Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 17

Friends, I have a confession to make! I wrote something in last Sunday’s devotional that was not true. There was one sentence that said Jesus was tempted by the Devil and then he was baptised by John. That is exactly backwards for many reasons! (One of our sharp subscribers graciously and kindly asked if what I wrote was true.) I was working between John’s gospel, which says nothing of Jesus’ temptation, and Luke’s gospel which, like the other synoptics all record the temptation of Jesus. I’m not sure where my brain was when I typed that. Even missed it in the proof reading! I actually know the right order. Anyway, I will try to be more diligent in proofing things.

Reader: “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee” 

Response: “was the first time Jesus revealed his glory.”

Scripture: John 2:1-12

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”  [This is all TRUE!]

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As we have mentioned previously, Epiphany is associated with the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the wedding at Cana of Galilee. John is the only gospel writer who records this latter event. Sometimes the other writers refered to supernatural acts that Jesus did as miracles, but not John. He describes them as “signs.” When Jesus did something like turning the water to wine, it was to act as a sign pointing to his identity as the Son of man. 

In John’s gospel, he describes seven (perfection in Jewish thought) signs: changing water to wine, curing the nobleman’s son, healing the paralytic, feeding the five thousand, walking on water, opening the eyes of a blind man, and raising Lazarus from the dead. Every single act pointed beyond the immediate event but to the truth that the Kingdom of God had come among them in the person of Jesus Christ. That this event was a Jewish wedding is of great significance. With this sign, Jesus was going public. 

John mentions that this event occurred on “the third day.” Is there significance stating that? Perhaps. Some scholars have reasoned that Jesus was ushering in a new creation, similar in concept to his resurrection on the third day. Many Jewish weddings occur on Tuesday, the third day of the week because on the third day of creation, God said, “It is good” two times and the brides took that expression as a double blessing on their marriage! 

We look next at Jesus’ interaction with his mother. Mary is referred to in this gospel only as the “mother of Jesus.” What may seem to us as a rather harsh response in our day in referring to her as “woman,” was not exactly so in Jesus’ day. It was an address of respect and distinction. Mary appears in only one other story in John’s gospel and it is at the foot of the cross. It is there while hanging on the cross that Jesus again addresses his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” Likewise, following his resurrection, Jesus speaks to Mary Magdalene with the words, “Dear woman, why are you crying?” 

What is established in this pericope is that the relationship between Jesus and his mother is now different. Jesus responds to his heavenly Father, not his earthly mother. When he says at the wedding, “My time is not yet come,” that is a clear indication that he is not operating on an “earthly clock.” Time and timing are a recurrent theme throughout John’s gospel. Jesus was tuned to his Father’s will which meant he was always in exactly the right place at the right time doing the right thing bringing glory to God. God’s action in our world is made manifest in the flesh of Jesus Christ!  

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”
 

Music: “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise    (You’ll note this hymn has all three Epiphany themes!)

Songs of thankfulness and praise,

Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise,

Manifested by the star

To the sages from afar;

Branch of royal David’s stem

In thy birth at Bethlehem;

Praises be to thee addressed,

God in flesh made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,

Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;

And at Cana, wedding guest,

In thy Godhead manifest;

Manifest in pow’r divine,

Changing water into wine;

Praises be to thee addressed,

God in flesh made manifest.

Grant us grace to see thee, Lord.

Mirrored in thy holy Word;

May we imitate thee now,

And be pure, as pure art thou;

That we like to thee may be

At thy great Epiphany;

And may praise thee, ever-blessed,

God in flesh made manifest.

Prayer:O God, you made of one blood all nations, and, by a star in the East, revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel. Enable us who know your presence with us so to proclaim his unsearchable riches, that all may come to his light and bow before the brightness of his rising, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.    ―Lawrence Hull Stookey  from The United Methodist Publising House

First Sunday after Epiphany January 10

Reader: “John saw Jesus coming toward him and said,” 

Response: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Scripture:  John 1:29-34

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

We just passed Epiphany a couple of days ago. There are three themes that are associated with this day, one of which is the baptism of Jesus, which is celebrated the first Sunday after Epiphany. People have asked me, “Since Jesus was perfect, why did he need to be baptized?” That is a perfectly logical question. John’s baptism was for the repentance of sin, yet Jesus was sinless, so why the necessity? In subjecting himself to baptism, Jesus openly took the sin of all people upon himself. He fully embraced his humanity. He placed, as it were, himself upon the altar as the substitute for our sin. In submitting to John’s baptism, he shows solidarity with a fallen human race and becomes our Redeemer and Reconciler. Jesus’ baptism was also an affirmation of the validity of John’s baptism ministry. His baptism indicated to his Father in heaven his embracing of the mission he came to do, a task that would involve great suffering and death. It is Luke who tells us that as Jesus was being baptized, he was praying and communing with the Father, the heavens opened and a dove came from heaven and rested on him, an affirmation from the Father. In the Scriptures, a dove symbolizes purity, innocence, and loveliness (dove’s role in Noah and the Ark Gen.8:9-12). In fact, throughout the Bible, God on different occasions revealed himself in a visible shape to humans. There is the cloud in the desert, the glorious light hovering over the Ark of the Covenant, or the tongues of fire at Pentecost. An additional word here may be helpful. That the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon Jesus, did not mean that the Lord Jesus was not previously filled with the Holy Spirit. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and filled as a human from conception. The baptism is a public declaration of his Messiahship. This event marks the beginning of his public ministry. Remember the baptism occurs right after his temptation by the devil. God the Father declares a wonderful affirmation, “Thou art my beloved Son in thee I am well pleased.” On two other occasions the Father spoke words of encouragement in relation to Jesus’ mission on earth. One was at the Transfiguration when Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming “exodus” from the earth (Luke 9:28-35) and the other one was when Jesus was talking to a crowd during Holy Week about his upcoming sacrifice and God thundered from heaven (John 12:28-29). To me, these affirmations from the Father indicate how close was the Father and the Son’s relationship during Jesus’ time on earth. These words of encouragement also underscore the humanity of Jesus. Humans need to be affirmed and encouraged in their calls to ministry. Think about it, Jesus’ mission was understood by no one on earth, not even the disciples! How lonely would that be? It was only after the resurrection did people begin to get it and even then, many people still rejected Christ’s work of salvation, even as they do today. You can begin to see how crucial was John’s baptism of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 Music: “Baptized in Water”     Chris Brunelle

Prayer:

Dearest Lord Jesus, when we begin to try to comprehend what it must have been like to leave the glories of heaven, where you had been for all eternity, and willingly humble yourself to become a human being, we must confess, we have no idea what that was like―and even that is an understatement. We wonder about the under-the-breath  remarks made to Mary and Joseph about your “miraculous birth” and the snide comments behind their backs. What must it have been like being the big brother among your brothers and sisters? Even at twelve you were about your Father’s business and no one understood, not even your earthly mom and dad. Virtually your whole life here, people were often confused as to what you had come to do. When you died there was but a single convert and he died within minutes of confessing you. Your life and mission seemed a complete defeat and yet . . . you defeated death, the devil, evil, and paid with your life blood for the sins of the entire world. We say the words, believe the words, trust the words, and try to grasp the wonder of what you have done. We simply fall to our knees with heads bowed low in deepest gratitede for your sacrifice. We love you, Lord. Our language doesn’t have the words to express our hearts. You are our singular hope of eternal life in your presence. Glory to you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.                                                           ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, January 17       Look for the next devotional next Sunday and each Sunday between now and Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17th

Advent 2020 In Closing

Friends,

I want to thank you all for sharing these past thirty-nine days and for sharing these devotionals with friends. Our prayer as always is that we are drawn closer and deeper in our encounters with the Lord through his word. More than simply reading a passage, may we develop a daily pattern of hearing the voice of the Lord as we read. I trust the music and prayers have likewise encouraged and edified you. Blessings on you all and thank you for your kind words of encouragement.

I also want to thank you for subscribing this year. I want to mention something to you if the Lord so moves you. Doing these devotionals is not without actual cost―e.g. getting the material into the proper format and year-round monthly rentals to the email host. I checked into setting up a 501c (3) and found it wasn’t feasible for writing these devotionals. If you would like to help with expenses, you can make a donation which is not tax deductible. The subscriptions are always and always will be completely free. There is certainly no obligation to contribute, but if you would like to, please make your check to: Dan Sharp, 4017 Isle Vista Ave, Belle Isle, FL 32812.  Or you can also contribute via my PayPal account.  dansharp9@gmail.com 

As the Advent and Christmastide season closes, I would like to thank all of you who contributed to the devotional ministry. May the Lord bless you in this coming year.

Plus there is an additional feature this year. You will be receiving a devotional each Sunday, beginning next Sunday, January 10th, and for the next six weeks until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17th at which time, the Lenten devotionals begin going from Ash Wednesday all the way through Pentecost on May 23rd. You do not need to resubscribe.

I’ve enclosed the list of music links for each day for your enjoyment beneath the list of source books for the prayers.

THE SOURCE BOOKS FOR THE PRAYERS

The Pursuit of God, AW Tozer, Christian Publications

The Book of Uncommon Prayer, ed. Constance and Daniel Pollock, Word Publishing

Early Christian Prayers,  ed. Hamman, Regnery Publishing

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. Appleton, OUP

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

Prayers Ancient and Modern, Mary Wilder Tileston, 1897

A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, compiled by Veronica Zindel

Celtic Daily Prayer, Andy Raine and John Skinner  Northumbria Community

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

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal,1979, 1928    (BCP)

Peter Marshall’s Lasting Prayers, Droke House Publishers

THE MUSIC LINKS FOR ADVENT 2020

Nov.29  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”  arr. Alice Parker

Nov.30 “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending” Litchfield Cathedral Choir

Dec.1 “Joy to the World”   John Rutter and Cambridge Choir      

Dec.2  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”   Salt Lake Vocal Artists  These 8 minutes will help you be quiet. Just listen. It’s gorgeous!!!    Arr. Dan Forrest

Bonus:           beautiful!

 “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”     Nordic Choir of Luther College

Dec.3 “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns

Dec.4 “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” Home Free with Kenny Rogers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7GR-c8-tKI DO NOT MISS THIS!!!!!

Dec.5 “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”   Geneva Christian Choir

Dec.6 “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”    from the musical “Godspell”

Dec.7  “Advent Hymn”   Christy Nockels

Dec.8 “Benedictus”   Karl Jenkins        Beautiful music almost beyond belief!

Dec.9  “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen”     Libera

Dec. 10 “Go Tell It on the Mountain”    Home Free     ―an energetic setting!

Dec.11  What Child Is This? Home Free

Dec.12 “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Caitelen

Dec.13 “Glory to God In the Highest”  Messiah

Dec.14  “I Wonder as I Wander”  Simon Khorolskiy

Dec.15 ““O Come, Let Us Adore Him”    Voctave (I admit, this is a repeat from last year!)

Dec.16  “Behold the Lamb of God”       from Messiah        Mogens Dahl Chamber Choir

Dec.17 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”   Mississippi College Choir

Bonus:        (Leave it to the Mormons . . . except for the theology!!)

 “Angels from the Realms of Glory”  BYU Idaho Dept. of Music

Dec.18 “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”       Chris Rupp and the Fox and the Hound

Bonus:   Interesting fact. Chris Rupp a former member of Home Free (below) went out on his own (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly) though he still sings with Home Free sometimes.

 “Angels We Have Heard on High”    Home Free   (I know, a repeat from other years. But in case you missed it then. This is really one of the best versions. Not over produced IMO.

Dec.19  “Long Ago Prophets Knew”  A British Christian Music Programme

Would this ever happen in the states???

Bonus: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”    King’s College Choir  Spectacular Brass and Cathedral setting, don’t miss it.

Dec.20 “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” All Angels

Dec.21 “Silent Night”  

 Sissel Kyrkjebϴ    This Norwegian lady has one of the most beautiful soprano voices you will ever hear. Effortless!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK3_Kr2nLtA&list=RDuK3_Kr2nLtA&start_radio=1&t=127&t=0 

Bonus: “Silent Night”   Libera     -Exquisite Boy Choir    The Brits know how to do Christmas!!! Don’t miss this either!

Dec.22 “Hannah’s Prayer Edmund and Gisela Bullock

Dec.23 Magnificat”         JS Bach     GLORIOUS!!!     At the end of every piece he wrote, he put  S.D.G.  Soli Deo Gloria,  “to God alone be glory.”   

Translation:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 

for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo1x-62WmrI

Bonus:

You can watch and listen to the entire Magnificat about 35 minutes long at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YHf3CtEi8E

Dec.24  “Fanfare and Carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful”  arr. David Wilcocks  Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble and Bach Choir

Bonus: “Mary, Did You Know?”  Vocative with Mark Lowrey, (the guy who wrote the song) DON’T MISS THIS!!!! Best setting of this I’ve ever heard. Astounding voices.

Dec.25 “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”     The Brits again!

Bonuses!:

 “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”   King’s College Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4yYb6yCNws 

“Good Christian Men, Rejoice”         Wissmann family

“I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In” 

Dec.26 “Angels We Have Heard on High”   Robert Shaw Chorale  gorgeous choral singing. Terrific arrangement! 

Bonus:  “I Wonder as I Wander”    The King Singers and London Symphony

Dec. 27 “This Little Light of Mine”  arr. Moses Hogan   The National Lutheran Choir

Bonus: 

 “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child”   Christ Church Nashville

Dec.28  “Away in a Manger”    Libera             Angelic!

Bonus: “Away in a Manger”     Home Free       Beautiful video with original tune

Dec.29 “Sing We Now of Christmas”      The Singers   Matthew Culloton

Bonus:      (Had this one from last year. Didn’t think you’d mind!)

  “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”  Mahalia Jackson      She is singing to Jesus and we get to listen! Don’t miss this. There was only one of her. The very best.

Dec.30  “Star Carol” Nathan Pacheco

Bonus:  “A Spotless Rose” Paul Mealor

Dec.31  “Mary Had a Baby”    Nathaniel Dett Chorale   Love it!

I thought these last few days of this year’s devotionals, I’d include a few of the secular classics, not for their theology, but for their beauty, and God loves music and beauty.

Bonus: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”  Home Free Video      Get ready to shed a tear!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=no2ErxNojyo

Jan.1 “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”   Robert Shaw Festival Singers  As you listen to this, watch the text below. If you have ear phones, put them on to listen. Though it is sung in Russian (it’s from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers) you will be able to follow. The soloist sings what you are looking at! Also listen very carefully at the end and you will hear the world famous low Russian basses- in this case Americans! By the way, this is the music sung in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. They are not big on overhead screens! All singing is a cappella. Just the human voice singing to God.

 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,

             as you have promised.

         I have seen your salvation,

             which you have prepared for all people.

         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,

             and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Bonus: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”  Chesnokoff   Male Choir of Donskoy Monastery

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ma8NjcAUOg       Note the stories of the Bible portrayed throughout the sanctuary of this Orthodox Church.

Jan.2  “Personent Hodie”    arr. Lara Hoggard      Choralis    (wait for the light!)

Bonus:

 “On This Day Earth Shall Ring”  St Malachy’s college choir

   “The Christmas Song”     The King’s Singers’

Jan.3  “Twas’ in the Moon of Wintertime”    Cambridge Singers

Bonuses!  “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Andy Williams

  “The Little Drummer Boy”       The King’s Singers

Jan.4 “We Three Kings of Orient Are”   Robert Shaw Chorale       wonderful setting

Bonus: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”     Casting Crowns      The message to our world.

Jan.5   “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks    Dan Forrest 

Atlanta Master Chorale

Bonus:  “Have Yourself A Merry

Little Christmas”    Michael Bublé     Beautiful!

Jan.6  “As with Gladness Men of Old”     from Ipswich, England

Bonus:

“We Three Kings”     Kings College   (of course!)

“Auld Lang Syne” Home Free

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFcSfqYqHs4© Daniel Sharp 2020

Wednesday, January 6, The Epiphany of the Lord

Reader: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” 

Response: “We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 

Scripture:   Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,

    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,

for a ruler will come from you

    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

Epiphany is a day which turns our attention to the visit of the magi. Other noted themes are Jesus’ performing the miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee and John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus. Central on the day is the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as evidenced by the visit of the Magi. A few days ago we spoke of the mystery of God being revealed. I’m not sure we of the 21st century grasp the full drama of such a revelation. For at least 2,000 years the basic understanding was that God was the God of Israel. The Israelites were his people who were blessed and disciplined alternately all through the First Testament. It seemed there was more of the latter and less of the former! The New Testament continued in the same vein. The opening words are: “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham.” That’s about as Jewish an introduction as there is! 

Jesus said time and again he had come to bring his message to the Jews. He taught from synagogue to synagogue and proclaimed the kingdom of God in the open to anyone who would listen. At times told his disciples to go only to the lost house of Israel. At the same time, he used illustrations from the First Testament demonstrating the breadth of the gospel when his own people, the Jews, rejected his message (E.g.Naaman, widow of Zarephath). But we see from his birth, the visit of the Magi was an epiphany to the Jews and to early believers. These Gentile kings worshiped Christ. This baby had come to bring redemption to the whole world. 

We live in a world that has things exactly backwards. Rather than having one Savior for all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages―God’s design to bring redemption, the secular world has decided people are free to make their own gods and all religions are equally valid . . . or no religion is fine as well. Rather than worship a sovereign God who is creator of all that is and has designed a plan and purpose for all people, people have chosen to become their own god and become the judges of God while rejecting his Son. Pray this year that “people who walk in darkness” may see a great light, the Light of the World. May it be a year of epiphanies for us all. Lord knows we need them!

Music: “As with Gladness Men of Old”     from Ipswich, England

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sp5 2sx2_GYs

“We Three Kings”     Kings College   (of course!)

Bonus: “Auld Lang Syne”     Home Free   Don’t miss this!!

Prayer:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: grant that your people, illumined by our Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  ―BCP

© Daniel Sharp 2020

Tuesday, January 5

Reader: “The Lord said to my Lord,”

Response: “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies.” 

Scripture: Psalm 110

The LORD said to my Lord, 

    “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand

until I humble your enemies,

    making them a footstool under your feet.”

The Lord will extend your powerful kingdom from Jerusalem;

    you will rule over your enemies.

When you go to war,

    your people will serve you willingly.

You are arrayed in holy garments,

    and your strength will be renewed each day like the morning dew.

The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow:

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

The Lord stands at your right hand to protect you.

    He will strike down many kings when his anger erupts.

He will punish the nations

    and fill their lands with corpses;

    he will shatter heads over the whole earth.

But he himself will be refreshed from brooks along the way.

    He will be victorious. 

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

An epiphany is about gaining new insight into a situation or process. In other words, the “light goes on!” Let’s look a little closer at this text. You have probably noticed before or had someone explain the difference between “LORD” and “Lord.” But just in case, when the text is “LORD,” the Hebrew YHWH, the transliterated name of God is referred to. When Moses was at the burning bush and asked God, “Who shall I say sent me (to lead the Israelites out of Egypt)? What is his name?” God’s answer was “I AM WHO I AM” or  “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” That is to say, God is self-sufficient, self-existent, the only being in the universe that is not dependent upon something else for his existence. God is outside of creation. He is the uncreated Creator of all that was, is, or ever will be. This is the God of Mt. Sinai, Israel’s LORD. 

Later on, the Jews regarded the name of God as too holy to be pronounced. The name was never said out loud, so Adonai, meaning lord or master, was substituted when the spoken text referred to YHWH. When the text is “Lord,” and not “LORD,” it’s meaning is ‘my master, my superior.’ I hope you are not confused! Jesus quoted this very text (Lk.20:42-44) in claiming he was the Messiah. So you would read it, God the Father said to his Son, (a son of King David), “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies.” 

The right hand of God was the place of authority and strength. In the court of the Sanhedrin, it was also the place of acquittal whereas the court position on the left hand side was of conviction. The New Testament has several references to Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33 (Ascension); 7:55-56; (Stephen’s martyrdom); Heb.1:3. Now, the question Jesus was driving home was, “Why would king David address his son as his Lord?”  . . . unless his son was his Messiah. The implication to the Pharisees was that this “son of David” was more than just a human being. They had much trouble grasping that God would ever come in human flesh, which was the central focus at the opening of John’s gospel. As you read the psalm, notice particularly the spelling of Lord or LORD. When it is LORD, the reference is to God the Father (Is.63:16). When the spelling is Lord, the reference is to the Son, the Messiah. 

One other note concerning this pericope, there is the reference where the LORD says to the Lord, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Kings in the First Testament, while being patrons of the Temple, never functioned as priests. In contrast, the Messiah served as both king and high priest. Melchizedek, was both priest and king of Jerusalem in spite of not being from the tribe of Levi and lineage of Aaron. In like manner, Jesus likewise served as King, Priest, and also Prophet, though he was from the tribe of Judah from the lineage of David not Aaron. King Jesus, the Messiah, will ultimately rule the nations and set up his eternal kingdom. A flesh and blood Messiah who would reach out to all peoples and tribes and tongues was the mystery of the Old Testament and a great surprise to the Jews and Jewish leaders of the New Testament.

Music: “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks    Dan Forrest  Atlanta Master Chorale

Bonus:  “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”    Michael Bublé     Beautiful!

Prayer:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  ―BCP

Monday, January 4

Reader: “It is sin to know what you ought to do” 

Response: “and then not do it.” 

Scripture:   James 4:11-17

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

In many ways the book of James is the “Proverbs” of the New Testament. It also harkens to the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Then there is the reminder of the “beam in the eye” reference. Paul likewise in Romans addresses the “judging a brother” concern. Notice speaking evil is associated with judging and violating God’s law. To what law is James referring? It’s the law of loving your neighbor as yourself. 

We certainly make judgments all the time. Discernment is vitally important, but delighting in criticizing another crosses the boundary. James seems to know how humans enjoy finding faults in others. Then there is this wonderful line, “Your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.” James knows us too well! God alone is the Judge. 

The past portion of our reading is a warning about being too self-confident about today and tomorrow. The future is always uncertain from our perspective but never from God’s. All our days are numbered before there was even one of them (Ps.139:16). All of us have had something happen in our lives that was unexpected. We had our plans and then instantly everything changed. James has introduced this measuring phrase, “If the Lord wants us to . . .” or in our words “Lord willing.” Rather than walking around “Lord willing” everything, James is reminding us of the significance of not forgetting about God as we make all our plans and decisions for the future. It is the Lord who has authority over our lives. 

James’ final short word is powerful. Knowing what we ought to do and not doing it is sin. The converse is true as well: knowing what we ought not do and doing it is sin. Sometimes our problem is we don’t know whether or not we should do or not do. In such cases, it seems wisdom would say wait until you know for certain so you are acting in faith and confidence. Wise words from James as we begin another year!

Music:  “We Three Kings of Orient Are”   Robert Shaw Chorale     a wonderful setting

Bonus: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”     Casting Crowns      The message to our world.

Prayer:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, who knowest our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking, lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, and by Thy great mercy defend us; for the love of Thine only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.   ―BCP

Sunday, January 3, Second Sunday in Christmastide

Reader: “Because of Christ and our faith in him,” 

Response: “we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” 

Scripture:  Ephesians 3:3-14

As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets.

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.

Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored.

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

The marking of the twelve days of Christmas dates all the way back to the Council of Tours in 567 AD. These coming days provide a good opportunity to reflect on the implications of the birth of Christ. In this passage, Paul refers to God revealing his mysterious plan to himself. That revelation surely refers to his Damascus road experience where he was confronted with the truth that Jesus was the Messiah he was persecuting. The Jews, knowing they were God’s chosen people, had believed that God was intended only for them. Such was Paul’s mindset prior to his trip to Damascus. A blinding encounter, literally he “saw the light” and instantly was confronted with the truth of Jesus by Jesus himself. 

Here Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus helping them to grasp and reinforcing the truth that the church includes Jews and Gentiles who are united as one body in Jesus Christ. The church is the Israel of God, the new children of God. Paul is stating that what God had kept secret was that the gospel would be for all people. It would appear that Paul was well aware of his previous life of persecuting Christians and was most grateful that God had touched his life and given him the privilege of proclaiming the gospel to the very people he persecuted and to the Gentiles as well! What an act of grace from God! 

I’d like to touch on the part of the passage that talks about coming into God’s presence boldly and with confidence. Frankly, that’s something I’ve wrestled with from time to time. It’s easy to pray and talk about the things on my heart and those situations I’m concerned about. It’s when I think about what is actually happening in my prayer that causes me to pause. By that I mean, I’m talking with the Creator of the universe, God who has never not existed, who knows everything about everything, who simply spoke creation into being with no expenditure effort, who intimately knows everyone who has ever existed, who rejoices at the salvation of one person, who longs that all people would repent . . .  And now I am talking and interacting with God through Jesus Christ? Seriously, why would a God like that care about me? Isn’t my prayer a bit presumptuous? 

What I discover is that I’m a bit too “me” conscious. Look again at what Paul wrote here, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly . . .” The reason God hears my prayer is because of Christ and my trust in him. If I were to come on my own merits, it would truly be terminally hopeless. What does Hebrews say? “Since we have a great High Priest . . .” (Heb.4:14-16). It is Jesus who intercedes on our behalf. Being human, Jesus identifies completely and understands us better than we understand ourselves. So I can pray to the Father with confidence and boldness.

Music:  “Twas’ in the Moon of Wintertime”    Cambridge Singers

Bonuses!   A secular tune! Not a lot of theology here! Just joy!

  “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”     Andy Williams

  “The Little Drummer Boy”       The King’s Singers

Prayer: 

Almighty and eternal God, Thou art hidden from my sight: Thou art beyond the understanding of my mind: Thy thoughts are not as my thoughts: Thy ways are past finding out.

Yet hast Thou breathed Thy Spirit into my life:

Yet hast thou formed my mind to seek Thee:

Yet hast Thou inclined my heart to love Thee:

Yet hast Thou made me restless for the rest that is in Thee: 

Yet hast Thou planted within me a hunger and thirst that make me dissatisfied with all the joys of earth.I bless Thee for that knocking at my heart’s door that warns me of Thy waiting presence. I bless Thee for Thy hand upon my life, and for the sure knowledge that, however I may falter and fail, yet underneath are Thine everlasting arms. Let me today embark on no undertaking that is not in line with Thy will for my life, nor shrink from any sacrifice which Thy will may demand. Suggest, direct, control every movement of my mind; for my Lord Christ’s sake. Amen.    ―John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.21

Saturday, January 2, Christmastide

Reader: “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,”   

Response:  “but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Scripture:  Proverbs 1:1-7

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,

     to help them understand the insights of the wise.

Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,

     to help them do what is right, just, and fair.

These proverbs will give insight to the simple,

     knowledge and discernment to the young.

Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.

     Let those with understanding receive guidance

by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,

     the words of the wise and their riddles.

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,

     but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Imagine you had a twenty-three-year-old son or daughter launching out on their own entering the workforce. They came to you for advice (I said this was imaginary!), what would be your counsel? King Solomon, a man renown for his insights into all manner of wisdom, has helped us out with the book of Proverbs. He begins by telling us that the purpose of proverbs is to teach wisdom and discipline in living life. His first basic principle is fearing the Lord. A right relationship to God is the foundation on which everything else is built. It’s the rock. 

If I might be so bold, what are you doing in a disciplined manner to cultivate this “fear of the Lord?” One of the primary ways is to carve out a block of time each day with the Scriptures studying, reading, meditating on, praying through in which you encounter the living Lord. It doesn’t happen any other way apart from time with the Scriptures. Every time you sit down with your Bible ask the Lord to show you what he wants you to see. 

Take this passage for instance. Let’s walk our way through it. Our topic is proverbs. We begin with a purpose statement. The purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline. Ask yourself why? In typical Jewsih fashion, the second half of the verse answers the question the first half raised. The purpose of wisdom and discipline is to better understand the insights of people who are already wise. Learn from those with experience. Another purpose of wisdom and discipline is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives. The idea of wisdom and discipline is that they are practical and should affect the way one lives. They are also apparently instrumental in producing success. They are also useful in helping one in doing right, making just and fair decisions. 

How much clambering do we hear today about justice? The source of such is the fear of the Lord. We’ve seen some things about the purpose of proverbs, but what else will they do? Proverbs give insight to the person who is subject to doing stupid things and not thinking things through. It will help them get insight into themselves and how they think. Proverbs can give knowledge and the ability to discern to those young people with little experience. There is no ultimate “arrival” place with wisdom; it’s always possible to become even wiser. Exploring the meaning of proverbs and parables brings understanding. With understanding, wisdom brings guidance. Fearing the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, hence the wise person will commit to nurturing their relationship with the Lord. For example, a proverb from my wise godfearing father was, “You never have to apologize for what you didn’t say.” Wisdom. When you are reading Scripture, always ask yourself, “Why did it say that? And why did they use those words?”

Music: “Personent Hodie”    arr. Lara Hoggard      Choralis    (wait for the light!)

Bonus:

 “On This Day Earth Shall Ring”  St Malachy’s college choir

Bonus:   “The Christmas Song”     The King’s Singers’

Prayer:Lord, teach me to listen. The times are noisy and my ears are weary with the thousand raucous sounds which continuously assault them. Give me the spirit of the boy Samuel when he said to Thee, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” Let me hear Thee speaking in my heart. Let me get used to the sound of Thy Voice, that its tones may be familiar when the sounds of earth die away and the only sound will be the music of Thy speaking Voice. Amen.     ―A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.82

Friday, January 1, Christmastide

Reader: “He was named Jesus,”  

Response: “the name given him by the angel.”  

Scripture: Luke 2:21-40

Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

       “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,

             as you have promised.

         I have seen your salvation,

             which you have prepared for all people.

         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,

             and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Some thoughts:

As we mentioned the other day, Jesus’ parents were devout observant Jews, meaning they obeyed the Jewish law. According to the law, baby boys were circumcised and given their name on the eighth day after their birth. Why so specific about this particular day? It’s in accordance with the ancient Jewish law as given and as it turns out, there is a good medical reason as well. Normally, prothrombin, the material that causes blood to clot reaches 100%, though not in the very first days after birth. On the eighth day it hits 110%, the only time it ever gets that high, and then settles back to the normal level. So circumcision on the eighth day allows the blood its maximum clotting potential. God thought of everything! The naming of the person is to reflect their character, hence Jesus means “God is salvation.” Then after his circumcision (it’s eight days since Christmas Day), Mary and Joseph went back to the Temple forty days later for the rite of purification (February 2nd is forty days from the birth). Again, this was according to the law that the firstborn belonged to the Lord. A sacrifice of redemption was offered. Apparently Mary and Joseph were poor as their sacrificial offering was the offering of the poor. Normally the offering would be an unblemished lamb. If not a lamb, then two turtle doves or two pigeons. Having offered the two birds as redemption, Mary would later offer their Son, the Lamb of God, as the ultimate unblemished lamb, the redemptive sacrifice. 

We are reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, the place of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the words of Abraham, “God himself will provide the lamb for the whole burnt offering.” A reminder here, the “whole burnt offering” represented the total commitment of surrendering body, soul, and spirit to God; only the ashes remained.  Simeon, who may or may not have been a priest, the text doesn’t say, was nevertheless a devout believer. The Holy Spirit has revealed to him he would not die before actually seeing the Messiah. On the particular day, that same Spirit told him to go to the Temple. 

When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to present him as the law required, Simeon immediately recognized who he had in his arms. Simeon’s words have been set musically many, many times. Though many translations say “die in peace,” the best translation is “depart or dismiss” in peace. Not death, but a departure from this life to the next. That is actually a better description of death for the believer. In his words are also the certainty that this little baby is the Savior of all peoples, tribes and nations. 

One final note, as the women were the first to proclaim the risen Savior, so here Anna, the devout elderly widow, was the first to talk about this six week old baby to all who had been waiting expectantly for God to come and rescue his people. What do we learn from this pericope? God works in the details. He is tuned to every life and every aspect of every life, including yours and mine.

Music: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”   Robert Shaw Festival Singers  As you listen to this, watch the text below. If you have ear phones, put them on to listen. Though it is sung in Russian (it’s from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers) you will be able to follow. The soloist sings what you are looking at! Also listen very carefully at the end and you will hear the world famous low Russian basses- in this case Americans! By the way, this is the music sung in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. They are not big on overhead screens! All Orthodox singing is a cappella. Just the human voice communing with God in song, a lost practice in much of the worship today as all too often the voice is drowned out. 

 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,

             as you have promised.

         I have seen your salvation,

             which you have prepared for all people.

         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,

             and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Bonus: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace”  Chesnokoff   Male Choir of Donskoy Monastery

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ma8NjcAUOg       Note the stories of the Bible portrayed on the walls and ceiling throughout the sanctuary of this Orthodox Church.

Prayer:

Lord God my Father in heaven, when I come to the end of my days and depart this world to enter Paradise in the presence of Jesus, grant that life in this world would have brought glory to you. While I am still here, I ask that your Holy Spirit would continually prod me to your world. May I not be so preoccupied with my days here, that I fail to live with heaven as my home. This world is temporary. I was made to live in your world. May I live in such a manner here, that when I depart this life, my adjustment to heaven will be less of a shock. May my communion with you and your word be daily in all the coming year. This is my desire and prayer through Jesus Christ, my hope and salvation. Amen.                                                                                    ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, December 31, Christmastide

Reader: “I am the light of the world.” 

Response: “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness.”

Scripture: John 8:12-19

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.”

Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”

“Where is your father?” they asked.

Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Every year around this time, there is some “new study” wondering if Jesus was an actual historical person? Who really, was he? Was he married? How could someone be born of a virgin? Etc. In fact, that was the very question which surfaced in each of the first chapters of John’s gospel. Chapter one, Nathaneal’s question 1:49, chapter two miracle at Cana 2:11, chapter three Nicodemas 3:34, chapter four woman at the well 4:26, chapter five Jesus forgave sin 5:18, chapter six feeding 5,000 6:14, and chapter seven miracles 7:26. The seventh chapter takes place in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles, a celebration with Messianic implications. In the latter part of the chapter, at the climax of the feast, Jesus spoke as being the source of “living water.” The Jewish crowd picked up on the Messianic implications of such a statement hearkening back to Moses’ comment about a greater Prophet would arise from among the Jews. There was division among the people as to if Jesus was or was not the Messiah. At the end of chapter seven there is a later insertion in the first verses of chapter eight in regards to the woman caught in adultery (7:53-8:11). So 8:12 should be read right after 7:52 since it is in the very same setting and carries the same theme further. When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Again, hearing this as a Jew in Jesus’ day would (and did) trigger a Messianic connection. 

God’s presence throughout the First Testament very often was signaled by light. “Let there be light” at creation, light in the burning bush, light leading the Israelites in the desert, the great light hovering over the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. The Feast of Tabernacles had a great celebration of light in the Temple, the eighth and last day when countless lamps and lights were lit in commemoration of days gone by. That’s what was going on when Jesus made his statement that he was the light of the world! He was, in effect, claiming to be God, thereby identifying with the light of God hovering over the Ark! 

The Pharisees understood exactly what he was claiming and quickly bristled at the statement. Jesus took up their challenge reminding them that there needed to be two witnesses to prove the validity of a fact. The two witnesses as to his identity were his Father in heaven and himself. (Note how often in Scripture there are two witnesses validating an act or statement: E.g. two servants accompanying Abraham and Isaac, two angels visited Lot before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses and the burning bush,  two thieves crucified with Jesus, two angels at the tomb and at the ascension, and many more examples.) 

The challenge in our day is the same in perhaps a more passive way. First, my guess is that most people never think about Jesus at all unless there is some kind of crisis. People who dismiss Jesus, are actually dismissing their own caricature of Jesus. I find social media comments about Jesus most often ill-informed, not really knowing what the Scriptures actually say and taking things completely out of context. The challenge and calling for all of us this coming year is to let Jesus speak through us in a world trying hopelessly to manufacture its own light and truth. Let’s be one of those two witnesses! 

Music: “Mary Had a Baby”    Nathaniel Dett Chorale   Love it!

I thought these last few days of this year’s devotionals, I’d include a few of the secular classics, not for their theology, but for their beauty and familiarity, since God loves music and beauty. He invented both!

Bonus: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”  Home Free Video      Get ready to shed a tear(s)!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=no2ErxNojyo 

Prayer:Most gracious Father, who hast been infinitely merciful to us, not only in the year past, but through all the years of our life, be pleased to accept our most unfeigned thanks for Thine innumerable blessings to us; graciously pardoning the manifold sins and infirmities of our life past, and bountifully bestowing upon us all Thine abundant grace. And, every year which Thou shalt be pleased to add to our lives, add also, we humbly implore Thee, more strength to our faith, more ardor to our love, and a greater perfection to our obedience; and grant that, in a humble sincerity and constant perseverance, we may serve Thee most faithfully the remainder of our lives, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.     ―Charles How (1661-1745), Prayers Ancient and Modern

Wednesday, December 30, Christmastide

Reader: “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord,” 

Response: “and a thousand years is like a day.” 

Scripture:  2 Peter 3:8-13

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.  

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

A passage such as this, helps us put the nativity in context. The birth of Jesus introduces the “earthly portion” of the redemption, the re-creation plan of God. In Peter’s epistle, he is addressing a viewpoint held by some in his day and many, many people including Christians in our day who doubt a literal, visible, glorious reappearing of Jesus Christ. Peter has written this second epistle to warn them yet again. It’s very clear that those in the early church believed Jesus would return during their lifetimes. But he did not return. 

Peter’s letter helps us get outside of our human perspective and reasoning. How so? He reminds his readers that time is relative. Our God is in time and at the same moment , wholly apart from time, in a sense, above, outside and beyond time. Remember, “In the beginning God created . . .” In that one statement we see that God is uncreated and beyond time altogether. What seems to us like a long delay in God’s time is but a present moment. We need to be able to think in other dimensions than our earthly ones. 

To make this point I’m going to try to condense a C.S. Lewis illustration. Imagine you are writing a novel. In your story, Mary is sitting in a chair reading a book. There is a knock at her door (in your novel.) At this point in your writing, you decide to go get a drink of water, which you do, then are distracted, grab a cookie and empty a waste basket. You come back, sit down, eat the rest of your cookie, pick up your pen and begin writing again. Your story continues. . . Mary put down her book, got up and answered the door. 

Now as someone reads your novel, the time you spent in getting a drink, eating and emptying the waste basket appears nowhere in your novel. The time frame in the novel and the time frame in your getting a drink are in two different worlds. This example is a rough idea of what Peter is getting at in saying a thousand years are as a day and a day as a thousand years. (This idea is also why God can hear a million prayers at the same time giving complete attention to each one.) 

So time is one factor. Peter also addresses the delay factor making clear that God is desirous of giving people time to repent and receive salvation, not wishing that anyone perish because the Day of Judgment is final. Peter also exhorts people not to become complacent in their waiting. By saying Christ’s return will come as a thief in the night, it means without warning, catching us by surprise. 

I’m reminded of the days of Noah when the flood came without warning and destroyed the entire world with the exception of those in the ark, an ark Noah and his sons had labored to build over the span of 100 years! Do you think there were any days when they wondered if a flood was really going to come, since people didn’t even know what a flood was? Was there any ridicule of Noah and his family? Surely so. Just like there is ridicule from some people in our day concerning the return of the Lord as a fantasy and not something to be taken literally. God’s word says unequivocally that the Lord will return as he promised and establish the new heavens and new earth filled with God’s righteousness. 

When you see the exactness of all of the Old Testament prophecies in predicting the coming Messiah and when you read what Jesus said about his return and when you understand the relative nature of time in earthly and heavenly dimensions, I would believe exactly what the Scripture records. There is also a basic pattern throughout the Bible and it is this: there is an awful lot of waiting for fulfillment. E.g. the Flood; Abraham/Sarah and all the infertility issues throughout the Scriptures; 400 years of slavery in Egypt before the exodus; Joseph waiting 13 years to get out of prison; 40 years in the wilderness; 400 years of silence between the Testaments; fasting 40 days in the wilderness then temptation; waiting for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and so forth. Then you look at your own experience and all the things you are praying about, much of the Christian life has to do with exhibiting faith as we wait. But when God acts . . . !!

