peoples, all nations. Several books in the New Testament spend significant time helping the Jewish Christians grasp this truth. The first clue that things were different was the visitation of the magi, non-Jews coming to pay homage to the newborn Jewish Messiah. God made sure that message was clear from the beginning, Jesus was a Savior for all peoples.

We know Herod was a wicked king hated by the Jews. A little background can give some perspective. Herod was an Edomite, descending from Esau, Jacob’s brother. You’ll recall Esau gave his birthright to Jacob (and God’s blessing) in exchange for a bowl of soup! He married a non-Israelite to boot (forbidden by law). The Edomites were enemies of Israel. In addition, Herod collaborated with the Roman occupiers to gain power which further secured disdain for him. He never felt completely legitimate as king and was paranoid, killing two of his wives, three sons and other relatives he feared were plotting against him. When the Scripture says he was “disturbed . . . as was everyone” there was good reason! Knowing his fearful insecurity, he was jealous of the child “newborn king of the Jews.” Herod had usurped the throne for himself through treachery but this child was born as king of Israel. Notice Herod refers to Jesus as the child not the baby. There is thought that Jesus was between six and eighteen months old when the magi visited him and his parents in a house in Bethlehem. God protected his Son by warning the wisemen to go home by another route without telling Herod and then spoke to Joseph in a dream to take his family to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to kill all baby boys two years old and younger.

These are all well-known facts surrounding Jesus’ birth, so what is there here for us? 

First, God protects his own, sometimes via dreams; he is not distant. Second, God’s time is always the perfect time. It is ironic that the devil used Herod to try to kill God’s Son when he was born, yet years later God’s Son voluntarily gave up his life which brought redemption. So the Son of God did die, but on God’s terms not the devil’s. The result was the salvation of the whole world was made possible. Third, God is very aware of the details in our lives. He spoke to Joseph via a dream on four different occasions. 

There are no easy roads in following the Lord. It seems he is more interested in developing our character and relationship to him than he is in making sure our life is smooth. I’m afraid much of our prayer life is concerned with asking for more pleasant circumstances to make life easier. That’s not what God is working on.

Think of the stress Mary and Joseph dealt with. The king wanted to kill their son. They were the parents charged with raising the Son of God. Talk about an overwhelming responsibility! They were far from home and wouldn’t be back for a long while. They moved to a foreign land with a different language. They were strangers in an unknown land. They were traveling on foot with a small child less than two years old through a desert! They did have gold, frankincense and myrrh which may have been their finances to survive. As unsettling as all of this may have been, God provided just what they needed when they needed it. The same applies to us. 

Music: “We Three Kings”     Fox and Hound with Tim Foust

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. Thou art our preserver, governor, savior, and coming judge. Quiet our souls to call upon thy name; detach us from the influence of the flesh and the senses; impress us with the power of faith; promote in us spirituality of mind that will render our services acceptable to thee, and delightful and profitable to ourselves. Bring us into that state which attracts thine eye, and prepare us to receive the proofs of thy love. Show us our danger, that we may fly to thee for refuge. Perceiving nothing in ourselves, may we find in the Savior wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    

                                  ―BCP and Valley of Vision, p.218, adapted Daniel Sharp

© Daniel Sharp 2021

I want to thank you all for sharing these past forty days and for sharing these devotionals with friends. I appreciate your passing the link along. 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, meditate, study, and listen. I trust the music and prayers have likewise encouraged and edified you. I’ve listed the resources below. Blessings on you all and thank you for your kind words of encouragement.

Source Books for Prayers, Music List of Songs, Names of Musical Groups, Scripture Index of Passages used are all listed by date and will come in a separate email today.

Dan

dansharp9@gmail.com                 

4017 Isle Vista Ave.

Belle Isle, FL   32812

Wednesday, January 5

Reader: “I will turn their mourning into joy.”

Response: “I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.”

Scripture: Jeremiah 31:7-14

Now this is what the Lord says:

“Sing with joy for Israel.

    Shout for the greatest of nations!

Shout out with praise and joy:

‘Save your people, O Lord,

    the remnant of Israel!’

For I will bring them from the north

    and from the distant corners of the earth.

I will not forget the blind and lame,

    the expectant mothers and women in labor.

    A great company will return!

Tears of joy will stream down their faces,

    and I will lead them home with great care.

They will walk beside quiet streams

    and on smooth paths where they will not stumble.

For I am Israel’s father,

    and Ephraim is my oldest child.

“Listen to this message from the Lord,

    you nations of the world;

    proclaim it in distant coastlands:

The Lord, who scattered his people,

    will gather them and watch over them

    as a shepherd does his flock.

For the Lord has redeemed Israel

    from those too strong for them.

They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem.

    They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts—

the abundant crops of grain, new wine, and olive oil,

    and the healthy flocks and herds.

Their life will be like a watered garden,

    and all their sorrows will be gone.

The young women will dance for joy,

    and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration.

I will turn their mourning into joy.

    I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.

The priests will enjoy abundance,

    and my people will feast on my good gifts.

    I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Some thoughts:

These are tough days in our world wherever you live. It is so important to remember what is absolutely true―God will ultimately bring complete restoration to his people. We turn to Jeremiah for encouragement. Known as the “weeping” prophet, his message of repentance and turning to the Lord was never received by the people even once in forty years! Talk about being discouraged! For Israel was rebellious, forsaking God and chasing all forms of idolatry. And God brought a heavy judgment upon the people and sent them into exile as a result. Jeremiah had to endure it all as he lived among the people. While the Bible doesn’t tell us how he died, tradition tells us that he was stoned by his own people, the Jews in Egypt.

