Epiphany, Friday, January 6, 2023

Friday, January 6, 2023 Epiphany

Reader:  “Jesus Christ  . . . ”

Response: “the Light of the world.”

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.”

“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.

Some thoughts:

We began the advent season with the theme of the Second Coming and Jesus’ Return to institute a New Creation making all things new. Epiphany is the shedding of new light or revealing of something previously unseen or unknown. There are three themes that emerge in Epiphany, the visit of the magi, the baptism of Jesus, and Jesus’ changing of water to wine. This first of seven miracles in John’s gospel, inaugurates his public ministry and begins to reveal his identity as the Son of God. 

A little geographical background may be helpful. Cana, the site of the wedding, was three to four miles northeast of Nazareth and about ten miles southwest of Capernum, the home of Simon Peter, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. There are all kinds of specific things we could say about this passage, but one phrase stands out, a phrase that Jesus often repeats in this gospel. The phrase? “My time has not yet come.” Jesus was always tuned to the timing of his Father in heaven. Not even his mother could coerce him to change his Father’s schedule.

The result of this miracle? His recently called disciples believed him, but apparently not his brothers at this point. It was only after the resurrection that they recognized him as the Messiah. But nothing ever deterred Jesus. He never got pushed off the course of his mission. What other people perceived as urgent matters, did not cause Jesus to change his priorities. (E.g. Lazarus) Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus showed us how to live. In the coming year, may there be an abundance of epiphanies as you walk with the Lord.

I wish you Godspeed.

Music: “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”  St.Paul Lutheran Church, Austin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOwiBa4EVdI  (This hymn touches on all three themes of Epiphany.)

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.

Anthems be to Thee addressed

God in man made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,

Prophet, Priest, and King supreme,

And at Cana, Wedding-guest,

In Thy Godhead manifest;

Manifest in power divine,

Changing water into wine.

Anthems be to Thee addressed

God in man made manifest.

Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord,

Present in Thy holy Word;

Grace to imitate Thee now

And be pure as pure art Thou

That we might become like Thee

At Thy great Epiphany

And may praise Thee, ever blest,

God in man made manifest.

                     by Christopher Wordsworth, 1807-1885

Prayer:

Go forth into the world in peace;

Be of good courage, hold fast that which is good,

Render to no one evil for evil.

Strengthen the fainthearted,

Support the weak,

Help the afflicted,

Honor all persons.

Love and serve the Lord,

Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit,

And the blessing of God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit

Be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, 1928

Postscript

Thank you all for joining us these past forty-one days as we’ve journeyed throughout the Scriptures seeking to know our Savior better and better. It’s our prayer that we develop a daily life practice of encountering the Lord in his Word each day as we learn to draw close to him and hear his voice. Paul gives us a beautiful model in his letter to the 

Philippians. (2:5-11) The Lord be with you.

You must have the same attitude

that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,

      he did not think of equality with God

      as something to cling to.

 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

      he took the humble position of a slave

      and was born as a human being.

 When he appeared in human form,

      he humbled himself in obedience to God

      and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor

      and gave him the name above all other names,

 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

         and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

      to the glory of God the Father.

© Daniel Sharp 2022             Dan’s email at:    dansharp9@gmail.com

Advent Music 2022 

Nov. 27 “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”   Voces8

Nov. 28 “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” Joshua Aaron

Nov.29 “Rejoice Greatly” from Messiah   Jeanine De Bique BBC Proms glorious!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHQpeGzio4k

Nov. 30 “The King Shall Come” Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

Dec. 1 “Is Not His Word Like A Fire?” Will Liverman from Elijah

Dec.2 “Long Ago, Prophets Knew” Chet Valley Churches

Dec.3 “Change My Heart O God” African Music Experience An oldie from 40 years ago

Dec.4 “Once in Royal David’s City” Libera   DO NOT MISS THIS

Dec.5 “Come Thou Long-expected Jesus” Meredith Andrews

Dec.6 “Wake, Awake for Night is Flying” Luther College Nordic Choir

Dec.7  “Song of Zechariah: Benedictus Dominus Deus  Choirs of All Saints Church, Beverly Hills, CA.   (7:25) The text of Lk. 1:68-79 plus Glory Be to the Father

Bonus:“Benedictus Dominus Deus” Christmas Carol Service at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, London     (3:07)   setting with English text.

Dec.8 “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Caitelen

Dec.9 “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” Chet Valley Churches

Dec.10 “O Come, All Ye Faithful”   Voctave     Go see and hear them whenever you can!

Dec.11 from “Messiah”, #2,3,4,9,20 and Brahms Requiem #2.