Music: “Star Carol” Nathan Pacheco

Bonus:  “A Spotless Rose” Paul Mealor

A spotless rose is blowing, sprung from a tender root,

Of ancient seers’ foreshowing, of Jesse promised fruit;

Its fairest bud unfolds to light 

Amid the cold, cold winter

And in the dark midnight.

The Rose which I a singing whereof Isaiah said,

Is from its sweet root springing in Mary, purest Maid;

For through our God’s great love and might

The blessed babe she bare us 

On a cold, cold winter’s night.

Prayer:  Let nothing disturb you, let nothing dismay you; all things pass: God never changes. Patience attains all it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.     ―Teresa of Avila, (1515-1582), Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.51

Tuesday, December 29, Christmastide

Reader: “The Lord has honored me,”

Response: “and my God has given me “ 

Scripture:  Isaiah 49:5-15

And now the Lord speaks—

    the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,

    who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.

The Lord has honored me,

    and my God has given me strength.

He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.

    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,

    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The Lord, the Redeemer

    and Holy One of Israel,

says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations,

    to the one who is the servant of rulers:

“Kings will stand at attention when you pass by.

    Princes will also bow low

because of the Lord, the faithful one,

    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Promises of Israel’s Restoration

This is what the Lord says:

“At just the right time, I will respond to you.

    On the day of salvation I will help you.

I will protect you and give you to the people

    as my covenant with them.

Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel

    and assign it to its own people again.

I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’

    and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’

They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures

    and on hills that were previously bare.

They will neither hunger nor thirst.

    The searing sun will not reach them anymore.

For the Lord in his mercy will lead them;

    he will lead them beside cool waters.

And I will make my mountains into level paths for them.

    The highways will be raised above the valleys.

See, my people will return from far away,

    from lands to the north and west,

    and from as far south as Egypt.”

Sing for joy, O heavens!

    Rejoice, O earth!

    Burst into song, O mountains!

For the Lord has comforted his people

    and will have compassion on them in their suffering.

Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;

    the Lord has forgotten us.”

“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?

    Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?

But even if that were possible,

    I would not forget you!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You’ll recall all the way back in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans and made a covenant. Part of that covenant stated that all nations would be blessed through him, his family, Israel, and eventually through the Messiah. The problem was that Israel, acting as God’s servant, was unfaithful and had been disciplined and hauled off to Babylon as exiles. God intended to rescue Israel from captivity, but how to atone for their sin? The answer is in the Messiah, the Servant of God. In the first verse of this chapter, through Isaiah, the Servant of the Lord proclaims, “Listen to me, all you in distant lands! Pay attention, you who are far away! [Israelites in exile] The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” (Remember the words of Gabriel to Mary? “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”) 

With that backdrop, we go to today’s pericope. Again the Servant of the Lord is speaking. “The one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.” You can’t but help notice God’s interest and call from the moment of conception and the beginning of mortal life which clearly begins long before physical birth (Psalm 139:13-16). Such was the case for Samson, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, and every person who was ever conceived. God knows every day of every person from the moment their life began in the womb.  

Though Israel failed in its role to bring blessing to the nations, God’s humble Servant stepped in and brought redemption to Israel and to the Gentile nations of the whole world even though receiving continuing rejection by God’s chosen people. In spite of this, the Servant would bring his people back to their homeland. There will again be rejoicing! He does not forget his people. Note the verbs in this passage. “I will respond, I will help, I will protect, I will reestablish.” The last sentences of this passage are so powerful. “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! Even when his children fail, as we do, God’s love and compassion for them and us remains constant and overwhelming. What a marvelous Savior!

Music: “Sing We Now of Christmas”      The Singers   Matthew Culloton

Bonus:      (Had this one from last year. Didn’t think you’d mind!)

  “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”  Mahalia Jackson      She is singing to Jesus and we get to listen! Don’t miss this. There was only one of her. The very best.

Prayer: 

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast, in various ways, testified and daily also dost prove how dear and precious to thee are mankind, as we enjoy daily so many and so remarkable proofs of thy goodness and favor,―O grant that we may learn to rely wholly on thy goodness, so many examples of which thou settest before us, and which thou wouldst have us continually to experience, that we may not only pass through our earthly course, but also confidently aspire to the hope of that blessed and celestial life which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ alone our Lord. Amen.                        

               ―John Calvin, Devotions & Prayers of John Calvin, p.55

Monday, December 28, Christmastide

Reader: “This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:” 

Response: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”  

Scripture: Matthew 2:13-18

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A cry was heard in Ramah—

    weeping and great mourning.

Rachel weeps for her children,

    refusing to be comforted,

    for they are dead.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

This third day in Christmastide has been observed since the fifth century in parts of the Western Church as the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a remembrance of Herod’s slaughter of the boys in Bethlehem in a desperate effort to kill Jesus. At a deeper level, Herod was used by the devil in an effort to thwart God’s plan of redemption. God had previously communicated news to Joseph regarding Mary’s pregnancy via an angel and here again an angelic visitation in a dream warns them to leave Bethlehem because the murdering king is seeking to kill their baby boy. Joseph gathers up Mary, the baby  Jesus, and leaves that very night for Egypt. 

After the birth of Jesus, we don’t know how long Mary and Joseph may have stayed in Bethlehem. In Luke’s account, he refers to Jesus as a baby. In Matthew’s record, he refers to Jesus as a child. It is Matthew who records the visit of the magi sometime after the birth of the Savior. There is reason to believe that Mary and Joseph may have stayed a while in Bethlehem after the census before escaping to Egypt, noting that Herod’s decree was to kill all boys under two years of age. 

Herod, “king of the Jews” was hated by the Jews. He descended from the Edomites (Esau’s lineage rather than Jacob’s) which meant he was not a descendant of King David and not considered to be Jewish since the blessing fell on Jacob and not Esau. He was also despised for his collaboration with the occupying Romans. Knowing he was not accepted by the Jews meant that he was paranoid, always afraid someone would take his throne. He killed two of his wives, his brother, three of his sons, two husbands of his sister, among others, out of fear that they were plotting against him! He kept kosher law so people said it was safer to be his pig than his son! 

In a similar story some 1400 years earlier, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, likewise ordered all baby Jewish boys to be killed in a kind of prefiguring of Herod’s cruelty. Moses, the redeemer of the Israelites, like Jesus, the Redeemer of all peoples, was spared to lead the people out of bondage in Egypt to freedom. Here, once again, God calls the ultimate Redeemer to lead his people out of the bondage of sin to forgiveness and freedom.  

The reference to Rachel weeping for her children may seem odd and bears some comment. Jeremiah recorded (38:15) the people of Israel being led into exile passing by the village of Ramah on their way to captivity in Babylon. Ramah was right near Bethlehem. You’ll recall Jacob’s wife, Rachel, dying giving birth in Bethlehem to Benjamin, one of the twelve sons of Israel (Jacob). She was buried in Ramah. The idea is that from her grave, Rachel is weeping as the Israelites, descendants of her sons pass by her grave on the way into Babylonian captivity. But Jeremiah records that the Lord tells her they will return to the homeland in these words, “Let your voice cease from its bitter weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work . . . they will return.” (Jer.31:15-16) 

Just as the Jews would return from exile to their homeland, so Jesus would return from his exile in Egypt back to Israel. Since Rachel had lived about 800 years before Jeremiah, it is interesting that Rachel is apparently still aware of what is happening on earth. But then we have Samuel coming from the grave to appear to King Saul knowing Saul’s situation, Moses and Elijah appearing at the Transfiguration to talk with Jesus about his upcoming “exodus” from earth. It would appear that, in some cases at least, people who have died are aware of what is happening on earth to some degree. This is not doctrine, just interesting! This is another example of the unity of the whole of Scripture. 

Music: “Away in a Manger”    Libera             Angelic!

Bonus: “Away in a Manger”     Home Free  Beautiful video with the original 1887 tune.

Prayer:

Almighty God, who canst give the light that in darkness shall make us glad, the life that in gloom shall make us joy, and the peace that amidst discord shall bring us quietness, let us live this day in that light, that life, and that peace, so that we may gain the victory over those things that press us down, and over the flesh that so often encumbers us, and over death that seemeth for a moment to win the victory. Thus we, being filled with inward peace, and light, and life, may walk all the days of this our mortal life, doing our work as the business of our Father, glorifying it, because it is Thy will, knowing that what Thou givest Thou givest in love. Bestow upon us the greatest and last blessing, that we, being in Thy presence, may be like unto Thee for evermore. These things we do ask, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                                       ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.205

Sunday, December 27, First Sunday in Christmastide

Reader: “In the beginning the Word already existed.”

Response: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 

Scripture:  John 1:1-14

In the beginning the Word already existed.

    The Word was with God,

    and the Word was God.

He existed in the beginning with God.

God created everything through him,

    and nothing was created except through him.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,

    and his life brought light to everyone.

The light shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness can never extinguish it.

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

The New Testament contains what many scholars believe are texts of hymns the early church sang. Such is the case for these first few lines in John’s gospel. In those early days of the church, hymns were a way of teaching faith and doctrine, a lesson from which many of the songwriters of today could greatly benefit. Volumes and volumes have been written on these fourteen verses, a centerpiece of the Christian faith. 

Notice how this passage echoes the beginning of Genesis which says “In the beginning God created . . .” John writes, “God created everything through him” [Jesus],thereby equating Jesus, the Logos, as God. “The Word was God” and also revealed God. John establishes the eternality of the Word. “For Jewish people, the logos was the word of the Lord, an expression of God’s wisdom and creative power. By Jesus’ time, the logos was viewed as coming from God and having his personality.”[The NLT Study Bible, p.1768] Recall in Genesis how God breathed the breath of life into man and he became a living person or a human being, unique among all of God’s creation. John writes that the Word gave life to everything that was created and this kind of life brought light to everyone. 

Light is a central theme in all of this gospel. Remember also in Genesis that light was created right after the heavens and the earth. The creation of light destroyed the darkness. John writes so beautifully that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it. This statement has profound implications. Notice darkness is always at war with the light. I don’t know this, but I would venture that more crimes are committed at night than in the day. (Riots tend to happen more frequently at night it seems.) 

Through the centuries there have been countless failed attempts to stamp out Christians and Christianity. Here, God’s Word says very clearly that that will never happen. Such a statement can also help us to identify “darkness” and the work of the evil one when such a nation, people, or movement seeks to destroy the work of the gospel. The smallest light is visible in any darkness. No matter how dark the darkness is, darkness cannot ever extinguish the tiniest light. 

While there is so much that could be said about this Prologue, I want to make a brief comment about the final sentence where it says “he [Logos] became human and made his home among us.” Some translations will read “he became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Greek word for “human” or “flesh” is sarx. To this point we learned that the Logos was God, Creator, giver of life, and unknown by his creation. The Gnostics, one of the people John was addressing, believed Jesus was not truly human, more of a “spiritual” type being. They did not believe Jesus died on the cross for example. John bluntly states that the Word [Logos] became flesh, human flesh, i.e. was a human being in every way, and made his home among us. This truth was especially hard for the Jews and Greeks who could not conceive of God having human flesh. The Greek word for “made his home” refers to a dwelling or tabernacle. For the Jewish readers, that immediately reminded them of the wilderness Tabernacle and God’s presence among them those forty years. Now, Jesus dwells in that Temple, and we are that temple. God in Christ is a human being, just like them. Seeing him is seeing the glory of God’s only Son. You and I are here to let that unquenchable light shine with the light of the Son, as temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19).

Music: “This Little Light of Mine”    arr.Moses Hogan  The National Lutheran Choir

Bonus: 

 “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child”   Christ Church Nashville

Prayer:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hast sent thy Son to take upon him our nature, and hast made him to become the Son of man, that we might become the sons of God: grant that we, being conformed to his humility and sufferings, may be partakers of his resurrection. We bless and adore you, O Christ: Son of God, yet born of Mary; Son of God, yet our brother; eternal Word, yet a child without speech; clothed in glory, yet wrapped in swaddling bands; Lord of heaven and earth, yet lying in a manger. We confess that we have lost our childlike innocence; we have despised what is tender and pure and corrupted ourselves with worldly opinion and secular culture. Forgive us, O God, and make us like little children whose lights shine in the darkness, lights of faith, of hope, and of love; so that we may again worship with wonder and awe at your manger throne. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

 ―Prayers for Sunday Services, p.76, adapted Daniel Sharp

Saturday, December 26, Christmastide

Reader: “Lord Jesus,”

Response: “receive my spirit.” 

Scripture: Acts 7:51-60

 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

Traditionally, this passage has been read the day after Christmas. For those unfamiliar with this tradition, it may seem like an odd choice.  But there is a reason. Stephen was the first adult martyr of the faith. This passage occurs at the end of a powerful message and challenge he gave to the Jewish leaders. He chided them for resisting the testimony of the Holy Spirit, reminding them of their long history of killing the prophets who predicted the coming of the Messiah. When he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” that pushed them over the edge. When he identified Jesus as the divine Son of Man spoken of in the book of Daniel, it was akin to blasphemy, deserving of stoning to death under the law, which they did. 

In his dying moments, Stephen prayed words similar to those of Jesus on the cross, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin.” Already following Christ brought persecution and sorrow as Saul, a consenting witness to the death of Stephen, was to learn. The soul of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was indeed pierced as Simeon had prophesied at Jesus’ dedication forty days after his birth (Lk.2:35). From the beginning, following Jesus was not without cost, then or now.  

Music: “Angels We Have Heard on High”   Robert Shaw Chorale  gorgeous choral singing. Terrific arrangement! 

Bonus:  “I Wonder as I Wander”    The King Singers and London Symphony

Prayer: Lord God, I am no longer my own, but Thine. Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee. Let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.        ―The Methodist Covenant Prayer, Celtic Daily Prayer, p30

Friday, December 25, Christmas Day

Reminder: the Sharp Devotionals go all the way to Epiphany, January 6th, and then some!    

Reader: “Shout to the Lord, all the earth;”

Response: “break out in praise and sing for joy! ”  

Scripture: Psalm 98

Sing a new song to the Lord,

    for he has done wonderful deeds.

His right hand has won a mighty victory;

    his holy arm has shown his saving power!

The Lord has announced his victory

    and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!

He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.

    The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;

    break out in praise and sing for joy!

Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,

    with the harp and melodious song,

    with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.

    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!

    Let the earth and all living things join in.

Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!

Let the hills sing out their songs of joy

    before the Lord,

    for he is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with justice,

    and the nations with fairness.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

On this glorious Christmas day this psalm helps us grasp the magnificent scope of our celebration. Put yourself back in those days of Israel. For those who recognized what had happened, God had actually arrived. He was faithful to Israel after centuries of longing! It was truly a “new song” for certain! And the Child had come for all nations.

One of the major forms of praise is singing, which can express great joy! The psalmist urges us to voice our praise with voice and instrument, to make a symphony of sound! Sometimes we may be inclined to think that only humans can voice praise to God. Again, the psalmist reminds us that the birth of the Messiah and his coming restoration was not only of human beings but of all creation. The crashing of ocean waves and breaching whales create their own spectacular music. We never tire of watching. If you have ever been near the rapids of a river, or stood by a massive waterfall, you can’t help but sense the “rejoicing” of the water. Do hills sing? Even apart from “the hills are alive with the sound of music”(!), anytime you have ever walked in a meadow in the early morning or sat at the top of a hill for an extended period of time, you will hear music of a different sort, 

God’s creation singing its song of praise. The psalmist concludes with the powerful reminder that God is coming to earth again to judge the world with justice and he will treat all nations with fairness. In these days when justice is of great concern, we are reminded that God is the ultimate judge and that he alone is the arbiter of fairness. This may seem a bit of an odd passage and comments for a Christmas Day, but it is a reminder of the massive scope of the significance of Jesus’ birth which impacts everything on earth and in the heavens. Christmas is not a one day event from the historical past. It is a miraculous day which impacts everything forever!

Music: “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”     The Brits again!

Bonuses!    (I’ve taken the liberty to add some bonus music, including some wonderful settings of a few secular classics.)

 “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”   King’s College Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4yYb6yCNws 

“I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In”    Blackmore’s Night

“Good Christian Men, Rejoice”         Wissmann family

Prayer: 

Glory be to thee, O Christ, whose praises the angels sing, whom the heights of heaven adore. In the miracle of thy stable-birth and in the mystery of thine incarnation thy people everywhere rejoice this day. To thy name help us to bow the knee and all its worshipping, bow the head and all its thinking, bow the will and all its choosing, bow the heart and all its loving.  

Glory be to thee, O Father, who by the birth of thy Son didst give a great light to dawn on the world’s darkness. Glory be to thee, O Holy Spirit, who hast,  again in these days, hung forth a star in the lowly heaven of every Christian soul and seekest to lead us in the ways of humility and the paths of peace. Blessed be God, the only God: three persons in one eternity of love. Blessed be God for all that he is. Blessed be God for all that he has done. Blessed in his Church on earth and blessed in the height of heaven.

 Grant, O Father, that we who celebrate his nativity with deep devotion may also find the day of judgment a day of mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, born colored and poor, welcomed by working men and kings, come to our world and heal our deep divisions, that we may be not white and black, male and female, employer and employed, but the children of God, seeing you, our Lord in one another. All glory to you, great God, for the gift of your Son, light in darkness and hope of the world, whom you have sent to save mankind. With singing angels, let us praise your name, and tell the earth his story, so that men may believe, rejoice, and bow down, acknowledging your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                              ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, Edinburg, p.74

Thursday, December 24, Christmas Eve

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world has come!” (As you light the Christ candle.)   

Reader: “Glory to God in highest heaven,”

Response: “and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

   “Glory to God in highest heaven,

    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. 

Reader: “The glorious word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

I would guess you have heard this passage read on Christmas Eve almost as many times as you are years old! Think of it. It’s the magnificent culmination of thousands of years of anticipation in such an understated entrance of God into the world. At the risk of repeating what you already know, I thought I’d add some context to this most familiar account. 

At this particular time in Roman history, there were also censuses in Spain, Syria, and Gaul in addition to Judea. Rome had firm control of the Mediterranean world. In some ways, reporting for a census was sort of like producing a birth certificate, except you were the proof you were born there. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about eighty miles. Even riding on a donkey, we’re talking of a trip of several days. But notice the Bible says nothing about a donkey. And I would not assume that Mary was nine months pregnant when they started their eighty mile journey! The phrase “while they were there” seems to indicate they may have been there for an extended period of time. It could well be that they each had relatives living in Bethlehem. Family lineage was huge in the Jewish culture as borne out by the lists of genealogies throughout the Scriptures. At any rate, Jesus was born during their stay there. “There was no lodging available for them” is a much better translation than “there was no room for them at the inn,” especially since there were no inns in Bethlehem at that time! “Lodging” would refer to a guest room in a private house or a public shelter for travelers. Neither were available, hence, the manger and animal shelter served as the delivery room for the King of kings! 

Shepherds were viewed as poor, common humble people who tended their flocks outdoors, sometimes through the cold winter months as well. We don’t know the actual month of Jesus’ birth, though with some biblical reasoning late summer or September is a more likely time from. (E.g. Judean shephards are not in the fields with their flocks in the winter months.) As with Zechariah and to a lesser degree with Mary, the shepherds were frightened at the angels’ appearance, though this angelic entrance into our world was quite a bit more dramatic. The message was clear, a Savior has been born. The angels mention again that Jesus is wrapped snugly in strips of cloth as a sign, the normal custom for newborns in that day and even in ours. Such a practice provides a newborn comfort and security, feeling somewhat similar to the coziness of the womb. 

Luke, who most likely got all this information from Mary herself, gives us this account simply and in a straightforward manner. But think about it. Since the dawn of creation and that devastating moment in the Garden of Eden when a perfect, sinless relationship between man and God was permanently destroyed, humans and all of creation looked forward to a coming Redeemer. We are looking at thousands and thousands of years. Yet, on this particular day, at some point the Creator of the universe emerged from the womb, God in human flesh, fully, completely human in every way and fully divine as he had been for all eternity. Could it have been a more humble entrance? 

The one who created vast worlds measured in light years, arrives as the Light of the world with a cry that pierces his own universe. We can’t begin to imagine the humility involved in such love for ones made in his own image. At some point down the road, we’ll get to join the angels in “Glory to God in highest heaven” and we’ll be there! Merry Christmas!

Music: “Fanfare and Carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful”  arr. David Wilcocks  Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble and Bach Choir

Bonus: “Mary, Did You Know?”  Vocative with Mark Lowrey, (the guy who wrote the song sings it) DON’T MISS THIS!!!! Best setting of this I’ve ever heard. Astounding voices.

Prayer:

O God, who hast caused this holy night to shine with the illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we beseech, that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon the earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with thee and the Holy Spirit he liveth and reigneth, one God in glory, everlasting. Amen.     ―BCP

Wednesday, December 23

Reader: “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.”

Response: “How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” 

Scripture: Luke 1:46b-55

 Mary responded, [following her visit with Elizabeth]

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

    and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation

    to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

He has brought down princes from their thrones

    and exalted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    and sent the rich away with empty hands.

He has helped his servant Israel

    and remembered to be merciful.

For he made this promise to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and his children forever.”

Reader: “The glorious word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

And here we have what is known as the Magnificat, meaning “magnified,” named such for the first word of the Latin text in the Vulgate, as translated by Jerome in the early fifth century. Mary is a most significant person in Scripture and one who has at the same time been controversial as to her position and role in Christendom. In Roman Catholicism she is seen as sinless, the Eastern Orthodox has a slightly different perspective, whereas Protestant theology has yet a different viewpoint. A discussion of the differences is beyond the scope and purpose of these devotionals. 

What I would like to do is for us to note Mary’s involvement in Jesus’ life her entire life and then look at her role in relation to Eve at creation. We saw how Mary, as a young girl, humbly accepted her role to be the bearer of God’s Son. She followed the Jewish law in his circumcision and the redemption of the first born on the fortieth day. She bore at least six other children. She was most concerned when he was lost at the Temple at the age of twelve, but didn’t understand his response. She was present for his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Later she went with her other sons to “bring Jesus home” fearing maybe he had “lost it.” He assured that those who were his disciples were his “real family.” I’m guessing she was wondering what that meant. When he was crucified, she was among those that were present at the cross, as Jesus commended John to take care of her. Following his death and resurrection, she was apparently among the believing community and was named as being part of the praying community at Pentecost. 

The first line of her song proved true “How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” There is a second theological aspect of Mary I would like to touch on. We have read in the Scriptures that Jesus was the second Adam (I Cor. 15:45-48). Paul writes the first Adam became a life-giving being, the second Adam a life-giving spirit. With the first Adam’s fall, sin entered, and his spirit died. The second Adam resisted the devil, remained sinless, and conquered death making possible the renewing of the spirit in man. Likewise, the first Eve was created perfect but fell in sin which led to an entire fallen human race. In effect, she was the mother of death for the human race. Mary, the second Eve, though a sinner from birth, bore the Son of God, the Savior of the world, who brought life to the fallen human race. Thus in a sense, since Jesus was the second Adam, Mary could be viewed as the second Eve, a most significant role in the master plan of God’s redemption and recreation. 

Music: Magnificat” JS Bach     GLORIOUS!!!     At the end of every piece Bach wrote S.D.G.  Soli Deo Gloria,  “to God alone be glory.”   

Translation:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 

for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Bonus:

You can watch and listen to the entire piece about 35 minutes long at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YHf3CtEi8E

Prayer: 

Lord of all creation, we have erred and gone our own way from the beginning. We were born in sin and it didn’t take us long to confirm that truth! Our lives have been a long battle to humble ourselves and walk in your path. Discipline continues to be a challenge for us. We are continually guided by what we think, what we want, and how we feel rather than how you think, what you want, and how you feel. We live all too often by our fallen dead spirit rather than by your transforming Holy Spirit. We have doubted your word like our human mother Eve rather than believe you. Give to us grace and strength to walk in obedience as did your earthly mother, Mary. This we pray through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.                     ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, December 22

Reader: ““My heart rejoices in the Lord!”

Response: “The Lord has made me strong.” 

Scripture:  2 Samuel 2:1-10

 Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!

    The Lord has made me strong.

Now I have an answer for my enemies;

    I rejoice because you rescued me.

No one is holy like the Lord!

    There is no one besides you;

    there is no Rock like our God.

“Stop acting so proud and haughty!

    Don’t speak with such arrogance!

For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;

    he will judge your actions.

The bow of the mighty is now broken,

    and those who stumbled are now strong.

Those who were well fed are now starving,

    and those who were starving are now full.

The childless woman now has seven children,

    and the woman with many children wastes away.

The Lord gives both death and life;

    he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.

The Lord makes some poor and others rich;

    he brings some down and lifts others up.

He lifts the poor from the dust

    and the needy from the garbage dump.

He sets them among princes,

    placing them in seats of honor.

For all the earth is the Lord’s,

    and he has set the world in order.

“He will protect his faithful ones,

    but the wicked will disappear in darkness.

No one will succeed by strength alone.

    Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.

He thunders against them from heaven;

    the Lord judges throughout the earth.

He gives power to his king;

    he increases the strength of his anointed one.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

The good news is that the Lord answered Hannah’s prayer for a child (I Sam.1:19-28). He gave her Samuel who became the first great prophet in Israel. He anointed Israel’s first king, Saul, and its greatest, King David. He confronted Eli with his failure to discipline his own corrupt sons. And Samuel powerfully led Israel through rough waters, challenging them continually to follow the Lord. All of Israel gathered when he died to mourn his death. He was buried at his home in Ramah, which is there to this day. We visited this site when we went to Israel years ago. Samuel even appeared after his death to bring judgment on Saul for his failures following the Lord and to announce his impending death! His ministry continued from the grave, also confirming again that there is life after death.

In today’s passage, Hannah’s song of praise and Mary’s song of praise, which we’ll look at tomorrow, have many of the same themes. Bringing down the rich and powerful and exalting the poor and downtrodden are common references in both songs. For example, as wealthy men, Eli was not a stellar priest to say the least; Saul was an unrighteous ruler in Hannah’s time; and Herod was a terrible ruler in Mary’s day. The poor, Samuel, David, and Jesus were exalted from their humble and lowly positions to be powerful men fulfilling God’s purposes. In other similarities, Samuel and Jesus were both dedicated for God’s service in the Temple. Samuel anointed David for service and John the Baptist through the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus for ministry. In passing, a minor note, Hannah’s song refers to a childless woman who had seven children. She had five more after Samuel. We know that Mary, Jesus’ mother, had at least seven children. Hannah’s song describes Jesus’ ministry in a beautiful way. As you read through her hymn, all the various acts of Jesus easily come to mind. My guess is that Mary knew Hannah’s song well since the Scriptures tell us she was an observant Jew who loved her Lord (Lk.2:41). Both women responded in a beautiful and artful way to the intervention of God entering their lives to advance his plan of redemption. It is interesting that they could have also added their names to the “poor and unassuming.” That’s the same place we all fit in. Let us be as faithful as these women.

Music: “Hannah’s Prayer” Edmund and Gisela Bullock

Bonus:

 “O Holy Night”  Il Divo   You will listen to this one multiple times. Voices from heaven!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5j_XuATgRU      DON’T MISS IT!! One of the best of the whole Advent Season!

Prayer:

Lord, do not permit my trials to be above my strength; and do thou vouchsafe to be my strength and comfort in the time of trial. Give me grace to take in good part whatever shall befall me; and let my heart acknowledge it to be the Lord’s doing, and to come from Thy Providence, and not by chance. May I receive everything from Thy hand with patience and with joy. Amen.                  ―Thomas Wilson (1663-1755), Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.170

Monday, December 21

Reader: “May the God of Israel grant the request . . .”

Response: “you have asked of him.” 

Scripture: I Samuel 1:1-18

There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not.

Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas. On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion because the Lord had given her no children. So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”

Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”

As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”

“Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”

“In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

“Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

This is a story that is all too familiar in the First Testament, the story of a woman dealing with infertility (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, wife of Manoah, Hannah). In those days, being childless carried a heavy stigma of shame in the Hebrew culture. It is borne out in this story. Having dealt with infertility for years before our boys were born, we know the pain of going to bed at night weeping, wondering if God will ever answer our prayers for children. He doesn’t always, but in our case, he gave us two wonderful boys. So when I read this account, I can identify with Hannah’s sadness. I couldn’t help but smile at Elkanah’s typical man’s response to Hannah’s sorrow trying to make his wife feel better―it never works! “Why be downhearted just because you have no children?” You have me―isn’t that better than having ten sons?” (A word of advice, Elkanah, “Spend your time listening to her and empathizing with her, not solving her problem!) 

They had traveled annually to Shiloh, the location of the Tabernacle to offer a sacrifice. Hannah always went, but it was a tough time for her. Not having children only magnified the situation. So again this year she went and poured out her heart to the Lord again and made a desperate vow to the Lord. If God gave her a son, she would give him back to the Lord. Eli, an undisciplined priest, heard her praying and thought she was drunk. Israel was in a spiritual wasteland at this point and Eli, frankly, did not even recognize spiritual fervor when he saw it. She explained to him her situation and he blessed her with “may God grant your request.” Hannah’s countenance changed and her sadness left. She believed God would answer her prayer. 

We’ve often said there are shadows of the New Testament in the Old. Here is another case. This is somewhat similar to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In a way, Eli was similar to the angel speaking to Zechariah. What is also interesting in each of the women I mentioned above who dealt with infertility, all had promised boys, boys that became very significant in the unfolding of God’s plan: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist. All turned into major characters in the Bible. 

What are some lessons here? 1) Don’t try to explain away the pain when someone is having a tough time (Elkanah). Listen and empathize. 2) Continue to pray, making your requests known and leave it in God’s hands. 3) Two wives are more trouble than one! 4) Keep your ears open for people around you today who may need a word of encouragement. 5) Continue to worship no matter what. 6) You are part of God’s larger plan whether you realize it or not. 7) You never know what God has in mind. (As we’ll see tomorrow with Hannah’s pregnancy.) Pray and be at peace.

Music:  “Silent Night”  

 Sissel Kyrkjebϴ    This Norwegian lady has one of the most beautiful soprano voices you will ever hear. Effortless!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK3_Kr2nLtA&list=RDuK3_Kr2nLtA&start_radio=1&t=127&t=0 

Bonus: “Silent Night”   Libera     -Exquisite Boy Choir    The Brits know how to do Christmas!!! Don’t miss this either!

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, all stars, creatures on land and in the sea, all human beings, all things seen and unseen, and all powers and dominions, we humbly bow before you in reverence and awe. As creator of the universe you are, nevertheless, aware of each little detail of life, everyone’s life. What a magnificent God you are! You answer prayer and you answer it perfectly in your time. Grant that we would be persistent in the prayer burdens you give us. Like Hannah, may we pour out our hearts with fervor. Unlike Eli, may we be so tuned to your Spirit that we would recognize our part in the work of your kingdom. As we approach Christmas Day and gatherings of family and friends, tune our spirits to those around us that we may be a voice of hope and encouragement to those with whom we share time. Our Savior entered a hostile world and brought truth and tenderness. Help us to do the same. In Jesus’ name, Amen                                                                      ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, December 20, FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the fourth Advent candle.)

Reader: ““Greetings, favored woman!”

Response: “The Lord is with you!”

Scripture:  Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Think about it. In this passage Luke describes the pinnacle of Old Testament prophecy. All the prophetic announcements pointed to these few minutes of dialogue. Though the passage is very familiar to most of us, I’d like us to walk slowly through Gabriel’s announcement. Six months earlier Gabriel had appeared in Jerusalem to Zechariah to tell him of Elizabeth’s pregnancy carrying John the Baptist. Now he appears seventy miles north in the small village of Nazareth to a young engaged girl who is by herself. In this culture, engagement had the same moral boundaries as marriage, though there was no consummation until the actual marriage ceremony after the husband had prepared their home. Gabriel’s words were, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 

Put yourself in Mary’s place. You are quietly minding your own business and this person, apparently the angel had no “other world” appearance or else Mary was very brave. When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, the Scriptures say he was frightened. Fear was the usual response to an angelic appearance (E.g.shepherds in the fields). At any rate, Mary shows no fear.  She is wondering, “God favors me. . .  the Lord is with me? What does this mean?” Notice Mary accepts Gabriel’s words at face value even though she is confused and unsettled. She’s trying to get a handle on what was said. She’s poised, but troubled. Then we hear from the angel “Don’t be afraid, you’ve found favor with God! And Mary is thinking, “So what does all this mean?” The angel tells her what it means! You are going to conceive and give birth to a son, who you are going to name Jesus. Mary’s head is spinning trying to process the meaning of the words she’s hearing . . . and the angel’s words keep coming. This baby boy you are going to have will be very, very great and in fact, will be called the Son of the Most High. By now Mary is thinking, “Whoa, slow down! I’m still back at the conceiving part.” Gabriel continues, the Lord God will give him the eternal throne of his ancestor, King David, and he will reign over his Kingdom which will never end!” Mary is still back trying to process the conception part. So she asks, “Since I am a virgin and have never been with a man, how is this conception part going to happen? I’m not saying it can’t, but I don’t understand.” 

Then in Luke’s most gracious and delicate manner he relates the angel’s explanation to Mary. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The baby born will be holy and he will be called the Son of God. We have no more details than that. In these words Mary learns that her baby will be holy, sinless. If he is to be the Redeemer of the world, he must be free of all sin in order to pay the price for sinners in the sight of God the Father. At the same time, he must have the exact same human nature in every way, hence born of a woman. In Gabriel’s words, both requirements, holy in God’s sight and perfectly human in God’s sight, have been met in this baby to be born of Mary. Only God could be the Father of Mary’s baby. The incarnation was spelled out. Mary was able to grasp Gabriel’s explanation. Almost as a word of encouragement, he tells her the story of her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy, concluding with a final affirmation, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary gave her response in the most simple and sublime words of submission and trust, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” What poise, what grace, what faith! 

Being a pregnant engaged woman meant gossip, knowing winks, rumors, possible stoning, and a ruined reputation. Undoubtedly she was not believed. Graciously, God sent Gabriel to her fiancé, Joseph, to tell him of the news knowing he would likewise never believe Mary’s story. She followed her Son all through his ministry, all the way to the cross. She was without a doubt, the most remarkable woman who has ever lived.

Music: “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came”    All Angels

Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  ―BCP

Saturday, December 19

Reader: “Surely this man is the Prophet . . .” 

Response: “we’ve been expecting.”  

Scripture: John 7:40-52

When the crowds heard him say this, some of them declared, “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others said, “But he can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born.” So the crowd was divided about him. Some even wanted him arrested, but no one laid a hand on him.

When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

“We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.

“Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.

They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

In reading this passage, it is important to understand the Jewish context. We’ve picked up John’s account midstream. Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, an agrarian feast with Messianic implications. The seven day feast featured the pouring of water each day with a prayer for God to send rain in late autumn. On this last day, being the climax of the whole feast, Jesus was not shy. He had just shouted that “Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” Jesus was referring to Messianic texts in Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel. 

This all happened prior to what you just read. We then come to today’s pericope. That the crowd and the Jewish leaders picked up on Jesus’ claim is evident by their responses. (Remember the Jews knew the Old Testament inside and out.) Some said, “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” (This is a direct reference to Moses’ prediction of the Lord raising up a Prophet like himself (Deut.18:15). Moses was viewed as a kind of super prophet.) Others in the crowd simply said Jesus was the Messiah. Then there was the issue of his birthplace. The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. Why someone didn’t ask Jesus where he was born is a mystery to me! Still others in the celebration wanted to have him arrested for blasphemy. The Temple guards were clearly taken with Jesus’ persona and speech. Nicodemus, a Jewish leader who had met secretly with Jesus earlier and was perhaps in the process of coming to faith, warned against drawing a hasty conclusion without hearing all the evidence. The Pharisees’ concluding comment here was the challenge to Nicodemus to search the Scriptures and he would find―”no prophet ever comes from Galilee!” Unfortunately for them in searching the Scriptures, we do find in Isaiah 9:1-2 a  direct reference to the glory of God coming from Galilee. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” 

What does this say to us? We need to be a people who know the Scriptures―part of the purpose of these daily devotionals. If the Jewish people in Jesus’ day did not know the Old Testament, they would have been completely oblivious to who was in their midst. But they did know the Tanakh (OT), but still many missed him. In our day, when it is popular to be a “spiritual” person―apart from the God of the Bible, it is imperative that we are well-versed in the Scriptures. Unfortunately, much of the so-called spirituality we read today is unbiblical and self-focused. In your conversations in various settings this season, don’t be shy to speak the truth with gentleness and clarity.

Music: “Long Ago Prophets Knew”  A British Christian Music Programme

Would this ever happen in the states???

Bonus: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”    Kings College Choir  Spectacular Brass and Cathedral setting, don’t miss it.

Prayer:

We thank Thee, O God, for the return of the wondrous spell of this Advent season that brings its own sweet joy into our jaded and troubled hearts. Forbid it, Lord, that we should celebrate without understanding the significance of what we celebrate, or, like our counterparts so long ago, fail to see the star or to hear the song of glorious promise. As our hearts yield to the spirit of Christmas, may we discover that it is Thy Holy Spirit who comes―not in sentiment, but a power―to remind us of the only way by which there may be peace on the earth and good will among men. May we not spend Christmas, but keep it, that we may be kept in its hope, through Him who emptied Himself in coming to us that we might be filled with peace and joy in returning to God. Amen.             

     ―Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall, prayer in the US Senate, Friday, December 19, 1947

Friday, December 18

Reader: “I will be his Father,

Response: “and he will be my Son.”  

Scripture: Hebrews 1:5-14

For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus:

“You are my Son.

    Today I have become your Father.[a]”

God also said,

“I will be his Father,

    and he will be my Son.”[b]

And when he brought his supreme[c] Son into the world, God said,[d]

“Let all of God’s angels worship him.”[e]

Regarding the angels, he says,

“He sends his angels like the winds,

    his servants like flames of fire.”[f]

But to the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.

    You rule with a scepter of justice.

You love justice and hate evil.

    Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you,

    pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.”[g]

He also says to the Son,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundation of the earth

    and made the heavens with your hands.

They will perish, but you remain forever.

    They will wear out like old clothing.

You will fold them up like a cloak

    and discard them like old clothing.

But you are always the same;

    you will live forever.”[h]

And God never said to any of the angels,

“Sit in the place of honor at my right hand

    until I humble your enemies,

    making them a footstool under your feet.”[i]

Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

  1. Or Today I reveal you as my Son. Ps 2:7.
  2. 2 Sam 7:14.
  3. Or firstborn.
  4. Or when he again brings his supreme Son [or firstborn Son] into the world, God will say.
  5. Deut 32:43.
  6. Ps 104:4 (Greek version).
  7. Ps 45:6-7.
  8. Ps 102:25-27.
  9. Ps 110:1.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:    

Commenting on this passage is a challenge because there is so much here, so I left the footnote references in. The book of Hebrews is a magnificent treatise on understanding Jesus in relation to the Old Testament. The better you know the First Testament, the more you will discover in this epistle. We mentioned yesterday the very high view the Jews had of angels and there was a very valid reason. For example, angels were divine messengers present in visiting Abram and Sarai, in the giving of the Law, at the tomb of Jesus, and at the ascension. The angels were to worship Jesus. 