But God promised to love his people with an everlasting love. Eventually, he brought together his people from the four corners of the world back to their homeland to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This occurred in 539-538 B.C. But in 70 A.D. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans and the nation once again scattered over the following centuries. It was not until 1948 that the nation of Israel was reborn. 

While Jeremiah’s words applied to the situation in his day, there is an element of these words that speaks to our day. Like the rebellious Israelites we too are in a kind of exile, an exile from the Lord in our nations and in our cultures. The world around us has clearly rejected anything having to do with God, his truth, his Son. But make no mistake, “The Lord, who scattered his people, will gather them and watch over them as a shepherd does his flock.” Note the all-encompassing joy in the last half of today’s reading. The Lord has promised there is coming a day when the grief, evil, hatred, rebellion, lawlessness, immorality of our world will end. There will be no more sorrow, sickness, or sin for God will live in the midst of his people and there will be everlasting joy in his presence. The sheep and the goats will be separated in judgment and our Savior Jesus Christ will reign forever and ever. Be encouraged, this day will surely come to pass for “I, the Lord, have spoken!” May the song you are about to hear be our song for the coming year!

Music: “Everywhere I Go, Somebody Talkin’ ‘bout Jesus”    Chanticleer

Prayer:

Father Almighty and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. For from the beginning to the end of days you are the eternal Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But at this season we thank and praise you because through love for us men, the eternal Son came down in humility. Eternal Wisdom became a child in time. He dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son. He took upon him our weakness and shame that he might give to us his own splendor. He shone for a little while in our darkness, that we might forever dwell with him in light. He has not left us lonely in the midst of time but is ever with us through the power of his Spirit to govern, to inspire, and to save. Therefore, in joyful hope of his coming again with the universal Church, and with all the company of heaven we praise you in the angels’ hymn, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might . . .    ―Prayers for Sunday Services, p.63.

Tuesday, January 4

Reader: “The Most High doesn’t live in temples”

Response: “made by human hands.”

Scripture: Acts 7:44-53

“Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.

“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it. However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,

    and the earth is my footstool.

Could you build me a temple as good as that?’

    asks the Lord.

‘Could you build me such a resting place?

    Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’

“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.”

Some thoughts:

This particular passage comes at the very end of Stephen’s defense of his faith. You can go back to the beginning of chapter seven to read the entire masterful argument he unfolds. At this point historically, Christianity was spreading rapidly and the Jewish religious leadership who had rejected Jesus were threatened and angry and had Stephen arrested. He spoke the gospel with grace and power and had performed amazing miracles. The people were responsive to his message but out of jealousy the Jewish leadership had Stephen arrested accusing him of speaking against the Temple and the law of Moses, both hot topics for the Jewish leadership. Their accusations were that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple and that he would change the customs Moses had handed down. At that point we enter chapter seven. 

Stephen brilliantly walks this hostile crowd through Israel’s history beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob down through the twelve patriarchs of Israel, ending with Moses and the Exodus. (Note: he started his argument on common ground by repeating what  they all knew and would accept. Good advice when sharing the gospel.) He reminded his listeners to think back of their rebellious ancestors and their wandering the forty years in the wilderness.

He then moves to the Tabernacle question they raised. The Tabernacle had been the dwelling place of God during the desert years. God gave Moses very specific plans as to how it was to be constructed. The presence of God hovering over the ark of the covenant housed in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle was a continual visible reminder to the people that God was always with them. Later, King David got plans from the Lord to build a glorious, permanent Temple for God in Jerusalem, which his son, Solomon, built. Stephen then quotes three rhetorical questions of Isaiah, which in essence say that God won’t be confined to a man made building. After all, heaven is God’s throne; earth his footstool. Humans could never compete with what God can do.

The truth is that Jesus Christ is the new temple. God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. No building is necessary to house God; no specific place confines his presence.

Stephen then calls out the people’s rebellion against the prophets and against the witness of the Holy Spirit in their betrayal and murder of the Messiah. They have in essence killed the Temple of God. The Jewish leadership exploded in anger at being confronted with the truth of their own sin and stoned Stephen to death, he becoming the first Christian martyr. Interestingly, a man holding the coats of those doing the stoning was none other than Saul of Tarsus who later became the Apostle Paul.

What are some lessons we might learn from Stephen’s argument for faith? 1) Start a conversation on common ground, something true you can both agree on. 2) Stick with facts. 3) Build your case progressively. 4) Seek for clarity. 5) Draw it to a close, to a point of decision. 6) Rest in God’s hands for whatever the results may be.

When we go to church to worship with God’s people as the visible body of Christ, we are not dependent upon a building to make worship happen. True worship happens when our hearts commune with the Holy Spirit and we engage in the truth of Jesus Christ as our Incarnate mediator. Buildings can provide places and resources but unless the worship is offered in spirit and in truth we have only religious activity. God does not dwell in temples made with human hands but in the hearts of those who call him their Lord. “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.”  (I Corinthians 6:19) Just ask Stephen.

Music: “Mary Did You Know?”  Mark Lowery and Voctave   A repeat from another year. A great recording of this sung by the guy who wrote it! Fantastic singers!  (I know you heard this a few weeks ago with another group.)

Prayer:

Father in heaven, the words of Stephen, “you are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth” is too often true of me. I go through worship with my heart too often in neutral, drifting “in and out of gear.” Help me to better understand what it means to have my body as your temple, your dwelling place. It’s hard for me to realize I’m that significant to you. I pray to have a clearer picture of your perspective. This I pray through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.    

  ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, January 3

Reader: “So pay attention” 

Response: “to how you hear.”

Scripture: Luke 8:16-21  (Jesus speaking)

“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they couldn’t get to him because of the crowd. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to see you.”

Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”

Some thoughts:

One of the main ways Jesus taught was through parables. The truths of the parables were for those who could “see” and for those who couldn’t, they remained hidden, a mystery. In Jesus’ own words regarding the latter, “When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.”  Rejecting the gospel results in being blinded to the truth. Being blind is believing you understand when in fact your mind has been darkened. Many people today who have rejected Jesus believe they have understood him. Because of their rejection, even what they think they know about him will be taken away. That is an awful position to be in.

Jesus uses the same example he taught in his Sermon on the Mount concerning displaying the light of a lamp. Eventually everything will be made light and known to everyone. But in some cases, it will be too late. What he is driving at is the need to pay attention to how you hear now. Those who listen and act on what Jesus has said will be given more understanding. 

Luke reiterates an event that further illustrates Jesus’ point of acting on what Jesus has said, in other words, putting our faith into actions. Jesus teaches that truth in an interesting and surprising way. His mother, Mary, and several of his brothers (some manuscripts add “and sisters”) came to see him and talk with him. In fact, Matthew and Mark both tell us his family members wanted to talk with him. Their oldest brother had gained considerable fame and there was some thought from Matthew and Mark’s account that they thought Jesus was overdoing it with his constant teaching and healing nonstop and they wanted to take him back home for some rest. Notice that Jesus was so tuned to his Father in heaven’s voice that not even his mother and brothers and sisters could push him off the call of his mission. 

This instance is a wonderful example of humans’ limited understanding of God’s direction in a person’s life. In Jesus’ response, he is not putting down familial relationships but rather putting them into a godly perspective. Certainly Jesus has said enough about honoring parents, caring for children and widows and marriage to know that he greatly valued the family structure. Compared to hearing God’s word and doing it, family takes second place. In other words, no relationship, even family ones, supersedes hearing God’s word and obeying what you hear. So Jesus’ response was perfect. Those people who hear God’s word and obey it are our true adopted brothers and sisters in Christ. These words of Jesus are why the local church is so important and a part of God’s design. The church you go to is your family. Don’t neglect them. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Do not forsake the assembling together as is the habit of some.” (Heb.10:25)

Music: “Good Christian Men Rejoice”     King’s College Choir

Prayer:

Thou, who art the true Sun of the world, evermore rising, and never going down; who, by Thy most wholesome appearing and sight dost nourish, and make joyful all things as well that are in heaven, as also that are on earth; we beseech Thee mercifully and favorably to shine into our hearts that the night and darkness of sin, and the mists of error on every side being driven away, Thou brightly shining within our hearts, we may all our life long go without any stumbling or offence, and may walk as in the daytime, being pure and clean from the works of darkness, and abounding in all good works which thou hast prepared for us to walk in. Let me so pass through the misty desert of this world by thy light going before me; as I may neither be defiled with Satan’s wiles, nor be entangled with any errors disagreeing from thy truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.          ―Erasmus, The Book of Uncommon Prayer, p.65,66

Saturday, January 1, The Holy Name of Jesus

Reader: “He was named Jesus,”

Response: “the name given him by the angel.”

Scripture: Luke 2:15-21

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.

Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

Some thoughts:

As we begin a new year, let’s write about naming babies and circumcision for boys on the eighth day. Maybe you could bring up these topics for a lively discussion at halftime of the football games . . . or maybe not! Today is eight days after Christmas when we celebrated the birth of Christ. So we’re keeping the same chronological sequence as the Scriptures. I think such a focus will give us a little deeper understanding of the role of Jesus in connecting both Testaments. The first part of today’s reading gives us the context for the last sentence on which I’d like us to focus. It may seem a little strange, but there are things to be gleaned in each phrase or word.

In reading several Rabbi’s discussions on the “why” of the eighth day, one not surprisingly finds several differing suggestions. The first and most direct one is simply God said to do it on the eighth day (Gen.17:9-14). Numbers are very important symbolically in Judaism. The number seven is the perfect number. E.g. seven colors of the rainbow, seven notes in a musical scale, seven days of creation, etc. Seven is the most sacred number, a number of completeness, of perfection. The eighth day is the symbol of a new order. The Resurrection occurred on the eighth day. The boy has lived through his first week and now it’s time to identify with God and God’s people so he is named and circumcised.

We turn first to circumcision. We’ve mentioned on other occasions (see last year’s January 1 devotional entry) that the medical benefit of doing the procedure specifically on the eighth day is because clotting is at its highest level. But what is the significance? Circumcision was practiced in other cultures and is not unique to Judaism. In the Bible it is symbolic of removal of sin and an old identity and most importantly is a physical mark of inclusion into a covenant community in relationship with God. To use the phrase from the New Living Translation notes, “Circumcision was God’s signature [of his covenant] in the flesh.” p.54. It identified the Jews as God’s chosen covenant people down through the generations. 

As the boy grew to adulthood God was concerned with not only the physical act but also  a circumcision of the individual’s heart (Deut.16:10). Outwardly it was a symbol of separation from the world, a people set apart for God, and most importantly, the circumcision of the heart was an inward demonstration of faithfulness to and fellowship with God. The act was both outwardly physical and inwardly spiritual.