#2 “Comfort Ye” v.1-3     #2 & #3 together    (6:30) 

#3 “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” v.4  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Pz9BCMFoP8 

#4 “And the Glory of the Lord”  v.5  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRq9EkDTdxs  Voces 8    (2:54)  Glorious!

#9 “O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings of Zion”  v.9  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIqDNTnOCks   (5:46)   Sasha & Mormon Tabernacle Choir

#20 “He Shall Feed His Flock” v. 20  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-bAXm-A3Ls&list=RDl-bAXm-A3Ls&start_radio=1  (6:16)   Barbara Bonney

Brahms #2 “Behold All Flesh is As the Grass” v.6-8   Herbert Von Karajan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2jc13Q1wX4   (15:18) English Subtitles

SPECTACULAR!!!!!!!

Dec.12 “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” Westminster Choir

Dec. 13 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” The ChurchFolk

Dec.14  “What Child Is This”   Sissel

Dec. 15 “Joy to the World” The Spirituals Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGyYAzrctzk   traditional  Soundiva Classical Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDmIddF7DfQ Celtic Women  (A production!)

Dec. 16  “Lo, How A Rose” Pacific Chorale

Dec. 17 “O Little Town of Bethlehem” arr. Dan Forrest   Jamaica Youth Chorale

Dec. 18 “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Wheaton College Choir and Symphony Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmtKlOB-0-I   Spirituals Choir

Dec. 19 “For Ages Women Hoped and Prayed” Wheaton Bible Church   

     “Angels We Have Heard on High” Home Free    (Could not leave this out!)

Dec. 20 “The Hands that First Held Mary’s Child” Arman Ferrer with Kilyawan Consortium of Voices  

Dec. 21 “Magnificat” J S Bach    Nikolaus Harnoncourt

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YML7uc9sdl8    3:15 for the first movement, you can listen to more!

Dec. 22 “Behold the Lamb of God” from Messiah.  Gramophone Chorus of Ghana    

Dec.23  “O Magnum Mysterium”   Morton Lauridsen  Los Angeles Master Chorale

Dec. 24 “And the Glory” from Messiah       Voces8    (The best version I’ve heard!)

       “O Holy Night”

Fabulous Bonus: “O Holy Night”    Voctave! (Two of the best a cappella groups, classical & pop)

Dec. 25 Messiah” Handel   Voces8    

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFjQ77ol2DI&t=2035s     1:35:19 

Bonus: “The Shepherd”  from “The Chosen”  Short film.

Dec.26 “Good King Wenceslas” A story of a paige and the king’s generosity on the Feast of St. Stephen

Dec. 27 “Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning” Keith, Kristyn Getty & Ricky Scaggs

Dec. 28 “Coventry Carol” Ashley Serena         Choices today!

             “Coventry Carol” Vox One Jazz

              “Coventry Carol” Gjeilo      CORO Vocal Artists

Dec. 29 “Kings of the Orient”  Robert Shaw Chorale

Dec. 30 “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”  Slavic Chorale

           “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7670CXvPX0    Casting Crowns (original version)

Dec.31 “Joy to the World” Voctave   Don’t miss this!!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nziWgvOPj4

Jan. 1  “At the Name of Jesus”  First Plymouth Church Lincoln, NE

Jan. 2 “I Wonder as I Wander” Simon Khorolskiy    Terrific!

Jan. 3 “Nunc Dimittis” Gretchaninoff   National Lutheran Choir (English translation)

             “Nunc Dimittis” Paul Smith    Voces8   The text in Latin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEHufcT3jmw  Robert Shaw Festival Singers

        “Nyne Otpushchayeshi” The text in Russian from Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers”

Jan. 4  “Go Tell It on the Mountain”   Home Free and Texas Hill

             “Go Tell It on the Mountain”     Josh Turner

    “Go Tell It on the Mountain” Melvin Crispell III & Chandler Moore,  Maverick City Music      

Jan. 5  “Good Christian Men Rejoice”   Robert Shaw Chamber Singers

Jan.6  “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”  St.Paul Lutheran Church, Austin