This passage is an argument for the superiority of Jesus, laid out almost as a court case. First, God the Father is the presenter commenting on his Son, then he comments on the angels, then on his Son, then on angels, then a concluding statement. It is also written as an inclusio, a literary device in which the beginning and ending of a section include the same material. (“God never said to any of the angels.”) I’ve also taken the liberty to include the footnote comments and references. The book of Hebrews quotes massive amounts of the Old Testament in demonstrating how Jesus fulfills and is superior in every way to various OT heroes. The writer begins right away telling his readers that God’s words to Jesus were unique. As lofty as angels were, they were not his Son. This translation uses the word “supreme” in reference to his Son. Sometimes it is translated elsewhere as “first born” which has to do with preeminence, placing him at the highest possible honor at the right hand (the strong hand) of the Father. This word, contrary to Jehovah Witnesses’ propaganda, has nothing to do with physical birth. (Col.1:18) Then there is the powerful statement from God commanding the angels to worship the Son. Then a few verses later, the Father calls the Son God and goes on to describe how he endures forever as creator and ruler over all creation. God’s comments on the person and role of his Son conclude with the invitation to sit in the place of honor at the Father’s right hand until the Father humbles all the enemies of the Son and they bow their necks under the feet of the Son. If that isn’t a strong enough case, the writer of Hebrews makes his concluding statement, “therefore, angels are only servants”―case closed! Readers, adjust your view of angels; Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand, his work completed. 

Reading Jesus’ pedigree in this passage and throughout this remarkable epistle, makes the simple birth of a baby boy to a young mother in a nondescript rustic manger all the more awe-inspiring and mysterious. Who would have ever guessed the Son of God would enter this world in such a manner? 

Music: “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”       Chris Rupp and the Fox and the Hound

Bonus:   Interesting fact. Chris Rupp a former member of Home Free (below) went out on his own (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly) though he still sings with Home Free sometimes.

 “Angels We Have Heard on High”    Home Free   (I know, a repeat from other years. But in case you missed it then. This is really one of the best versions. Not over produced IMO.

Prayer:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; so that on that last day, when he shall come again in glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, Amen.  

          ―Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.45

Friends,I want to thank you for subscribing this year. I want to mention something to you if the Lord so moves you. Doing these devotionals is not without actual cost―e.g. getting the material into the proper format and year-round monthly rentals to the email host. I checked into setting up a 501c (3) and found it wasn’t feasible for writing this devotional. If you would like to help with expenses, you can make a donation which is not tax deductible. The subscriptions are always and always will be completely free. There is certainly no obligation to contribute, but if you would like to, please make your check to: Dan Sharp, 4017 Isle Vista Ave, Belle Isle, FL 32812. You can also contribute via my PayPal account.

Thursday, December 17

Reader: “Long ago God spoke many times.” 

Response: “And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.” 

Scripture: Hebrews 1:1-4

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

By now are you beginning to get the picture of how significant a role the Old Testament prophets played in the revealing of God’s grand design for restoration of all of creation? The writer of Hebrews packs so much in these four short verses built around the main clause, “God spoke.”  Genesis opens with “In the beginning God created . . . and God said . . .” Our God acts and our God speaks in a variety of ways. Buddah doesn’t speak. Mohammed doesn’t speak. Confucious doesn’t speak. God speaks! God is persistent in speaking and he is also creative! The writer has set up the different ways God spoke in the “long ago,” contrasting it with how he has spoken in the present era (the era of the writing of Hebrews). 

Think about the various ways God spoke in the First Testament. Of course with the voices of the prophets, but he also spoke in dreams, visions, stories, commands, angelic appearances, theophanies, short dramatizations―breaking pottery or burying things in the ground for example. He even had a donkey speak! God speaking in these final days (the historical era inaugurated by the birth of Jesus) was through his Son. The message was crystal clear, God not only spoke, he had come in the flesh. Along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe. The Son is God. The Son radiates God’s own glory. 

This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek word for “radiates” is used. It is different from all the other words for shine. This unique brightness is not reflective from another source, but rather a dazzling brilliance that comes from within the Son. As God incarnate, he is the source of the brilliance, another affirmation of the deity of Christ. The Son radiates the Father’s glory in the world. The unapproachable light of God is approachable only through the incarnate Christ. (The writer of Hebrews is seeking to show that Jesus, as God’s Son, is superior in every way to the Old Covenant and fulfills it completely. Notice, he carries Jesus’ work all the way through the ascension to his sitting down at the right hand of God the Father, indicating his work of redemption is finished. The high priest never sat down as his work was never finished.) The writer then concludes this short preamble stating Jesus’ superiority to angels. That may seem a little strange to us, but for the Jewish reader, it was a significant statement. Angels were often messengers of God in the Old Testament and held in high esteem. Jesus is superior to the angels. These four verses give a marvelous picture of God’s Son, making his humble birth in a stable all the more wondrous and surprising. 

Music: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”   Mississippi College Singers

Bonus:        (Leave it to the Mormons . . . except for the theology!!)

 “Angels from the Realms of Glory”  BYU Idaho Dept. of Music

Prayer: 

Eternal Light, before whom all darkness is light, and, in comparison with whom, every other light is but darkness, may it please Thee to send forth Thy light and Thy truth, that they may lead us. Purify, we pray Thee, our souls from all impure imaginations, that Thy most beautiful and radiant holy image may again be renewed within us, and, by contemplating Thy glorious perfections, we may feel daily improved within us that Divine similitude. Till this most blessed day break, and the shadows of this world fly away, let Thy Spirit be continually with us, and may we feel the powerful effects of Thy Divine grace constantly directing and supporting our steps; that all our endeavors, throughout the whole remaining part of our lives, may serve to promote the honor of Thy blessed Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord―Amen.           ―Robert Leighton (1611-1684) adapted Daniel Sharp, Prayers Ancient and Modern p.353

Wednesday, December 16

Reader: “The day of judgment is coming,” 

Response: “burning like a furnace.” 

Scripture: Malachi 3:16-4:6               

 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name.

“They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.

“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord,”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We’ve said that often prophets have a rough task with a tough audience. Such was the case for Malachi. In his congregation of Israelites were the disillusioned, the cynical, the callous, the dishonest, the apathetic, the doubters, the skeptics, the arrogant, the defiant, and the downright evil persons. I said it was a tough crowd! All of those people appear in the four chapters of this book. Can you imagine preaching to this collection of humans? In spite of these malcontents, there were a few faithful people whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:17). On the day of judgment they will be spared. Malachi speaks very plainly that a day of final judgment is coming for everyone who has ever lived. For the righteous who have put their trust in God comes abundant blessing and great joy, and for the wicked as described above, being burned up like straw. Malachi closes his message with the words we referred to a couple of days ago. He makes a final appeal for obedience to the Law of Moses, which every Jew knew. He then points the people forward to the coming of Elijah in heralding the great and dreadful day of the Lord and his message to repent and turn to the Savior or . . . receive the curse, which implies total destruction. 

By now you might be getting tired of hearing about the coming judgment and the end of the world as we know it. Come on, Dan, let’s have some more Christmasy thoughts! I’m just writing about what the Bible says. Maybe the Scripture’s great concern with repentance and dealing with sin is that it is important to God! It may be that in general, we view Christmas and the birth of Jesus as a singular event disassociated from the greater Story of God. The result can be that we trivialize the nativity as a sweet sentimental story, kind of like a sacred “Good Night Moon.” For sure, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus with great joy and singing. Don’t hold back, but be aware the baby in the manger is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his own death. 

Music: “Behold the Lamb of God” from Messiah        Mogens Dahl Chamber Choir

Prayer: 

O God, who hast proven Thy love for mankind by sending us Jesus Christ our Lord, and hast illumined our human life by the radiance of his presence, I give Thee thanks for this Thy greatest gift. For my Lord’s arrival in Bethlehem, for his journey to the Temple of his Father, for his days upon earth, for the record of his deeds of love, for the words he spoke for my guidance and help, for his forgiving my sin, for his obedience unto death, for his victory over death, for his ascension to his Father’s right hand, for his intercession on my behalf, and for the presence of his Spirit with me now, I thank thee, O God. And may this season be one of a more profound alleluia! This we pray in the name of the Baby who took away the sins of the world. Amen.  ―A Diary of Private Prayer, p.29, adapted Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, December 15

Reader: “Now repent of your sins and turn to God,” 

Response: “so that your sins may be wiped away.”

Scripture:  Act 3:17-4:4

“Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things. Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people. Listen carefully to everything he tells you.’ Then Moses said, ‘Anyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from God’s people.’

“Starting with Samuel, every prophet spoke about what is happening today. You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors. For God said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.”

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

In following up on yesterday’s comments, Peter picks up that same discussion in his sermon at Pentecost. The people he was speaking to, like many people today, are ignorant of Jesus. In Peter’s day, they killed Jesus. In our day, people effectively kill Jesus by ignoring his death, resurrection, and ascension. His death likewise means nothing to them. Peter proclaimed to the people that God was fulfilling the words of all the prophets regarding the suffering of the Messiah. It wasn’t as though they had had no warning in regards to the Messiah. Peter then reiterated Moses’ esteemed words from Deuteronomy where he spoke of God raising up from among the Jews the ultimate Prophet meaning Jesus. Failure to respond to this Prophet meant being cut off from God. Peter let the people know that they were in the waiting period for the Son of God to return for the final restoration of all things, as are we. 

From the time of Abraham through today, God intends to bless all nations through the people of Israel. Of course, there has always been resistance to the gospel as we read how the religious leaders were very disturbed at the message of Peter and John. The message of the gospel did not fit their narrative of how things should be. The nature of the truth moves everyone off center both then and now. And, there is often a price to pay for proclaiming the truth. As you are in various settings this Advent season, do not shy away from speaking the truth. It’s too important.    

Music: “O Come, Let Us Adore Him”    Voctave (I admit, this is a repeat from last year!)

Prayer:

I kneel before you Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of the glorious riches of Jesus,  he may strengthen me with power through his Spirit in my inner being, so that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith. And I pray that I, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that I may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. This I pray through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.   

 ―adapted Daniel Sharp, the Apostle Paul,  Eph. 3:14-19

Monday, December 14

Reader: “‘Go and tell your master,” 

Response: “Elijah is here.’”   

Scripture: I Kings 18:1-18

Later on, in the third year of the drought, the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain!” So Elijah went to appear before Ahab.

Meanwhile, the famine had become very severe in Samaria. So Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Obadiah was a devoted follower of the Lord. Once when Jezebel had tried to kill all the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had hidden 100 of them in two caves. He put fifty prophets in each cave and supplied them with food and water.) Ahab said to Obadiah, “We must check every spring and valley in the land to see if we can find enough grass to save at least some of my horses and mules.” So they divided the land between them. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.

As Obadiah was walking along, he suddenly saw Elijah coming toward him. Obadiah recognized him at once and bowed low to the ground before him. “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?” he asked.

“Yes, it is,” Elijah replied. “Now go and tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”

“Oh, sir,” Obadiah protested, “what harm have I done to you that you are sending me to my death at the hands of Ahab? For I swear by the Lord your God that the king has searched every nation and kingdom on earth from end to end to find you. And each time he was told, ‘Elijah isn’t here,’ King Ahab forced the king of that nation to swear to the truth of his claim. And now you say, ‘Go and tell your master, “Elijah is here.”’ But as soon as I leave you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you away to who knows where. When Ahab comes and cannot find you, he will kill me. Yet I have been a true servant of the Lord all my life. Has no one told you, my lord, about the time when Jezebel was trying to kill the Lord’s prophets? I hid 100 of them in two caves and supplied them with food and water. And now you say, ‘Go and tell your master, “Elijah is here.”’ Sir, if I do that, Ahab will certainly kill me.”

But Elijah said, “I swear by the Lord Almighty, in whose presence I stand, that I will present myself to Ahab this very day.”

So Obadiah went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”

“I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:  

And you are wondering by now, “What does this passage of Scripture have to do with Advent or Christmas?” Thank you for asking! God’s plan of redeeming his fallen creation spans thousands of years. We are living in the unfolding of that plan in the First Testament as it continues. We’re going to examine a part of that plan which involves the prophet Elijah, whose name means “my God is Yahweh” (El=God, jah=Yahweh). 

Prophets were and are major players in the revealing of God’s truth. Old Testament prophets spoke God’s truth to nations and kings. This pericope mentions a group of 100 prophets. It was common for prophets to get together for study and encouragement. Apparently Elijah exercised leadership in some of these groups (II Kings 2:3-7). A significant portion of the content of the First Testament is the writings and messages of the prophets. Their words were of judgment and on occasion of prophesying the future, not only of events but also of the coming of the Messiah. The closing verses of the book of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, makes reference to Moses as the giver of the Law and Elijah as “the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.” So it is not surprising then that these two “greats”of the Old Testament appear at the Mount of Transfiguration to encourage Jesus just before he embarks on the final weeks of his life on earth. 

Now, in the passage you just read, Elijah did what prophets do. He confronted old Ahab, a wicked Jewish king, and Jezebel, his pagan wife and worshipper of Baal, for their abandonment of the God of Israel. As a result of God’s judgment, Elijah had prophesied a seven year drought. This reading ends with Elijah laying it out plain and simply to Ahab, “I’m not the problem for Israel. You are because of your refusal to obey the Lord.” Down through the ages there have been people used of God to speak the truth into the life and culture of people and of nations. Through the voices of people like Elijah, may there be people in our day who confront leaders and nations with their abandonment of God’s truth and call for repentance. 

Music: “I Wonder as I Wander”  Simon Khorolskiy

Prayer:

Thou blessed Spirit, author of all grace and comfort, Prophet to my soul, come, work repentance in my soul; represent sin to me in its odious colors that I may hate it; melt my heart by the majesty and mercy of God; show me my ruined self and the help there is in him; teach me to behold my creator, his ability to save, his arms outstretched, his heart big for me. Help me not only to receive him but to walk in him, depend upon him, commune with him, be conformed to him, follow him, imperfect, but still pressing forward, not complaining of labor, but valuing rest, not murmuring under trials, but thankful for my state. Perceiving nothing in myself, may I find in Christ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. In his holy name I pray. Amen.                                ―adapted Daniel Sharp, The Valley of Vision, p.17

Sunday, December 13, THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the third (pink) Advent candle. A candle of joy!)

Reader: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,”

Response: “for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” 

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,

    for the Lord has anointed me

    to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted

    and to proclaim that captives will be released

    and prisoners will be freed.

He has sent me to tell those who mourn

    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,

    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

To all who mourn in Israel,

    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,

a joyous blessing instead of mourning,

    festive praise instead of despair.

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks

    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,

    repairing cities destroyed long ago.

They will revive them,

    though they have been deserted for many generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice.

    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.

I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering

    and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their descendants will be recognized

    and honored among the nations.

Everyone will realize that they are a people

    the Lord has blessed.”

I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!

    For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation

    and draped me in a robe of righteousness.

I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding

    or a bride with her jewels.

The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.

    Everyone will praise him!

His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,

    with plants springing up everywhere.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:   

You’ll recall Jesus quoting this passage in Luke’s gospel (4:18). It was the beginning of his public ministry and he had just finished a forty day fast only to be tempted by the devil. He traveled from Jerusalem back to the region of Galilee where he began to teach in the synagogues from town to town. His fame spread for he taught with unusual authority. So when he came to his hometown, Nazareth, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath as was his usual custom. (Scripture reading was a major and significant part of Jewish worship. In fact, there was a lectionary, a set schedule of readings. For example, the Torah was mapped out on a three year cycle. In Jesus’ case, the reading was from Isaiah 61.) Jesus stood up to read (the usual custom). When he finished, he sat down. Every Jew knew that this passage was a direct reference to the long-awaited Messiah. 

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the First Testament, adds the phrase “and the blind will see” to the phrase “and the prisoners will be freed.” When John the Baptist was in prison and sent a message to Jesus asking if he truly was the Messiah, Jesus again referred to this passage (Lk.7:22-23) as his answer. The Jews had been waiting 400 years since the last prophet and a 1,000 years since King David waiting and looking for the Messiah. Now the local boy, one of the sons of Mary and (assumedly) Joseph named Jesus, (they had at least six other children), claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah! He had grown up among them. They knew him as a teenager! The Nazarites didn’t go for it, thought he was blaspheming, and sought to kill him. 

Isaiah writes that Israel, which has been under great oppression, will be restored. God will bring justice and peace and blessing to his people. This chapter began with the Sovereign Lord proclaiming deliverance and concludes with the Sovereign Lord showing justice to the nations with everyone rejoicing and praising the goodness of our God. 

In the days in which we live, this kind of world may seem far-fetched, unreal, out of reach, . . . impossible. That was the same reaction of the Nazarites when Jesus sat down and said, “The Scripture you just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” Because of the Nazarites’ preconceived ideas and historical knowledge, they were not able to move out of their own mindset and recognize the Savior of the world. Likewise, sometimes we become so familiar with a situation or relationship, that we fail to see its deeper significance―like a spouse, or a child, a friend, or God working in our very midst! We actually miss the eternal value right before our eyes.

Music: ““Glory to God In the Highest”   Messiah

Prayer: O God, quicken to life every power within me, that I may lay hold on eternal things. Open my eyes that I may see; give me acute spiritual perception; enable me to taste Thee and know that Thou art good. Make heaven more real to me than any earthly thing has ever been. Amen.                 ―AW Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.59

Saturday, December 12

Reader: “John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live,” 

Response: “but you didn’t believe him.” 

Scripture: Matthew 21:28-32

“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

In this Advent season, having been in ministry in the church for forty-two years and having planned forty-two Christmas Eve services and having sat through well over 100 such observances with well over 100,000 worshipers, I’ve noticed how some people grasp the significance of the worship while others come for the candle-lighting at the end. We don’t usually see the candle lighting aficionados again until Easter (for the brass and Hallelujah Chorus) or perhaps next Christmas Eve. They are the older son. There is lip service, but no follow through. Then there is the person who stumbles into Christmas Eve off of the street who was looking for a place to get warm and stays for all the services, finds the truth of the gospel and returns the following Sunday, having begun a transformed life. A little understanding of Jewish background might be helpful here. In Jesus’ parable of the two sons, the older boy’s negative response to his father’s command would have been viewed as disrespecting his father’s authority. Yet, he eventually changed his mind and was obedient, while the second son said he would obey his father, yet in actual practice, he refused to go. Jesus is telling this parable during Monday of Holy Week in another effort to help the Jewish leaders see who he is, the Messiah, and who they are. John the Baptist represents the father in the parable and the tax collectors represent the oldest son who said no, but later repented of his way and obeyed the father. The Jewish leaders represent the second son who said yes, but did not go. They were the ones who rejected the message of John the Baptist as to repenting of their sins in preparation for the coming Messiah. Repentance was for “sinners,” not for them. In their minds, they didn’t need to repent. The tax collectors and prostitutes recognized their own sinfulness and repented at the message of John, while the Jewish leaders believed in their moral righteousness and superiority and saw no need for repentance. Jesus assured the former would get into the kingdom and the latter would be cast out. This message was always the challenge of a Christmas Eve service helping people realize the sanctuary is filled with sinners in need of repentance in spite of pretty clothes, candles, and singing “Silent Night.” Remember, Christmas Eve is not about celebrating Jesus’ birthday. He has none. It’s about the Ancient of Days, God’s eternal Son, entering our world in human flesh to save sinners without hope. Remember that this December 24th.

Music: “ “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Caitelen       gorgeous!

Prayer:

O Lord Jesus our God, who called people from their daily work saying to them ‘Come ye after me’, may we your children today hear your voice and gladly answer your call to give our lives to you, to serve your Church, to offer our gifts, and give away our hearts to you only. May our response be not only one of intent, but one of relentless faithful obedience. May we not flack in zeal and spirit. Grant that we may reflect your humble spirit Jesus, and pick up our crosses daily and follow you to the glory of your Father in heaven who with you and the Holy Spirit, reign one God, world without end. Amen. 

                             ―adapted Daniel Sharp

Friday, December 11

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

Response: “I press on.”

Scripture: Philippians 3:12-16

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:  

Paul has spent the first part of this chapter writing about the priceless value of knowing Christ. His rich Jewish pedigree and past actions meant nothing to him and in fact, he called them garbage! Gaining the righteousness of Christ was everything. Wanting to know Christ better and better was his singular goal. Then we come to the above passage. Paul’s words certainly speak to me. My desire is to press on to become more and more Christlike. I want him to think and live his life in and through me. But I have noticed something else that rears its ugly head in the midst of my endeavor to press on. It is a voice ever reminding me of my past sins. Often it’s very specific things that happened even decades ago. This voice delights in pointing out these incidents as if it wants me to keep them in my memory bank. With it comes the message, “You will never be a holy person, so quit trying. You are a fraud. Skip the pious act. Your past has nailed you. If people knew about this, you’d be humiliated. Give it up. God knows the truth about you. You can’t fool him.” It is important that we recognize the source of that “voice” and call the father of lies a liar and to go back to hell. There was one truth in all those accusations. God does know the truth about you which is why his Son was born in a manger in Bethlehem to forgive all your sins from the past as well as those in the future. Paul pounded home the point that past conduct has no bearing on obtaining salvation and has no condemning power after salvation. God’s grace extended to people in Jesus Christ brings eternal redemption. “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” is the goal and direction of living out the days of our lives. The ability to forget the past is a mark of spiritual maturity because it recognizes the full impact of Christ’s atonement. After all, God forgets our sins as far as the east is from the west. Our ability to forget our own sins is a mark of godliness. In a season when past actions can bring hurt to a family gathering, it’s important to repent and press on to what lies ahead. And when that “lying voice” comes around, laugh at him and tell him to go back where he came from. 

Music: “What Child Is This?”  Home Free   Sorry for these guys two days in a row but WOW. You at least heard a true bass!!

Prayer: Searcher of hearts, it is a good day to me when thou givest me a glimpse of myself; sin is my greatest evil, but thou art my greatest good. I have cause to loathe myself, and not to seek self-honor, for no one desires to commend his own dunghill. My country, my family, my church fare worse because of my sins, for sinners bring judgment in thinking sins are small, or that God is not angry with them. Let me not take other good men as my example, and think I am good because I am like them, for all good men are not so good as thou desirest, are not always consistent, do not always follow holiness, do not feel eternal good in sore affliction. Show me how to know when a thing is evil which I think is right and good, how to know when what is lawful comes from an evil principle, such as desire for reputation or wealth by usury.  Give me grace to recall my needs, my lack of knowing thy will in Scripture, of wisdom to guide others, of daily repentance, want of which keeps thee at bay, of the spirit of prayer, having words without love, of zeal for thy glory, seeking my own ends, of joy in thee and thy will, of love to others. And let me not lay my water pipe too short of the fountain, never touching the eternal spring, never drawing down water from above.           ―The Valley of Vision,p.69

Thursday, December 10

Reader: “Write my answer plainly on tablets,”

Response: “so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.”

Scripture:  Habakkuk 2:1-5

I will climb up to my watchtower

    and stand at my guardpost.

There I will wait to see what the Lord says

    and how he will answer my complaint.

Then the Lord said to me,

“Write my answer plainly on tablets,

    so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.

This vision is for a future time.

    It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.

If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,

    for it will surely take place.

    It will not be delayed.

“Look at the proud!

    They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked.

    But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.

Wealth is treacherous,

    and the arrogant are never at rest.

They open their mouths as wide as the grave,

    and like death, they are never satisfied.

In their greed they have gathered up many nations

    and swallowed many peoples.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

“When violence and corruption abound and evil appears to rule, the faithful may be tempted to wonder whether God really cares or is really in control.” words from The NLT Study Bible, p.1504. Habakkuk was in a troubling and unsettling situation. Once again, Israel was in trouble for her rebellion against God. They had broken the Covenant again and again and were now the subject of a Babylonian attack. God’s own words were, “I’m raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands. They are notorious for their cruelty and do whatever they like.” Ouch! God is siding with the Babylonians against his own people! Habakkuk asks God the same question we ask in regards to similar situations in our day. His words, “Will you let them get away with this forever?” Our words, “Lord, the bad guys are winning. Are you going to do anything? Whose side are you on?” Notice, the Lord honors honest questions. His response is the text you just read. God’s message is very plain and clear. His words . . . It may seem slow to you, but wait patiently. We are working on my timeline, not yours. Yet you want to avoid the consequences of your actions. You people are absorbed in your perspective, not mine. You respond to the way you think it ought to be if you were in charge. You’re not. This is how I think. I will describe the end for you. Their wealth and arrogance are never satisfied as they overrun people. They have become wealthy by extortion, but that too will abruptly end. It is certain and it is final. While this was God’s answer to Habakkuk’s question, it is also the answer to the world situation today. The Lord is coming back and he will judge the actions of everyone who has ever lived. Yes, their evil lives are crooked, but you who are righteous are to live in faithfulness to God. God will bring justice. Take heart! No one “gets away with it.” In the bustle of this Advent season, the truth of God’s judgment seems so very remote, perhaps even unreal. That’s because we think like earthbound people and the devil is pleased with our thinking! But God came to the manger in Bethlehem, he has come into our hearts, and he is coming again to bring justice in establishing his eternal kingdom. Tell the news!

Music: “Go Tell It on the Mountain”    Home Free     ―an energetic setting!

Prayer:

O Lord, if only my will may remain right and firm towards Thee, do with me whatsoever it shall please Thee. For it cannot be anything but good, whatsoever Thou shalt do with me. If it be Thy will I should be in darkness, be Thou blessed; and if it be Thy will I should be in light, be Thou again blessed. If Thou vouchsafe to comfort me, be Thou blessed; and, if Thou wilt have me afflicted, be Thou ever equally blessed―Amen.  ―Thomas à Kempis, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.92

Wednesday, December 9

Reader: “When Zechariah was in the sanctuary,” 

Response: “an angel of the Lord appeared to him.”

Scripture: Luke 1:5-17  

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Our attention in today’s passage draws us closer to events associated more directly with the nativity of Jesus. A little background to Luke’s account may be helpful. Note once again how the Scriptures are tied to verifiable fact. “When Herod was king of Judea . . .” is traceable historical truth. Zechariah was a Jewish priest. As you know, not anyone could be a priest. There was no job application to fill out. No Zip Recruiter agency! Unless you were from the tribe of Levi and could trace your ancestry specifically to Aaron, and could prove it, you need not apply for the position of a priest. Not all Levites were priests. The Hebrew word for priest is kohan or Cohen (in English). Zechariah was especially esteemed because Elizabeth also traced her lineage to the priestly line of Aaron. They were doubly blessed in that regard. There were twenty-four divisions of priests who ministered in the Temple. The rotation for service was determined by lot to determine God’s will. The eighth division was that of Abijah and Zechariah was one of the priests in that division. The lot fell on the eighth division and within the division, the lot fell on Zechariah. He was the priest who got to burn incense. If a priest was fortunate, he might get to serve one time in the Temple in his entire life time. It was a coveted magnificent privilege afforded Zechariah. He and his wife had suffered childless their entire marriage and the sun had set on those years of possible conception. Writing as a physician, Luke simply stated that Elizabeth was unable to conceive. Childlessness was not a punishment, for the Scriptures state clearly that they were viewed as righteous by God. Being viewed as righteous in God’s sight is a good place to be. (Something to think about, does God view you as righteous?) The day arrived and Zechariah entered the Holy Place, (not the Holy of Holies―that was reserved for the High Priest one day a year on Yom Kippur). At what is perhaps the most sacred moment in Zechariah’s long life, an angel appears standing right beside the altar of incense! He is terrified. Apparently, he and Elizabeth had been praying for a son for a long time, even beyond reasonable expectations. God has clearly ordained this whole sequence in unfolding his will from the first lot cast to the appearance of the angel, Gabriel. Not only would they have a son, the angel explained what this son would do and what his role would be in God’s unfolding plan. He would not be just another boy in Israel, he would be the very one prophesied 400 years earlier as the forerunner of the Messiah! Zechariah had his doubts as to Gabriel’s story. You know the rest. He was mute until the birth of John. 

So what does this historical account tell us? You can rest assured that God is in the details of your life. One word never appears anywhere in Scripture and that word is coincidence. There are none. God is sovereign in all things, even in the throwing of the dice in this case! Nothing is beyond hope or the power of God. A baby was conceived when it wasn’t possible. God answered a prayer that had been prayed for years and his timing was perfect. In this case, his action came within the context of worship. At times, God intervenes in human lives in a miraculous way. Though it is rare, sometimes God tells the specifics regarding the future ahead of time. Throughout Advent, we see the glorious unfolding of the Father’s divine plan step by step.

Music: “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen”     Libera

Prayer:

Our loving heavenly Father, these past months have been rather uncertain, but I guess all time is uncertain. Forgive us for the occasions we have panicked and become afraid of what might be. Our faith has wavered and we’ve taken our eyes off of you. The passage of Scripture we read today certainly underscores the truth that you know all things and are the sovereign Lord of time and of history. You are able to bring about anything and are never late in your timing of those things you desire. May we learn to trust you in moving into the unknown paths of life now and in the years ahead. Nothing comes as a surprise to you. We say those words Lord, but help us to live them in our minds, in our souls, and in your Spirit. Do not let us succumb to the pontificating of the world, but may we continue to prepare for the coming of your Son in whose name we pray.                 ―Daniel Sharp

Friends,I want to thank you for subscribing this year. I want to mention something to you if the Lord so moves you. Doing these devotionals is not without actual cost ―e.g. getting the material into the proper format and year-round monthly rentals to the email host. I checked into setting up a 501c (3) and found it wasn’t feasible for writing this devotional. If you would like to help with expenses, you can make a donation which is not tax deductible. The subscriptions are always and always will be completely free. There is certainly no obligation to contribute, but if you would like to, please make your check to: Dan Sharp, 4017 Isle Vista Ave, Belle Isle, FL 32812.

Tuesday, December 8

Reader: “But in that day, the branch of the Lord . . .”

Response: “will be beautiful and glorious.”  

Scripture: Isaiah 4:2-6

But in that day, the branch of the Lord

    will be beautiful and glorious;

the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory

    of all who survive in Israel.

All who remain in Zion

    will be a holy people—

those who survive the destruction of Jerusalem

    and are recorded among the living.

The Lord will wash the filth from beautiful Zion

    and cleanse Jerusalem of its bloodstains

    with the hot breath of fiery judgment.

Then the Lord will provide shade for Mount Zion

    and all who assemble there.

He will provide a canopy of cloud during the day

    and smoke and flaming fire at night,

    covering the glorious land.

It will be a shelter from daytime heat

    and a hiding place from storms and rain.

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

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

This passage is another example of describing the immediate reality which is also a shadow of the ultimate truth. The “branch of the Lord” can refer to the restoration of Israel to its homeland. Remember at this point in Isaiah’s prophecy, Israel is in exile for its rebellion and abandonment of God. But, the “Branch of the Lord” can also refer to the Messiah and his coming reign at the end of the age with this pericope describing the glorious kingdom yet to be. Nature itself will be transformed in incredible beauty and fruitfulness. Holiness and purity will replace filth and rebellion. Those faithful to the Lord will have their names recorded in the Book of Life (Rev.3:5; 20:12). Justice for all the injustices will be paid in full. All of those things that happened on earth when it seemed “they got away with it” will be called into account before God and will receive God’s justice. The Lord will then provide comfort, security, and peace for all the faithful. Note the illusion to God’s continuous protection and provision via the pillar of fire and the cloud in leading and protecting his people in their wilderness journey. What had been an actual event on earth in leading and guiding his people was but a foreshadowing of his ultimate care and provision. A word here about a passage that is sometimes used to reflect on what heaven will be like. It is I Cor. 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul is responding to those people who have not understood the gospel and have rejected the ministry of the Holy Spirit which is to show us the mind of God and his wisdom. The passage is not actually talking about heaven, but about receiving truth and seeking the mind of God. There are plenty of other portions of Scripture that give us hints of a heavenly world we cannot imagine, so don’t be discouraged! The music that follows will begin to stretch your mind a bit. Our Lord is glorious and his Kingdom is beyond our imagination! 

Music: “Beneductus”   Karl Jenkins        Beautiful music almost beyond belief!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piap-T4j720        This is worth every minute of your time!

A magnificent picture of the biggest picture of our God at work. The text: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” Can you imagine the glory of the New Creation when God makes all things new?

Prayer: Lord, how excellent are Thy ways and how devious and dark are the ways of man. Show us how to die, that we may rise again to newness of life. Rend the veil of our self-life from the top down as Thou didst rend the veil of the Temple. We would draw near in full assurance of faith. We would dwell with Thee in daily experience here on this earth so that we may be accustomed to the glory when we enter Thy heaven to dwell with Thee there. In Jesus’ name. Amen.     ―A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p.47 

Monday, December 7

Reader: “Brothers, what should we do?”

Response: “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God.”

Scripture:  Acts 2:37-42

Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. 

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

Reader: “The word of the Lord,”

Response:”Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Yesterday we commented on the message of John the Baptist calling people to repent. You’ll recall his words were that one would come after him baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Well, that day came at Pentecost. Fire was associated with the presence of God throughout the Scriptures: pillar of fire in the desert, giving the Law at Mt. Sinai, Elijah on Mt. Carmel, fiery chariot taking him to heaven, dedication of the Temple, and numerous other times. The writer of Hebrews (12:29) describes God as “a consuming fire.” Following the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by tongues of fire, Peter preached the gospel empowered by God’s Spirit. I love the words “pierced their hearts.” What a great phrase. The gospel pierces. It cuts right through to the very base, the core  of our being. That’s what the Spirit does. Then God waits for a response. The words of the people gathered were, “What should we do?” Notice, their reply involved action. It wasn’t “Wow! What a powerful message” or “I felt so moved.” People responded, repented, and were baptized. “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” Those words are as true today as when Peter uttered them long ago. Nations and people today need to repent from our crooked and perverse ways. Pray to that end. The people of Peter’s day continued to gather together physically, which is so much different than our “virtual” gatherings. Their gatherings centered on studying the Scriptures, fellowship in eating together, including sharing the Lord’s Supper, and then a time of praying together. Though it doesn’t say it here, I can’t help but believe there was also singing, especially when reading all the references to singing in Paul’s letters. In concluding today’s thoughts, this last year has brought some real challenges in terms of physically worshiping together. Make no mistake, “virtual” is not nor will ever be a replacement for the real thing, God’s people gathering together in worship. After all the word “church,” ekklesia, means “a body of citizens called together.” Watching a pastor speak from somewhere else in the world may be edifying, but that pastor has no idea who you are, your life, and cannot shepherd you. You also have no accountability to spiritual leadership. Then there is the whole aspect of Christ being present in your midst when two or three are gathered together . . . There is so much more to say but I better stop! In short, let us be a repentant people who gather regularly to worship in the presence of God.

Music: “Advent Hymn”   Christy Nockels

Prayer: A Prayer for Meeting

Holy Spirit, you make alive; bless also this our gathering,

The speaker and the hearer; fresh from the heart it shall come, 

by your aid, let it also go to the heart.                   ―Søren Kierkegaard   1813-1855

Sunday, December 6 SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Candle Lighter: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”

(In lighting the second Advent Candle)

Reader: “A voice shouting in the wilderness,”

Response: “‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!’” 

Scripture:  Mark 1:1-8

This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

    and he will prepare your way.

He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!

    Clear the road for him!’”

This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.

John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:   

The focus of this second Sunday in Advent turns our attention to John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel centers on Jesus as the Servant of God, so he begins with Jesus’ adult public ministry, skipping the birth narrative and the genealogies. In identifying John as this prophetic forerunner of the Messiah, Mark quotes from Malachi and Isaiah, the two most pronounced prophecies from the First Testament. Malachi spoke of an Elijah type figure as that person. In those days when royalty was to travel, messengers would be sent out ahead of time to make repairs in the often poorly maintained roads. I noticed years ago when I was in Kenya, the road from the airport to Nairobi was beautiful. The other roads not so much. Check the roads around our state capitols. Same idea. Here Mark is proclaiming that the Son of God, the Messiah, has come. He is helping his readers (most likely the church in Rome, based on some of the “Latinisms” in the rest of the book) who may not have been as familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, to grasp the significance of John the Baptist’s role in proclaiming the coming of the Son of God. He’s an example. Mark makes a comment that John’s clothes were “woven from coarse camel hair and that he wore a leather belt around his waist.” What is the point of saying that? It is an indirect reference to the prophet Elijah’s attire (II Kings 1:8) because Mark wants his readers to get the connection that John the Baptist is the New Testament Elijah.. The early church referred to itself as “The Way,” perhaps as a result of the phrase “Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming . . .” In preparation for the Lord’s coming, John called the people to repent of their sins, a familiar theme to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness some 1400 years earlier. His message was that a repentant heart was the kind of heart that was prepared to receive the message of the gospel. After 400 years of silence from any prophet, John’s ministry was a growing phenomenon as flocks of people traveled the eighteen miles from Jerusalem down to the Jordan River to see and hear this “wild man from the desert.” The message, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”(Pentecost). How does this passage speak to us? Read the words of Malachi and Isaiah again. The Bible is our Messenger as the Holy Spirit speaks to guide us in preparing the way, the way to what? “Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!”  You are going to meet the Lord, either when you die or when he returns. In other words, get your act together. Heed the words of John. Repent. Clean up your life. Get deadly serious about the Lord. Spend time with the Messenger. Listen and live out your baptism and bury your old self daily and rise to new life.

Music: “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”  from the musical “Godspell”

A word about this video. The idea is that people from all walks of life have repented, discovered the setting free of the gospel, and the joy of having been washed from their sins. The fountain is their baptism and John the Baptist is the one who has called them. You see a couple of glances at Jesus who is coming to be baptized by John. 

Prayer: Merciful God, who didst send thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.   ―Book of Common Prayer, (BCP)

Saturday, December 5

Reader: “I will give you a new heart,”    

Response: “and I will put a new spirit in you.”

Scripture: Ezekiel 36:24-28

For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. 

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:  

People have said that the First Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New is the First revealed. I would suggest the First is also a shadow of the eternal. This passage is an example of what I mean. As we have said  frequently, the beginning theme of Advent is about the end of time, when Jesus returns to bring final judgment and establish his eternal Kingdom. In many ways our present world is very much like the days of Israel’s exile. God’s people were in a full on rebellion when they were crushed and sent into captivity by various powers, the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians. They suffered the consequences of their actions experiencing war and conflict, not unlike today’s world. In the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rejected God, what happened? They had been in perfect communion with God, body, soul, and spirit. But when sin entered, their spirits died. The spiritual relationship with God died. Eventually, they died physically as well, but the spiritual communion was severed. And, as a result,  it was gone from the human race as well. We became a “fallen people.” When King David writes, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” That is what he is referring to. We are born being separated from God from birth. When we become a Christian, we are born of the Holy Spirit and the spirit part of us that died with the sinning of Adam and Eve, has been reborn, “born again” in our lives. Having said that, the battle between self and the Holy Spirit continues. The self (soul) still wants to be in charge. Now to our passage. Ezekiel is speaking at one level of his immediate circumstances in Israel, but on another, he is describing what is yet to be for Israel. God is going to ultimately bring his people back from exile to the land of Israel for his own name’s sake, not because they deserve it. He is painting a picture not only of Israel’s restoration, but demonstrating the truth of God’s ability to restore any peoples. Paul writes in II Cor. 5:27, “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone and the battle between self and the Spirit will be over. At the Second Coming and final judgment we will receive our glorified resurrection bodies like Jesus’. Our hearts will be tender and responsive praising and glorifying our Lord. No more battles between our stubborn will and the Spirit. We will willingly and joyously always follow the Lord’s leading in his glorious kingdom. 

Music: “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”   Geneva International Christian Choir and Orchestra

Prayer:   

Sever me from myself that I may be grateful to you;

May I perish to self that I may be safe in you;

May I die to myself that I may live in you;

May I wither to myself that I may blossom in you;

May I be emptied of myself that I may abound in you;

May I be nothing to myself that I may be all to you.
―Erasmus, 1466-1536, The Book of Uncommon Prayer, p.66

Friday, December 4

Reader: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.”

Response: “Before you were born I set you apart.”

Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10

The Lord gave me this message:

“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.”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”

The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said,

“Look, I have put my words in your mouth!

Today I appoint you to stand up

    against nations and kingdoms.

Some you must uproot and tear down,

    destroy and overthrow.