The second significant event of the eighth day was the naming of the boy. Names were given in reference to a characteristic or quality of that person. For example the Hebrew name of Jacob means “usurper” which is exactly what he did in stealing his brother’s birthright or Abram’s name (“exalted father”) was changed to Abraham (“father of multitudes” (Gen. 17:5). You’ll recall when the angel visited Mary and later Joseph to tell him the news regarding Mary’s pregnancy, he told both of them to name the baby boy, Jesus, and then gave each the meaning of his name, “he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21). This is exactly what Jesus’ mission on earth was and is. 

Here we have another example of Joseph and Mary following Jewish law even as their baby boy fulfilled all the directives of God as Jesus identified with sinners from the very first days of his life on earth. What does your own name mean? Do you reflect its meaning or character? Just curious. 

Music:  “Go Tell It on the Mountain” Mahalia Jackson   The Best!

 “Go Tell It on the Mountain”   Angel City Chorale

Prayer:

Almighty God, have mercy upon us, who, when troubled with the things that are past, lose faith, and life, and courage, and hope. So have mercy upon us, and uphold us, that we, being sustained by a true faith that Thou art merciful and forgiving, may go on in the life of the future to keep Thy commandments, to rejoice in Thy bounty, to trust in Thy mercy, and to hope in the eternal life. Grant unto all of us, whatsoever may betide us, to remember ever that it is all of Thy guidance, under Thy care by Thy will; that so, in darkest days, beholding Thee we may have courage to go on, faith to endure, patience to bear, and hopefulness to hold out, even unto the end. Amen.                                                          ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.1

Sunday, January 2, Second Sunday in Christmastide

Reader: “The Word was with God,”

Response: “and the Word was God.”

Scripture: John 1:1-3, 10-18

In the beginning the Word already existed.

    The Word was with God,

    and the Word was God.

He existed in the beginning with God.

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.

John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Some thoughts:

Today’s passage of Scripture is one of the most profound in all of the Bible. Books, doctoral dissertations, debates, and countless pages of theology have been penned regarding these few verses. Building on these verses, eighty-five percent of John’s gospel is unique from the Synoptics. As many of his readers had never seen or heard Jesus speak (he is writing about 60 years after the resurrection,) John’s focus is on the God/Man Jesus, the Son of God. So he starts at the beginning of the man Jesus! The theological word encompassing this discussion is Incarnation.

Everything you can think of has a beginning point. A human life begins when the egg and sperm unite. A building begins to be built when that first shovel of dirt is turned. A novel begins when that first word is written down. Music begins when the downbeat is given and  we hear the first note. A day begins when the sun comes over the horizon. A relationship begins with that first date. Faith has a beginning the moment someone puts their trust in Jesus for their salvation. This “beginning point” truth is what makes the first sentence of today’s pericope unique in all the world. John begins his gospel the same way Moses began Genesis!

“In the beginning the Word already existed! Having always existed means the Word dwells outside existence itself because he is the Creator of “existence.” Yet he chose for a period of time to dwell within the creation he made in order to redeem it. The word used is actually “tabernacled” among us. In other words, the Old Testament Tabernacle in the desert housing the presence of God above the Ark of the Covenant was replaced by the presence of God in human flesh, in which Jesus was the Tabernacle. When the baby was born in the manger, it wasn’t as if he had not existed previously. But then there was that moment . . . a beginning of the “in the flesh” Word. The Word was always with God because the Word was God. There was never a “beginning” to that relationship nor did it change when Jesus took on human flesh. 

John is writing from firsthand experience as he says, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” You’ll recall that John was one of the three, along with Peter and James, to observe Jesus’ interaction with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration (Mt.17:1-13). As the encounter concluded the brilliant light and glory of God showed forth in Jesus and the disciples fell to their knees in fear and wonder.

I am wondering if the Incarnation were to occur in our lifetimes rather than two millennia ago, how would we respond? Like the Jews we would have been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. We’d have been waiting 4,000 years since the time of Abraham! And now, here was a remarkable man healing every person with an illness, he has brought back to life some people we know who have died, he has restored limbs and instantly healed people with Alzheimer’s. He talked continually about the Kingdom of Heaven and asked us to “follow him” leaving what we were doing. Would we commit our life to believing that this human being was actually the Creator of the universe and all that exists, who has never not existed and was in fact God in the flesh, the long awaited Messiah? Would you leave your job to follow him when he said “follow me”? How would you respond? What would your friends and family say? That was the call to the disciples.

You’ve figured out by now that this scenario is exactly the situation today. When Jesus came the first time, very few people recognized who he was. Even the Jews, his own people, rejected him. In our day, very few people in our world pay any attention or give a second thought to the claims of Jesus of Nazareth. In their minds he is nothing more than a dead historical figure from the distant past. 

But what a contrast for those who do believe! They are his adopted children. They experience a spiritual birth. Whereas the Son of God came from heaven born into humanity into a natural physical body, the natural physical bodies of human beings are reborn to a spiritual body to eventually dwell in heaven. And this new spiritual birth comes from God, not something human beings can generate. 

These are all things we all know and have heard before. But for many, many people around us, they have never grasped these glorious truths. They have yet to realize that Jesus of Nazareth is not a dead historical figure from ancient history, but is alive now, transforming the lives of all who put their trust in him. During this coming year, let each of us endeavor to encourage those around us to consider contacting the One who created them. He’s always available. In his Spirit he is tabernacled among us and in us!