Advent Scriptures 2022

2 Samuel 7:25-26   12/4/22

Psalm 27:1-6       12/5/22

Psalm 27:7-14     12/6/22

Isaiah 9:2-7              12/24/22

Isaiah 35:5-6        12/13/22

Isaiah 40:1-11     12/11/22

Jeremiah 1:4-10      12/2/22

Ezekiel 36:24-28      12/3/22

Hosea 6:1-6     12/1/22

Micah 4:1-5     11/28/22

Micah 4: 6-13   11/29/22

Habakkuk 2:1-5 12/8/22

Habakkuk 3:2-6   12/9/22

Habakkuk 3:13-19   12/10/22

Malachi 3:16-4:6    12/14/22

Matthew 1:18-25    12/23/22

Matthew 2:1-2, 7-12   12/27/22

Matthew 2:16-18     12/28/22

Luke 1:5-17       12/7/22

Luke 1:26-38          12/19/22

Luke 1:46-55           12/21/22

Luke 2:1-5               12/24/22

Luke 2:1-20             12/25/22

Luke 2:21                 1/1/23

Luke 2: 22-28a         (1/2/23)

Luke 2:28-32             1/3/23

Luke 2:33-35              1/4/23

Luke 2:36-38              1/5/23

Luke 7:18-23           12/13/22

Luke 21:25-36 11/27/22

John 1:1-14            12/23/22

John 2:1-12              1/6/23

John 1:6-8, 19-28   12/12/22

Acts 6:8-15              12/26/22

Acts 7:59-60             12/26/22

Philippians 2:6-8       12/31/22

Hebrews 1:1-3        12/15/22

2 Peter 3:1-18   11/30/22Revelation 22:12-16   12/4/22

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Reader: “A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles.”

Response: “ . . . and the glory of your people Israel.”

Scripture: Luke 2:36-38

 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. 

Some thoughts: 

In Anna, (which means “grace”), we have another truly graceful saint patiently waiting on the Lord to come for many years. She was now eighty-four and had been a widow most of her life. Though not from the priestly tribe of Levi, she had stayed in the Temple fasting and praying for years. Luke wanted to underscore her Jewishness in mentioning the tribe of Asher. The phrase “she never left the Temple” is probably hyperbole. We might say something like “she was someone who was always there!”

She just “happened” to pass by Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and Simeon at just the right time. It was a kairos moment, a moment that had “major significance outside of chronological time.”  She recognized the magnitude of the occasion. God’s salvation had come to Jerusalem, God’s own city, in the person of this little baby boy. Along with Simeon, she too had been humbly, patiently waiting. 

I wonder how many times we’ve missed something significant because we were tuned out. Or perhaps we were following along, but failed to realize the importance of the event. There may even be times when there was an unusual response to something of the moment and only later did the response become clear. Many years ago my wife, Nancy, and I left my parents to drive from the farm in Illinois to join what was then Campus Crusade. After giving my dad a hug and telling each other we loved them, I cried for the first sixty miles. I remember thinking, “Where is this coming from, it’s not like I’ll never see him again.” Truth was, dad was killed in a farming accident a few months later. Our departure from the farm was a kairos moment which was later revealed to be such.

On a little different note, Anna gives us another of the wonderful reminders of the effectiveness of the prayers of the elderly. I’ve heard on several occasions from elderly people, “I can’t do much anymore, but pray!” That “much,” my friends, is the most! Find an “Anna” today you can encourage. Maybe you are that Anna. You don’t have to be over sixty-five!

Music: “Good Christian Men Rejoice”   Robert Shaw Chamber Singers

Prayer:

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older, and will someday 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 codger 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.                 ―anonymous 17th century nun

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Reader: “Jesus is the Light of the world.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Scripture: Luke 2:33-35

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.”

Some thoughts:

Simeon’s words were clearly prophetic. Can you imagine being Mary and Joseph and hearing this said about your one month old baby boy? It seems that Jesus’ parents were step-by-step beginning to see what lay ahead for their Son. It is clear from the very beginning that Jesus would be a revealer of people’s hearts. This truth is forecast in Mary’s Magnificat. “He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.” (Lk 1:51-53) These words do not sound like a ‘meek and mild,’ milquetoast Jesus. Simeon goes on to say that some people will rise and experience forgiveness and healing and restoration with God. Other people will reject him and speak against him. Jesus’ challenges will reveal the true character of an individual’s heart . . . then as now. The heart of John the Baptist was revealed before he was even born!

The old priest concluded his words with the prophecy that “a sword will pierce your own soul Mary,” even as she saw the spear of the centurion pierce her son while nailed to the cross. She is mentioned from time to time in the gospels. Her devotion to her son is quite apparent throughout the gospels as once she came with his brothers to take him home to rest! She thought he was overdoing his preaching and healing! At the death of Jesus, she went to live with the disciple John as he looked after her. She is last mentioned in the Scriptures at Pentecost as she was involved in the development of the early church. The date of her death is unknown.  