Others you must build up

    and plant.”

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

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts: 

What strikes me about this passage is that it is remarkably like the mission of Jesus. Read it again and think of it as the Father speaking to his Son, the Savior. Jesus was prophet, priest and king. (Skip the “I’m too young part!” After all, we are speaking of the Ancient of Days!) Jesus continually sought his Father’s leading. “I always do what the Father has told me.” John 8:29. Then we have the promise of the Father’s continual presence. Jesus spoke the Father’s words always. And he spoke words that convicted and challenged Jewish kings and leadership as well as words of healing  and building up. Tradition has that Jeremiah was eventually stoned to death in Egypt by his own people, Jewish exiles who rejected his message. As you see, there were many similarities between Jeremiah’s call and Jesus’ mission. This is another pointed pericope which speaks of God’s care of his children from even before their birth. In Psalm 139 we are reminded that God has recorded every day of our life even before day one! What task has God called you to today? I’m not sure how often we remind ourselves of our part in God’s bigger unfolding of history. Whether we are out in a wide open field in Kansas or in the bustling streets of Hong Kong, my guess is that most of us feel pretty insignificant in what God is doing in his kingdom today. What difference do we really make? Is our life important to God or are we just another of six billion people on this planet that he looks after? Such thinking is really another version of Jeremiah’s “I can’t speak for you Lord, I’m too inconsequential in your grand design for the world.” Not true. It’s a lie. God’s word to you and me is the same word he gave to Jeremiah and to his Son Jesus. I will be with you, guide you, and give you the words to say. I have a purpose for your life. Don’t make excuses and sink into your own little world. I have a purpose for you being on earth! I love you. I died for you. Don’t belittle my death with such thoughts. Friends, the Lord knows all the details of your day. What is God saying to you in this passage about today? Hold still and listen.

Music:“Children, Go Where I Send Thee” with Home Free and the late Kenny Rogers

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7GR-c8-tKI    DO NOT MISS THIS!!!!

Prayer:   

Father in heaven, I find it so easy to live each day focusing on the things of the day, things I have to do, work, errands, bills, the news . . . Even when I read your Word all too often is more like another check off in the “to do” list for the day. In truth, though it’s embarrassing, sometimes I forget what I’ve read right after I read it. My mind is elsewhere. The intimacy of your words “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb” is haunting. That familiarity goes deeper than any relationship I’ve ever known. Forgive me for brushing off your desire to lead and guide me in the path you’ve prepared, a path of eternal significance. I repent of the dullness of my mind and will. When I read your words, help me to hold still until I hear your voice and find your mind in what you have to say to me. Help me revel in your presence. This I pray through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit, reign one God, world without end. Amen.                           ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, December 3

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

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

Scripture: Hosea 6:1-6      

“Come, let us return to the Lord.

He has torn us to pieces;

    now he will heal us.

He has injured us;

    now he will bandage our wounds.

In just a short time he will restore us,

    so that we may live in his presence.

Oh, that we might know the Lord!

    Let us press on to know him.

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

    or the coming of rains in early spring.”

“O Israel and Judah,

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

“For your love vanishes like the morning mist

    and disappears like dew in the sunlight.

I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces—

    to slaughter you with my words,

    with judgments as inescapable as light.

I want you to show love,

    not offer sacrifices.

I want you to know me

    more than I want burnt offerings.  

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:   

“Danny, I want you to go sit in the corner for ten minutes and think about what you did to your sister.” I was never fond of “time outs” or, when the offence was more egregious, a spanking. Hard discipline is still not my favorite thing. Yet the opening sentence of this passage is beautiful in demonstrating the great love God has for his children. Advent has to do with judgment, both that which is yet to come, as well as current guidance from the Lord. Sometimes we may have the idea that God judged and dealt with his children in Bible times, but that he doesn’t really intervene much in people’s daily lives today. We may read this passage and assume that it is speaking only of Israel and Judah’s circumstances. It certainly does address his chosen people, but like all Scripture, it speaks to us as well today, December 3, 2020. It would certainly seem that God has been disciplining us and the whole world in the year 2020. God’s words, “What should I do with you? Your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight.” Israel had gone through the motions of worship, but their hearts were distant. Then came these powerful words from the Lord to you and me, “I want you to know me.” Imagine! God wants a very personal relationship with us. The Creator of all that is seen and unseen, all that exists, past, present, and future, cares intimately about you as you read these words. Then there is the earlier verse, “Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him.” How is your “pressing on” coming? One of the main purposes of writing these daily devotionals is to help all of us “press on to know him” daily. So when you read a passage, don’t just read it once and move on. Pause, read, reread, get stuck on a word or phrase, talk with the Lord as you read, “Lord, what do you want me to see here?” “Come, let us return to the Lord.” We’re supposed to come back again and again . . .  In other words, take your time with your ears open to the Holy Spirit. There is so much to consider in this passage, for it tells us so much about the Lord and what he views as important. All of us need to take “time outs,” that is, time with the Lord and his word. It’s a good discipline!

Music: “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns”    Chris Brunelle

Prayer:

Almighty God, in this hour of quietness I seek communion with Thee. From the fret and fever of the day’s business, from the world’s discordant noises, from the praise and blame of men, from the confused thoughts and vain imaginations of my own heart, I would now turn aside and seek the quietness of Thy presence. All day long have I toiled and striven; but now, in stillness of heart and in the clear light of Thine eternity, I would ponder the pattern my life has been weaving. Gracious God, I seek Thy presence at the close of another day, beseeching Thee to create a little pool of heavenly peace within my heart e’re I lie down to sleep. Let all the day’s excitements and anxieties now give place to a time of inward recollection, as I wait upon Thee and meditate upon Thy love. This I pray, Father, through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit, reign one God eternal, world without end. Amen.       ―John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer

Wednesday, December 2

Reader: “And he will stand to lead his flock”

Response: “with the Lord’s strength.”

Scripture: Micah 5:1-5a

Mobilize! Marshal your troops!

    The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem.

They will strike Israel’s leader

    in the face with a rod.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.

Yet a ruler of Israel,

    whose origins are in the distant past,

    will come from you on my behalf.

The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies

    until the woman in labor gives birth.

Then at last his fellow countrymen

    will return from exile to their own land.

And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,

    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.

Then his people will live there undisturbed,

    for he will be highly honored around the world.

And he will be the source of peace.

Reader: “The inspired word of God.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Music:  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”   Salt Lake Vocal Artists  These 8 minutes will help you be quiet. Just listen. It’s gorgeous!!!    Arr. Dan Forrest

Bonus:   Beautiful!

 “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”     Nordic Choir of Luther College

“Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying”      Philip Nicolai, 1597, trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1858

Wake, awake for night is flying: 

The watchmen on the heights are crying,

   Awake, Jerusalem, arise!

Midnight’s solemn hour is tolling, 

His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,

   He comes; prepare, ye virgins wise.

Rise up, with willing feet, 

Go forth, the bridegroom meet: Alleluia!

Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,

Speed forth to join the marriage rite.

Zion hears the watchmen singing, 

Her heart with deep delight is springing,

   She wakes, she rises from her gloom: 

forth her Bridegroom come, all glorious,

In grace arrayed, by truth victorious,

   Her star is ris’n, her light is come!

All hail, Incarnate Lord, 

our crown, and our reward! Alleluia!

We haste along, in pomp of song,

And gladsome join the marriage throng.

Lamb of God, the heav’ns adore thee,

And men and angels sing before thee,

   With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone.

By the pearly gates in wonder

We stand, and swell the voice of thunder

   That echoes round thy dazzling throne.

No vision ever brought,

No ear hath ever caught such rejoicing!

We raise the song, we swell the throng

To praise Thee ages all along. Amen.

Prayer:

O Holy child of Bethlehem descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great, glad tidings tell. O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.      ―Phillip Brooks

Tuesday, December 1

Reader: “ O Lord, how long will you be angry with us? Forever?”

Response: “How long will your jealousy burn like fire?” 

Scripture: Psalm 79

O God, pagan nations have conquered your land,

    your special possession.

They have defiled your holy Temple

    and made Jerusalem a heap of ruins.

They have left the bodies of your servants

    as food for the birds of heaven.

The flesh of your godly ones

    has become food for the wild animals.

Blood has flowed like water all around Jerusalem;

    no one is left to bury the dead.

 We are mocked by our neighbors,

    an object of scorn and derision to those around us.

 O Lord, how long will you be angry with us? Forever?

    How long will your jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out your wrath on the nations that refuse to acknowledge you—

    on kingdoms that do not call upon your name.

For they have devoured your people Israel,

    making the land a desolate wilderness.

Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors!

    Let your compassion quickly meet our needs,

    for we are on the brink of despair.

Help us, O God of our salvation!

    Help us for the glory of your name.

Save us and forgive our sins

    for the honor of your name.

Why should pagan nations be allowed to scoff,

    asking, “Where is their God?”

Show us your vengeance against the nations,

    for they have spilled the blood of your servants.

Listen to the moaning of the prisoners.

    Demonstrate your great power by saving those condemned to die.

O Lord, pay back our neighbors seven times

    for the scorn they have hurled at you.

Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,

    will thank you forever and ever,

    praising your greatness from generation to generation.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:  

One of the significant perspectives of being a Christian in this season of the year, is to always keep the entire picture of God’s grand story, his masterful plan of redeeming the whole created order in mind. As we have said in years past, Christmas is not simply a birthday party for Jesus. We must see each part of God’s wondrous tapestry in relation to the whole. So Advent’s opening thread emerges with the Lord’s return interwoven with the coming of God’s judgment. This psalm is an interesting, very relevant commentary on our day and age. How often have I been angry that a person or a group or a people get away with defying God, mocking him and his people, seemingly without restraint.  Asaph, the psalmist, writes that godly people have been overrun and killed by pagan nations. Those who live are being scorned and ridiculed. He then assumes something I find interesting. He assumes God is angry with his own people which has resulted in the present situation. His thoughts, “God, you are venting at the wrong people. Go after them, not us!” (One of the principles throughout all of Scripture is that God welcomes his children to bare their hearts and emotions before him. God is infinitely personal. Don’t ever shy from telling God what is on your heart. He can manage!) Then comes a very, very interesting relevant phrase. “Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors!” Generational guilt! Ezekiel makes clear (Ez.18:19-20) that children do not ultimately pay for the sins of their parents when God judges. Children are not punished for the parent’s sins nor the parents for the child’s sins. Ezekiel is quoting Deuteronomy (24:16). Parent’s sins can bring later consequences, but the children are not guilty for creating these consequences. And it works the other way around as well. And so, as a result of our ancestors’ sin, we are in a tough situation. Lord help us! But did you notice that the children repent of their own sins as well. Humility and concern for God’s name is prominent then and now. Repentance is key in dealing with past sins of ancestors as well as present sins. I fear repentance for our own sins and granting forgiveness for the past is a missing factor in today’s culture.The psalmist’s appeal to God to pay the evil doers for their actions returns, “Lord pay them back!” Demonstrate your power Lord, by saving your people, and, reminding us that we are “the sheep of your pasture.” The bottom line is that our God is just, which means every action is judged and rewarded accordingly both good and evil. Healing is the ultimate goal. Advent puts Christmas in context, puts justice in context, puts our lives in context as we watch and wait for the Lord’s return. This season is a three-fold advent: Jesus came in humanity as a baby; Jesus came via the Holy Spirit into our hearts when we came to faith; Jesus will come again in glory to set up his eternal Kingdom judging the living and the dead. “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.” Ps.79:13

Music: “Joy to the World”   John Rutter and Cambridge Choir

Prayer:

Hear me, O God! A broken heart is my best part.

Use still thy rod, that I may prove, therein, Thy love.

If Thou hadst not been stern to me, but left me free,

I had forgotten myself and Thee.

For, sin’s so sweet, as minds ill-bent rarely repent,

Unless they meet their punishment.

Who more can crave than Thou hast done?

Thou savest a Son to free a slave, 

First made of nought, with all since bought.

Sin, death, and hell His glorious Name quite overcame;

Yet I rebel and slight the same,

But, I’ll come in before my loss me farther toss;

As sure to win under His cross.                ―Ben Johnson (1572-1637)

Some thoughts:   The Scriptures often have meanings on several levels at the same time, meaning they apply to the immediate people and situation; they are a shadow of what is to come at a later time in terms of events; and they may also be a commentary on life itself. It behooves us to pay attention to each word and phrase of God’s Word. Such is the case of this most familiar prophetic passage from the First Testament. The diet of the early Hebrews consisted primarily of bread, meat, and liquids. The “staff of bread” is the “support of life.” To the Hebrew, bread (lehem in Hebrew) was essential to life. So when Jesus said to the Jews, “I am the bread of life” they would have read that statement as far more profound than we might. Bethlehem meant “house (beth in Hebrew) of bread.” This little village, about six miles southwest of Jerusalem, figured prominently in God’s grand unfolding story. It was here that Rachel died and was buried giving birth to Benjamin, the last of the twelve sons of Jacob. It was here that the Moabitess, Ruth, met Boaz, the son of Salmon and Rahab, the prostitute, who was instrumental in the destruction of Jericho.  In both of these circumstances by grafting two non-Jewish women into the covenant of his people, God was indicating that the gospel extended to all peoples. It was here in Bethlehem that a descendant of Boaz and Ruth’s marriage, David, Israel’s greatest king (c.1000 BC), called home. And of course, Bethlehem was to serve as the entry place on planet Earth for the humble arrival of the King of kings, Jesus Christ. Micah, the prophet, lived around 725 BC, during the exile. At that time Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, was a prominent leader bringing the exiles back to Jerusalem. He was the focus of Israel’s hope for deliverance, but he mysteriously disappeared. On a deeper level, the greatest Israelite King yet to come will be highly honored around the world and bring ultimate peace. This pericope is another example of the wonder of Scripture as the various intricacies span well over 1000 years, yet are precise in detail. At the time the ordinary everyday events were occurring in such a humble place, I wonder if the players fully grasped the significance of the part they were playing in God’s grandest design. I wonder if we grasp the full significance. You see, the last verses of this passage have yet to be fulfilled, as today, we await the return of the Prince of Peace, the Bread of Life, the kingly son of Bethlehem.

Monday, November 30

Reader: “God’s word given to us.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Scripture: Micah 4:1-5

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house

    will be the highest of all—

    the most important place on earth.

It will be raised above the other hills,

    and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.

People from many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

    to the house of Jacob’s God.

There he will teach us his ways,

    and we will walk in his paths.”

For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;

    his word will go out from Jerusalem.

The Lord will mediate between peoples

    and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.

They will hammer their swords into plowshares

    and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will no longer fight against nation,

    nor train for war anymore.

Everyone will live in peace and prosperity,

    enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees,

    for there will be nothing to fear.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies

    has made this promise!

Though the nations around us follow their idols,

    we will follow the Lord our God forever and ever.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

Some thoughts:

As we mentioned yesterday, the first days of the Advent season are focused on Jesus’ return, the Second Coming, and setting up his eternal kingdom. Why and how did that theme emerge and what does it have to do with Christmas? The development of this season in the early centuries of the church began with time set aside for people preparing for baptism on Epiphany on January 6th. (Christmas had not yet emerged until the 4th century. Yes, Epiphany is older than Christmas.) At the same time Christians in northern Italy were under persecution and were longing for the Lord’s return. That Second Coming theme became associated with the season. Now, to our passage for today.

Micah is prophesying about a future day for Israel and a future day for us. Mountains in the Bible played a significant role. God often spoke from mountains and made his identity known. Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah and which later was the place of the crucifixion of Christ. Moses met God on Mt. Sinai to receive his call to lead the Exodus. God later wrote and spoke the Law from that same mountain. It was at the top of Mt. Nebo that the Lord showed him the Promised Land. Elijah met the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The Transfiguration occurred on a mountain top and Jesus delivered his “Sermon on the Mount.” Is it any wonder that Micah refers to the mountain of the Lord as the “highest of all―the most important place on earth?” While Micah’s words were spoken 700 B.C., they are more certain than anything you will read today. The day is coming when people from all over the world will stream to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. It sounds almost fanciful to us . . . a dream out of fiction, not something that will ever literally happen. We are talking about Christ’s coming Kingdom when he is present. He will mediate between peoples and settle disputes. You’ve noticed how poorly a job we human beings are doing mediating our own disputes! In the coming days wars will not exist. Everyone will live in peace and prosperity. There will be no fear. How can that be? Notice the power of the Lord as stated here: “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has made this promise.” The authority of Christ is absolute which brings the peace. How does all this connect to November 30th? Micah’s world was not unlike our own. The people and the nations were in rebellion against the Lord. They loved evil and hated good. Right and wrong were opposites and God bought judgment. It is always important to see each of our days in relation to the biggest picture of what God is doing and what he has in store, otherwise we can become totally embraced by the trappings of the day being consumed with only the present and miss the truth that we are on a longer journey of which life on this earth is but a prelude, a wisp. Advent calls us to “watch and wait” for the coming Kingdom. This Advent hymn describes beautifully the coming King establishing his glorious Kingdom.

Music: 

“Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending” Litchfield Cathedral Choir

1. Lo, he comes with clouds descending,

once for favored sinners slain;

thousand thousand saints attending

swell the triumph of his train:

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

God appears on earth to reign.

2. Every eye shall now behold him

robed in dreadful majesty;

those who set at naught and sold him,

pierced and nailed him to the tree,

deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,

shall the true Messiah see.

3. Those dear tokens of his passion

still his dazzling body bears,

cause of endless exultation

to his ransomed worshippers:

with what rapture, with

what rapture, with what rapture,

gaze we on those glorious scars!

4. Yea, Amen, let all adore thee,

high on thine eternal throne;

Savior, take the power and glory,

claim the kingdom for thine own:

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou shalt reign and thou alone.

Prayer:

Glorious God, give me grace to amend my life, and to have an eye to my end without begrudging death, which to those who die in you, good Lord, is the gate of a wealthy life. And give me, good Lord, a humble lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient, charitable, kind, tender and pitiful mind, in all my works and all my words and all my thoughts, to have a taste of your holy blessed Spirit. Give me, good Lord, a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity, a love of you incomparably above the love of myself. Give me, good Lord, a longing to be with you, not to avoid the calamities of this world, nor so much attain the joys of heaven, as simply for love of you. And give me, good Lord, your love and favor, which my love of you, however great it might be, could not deserve were it not for your great goodness. These things, good Lord, that I pray for, give me your grace to labor for.                 ―Thomas More    (Written a week before his execution.)

Sunday, November 29, FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT

PREFACE

As we come to the 2020 season of Advent, the world is very different from last year for all of us. Some of our loved ones have passed. Maybe there were additions to the family via a birth, an adoption, or a marriage. Perhaps there was a tough diagnosis or news of a wonderful remission. There may have been a joyous promotion or a difficult termination of a job. Then there are the relentless tensions in our nation and around the world as people struggle to get along. In the midst of these “normal” things, we’ve all dealt with the pandemic of Covid 19 and the various lockdowns and masks. All of these kinds of uncertainties put the Advent season in a different light again this year. In his unchanging Word, God speaks to us each passing year bringing us deeper and greater insight into its timeless significance thereby drawing us closer to himself. The truth is, time on earth is moving ever closer to the Return of the Lord, the final Advent. 

As this is the thirteenth year of writing these devotionals, running this year from November 29th through Epiphany, January 6th, the purpose remains the same.  Put simply, it is that you and I 1) encounter the Lord each day in the Scriptures, 2) grow in our theological understanding and biblical knowledge of the God we worship and finally, 3) develop (or maintain) a daily pattern of reading the Bible. There is a reason the Lord provided manna one day at a time for the Israelites. We need spiritual food daily. Paul writes, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” That is exactly what we’re after. The passages, which focus on Advent, are chosen from the Revised Common Lectionary Year B. I’ve included a variety of kinds of music to inspire and underscore the points we are making in the short commentaries. The prayers come from the last 3,000 years of conversations with God by various people, including some from the present day. I would encourage you to make an Advent wreath and have someone light the appropriate candle as you do each devotional. (For those of you who wonder, the pink candle (joy) is lit on the third Sunday in Advent and the white Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve.) If you read these as a family, have different members read different parts. One of the good things that has come out of the times of lockdowns and cancellations of so many events is that it has given families time to be together, including eating together! You may want to read the devotionals as a family after dinner (or what used to be called supper!)

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 of the thought. I trust you will find the same.

One final word: would you think of three or four people you could pass the link to (family, friends, and co-workers) around the country and the world who may benefit from the devotionals. The link to the free subscription is simply: sharpdevotional.com They click on the site, enter their email and that’s it! Then they will receive the emails in their boxes each morning. One of the largest international groups receiving these emails is in Hong Kong!  Thank you for subscribing and passing the link along! It’s our only way to spread the word.

Watch for the Lenten Devotional beginning February 17th, 2021. Also, a HUGE thank you to my son, Jonathan Sharp, who is making all of this possible on the internet side of things and to my wife, Nancy, for proofreading all these words! The Lord be with you all.   
Dan’s email at:    dansharp9@gmail.com

Sunday, November 29,  FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT 

 *Read the Preface if you haven’t. It will give some context for the devotionals.

Candle Lighter: “The Light of the world is coming!” (As you light the first Advent candle.)

Reader: “Keep watch!”

Response: “The Lord is coming back!”

Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9

Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you, as though we had never  

    been known as your people. (Is.63:19)

Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!

    How the mountains would quake in your presence!

 As fire causes wood to burn

    and water to boil,

your coming would make the nations tremble.

    Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame!

When you came down long ago,

    you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations.

    And oh, how the mountains quaked!

For since the world began,

    no ear has heard

and no eye has seen a God like you,

    who works for those who wait for him!

You welcome those who gladly do good,

    who follow godly ways.

But you have been very angry with us,

    for we are not godly.

We are constant sinners;

    how can people like us be saved?

We are all infected and impure with sin.

    When we display our righteous deeds,

    they are nothing but filthy rags.

Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,

    and our sins sweep us away like the wind.

Yet no one calls on your name

    or pleads with you for mercy.

Therefore, you have turned away from us

    and turned us over to our sins.

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.

    We are the clay, and you are the potter.

    We all are formed by your hand.

Don’t be so angry with us, Lord.

    Please don’t remember our sins forever.

Look at us, we pray,

    and see that we are all your people.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Israel is in turmoil. And they wonder why God seems far away when the people have been engaged in sin and rebellion? Hello!! The people were in difficult times, not unlike our day. Their relationship to God is estranged, not unlike our day. Israel has been at war with a frequent enemy, a distant relative, the Edomites, descendents from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Notice the overall structure of this pericope: 1) God is acknowledged as Creator; 2) the people have fallen away from God; 3) the people repent of their sin; and 4) the people desire restoration with the Lord. Isaiah’s concern is that the people would reflect a reverence for the Lord which was not happening, not unlike our day. The prophet, in talking with the Lord, begins this passage by declaring “when you [God] came down long ago.” To what is he referring? Creation. “Since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you.” (Paul much later quotes this same verse in I Cor. 1:9.) The world of Isaiah had dismissed God as irrelevant, not unlike our day. The transparency of Isaiah’s confession before the Lord is powerful . . . “we are not godly, we are constant sinners, we are all infected and impure with sin, our sins sweep us away, no one calls on your name . . .” again, not unlike our day. “Infected” seems like the perfect word to describe the days of Isaiah and of our own world. We live in a culture with a rampant, pandemic sin infection which has but One cure. Along with the people of Israel, our society is in need of the Savior. The passage concludes with this strong word of hope . . . in spite of our gross, continued failures, you are our Father, God. You made us. As your children, Lord, forgive our sins. . . As you read this devotional, some of you are undoubtedly wondering what in the world does this have to do with Advent? If you reread the passage, you’ll notice at the beginning a longing for God to again “come down.” Advent begins with a longing for the Second Coming, a “coming down” and the establishing of God’s Kingdom on earth. Advent points to the end of the world and the ushering in of a new heaven on earth. This past year of 2020 has been one of the most tumultuous of times in most of our lives with the worldwide outbreak of COVID 19, racial tension, in addition to orchestrated anarchy in the United States. We are a people deeply infected by sin. In these unsettling times, a great deal of repentance and healing needs to take place in every person as we await the Savior’s return. This passage of Scripture concludes with “Look at us, we pray, and see that we are all your people.” Yes, we are all made in the image of God. Today, let us live like it.

Music: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”    arr. Alice Parker

Bonus:  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”    Anna Hawkins   (In Hebrew and English)

Prayer:

O Son of God and Son of man, Thou wast incarnate, didst suffer, rise, ascend for my sake; Thy departure was not a token of separation but a pledge of return; Thy Word, promises, and sacraments show thy death until thou come again. Grant that I may, with all diligence, walk in a manner worthy of my status as a child of Thine. May I live with a repentant heart, humble soul, Spirit-quickened mind, and a quiet spirit until that great day when all will see Thee face to face. In the Savior’s name. Amen.      

                                                                                     ―adapted Daniel Sharp

Complete Eastertide Music List

Below is the complete list of music links for Eastertide. 

Eastertide Music 2020

 

April 13 “O Gladsome Light” from Vespers by Rachmaninoff  Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PmHP-56Npc  

 

April 14 “Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah”     Tabernacle Baptist Welsh Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT4n1hGjDDg

 

April 15 “Thine Is the Victory”   First Plymouth-Church arr. Horby

www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q2OuTUvChw

 

April 16 “Be Still My Soul”     Libera

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwkPsKe-39Y

April 17 “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Messiah   Philippe Sly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13DpmWPV9IU

  

April 18 “In the Garden”    Alan Jackson   An old gospel song inspired by this account.

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

 

April 19 “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Messiah   Robert Shaw (The conclusion of Messiah)

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

 

Bonus:

 “I Have Seen the Lord”        Vigil

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G3IFp3Ckiw

April 20 ““I Can Only Imagine”   Mercy Me

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

 

April 21 ““Hallelujah Chorus from Mount of Olives by Beethoven      Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-mNxQ6Kslk

 

April 22 “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”    Simon Khorolskiy & Brothers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0T-M9iPZfMk

 

April 23 ““At the Name of Jesus”  Cardiff Festival Choir

https://join.skype.com/M8O4IU8Cbzdh

 

April 24 ““I Love the Lord”    Whitney Houston  Text based on this psalm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPLP1ui4YNc      From the “Preacher’s Wife” movie

 

A live performance by Whitney Houston       

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU9iJ0YU0PQ

 

 

April 25  “Let Us Break Bread Together”    Jessye Norman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFQqOWh2aOY

 

April 26 “Hail Gladdening Light”  Rachmaninoff Vespers    Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PmHP-56Npc   sung in Russian, English translation

 

April 27 “Behold All Flesh”  Movement II from Brahms Requiem   Herbert Von Karajan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2jc13Q1wX4

 

April 28  “Jesus Is the Cornerstone”    Larnelle Harris  An oldie from the past!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fBoMpZySMM

 

April 29 ““There is Power in the Blood”     Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVKF7gt3Cak&list=PL9492611BFCFAB267&index=3 

 

April 30 “Sanctus” from Requiem by Duruflé  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hESnJ0HHlxI

 

Translation:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

 

May 1 “The Lord is My Shepherd”    by John Rutter      Atlanta Master Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOtsuzM6h7M 

 

May 2 “Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy”      Shane & Shane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo3HgtT_OiE

 

May 3 “The Lord’s My Shepherd I’ll not Want”    Citrail

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-qLa_2GPcM

 

 

May 4  “Hear Am I Lord”  Nation Youth Choir of Scotland    Don’t miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcL9S5a3weU&list=RDgcL9S5a3weU&index=2

 

Mar 5 “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”   John Rutter Massed Choir

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

 

May 6 “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee”    Hour of Power Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4FhFozCX-w

 

May 7 “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnGMNvRBJ4w

 

May 8 “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”   Moses Hogan Chorale Gorgeous!!!

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwCBdLy8ork 

 

May 9 “Give Me Jesus”  Fernando Ortega at Ruth Graham Funeral

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu2E2FUcIiE

 

May 10 “A City Called Heaven”    Salt Lake Vocal Artists

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P-DwTDzRZs

 

May11  “Agnus Dei”    Voces8   There are only 8 people singing, no overdubs, one on a part!    (Samuel Barber)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuBQZFOnk7s

 

May 12 “Once to Every Man and Nation”    Fountainview Academy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSMqesZz3tU

 

May 13  “Whom Shall I Fear” David Wesley

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

 

May 14  “A Broken and Contrite Spirit”     Sons of Korah   Beautiful, unique

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RnDuwbz5UI   Make this your prayer today.

 

May 15 “Baptized in Water”     The Orchard Enterprises

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6arW9XKmRHk

 

May 16 “Credo” from Gospel Mass of Robert Ray     St. Olaf Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glT-EiSsMOg

 

May 17 “Blessings” Laura Story       God does reveal himself, not always as we think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQan9L3yXjc

 

May 18 “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”  Grace Community Church

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

 

May 19 “Sanctus and Agnus Dei”      Vinnie Zarleltti Institute for Worship Studies

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VObanClX-_Y

 

May 20 “Deep River”  Mormon Tabernacle Choir        (We like the music, the theology has some major problems.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiIURFm63Yk 

 

May 21 “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”  First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, NE  arr. Robert Hobby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI-nTy0iHmU&list=RDrI-nTy0iHmU&start_radio=1&t=0

 

May 22 “Then Did Elijah Break Forth” from “Elijah” Mendelssohn, New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus   (This is part of a glorious oratorio on the life of Elijah.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXkaxTfUY40

 

May 23 “We Come, O Christ, to You”     Grace Community Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ScQfSjzbsY&t=119s

  

May 24 “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” Fernando Ortega

https://ww.youtube.com/watch?v=MdcqhSAXMgE

 

May 25 “It is Well with My Soul”   Wartburg College Choir

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyPEohF6qq8 

 

May 26  “Down to the River to Pray” 

  Bethel College Choir  from a grain

bin! Don’t miss it!      The point is to pray until Jesus

returns!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rjix44QzFQ

 

May 27 “From Heaven to Earth I Come”   Bach

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpy-GcICccE 

 

May 28 “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”     Jake Armerding

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXUOuzJo1bE

  

May 29 “In Christ Alone”   Virtual Choir   You CANNOT miss this!! WOW!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY4CW5pte98

 

May 30 “The Beatitudes”    Arvo Pärt This is a little different, but beautiful!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weo-mBK6U2o

 

May 31 “Cum Sancto Spiritu”    Vivaldi National Chamber Choir of Armenia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdTQPpsP5W8 

Text:

With the Holy Spirit in the

glory of God the Father. Amen.

“Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here”     Amplified Praise

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2q7hMfmVL3I

“Veni Sancte Spiritus”    from Lux Aeterna  Lauridsen  Schönhausen-Chor Krefeld, Germany

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpBwkgd_380

Sunday, May 31 Pentecost

Reader: “On the day of Pentecost”

Response: “all the believers were meeting together in one place.”

Scripture: Acts 2:1-13

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!”

They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You’ll recall that the Feast of Pentecost was one of three pilgrimage festivals which required every Jewish male to journey to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. That explains why there were Jews present from all over the known world. (In the absence of today’s media, what better way to spread the gospel. In fact, people to people communication is still the most effective way on earth!) For the past ten days the disciples and a group of believers had remained in Jerusalem praying together daily in accordance with Jesus’ directive at his ascension. They were to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit that would come to dwell with them in Jesus’ absence. The believers were gathered when a violent supernatural wind from heaven came blowing through the room. Wind in Scripture often depicts the presence of the Spirit of God. The wind hovered over the waters at creation. Breath was breathed in man at creation and in the dry bones of Ezekiel’s day. The wind split the Red Sea. Elijah went to heaven in a whirlwind of fire. In talking with Nicodemus, Jesus referred to the Spirit as wind blowing where it will.  Fire and wind appear together again in this passage. This coming of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s words that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, again, fire representing the presence of God. Whereas the presence of the Holy Spirit was given in measured degrees in the First Testament among various prophets, as we have mentioned previously, this was the first time it was given in full measure to all believers. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, came the power for the Galilean fishermen to speak in languages they had never learned. As has often been pointed out, this event is a kind of reversal of the events of the Tower of Babel, where the language was the unifying factor and the people’s great pride in themselves was the central focus. There God confused the languages so they could not understand each other and the people scattered over the face of the earth, destroying their prideful, man-centered unity. Now, people from those scattered countries thousands of years later hear the good news in their many languages that God has delivered people from their pride and sin, the very thing that caused them to be scattered in the first place! Though there were multiple very diverse languages being spoken, now the unifying factor of the people was the gospel! The unity of the whole of Scripture is undeniable. (This is one of the reasons it is so important to study the First Testament as well as the New Testament.) The areas mentioned would be the modern day regions of the Kurds, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Arab regions south and east of Israel, Egypt, Libya, islands in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and Rome. One of the central themes of the feast of Pentecost historically has been repentance. So it is no surprise that Peter’s sermon which follows this passage is on repentance, with the result being thousands of people became believers! And that same Holy Spirit continues to convert thousands of people in our day.

What a fitting way to conclude these past fifty days of time in God’s word. The ability to lead a Christian life in our own strength, determination, and self-reliance is not possible. Perfection is God’s standard, hence, we are doomed. God provided his Son to take our place on the perfection side of things as he accepted Jesus’ death in our condemned place as evidenced by the torn curtain. At Jesus’ departure he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers to enable them to have the power to live the life to which we’ve been called. Our job? Obedience to his voice to become more and more like our Savior.

Music: “Cum Sancto Spiritu”    Vivaldi     National Chamber Choir of Armenia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdTQPpsP5W8 

Text:

With the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

“Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here”     Amplified Praise

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2q7hMfmVL3I

“Veni Sancte Spiritus”    from Lux Aeterna  Lauridsen  Schönhausen-Chor Krefeld, Germany

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpBwkgd_380

Text:

Veni, Sancte Spiritus,

Et emitte coelitus

Lucis tuae radium.

Veni, pater pauperum,

Veni, dator munerum,

Veni, lumen cordium.

Come, Holy Spirit,

Send forth from heaven

The ray of Thy light.

Come, father of the poor,

Come, giver of gifts,

Come, light of hearts.

Consolator optime,

Dulcis hospes animae,

Dulce refrigerium.

In labore requies,

In aestu temperies,

In fletu solatium.

Thou best of Consolers,

Sweet guest of the soul,

Sweet refreshment.

In labor, Thou art rest,

In heat, the tempering,

In grief, the consolation.

O lux beatissima,

Reple cordis intima

Tuorum fidelium.

Sine tuo numine,

Nihil est in homine,

Nihil est innoxium.

O Light most blessed,

Fill the inmost heart

Of all Thy faithful.

Without Thy grace,

There is nothing in us,

Nothing that is not harmful.

Lava quod est sordidum,

Riga quod est aridum,

Sana quod est saucium.

Flecte quod est rigidum,

Fove quod est frigidum,

Rege quod est devium.

Cleanse what is sordid,

Moisten what is arid,

Heal what is hurt.

Flex what is rigid,

Fire what is frigid,

Correct what goes astray.

Da tuis fidelibus

In te confitentibus,

Sacrum septenarium.

Da virtutis meritum,

Da salutis exitum,

Da perenne gaudium.

Grant to Thy faithful,

Those trusting in Thee,

Thy sacred seven-fold gifts.

Grant the reward of virtue,

Grant the deliverance of salvation,

Grant everlasting joy.

Prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have not used to your glory the gifts you bestowed in sending down the Holy Spirit upon your Church. We have not remained in the grace of the gospel. We have despised your holy word spoken to us by your prophets; we have disobeyed your commandments delivered to us by your apostles. We have not fulfilled the trust you committed to us, that we should call the ends of the earth to serve you, and gather for Christ your children scattered abroad. Hide your face, O Lord, from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities. Make our hearts clean, O God and renew a right spirit within us. Do not cast us away from your presence; take not your Holy Spirit from us. Make thy servants, O God, to be set on fire with thy Spirit, strengthened by thy power, illuminated by thy splendor, filed with thy grace, and to go forward by thine aid, and manfully having finished our course, may we be enabled happily to enter into thy kingdom. In the name of Jesus. Amen.    ―Prayers for Sunday Services, p.104

Friends,

Thank you so much for subscribing and sharing these moments with the Lord these past days. It has truly been a joy in preparing these devotionals. My hope is that you have gained in your love for the Lord and have been drawn closer to him and at the same time grown in your knowledge of the Scriptures. I also hope you’ve been introduced to some new music or known music in new settings. In a few months I’ll most likely be working on next year’s Advent series. You may also receive some emails with some things to think about between now and then, but at any rate begin looking for Advent devotionals the first Sunday in Advent, November 29, 2020.   

The Lord be with you,

  Dan

One more pieceof music. This is as beautiful music as you will hear.!

“Benedictus”   Karl Jenkins   (7:33 choir comes in at about 4 minutes in)

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

Text:  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

Saturday, May 30

Reader: “One day as he saw the crowds gathering,”

Response: “Jesus began to teach them.”

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

[The Beatitudes]

 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,

    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are humble,

    for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, 

    for they will be satisfied 

God blesses those who are merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure,

    for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace,

    for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,

    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

“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.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Throughout the Bible, the word “righteous” or “righteousness” often appears. Some people view the word in a pejorative sense; he is such a righteous Joe! A few years back in the 1990’s, it also had another connotation in the phrase, “You are a righteous dude!” which meant you were really cool, with it, groovey, hip . . . oh what beautiful and thoughtful expressions of our language. We have such a profound way with words! In the passage you just read, Jesus has described righteousness in terms of a way to live, an attitude to embrace in terms of moral behavior, a mindset to adopt in terms of how we live and think in relation to others. Jesus’ half brother, James, works with this same idea in the New Testament book bearing his name. Paul works with righteousness in terms of God’s saving acts that put us in a right relationship to God. The righteousness here described by Jesus is the living out of the righteousness described by Paul. In summary, as described by Jesus: 1) The poor refers to the physically poor. They have recognized their wealth comes not from anything material, but in their trust in God making them very blessed. 2) The mourning can come from any number of sources. The comfort that results from God is not commanded by the mourner, but is the result of God’s promise to comfort. Again, this is a person living in relationship with God. 3) This quote of Jesus comes from the Old Testament. Israel was called upon to humble themselves and trust God in their desert journey and they would inherit the Promised Land. In our case, we are not to fight for ourselves but are to trust God and we will inherit the fulfillment of his promises to us. 4) The one hungering and thirsting for righteousness is that person is striving in their own life to obey God at every point. It can also refer to that individual whose desire it is to see justice for everyone and works toward that end wanting God’s will to be done. 5) When I show mercy toward another who owes me, it demonstrates that God is working in me. Showing mercy is a mark of godliness. 6) A transparent heart before God is essential if we are to see God and have open communication. A pure heart is one that has been “purified” by the blood of Christ.  God doesn’t work well with insincere, natural hearts since they are in a state of sin. 7) Those working for peace are to work for peace with God for justice, reconciliation, and righteousness in the will of God, and not as they themselves determine what is peace, justice, and righteousness. Ultimately, the one in the dispute is the one who must come to peace. 8) The “doing right” in the case of persecution, is being identified with Christ in spite of any circumstance that might arise. Persecution happened to Jesus, to his disciples, to his followers through the centuries, and most certainly does happen to you and me. It’s part of living counter-culturally as believers in Jesus Christ.