Music: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”  Caitlene       

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, the wonder of the humility and love you have shown simply leaves us without words. We kneel before you, trusting you with our lives for all eternity. This we pray through you Jesus, who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, throughout eternity. Amen.                         ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, December 31

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.”

Some thoughts:

One of the First Testament pericopes Isaiah (9:2) proclaims, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” Could our present day world be described anymore clearly? People all around us walk and live in a land of deep darkness. Too morbid? Watch or read the news. Godlessness abounds. And people aren’t even aware they are living and walking in darkness. There is no shame. I’ve mentioned this before, but years ago I talked briefly with a young Jewish man who had found the Messiah and had become a solid believer. I haven’t forgotten his comment to me. “When I became a Christian, I discovered a whole new world I never knew even existed!” He came from darkness to light.

The portion of Scripture you just read is part of a larger section encompassing chapters seven and eight of John. Jesus was present in Jerusalem teaching at the Temple and a conflict arose as to who he was. Was he the Messiah? He made strong claims saying his message was coming from God. There is a short insert (8:1-11) and then the conflict intensifies bringing us to today’s passage as Jesus remains in Jerusalem teaching.

Earlier in chapter seven the Festival of Tabernacles concluded with a celebratory pouring of water over the altar. In that setting Jesus proclaimed anyone coming to him would receive living water. Now he claims to be the light of the world telling the people very straightforwardly that they are walking in darkness. Their whole world is in the dark. The Pharisees were troubled because, among other things, he was breaking their Jewish law by including all people, not just the Jews.

We need to move beyond words here to have a clearer picture of the context. During the Feast of Tabernacles, four towering menorahs with four golden bowls each were filled with oil and lit in the Temple. The wicks were made of worn-out priests’ garments. They burned all night flooding the Temple grounds and the streets of Jerusalem with light. This ceremony was a part of the pouring of water mentioned above. It happened every night of the festival. All of this light was reminiscent of the Shekinah glory of the days of Solomon’s Temple and, as Ezekiel proclaimed, was looking forward to the return of the Shekinah in the days of Messiah. So there is a Messianic aspect to the Feast of Tabernacles with an expectation of the Messiah coming during that festival. (Overwhelming light is still a significant part of the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles today in Jewish practice today.)

 Now picture Jesus standing beneath these brilliant lights proclaiming, “I am the light of the world.” He is claiming to be the Shekinah glory of God, the Messiah in the flesh! While the significance of saying “I am the light of the world” may skip over our heads, to the Pharisees and all the Jewish people gathered, they knew exactly what he was claiming and rejected his testimony. The light Jesus offered would end the darkness of the whole world through the gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. The light source was not oil in lamps but the Incarnate Son of God who was not a reflection of God’s glory, but the very Source.

Knowing the law, the Pharisees claimed that Jesus needed two witnesses to validate his claim (Deut. 19:15) and from their standpoint he did not have them. Again, Jesus answered them directly. “I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me.” You Pharisees are trying to judge me by human standards. In my claim as light of the world, I am one witness and my Father is another witness as to the truth of what I say. Then, still not understanding, came the Pharisees’ obvious question, “Where is your father?” Jesus’ answer is timeless in that it is true and descriptive of our world today. “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.” 

The light of the star led the Magi to Bethlehem to worship the infant Light of the World. As you go about today and tomorrow, let the light of the Savior shine as we endeavor to reflect his glory in a very dark world that others may come out of darkness into the light that leads to life that never ends.

Music: Three glorious different settings. You’ll love them!

 “This Little Light of Mine”     Odetta   

“This Little LIght of Mine”    Soweto Gospel Choir

“This Little Light of Mine”  arr. Moses Hogan     TCU Concert Chorale

​​https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfR-i9iDUs8      

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, the Light of the world, how dark is the world we live in. David wrote, “I could ask darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night―but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.” Lord I ask that those hiding in darkness afraid of your light may have courage to realize they cannot hide or run from you. May we be helpful and have courage in pointing people to your light of the gospel wherever we go. This world is in need of such a drastic renewal by your Spirit. Shine in us. We pray this in the name of Jesus, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God world without end. Amen.    

                                                                                      ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, December 30

Reader: “What do you want?”

Response: “Ask, and I will give it to you!”

Scripture: 2 Chronicles 1:7-13

That night God appeared to Solomon and said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”

Solomon replied to God, “You showed great and faithful love to David, my father, and now you have made me king in his place. O Lord God, please continue to keep your promise to David my father, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth! Give me the wisdom and knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?”

God said to Solomon, “Because your greatest desire is to help your people, and you did not ask for wealth, riches, fame, or even the death of your enemies or a long life, but rather you asked for wisdom and knowledge to properly govern my people—I will certainly give you the wisdom and knowledge you requested. But I will also give you wealth, riches, and fame such as no other king has had before you or will ever have in the future!”

Then Solomon returned to Jerusalem from the Tabernacle at the place of worship in Gibeon, and he reigned over Israel.

Some thoughts:

In following yesterday’s devotional we continue the story as Solomon assumes his role as God’s choice to be Israel’s next king. Note from yesterday that one of David’s challenges to Solomon was to know God intimately. Evidently Solomon followed David’s advice for here we read of God speaking to Solomon and asking him what he wanted for God had promised to give him anything he wished. We’re all aware that the new king asked for wisdom and knowledge to govern such a large nation. His greatest concern was for helping his people, not power or wealth for himself. (I wonder how many of our national leaders ever ask for such?) God’s answer to Solomon not only gave him what he asked for but riches, wealth and great fame as well. God’s response was lavish in response to Solomon’s request. 