Remember always, Jesus came to bring restoration to all of creation, restoration to communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the same time, there is no promise that things would go smoothly, for Jesus, for Mary, for us. Actually, the promise is for difficulty and suffering in this life as we follow the Savior. Sadly, Simeon’s words also remind us that not everyone wants that restoration with their Creator. So be a light today wherever you go.  (The three music selections are terrific! All three!)

Music: “Go Tell It on the Mountain”   Home Free and Texas Hill

             “Go Tell It on the Mountain”     Josh Turner

    “Go Tell It on the Mountain” Melvin Crispell III & Chandler Moore,  Maverick City Music      

Prayer:

Now take away, Father, we beseech Thee, the undergrowth that blocks our forward progress. Give us the wisdom to know which are of our own doing and which come from Thee to strengthen our walk. Remove the obstructions caused by us, those things that choke the trail. Slash and prune and trim us with the machete of thy Word; so might we freely tread the shining path that leads unto the perfect day, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                ―Sherwood Wirt, adapted Daniel Sharp

                                  (There’s that piercing sword again!)

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Reader: “My eyes have seen your salvation,”

Response: “which you have prepared before the face of all peoples.”

Scripture: Luke 2:28-32

Simeon 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!”

Some thoughts:

One of the wonderful touches in this account is that the old priest, who was presiding in the Temple, had been shown by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah (which means ‘anointed one’). The Holy Spirit led him to the Temple that day. The day was ordinary until Mary and Joseph appeared with the baby and handed him their child. He knew instantly who he had in his arms! Can you imagine his joy?!  This was the child God’s people had been waiting for since the promise to Abraham 2,000 years before, actually all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden.

You can see why Simeon could say, “Now let your servant die in peace as you have promised.” This sentence has been translated in various ways. “Let your servant depart in peace.” or “You may now dismiss your servant in peace.” or “Now You are letting Your servant depart in peace.” To me, “departing in peace” is a beautiful, accurate way to describe a Christian’s death. While your physical body stops working here on earth, the “you” that is you continues on in the presence of Christ. In other words, to die means one is simply “dismissed” from a physical life on this earth to continue life anew in heaven for those who believe in the Savior. I believe that paints the clearest picture of the death of a saint. 

This same concept occurs with Peter, James, and John’s meeting with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. The word used for Jesus’ departure from earth in his discussion with Moses and Elijah is “exodus.” The ultimate Redeemer accompanies every believer’s exodus. The biblical concept of death is entirely different from the world’s concept. We never die, we just go to another world. A word from C. S. Lewis: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Simeon’s longing to see the Messiah looked to another world. Upon seeing the Lord’s Anointed, Simeon was “dismissed” and went to that “other world” for which he was made. 

That longing we all have in our hearts for a better world where everything is just and good and right, simply means we were made for another world, that world in the presence of our Savior. Jesus brings a holy satisfaction like nothing in this world!

Music: “Nunc Dimittis”  Gretchaninoff   National Lutheran Choir

             “Nunc Dimittis”   Paul Smith    Voces8      The text of the passage sung in Latin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEHufcT3jmw  Robert Shaw Festival Singers

        “Nyne Otpushchayeshi” The text in Russian from Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers”

Prayer:

Lord, if any have to die this day, let it be me, for I am ready.  –Billy Bray, 1794-1868

The story is that this tin miner was radically changed from a drunken blasphemer into an ardent evangelist in Cornwall, England. He is said to have spoken this prayer while waiting with his fellow miners to begin the day’s shift.

Monday, January 2, 2023

 Monday, January 2, 2023

Reader: “The Savior of all the people . . . ”

Response: “has come into the world.”

Scripture: Luke 2: 22-28a

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.

Some thoughts:

We mentioned previously that Jesus was an observant Jew and that his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, kept the Law as well. According to Jewish law, forty days after the birth of a boy, if he is the woman’s first child, the parents were to take the boy to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to the Lord for this firstborn boy belonged to the Lord according to the Law (Ex.13:1-2). To give you a time frame, the day of presentation would be February 2nd. You realize Mary and Joseph took the infant, Jesus, to the  Temple in Jerusalem twice, once on the eighth day and again on the fortieth day right under Herod’s nose! 