Music: “The Beatitudes”    Arvo Pärt     This is a little different, but beautiful!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weo-mBK6U2o

Prayer:

O Thou who dwellest in our poor and shabby human life, lifting it now and then above the dominance of animal passion and greed, allowing it to shine with the borrowed lights of love and joy and peace, and making it a mirror of the beauties of a world unseen, grant that my part in the world’s life today may not be to obscure the splendour of Thy presence but rather to make it more plainly visible to the eyes of my fellow men.  Let me stand today―for whatever is pure and true and just and good: for the advancement of science and education and true learning: for the redemption of daily business from the blight of self-seeking: for the rights of the weak and the oppressed: for industrial cooperation and mutual help: for the conservation of the rich traditions of the past: for the recognition of new workings of Thy Spirit in the minds of the men of my own time: for the hope of yet more glorious days to come. Today, O Lord―let me put right before interest: let me put others before self: let me put the things of the spirit before the things of the body: let me put the attainment of nobel ends above the enjoyment of present pleasures: let me put principle above reputation: let me put Thee before all else. O Thou the reflection of whose transcendent glory did once appear unbroken in the face of Jesus Christ, give me today a heart like His―a brave heart, a true heart, a tender heart, a heart with great room in it, a heart fixed on Thyself: for his name’s sake. Amen.                    

                       ―from a Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, p.61

Friday, May 29

Reader: “Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,”  

Response: “for our hope is in you alone.”

Scripture: Psalm 33:12-22

What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,

    whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

The Lord looks down from heaven

    and sees the whole human race.

From his throne he observes

    all who live on the earth. 

He made their hearts,

    so he understands everything they do.

 

The best-equipped army cannot save a king,

    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.

 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—

    for all its strength, it cannot save you.

 

But the Lord watches over those who fear him,

    those who rely on his unfailing love.

 He rescues them from death

    and keeps them alive in times of famine.

 

We put our hope in the Lord.

    He is our help and our shield.

 In him our hearts rejoice,

    for we trust in his holy name.

 

Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,

    for our hope is in you alone.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Here is an example of the importance of understanding the context of a passage of Scripture. The above portion is the last half of Psalm 33. The whole psalm is one of creation and might actually be a continuation of Psalm 32. At any rate, when we pick up the text for today’s reading, it is based on previous verses. We are talking about those people and nations who fear the Lord and are in awe of him. Fearing the Lord puts one or a nation in a place of being chosen and blessed by God. Think about this great truth, God made your heart and so he understands you completely, even better than you do!

Your heart is not like anyone else’s. How often have you said, “Now, why did I do that? What was I thinking?” If you ask God, he could answer both those questions! The heart in the Hebrew understanding, can mean the organ, the soul, the seat of emotion, the mind of knowledge, the inner part of something, the inner being of man, the seat of desire, the seat of conscience, or the seat of rebellion. Because man controls his heart, a heart born in sin, and because he does not fully understand it, and God does, man is in need of a new heart. God’s promise is “A new heart also will I give you, . . . and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek.36:26). David prays “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Rest in God’s care of your heart. Lest we forget, neither great strength nor great power is sufficient to save when compared to God’s care. For the person who fears God, the loving eye of the Lord is continually on them to guard and to guide, then and now in these troubled days. By the time you read this, I’m hoping things have calmed down a bit in regards to the virus and all the second-guessing. Please, only God is sovereign! The psalm concludes with the ABSOLUTE truth! “Our hope is in you alone.” Amen.

Music: “In Christ Alone”   Virtual Choir   You CANNOT miss this!! WOW!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY4CW5pte98 

Prayer:

Thank goodness, Lord, you know my heart! Please continue to mold and fashion it after your own loving heart. Thank you for making me and loving me and drawing me to yourself. I take great comfort in knowing you are caring after all your children. May our hearts be always tuned to you and bring us back when we stray. Thank you for coming after us when we get off course. At times drawing us back again is not pleasant from our standpoint, but oh, so necessary. We have certainly shown the world and ourselves how impotent and deceptive our hearts are and that, in fact, man cannot solve or control all things. Thank you for the reminder! Lord have mercy. We love you and thank you. May we stay in your path on our journey to your home. In the glorious name of Jesus, Amen.             ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, May 28

Reader: “You will be my kingdom of priests,” 

Response: “my holy nation.”

Scripture: Exodus 9:1-9

Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai.

Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you. Then they will always trust you.”

 

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

When God met Moses at the burning bush, he told him the day would come when he, Moses, would lead the Children of Israel to this mountain to worship.  (Ex.3:12) This promise was fulfilled. At this point in our reading, the people had not yet received the Law, the Ten Commandments, nor entered into their covenant with God. In calling Moses to climb Sinai for their meeting, God affirmed the people’s history by referring to them as the family of Jacob and as the descendents of Israel, (Remember, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel when they wrestled Gen. 32:28). God was reminding Moses that you all are my people. I began with a man, Abraham, developed a family, Jacob (Israel), and have built that family into the nation of Israel which you are to lead. God laid out his plan for Israel to Moses. God has chosen these people to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation to bring blessing to the entire earth. Moses followed through and shared with the elders regarding the covenant with God and told them everything God had said. The people’s response was, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded,” and Moses fainted! After he was revived, Moses returned to the Lord with the people’s answer . . .and God fainted! (It didn’t happen quite that way!) God did come though, to Moses in a thick cloud. This is another of the many times in Scripture where God appears in a cloud indicating his presence. There is always purpose in everything God does both then and now. In this case, God wanted the people to hear him speaking out of the cloud with Moses in order to help the people always trust Moses. God was affirming Moses’ leadership from the start of the building of the nation of Israel. There would be numerous times upcoming that the people would rebel against Moses’ authority. Have you noticed how often the word “obedience” enters into the text of the Scriptures when interaction with God is involved? Since the Fall, obedience and submission to the Lord have been a human problem, and a problem for you and for me. Time in the Scriptures is where we hear the voice of God, ironically to get us out of the fog of self.

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXUOuzJo1bE 

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, how many times have I said to you, “I will do everything you have said” only to fail with the words barely off my lips. My will is fickle, my intentions too often mixed, my heart too changeable. I confess I find it too easy to rationalize in doing what I want. Sometimes, like the Israelites, I get it right and follow you. But grant Lord, that my time with you each day, as you speak from the Scriptures, would increasingly shine through the cloud and burn off the fog of self that is all too familiar in order that I might see your glory and learn to fear you in awe and wonder and obedience. This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.  ―Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, May 27

Reader: “Anyone who believes in God’s Son” 

Response: “has eternal life.”

Scripture: John 3:31-36

“He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else. He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them! Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true. For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Imagine a man coming from another world, totally unlike earth. He looks completely human and acts totally normal except for some unusual powers that pop up every now and then. He talks about things and places he has been that are utterly fantastic, almost unbelievable. He tells us that God sent him and that he is on a mission to fulfill God’s plan. He even had an advance man!  We have institutions for people like that. Yet, such was the situation for the Jews and those living in the time of Christ. The people in our world, the ones we interact with at work and in our neighborhoods, face the same question as did the Jews when Jesus lived among them. We are asking the world to believe that a couple thousand years ago, a man, Jesus, who claimed to be God in the flesh, came from another world, heaven, as a superhuman being on a mission from God. We are definite earthlings! We talk about things on earth, work, family, money, concerts, sports, politics, health, etc. Jesus talked about those things too, but from a heavenly, eternal perspective. From his perspective: Who is it that we ultimately work for? How do we love our family? How should we value money? How do we use the time we’ve been given? What should be our attitude about those who govern us? What is good health? What is spiritual health? What is our purpose in life? The problem then and now is that most people reject his message. 

There is another uniqueness here for the Jews. In the First Testament, rabbis believed that the prophets received the Spirit in differing measures. (e.g.Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.) Here, John writes that Jesus was given the Spirit without measure, no limits. John makes clear in chapter one in the first verse that Jesus is fully God, which means he has the Spirit in full as he dwells in the Godhead. At Pentecost Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers, who likewise receive the Spirit. The question is not how much of the Holy Spirit one has, but rather whether or not one is obedient to the prompting of the Spirit. Believing in Jesus brings eternal life. And with believing comes obedience to the Son. Failure to believe in Jesus means that person continues to live in a state of separation from God, and remains in a position of condemnation. The God-man from another world, Jesus, has brought life, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation to God, and everlasting life to all who will repent and believe. Who could reject such love? 

Music: “From Heaven to Earth I Come”   Bach

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpy-GcICccE 

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 or silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end. Amen.    

     ―John Donne, 1571-1631, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.512

Tuesday, May 26

Reader: “Continue to show deep love for each other,”

Response: “for love covers a multitude of sins.”

Scripture: I Peter 4:7-11

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

“The end of the world is coming soon.” Yikes! Those are ominous words. In reading the letters of Peter and Paul in particular, there was a strong feeling that Jesus would be returning shortly, certainly within their lifetimes. Through the centuries there have been numerous times when it seemed the end seemed imminent. There is no shortage of people in our day and age who likewise think the end of the world and the return of Christ is very near, perhaps within our lifetime. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warned people what to watch for in terms of signs, but made very clear only the Father knew when the Second Coming would be. There have been any number of books written about how we are to live in the last days. God gives us some very practical direction through Peter’s epistle. We are to be earnest, serious, clear-minded, watchful, and disciplined in our prayers. We are to be a praying people. Are you disciplined in your prayer life? A second instruction until the return of Christ, is the demonstration of loving each other.

Loving someone earnestly from the heart surely makes forgiving the offender much easier. The more mature we are in loving people, the less easily we are offended. Hospitality is the mark of the Holy Spirit and all of us are to live that way. God is reminding, as you read this (!), that he has given you a gift to be used in serving other people. Whether it is in speaking or helping others, do it with energy and joy! What happens when you use what God has given you is that God gets glory through Jesus.

Peter adds a final doxology: All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. We have simple instructions: pray, be hospitable, love, use what God has given you. Did you notice, Peter did not say, dwell on the last days or the end times, but be busy doing God’s work? 

Music: “Down to the River to Pray”    Bethel College Choir  from a grain bin! Don’t miss it!      The point is to pray until Jesus returns!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rjix44QzFQ

Prayer:

Almighty God, you have given us the sure promise that our Lord Jesus will return to judge the earth: make us ready, we pray for his royal coming, that we may consider daily the quality of our service and so be found faithful servants waiting and watching for our Master’s return. Make us bold in our witness and grant in our mercy that many may be turned to righteousness before he comes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                                 

                                 ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.67

Monday, May 25

Reader: “Since Christ suffered physical pain,” 

Response: “you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had.”

Scripture: I Peter 4:1-6

So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.

Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. But remember that they will have to face God, who stands ready to judge everyone, both the living and the dead. That is why the Good News was preached to those who are now dead—so although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Peter wrote this letter around 60 AD, most likely from Rome. Hostile persecution against Christians was rising. Peter’s letter is also true about the world in which we live. Though in the United States the level is not yet to the intensity of Nero’s persecutions, there are very hostile attacks on Christians in other parts of the world to be sure. There are places where it is life-threatening to declare one’s Christian faith. Peter assured his readers that suffering was normal for the life of a believer and that we should expect such, since Christ also suffered physically. While suffering can embitter and harden the heart, it is one of the primary ways of purifying the soul. How so? The life of a Christian is counter-cultural; we are swimming against the current. That kind of life is irritating and convicting to those going with the flow. For one thing, it proves to them that one doesn’t have to embrace the popular trend or practice.  A Christian way of living removes a convenient excuse, “Well, everybody is doing it.” In a culture of people with darkened minds, the Christian life makes little sense to them. Another “benefit” to the suffering soul, is that when you suffer for or from something, my guess is that you talk with the Lord much more frequently than you do when things are going smoothly. I’m always amazed that in times of great stress, like this COVID-19 problem, people who normally are down on Christians, talk about keeping “those who are suffering in our thoughts and prayers,” especially when such words come from the media! When things get bad, we must talk to God! On the nobler side of things, suffering can bring us into closer fellowship with Christ, since he also suffered. Our response to our own suffering can be a powerful reflection of Christ living in us and bring glory to God. Observing a person of faith enduring suffering with grace, humility, and love is a powerful, disarming and inspiring witness to the grace of God. Peter writes that the day is coming when God will judge everyone with reward and punishment. Pain and suffering do not last forever. Jesus made sure of that. While we can do nothing in regard to our suffering to make it go away immediately, Christ chose to suffer on our behalf and he could have avoided his suffering yet did not out of love for his brothers and sisters and to identify with humanity to the uttermost. Hebrews reminds us that “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” Heb.2:18. One of the powerful truths of the Incarnation is that Jesus was fully human. Our Savior is not distant from anything you or I go through. Earlier in this letter Peter wrote, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” (1:16) It would appear that suffering is one of the primary paths to holiness. The end of it all is glorious! 

Music: “It is Well with My Soul”   Wartburg College Choir

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyPEohF6qq8 

Prayer:

You are love, and you see all the suffering, injustice, and misery, which reign in this world. Have pity, we implore you, on the work of your hands. Look mercifully on the poor, the oppressed, and all who are heavy laden with error, labour and sorrow. Fill our hearts with deep compassion for those who suffer, and hasten the coming of your kingdom of justice and truth.     ―Eugene Bersier, 1831-1889, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.80

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24

Reader: “And this is the way to have eternal life—”

Response: “to know you, the only true God.”

Scripture: John 17:1-11

After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We often read of Jesus going away alone to pray to his Father. Like me, I’m guessing you might wonder what he prayed for and how he prayed. John seventeen gives us some insight. This is the longest of Jesus’ recorded prayers, also known as his “high priestly prayer.” This chapter is the conclusion of his farewell address as chapter eighteen moves the Easter story ahead. There are several different things to note. As we look at the text, it begins with Jesus looking up to heaven, a traditional Jewish posture for prayer. It is likely his hands were lifted to heaven as well. In the majority of his prayer, Jesus is addressing his own concerns with the Father. A prayer like this was normally said aloud so his followers could hear what he was praying. While Jesus’ addressing God as Father was usual for him, such an address of God would be unusual in Judaism, so you see new insight created for the disciples in their request of Jesus to teach them how to pray when Jesus prayed “Our Father, . . .”  On a different note, when Jesus said, “The hour has come. . .”, it reflected his understanding that the betrayal, arrest, torture, death, and resurrection was underway. For Jesus, his realization of the imminent coming sacrifice must have been a powerful moment, never before done, something that had been unfolding in God’s plan since the Fall of man in the Garden, and now was coming to completion, never ever to be repeated in time. These next hours were monumental for all of creation. Jesus had come from heaven, sharing the glory of God with the Father from before the creation of the world, and was now returning to heaven with his earthly mission accomplished! I’ve often wondered how Jesus processed his mission over his thirty-three years, knowing the end was going to be awful. What immediately hits me as I typed that last sentence was his love for his people. He looked through the anguish to the other side of the cross, the joy of “bringing many sons and daughters to glory.” A few minutes later they all left for the Garden of Gethsemane. Now a word concerning the Trinity, “Jesus’ oneness with the Father means that if the Son is glorified, the Father will also be glorified.” (NLT notes, p.1806) The fact that the Father gave the Son authority further affirms the unity of the Godhead as only God can give eternal life. Jesus uses the phrase “to know you” in reference to God. Again, “to know” means not only experiencing one another, but intimacy of the relationship. Loving and obedience are unbreakably connected to each other. Jesus prayed specifically for his children, not for the world, which might surprise us. Do not doubt that his prayers for you are specific. Because he is God, he knows everything, remembers everything―except sins repented of, and knows the depths of your heart. He prays, “Make them holy by your truth, teach them your word, which is truth.” Friends, we have a Savior who is very much alive and intercedes for you every moment of your life. What a glorious God we have and thank you to John for recording this prayer of Jesus and for the insights gained in our own prayer life as a result.

Music: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” Fernando Ortega 

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

Prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Word and Revelation of the Eternal Father, come, we pray Thee, take possession of our hearts, and reign where Thou hast right to reign. So fill our minds with the thought and our imaginations with the picture of Thy love, that there may be in us no room for any desire that is discordant with Thy holy will. Cleanse us, we pray Thee from all that may make us deaf to Thy call or slow to obey it, Who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, art one God, blessed for ever. Amen.      

                 ―WIlliam Temple, 1881-1944, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.55

Saturday, May 23

Reader: “Who are you?” they demanded.”

Response: “Jesus replied, “The one I have always claimed to be.”

Scripture: John 8:21-30

Later Jesus said to them again, “I am going away. You will search for me but will die in your sin. You cannot come where I am going.”

The people asked, “Is he planning to commit suicide? What does he mean, ‘You cannot come where I am going’?”

Jesus continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.”

“Who are you?” they demanded.

Jesus replied, “The one I have always claimed to be. I have much to say about you and much to condemn, but I won’t. For I say only what I have heard from the one who sent me, and he is completely truthful.” But they still didn’t understand that he was talking about his Father.

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him.” Then many who heard him say these things believed in him.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

The context of this passage has to do with one of the major Jewish pilgrimage feasts, Sukkot, of the Feast of Tabernacles. Because of the nature of the feast, Jerusalem was packed with Jews from near and far. As we mentioned several days ago, one of the questions each of the first chapters of John seeks to answer is “Who is Jesus?” Previously at this festival, he had told the gathered Jews that he was the light of the world. In this passage he is warning of the danger of unbelief and permanent separation from God. There are two levels of thinking unfolding before us. Jesus is talking about heaven. The people have not come close to realizing he is from heaven. They believe he is just another man, albeit one who is a little “off.” Jesus has said some pretty amazing things in their hearing so my guess some of them think he is a mental case, so their suicide question makes sense. His words that follow would be all the more troublesome if you believed he was just a man, especially when he says, “You are from below, I am from above. You belong to this world, I do not.” 

When I was in grad school, I auditioned singers for a choir I was directing. A young man came in to audition and on the form filled in his name as Jesus Christ.  We talked and he proceeded to tell me he would be in the choir because he was Jesus. We talked some more and I eventually assured him he was not Jesus Christ. With a quizzical look he asked me, “Then who am I?” We unsuccessfully tried to get him some help. The Jews listening to Jesus were viewing Jesus in the same way I viewed this young auditioner. But Jesus gives them some concrete hints. On another occasion, he had said, “I AM the light of the world.” Here he says,”I AM who I claim to be.”  Every Jew knew the I AM who spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai was God. Here, the phrase sailed right over their heads. And we get the question again, “Who are you Jesus?” In this passage we see Jesus’ exercise of restraint. “I have much to say about you and much to condemn, but I won’t.”  I have to admire his determination to say only what the Father told him. Do you and I live that way or do we “unload” on people? We also have another instance of Jesus referring to himself as the Son of Man, a messianic phrase the people would have picked up, and tying it to the I AM. In another identification clarifier, Jesus  refers to his relationship to his Father. Some of the crowd were able to see the light and believed in who he was. In regard to Jesus, the question from the people, “Who are you?” is as relevant today as it was then. The challenge to any unbeliever is, “Can you change your mind as to who you think Jesus is?” In talking with people who have yet to believe, it seems to me that is the most important question. Keep praying for those who have yet to discover the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Music: “We Come, O Christ, to You”     Grace Community Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ScQfSjzbsY&t=119s 

Prayer:

Lord Jesus my Savior, in some ways I’m like the Jewish people I just read about and in other ways I’m not. Unlike them, I know you are the Son of God, God come to earth in human flesh. I believe in you completely. But in another way I can ask the same question “Who are you?” Lord, I am susceptible to presuming I know you to the depths. I can be too familiar and simply treat you as another human being, not as the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, the one through whom the universe was created. Lord forgive me for the time I trampled around on holy ground and did not hear your voice to take off my shoes. It is a wondrous thing to know you love and care for your children. May I learn more and more in the days that lie ahead what it is and means to know you and to have the mind of Christ. I bow before you in embarrassment and humility as my Lord and Redeemer. I love you Lord. Forgive my foolish ways and dullness of spirit. Help me to find more and more each day who you are, my glorious Savior of the world. In your wonderful name, the great I AM. Amen.          ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, May 22

Reader: “My father! My father! I see the chariots”

Response: “and charioteers of Israel!”

Scripture: II Kings 2:1-12

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”

But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.

The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.”

But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.

Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.”

But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.

Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Yesterday we commented on the ascension of Jesus. As you recall, there were a couple of ascensions in the First Testament, that of Enoch, about whom we know very little (Gen. 5:24) other than it says he “walked in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.” The second ascension you just read about, the departure of Elijah from this earth. His name comes from El “God”  and Yah “YHWH” meaning “my God is YHWH.” Think of all the names in the Bible that have “el” in the name: Eli, Gabriel, Daniel, Joel, Ezekiel, Samuel, Elisha, even Eliphelet (!) to name a few. Why these two men did not experience death, I do not know. What we do know is that both were very tuned to God’s voice and walked closely with him. Elijah apparently knew that he was about to depart this world. In preparation for his “ascension,” God told him to go from Gilgal to Bethel (meaning “house of God”). Gilgal speaks of faith and trust in God rather than in this fallen world. It was at Gilgal that Joshua and all his men were circumcised upon entering Canaan, cutting themselves off from this world as it were in renewing and obeying their covenant with God. Gilgal means “rolling.” God rolled away Israel’s reproach in Egypt. Elijah leaves the place of rolling to enter Bethel, the heavenly realm. From there they traveled to Jericho, the first city conquered when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, then on to the Jordan River, crossing it by the same means as the Israelites entered Canaan. Crossing the Jordan has always been symbolic of death, that of leaving this world for heaven. It is also symbolic of baptism. It is somewhat ironic that Elijah is going the opposite way. Like the Israelites crossing the river, he parts it and crosses on dry land, he’s just going the other way! He’s heading east which is symbolic of the resurrection. (This same Elijah appears some 800 years later at the Transfiguration of Jesus to talk with him and Moses about Jesus’ own “crossing the Jordan,” his departure from this world. That would have been a fascinating conversation to listen in on, Moses, who died with no one near to be buried by God in an unmarked grave, and Elijah, who skipped the death thing all together and went to heaven in a chariot of fire [God’s presence]). As the time drew near for Elijah’s departure, Elisha asked his mentor for a double portion of his spirit and to also become his successor. It was granted as the Bible records exactly twice as many miracles performed by Elisha as related to Elijah, including some of the same ones.  So, once again where does all of this fit into your life this 22nd day of May in the year 2020? What do we glean? First, there is most certainly a very conscious life that continues after we depart this world. Second, walking closely with the Lord is vital. Third, when we leave this earthly life, we have nothing to fear. Fourth, God alone has the keys to your life and death. Fifth, in walking closely with the Lord, you couldn’t be in a better place.

Music:  “Then Did Elijah Break Forth”   from “Elijah” Mendelssohn  New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus        

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXkaxTfUY40 

In the oratorio, this is the point where Elijah dramatically ascends to heaven in a fiery chariot! Note the “horse gallop” in the rhythm of the orchestra.

Text:

Then did Elijah the prophet break forth like a fire; his words appeared like burning torches. Mighty kings by him were overthrown. He stood on the mount of Sinai and heard the judgments of the future, and in Horeb its vengeance. And when the Lord would take him away to heaven, lo! There came a fiery chariot with fiery horses, and he went by a whirlwind to heaven.

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. 37

Ascension Day, Thursday, May 21

Reader: “But you will receive power”

Response: “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

Scripture: Acts 1:1-12

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

The significance of Ascension Day is largely lost in the practice of the Christian faith. Though recognized in most liturgical churches, is seldom acknowledged in most non-liturgical churches, yet it is an important part of the whole gospel story. Practically speaking, if there had been no ascension, Jesus would still be walking around on earth somewhere with his mission not yet complete. The Holy Spirit would not have come upon all believers,(no Pentecost), and Jesus would not be at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. The enthronement of Christ would still be in the future. He would not be preparing a place for us as mentioned in the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel. The Ascension of Christ, forty days after the resurrection, is a further step in God’s overall detailed plan to bring redemption to the whole created order. The number forty, occurring often in Scripture, is a number indicating fullment or completion. Note that Jesus’ public ministry began by being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil. Following the resurrection and the defeat of the devil, he remained on earth forty days appearing at various times to different groups of people. At the end of the forty days, his earthly mission completed, he returned to heaven with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit to take his place as a presence among his people. Rather than believers being limited by the physical presence of Jesus being in one place at one time, the Spirit would indwell all believers everywhere. John’s baptism began Jesus’ public ministry. Now, the baptism of the Holy Spirit began the disciples’ public ministry.You would think God had this all planned out! 

It is also interesting that, even after the resurrection, the disciples were still expecting Jesus to set up the earthly kingdom of God (Israel) in which he would rule as King. That was their perception of the Kingdom of God. Rather, God’s plan was that Israel and the whole world would be restored and engrafted into God’s Kingdom of heaven. The ascension and Christ’s return to earth at some point in the future was the last thing they were expecting! As far as we’re concerned, in the meantime we are to be telling people everywhere about Jesus and the great news of the gospel. Once again we see two angelic witnesses affirming the truth of what Jesus said and encouraging the disciples to get moving about the Father’s work. (Notice also the appearance of a cloud indicating the presence of God as Jesus is enveloped into the cloud. It may also be worth saying that Jesus did not go to someplace else in the universe as though heaven were a physical place in a far off galaxy. He entered into heaven, into another dimension from the world in which we live.) 

Music: “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”  First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, NE  arr. Robert Hobby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI-nTy0iHmU&list=RDrI-nTy0iHmU&start_radio=1&t=0

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, ascended and 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 love 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, alive forever, lifted high over all, unlimited by time or space, universal king, we worship and adore you. We pray this prayer in your own glorious name, Jesus the King. Amen.     ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.100

Wednesday, May 20

Reader: “The Lord your God will personally go ahead of you.” 

Response: “He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Scripture: Deuteronomy 31:1-13

When Moses had finished giving these instructions to all the people of Israel, he said, “I am now 120 years old, and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has told me, ‘You will not cross the Jordan River.’But the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy the nations living there, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua will lead you across the river, just as the Lord promised. “The Lord will destroy the nations living in the land, just as he destroyed Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites. The Lord will hand over to you the people who live there, and you must deal with them as I have commanded you. So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, “Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

So Moses wrote this entire body of instruction in a book and gave it to the priests, who carried the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, and to the elders of Israel. Then Moses gave them this command: “At the end of every seventh year, the Year of Release, during the Festival of Shelters, you must read this Book of Instruction to all the people of Israel when they assemble before the Lord your God at the place he chooses. Call them all together—men, women, children, and the foreigners living in your towns—so they may hear this Book of Instruction and learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully obey all the terms of these instructions. Do this so that your children who have not known these instructions will hear them and will learn to fear the Lord your God. Do this as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Speeches by those who are about to die can be very interesting and significant. Such is the case in today’s reading. Moses is in that place. The phrase “When Moses had finished giving these instructions . . .” refers to the entire book of Deuteronomy. There is much symbolism and type in this section. Moses represents the Law. The Law will not bring salvation. It points out that we cannot keep it. Though known as the Lawgiver, he could not keep it, and symbolically and in reality was prevented from entering the Promised Land (heaven). The one who did lead the people across the Jordan River  (crossing over from this life to eternal life in heaven) was Joshua. (“Jesus” in Greek.) Moses’ words are meant to encourage and fortify the people when he is no longer present. Obedience to what God has commanded is central. A main point is that God will go before you and clear the way as Joshua leads you. There is an important principle here. Moses commanded them to read the law to every man, woman, and child every seven years, important because there were few copies available. We take the Scriptures for granted, there are copies everywhere. Such was not the case in the desert! There is a tremendous principle here that I fear we have largely lost and which also helps to explain the current world situation. In a covenant, both parties have a copy of the document. In the Ark of the Covenant were two copies of the Ten Commandments, one for the people and one for God to always remind the parties of the agreement. The covenant was to be read aloud publically. Moses states quite clearly why he is giving this commandment regarding the periodic reading of the law. “―so they may hear this Book of Instruction and learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully obey all the terms of these instructions.” Daniel Block points out in his book, For the Glory of God (p.180), “As Moses had emphasized repeatedly, the key to life is obedience, key to obedience is reverence and awe before YHWH, key to reverent awe is hearing the Torah.” All too often in worship these days, the only Scripture read, is the passage on which the minister is preaching. If you play Block’s sequence backwards, you can see why today there is little reverent awe of God, very selective obedience, and lives that are tangled, fashioned after their own “Torah,” their own law. It seems to be expressed in a very casual, light-hearted approach to worship, in language, in dress, in depth and quality of musical texts and tunes (or lack of!). In worship, seldom do we have a sense to take off our shoes, we are on holy ground. As he prepares to depart this world, Moses is giving his people and us strong instructions reminding them of God’s care and his going before them. If you have some more time, read Jesus’ farewell message to his disciples (John 13-16). There is a remarkable similarity to Moses’ farewell message! 

Music: “Deep River”  Mormon Tabernacle Choir        (We like the music, but the Mormon theology has some major problems―no belief in the Trinity to start with.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiIURFm63Yk

Prayer:

O great and lofty God, Thou Father in the highest, who hast promised to dwell with them that are of a lowly spirit and fear Thy word; create now in us such lowly hearts, and give us a reverential awe of Thy commandments. O come, Thou Holy Spirit, and kindle our hearts with holy love; come, Thou Spirit of Strength, and arouse our souls to hunger and thirst after Thee, their true Guide, that they may be sustained by Thy all-powerful influence. Arise, O Spirit of Life, that through Thee we may begin to live; descend upon us and transform us into such human beings as the heart of God longs to see us, renewed into the image of Christ, and going on from glory to glory. O God, Thou Supreme Good, make Thyself known to us, and glorify Thyself in our inner being. Amen.    ―Gerhard Tersteegen, 1731, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.148

Tuesday, May 19

Reader: “Oh, that they would always have hearts like this,” 

Response: “that they might fear me and obey all my commands!”

Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:22-33

“The Lord spoke these words to all of you assembled there at the foot of the mountain. He spoke with a loud voice from the heart of the fire, surrounded by clouds and deep darkness. This was all he said at that time, and he wrote his words on two stone tablets and gave them to me.

“But when you heard the voice from the heart of the darkness, while the mountain was blazing with fire, all your tribal leaders and elders came to me. They said, ‘Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice from the heart of the fire. Today we have seen that God can speak to us humans, and yet we live! But now, why should we risk death again? If the Lord our God speaks to us again, we will certainly die and be consumed by this awesome fire. Can any living thing hear the voice of the living God from the heart of the fire as we did and yet survive? Go yourself and listen to what the Lord our God says. Then come and tell us everything he tells you, and we will listen and obey.’

“The Lord heard the request you made to me. And he said, ‘I have heard what the people said to you, and they are right. Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey all my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever. Go and tell them, “Return to your tents.” But you stand here with me so I can give you all my commands, decrees, and regulations. You must teach them to the people so they can obey them in the land I am giving them as their possession.’”

So Moses told the people, “You must be careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God, following his instructions in every detail. Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As I write this Monday morning, yesterday was a different kind of Palm Sunday. We stuck some palm branches in the yard, worshiped with our church online, and watched “The Ten Commandments” from beginning to end last night. (They don’t make movies like that anymore!) What you just read was portrayed on the screen. Just before the Scripture for today, Moses had called the people together to tell them what he had experienced on the mountain and read for them the ten commandments given to him by God. Now, the passage for today. The “ten words,” as they are known in Hebrew, are the only words ever written directly by God’s own hand. If that doesn’t elevate their significance, I don’t know what would! God appeared in a cloud, the closest thing to a physical presence. It was something the people could see. (There are several other instances of God appearing in a cloud throughout the Scriptures―E.g.Wilderness Wanderings, Temple Dedication, Transfiguration, Ascension). We see here also a reference to God as fire―the burning bush, God viewed as a consuming fire, Heb.12:29. One of the most powerful truths in Scripture occurs here. . . “God can speak to humans, and yet they live!” Buddah is silent. Mohammed is silent. Allah is silent. The pantheon of all the Eastern gods are silent. It is only the God of the Bible who speaks to people at all times and in all places. God’s speaking on the mountain was terrifying to the Israelites. Having experienced the voice of God,  they were glad to be alive. What happened in hearing the voice of God that brought them to the conclusion that once was enough? They saw and heard God in a way that enabled them to get a glimpse of the God they were worshiping. The experience was so overwhelming that it brought an element of fear, awe, and reverence. They saw a trickle of God’s glory. Even the trickle was almost more than they could manage. God was showing himself that they might develop a holy fear and reverence leading to obedience and greater love. Then these beautiful words, “Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey all my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever.” Why can’t we do that? We are the Israelites! It would almost seem like God is getting the world’s attention. “People, think what you are doing. You are ignoring my ways, my Son, the life you have in me. Repent.” That is the story of the Scriptures and that is the story of our world. As happened with the Israelites so often, we too have lost our awe and fear of God as a people. Let us repent of all our ways that lead us away from our Lord and learn again to walk in his path, led by his Spirit.

Music: “Sanctus and Agnus Dei”      Vinnie Zarletti    Institute for Worship Studies

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VObanClX-_Y

Some of you know that I teach at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. This clip is from one of our worship services. The musicians are students. (iws.edu)

Prayer:

Our gracious Father in heaven, many of us have become so familiar with the faith, that we have lost our awe and fear of you. It never occurs to us to take off our shoes, frankly because we are not even aware we are on holy ground in our interaction with you. Thank you for your graciousness in not striking us down as you did Nadab and Abihu. Please forgive our arrogance and presumption in coming to you so casually and flippantly. Your words to us the “Ten Commandments” are life and health. Holy Spirit, help us, sharpen us, convict us, guide us, tenderize us, tune our ears to your voice, give to us the mind of Christ. We can’t function without you. Be the cloud that hovers over us in our walk through the desert of this world until we reach the Promised Land. This we pray through Jesus our Lord who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.                                     ―Daniel Sharp2020-

Monday, May 18

Reader: “The Lord is king!”

Response: “He is robed in majesty.”

Scripture: Psalm 93

The Lord is king! He is robed in majesty.

    Indeed, the Lord is robed in majesty 

       and armed with strength.

The world stands firm

    and cannot be shaken.

Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial.

    You yourself are from the everlasting past.

 

The floods have risen up, O Lord.

    The floods have roared like thunder;

    the floods have lifted their pounding waves.

But mightier than the violent raging of the seas,

    mightier than the breakers on the shore—

    the Lord above is mightier than these!

Your royal laws cannot be changed.

    Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Where do you put a psalm like this in the present day world? How do we connect with it? You begin by looking at the psalms surrounding it. We discover psalms 93, 97, & 99 all begin with the same phrase. Psalm 96 & 98 begin identically and 95 is very similar. This tells me that this group of psalms function somewhat as a whole, each shedding a slightly different light on the establishing of God’s kingdom. In Psalm 93 the psalmist is describing a coming kingdom firmly under the guiding hand of the eternal God. As we listen to the daily news, the psalm can seem all the more remote from reality. Yet, what it is describing is eternal versus the 24/7 news cycle. Do you remember any news stories from last week? There is a strength and stability in God’s kingdom that is unlike anything we have ever experienced. There are no updates with changes in leadership, changes in laws, changes in “mission, vision, and values,” terms so popular in our world! The middle part of the psalm refers to disasters caused by water. Think of Noah’s flood, the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah’s excursion to sea, Jesus stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and Paul’s shipwreck off the island of Malta. Then we have the raging of modern day “seas.” Various epidemics and natural disasters come to mind rather quickly. Perspective check: “The Lord is mightier than these!” The psalmist is helping us stay focused on what is true and brought our present day into the psalm. He closes with another great word of affirmation and calming certainty; God’s basics don’t change. The rule and reign of the Lord is holy, perfect, and eternal. In the midst of great uncertainty in our world, be it employment, the stock market, world unrest, relational stress, political unrest, or personal discouragement, the Lord’s rule is unflinching, eternal, perfect, and holy. Friends, we have nothing to worry about. God is in charge. He is surprised by nothing and has power over everything. 24/7 is irrelevant to God. He is not on a clock. He is not in time, he’s in eternity and master of all that is.

Music: “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”  Grace Community Church

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

Prayer:

Thou knowest, O Lord, the obstacles; Thou knowest I have not much strength in myself. Waves of strange waters roll over me, and the clouds hide the light. Take my hand, O Christ, but do Thou more than that. Give me power to triumph over these distresses and make them serve Thy high purpose. Let me face them honestly and fearlessly and change them, for Thine own sake. Amen.

                                                               ―Floyd Tomkins, The Quiet Corner, p.69

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17

Reader: “If you love me,”

Response: “obey my commandments.”

Scripture: John 14:15-21

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

On the night before Jesus was crucified, he had the above conversation with his disciples. The pronoun “you” is plural in Greek, meaning this message of love and obedience is not addressed to individuals but to the whole community, to all of us. The act of obedience is the demonstration of love. Like the Jewish understanding of “hearing” which meant you followed with action (demonstrating that you “heard”), so in the same manner, our love for Jesus is measured by our obedience to what he said. Loving Christ and our obedience, personal and corporate, to what he has said, are inseparably intertwined. Obedience here is not simply keeping a set of rules, but rather a whole way of living, living as God has designed. Moving on. From the disciples’ perspective, they had travelled with Jesus for three years. He had taught them, loved them, taken care of them, and performed miracles in their presence. He had just told them he was about to leave this earth. While he had been Emmanuel, “God with us,” he would send another to be with them in his absence. Their new companion would be a replacement for Jesus, functioning in all the same ways Jesus did. This Paraclete is the Holy Spirit, who, like Jesus, always speaks the truth. Not surprisingly, the world rejects, both passively and with hostility, the word of truth. Some things never change. John’s description holds true to today. This same Holy Spirit indwells believers, as he is with us teaching, guiding, empowering, correcting, and convicting. Jesus’ use of the word “orphans” is touching to me. That word truly describes our situation as humans. Left to ourselves we have no spiritual father or mother and must fend for ourselves in a hostile world. I can sort of imagine how the disciples were feeling as it began to sink in that Jesus would be leaving this world shortly as he said this. John rounds out this brief discourse by looping back to the beginning thoughts about obedience as a reflection of loving God. And loving God results in God revealing himself to those who love. I’m wondering how strongly we feel a need for the Comforter? Have we developed such a self-reliance that we can fend for ourselves? Does God reveal himself very often to you? Look at the last sentence above again. Do we have a longing for the Comforter? Does the above discussion seem more like a theoretical discussion or reality where you are living? Some things to think about . . .

Music: “Blessings”   Laura Story       God does reveal himself, not always as we think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQan9L3yXjc

Prayer:

Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant. 

Cause me to hear; 

cause me to know; 

teach me to do; 

lead me.                        

                 ―Henry Martin, 1781-1812, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.65

Saturday, May 16

Reader: “I am leaving you with a gift—”

Response: “peace of mind and heart.”

Scripture: John 14:27-29

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

What beautiful words! Jesus’ leaving us with a gift, not something that can be worked for or purchased. We are reminded of Aaron’s benediction from the First Testament, “. . . the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Num.6:26) and Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy regarding the “Prince of Peace.” (Is.9:6) Paul refers to this same peace in his letter to the Philippians (4:7) with a peace that is beyond human’s ability to comprehend. In light of the stress, violence, and uncertainty which was about to come the disciples’ way, Jesus gives these words of assurance, and indeed, words of encouragement to anyone. This gift of “peace of mind and heart” has far greater ramifications than the immediate situation of the disciples, but one that extends to today’s troubled world. In moving to the middle part of this passage, there are a couple of observations I’d like to make. The first has to do with the disciples ability to grasp God’s bigger plan of redemption. Jesus’ whole purpose in coming to earth was to die for the sins of the world. That had to happen to make redemption possible. As awful as the immediate was, it was necessary for the greater plan of God to become a reality. The same can be said of us as of the disciples. It is often hard for us to get off our immediate concerns to look at or accept that God’s greater glory may lie ahead. The second observation has to do with the phrase “I am going to the Father who is greater than I am.” It is a phrase, taken out of context that has resulted in various heretical doctrines including Arians, Gnostics, and more recently, the Jehovah Witnesses. These doctrines have supposed that Jesus is less than the Father, minimizing and limiting his position in the Godhead. John makes abundantly clear multiple times Jesus was associated fully with God from before the beginning, “In the beginning the Word already existed.” (John 1:1). He was not a created god as the Witnesses would espouse. (They have their own “Greek” translators.) Moreover, Jesus was involved in creation itself. He has never not existed. There is something that is sometimes called the economy of God in which each member of the Trinity has a different function in the unity of the Godhead. Jesus was subservient to the Father in accomplishing his role while on earth. He did his Father’s will. There is no doubt about Jesus’ deity nor his understanding that he was God in the flesh. “Who else but God can forgive sins” was a charge from the Pharisees. The deity of Christ was the reason for killing Jesus. Finally, Jesus’ closing words in this passage are meant to reassure his disciples and us that God has things under control and that when the things God has said come to pass, we’ll not panic, but believe.