Notice Solomon did not ask for things material, but for things of character, of substance. So often I’m afraid our requests are to relieve pressured situations, to get rid of burdens, to alleviate stress or resolve conflict. Certainly there are the “deliver me O Lord” prayers but it seems there ought also to be the “give me grace to endure” and the “help me to reflect Christ” in these difficult circumstances. Or a “grant dear, Lord, that I would be filled with your peace as I go through this difficult procedure.” 

The Lord was with Solomon as he was with the Lord. But some of that wisdom left as he was lured away from that intimacy with God by his marriages to many wives from different cultures and different religious practices. I doubt that he decided one day I’m going to abandon God’s leading in my life. More likely, he got preoccupied with many wives, children, buildings, and the busyness of life. I’m afraid he lost true family life with seven hundred wives!

One of the sad observations of Scripture is that all too often sons of godly fathers turned out to be scoundrels and quite the opposite of their fathers. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was such a son as he followed his father to the throne. He acted unwisely in dealing with his people with the result that he split the kingdom of Israel into ten northern tribes and two southern ones, one of which was Judah. God’s promise to David that the Messiah would come through his lineage was fulfilled, even though many flawed Israelite kings followed David and Solomon. Even though people fail at different points, God’s master plan does not get pushed off course. We are defined not by our past, but by our present. And, praise God, Jesus takes care of both. With Jesus it is always “from this day forward.”

Music: “Go Tell It on the Mountain”    AnthemLights Band

 “Go Tell It on the Mountain”  Home Free

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, with deepest gratitude we thank you that we are not defined and forever branded by our past. We have done things for which we are ashamed and embarrassed before you. We have made stupid decisions and acted foolishly. Yet you have made our reconciliation with you and others possible. You begin in our life right where we are today. You walk with us from this day forward. You wash us clean again and again. Grant that we would have the wisdom to rest in you, to abandon our own way and walk in the perfect path you have planned. May all of our lives on this earth be all that you hoped for and planned that we might bring glory and honor to you our Master and Savior. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.                       ―Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, December 29

Reader: “Learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately.”

Response: “Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind.”

Scripture: I Chronicles 28:1-10

David summoned all the officials of Israel to Jerusalem—the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of the army divisions, the other generals and captains, the overseers of the royal property and livestock, the palace officials, the mighty men, and all the other brave warriors in the kingdom. David rose to his feet and said: “My brothers and my people! It was my desire to build a Temple where the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, God’s footstool, could rest permanently. I made the necessary preparations for building it, but God said to me, ‘You must not build a Temple to honor my name, for you are a warrior and have shed much blood.’

“Yet the Lord, the God of Israel, has chosen me from among all my father’s family to be king over Israel forever. For he has chosen the tribe of Judah to rule, and from among the families of Judah he chose my father’s family. And from among my father’s sons the Lord was pleased to make me king over all Israel. And from among my sons—for the Lord has given me many—he chose Solomon to succeed me on the throne of Israel and to rule over the Lord’s kingdom. He said to me, ‘Your son Solomon will build my Temple and its courtyards, for I have chosen him as my son, and I will be his father. And if he continues to obey my commands and regulations as he does now, I will make his kingdom last forever.’

“So now, with God as our witness, and in the sight of all Israel—the Lord’s assembly—I give you this charge. Be careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God, so that you may continue to possess this good land and leave it to your children as a permanent inheritance.

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.”

Some thoughts:

As you read this simple narration it is important to grasp a deeper understanding of what is happening as King David speaks to his leaders and his people. David was Israel’s greatest king. During his rule he conquered the land God had given to Israel. There was peace and prosperity throughout the territory. The Ark of the Covenant had travelled from place to place. David’s heart’s desire was to build a Temple, a permanent place for the Ark, a resting place for the presence of God. As you know, because David had shed much blood in his life as a warrior, God designated his son, Solomon, as the one to build the Temple. David provided the materials and plans God had given him to Solomon.

I want you to notice the care of God’s hand in David’s life. The unfolding began hundreds of years before David was even born. When old Jacob died in Egypt some 400 years earlier, he gave each of his twelve sons a blessing. His blessing to Judah was that a scepter would “not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor.”   (Gen.49:9-10) The ultimate Ruler would be from the tribe of Judah. God picked the family of Jesse out of thousands of descendants. Of all of Jesse’s sons, he picked David to be king over all of Israel. What is more, of all of David’s many sons, God chose Solomon to succeed David as king and also the one to build the Temple. There was the stipulation that if Solomon followed the Lord, his kingdom would last forever. He didn’t and it didn’t! (Note our earlier discussion about Matthew’s genealogical record.)

David gave him (and us) this wise admonition. Learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Learning is a process, something you work at. It doesn’t just come through osmosis! The second part has to do with intimacy. Be intimate with God. Be transparent, honest. Worship and serve him whole-heartedly. Be serious about it. Don’t play at worship. It’s not entertainment. It’s interaction with God. He knows your thoughts and your plans. You don’t have to tell him, he already knows even as you think them! If you seek him, you will find him. Interestingly, this is exactly what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount! (Matt. 7:7-8) David’s final words to Solomon, “Be strong and do it!”

What does it mean to “seek him?” If you seek someone, you try to get together with them. You seek a playing partner to play tennis. To seek God is to get together with God. Your attention is undivided. You are most likely reading the Scriptures and listening for his voice at the same time―the purpose for these daily devotionals. The bottom line is to have an intimate conversation with the Lord. In David’s words, “Be strong and do it.”