Remember the story of Samuel. (I Samuel 1 & 2)  In the 10th plague in the exodus from Egypt, the firstborn of the Egyptians were not redeemed but slain while the Israelite firstborn were redeemed by the blood of the lamb. (Passover sacrifice) If there was no redemption price paid, the firstborn was to be slain. (Num 3:11-13) cf. Joshua and the Israelites were instrumental in giving Jericho as an offering of total destruction to the Lord. (Josh 6:17) Jericho was treated as a firstborn to the Lord. Years later in the time of Ahab, Joshua’s words were fulfilled (Josh 6:26) Jericho was rebuilt at the cost of the death of Abiram’s first born son in the laying of the foundation! (I Kings 16:34)

Though belonging to the Lord, unless stated otherwise, the firstborn could be redeemed for a sacrifice, as was the case with Mary and Joseph’s offering of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. The size of their offering indicated that Jesus’ earthly parents were of very modest means. We are reminded again that Jesus was the firstborn, not only of Mary and Joseph, but of all creation in that glorious passage in Colossians 1:15. In Hebrews 12:23 we read that we are part of God’s assembly of his adopted children. Our God is personally calling us his firstborn children for we have been redeemed with the blood of his own Son. Our names are written in heaven. The whole of Scripture is the story of God’s great redemption of all of creation through the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross, even Jesus, the firstborn of all creation.

Music: “I Wonder as I Wander”   Simon Khorolskiy    Terrific!

Prayer:We praise you, Lord God of heaven and earth for the loving gift of your firstborn Son to bring our redemption. Yet in our fallen state you made it possible that we might live with you forever. Without the sacrifice of Jesus we would have no hope, no possible way to be forgiven. It is not possible for us to pay any acceptable redemption price. We cannot come to you on our own merit. For it is through your grace alone that we are redeemed. We truly are not our own, but have been purchased with the highest price ever paid for anyone.The slaves to sin have been set free. How we praise you, Lord Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer, and it is in your name we pray this prayer. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Reader: “This, this is Christ the King . . . ”

Response: “ . . . the babe, the son of Mary.”

Scripture:   Luke 2:21

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

Some thoughts:

What is in a name? In many cultures throughout history people chose names for their babies which carried a specific meaning or quality. But Mary and Joseph did not pick out the name of their firstborn son, God did. At the annunciation Mary was given the name for the child she was to conceive. The angel told Joseph the baby’s name as well as its meaning. He would be called “Jesus,” meaning “the Lord saves.” The Hebrew version being “Joshua.”  

According to Jewish law (Lev.12:3), all baby boys were to be circumcised on the eighth day, reminding one and all that this child is part of the covenant God made with Abraham. This practice continues today by observant Jews at the bris (circumcision ceremony) on the eighth day following the baby boy’s birth.

You’ll note from the scriptural evidence that Mary and Joseph were practicing Jews keeping the laws―the naming Jesus on the eighth day, observing the purification ceremony on the fortieth day, regular attendance at synagogue, and Jesus’ own bar mitzvah at age twelve. Jesus was clearly an observant Jew his entire life―reading as usual from the scroll in his home town synagogue (Lk 4:16), his observances of Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2), Hanukkah (John 10:22), Pentecost (Lk 24:49), and of course, Passover. Not only did he keep the Law, he fulfilled the Law and he fulfilled his name.

The meaning of his name is interesting when looking back at the Old Testament in relation to the Law. God made a covenant with Abraham and the sign of that covenant was circumcision. (Gen.17:9-14) God gave Moses the Law. But by following the Law, no one could ever enter heaven because no one could keep it perfectly, hence symbolically, Moses was not able to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land (a type of heaven) through observing the Law. Moses broke the Law through disobeying God and died without entering Canaan, the Promised Land. 

After Moses’ death, Joshua (Jesus in Greek), led the people across the Jordan (through the river of death) into the Promised Land! Joshua was a “Christ figure” in some ways in the First Testament. When Jesus said I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, it became very clear indeed, “the Lord saves.” While Joshua was a type, Jesus is the real Savior. What’s in his name? Salvation!

Music: “At the Name of Jesus”  First Plymouth Church Lincoln, NE

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 worshiping, 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 now, and blessed for evermore. Amen.    ―Prayers for Sunday Services, p.74

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Reader:  “The Word became flesh . . . ”

Response: “ . . . and dwelt among us.”

Scripture: Philippians 2:6-8

Though he was God,

   he did not think of equality with God

   as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

   he took the humble position of a slave

   and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

   he humbled himself in obedience to God

   and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Some thoughts:

Have you ever come across a story or recounting of an event that was so utterly fantastic that you said this cannot possibly be true? This recounting is truly beyond reason. No one could have imagined this actually happening! The birth of Jesus Christ was just such an event, the only one of its kind since the existence of time. He “appeared in human form.” You have undoubtedly heard or read this verse so many times. There is not another faith, no religious system, no group of prophets or enlightened individuals who claims a God in human flesh. Jesus’ claim is 100% God and 100% human being. He is not half and half. He does not morph back and forth between the two natures. He was not a prophet with magical powers nor simply a great moral teacher. He is the only God who has gained the victory over sin, death, and the powers of darkness. 