Music: “Credo” from Gospel Mass of Robert Ray     St. Olaf Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glT-EiSsMOg

Prayer:

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: by the might of Thy Spirit lift us, we pray Thee, to Thy presence, where we may be peaceful and still and know that Thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.     ―from BCP

Friday, May 15

Reader: “Noah did everything . . .” 

Response: “as the Lord commanded him.”

Scripture: Genesis 7:1-24

When everything was ready, the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the boat with all your family, for among all the people of the earth, I can see that you alone are righteous. Take with you seven pairs—male and female—of each animal I have approved for eating and for sacrifice, and take one pair of each of the others. Also take seven pairs of every kind of bird. There must be a male and a female in each pair to ensure that all life will survive on the earth after the flood. Seven days from now I will make the rains pour down on the earth. And it will rain for forty days and forty nights, until I have wiped from the earth all the living things I have created.”

So Noah did everything as the Lord commanded him.

Noah was 600 years old when the flood covered the earth. He went on board the boat to escape the flood—he and his wife and his sons and their wives. With them were all the various kinds of animals—those approved for eating and for sacrifice and those that were not—along with all the birds and the small animals that scurry along the ground. They entered the boat in pairs, male and female, just as God had commanded Noah. After seven days, the waters of the flood came and covered the earth.

When Noah was 600 years old, on the seventeenth day of the second month, all the underground waters erupted from the earth, and the rain fell in mighty torrents from the sky. The rain continued to fall for forty days and forty nights.

That very day Noah had gone into the boat with his wife and his sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth—and their wives. With them in the boat were pairs of every kind of animal—domestic and wild, large and small—along with birds of every kind. Two by two they came into the boat, representing every living thing that breathes. A male and female of each kind entered, just as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord closed the door behind them.

For forty days the floodwaters grew deeper, covering the ground and lifting the boat high above the earth. As the waters rose higher and higher above the ground, the boat floated safely on the surface. Finally, the water covered even the highest mountains on the earth, rising more than twenty-two feet above the highest peaks. All the living things on earth died—birds, domestic animals, wild animals, small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people. Everything that breathed and lived on dry land died. God wiped out every living thing on the earth—people, livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and the birds of the sky. All were destroyed. The only people who survived were Noah and those with him in the boat. And the floodwaters covered the earth for 150 days.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As a child, we heard this exciting story in Sunday School. Once in a great while we might hear a sermon on it. But what is there to say of this account in regard to today’s world? Let’s look. The sentence before this passage says, “Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.” That’s a start. Obedience to God. Relevant to today? Yes. In the previous chapter, the Scriptures tell us that the Lord was sorry he ever made humans due to their determined wickedness. “It broke his heart.” (Gen.6:6) With the great Flood, God decided to wipe the earth clean of all living things he created. It would be sort of like painting your most perfect masterpiece then having mold set in and having to burn the canvas and start over. Every living thing above water in existence on the earth would be destroyed except for the living things on the inside of the ark. In effect, God undid his creation. All the coastlines were gone. The land/sea boundaries of the second and third day of creation were undone. In God’s words to Noah, he used the same language he used previously in creation regarding the animals. Noah, his family, and all the creatures were in the ark seven days and then the re-creation process started with wiping out the first creation. With the specific references to months and days, we authenticate the historical reality of the event for those who might doubt it really happened. The reason for the judgment of the Flood was the moral decadence of the human beings created in the image of God and their determined departure from that image. (Other “flood stories” have no moral component.) It is God who determined who was in and who was out. Noah, his family, and all the birds and animals were saved by God, due to Noah’s being viewed by God as righteous, a righteous based on Noah’s obedience. The living creations of God in the ark, are a picture of salvation. The Flood is their baptism. Peter brings this idea up regarding Noah and the Flood in his epistle (I Peter 3:19-21). While Peter is not specific in his meaning, water was instrumental in bringing salvation to those in the boat. The event is not unlike the Israelites passing through the waters of the Red Sea to safety while the unbelieving Egyptians found that same water bringing death. This small part of his creation was brought to safety as the boat floated on the water while those in rebellion against God were destroyed by the same water. Romans six uses somewhat of the same imagery in relation to water and baptism with the idea that we die and are buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and are raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father to a new life. With no rudder for Noah to steer the ark, it is clear that God is taking care of the inhabitants of the ark. The do over of creation had begun. When the Scriptures mention the creatures that died, they are interestingly listed in the same order as their sequence of creation: the birds, the animals, the creature that scurry along the ground, and all the people. There was even order as God undid his initial work. Now, how does all of this account fit into this morning, afternoon, evening, or whenever you read this? God cares greatly about his creation, all of it, even to the animals that scurry along the ground! Being made in his image, so should we. Second, I don’t want to be someone who breaks God’s heart and my obedience, or lack of it, has a lot to do with breaking God’s heart. Third, like Noah, can we hold fast to the truth in a world that mocks God? Can you imagine the ridicule heaped on Noah as he and his sons built the ark over the hundred years of construction? It was a different story as the mockers pounded on the door to get in. However, when God shuts the door, it’s shut. Fourth, While the door is open, let us be busy about his work. Ultimate death is a certainty for those who reject God’s offer in Jesus Christ. Can we point more people to the Ark that saves?

Music: “Baptized in Water”     The Orchard Enterprises

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6arW9XKmRHk

Prayer:

Make thyself manifest, O Lord, in this water and grant to the one who is baptized in it so to be transformed, that they may put off the old man, which is corrupted by deceitful lusts, and may put on the new man, which is formed fresh according to the image of the Creator. Grafted through baptism into the likeness of thy death, may they become a partaker also in thy resurrection. May they guard the gift of thy Holy Spirit, may they increase the measure of grace which has been entrusted to them, and so may they receive the prize which is God’s calling to life above, being numbered among the first born whose names are written in heaven. We pray this through Jesus Christ who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God world without end. Amen.   

             ―Baptismal prayer from Eastern Orthodox, Oxford Book of Prayer, p.215

Thursday, May 14

Reader: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,”   

Response: “the Lord would not have listened.”

Scripture: Psalm 66:8-20    (Genesis 6:5-22 additional reading)

Let the whole world bless our God                                                                            and loudly sing his praises.

Our lives are in his hands,

    and he keeps our feet from stumbling.

 

You have tested us, O God;

    you have purified us like silver. 

You captured us in your net

    and laid the burden of slavery on our backs.

 

Then you put a leader over us.

    We went through fire and flood,

    but you brought us to a place of great abundance.

 

Now I come to your Temple with burnt offerings

    to fulfill the vows I made to you—

yes, the sacred vows that I made

    when I was in deep trouble.

 

That is why I am sacrificing burnt offerings to you—

    the best of my rams as a pleasing aroma,

    and a sacrifice of bulls and male goats. Interlude

Come and listen, all you who fear God,

    and I will tell you what he did for me. 

For I cried out to him for help,

    praising him as I spoke.

If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,

    the Lord would not have listened. 

But God did listen!

    He paid attention to my prayer.

 

Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer

    or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You may or may not realize that in choosing the Scripture passages for each day, I am following, for the most part, the lectionary Year A. I have a choice of a Psalm, and Old Testament, or a New Testament passage. I pick one and write about it. The choices for today were pretty interesting in light of the news we hear every day. I’m writing this on April 2nd. COVID-19 is about the only news. As you have and are experiencing (most likely), this virus has affected everything, especially our reaction to it. In light of the way our society has been living in the United States and in the world in general, I have to wonder about God’s hand in all of this? As a society we are in love with: children’s sports schedules, watching sports of every kind―our weekend religion, music concerts, attending the theater, accumulating money, workaholics, divisive family schedules―how many families eat a meal together (?), worship taken for granted, isolation from neighbors―we don’t know the people we live next to, love travel and cruises, and we avoid, at all costs, thinking about our own death. In Daniel 12:4 he talks about people rushing here and there and rapidly gaining knowledge. It almost seems as if God said to the world, it’s time to repent of your ways. Time to stop and reflect. Unfortunately, I’m afraid at this point there has been little reflection or repentance. As the psalmist wrote concerning God, “Our lives are in his hands.” “You have tested us.” Is that what is occurring? “You caught us in your net.” It does seem like you, God, put the brakes on everything we hold dear. I wonder how many people have made promises to God regarding this trouble. The end of the psalm is addressed to those who fear God. There is the God element in all of this. If we miss that, we have missed the entire point! At the heart is repentance. “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen!” Confessing our sin and the Lord listening to our prayers seem to be directly related, further evidence of what we said yesterday in regards to being honest in our relationship with God. I’m wondering if our society will ever get to this repentance part of the psalm. I’m afraid not, but we can pray. These are  some things to think about. Maybe sometimes it seems God doesn’t hear our prayers. It would appear confession might have something to do with it. Read the psalm again and pray as you read asking God to show you his thoughts. 

Music & Prayer combined today: “A Broken and Contrite Spirit”     Sons of Korah

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RnDuwbz5UI   Make this your prayer today.

Wednesday, May 13

Reader: “He will listen to the prayers of the destitute.”    

Response: “He will not reject their pleas.”

Scripture: Psalm 102:1-17

Lord, hear my prayer!

    Listen to my plea!

Don’t turn away from me

    in my time of distress.

Bend down to listen,

    and answer me quickly when I call to you.

For my days disappear like smoke,

    and my bones burn like red-hot coals.

My heart is sick, withered like grass,

    and I have lost my appetite.

Because of my groaning,

    I am reduced to skin and bones.

 

I am like an owl in the desert,

    like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.

I lie awake,

    lonely as a solitary bird on the roof.

 

My enemies taunt me day after day.

    They mock and curse me.

I eat ashes for food.

    My tears run down into my drink

 

Because of your anger and wrath.

    For you have picked me up and thrown me out.

 My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows.

    I am withering away like grass.

 

But you, O Lord, will sit on your throne forever.

    Your fame will endure to every generation.

 You will arise and have mercy on Jerusalem—

    and now is the time to pity her,

    now is the time you promised to help.

 

For your people love every stone in her walls

    and cherish even the dust in her streets.

 Then the nations will tremble before the Lord.

    The kings of the earth will tremble before his glory.

 For the Lord will rebuild Jerusalem.

    He will appear in his glory.

 

He will listen to the prayers of the destitute.

    He will not reject their pleas.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Throughout history there have been very difficult moments. The hymn in yesterday’s music was written at such a time. Though I’m writing this on April 1st, my guess is that the world may still be in a difficult time. I hope not. One of the beauties of the Scriptures is their full-throated embracing of reality, no sugar-coating faith. Today’s passage is known as one of the psalms of lament. Nothing is pretend in the psalmist’s confrontation with God. Unlike other religions, the God of the Bible welcomes genuine conversation with his children, even when they are angry at him or feel slighted. We never have to pretend all is well when praying to our Father. We need never fear being honest with God. Can you imagine? The psalmist tells God to “hurry up and answer when I call on you!” Any genuine, healthy relationship is always transparent. God expects such from  his children. Part of the fear in a time of distress is not knowing when it will end. In this lament, God’s anger and wrath is blamed for the present predicament. “God is mad at me and has abandoned me.” This time of uncertainty and sense of lostness is the very moment when faith receives a call. Then we have the powerful three letter word, “But.” The psalm turns the corner when faith answers the call. God will remember; he will act to restore. Where the psalm began with “Listen to my plea . . .”, this portion ends with “He will listen to the prayers of the destitute. He will not reject their pleas.” Let this psalm be an encouragement to transparency in your prayer life with God. Relationships at arms length don’t work in earthly life, nor do they work in your prayer life with God. Be honest with God. It’s a quality of godliness. God’s not big on pretending.

Music: “Whom Shall I Fear”  (The God of Angel Armies)    David Wesley

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

Prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following

your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road 

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen

                             ―The Road Ahead – Thomas Merton

Tuesday, May 12

Reader: “You stubborn people!”

Response: “You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth.”

Scripture: Acts 7:44-56

“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.”

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Today we come to the climax of Stephen’s defense. He continued the history review from Moses and the Law on through the account of the Tabernacle in the wilderness to the building of the Temple under Solomon. (Remember the false charges against Stephen had to do with the Law of Moses and worship at the Temple.) At this point, Stephen delivered the truth that exploded the situation! He simply applied the truth of the case he had been building to the current situation.  He equated their repudiation of Christ with the Israelites rejection of Moses and the prophets. The Israelites’ killing of prophets and their killing of Jesus were equal acts of unbelief and rejection of the Holy Spirit. After all, Moses had prophesied of the coming of the Messiah. Like the Israelites 1400 years before them, they were not only rejecting Christ, they were also rejecting Moses’ prophecy! At this point, The Jewish leaders went catatonic. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed heavenward and saw the glory of God. In his expression, he used the phrase, “Son of Man,” standing at the right hand of God. Other than Jesus, this is the only time this apocalyptic title was used. The significance here lies in the truth that for the first time since the dawn of creation, the Messiah, the Son of God, was on the throne of the universe interceding on behalf of all people. The earthly mission of redemption was completed and functioning. Stephen saw that glorious sight as he was martyred. What do we see in this man? Graciousness, wisdom, unwavering conviction, courage, boldness, serenity, self-control, no, Holy Spirit control, knowledge, humility, compassion, and great faith. Let’s aim for those things today. 

Music: “Once to Every Man and Nation”    Fountainview Academy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSMqesZz3tU 

Once to ev’ry man and nation 

Comes the moment to decide, 

In the strife of truth and falsehood, 

For the good or evil side; 

Some great cause, some great decision, 

Off’ring each the bloom or blight, 

And the choice goes by forever 

‘Twixt that darkness and that light. 

By the light of burning martyrs, 

Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track, 

Toiling up new Calv’ries ever 

With the cross that turns not back; 

New occasions teach new duties, 

Ancient values test our youth; 

They must upward still and onward, 

Who would keep abreast of truth. 

Then to side with truth is noble, 

When we share her wretched crust, 

Ere her cause bring fame and profit, 

And ’tis prosperous to be just; 

Then it is the brave man chooses  

While the coward stands aside, 

Till the multitude make virtue 

Of the faith they had denied. 

Tho’ the cause of evil prosper, 

Yet the truth alone is strong; 

Tho’ her portion be the scaffold, 

And upon the throne be wrong; 

Yet that scaffold sways the future, 

And, behind the dim unknown, 

Standeth God within the shadow, 

Keeping watch above his own.        ―James Russell Lowell 1845, leading up to the Civil War

Prayer:

O Lord, Thy hands have formed us, and Thou hast sent us into this world, that we may walk in the way that leads to heaven and Thyself, and may find a lasting rest in Thee who art the Source and Center of our souls. Look in pity on us poor pilgrims in the narrow way; let us not go astray, but reach at last our true home where our Father dwells. Guide and govern us from day to day, and bestow on us food and strength for body and soul, that we may journey on in peace. Forgive us for having hitherto so often wavered or looked back and let us henceforward march straight on in the way of Thy laws, and may our last step be a safe and peaceful passage to the arms of Thy love, and the blessed fellowship of the saints in light. Hear us, O Lord, and glorify Thy name in us that we may glorify Thee for ever and ever. Amen.  

           ―Gerhard Tersteegen  1697-1769, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.100

Monday, May 11

Reader: “Moses said, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me”

Response: “from among your own people.’ ”

Scripture: Acts 7:17-40

“As the time drew near when God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. But then a new king came to the throne of Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. This king exploited our people and oppressed them, forcing parents to abandon their newborn babies so they would die.

“At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.

“One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel. He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t.

“The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’

“But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian. There his two sons were born.

“Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the Lord called out to him, ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look.

“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’ 

“So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.

“Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’ Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.

“But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We pick up Stephen’s defense from last Friday’s passage (May 8th). His recitation of the history of the people of Israel continues. He began with Abraham and the God-given covenant of circumcision. He carried the story through the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and concluded this portion with the family of Jacob and his twelve sons in Egypt under the leadership of Joseph. Stephen then moved on to the next great pillar of Judaism, Moses. The giving of the Law to Moses was central to the nation of Israel. From the book of Deuteronomy, Stephen quoted Moses’ prophetic words regarding a coming Messiah. The Israelites had a history of rejecting the prophets, a history which did not end with the Old Testament, as Stephen pointed out. That Moses was a great prophet was accepted by all, yet the Pharisees knew full well how the congregation in the desert had rejected his leadership, wanting to return to Egypt. Stephen pointed out that God had disclosed himself outside of the Temple, revealing himself to a man, Abraham, to a family, to the patriarchs, to a nation, to the Israelites in the Exodus, in worship liturgy, and supremely in Jesus Christ. In using these examples, Stephen was also showing how God’s people were consistently slow to accept the words of the prophets and, in fact, often rejected their message, even killing some. The punchline in Stephen’s presentation before the Pharisees is coming tomorrow! Not only did the Israelites and their leadership, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, have a pattern of rejecting God, this is the same pattern of our world, our societies, and our cultures. We want to control. We want power. We want to be our own gods. It is possible God is humbling people and nations through the world-wide crisis we are facing. The question is, will people and nations humble themselves before God and seek forgiveness? That remains to be seen.

Music: “Agnus Dei”    Voces8   There are only 8 people singing, no overdubs, one on a part!    (Samuel Barber)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuBQZFOnk7s 

Translation:

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world

Grant us peace.

Prayer:

Lord God, we are an arrogant and a proud people. Though made in your image, we have sought to reshape our image after our own fashion. There is an unrepentant part of us that always seeks rebellion against you and your word. We have rejected you with pride and bear the consequences of our foolishness. We tell ourselves nothing bad will happen when we act selfishly. The difficult stories in the Bible are what happened to those disobedient people, not to us. The truth is, you love and care for your people and at times bring judgment upon those you love. Forgive us as a people, Lord. Forgive me, Lord, for the many times I have rejected you when I knew perfectly well what was right. Grant that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who indwell me may so shape me through discipline and love, that I may conform more and more to one who is being made in your image, and as a result bring glory and honor to you, my Creator and Redeemer. This I pray through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.      ―Daniel Sharp

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10

Reader: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”

Response: “Trust in God, and trust also in me.”

Scripture: John 14:1-12    (In the words of Jesus . . .)

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

When we back up and put this into context, we find this conversation between Jesus and his disciples was in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday before his crucifixion the next day. There is so much in this dialogue, books have been written on a single verse! We’ll make only a few observations. The tensions are high in the current environment the disciples find themselves. Judas has just left the room to betray Jesus. The religious leaders are plotting to arrest Jesus that night and the plan to kill him is underway. Jesus told the eleven that he was going to be murdered shortly. Yet, his words were, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” How was he so calm? He was focused not on the immediate, but on entering into his glory bringing glory to God in the process. He was not overwhelmed with the present situation, but looked to the bigger picture. On a different note, this translation leaves out the word “mansions” for the phrase “prepare a place for you.” The former gives the idea of an abundance of living accomodations around a central courtyard of sorts. Jesus is preparing a place, not only for the disciples, but for you and me. It’s almost like, when your room is ready, I’ll come get you. On a personal note, I remember an older couple in their 80’s in one of my choirs over the years. For years and years they slept together in their bed. She had become ill and one morning when he woke up, he discovered she had passed away in the night in her sleep right beside him. As I was preaching her funeral, I referred to this passage. I reminded Harold that at some point during the night Jesus came and got Anna and took her to the place he had prepared for her to be with him. He found that truth comforting, literally played out beside him in the night. Finally, I want to make one theological observation. In response to Philip’s request, Jesus answered, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” How am I to work through this? Jesus’ relationship with his Father is such that his words are the Father’s words. The works that emanate from Jesus are actually the Father’s works playing out via his Son. Human beings are made in God’s image but the Son is an exact image (icon) of the Father. Notice that Jesus never said, “I am the Father.” They are not the same. He does say that he and the Father are one in essence and undivided in nature while being distinct persons in the Godhead. They each have different functions as one Being. In the midst of great stress and turmoil, Jesus walked with his Father who indwelt him keeping his eyes on the final destination, being in the presence of God eternally. He is our only path to the Father. Rest in him today and bring glory to God! Keep your eyes on the final resting place being prepared by the Savior, a place in the very presence of God.

Music: “A City Called Heaven”    Salt Lake Vocal Artists

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P-DwTDzRZs 

Prayer:

Our Father in heaven, sometimes we get so lost in the stressed immediacy of circumstances, we let the current moments bring fear, even panic. God, we forget about you, maybe because we haven’t actually spent time with you and view you more as a “come and go” helper to make our life better. Forgive us for such a shallow faith. You are more than a moral teacher or a “911” to life. You are my God. You, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father were always intertwined as One so that you never lose perspective. Grant that we would live so enveloped by you that you would truly be our life. And in our life may we do works that bring glory to God. This we pray through you, Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.        ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, May 9

Reader: “I tell you the truth,”

Response: “before Abraham was even born, I AM!”

 

Scripture: John 8:48-59

The people retorted, “You Samaritan devil! Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?”

“No,” Jesus said, “I have no demon in me. For I honor my Father—and you dishonor me. And though I have no wish to glorify myself, God is going to glorify me. He is the true judge. I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!”

The people said, “Now we know you are possessed by a demon. Even Abraham and the prophets died, but you say, ‘Anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!’ Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

Jesus answered, “If I want glory for myself, it doesn’t count. But it is my Father who will glorify me. You say, ‘He is our God,’but you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him. Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.”

The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!” At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

 

Some thoughts:

In each of the previous seven chapters of John, the main point was the identity of Jesus as God’s own Son. Then we come to chapter eight and this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees. As you read, did you notice how similar Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees and Jewish leaders was to Stephen’s defense which we looked at yesterday? We’re back to talking about Abraham, the founding father of the nation of Israel. The crux of the matter is, the Jewish leadership believed that since they were in the lineage of Abraham and had been circumcised, they automatically knew God as their Father. What they were hearing from Jesus was that being born a Jew did not automatically mean you knew God. In his words, if they were truly children of Abraham, they would recognize Jesus for who he truly was, the Son of God. Since they were not willing to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, that meant they were children of Abraham in lineage only, not in faith. Those words were more than they could handle. Jesus does not let up.

It escalates! When Jesus says that he existed before Abraham was born, and that Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to Jesus’ coming to earth, the people had great difficulty. Their next comment meant that they had really understood what Jesus said. “You’re not yet fifty years old Jesus, and you’ve seen Abraham who lived 2,000 years ago? That’s not possible!” Jesus’ response sent them all over the edge. Jesus began with the “I tell you the truth . . .” remember that from a couple of days ago? When Jesus says that phrase, something extremely significant and important is to follow. His words . . . “Before Abraham was born, I AM!” The Pharisees and all the people knew the story of Moses and the burning bush. “I AM” was the name God gave Moses when Moses asked, “Whom shall I say sent me?” It was none other than the name of God, i.e. Jesus was God in the flesh. Anyone claiming to be God was to be stoned according to the law. The Pharisees questioned Jesus in an effort to disprove his claims to be the Son of Man. In their questioning, the opposite happened. They were confronted with the truth that indeed he was the Son of Man and they really did not know the God of Abraham after all. That revelation proved to be too much for them, so they killed him thinking that would end it. It didn’t! HE IS RISEN!

Music: “Give Me Jesus”  Fernando Ortega at Ruth Graham Funeral

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu2E2FUcIiE 

Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast shown us in the life and teaching of Thy Son the true way of blessedness. Thou hast also shown us in his suffering and death that the path of love may lead to a cross, and the reward of faithfulness may be a crown of thorns. Give us grace to learn these hard lessons. May we take up our cross and follow Christ in the strength of patience and the constancy of faith; and may we have such fellowship with him in his sorrow that we shall know the secret of his strength and peace, and see even in our darkest hour the shining of the eternal light; for his sake who died and rose again for us, the same Jesus Christ our Lord.          ―John Hunter, The Quiet Corner, p.20

Friday, May 8

Reader: “Then the high priest asked Stephen,”

Response: “Are these accusations true?”

 

Scripture: Acts 7:1-16

Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?” This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live. “But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. ‘But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, ‘and in the end they will come out and worship me here in this place.’

“God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. So when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him on the eighth day. And the practice was continued when Isaac became the father of Jacob, and when Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israelite nation. “These patriarchs were jealous of their brother Joseph, and they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. And God gave him favor before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God also gave Joseph unusual wisdom, so that Pharaoh appointed him governor over all of Egypt and put him in charge of the palace. “But a famine came upon Egypt and Canaan. There was great misery, and our ancestors ran out of food. Jacob heard that there was still grain in Egypt, so he sent his sons—our ancestors—to buy some. The second time they went, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, and they were introduced to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, and all his relatives to come to Egypt, seventy-five persons in all. So Jacob went to Egypt. He died there, as did our ancestors. Their bodies were taken to Shechem and buried in the tomb Abraham had bought for a certain price from Hamor’s sons in Shechem.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

 

Some thoughts:

I’m intrigued with Stephen’s response to the false charges against him, both by what he said and how he said it. He was the master of the situation, the one who was in charge. I’m struck by how similar his demeanor was to that of Jesus in his trial. First of all, Stephen never directly addressed the two charges against him anywhere in his whole defense. He started with a grand story from the Old Testament, one familiar to the religious leaders. Stephen’s quotes are from the Greek Septuagint, the Greek translation of the First Testament. That source would have appealed to the Jewish leaders. His first words are words of common identity and community, “fathers and brothers.” Next, we have “Our glorious God” and “our ancestor Abraham” in which Stephen further pointed to their joint identity in the roots of their faith. He moved through the covenant of circumcision, to the twelve patriarchs of Israel, and then to Joseph in Egypt. But back to the beginning of his defense. In bringing up Abraham, was Stephen getting at the idea that a living faith always has some flexibility and willingness to change, and to move forward at God’s leading? One of the accusations against Stephen had to do with worship at the Temple. Yet Abraham was encountering God in a personal way, though worship at the Temple was still centuries away. Stephen was subtly working with the idea that it is possible to worship God apart from the Temple. He didn’t say it openly, he just moved on. In Jewish tradition it was common to recite God’s deeds of old in inspiring optimism. Each part of Stephen’s unfolding of the story was a link in his chain of logic. Though it was his trial, it was they, the Jewish leaders, who were actually on trial, on trial for their blatant rejection of the Messiah. So Stephen builds his case slowly so as not to lose their interest and guide them to the truth of the Son of God. When we read earlier that Stephen was a man full of wisdom, we see his wisdom fully at work all through his defense strategy. There is much to learn from this first martyr in terms of witness. He started on common ground. He stayed with history. He stayed Holy Spirit calm. He showed continuity in his presentation. He didn’t argue. He spoke the truth. He let the truth convict. Were we so wise!

 

Music: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”   Moses Hogan Chorale    Gorgeous!!!

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwCBdLy8ork                               

Prayer:

God be in my head and in my understanding;

God be in my eyes and in my looking;

God be in my mouth and in my speaking;

God be in my heart and in my thinking;

God be at my end and at my departing.

 

—Sarum Primer Prayer 1514

Thursday, May 7

Reader: “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power,”

Response: “performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.”

Scripture: Acts 6:8-15

Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.

So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.

The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As we have mentioned in times past, the Bible is really a library of literature of different kinds. There is poetry, history, narratives, doctrine, instruction on living, prayers, prophetic writings, and books on wisdom. It is important to realize this as we study Scripture. Today’s reading is a narrative of a significant historical event, the background of the church’s first martyr, Stephen. There are several parallels between his death and the death of Jesus. Lying witnesses were brought forth in both cases repeating the same lies! In Jesus’ case, it concerned destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days. (Mt. 26:61) In addition, Jesus was often accused of abolishing the law of Moses. (Mt.5:17)  In Stephen’s case, it was “he always speaks against the Temple and against the law of Moses.” The method of Satan, the father of lies, is always the same. Find liars to accuse the innocent with untrue “evidence” to destroy the victim. (This method of the devil is not unknown in our society today!) The sequence was: tell lies accusing of blasphemy, incite a riot, arrest the innocent, post false charges, conduct a “trial” of sorts, and eliminate the victim. In both cases, both Jesus and Stephen were filled with God’s grace and power in the face of such hostile opposition. The response of the high council to Stephen was most interesting. The word used in our translation is “stared.” The face of Stephen took on a different appearance, an unusual brightness. Why do you suppose? It is reminiscent of the face of Moses upon coming down from the mountain after meeting with God. Both men encountered God in a unique way. Notice at the end of this pericope, everyone in the high council stared at Stephen. His countenance had changed and then he began to speak. You undoubtedly noticed that Luke described Stephen as a man of grace and power. The Greek root of the word grace is charis, from which we get charismatic. My guess is that Stephen, in addition to being filled with the Holy Spirit, also had personal charisma. That he performed signs and wondrous miracles certainly added to his notoriety. He recited the history of Israel from their authoritative Old Testament right up to the rejection and killing of Jesus, at which point, Stephen was stoned. The fact that the sacrificial system had ended with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus was more than the Pharisees were willing to accept. In both Jesus’ and Stephen’s trials, the death knell came when the leaders were confronted with the identity of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Again, notice the similarity of the words that put the religious leaders over the top. In answer to the identity question given Jesus, his words were, “You have said it. And in the future, you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mt. 26:64. Luke writes the religious leader’s explosion in rage came when Stephen told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” At that point, they dragged Stephen out of the city and, as they were stoning him, he spoke words very similar to his Savior, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” This whole account took place in the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves. Present were Jews from several geographic areas including Cilicia, the home town of Saul of Tarsus. This would likely have been the synagogue Saul attended when in Jerusalem. It was a Hellenistic synagogue where religious debate was frequent. Since Stephen was Greek, it is logical this would also be his place of worship. There is little doubt Saul was encouraging the stoning of Stephen. So how does this account play out for you today? The outward impact of the Holy Spirit in Stephen’s life was noticeable. His countenance, his demeanor was different and ordinary people noticed it. As a deacon, he gave himself to the service of others. He had a very distinct and positive spiritual impact wherever he went. That’s our challenge for these tumultuous days in which we live. Is the outward impact of the Holy Spirit in your life noticeable to those around you? 

 

Music: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”    Powerful story behind the song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnGMNvRBJ4w 

  

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.532020-05-072020-

Wednesday, May 6

Reader: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you” 

Response: “must be your servant.”

Scripture: Matthew 20:17-28

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As we mentioned the other day, always note what comes before and what comes after any passage you read. The Bible is a woven thread of God’s working through history. Nothing is in the wrong place. In the verses prior to this section, Jesus’ concluding comments to the parable he had just told were the “last will now be first and those who are first will be last.” Apparently James and John were not listening too closely! We are at the point in Jesus’ ministry where he is heading toward Jerusalem for the final time. Pulling the disciples aside, he gives them the unadorned details of exactly what will happen. Matthew, who was one of the twelve present and the author of this gospel, says nothing about any response from the disciples to this news of Jesus as to what is about to transpire. My conclusion is that the disciples were clueless as is shortly apparent. (A note in passing; until the very end, Jesus always referred to himself as the Son of Man rather than the Son of God. The Son of Man harkened back to the book of Daniel with messianic implications. The Son of God was a more overt expression immediately arousing angry opposition.) Next we read of the mother of James and John asking Jesus for a privileged position in the kingdom for her boys. Apparently they had all processed parts of what Jesus had just said rather quickly! What is interesting to me is that Mrs. Zebedee felt free enough to ask Jesus such a question. She was not, nor apparently were any of the disciples, afraid to make such a request. My impression is that Jesus was very humble and unassuming, a quiet Shepherd. I think, had I been Jesus, I would have said, “Lady, are you nuts? Do you have a clue?” He was more gracious, though he did say, “You don’t know what you are asking.” Apparently the boys were involved in this request, maybe even putting their mother up to ask it. The “you” in Jesus’ answer is plural, meaning Jesus was addressing the sons in his answer. Their naivé response was, “Oh yes, we are able!” The truth is James was martyred and John suffered greatly, ending his life exiled on the island of Patmos. The other ten disciples were no better. It is obvious that the brothers had beat them to the punch in asking for privilege and honor first. Jesus put them all in their place by drawing them back to servanthood leadership. Leadership is not about privilege and power over others. If you want to be first, you must be last; that is the way to be first. If the disciples were paying attention (they weren’t), over the next few days, they would see a servant leader laying down his life for many. The result would be that he “became the first fruits of them that slept.” Let us ask for grace to serve that we might be a thread in the tapestry that God is weaving.

Music: “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee”    Hour of Power Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4FhFozCX-w 

Prayer:

Grant us, O Lord of the church, living congregations in which Thy Spirit shall speak and work, and make me also ready to serve Thee in Thy church with the gift Thou hast given me, not to please men and not for worldly honor, but for gratitude and love. Amen.   ―Otto Riethmuller

Tuesday, May 5

Reader:All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

Response:All glory to him forever and ever! Amen and Amen.

Scripture: Hebrews 13:20-21

Now may the God of peace—

    who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,

the great Shepherd of the sheep,

    and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 

may he equip you with all you need

    for doing his will.

May he produce in you,

    through the power of Jesus Christ,

every good thing that is pleasing to him.

    All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You may have heard these verses pronounced as a benediction at the end of a worship service. I have used them many times myself in giving benedictions. It is interesting that this blessing is laid out in the form of a collect. That word may be unfamiliar to some who are not of a liturgical tradition. In the pronunciation of “collect”, the emphasis is on the first syllable. It is a set form of a prayer meaning “a gathered-together prayer.” It begins with an invocation (“Now may the God of peace”), followed by an adjective clause setting the basis for the next petition (“who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood”), the main petition (“may he equip you with all you need for doing his will”), a secondary petition (“May he produce in you . . . every good thing that is pleasing to him”), a pleading of the meritorial work of Christ (“through the power of Jesus Christ”), a doxology (“All glory to him forever and ever!”), then Amen. If you have worshiped in an Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, or Catholic church, you are familiar with this form of prayer. There are phrases in this passage that would harken to Jewish readers. The “God of peace” may indicate some trouble in the church as the epistle to the Hebrews is believed to have been a sermon text helping Jewish believers grasp the finality and supremacy of Jesus fulfilling the sacrificial system of worship. The last several days we’ve spent a fair amount of time with Paul and Peter both underscoring the whole idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jews looked back on Moses as the Old Testament shepherd of the people of Israel. The image is that Moses “brought up from the sea” (Is.63:11) the Israelites, that is, brought them from death to life. Here we have the same image, but it is God who brings up Jesus, the superior Moses, from the dead. He also points to Jesus’ shed blood in establishing a new covenant, again, with a Covenant Keeping God being so central in Jewish history. The charge in this benediction is that those hearing these words would, through the power of Jesus Christ living in them, produce works that are pleasing to God, works he planned for us to do. The benediction concludes with an ascription to God, as the subject of this long sentence. We see here yet again how the whole of Scripture is knit together in one single story. A working knowledge of the First Testament is essential in grasping the scope of the New Testament. Put simply, as knowledge and understanding grow under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the impact of the Scriptures magnifies the transformation of the believer.

                     (Some insights from F. F. Bruce, commentary on Hebrews)

Music: “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”  John Rutter

 “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”   John Rutter Massed Choir 900 Singers

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

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA  February 17, 2008

The Mark Thallander Foundation Choir Festival

We had the opportunity to participate in this festival when I was ministering in San Diego.

 

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 BCP2020-05-05

Monday, May 4

Reader: “God opposes the proud”

Response: “but gives grace to the humble.”

Scripture: I Peter 5:1-5

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud

    but gives grace to the humble.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

In thinking of the people in the New Testament, along with Paul, Peter is one who had a most interesting, significant transformation. Think of the crash-bang Peter walking on the water, slashing off the ear of a Roman soldier, proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, being called Satan by Jesus, refusing to let Jesus wash jhis feet, being told by Jesus, “It’s none of your business what happens to John,” and being told by Jesus you’ll have an unpleasant death. Peter was all over the place! Then at Pentecost Peter stands up and in true Pentecost fashion, preaches a sermon on the risen Christ challenging the people to repent and 3,000 are converted. Peter becomes a leader in the early church. When you read today’s passage, Peter seems so calm and wise! What happened? If you ever needed evidence that the Holy Spirit transforms people, Peter is your example.

It appears that he is toward the end of his life. There is an element of reflecting on the past in his reference to witnessing the suffering of Christ. He urges the leadership, the elders, to be gracious and humble in leading the people, like shepherds in referring to the congregation as a “flock.” Already, it seems Peter has the end in mind. Twice he mentions sharing in the glory of Christ at the return of Christ. In reading both Peter and Paul’s letters, one cannot but help notice their expectation that the return of Christ would happen shortly, if not in their lifetimes. Their words, as happens here, were always to live life with the Second Coming in mind. Those are good words for all of us who are often so lost in concerns over the pressing events of the days in which we live. Bottom line. Live like an elder, humble, godly, serving God, caring for people, and watching for the return of Christ.. Work on that today and let the Holy Spirit continue to transform you.

Music: “Hear Am I Lord”  Nation Youth Choir of Scotland    Don’t miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcL9S5a3weU&list=RDgcL9S5a3weU&index=2 

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, many of the people around us never read you. If they have a Bible, it collects dust. So, Lord, make us to be living, in the flesh Bibles, so that those who do not read your Book, can read it in us and find you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. ―adapted Chinese woman’s prayer after learning to read, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.93, Daniel Sharp 

Fourth Sunday in Easter, May 3

Reader: “I am the good shepherd;”

Response: “I know my own sheep.”

Scripture: John 10:1-18

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You recall yesterday’s passage where Ezekiel blasted Israel’s leadership for their wicked, sinful shepherding of Israel and Judah. Jesus picks up the same theme in today’s portion of John’s gospel. You will notice this chapter follows immediately the account of the man born blind whose sight was healed. In this chapter, Jesus alludes to the blindness of the Pharisees in recognizing who he is. The chapter begins with “I tell you the truth.” It’s a way of saying “Amen, amen,” in other words, “Listen up people, what I’m about to say is really important, so pay attention.” (Whenever this phrase is used, it always feeds off of what preceded it― i.e. the healing of the blind man.) He begins with not bad shepherds, but thieves and robbers. Sheep were kept in a pen at night and the shepherd slept in the single doorway, the only way to get into or out of the fold. The shepherd was the only door; the sheep were secure. The relationship between the shepherd and the sheep was personal. He knew every sheep and every sheep knew his voice. They followed by voice, not by sight. Often several shepherds would go together with several flocks in the same fold. When morning came, each shepherd would call his own sheep and the flocks would separate based on hearing their master’s voice. The challenge is not only to the shepherds of the flocks but also for the sheep to learn their master’s voice so they know whom to follow. (It is interesting to me that you cannot drive sheep. You can drive cattle, not so with sheep. If you are behind the flock and seek to drive them, they will simply part and now you are in front and they will follow!) The people listening still didn’t get it, so Jesus did another “Amen, amen!” We see in this portion a challenge to know his voice, to know Scripture, and to know the truth. We are not to be dumb sheep. Our Shepherd loves us to the point of his own death. Rather than leadership in the first part of reading, the focus shifts here to safety, care, commitment of the Shepherd. He is the entrance point to pleasant pastures. He is the doorway, the gate. Jesus’ discourse here deals with two ways of viewing him, both having to do with salvation. He is the Door, the only way to salvation. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep with the power to take it up again. I might make one additional comment about the sentence “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold.” The Mormons have interpreted that as referring to North America and the tribes of native Americans living there. With no other references anywhere in Scripture even remotely suggesting such, such reasoning is far-fetched, unfounded speculation at best. Remember, throughout the early part of Christianity, the converted Jews struggled with the concept of accepting Gentile believers as equals before God. In this particular instance, Jesus is talking to Jewish leaders and Jewish people. A far more reasonable understanding is that Jesus’ comments refer to non-Jewish people who will come to faith as the gospel unfolds following Jesus’ death and resurrection. At this point in history and in this context, this is a much more likely interpretation from my perspective. Friends, all of this isn’t ancient history, this same Shepherd is very much alive and seeks to lead you into this day. You are known by him. Listen for his voice and follow.