Music: “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Night”   Atlanta Master Chorale

Prayer:

O God and Father, I repent of my sinful preoccupation with the visible things. The world has been too much with me. Thou hast been here and I knew it not. I have been blind to Thy Presence. Open my eyes that I may behold Thee in and around me. For Christ’s sake. Amen.    ―A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.72

Tuesday, December 28

Reader: “Look, God’s home is now among his people!”

Response: “He will live with them, and they will be his people.”

Scripture: Revelation 21: 1-7

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Some thoughts:

Put simply, the willingness of the Son of God to come to earth beginning in the humblest of circumstances made what John saw and wrote about in this vision possible. John was one of the three people in human history that saw a vision of God’s Kingdom while still on earth. Isaiah (6:1-8) and Ezekiel (1:1-28) would be the other two persons. While their descriptions were similar, they were attempting to describe their vision of something for which we have no words nor have we ever seen anything like what they saw. What they were describing is beyond our imaginations. Imagine trying to describe a four dimensional sunset!

John had a familiarity with Genesis 1 and the initial creation description. Here in Revelation he describes a new creation, a new earth. He is not suggesting that God will create a new set of stars and universe, but rather that the old order of creation will pass away and a more glorious age will take its place. Think of God’s work as a “rejuvenated world” as one commentator put it (C.R. Erdman, Revelation of John, Westminster Press, p.155). You’ll recall Moses’ description of the Spirit hovering over the waters in a dark world bringing life and light. The sea in John’s description here in Revelation might refer to an old order where sin and evil abounded. Think of the great destructive flood in Noah’s day. When John writes that the sea was no more, he may be referring symbolically to a fallen corrupt world. But this new city, heaven, is free from sin and any corruption. The new creation is holy. While there are various interpretations of this passage, the bottom line is that the new creation is infinitely superior to the old and that the glory of God and dwelling in the presence of God is the central point.

In the First Testament, God’s dwelling place with his people was in the Tabernacle during the wilderness years and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the new heaven and earth, God’s dwelling place is with and fellowshipping among all his people. He is not confined to a man-made place or space. His presence is different from anything we have experienced. There are no words for what John is attempting to describe. Herein is a great mystery. 

John continues describing the benefits of this new presence of God living among his people. There will be no tears, no sorrow, no pain, no death―all the things of the old world are gone forever! None of us have ever lived in an environment like this nor can we fully grasp what John is depicting. Notice, it’s easier to describe this world in negatives―by what it’s not. That is one way to deal with something we can’t completely comprehend.

God’s words to John regarding his being the Alpha and the Omega―the Beginning and the End―harken back to John 1:1 reminding us that time itself is encompassed by his eternal nature. He has never not existed as the only uncreated Creator. Everything that is owes its existence to God. He is the Satisfier of every longing. To the thirsty his water is from an eternal spring, a source that has no end. John’s vision has described as best he can the inheritance of the overcomer, the one who heeds the Savior’s call and “follows him.” What lies ahead for those who trust in Christ alone is more glorious than any words we can manage and all because of a Baby who came to a manger.

Music: “Away in a Manger”  Anúna

Prayer:

As long as Thou art present with us, O Thou whom our soul loveth, we are in the light; all is brightness, all is sweetness. We discourse with Thee, live with Thee and rest with Thee. Arise in our hearts; make Thy light to shine in darkness as a perfect day. Amen. 

       ―Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), The Quiet Corner, p.4

Monday, Decem ber 27

Reader: “This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here.” 

Response: “And we know that his account of these things is accurate.”

Scripture: John 21:19b-24

Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” So the rumor spread among the community of believers that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.

Some thoughts:

It is always important to remember at Christmastide that the birth of Jesus ultimately leads to the cross, the resurrection and the ascension and return to heaven. During his time on earth, Jesus repeatedly gave this challenge to his followers, “Follow me.” Short  clear words. Following his resurrection and in the portion preceding this section, Jesus has addressed Simon Peter’s denial restoring their relationship. Jesus also tells Simon the manner of his future death. It is at that point that today’s passage begins with the three syllable challenge “follow me.”

From Peter’s comment, “What about him?” (in referring to John who was right behind them), we gain more insight into “follow me.” I can’t help but notice John’s comment about himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” In fact, his gospel uses this phrase five times. In saying this, he is not saying Jesus doesn’t love the other disciples or that Jesus loves me more than others. What he is saying is that being loved by Jesus is more important than my name. Remember, Peter and John, along with James were the disciples closest to Jesus. (E.g. Mount of Transfiguration, Lk.9:28-36) 

Jesus had just told Peter how he was going to die and Peter wanted to know what would happen to John. Would he also die a martyr?  Jesus’ response to the “What about him?” question is rather blunt. What happens to John is none of your business. I deal with individual people in unique ways. You just worry about yourself. Your single focus is to follow me. Do my will. That’s it. Jesus continued on, “If I want John to remain alive until I return, what’s that to you?” We are reminded that our lives are in the Lord’s hands. He has numbered our days (Ps.139:16). Follow me today. With humans being human, of course Jesus’ answer was augmented into something he never said as the rumour circulated that John wouldn’t die until Jesus’ second coming. The gossip was not true and John clarified what Jesus actually said.

John was an eye witness as to what he wrote. His gospel was written around 90 AD. According to tradition, John died around 100 AD., an old man surrounded by believers in Ephesus. 

Music: “Sing We Now of Christmas”    Prestonwood Choir & Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKzdaEd6Ths    (Prestonwood Baptist, Houston,TX!)