No other religious belief system, including modern Judaism, acknowledges the problem of original sin. God the Father certainly did. Jesus did. Not only did he become human, he lived among us in our sinful world. The word John uses in his gospel is “tabernacle,” just like the Tabernacle in the Old Testament dwelt in the midst of God’s people. Not only did he live with his people, he gave himself for them and for his creation. God’s becoming Incarnate was the confirmation that we could not have communed with God through any human effort. That perspective was God’s, not ours. Sadly, many religious systems continue to seek some form of connecting to a god through personal striving. 

In contrast, the birth of Jesus was the human flesh and blood action of God who greatly loves his people and his creation and chooses to bring them back to himself, to provide a way home, so that they again might enjoy him forever. No one but God could ever have thought up this fantastic story. History truly is his remarkable, astounding, and glorious story.

Music: “Joy to the World”  Voctave   Don’t miss this!!

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, though you are God, you did not think of equality with God as something you chose to use to your advantage. Instead, you gave up your divine privileges and took the humble position of a slave and were born as a human being. When you appeared as a baby, (I can’t imagine the adjustment that was), you humbled yourself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross for people that rejected and hated you. I greatly rejoice that God elevated you to the place of highest honor in all creation and gave you the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus, your name, every knee is going to bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that you are Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen and amen!                                                  ―adapted from Philippians 2:6-11 Daniel Sharp

Friday, December 30, 2022 Christmastide

Friday, December 30, 2022

Reader: “Jesus, the Light of the world, is coming again!”

Response: “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”

Scripture:  Matthew 2:13-23

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.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Some thoughts:

The serene rose colored picture in our minds of the manger with peaceful animals and humble shepherds surrounding Mary, Joseph, and the sleeping baby didn’t last long. (Perhaps it never was quite that calm.) It seems that God entered the world amidst strife, hostility, and terror, a real world like today’s. 

Imagine the jolt to Joseph as he was sleeping and an angel appeared again in another dream telling him of Herod’s evil plan to kill all Jewish boys. The angel’s instructions were to leave immediately for Egypt. So in the middle of the night, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, the Redeemer of Israel, vanished from Bethlehem only to arrive weeks  later in Egypt. 

There is an interesting parallel. Some 1400 years earlier, a similar thing happened, only in reverse. Moses, the redeemer of Israel, was born when a narcissistic pharaoh, not unlike Herod, ordered all Jewish baby boys to be killed. Moses’ mother hid him and his life was spared as he was raised by the pharaoh’s daughter. Moses, a type of Old Testament Redeemer figure, led God’s people from bondage of slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. Though Moses was not able to complete the journey, it was Joshua (“Jesus” in Greek) who actually led them into Canaan. The true Redeemer finished the job of leading people from slavery to sin to true freedom from sin and ultimately heaven, the eternal Promised Land.

After a period of time, the angel appeared again in a dream and told Joseph Herod had died and that they could go back to Israel. Another dream had them travel to northern Israel to the town of Nazareth, where Jesus was to spend his boyhood years. This move fulfilled the prophecy of Hosea 11:1 in which the prophet says that God will call his Son out of Egypt. It would appear from the beginning Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, as he grew up, were aware of the devil’s attempts to destroy God’s plan of redemption and recreation. Again, Jesus is well acquainted with the pressures and stresses of life in this world from his early years on throughout his life on this earth. Trust him for the stresses we face.

Music: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”  Slavic Chorale

            “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7670CXvPX0  Casting Crowns (original version)

Prayer:We pray Thee to be compassionate toward our weakness, O Lord, to guard us in peril, to direct us in our doubt, and to save us from falling into sin. From the evil that is around and within us, graciously deliver us. Make the path of duty plain before us and keep us in it even unto the end. Amen.                   ―King’s Chapel Liturgy, 1831

Thursday, December 29, 2022 Christmastide

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Reader: “Who is my mother?”

Response: “Who are my brothers?”

Scripture:  Matthew 12:46-50, John 7:1-5

Some thoughts:  

As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.”

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

After this, Jesus traveled around Galilee. He wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death.But soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters, and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.  

Some thoughts:

Have you ever thought what it might have been like to have Jesus as a son or a big brother? What was it like for Mary and Joseph to parent this one-of-a-kind son? How was he treated compared to his other brothers and sisters? Did you ever have to correct him? It is not hard to read some tension into the family interaction you just read. Some commentators read the circumstance of Mary and the arrival of his brothers as an effort to bring Jesus back home to Nazareth because they thought he had “gone off the rails” and was losing it! We can’t help but notice Jesus’ rather blunt response in trying to help them understand his mission to the world. They didn’t. Can we say, “Awkward?”