Music: “The Lord’s My Shepherd I’ll not Want”    Citrail

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-qLa_2GPcM 

Prayer:

O Lover to the uttermost, may I read the meltings of thy heart to me: in the manger of thy birth, in the garden of thy agony, in the cross of thy suffering, in the tomb of thy resurrection, in the heaven of thy intercession. Bold in this thought, I defy my adversary, tread down his temptations, resist his schemings, renounce the world, am valiant for truth. Deepen in me a sense of my holy relationship to thee, as spiritual bridegroom, as Jehovah’s fellow, as sinners’ friend. I think of Thy glory and my vileness, Thy majesty and my meanness, Thy beauty and my deformity, Thy purity and my filth, Thy righteousness and my iniquity. Thou hast loved me everlastingly, unchangeably, may I love thee as I am loved; Thou hast given Thyself for me, may I give myself to Thee; Thou hast died for me, may I live to Thee, in every moment of my time, in every movement of my mind, in every pulse of my heart. May I never dally with the world and its allurements, but walk by thy side, listen to thy voice, be clothed with Thy graces and adorned with Thy righteousness. Amen.   ―from The Valley of Vision, p.18

Saturday, May 2

Reader: “You shepherds”

Response: “hear the word of the Lord.”

Scripture: Ezekiel 34:1-16

Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.”

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.”

The Good Shepherd

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

It is quite familiar to most of us that Jesus often likened people to sheep. Not only did Jesus use that comparison, it appears throughout the First Testament as well. In this passage, Ezekiel is reprimanding Israel’s kings for leading the people astray. His words are that God will hold those in authority accountable for the way they lead the people, both then and now. The kings served themselves rather than the people they were to lead. (Sound familiar?) In the Lord’s words, I will take them out of power. That is the first judgment in this pericope. 

A word about why shepherds and sheep might be used as a metaphor in Scripture. As a farm boy who had sheep growing up, here are a few observations that may help explain the why. Sheep are dumb. (Ouch!) We had a sheep die with its head stuck in a fence because it didn’t have the sense to back up! Sheep are very fearful. Sheep are very stubborn. Sheep are very near-sighted so vision is a problem. Sheep are defenseless. Sheep are followers. (Illustration from the farm. The flock was coming out of a pasture. One of the first ones jumped over a puddle of water. Those that followed also jumped―over nothing, since they were jumping where there was no puddle!) Sheep’s hearing is EXCELLENT! The sheep know the shepherd’s voice. My dad could call the sheep, my brother-in-law couldn’t, they didn’t know his voice. 

Finally, the last portion of this reading centers on the Lord taking things into his own hands and providing a true shepherd who will care for his sheep. Note how much similarity there is in this description to Psalm 23 written roughly 400 years earlier. God’s shepherd will search out the lost sheep. He will feed them and they will dwell in peace. He will bandage the wounded  and strengthen the weak. He will destroy the fat and powerful, he will bring justice. He will separate the sheep from the goats. Ezekiel is writing of a future shepherd from the lineage of King David! (Ez.34:23) Who might that be? We’ll see tomorrow! In the meantime, sheep, listen for the Shepherd’s voice today.

Music: “Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy”      Shane & Shane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo3HgtT_OiE 

Prayer:

O Shepherd of the sheep, who didst promise to carry lambs in Thine arms, and to lead us by the still waters, help us to know the peace which passeth understanding. Give us to drink that heavenly draught which is life, the calm patience which is content to bear what God giveth. Have mercy upon us, and hear our prayers. Lead us gently when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Guide us, till at last, in the assembly of Thy saints, we may find rest forevermore. Amen.      

                                     ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.143

Friday, May 1

Reader: “The Lord is my shepherd”

Response: “I shall not want.”

Scripture: Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.      (KJV)

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

This psalm is surely among the best loved portions of Scripture. I thought I might depart a little bit from our usual approach with your permission and reflect more personally on this psalm. As I write this on March 27th, today would have been my younger brother, David’s, 69th birthday. He died during my freshman year at Wheaton College. My suitemate was the first person I encountered upon hearing the news. Cal recited this psalm. Prior to this moment, I had been wrestling for several weeks with the idea of “What if I reach out to God with complete abandon (I was a Christian) and nothing happens?” I had almost concluded that rather than risk that, I’d continue in a warm and positive relationship with God, close but guarded. The news of David’s death cut through everything in a split second. I instinctively reached out to the Lord in total desperation and was overwhelmed with God’s presence. Jesus might as well have been in room 466 in Fischer Hall standing right beside me in the flesh. From that moment on to this day, 54 years later, there has never been a shadow of a doubt of the reality of a God who relates so personally to me. The psalm begins “The Lord is my shepherd . . .” If the Lord is not your shepherd, you cannot experience the rest of the psalm. There is no other way to satisfy your wants. There is no other way to find stillness. There is no other way to restore your soul. There is no other way to find the paths of righteousness. There is no other way to escape the fear of death. There is no other way to have the Lord with you if he is not your Shepherd. There is no other way to experience true comfort apart from your Shepherd. There is no other way to receive goodness and mercy apart from the Lord. And finally, there is no other way to dwell in the house of the Lord forever apart from him being your Shepherd. You can trust your Shepherd with complete abandon, have no fear.

Music: “The Lord is My Shepherd”    by John Rutter          Atlanta Master Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOtsuzM6h7M 

Prayer:

O God, let Thy Spirit now enter my heart. Now as I pray this prayer let not any room within me be furtively closed to keep Thee out . . . Now as I pray this prayer, let me not be still holding to some undertaking on which I dare not ask Thy blessing . . .Now as I pray this prayer let me not be still intending to devote my own best hours and years to the service of lesser ends. O Holy Spirit of God, as I rise from these acts of devotion, let me not return to evil thoughts and worldly ways, but let that mind be in me which was also in Christ Jesus. Amen.    ―John Baillie, from The Quiet Corner, p.8

Thursday, April 30

Reader: “Once you had no identity as a people;”   

Response: “now you are God’s people.”

Scripture: I Peter 2:9-12

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people;

    now you are God’s people.

Once you received no mercy;

    now you have received God’s mercy.”

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This is now the fourth passage we’ve taken from Peter’s epistles. The circumstances of his writing are not that different from the circumstances in which we live. Peter is helping the readers understand what it means to live a godly life in an unsympathic, even antagonistic worldly environment. In the opening words of this passage, he is referring to people who have wholely rejected God. In reminding them of being chosen people, he is underscoring their true identity. We live in a society where people are searching for their own identity through all kinds of means and acts. Our true identity is not that we are citizens of such and such a country, or such and such a race, or that we are male or female, or members of a political group, or self identify as whatever, or of a particular social or economic status. In truth, we are brothers and sisters of Christ, who himself  is not a citizen of this world, but of another kingdom. As we said a couple of days ago, God purchased us as his own possession. Since that is the case, Peter writes, refering to the First Testament prophet, Hosea, we got into God’s family via his mercy in adopting us. We are all adopted kids. Since we’re in Jesus’ family now, we need to live like Jesus lives. Don’t hang out with old habits and patterns. Talk like Jesus, drive like Jesus, eat like Jesus, pray like Jesus, read like Jesus, love like Jesus, think like Jesus, laugh like Jesus, care like Jesus, walk like Jesus (have you noticed in the Bible, Jesus never ran anwhere?), weep like Jesus, listen like Jesus, discern like Jesus, study like Jesus, and submit to the Father like Jesus. In Peter’s words again, you are holy priests, a holy nation, live like it. In God’s words, “be holy for I am holy.” It will affect where you live and transform your life. There is too little holy living in this world. Let’s change that.

Music: “Sanctus” from Durufle Requiem   University of Colorado Choirs and Symphonic Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hESnJ0HHlxI 

Translation:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 29

Reader: “Moses carefully wrote down”

Response: “all the Lord’s instructions.”

Scripture: Exodus 24:1-11

Then the Lord instructed Moses: “Come up here to me, and bring along Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders. All of you must worship from a distance. Only Moses is allowed to come near to the Lord. The others must not come near, and none of the other people are allowed to climb up the mountain with him.”

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.”

Then Moses carefully wrote down all the Lord’s instructions. Early the next morning Moses got up and built an altar at the foot of the mountain. He also set up twelve pillars, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent some of the young Israelite men to present burnt offerings and to sacrifice bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses drained half the blood from these animals into basins. The other half he splattered against the altar.

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. Again they all responded, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.”

Then Moses took the blood from the basins and splattered it over the people, declaring, “Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions.”

Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This is a most interesting passage as recorded by Moses. Mt. Sinai had a God declared boundary which guarded the sanctity of his presence and protected the people from the full force of God’s holiness which would have been lethal. Among other things, it demonstrated gradations of holiness in regard to Mt. Sinai. In terms of approaching God, those farthest away were the non-Jews, then the Israelites, then the seventy elders, then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, then Moses alone. It is interesting to me that these two of Aaron’s four sons, would be the ones God called to come to worship him. Nadab and Abihu should have picked up on the exclusive nature of God’s holiness, yet it was these two sons who later offered unholy fire and were struck dead as a result. You can’t say they didn’t know! In the bigger picture, this whole section is about God making a covenant with his people, a covenant that is a shadow of what was to come later. At this point, God is ratifying his covenant with the people of Israel. You noticed twelve pillars were erected representing the twelve tribes. These pillars served as historical witnesses of this significant transaction, a common use of columns in the culture of those days. The Scripture says that Moses took the blood from the sacrificed bulls and divided it in half. The first half was sprinkled on the altar symbolizing God’s commitment to keeping this covenant. One of the aspects of making a covenant is that the terms and regulations are put in writing and are read aloud to the people. Following sprinkling the blood on the altar, Moses then read the covenant to the people who responded with one voice pledging loyalty to God. Moses then sprinkled the people with the other half of the blood of the bulls confirming the Israelites’ part of the agreement. Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy went farther up the mountain and saw some representation of God since no one can see God in his full glory and live. As part of the covenant process, a fellowship meal is shared between the parties. Moses records this group and ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in God’s presence. Did you notice Moses’ words when he spattered blood over the people, “This blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you . . .” In Matthew 26:28 Jesus’ words at the Last Supper with the twelve disciples were, “this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice (on the altar) to forgive the sins of many.” Everytime we take communion, we are again partaking of the covenant meal and are again affirming the New Covenant in the blood of Christ, the seeds of which go back thousands of years. Remember Moses the next time you receive the eucharist.

Music: “There is Power in the Blood”     Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVKF7gt3Cak&list=PL9492611BFCFAB267&index=3 

Prayer:
Gracious Lord, you are perfectly faithful always in every place and in every time. You are as alive and vigorous now as you were when Moses and his contingent went up the mountain to eat a covenant meal with you. I don’t want to read it simply as biblical history. Help me to better grasp that account in light of the next time I take communion. Lord, I’m amazed over and over the myriad of connections throughout the Scriptures. Help me to better grasp the significance of every part of your Word, and in growing in faith, may I come to know you more deeply and significantly. This I pray in the name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.   ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, April 28

Reader: “Cry out for this nourishment,” 

Response: “now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.”

Scripture: I Peter 2:1-10

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,

    chosen for great honor,

and anyone who trusts in him

    will never be disgraced.”

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected

    has now become the cornerstone.”

And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,

    the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people;

    now you are God’s people.

Once you received no mercy;

    now you have received God’s mercy.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Once again some context will help us better grasp Peter’s message in this passage. Peter is writing from Rome around 60 AD to Christians in what is modern day Turkey. Apparently there were both Gentile and Jewish believers as reflected in this letter. Persecution against Christians was rising. The reference to “newborn babies” was not a dig at his readers, but rather a simple truth that appropriate nourishment is essential for growth of any new living being. Since Christianity is relatively new at this point in history, Peter is urging them to keep moving forward in their faith since they are not that “old” in the faith―and at the same time urging us to do the same! I believe he is appealing to his Jewish Christians by his use of Old Testament references to God’s temple, holy priests, spiritual sacrifices, living stones, and people chosen by God. He is underscoring for them, God’s Chosen People in the First Testament now include believing Gentiles, a major adjustment for Jewish Christians. Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of the new temple which includes both Jew and Gentile. The temple of God is not now housed in a building, but in the bodies of believers in Jesus Christ. This was never more apparent than when we have had to abandon meeting in congregations in our church buildings due to COVID―19. Our bodies are God’s temple, his church, and, as Peter writes in the first two sentences, our lives should reflect a holy church, not our old life. He concludes this pericope by reminding the people they are: a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, people owned by God―he paid the price for their purchase. And then Peter, perhaps under John’s influence, reminds the people they have been called out of darkness into the wonderful light of Christ, urging his readers to share the light. Peter is clearly writing to us holy priests as well!  

Music: “Jesus Is the Cornerstone”    Larnelle Harris An oldie from the past!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fBoMpZySMM

Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, I thank thee that thou hast led me into the light. I thank thee for sending the Savior to call me from death to life. I confess that I was dead in sin before I heard his call, but when I heard him, like Lazarus, I arose. But, O my Father, the grave clothes bind me still. Old habits that I cannot throw off, old customs that are so much a part of my life that I  am helpless to live the new life that Christ calls me to live. Give me strength, O Father, to break the bonds; give me courage to live a new life in thee; give me faith, to believe that with thy help I cannot fail. And this I ask in the Savior’s name who has taught me to come to thee.

                                            ―Prayer from Taiwan, Oxford Book of Prayer, p.117

Monday, April 27

Reader: “The word of the Lord”

Response: “remains forever.”

Scripture: I Peter 1:23-25

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass;

    their beauty is like a flower in the field.

The grass withers and the flower fades.

But the word of the Lord remains forever.”         (Is.40:6-8)

And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.     

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Yesterday we spent some time reflecting on John’s use of light and darkness in proclaiming the gospel. Today I’d like to follow up on the light implications as written by, none other than Peter, the subject of Jesus’ restoration. The fact that Peter was set free by Jesus, having dealt with the guilt of his denial of the Savior, is very clear in his letters. Peter understood in a powerful way what it meant to be born anew, with sins forgiven. This is as plain a statement as you will read. The one born again by the Holy Spirit receives a new kind of life, a life that will last forever―a positive way of saying it will never end. Think about it Believer, as you read this, your life will keep going for all eternity, and that life is underway right now! This kind of living is possible because it has nothing to do with you. Its source is the eternal, living word of God. Death is simply a departure to the eternal world. Death is a defeated sting, a futile stab at short-circuiting God’s plan of redeeming his fallen creation. Christ utterly destroyed, obliterated, annihilated, terminated any power of death. There is no fear of death. It is a door to our eternal home and the doorkeeper is none other than the Savior. This is GOOD NEWS!

By this time, I’m not sure what will be happening with COVID-19 and some of the fears people may or may not have, but the words of Peter help us grasp the biggest picture without minimizing the present. My prayer is that more and more people these days will heed Peter’s words and embrace Christus victor!

Music: “Behold All Flesh”  Movement II from Brahms Requiem   Herbert Von Karajan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2jc13Q1wX4 

Today’s music is a little different. I must give you some context for those not familiar with this piece. Normally, requiems are about death. Brahms wrote this “requiem” about eternal life from a Christian perspective using only biblical texts. While this is sung in German, there are English subtitles. The text of this movement is today’s Scripture reading along with a passage from James and one from Isaiah. The passages are a beautiful commentary on each other. Note the conductor and choir have memorized the entire piece so as to embrace the meaning. This is the best recording of this movement I’ve ever heard. Note how their music “sings the meaning of the text.” When you watch this, do so on your computer or television full screen so you can see faces. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted and lose yourself in this singing of God’s word. This movement is 15:18 minutes long. Watch it all at once in one sitting. Brahms captured in music what Peter was after when he wrote this letter. Don’t miss it! When so much of our music trivializes the gospel, this music aims at the wonder and grandeur of what God has done.

Prayer:
O Lord God, our Father, you are the light that can never be put out; and now you give us a light that shall drive away all darkness. You are the life that defies death, and you have opened for us the way that leads to eternal life. We bask in the glory of this life to come. Grant us grace in the life before us here on earth that we may be better prepared for the world that awaits our coming. We pray this to God Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.               ―Karl Barth, adapted Daniel Sharp

Third Sunday in Easter, April 26

Reader: “Jesus appeared again to the disciples” 

Response: “beside the Sea of Galilee.”

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.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In the whole of John’s gospel he has a clear purpose in writing which he states just prior to this passage, namely “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.” (Jn.20:31) There are similarities throughout the book to that end, many of which appear in this pericope. Peter figures prominently in this third encounter with the risen Lord. Peter also denied the Lord thrice. Of the seven disciples present, it is interesting to know who they were. There was Peter and we’ll say more about him below. There was Thomas, the “show me” disciple, who was again encountering the living Jesus in the flesh. There was Nathaniel, known for his high character though not one of the twelve, but one who had interacted with Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry and proclaimed him the Son of God. There were also James and John the brother fishermen and two other unnamed disciples. These men had left Jerusalem after the resurrection and had gone back home to Galilee and resumed their previous occupation, fishing. We mentioned a few days ago about John’s use of the “light/dark” motive in his gospel. Here it comes again. (Nicodemas came to Jesus at night 3:2; Judas leaving to betray 13:30; resurrection morning “while it was still dark” 20:1; the disciples cowering in the dark that first Sunday evening of the resurrection 20:19―insights from G.Borchert, New American Commentary, John Vol.11, p.326) The idea is that people move from spiritual darkness to recognizing the truth of the Savior. At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples didn’t recognize him. They were still “in the dark.” But when they followed the Lord’s suggestion and pulled in all the fish, then John, the writer of this gospel, told Peter, it is the Lord! Again we see John helping Peter. It was John who spoke to the high priest allowing Peter into the courtyard at Jesus’ trial. It was John who got to the empty tomb first and here, and here it is John who recognized Jesus first. And now we have another fellowship meal with Jesus resulting in Peter being restored. We’re familiar with the three denials and here, the three affirmations of love for the Savior. It is interesting that both occurred around a charcoal fire, the only two times a charcoal fire is mentioned. Charcoal is ashes and ashes are a sign of repentance. It would almost seem this restoration of Peter as a kind of “Ash Wednesday” coming to full circle. In the words of Psalm 36:9 “With Thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.” Walk in the light this glorious day. 

The music today is the earliest recorded Christian hymn (text) outside of the Bible coming from the 3rd century. The music was composed for the Russian Orthodox Church by Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) Orthodox music is only vocal. No instruments used in worship, only the human voice. You may want to let the video continue to run after this piece!

Music: “Hail Gladdening Light”  Rachmaninoff Vespers Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PmHP-56Npc   sung in Russian, English translation

O Light gladsome of the holy glory of the Immortal Father,

the Heavenly, the Holy, the Blessed, O Jesus Christ,

having come upon the setting of the sun, having seen the light of the evening,

we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God.

Worthy it is at all times to praise Thee in joyful voices,

O Son of God, Giver of Life, for which the world glorifies Thee.

Prayer:
Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, you shine light into darkness. A Light which pierces gloom. A Light which fades shadows. A Light which penetrates ominous clouds. A Light which overcomes the black. A Light which melts phantoms. A Light which defeats  doubts, fears, hopelessness, confusion, stress, tension, anger. . . On this holy day, let the Light of my Savior shine forth in me that He may bring glory to the Father as he lives in and through me. May the dark places in my life be overcome by the Light of the World, even Jesus the Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.     ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, April 25

Reader: “Let us rejoice”

Response: “in the salvation he brings!”

Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 14:12-14

Isaiah

In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies

    will spread a wonderful feast

    for all the people of the world.

It will be a delicious banquet

    with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.

There he will remove the cloud of gloom,

    the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.

He will swallow up death forever!

    The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.

He will remove forever all insults and mockery

    against his land and people.

    The Lord has spoken!

In that day the people will proclaim,

“This is our God!

    We trusted in him, and he saved us!

This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.

    Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

Luke

Then [Jesus] turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
I mentioned yesterday a little difficulty I have in grasping the reality of being part of God’s family. I understand the words, the concepts, the promises, the theology, the context and so forth, but it is still a wonder to me. Then today we run into these two passages that are tied quite closely together with an image and example that Jesus used very frequently in his ministry, eating meals with all kinds of people, including the wedding banquet. Have you ever wondered why he chose eating together as his teaching illustration? Think of all the kinds of people involved in meals in the Bible.

The very first meal involved sinners! But there was Abram and Sarai sharing a meal with the three visitors, one of whom was God in a theophany. We have the examples of: Joseph’s unique meal with his brothers, seated at the table in birth order prior to his revealing his identity to his brothers, Elijah being fed by ravens, Jesus eating at the home of Zaccheus, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Jesus gettting ready to eat with the two people from Emmaus, and Jesus eating fish with the disciples after his resurrection. In each of these examples and in the dozens more in Scripture, God’s hand is in the midst of the meal. What is of note is the nature of the people sharing meals. The guests at the table were there not because of who they were, but because of who they weren’t. The proud, the arrogant, the pompous, the famous were not to be found present. The humble, the meek, the lowly of heart, the devoted, the faithful, the poor in spirit were there. In these passages, Scripture is so clear that all peoples, regardless of who they are, are invited to come to the feast of God’s Kingdom, the Messianic banquet, the Wedding feast of the Lamb. In the eucharist, we commune with our Savior. Isaiah described, in what you read, this heavenly banquet yet to be, a banquet to which we’ve been invited.  

Music: “Let Us Break Bread Together”    Jessye Norman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFQqOWh2aOY

Prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is truth and life, let Thy presence abide in us, that seeking Thy truth we may find Thee, and sharing Thy life, may dwell together in perfect fellowship, and may be found faithful servants of Thee, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory and praise, now and forever. Amen.     ―Anonymous

Friday, April 24

Reader: “I love the Lord”

Response: “because he hears my voice.”

Scripture: Psalm 116:1-4; 12-19

I love the Lord because he hears my voice

    and my prayer for mercy. 

Because he bends down to listen,

    I will pray as long as I have breath! 

Death wrapped its ropes around me;

    the terrors of the grave overtook me.

    I saw only trouble and sorrow.

Then I called on the name of the Lord:

    “Please, Lord, save me!”

What can I offer the Lord

    for all he has done for me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation

    and praise the Lord’s name for saving me. 

I will keep my promises to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people.

The Lord cares deeply

    when his loved ones die.

O Lord, I am your servant;

    yes, I am your servant, born into your household;

    you have freed me from my chains.

I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving

    and call on the name of the Lord.

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people

in the house of the Lord

    in the heart of Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
That these last two months dealing with the COVID-19 virus have been trying for everyone is probably an understatement. We have had to alter a great many plans and habits and expectations. There is no doubt people have been under a fair amount of stress, sometimes revealing things in our hearts that we didn’t realize were so present as we grab for that last package of TP! Into this context we read this wonderful psalm. I’m afraid our God is far more present than we realize. He hears your whispered prayer and he gives mercy. The phrase “as long as I have breath I will pray” says a great deal about the confidence and determination of the psalmist. Do we pray with that kind of fever or do we pray for a few minutes and if nothing happens go on to something else? How persistent are you in your life of prayer? Here the psalmist was overwhelmed with a desperate situation and he cried out to God. We are more likely to pray in a fearful situation, but what about praying when the situation isn’t so uncertain? The last portion of the psalm is one of gratitude to the Lord. It seems in the difficult situation the psalmist made some kind of promise to the Lord. How often have we done that? “Lord if you will . . . then I promise I will …” Again, underscored here is the wonderful truth that the Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die. Think about that. The words are “his loved ones.” We talk about our loved ones, our children, our parents, our family. Christianity uses familial language from beginning to end: Father, Son, brothers, sisters, children, sons, daughters, offspring, little ones, and family. Into this context we read that the Lord views us as his own “loved ones,” loving you and me as a perfect Father. This is overwhelming . . . and reason to calm down and trust. Your Father will meet all of your needs.

Music: “I Love the Lord”    Whitney Houston The text is based on this psalm.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPLP1ui4YNc      From the “Preacher’s Wife” movie

A live performance by Whitney Houston       

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU9iJ0YU0PQ 

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, that we are part of the Trinity family is beyond anything we can begin to comprehend. That you love us so is, honestly, hard for me to grasp. The depth of your love as expressed in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension is something we’re still trying to comprehend. We read it in the Scripture and don’t doubt that it happened and was motivated by your love and desire that we should know and love you, but it’s that we feel so ordinary, sinful and puny people. How could you love us? You are the masterful, glorious God of all creation. Help us to know you better and be more able to live as your children and reflect well on our family name. Thank you for hearing our cries and caring deeply when your family members struggle. We love you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, April 23

Reader: “Though you do not see him now,”

Response: “you trust him.”

Scripture:  I Peter 1:8-12

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This is a most interesting and insightful passage as recorded by Peter. He is writing to Christians who are being persecuted in Asia Minor, in what is today the nation of Turkey. He is writing to challenge his readers to holy living in the midst of a difficult, antagonistic culture. I wonder if Peter was perhaps thinking of Thomas, one of his fellow disciples, when he wrote “though you do not see him now, you trust him” in reference to Jesus. In these days of global unrest, do we trust our Savior in this biggest picture, or succumb to fear? The Greek word for “souls” often refers to the whole person, hence the phrase, “salvation of your souls.” Likewise, here it does not refer simply to one aspect of a person, but to the entirety of the person, not just some inner spiritual being. Your whole person is saved at the coming of the Lord, not just the spiritual part of you. The next portion referring to the Old Testament prophets is fascinating to me. Sometimes, as in the days of Noah, a prophet received a message from the Lord concerning something that was going to happen. The prophet Noah preached repentance to no avail and the Flood happened in his lifetime. But can you imagine being a prophet and having a clear message come to you like Noah, but without a specific time in which it would occur? You have the Spirit of Christ in you which is separate from you speaking through you. You learn of the suffering of a Messiah and the great glory that would follow . . . but it never happens in your lifetime. You die without ever seeing your word from the Holy Spirit fulfilled. Do you realize we are in a kind of “Old Testament time” in the sense that we also are awaiting and looking for the Second and final coming of the Lord?  The Good News of salvation and what is to come is being preached all over the world as the Holy Spirit speaks through various people as we await the unfolding of the glorious conclusion! Peter writes that even the angels are “eagerly watching” these things happening. The phrase, “eagerly watching,” is the same Greek word used of the disciples when they peered into the empty tomb. There is a curiosity element here. Angels have known Christ in the realm of heaven and then Christ in human form only to have him return to heaven in a glorified human body. No one in heaven or on earth has experienced what is to come, so “eagerly watching” is a most apropos expression. Though we have never seen him, we eagerly watch and wait with a trusting curiosity. The Lord is coming back.

Music: “At the Name of Jesus”  Cardiff Festival Choir

https://join.skype.com/M8O4IU8Cbzdh 

(This hymn traces the work and call of Christ from Creation to his Second Coming in seven verses.)

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,

Every tongue confess him King of glory now:

‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,

Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation sprang at once to sight,

All the angels faces, all the hosts of light,

Thrones and Dominations, stars upon their way,

All the heavenly orders in their great array.

Humbled for a season to receive a name

From the lips of sinners unto whom he came,

Faithfully he bore it, spotless to the last,

Brought it back victorious, when from death he passed:

Bore it up triumphant with its human light,

Through all ranks of creatures to the central height,

To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast;

Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

Name him, brothers, name him, with love as strong as death,

But with awe and wonder and with bated breath:

He is God the Saviour, He is Christ the Lord,

Ever to be worshipped, trusted, and adored.

In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue

All that is not holy, all that is not true:

Crown him as your captain in temptation’s hour;

Let his will enfold you in its light and power.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,

With his Father’s glory, with his angel train;

For all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,

And our hearts confess him King of glory now.

Prayer:
All searching God, Thou readest the heart, viewest principles and motives of actions, seest more defilement in my duties than I ever saw in any of my sins. The heavens are not clean in thy sight, and thou chargest the angels with folly; I am ready to flee from myself because of my abominations; yet thou dost not abhor me but hast devised means for my return to thee, and that by thy Son who died to give me life. Thine honor is secured and displayed even in my escape from thy threats, and that, by means of Jesus in whom mercy and truth meet together and righteousness and peace kiss each other. In him the enslaved find redemption, the guilty pardon, and unholy renovation; in him are everlasting strength for the weak, unsearchable riches for the needy, treasures of wisdom and knowledge for the ignorant, fullness for the empty. At thy gracious call I hear, take, come, apply, receive his grace, not only submit to his mercy but acquiesce in it, not only glory in the cross but in him crucified and slain, not only joy in forgiveness but in the one through whom atonement comes. Thy blessings are as secure as they are glorious; thou hast provided for my safety and my prosperity and hast promised that I shall stand firm and grow stronger. O Lord God, without the pardon of my sin, I cannot rest satisfied without the renovation of my nature by grace, I can never rest easy, without the hopes of heaven I can never be at peace. All this I have in thy Son Jesus; blessed be his name for ever and ever. Amen.      ―The Valley of Vision p.21

Wednesday, April 22

Reader: “Now someone greater than Solomon is here—”

Response: “but you refuse to listen.”

Scripture: Matthew 12:38-42

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.”

But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

“The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent. The queen of Sheba will also stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for she came from a distant land to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Now someone greater than Solomon is here—but you refuse to listen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
There is an attitude expressed in this passage that is a universal curiosity. People like to see magic tricks. The Pharisees were pushing for such, but with insincere hearts. But we need to see the larger context. Previous to the portion you just read, in the presence of the Pharisees, Jesus had frustrated them by claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath (eating grain in a field on the Sabbath), healing a man with a deformed hand, and healing a demon-possessed man. They could deny neither of these miracles. Yet we come to today’s pericope with their words, “Show us a miracle as a sign to prove your authority.” There was a popular expectation that the Messiah would perform astounding miracles on command. Remember during Jesus’ trial, Herod questioned Jesus hoping to see him perform a miracle? Jesus saw through the bogus request of the Pharisees for they had already seen him perform miracles in their presence. Have you noticed Jesus never did a miracle for its own sake? His miracles were never as magic tricks nor for entertainment. They always pointed to bringing glory to God and to establishing his identity that people might repent and believe in the Son of God. So Jesus went to a story in the First Testament, the Pharisees’ own Bible, to make his point in response to their request. The prophet Jonah preached and the Ninevites repented. Jesus then drew a parallel between himself and Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish in reference to his death and resurrection. (In passing, observe that Jesus treated the whole encounter of Jonah, the fish, and preaching repentance to the Ninevites as historical truth. He didn’t treat the story as allegory nor should we ever treat the resurrection as allegory.) Jesus then claimed to be greater than the prophet Jonah and greater than King Solomon. In truth, the Pharisees were not the least bit interested in repenting before Jesus and confessing him as the Messiah, though a few did (Nicodemus). All people on earth have been given the most miraculous sign ever, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his victory over evil, sin, and death. The question is, do people repent and believe? In these days following Easter, perhaps you’ll have a chance today to talk with a “Pharisee” and help them become a Nicodemus.

Music: “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”    Simon Khorolskiy & Brothers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0T-M9iPZfMk 

Prayer:
Use me then, my Savior, for whatever purpose and in whatever way Thou mayest require. Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel; fill it with Thy Grace. Here is my sinful and troubled soul; quicken it and refresh it with Thy love. Take my heart for Thine abode, my mouth to spread abroad the glory of Thy name, my love and all my powers for the advancement of Thy believing people; that at all times I may be enabled from the heart to say, “Jesus needs me, and I him.”        ―Dwight L. Moody

Tuesday, April 21

Reader: “Just as death came into the world through a man,” 

Response: “now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:19-28

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. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In this pericope Paul continues with the implications of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In our Christian culture we can tend to look at a verse here and there and draw conclusions based solely on what we just read. It is always important to remember that the Bible is one grand story with all the parts connected. Failing to realize that truth can lead to a very shallow understanding of the Scriptures. Adam and Eve’s failure was devastating to the entire human race, and that is not an understatement. The rest of the Bible is coming to grips with the sin they introduced. Their rebellion made death an absolute certainty for all humankind from that moment forward. God told them if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would die. And they chose death, believe it or not. As children of Adam, our choice was gone; our death became a certainty. In a sense, Eve became the mother of death and Adam the father. That disaster has played havoc with the human race for thousands of years. Humanity had no escape; it was doomed. But into this world came a Second Adam born of a Second Eve. Whereas Eve doubted God’s word effectively saying “My will be done, Mary trusted God with the words, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you said about me come true.” In a sense, she became the mother of life. And the Second Adam came taking death head on and crushing the head of the Garden’s serpent opening the way to life eternal. Christ was the first one raised from the dead leading the way for all believers who follow. But there is more. Christ will return and destroy all evil rulers and powers, rending them impotent. In the ancient Near East, when a foe was defeated, that person knelt before the victor with his head to the ground and the triumphant ruler placed his foot on the neck of the vanquished.  Sometimes the defeated foe is referred to in Scripture as a “footstool under the feet of the king.” (Heb.10:12-13, Ps.110:1) The ultimate end is that Jesus Christ will be totally supreme over everything everywhere. Notice how everything is described in physical terms. We are not describing mystical floating spirits, but bodies with different properties in a completely different dimension than the one in which we currently live. So what does all this have to do with today, Tuesday, April 21st? As believers, we have already been raised with Christ. We are in the early stages of resurrection life! We are freed from sin and death now. The Holy Spirit is our guide and source of power. We can live this day with a broader perspective then the next twenty-four hours.

Music: “Hallelujah Chorus from Mount of Olives by Beethoven      Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-mNxQ6Kslk 

Praise the Lord, ye bright angelic choirs in holy songs of joy.

Man, proclaim his grace and glory.

Praise the Lord in holy songs of joy.

Hallelujah unto God’s Almighty Son.

Praise the Lord in holy songs of joy.

Prayer:
O God, you have glorified our victorious Savior with a visible, triumphant Resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, where he sits at your right hand; grant, we beg you, that his triumph and glories may ever shine in our eyes, to make us more clearly see through his sufferings, and more courageously endure our own; being assured by his example, that if we endeavor to live and die like him, for the advancement of your love in ourselves and others, you will raise our dead bodies again, and conforming them to his glorious body, call us above the clouds, and give us possession of your everlasting kingdom. Amen.       ―John Wesley

Monday, April 20

Reader: “Christ has been raised from the dead.” 

Response: “He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:12-20

But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 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.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In Paul’s day, as in ours, there were those who had a tough time getting their heads around the fact that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. The Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, but a physical body being raised from the dead was much harder for them to accept. So Paul presents his argument for a bodily, physical resurrection in this portion of his letter. He works backwards in his logic. He starts with a physical body; Greeks and doubters must accept that an earthly body is matter in the form of flesh. If we accept the premise that it is impossible for a body to rise from the dead, then the claim of Christ’s resurrection is clearly not true. Following along, presuming we are perpetuating a lie, then the atoning work on the cross on our behalf never happened and we are still in our sins. In addition, the torn curtain in the Temple was God’s mistake since he affirmed something that never happened. What is more pathetic, is that we are suffering as complete fools for believing something that never happened. When we die that’s it and we’ll receive a very rude awakening . . . so to speak! It reminds me of Pascal’s wager, namely humans betting their lives on the existence of God. In a nutshell: 1) If we believe in the existence of God and he exists, when we die, we enjoy the benefits of heaven. 2) If we believe in the existence of God and he doesn’t exist and we die, we’ve lost nothing. 3) If we don’t believe in the existence of God and he does exist and we die, we lose everything for all eternity. 4) If we don’t believe in the existence of God and he doesn’t exist and we die,  we’ve lost nothing. In light of eternity, number three is not worth our arrogance. Not the same, but a little bit of the same logic. The last sentence you read is about us! A little Jewish background here. One of the seven principal Jewish feasts was the Feast of Firstfruits which began two days after Passover and the day after the Sabbath, which is Sunday, the first day of the week. A stock of barley (it ripens before wheat) was pulled from the field pointing to the wheat harvest some seven weeks later at Pentecost. This stock was symbolic of the full harvest to come. God always owned the firstfruits, hence the beginning of every harvest went to him, similar to God owning all the first born men or animals. (Think of the Exodus.) Of the seven times firstfruits are mentioned in the New Testament, (worded here, “first of the great harvest”), these last two sentences are the most significant. Christ, as the Firstfruit, leads the way in resurrection, to be followed by his believers, and then all who have died. For these words speak of the certainty of a future bodily resurrection for all who believe as well as for those who don’t believe and at final Judgment, some to eternal life in the presence of God and others to eternal life apart from God. Bottom line, we are guaranteed now of our future resurrection body which will be fundamentally different from the body we live in now. (Yes!) Our bodies will be glorious, immortal, material, and spiritual similar to Christ’s own resurrection body. Can you imagine?

Music: “I Can Only Imagine”   Mercy Me

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

In this song we have pictures of loved ones who have gone before, but what strikes me is the power of the text which centers on the overwhelming reality of being in the presence of Christ himself.

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

Second Sunday in Easter, April 19

Reader: “Blessed are those who believe ”

Response: “without seeing me. ”

Scripture: John 20:19-31

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

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

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

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

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

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

Reader: “The powerful word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
I would like us to again, step back in time into that locked room and weigh some of the dynamics at play. We are sitting invisible in the corner of the room. The disciples were fearful of being discovered by the authorities and receiving the same fate as Jesus. While they were willing to walk with Jesus in the moments of glory, now it was different. It’s Sunday night. Peter and John had earlier that morning been to the empty tomb and left. Mary had told them that she saw a living resurrected Jesus. Women’s opinions were not given great credibility in the culture of the day, so they were not sure what to think. Fear of worldly forces can often consume Christians when they lose focus on God’s power and sovereignty. Such was the case of the cowering disciples. Into this situation, the dead Jesus they saw on the cross three days previous, suddenly appears in their midst very much alive coming through the locked door. Rather than speculate how this was possible, we would simply say, a resurrection body has very different properties. Neither Paul nor any of the gospel writers shy away from mystery. They simply state what is. Though there is much more to say, I want to skip ahead to “doubting” Thomas. Sometimes, I fear, he gets a bad rap. Thomas was very much a realist. It was he who said, when Jesus informed the disciples that he was going back to Jerusalem to wake Lazarus from his sleep, “let’s all go and die with you,” knowing the full danger of Jesus returning at that time (Jn.11:16). It was Thomas who wanted clarity on “the way” where Jesus was going (Jn. 14:5). We don’t know why Thomas was not with the other disciples that first Sunday, but he had heard from them regarding Jesus’ appearance that remarkable night and he wasn’t buying it. The following Sunday night was different! Can you imagine his reaction when Jesus appears again? I can almost hear the conversation . . . “So Thomas, good to see you. Missed you last Sunday. I heard you say something about touching my hands and my side? I’m here. Go ahead. What’s holding you back?” Can you imagine the turmoil going on in the psyche of that disciple? Thomas, overwhelmed, makes the great declaration, “My Lord and my God!” This was not only a personal testimony of belief, it was an echoing  proclamation of the beginning of John’s gospel. “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus concludes this encounter with the prophetic words that includes us, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” Thomas’ realism has done the skeptics and all of us a great favor. 

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

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

Bonus:

 “I Have Seen the Lord”        Vigil

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G3IFp3Ckiw 

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

      ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.97

Saturday, April 18

Reader: “Peace be with you, ”

Response: “and also with you. ”

Scripture: John 20:11-20

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
As we saw yesterday, Paul omitted a reference to Mary Magdalene as a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. John’s gospel gives us Mary’s account in today’s pericope. The above passage describes her second trip to the tomb. She had been there shortly before and discovered it was empty. She ran back to Peter and John to tell them Jesus was gone. The  two men had come and seen the empty tomb and went back home! Mary stayed as described in the passage you just read. Put yourself at the tomb sitting invisibly on a rock on the side watching this encounter unfold.