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, your words of “follow me” were so direct. Help me to hear those words every morning when I awake. May I hear them throughout the day and when I lie down at night may I fall asleep knowing I have earnestly tried to follow you all day. Quicken my mind when I get off the path that I may turn around quickly and get back on the way. Keep me from being distracted by what others are doing and help me keep my eyes on you alone. May I hear your words in my heart, “What is that to you? Follow me.” Thank you Lord that I am not here on earth to fend for myself in trying to find my own way on this journey of life. Thank you that you have been where you are leading. Increase my faith day by day. This I pray through Jesus, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever, world without end. Amen.   ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, December 26, Christmastide

Reader: “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature” 

Response: “and in favor with God and all the people.”

Scripture: Luke 2:41-52

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.

When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”

“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they didn’t understand what he meant.

Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.

Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.

Some thoughts:

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of this but we know virtually nothing about ninety percent of Jesus’ life on earth. There are a few snippets apart from the last three years and a significant portion of each of the gospels covers just the last week of his life. We know a little bit about the first forty days of his life and then, the above passage. That’s it until he was about thirty years old (Lk.3:23). (We assume that Luke got this information from Mary as all the disciples were little boys along with Jesus at this point! She is the only one who would know this story. No one had ever heard of Jesus except a few people in Nazareth. Only Luke mentions this story.) This particular passage is interesting and insightful on a couple of levels. What did you notice about Jesus’ parents?

Joseph is still living at this point. He apparently died at some time between when Jesus was twelve and prior to him beginning his public ministry at thirty. This is the last reference to Joseph. That means Jesus experienced the loss of a parent at a relatively young age. We also notice that Jesus’ parents were very observant Jews in that they made a practice of attending Passover every year. That means Jesus was very well acquainted with all the details of the festival from his childhood on. Considering Mary and Joseph’s character in dealing with her pregnancy, it is not surprising that they would be devout Jews following the Law which required the ninety mile pilgrimage from Nazareth to the Temple in Jerusalem each year. By Jesus’ time, those living far from Jerusalem were only required to make the pilgrimage for Passover. Those people living closer would also attend Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. 

In those days the long journeys would be made in large groups of people for safety and for fellowship as they walked along. It would not be uncommon for the whole village of Nazareth to travel together―uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and neighbors all together. So it is not surprising that Jesus would not be at Joseph and Mary’s side as they headed back home. It may be that Jesus was doing a “dry run” for his Bar Mitzvah which would have occurred the following year when he was thirteen. 

When the entourage came to a stop for the evening, Mary and Joseph discovered that their eldest son was missing. Sometimes groups like this returning home would divide with the women and children heading out first and the men and older boys following with all coming together in the evening. Mary and Joseph may each have thought he was with the other one. We don’t know. But you can imagine the panic as they furtively moved from group to group before heading back in Jerusalem asking if anyone had seen Jesus during the day only to hear the same answer again and again, “No, we haven’t seen him” or “we thought he was with you.” So Mary and Joseph took another days’ journey and headed back to Jerusalem. Having been separated from him for three days, they finally found him in the Temple among some Jewish doctors of the law having lively theological discussions and debates. Jesus was taking part in asking and answering questions. His depth of understanding and insights as well as the questions he was asking amazed these learned men. This was a humble seventh grade boy  amazing the Ph.D. professors of systematic theology with his questions, answers and insights! 

I love Luke (and Mary’s) honesty. “His parents didn’t know what to think!” We have an expected response from his mother. Why did you do this to us? (We were worried sick. You should have told us you wanted to stay behind.) You can almost hear Jesus’ puberty-age voice cracking, “Why did you need to search? Didn’t you know I’d be at my Father’s house?” Since neither parent understood what he meant, I’m curious as to how  the following conversation went. We’ll never know. At any rate they returned home and Luke (Mary) makes a point of saying that Jesus was obedient to his parents. It is important to note that Mary and Joseph did not have hindsight in raising Jesus. They knew who he was and where he had come from but that did not mean that they understood everything about him any more than we do.

There is this little phrase, “Mary stored all these things in her heart.” My guess is she had some sense of the importance of remembering specific events in Jesus’ growing up years. Then we have the final statement about Jesus growing in wisdom and stature, a line reminiscent of what was said about Samuel (I Sam.2:26) and John the Baptist (Lk.1:80). Though he was God, Jesus developed in mind and body in his human nature and character, though his wisdom was remarkable at a young age as this pericope gives evidence. 

You may be thinking this all is interesting but how does it help my walk with the Lord. Consider the humanity of Jesus, of Mary, of Joseph, of ordinary events that produce crisis moments and the calmness of Jesus in all of it. The family of Mary and Joseph had mishaps and misunderstandings! Our Savior is well acquainted with everything with which we deal. He was and is completely human in every way. He has wisdom to help in our time of need. He needed to be in his Father’s house, to grow in wisdom as do we. 

Music: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”  arr. David Willcocks  Choral Society of Grace Church, New York

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, this story of Mary’s gives me comfort and hope in many ways. I’m reminded again of how very human Jesus and his family were. Hearing about him as a twelve year old boy being separated from his parents helps me understand his humanity. I can identify with this story as it makes him not so far removed from a normal life. Not everything in Jesus’ life was miraculous. May I be faithful in being about my Father’s house. May I be zealous in searching the Scriptures and ask searching questions that I might know you better and grow in wisdom. Lord God, how I love you and your word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

                                                                                                ―Daniel Sharp