In the Johnine pericope it appears that it was very common knowledge that his brothers were not believers at this point. You can also read a “dig” in their comments. It is one of the rare places in all of Scripture where you see Jesus’ family react to him personally. Growing up with someone who was sinless and perfect in every way would be something we cannot imagine. But I can easily imagine it would bring tension. A sibling would be continually reminded of an impossible standard to match thanks to your big brother.  

Yet how many people today believe if they just do enough good and live their best life, they will come out OK in the end. God will be pleased. Not so! Jesus’ brothers were reminded daily, monthly, and yearly that perfection was God’s standard . . . and their brother was doing it . . . and he claimed to be God no less!  

Following the resurrection at least two of his brothers believed in him as truly the Son of God, the Messiah. The New Testament writers of the books of Jude and James were those two other sons of Mary and Joseph. Interestingly, Jude refers to himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James” and James refers to himself as “a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” They both expressed their relation to their earthly brother in heavenly, Messianic terms, the Christ. The both became leaders in the early church.

We too have the privilege of describing our relation to Jesus as our brother through his adoption of us as brothers and sisters. Our big Brother has set us free from having to perfect the law. Along with the magi, we too have been guided to the “perfect light,” Jesus, the perfect Light of the world.

Music:  “Kings of the Orient”  Robert Shaw Chorale

Prayer:O God, may you be merciful and bless us; may your face smile with favor on us.  May your ways be known throughout the earth, your saving power among all people everywhere. Along with the magi, may the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. Let the whole world sing for joy, because you govern the nations with justice and guide the people of the whole world. May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. Then the earth will yield its harvests, and God, our God, will richly bless us. Yes, God, you will bless us, and people all over the world will fear you, one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.                                                                                                 ―adapted from Psalm 67       Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, December 28, 2022 Feast of the Holy Innocents

Wednesday, December 28, 2022     (Feast of the Holy Innocents)

Reader: “His mercy is for those who fear him . . .”

Response: “. . . from generation to generation.”

Scripture: Matthew 2:16-18

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.”

Some thoughts:

Christmas is undoubtedly one of the most joyous times of the year. Without trying to be a party crasher a few days after Christmas, it is worth looking at the whole picture of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Consider the fact that Israel was being occupied by a foreign power. Herod, the faux king of the Jews, an Edomite, a descendent of Esau, having been put into power by the Romans, was insane and dangerous. (You’ll recall the Edomites were enemies of Israel.) This paranoid man ordered every little boy under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed in order to thwart any claim to his throne since he had learned from the magi that a king of the Jews had been born. 

Treachery! What a word. An evil man marshaled his resources to find out what was happening. His sages gave him perfect information. The Messiah, the anointed one, was to be born in Bethlehem only a few miles away from Jerusalem. For whatever reason, Herod did not go to find the baby himself. He was hated and feared by the Jews so he may have feared for his own safety and wanted to keep a lower profile away from the public in order to find out the details. 

Note God’s sovereignty even in bad situations. Herod was actually acting as an agent of the devil in seeking to thwart God’s plan of bringing redemption to all people. Satan succeeded in the Garden of Eden in bringing death and destruction to the human race. But he did not succeed here. He did not succeed in Jesus’ temptation. He did not succeed in the Garden of Gethsemane. And he most certainly did not succeed at Calvary. The irony is that while the devil sought to kill Jesus at his birth in Bethlehem, Jesus voluntarily gave up his life at the cross in Jerusalem bringing redemption to the whole created order. Not only did Jesus die, he rose from the grave defeating death and the devil eternally; he ascended to the Father, and we await his return. The joy of Christmas becomes eternal joy in the presence of God. That is what is ahead for us!

Music: “Coventry Carol”   Ashley Serena         Choices today!

             “Coventry Carol”      Vox One Jazz

              “Coventry Carol”    Gjeilo      CORO Vocal Artists

Prayer:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”                                     ―Psalm 23:4

Tuesday, December 27, 2022, Christmastide

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Reader:  “A Savior is born!”

Response: “Who is Christ the Lord.”

Scripture:  Matthew 2:1-2; 7-12

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.”