Mary is standing by the entrance crying and she looks in the tomb for a second time. This time, there are two angels in the tomb, one sitting on the stone slab where Jesus’ head had been placed, and the other where his feet would have been. Imagine her shock when they ask her why she was crying. Notice her response was very natural. (My guess is that she was so self-focused on the missing body of Jesus, that she hardly grasped her unique encounter with angelic beings and she simply “went with it.”) In essence, “Somebody took the Lord’s body and I don’t know where they put him.” The angels didn’t respond and so she turns to leave, at the same time realizing another person has arrived, but she isn’t really focused on the man as her mind is preoccupied with finding the dead body of Jesus. He also asks her why she is crying but then asks her also who she is looking for. In somewhat of a fog, she presumes he’s the gardener and wants to know where he put the body. She is focused on finding the body! (For the Jews, proper burial of the deceased was of utmost importance and robbing graves was common, hence her concern.) Jesus calls her by name and she turns stunned to realize it is Jesus in his resurrected flesh. A living Jesus was the last thing she was expecting! (There are other accounts where the resurrected Lord is unrecognized―E.g.Emmaus, miraculous catch of fish.) Have you noticed how straight forward and “matter of fact” this whole account is? Nothing about this retelling is imaginary or magical. It is an historical record of the resurrection event written by an eyewitness who was present in the story. John makes the resurrection of Jesus very clear. Every person is confronted with the question, “Is this true and do I believe it? Do I receive what Christ has done for me?” Walk today with this same living Lord. Don’t be so consumed with the circumstances of the day that you miss the “Gardener” standing right beside you.

Music: “In the Garden”    Alan Jackson

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

Prayer:
Almighty God, who through the death of your Son has destroyed sin and death, and by his Resurrection has restored innocence and everlasting life, that we may be delivered from the dominion of the devil, and our mortal bodies raised up from the dead: grant that we may confidently and whole-heartedly believe this, and, finally, with your saints, share in the joyful resurrection of the just; through the same Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord.   

           ―Martin Luther

Friday, April 17

Reader: “Christ died for our sins,”

Response: “just as the Scriptures said.”

Scripture:  I 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.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of classic passages on the resurrection. You probably heard a sermon last Sunday on some aspect of proof that Jesus rose from the dead and may have encountered this pericope. In reading Scripture, it behooves us always to ask ourselves, why did the writer include this phrase or mention this idea. Let’s apply that practice here. I want us to look particularly at Paul’s zeroing in on Christ dying for our sins, being buried, raised from the dead, and then being seen by various people. To a Greek philosopher, the idea of a bodily resurrection would be ridiculous, absurd. Some members of the church in Corinth struggled with this idea. Here, Paul is focusing on bodily resurrection, not the immortality of the soul, which was assumed in various understandings by the Greeks. Paul is also limiting this discussion to believers’ bodies at death. To make his point, Paul brings forth his evidence of the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He omits Mary of Magdala as a first witness and goes to Jesus’ appearance to Peter. As Charles Erdman commented, “A sacred silence conceals the time and place and the words which were spoken.” They most likely were words of pardon to the denier. Paul then mentions the eleven disciples in the upper room, also men who had run away, abandoning their Lord. It would seem Paul was making a point that Jesus appeared first to the people who most likely would have avoided seeing him out of great guilt and embarrassment. Seeing a living Lord would have magnified their remorse and underscored the truth that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. The next mention is of an appearance to more than 500 people at the same time establishing that the bodily resurrection was not a vision or phantom appearance. By mentioning that some of those people were still alive was another way of saying, “You can ask them if this is true.” So the movement was from a single person, to a small group, to a large crowd of people. The next appearance mentioned is touching, it is to Jesus’ half brother, James, another son of Mary and Joseph, one whom Jesus had grown up with. The Scriptures are clear that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him until after the resurrection, so this is particularly powerful. This is the same James who wrote the book by his name in the New Testament. Then Paul states Jesus appeared to all the apostles, this time including doubting Thomas, whose response in seeing Jesus was profound and powerful, “My Lord and my God!” The converted Saul then points to his own Damascus road experience where he saw the risen Christ and was dramatically, instantly converted to the Christian faith. You’ve noticed that none of this was a “tradition handed down” but rather, first hand eye-witness accounts of a God-man gaining victory over death. The grave could not hold him. The power of the devil over death was obliterated for all eternity! As a believer in Jesus Christ, never doubt that you will be resurrected to eternal life. The Scriptures are so clear. May you have an opportunity today to pass along this most glorious truth.

Music: “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Messiah   Philippe Sly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13DpmWPV9IU 

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as you made yourself known first at Easter to the people who most loved you and missed you, make yourself known this day to any who have felt cut off from you―any who are burdened by guilt, and do not understand how much you love them―anywho feel that joy has gone out of their life forever. And as you dealt patiently with the problems of Thomas, deal patiently too with all people who are handicapped by closed minds―all who fear that the resurrection news is too good to be true―all who are held back from faith by intellectual barriers of doubt―all who are too proud to humble themselves before you. Make yourself known to them too; and set them free.

            ―adapted from Prayers for Sunday Services, Daniel Sharp

Thursday, April 16

Reader: “I will not be shaken,”

Response: “for he is right beside me.”

Scripture: Psalm 16

Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.”

The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!

Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.

I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood or even speak the names of their gods.

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine.

The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me.

I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. 

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
As I write this, the world is in the throes of panic over the coronavirus. Every single news story is about how many people are infected, how many have died so far, and how much worse it is going to get. People are cleaning out TP in stores! Really? By the time you read this, I wonder what the situation will be? Hopefully, TP will still be in existence! An “abundance of caution” is the phrase of the day. An event like this where death is part of the conversation, is most revealing. You’ve seen how fast attention turns to self. People are quick to hoard. In a matter of a few hours, grocery stores have bare shelves.

Without sports to watch, attend or speculate about, many people are lost. Those trusting in their portfolios are fearful and anxious. Where is the anchor in all of this turmoil? King David writes the stabilizer for us in Psalm 16. The virus is no match for God! It has not surprised him. It has no power over him. For good or ill, it has helped reveal the true hearts of the people. It has served to show those things in which people trust; those things about which people care; those different things which motivate people; and the virus has shown what people ultimately believe in for their safety. Hear again David’s words: “Keep me safe, O God. You are my Master. The godly people in the land are my true heros. Lord, you alone are my inheritance. You guard all that is mine. I will bless the Lord who guides me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. My body rests in safety. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence.” It doesn’t seem like there is any panic here, does it? Whether this virus business has calmed down by now, or is still stirring, the word of the Lord, as given to David, is the right place to live, always keeping God’s biggest picture in mind.

Music: “Be Still My Soul”     Libera

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwkPsKe-39Y 

Prayer:
O Thou full of compassion, I commit and commend myself unto Thee, in whom I am, and live, and know. Be Thou the Goal of my pilgrimage, and my Rest by the way. Let my soul take refuge from the crowding turmoil of worldly thoughts beneath the shadow of Thy wings; let my heart, this sea of restless waves, find peace in Thee, O God. Thou bounteous Giver of all good gifts, give to him who is weary refreshing food; gather our distracted thoughts and powers into harmony again; and set the prisoner free. See, he stands at Thy door and knocks; be it opened to him, that he may enter with a free step, and be quickened by Thee. For Thou art the Well-spring of Life, the Light of eternal Brightness, wherein the just live who love Thee. Be it unto me according to Thy word. Amen.    ―St. Augustine  (354-430)

Wednesday, April 15

Reader: “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” 

Response: “He isn’t here!”

Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
You have undoubtedly read this account of the resurrection many times and heard more than one sermon preached on it. As you read the passage again, did you notice how very straight-forward it reads? Nothing sensational in this narrative. I love the simple “He isn’t here.” The event is tied to real time “. . . early on Sunday morning as the new day was dawning . . .” That sounds like a description of this morning. There is no hint of fantasy here.  Note all the specific details. Two women we know from elsewhere in the Scriptures are named. We have a description of an earthquake and the appearance of an angel causing two guards to faint. The appearance of an angel signals a remarkable event is underway. Heavenly beings have come to earth. Two different worlds are connected in earthly chronology and history. Something like this does not happen every day! The news is that the crucified rabbi has been raised from the dead by the power of God. Up to this point, the devil held the power of death in his evil grip. The good news is that the head of the one holding sway over death was mortally crushed. Rather than serving as a fearful end to a meaningless life, death can now serve as a departure point in earthly life and the doorway to paradise and into the presence of our great God. As if to further confirm the words of the angels, the women ran into the risen Lord and talked with him. It is true, Jesus defeated death. But, as we mentioned the other day, this whole event is a strong and powerful voice of God telling one and all of his great love for his people and of his desire that they be with him where he is. We are so used to reading news stories that give a “spin” to the reporting, that when we read something as plain and simple as this, we may tend to look for angles. There are none. It’s simply and gloriously true! God loves his people to death!

Music: “Thine Is the Victory”   First Plymouth-Church arr. Horby

www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q2OuTUvChw 

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

―adapted Daniel Sharp from Easter Vigil prayer, BCP

Tuesday, April 14

Reader: “Your right hand, O Lord, ”

Response: is glorious in power. ”

Scripture: Exodus 15: 1-18 

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord,  for he has triumphed gloriously;

he has hurled both horse and rider  into the sea.

The Lord is my strength and my song;  he has given me victory.

This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him!

The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!

Pharaoh’s chariots and army he has hurled into the sea.

The finest of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea.

The deep waters gushed over them; they sank to the bottom like a stone.

“Your right hand, O Lord,  is glorious in power.

Your right hand, O Lord, smashes the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty, you overthrow those who rise against you.

You unleash your blazing fury;  it consumes them like straw.

At the blast of your breath,  the waters piled up!

The surging waters stood straight like a wall;  in the heart of the sea the deep waters became hard.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them and catch up with them.

I will plunder them  and consume them. I will flash my sword;  my powerful hand will destroy them.’

But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them.

They sank like lead  in the mighty waters.

“Who is like you among the gods, O Lord— glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor,

    performing great wonders?

You raised your right hand, and the earth swallowed our enemies.

“With your unfailing love you lead the people you have redeemed.

In your might, you guide them  to your sacred home.

The peoples hear and tremble; anguish grips those who live in Philistia.

The leaders of Edom are terrified;  the nobles of Moab tremble.

All who live in Canaan melt away;  terror and dread fall upon them.

The power of your arm makes them lifeless as stone until your people pass by, O Lord,  until the people you purchased pass by.

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—the place, O Lord, reserved for your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

The Lord will reign forever and ever!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord as composed by Moses.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This particular passage is known as the Song of Moses, the first recorded song in Scripture. It is typical of latter biblical songs in that it recalls the actions of God on behalf of his people, underscoring in their minds God’s enduring care, protection and love for his Chosen Band. It is a kind of First Testament resurrection story. God led his people from certain death to life! As we mentioned during a Lenten devotional, in the words of Dennis Prager, “Memory permeates faith. No memory, no faith.” One of the purposes of songs is to permeate faith. We are a people with short historical memories. Notice the first eight lines are very personal with the recurrence of first-person pronouns. One of the great truths of our God is that he is very, very personal. Note also the unity expressed as both Moses and the people of Israel sing this song. The victory of God over the Egyptians was very descriptive, “they sank to the bottom like a stone.” 

In the fifteen lines of the middle section of the song, the text moves to addressing God in the second person. “Your right hand,” (usually the hand the warrior used with his sword,) is praised for vanquishing the enemy. Again, this is quite dramatic in its description of God’s power. For us, reading this song is reading an historical event. We forget the people singing this actually saw the sea split, walked through it, and then saw God collapse the walls of water wiping out the entire Egyptian army, the most powerful army in the world. The singers watched as the waves deposited the soldier’s lifeless bodies on the beach. God had given them an astounding victory.

The final stanza looks to the future, not only for the Children of Israel, but for us as well. While the words foretell the Israelites coming journey to the Promised Land, the last lines point to a day still in the future. We are yet to be planted on the holy mountain, the place reserved for the Lord’s dwelling and the place of God’s everlasting reign. In the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites were buried in the waters of baptism and resurrected to new life by the power of God, bringing their certain death to life. They were in the same place as we are. In the resurrection of Jesus, we’ve been brought from death to life as we await our own “crossing of the Jordan” to the Promised Land. Rejoice this day in the eternal life you’ve been given!

Music: “Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah”     Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT4n1hGjDDg 

 

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

 ―Author Unknown, adapted Daniel Sharp

Monday, April 13

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.

In thinking and praying this through, I considered the purpose of these daily encounters with Scripture concluding: 1) They can provide an opportunity to encounter the Lord daily speaking through his written Word. 2) They can give us a better grasp of the whole unity of the Bible as one grand story and increase our knowledge of this Library of Books. 3) They can help get us into the daily pattern of reading Scripture. 4) They can give us a daily encounter with vocal music of substance to inspire our faith. 5) And the concluding prayers can introduce us to some of the saints of the past and “sinners” from the present! With these things in mind and since I am “retired” of sorts, I decided to continue with Eastertide. 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


Reader: “Don’t be afraid.”

Response: “Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.”

Scripture: Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!”

Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night.

Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!

Then the Egyptians—all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers—chased them into the middle of the sea. But just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion. He twisted their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive. “Let’s get out of here—away from these Israelites!” the Egyptians shouted. “The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”

When all the Israelites had reached the other side, the Lord said to Moses, “Raise your hand over the sea again. Then the waters will rush back and cover the Egyptians and their chariots and charioteers.” So as the sun began to rise, Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the water rushed back into its usual place. The Egyptians tried to escape, but the Lord swept them into the sea. Then the waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.

But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides. That is how the Lord rescued Israel from the hand of the Egyptians that day. And the Israelites saw the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the seashore. When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song:

“Sing to the Lord,

    for he has triumphed gloriously;

he has hurled both horse and rider

    into the sea.”

Reader: “The Word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Yesterday was a glorious day celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his victory over the power of the devil. If it is possible, I think something even greater may have been demonstrated in that event. Put simply, the resurrection is the glory of God being shone. I know there were many theological aspects being fulfilled at the cross, but I want to touch on the glory of the resurrection. We talk about God’s glory, but what does that mean? In our English usage of today, we may refer to the glory of a sunset. It’s beautiful, stunning while it lasts. The Old Testament meaning of glory is significantly different. The Hebrew word for glory is “kabod” and denotes weightiness, heaviness, solidarity, significance and reality. When God’s glory appears it is not a short term experience, but a visible expression of his absolute reality. His visible presence in Scripture was often in a cloud, a magnificent cloud, a cloud of such weight that entering it uninvited brought death. The resurrection was a manifestation of God’s glory, but it had been foreshadowed throughout the First Testament, for example, in the passage you just read. Remember, we are the Israelites. Don’t think of them as those rebellious people from Bible times. We are too much like them! Pharaoh, the arch enemy, had them trapped. They panicked. They wanted the old miserable past. “Let’s go back to the way it used to be. At least we knew where we stood” . . . in misery. Then came Moses’ words, “Stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.” The Absolute One entered reality. He does that again and again. Stay calm, the Lord is at work! I love the Lord’s response, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!” You are in my plan! Then God says, “My great glory will be displayed . . .When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” Miriam’s song, at the end of what you read, captured this glory of God idea; “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously . . .” God’s glory accomplished (-es) great things on earth as in the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and victory over sin, death, and evil, but the underlying truth is we get first hand glimpses of the glorious Triune God we worship, the weighty grandeur of our God. But even at that, we see only a small part of our great God. The events of God acting in our lives are not the end, but serve rather as pointers to the wonder and weightiness of our great Creator. The glory is in God alone, not in the wonder of parting the water.

Music: “O Gladsome Light” from Vespers by Rachmaninoff  Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PmHP-56Npc         English Translation:

Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal One—the Heavenly Father, holy and blessed—O Jesus Christ!

Now that we have come to the setting of the sun,and behold the light of evening, we praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—God. Thou art worthy at every moment to be praised in hymns by reverent voices. O Son of God, Thou art the Giver of Life; therefore all the world glorifies Thee.

Prayer:
O God of my Exodus, great was the joy of Israel’s sons when Egypt died upon the shore, far greater the joy when the redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust. Jesus strides forth as the victor, conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might; he bursts the bands of death, tramples the powers of darkness down, and lives forever. He, my gracious surety, apprehended for payment of my debt, comes forth from the prison house of the grave free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death. Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted, that the claims of justice are satisfied, that the devil’s sceptre is shivered, that his wrongful throne is levelled. Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in him I rose, in his life I live, in his victory I triumph, and in his ascension I shall be glorified. This I pray Almighty God in the name of the one who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

                                       ―from The Valley of Vision, p.48

Easter Sunday, April 12

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.


He is risen! He is risen indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

    O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

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

Music:

“Hallelujah Chorus”  Sir Colin Davis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

“Hallelujah Chorus”    Robert Shaw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg7aXEvCeXY

“Worthy is the Lamb”     Robert Shaw

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

“Messiah” part 3  Octopus Symphony Chorus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGlAN_FE69o&t=95s

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


Friends,

I want to thank you again for journeying together these past six and a half weeks leading to this glorious day! I trust your daily time in Scripture has continued or become a regular habit of yours. Our goal is to learn to walk each day with the Lord and to spend time with him each day, not just reading but interacting in prayer. I also hope you’ve come across some new musical groups you can follow. Nothing is more glorious in music than the human voice.To those of you who passed the link along, thank you! Word of mouth and the internet is our only advertisement. I’m always glad for your feedback! Also feel free to let me know if you have any questions. A huge thank you to Jonathan Sharp for hosting and setting all of this up and getting the emails to you each morning. (He does not get up at 5:02 every morning to send them to you!)

The Lord be with you,
Dan

dansharp9@gmail.com


Here in one place is the music list  and Prayer Books if you’re interested. 

Lenten Music 2020

Feb.26 “If with All Your Hearts” from Elijah   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fyD4WIsXzw

Feb. 27 “Holy, Holy, Holy”  Audrey Assad  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgHrNNM23p8 

Feb.28 “Hear My Prayer O Lord” Purcell Voces8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Q33UL7ugc

Feb.29 “Jesus Loves Me” Whitney Houston  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHm9Ggdanyo

Mar.1 “What Wondrous Love Is This” Chelsea Moon  with Franz Brothers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1g26dbNJYJI

Mar.2 “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” Fernando Ortega

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

Mar.3 “I Need Thee Every Hour”      Sam Robson Beautiful and remarkable!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3wSbLa2uGg

Mar.4 “Go Down Moses”   Sam Robson Phenomenal! . . . again!  God in the business of redeeming his people, then and now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isLQ36PnTyo

Mar.5 “He Watching Over Israel” Robert Shaw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37zaRHrNlj4

Mar.6 “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”  Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGvCm9I4H0A

Mar.7 “Sweet Hour of Prayer” Radiance    (back from last year! DO NOT MISS)        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph43J3pnBDo

Mar.8 “Sanctus” from Requiem  Durufle Colorado Group?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hESnJ0HHlxI

Mar. 9 “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”  Massed Choirs Weston Noble, Conductor Glorious!! Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, CA.

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

Mar.10  “Miserere Mei”  Allegri Tenebrae Choir   Spectacular!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3v9unphfi0

      This is a setting of Psalm 51

Mar.11 “Salvation Is Created”   Tschenokoff, National Lutheran Choir

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

Mar.12 “Abide with Me”  St. Olaf Cantori and Congregation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkXI-8no9ZE&list=TLPQMjIwMTIwMjCZKDSORdFFFg&index=2 

Mar.13  “To God Be the Glory”   Sissel by Andrae Crouch

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiB4SEgOkow

If you let it keep running after this video, there are additional videos of her singing this piece at different years in her life. A gorgeous voice. Not to be missed.

Mar.14  “Of the Father’s Love”   Outofdarknessmusic

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jICEbS4acQ

Mar.15 “Jesus Messiah”    Gaither Vocal Band

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN4wj2KAdhU

Mar.16 “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b0FTKMYGZ4

Mar.17 “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” Simon Khorolskiy   DO NOT miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLTu1xv2-Us 

Mar.18 “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”  Alan Jackson The way it ought to be sung!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znWu2HCJ92c

Mar.19 “The Lord’s Prayer”   Andrea Bocelli and Mormon Tabernacle Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEplqV0scyo

Mar.20 “As the Deer”   Masters Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYNNIUtQ160

Mar. 21 “Be Thou My Vision” Nathan Pacheco

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihJAJA4ibEs

Mar.22 “Breathe on Me Breath of God”  NAK Chor Kapstadt Glorious. Watch to the end.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlyo3neR6xg

Mar.23  “It’s All About Me”   Rob Still Rob is one of my IWS students and has captured today’s cultural mindset in a beautiful way!!! Right. (He’s doing a seminar in Hungry.) A little musical change of pace today!   (The song of the Prodigal!!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1FqF0goGFo

Mar.24  “Goin’ Home”  Libera The voices of angels!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvThHk-wMRk

Mar.25  “Goin Home”  Dvorak Sissel  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJFhTb1gi6Y

Mar.26  “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”  Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLDGVl8D5UU

Mar.27  “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” Hymn sing in England!! Note the cross-section of singers!

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

Mar.28 “Amazing Grace”   Il Divo GLORIOUS!!!!!   When you get to heaven, you can sing like this!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYMLMj-SibU

Mar.29  “De Profundus”   Kings College Choir Cambridge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJvZ8qzW0e8

Mar. 30  “And Can It Be that I Should Gain”   Let’s hear it for the Brits! They SING!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQeIGbKqiw8

Mar.31 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” Deo Cantamus WOW!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu1tvqcyY44

Apr.1 “If Thou Wilt Suffer God to Guide Thee”   Calvin Alumni Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFfYKN6Jw1o

Apr.2   “In Christ Alone” All Souls Orchestra     Kristin Getty Glorious

This is a picture of the Body of Christ!           The Brits sing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnXv2gAfPpE

Apr.3  “When Jesus Wept” William Billings, early American composer at the time of the Revolutionary war

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjA-uHaj8pA

Apr.4  “Steal Away”   Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole   None like her!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O5hz5KnSdc        I can almost imagine Lazarus singing this song after being raised from the dead!

Apr.5  “Ride On King Jesus” Robert Shaw Festival Singers

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

Apr.6 “The Church’s One Foundation” Duke Chapel  arr. Dan Forest

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ECY2IIeRg8

Apr.7  “Ah Holy Jesus”  Fernando Ortega and  Quintessence Ensemble

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3Rq7DoDmyw 

Apr.8  “What Wondrous Love” Robert Shaw Chamber Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeIECnixpM0

Apr.9 “Ubi Caritas”  Paul Mealor Mealor appears during the applause.

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_7mcGqsKP8

Apr.10  “Agnus Dei”   Samuel Barber Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6ilqJW3fV8&list=TLPQMjkwMTIwMjCrAh08LRSyCA&index=1

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO2d0AD5wBg 

Apr.11 “Requiem”   John Rutter

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=rutter+requiem

“Requiem”  W.A. Mozart    fantastic performance Arsys Bourgogne

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LZ6gEh7yBM

“Messiah” Part 2 Rivertree Singers & Friends Choral Festival

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

Apr.12

“Hallelujah Chorus”  Sir Colin Davis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

“Hallelujah Chorus”    Robert Shaw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

“I Know the My Redeemer Liveth” Sylvia McNair

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg7aXEvCeXY

“Worthy is the Lamb”     Robert Shaw

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

“Messiah” part 3  Octopus Symphony Chorus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGlAN_FE69o&t=95s

Prayer Books

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. Appleton, OUP

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

Prayers Ancient and Modern, Mary Wilder Tileston, 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

Guideposts Prayers for Easter, Julie Hogan,  Ideals

Holy Saturday, April 11

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.


Some thoughts:

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

But think about it. What were his last words? He said, “It is finished.” What was finished was the work he came to do. If I recall, there was another time when, after the sixth day of the week, God the Father had finished his work of creation and rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath and called it holy. But unlike the other six days of creation, God did not say “it was evening and it was morning” in regard to this seventh day. Why omit those words? Likewise, the Son of God finished his work on the sixth day of the week and rested in the tomb on the holy Sabbath. But Jesus rose on the eighth day ushering in a new era as he paved the way for resurrection for all believers. God did not say “it was evening and it was morning” in regards to his Sabbath rest, because we have yet to enter our final rest.  We are still in the sabbath rest awaiting our Eighth Day and future resurrection when Jesus returns to lead all people either to eternal life or to judgment (2 Cor. 5:1-10). As Paul writes in First Corinthians, “Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.” We are currently in that Sabbath, awaiting his return. Then the Sabbath will have an “evening and morning” as we enter eternal life where there is no evening and morning, but one glorious day.

For the early church, this was a solemn day. Then at midnight, they gathered and held an Easter Vigil. There were four parts to this unique service: 1) a Service of Light in which Jesus was celebrated as the Light of the world overcoming darkness; 2) a Service of the Word in which the following passages were read outlining the entire biblical story from Genesis to the resurrection ; 3) a Service of the Water in which new converts were baptized; and 4) a Service of the Bread and Cup in which the Lord’s Supper was celebrated.  Read some passages from each of the nine sections. This is a good day for quiet reflection thinking of the Savior’s love for you as you read and for listening to some of the musical suggestions. Make this day a different kind of Saturday in preparation for tomorrow.

Scripture:

Genesis 1:1—2:4a

Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

2

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13

Psalm 46

3

Genesis 22:1-18

Psalm 16

4

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18

5

Isaiah 55:1-11

Isaiah 12:2-6

6

  Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6

Psalm 19

7

Ezekiel 36:24-28

Psalms 42 and 43

8

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 143

9

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Psalm 98

Romans 6:3-11

Psalm 114

John 20:1-18

Music: “Requiem”  John Rutter

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=rutter+requiem

“Requiem”  W.A. Mozart    fantastic performance Arsys Bourgogne

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LZ6gEh7yBM

“Messiah” Part II    Rivertree Singers & Friends Choral Festival

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

Good Friday, April 10

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.


Reader: “This is Jesus,” 

Response: “the King of the Jews.”

Scripture: Matthew 27:27-38

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

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

Response: “Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice on my behalf.”

Some thoughts:
This is a familiar heart-rending passage. There is such irony. In mocking ignorance, the soldiers wrote the truth on the placard, “He is King of the Jews.” And you’ll notice, once again, the thieves are two witnesses to the truth, even though one does not believe. But one thief testifies to the truth and believes.  One of the things that stands out to me in this whole passage is Jesus’ restraint and acceptance of the abuse in all its forms. Can you imagine having the power to “fry” the mockers with a single word, and not only not using it, but saying nothing, not even “Do you have any idea who is in your presence, your Creator and the Creator of the entire universe?” What was Jesus’ basis for keeping quiet and not responding?  Obedience to the Father and an unmovable commitment to fulfilling his mission of redeeming the entire created order, not just people. In spite of the taunts, mockery, ridicule, and sick curiosity, Jesus remained on course. God the Father, however, did speak. The curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom, the earth shook and split rocks, tombs opened and many people were raised from the dead and left the cemetery in affirmation and acceptance of the Son’s sacrifice. (That must have been a sight!) The soldiers quickly gained perspective in their words, “This man truly was the Son of God.” In reading this passage again, I’m quite sure we have no idea of the depth of Christ’s love for the Father and the Father’s love for his Son. That they have made it possible for us to experience being loved by God is really more than mortals can grasp. What a gracious God we have.

Music: “Agnus  Dei” Samuel Barber Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6ilqJW3fV8&list=TLPQMjkwMTIwMjCrAh08LRSyCA&index=1   There are many recordings of this piece. It is extremely difficult to sing with very long phrases. Many conductors speed it up so it is easier to sing. This recording has terrific singers and Mr. Shaw lets the text determine the tempo. “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” This recording is also beautifully balanced among the parts. The music aurally paints the meaning of the text.

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO2d0AD5wBg

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

            -Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

O sacred head, now wounded,

with grief and shame weighed down,

now scornfully surrounded

with thorns, thine only crown,

O sacred head, what glory,

what bliss till now was thine,

yet, though despised and gory,

I joy to call thee mine.

 

What thou, my Lord, has suffered

was all for sinners’ gain,

mine, mine was the transgression,

but thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior!

‘tis I deserve thy place;

look on me with thy favor,

and grant to me thy grace.

 

What language shall I borrow

to thank thee, dearest friend,

for this thy dying sorrow,

Thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever,

and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never

outlive my love to thee.

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

Maundy Thursday, April 9

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.


Reader: “A new commandment I give you”

Response: “love one another.”

Scripture: John 13:1-20, 33-35

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

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

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

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

“I am not saying these things to all of you; I know the ones I have chosen. But this fulfills the Scripture that says, ‘The one who eats my food has turned against me.’ I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I AM the Messiah. I tell you the truth, anyone who welcomes my messenger is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming the Father who sent me.”

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

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

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

Some thoughts:
If you knew you were going to die in the next day or so, what would you say to your family and closest friends?  What topics would you cover? I doubt you’d be talking about soccer games, March Madness, The Master’s, the stock market, or work. My guess is you’d be telling them how much you loved them. That you wanted them to love and look after each other and that you’d miss them, but that you’d see them again. That’s essentially what Jesus did in John’s gospel in chapters thirteen through sixteen.

The material you just read is found only in the gospel of John. His gospel is twenty-one chapters in length and chapters thirteen through nineteen cover about twenty-four hours! John does not record the observance of the Passover meal as do the synoptic gospels. Foot washing is unique to this gospel. Here also we find the details of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial being predicted. Chapters fourteen through sixteen give great details of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples during the meal. And Chapter seventeen is a marvelous opportunity to listen in on Jesus praying to his Father in heaven. Notice the content of Jesus’ prayer.

I want to make an observation on something the rabbi, Jesus, did.  Rabbis had disciples called talmudeen, a small group of people who followed them around wherever they went and did whatever the rabbi did. They copied his every move. They left their homes, left everything and followed him in order to become like him. In this setting, the disciples’ rabbi, humbled himself and took the role of a slave. He knelt before them and washed their feet! Unheard of! A rabbi would never ever do such a thing. His talmudeen would wash his feet. Jesus was demonstrating personal humility and servanthood. He was laying aside every personal right he had. Do you realize he also washed the feet of Judas, knowing that within minutes Judas would leave to betray him?  What do you think was going on in Jesus’ mind . . . in Judas’ mind?

As many of you know, foot washing was part of my experience in growing up in our little Mennonite church. Though not shared by all, it is my personal opinion and experience that the practice of foot washing has tremendous significance and impact even today for many of the same reasons that it touched the hearts of the disciples so deeply. It is very humbling to have another wash your feet, and it is a great honor to wash another’s feet. I would encourage you to participate in foot washing if you ever have an opportunity. Email me if you are curious for more information.

The apostle John did us a great favor in recording all of these final conversations of Jesus. Over the next couple of days, take your time and read chapters thirteen through seventeen in one sitting putting yourself in the midst of the disciples.

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

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_7mcGqsKP8     

Lest you think no young composers are writing beautiful music!

                 Ubi Caritas-author unknown

                    ancient text 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 Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of your name. Amen.

― the Worship Sourcebook

Wednesday, April 8

Reader: “He went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard…”

Response: “to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them.”

Scripture: Luke 22:1-6

The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is also called Passover, was approaching. The leading priests and teachers of religious law were plotting how to kill Jesus, but they were afraid of the people’s reaction. Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted, and they promised to give him money. So he agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around.

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

Response: “Lord, have mercy.” 

Some thoughts:
Betrayal is one of the most despicable acts one person can do to another. It is all the more hideous because it is dependent upon the noble character of trust. Trust must be established for betrayal to “work.” With trust comes depth of relationship, love, confidence, affection, dependability, comfort, admiration, gratitude, and serenity in the relationship. One act of betrayal destroys all of these qualities instantaneously. The betrayer puts self and self-interest above the relationship in total disregard for the other person. If trust is ever regained, it is a difficult, painful process. In these most difficult hours of his life, Jesus experienced betrayal from one of his followers, a man who had traveled with him for three years, a man he had chosen to be one of the twelve. What makes it all the more difficult is that Jesus knew who the betrayer was. Even in this circumstance, Jesus did not override the freewill of Judas and call him out on what he was about to do.  In honoring those he created, God does not usurp a human’s free will, and, in this case, even if it brings about his own crucifixion and death. That is love. What was Jesus’ response to betrayal? He continued on in the course his Father had laid out for him. He did not get pushed off center by it, nor did he dwell on it, even though only hours later the other eleven disciples fled in another kind of betrayal. In Jesus’ case, there were more things of significance at hand, namely the redemption of the world. Perspective, friends, perspective. Jesus never lost it, even in betrayal. 

Music: “What Wondrous Love Is This”    Robert Shaw Chamber Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeIECnixpM0

-Appalachian folk hymn

What wondrous love is this,

O my soul, O my soul

What wondrous love is this, O my soul,

What wondrous love is this,

That caused the Lord of bliss

to bear the dreadful curse

for my soul, for my soul,

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

 

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

            ―Jesus praying for us, from John 17

Tuesday, April 7

Reader: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs. . .”

Response: “They still would not believe in him.”

Scripture: John 12:37-38; 42-50

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

   “Lord, who has believed our message

      and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
“If I can just see it, I’ll believe it.” How many times have you heard that? It’s not true. We can see and still not believe, especially when it comes to faith. A few weeks prior to the passage you just read, Jesus told the story of Abraham, Lazarus and the rich man. The parable was a bit more realistic in the sense that this is the only parable Jesus told where he gave the characters names.  The rich man told them to go tell his brothers he was burning in Hades and that they should believe in God so they wouldn’t have to come to his place of torment. Abraham’s response was if they didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t believe someone coming back from the dead. Jesus had just raised someone from the dead a short time ago and had done other miraculous signs in the Pharisees’ presence and still they would not believe, though some did believe. Did it also register as you read that some believed but would not confess their belief because of social or peer pressure? Believing and confessing go together. Action follows belief.  Notice Jesus was not influenced by anyone but his heavenly Father. He spoke the exact words his Father gave him and in the way his Father told him to speak them. Being rejected did not change his message. He was on a divine mission and it was coming to a close. With this in mind, pay special attention to all that Jesus will say in the next few days. 

Music: “Ah Holy Jesus”  Fernando Ortega and  Quintessence Ensemble

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3Rq7DoDmyw

Prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ, you have said that you are the way, the truth, and the life. Suffer us not to stray from you, who are the way, nor to distrust you, who are the truth, nor to rest in anything other than you, who are the life.      ―Erasmus, 1469-1536                                

Please plan to attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services somewhere if your church does not have them. It will change your Easter Sunday morning!  

April 6 – Monday of Holy Week

The Scripture passages chosen for this week were all conversations Jesus had during these last few days prior to his crucifixion. These are roughly in chronological order. 

Reader: “For many are called,”

Response: “but few are chosen.” 

Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus also told them other parables. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!

“So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.

“The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town. And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Reader: These are the words of Jesus as he told a parable . . .” 

Response: “. . . as recorded by Matthew.” 

Some thoughts:
In this account Jesus is telling a parable on the Pharisees and leading Jewish leaders. The king is God the Father, his son is the Messiah. The religious leaders and the children of Israel are the invited guests. Their refusal to come to the wedding banquet is their rejection of God and his word through the years and their current rejection of the Messiah. The servants are the Old Testament prophets who proclaimed God’s message to Israel. When the guests refused to come, the king destroyed the town. Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem which in fact occurred in 70 AD. In the parable the king then sent the servants out to invite anyone. This part of the parable meant that God’s invitation was being extended to everyone, not just Israel. To the self-righteous Jewish leaders, this offer to anyone was damnable. Gentiles were despised. Taking Israel’s place in the parable was the Church, the Bride of Christ. The Church is now God’s people. When the king entered the feast, he noticed one of the guests was not wearing the proper wedding clothes. The wedding garment would have been provided by the king and this particular guest rejected these special wedding clothes (clothes of righteousness?) given him, a direct affront to the king. The king had him thrown out into outer darkness. The wedding clothes correspond to spiritual fruit that demonstrates true faith. This guest was a fraud. (See. Mt. 7:13-27 for Jesus’ further description of this guest.) The outer darkness is a metaphor for eternal punishment. The Pharisees and leading priests understood this parable to be against them and were all the more determined to kill Jesus. The last verse in this passage reminds us that the invitation from God is extended to everyone, but only a few respond in faith. Continue to pray for those people you know who have not yet found the narrow way to life in God’s kingdom. Pray that the message of Holy Week and Easter penetrates their hearts not only of those around you, but people from every tribe, nation and tongue throughout the world. 

 

Music: “The Church’s One Foundation” Duke Chapel  arr. Dan Forest

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ECY2IIeRg8

The Church’s One Foundation

            -Samuel Stone, 1886

The church’s one foundation

Is Jesus Christ her Lord,

She is his new creation,

By water and the word.

From heaven he came and sought her

To be his holy bride,

With his own love he bought her

And for her life he died.

 

Elect from every nation

Yet one o’er all the earth

The charter of salvation

One Lord, one faith, one birth

One holy name she blesses,

Partakes one holy food,

And to one hope she presses

With every grace endued.

 

Prayer:
Remember, O Lord, your Church, to deliver her from all evil, and to make her perfect in your love; and gather together from the four winds the sanctified Church into your kingdom, which you have prepared for her. For yours is the power and the glory forevermore. Amen.

                              -the Didache, c. 120 AD

Palm Sunday, April 5

Reader:Blessings on the King” 

Response: who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Just to give us a little context we retrace recent events. Jesus had raised Lazarus within the last week to ten days. Last night (Saturday) there was a party at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to honor Jesus for the raising of Lazarus. Many people, both friends and the curious, came to see both Jesus and Lazarus. The day of the above passage is the next day, Sunday. Word has been circulating about Jesus’ raising a man from the dead and the Pharisees and Sadducees are plotting to do away with Jesus and with Lazarus as well. Jesus knows this will be his final week on earth. You’ll notice all this coming week, Jesus is completely in charge of everything. He sends two disciples to get a donkey, one on which no one had ridden . . . suitable for a king. He tells them what to say and it happens just as he said. You know the story quite well. I want to make a few observations. In his ride down the Mount of Olives, Jesus was announcing himself as Israel’s king. When kings rode donkeys, they were coming in humility, peace, and reconciliation. When they rode horses, they were coming in battle. A donkey was a royal, peaceful limousine as it were. King David, a thousand years earlier, had exited Jerusalem as king on a donkey, fleeing before his son, Absalom, who was attempting a coup, who was, incidentally riding a mule, an animal for war. What is also interesting, at some point in the future, the King of kings will again return to set up his eternal kingdom on a horse and the Mt. of Olives, the place of Christ’s Ascension, is a place of his return. As Jesus rode down the hill, great crowds gathered singing “hosanna!” (meaning ‘salvation now’) and waving palm branches as was typical in celebrating a hero, their king of Israel.  What they sang is interesting. You’ll recall at the birth of Jesus, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Here the crowd is singing, “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven! In both cases there is glory to God. The birth of Jesus was to bring “peace on earth,” a situation that lies yet in the future. But Jesus did bring “peace in heaven” through the cross as he brought reconciliation between God and human beings. It is ironic the people shouting these texts from the First Testament did not realize what they were saying. Within a few days many of them were yelling “crucify him!” when he did not conform to the people’s expectations as to what he should do in regards to the Roman occupations.  Likewise, we need to be careful we don’t dictate how and when God should act.

Music:  “Ride On King Jesus”  Robert Shaw Festival Singers  beautiful!

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

Bonus!
“Hosanna to the Song of David”    Cambridge Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLKVFpk2f5E

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

―Prayers for Easter, p.34