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

While we are touched by the humility of the shepherds in the nativity story, we are also well aware that the Christ child was worshiped by magi from the East, possibly Persia. What is notable in reading this passage is that the worship of a baby was received with joy. Humans and idols were not to be worshiped. The word used here is the most common one used for the worship of God and Christ. It is the same word used at the end of Matthew’s gospel immediately prior to Jesus’ ascension. It is used to pay reverence or homage to God or to Christ. It is also the word Satan uses in reference to himself at Christ’s temptation. “If you will bow down and worship me . . .” (Mt 4:9)

These magi, astrologers, or some form of astronomers studied the heavens for signs. You’ll recall the Israelites spent many years in exile in Babylon, where the Scriptures were studied in synagogues, probably developed during the absence of the presence of the Temple. In other words, Old Testament Scriptures may have been studied by the magi which would account for their knowledge and interest in the star and Israel’s new born king. Daniel worked with such men hundreds of years earlier during Persian rule (Dan 2:27). 

The gifts of the magi further attested to the significance of their visit. Gold is the symbol of kingship, a gift for kings. Solomon’s Temple was lined with gold (cf. Queen of Sheba I Kings 10). Frankincense is symbolic of deity and was used in worship in the offering of prayers, symbolizing prayers ascending heavenward. The gift of myrrh seems a little unusual in that it is used in embalming in preparing bodies for burial. Such a gift may have underscored the humanity of baby Jesus. It was also used in making incense. It is also significant that these men were not Jewish. We’ll say more about that on Epiphany on January 6th. 

Upon the departure of the magi, an angel told Joseph and Mary to leave immediately in the middle of the night for Egypt for Herod was coming to kill all baby boys. Some commentators have speculated that the gifts of the magi were perhaps used by the poor couple to finance their journey to the safety of Egypt. 

Music: “Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning” Keith, Kristyn Getty & Ricky Scaggs

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning

Dawn on our darkness and come to our aid;

Star of the east, the horizon adorning,

Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

What shall we give him, in costly devotion?

Shall we bring incense and offerings divine,

Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,

Myrrh from the forest or gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each lavish oblation,

Vainly with gifts would his favor secure

Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,

Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

   -Reginald Heber, 1811, alt. 

Prayer:  

O ye heights of heaven, adore him,

angel hosts, his praises sing,

powers, dominions, bow before him,

and extol our God and King:

let no tongue on earth be silent,

every voice in concert ring,

evermore and evermore!

Christ, to thee with God the Father,

and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,

hymn and chant and high thanksgiving

and unwearied praises be:

honor, glory, and dominion,

and eternal victory,

evermore and evermore!―Of the Father’s Love Begotten, 4th century

Monday, December 26, 2022 Christmastide

Monday, December 26, 2022

Reader: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”   

Response: “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!”

Scripture: Acts 6:8-15, 7:59-60

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.

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.

Some thoughts:

This pericope following Christmas Day may seem quite out of place. Actually if I were following the lectionary (a systematic reading of Scripture), this is the passage assigned for today. Can you guess why? Stephen was celebrated as the first Christian martyr. The birth of Jesus upset the world then, even as it does today. 

Immediately following the verse which ends chapter six, Stephen addresses the Jewish leadership in the whole of chapter seven. He traces their Jewish history from the  call of Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, to King David. Stephen accused the Jewish leadership of resisting the Holy Spirit like their ancestors he had just cited. At this point, we come to the last two verses where they rushed him and stoned him to death, the result being Stephen was the first Christian killed for bearing witness to Jesus as the Savior of all peoples.

We may think of martyrdom as something that happened to past believers. Not so. Today Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians to live. One of my IWS students from Nigeria was murdered along with his pregnant wife a couple of years ago. Christianity and Judeo-Christian values are under constant attack even in the United States. Should we be surprised? No. Jesus said such would be the case. Christianity upsets the social and political order.

While we have wonderful feelings of joy about the Christmas season, we dare not forget the wood of the manger is the first step to the wood of the cross. It’s important to always remember that Christmas and Calvary are part of the same story, just different chapters . . . they are not self-contained, isolated events. 

Stephen is a great reminder that the birth of Jesus in our lives can (will) also bring suffering and pain at times. Jesus promised us that would be the case. Tertullian in the second century is credited with saying, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” There were times when Roman soldiers were so amazed at the Christians facing martyr’s death, that they converted to Christianity on the spot and died as martyrs alongside those they came to kill. Never under-estimate your witness to those around you.

Music: “Good King Wenceslas”   A story of a paige and the king’s generosity on the Feast of St. Stephen

Prayer:

Awake, my soul, and with the sun

thy daily stage of duty run;

shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise

to pay thy morning sacrifice.

Direct, control, suggest this day

All I design or do or say,

That all my powers, with all their might,

In thy sole glory may unite.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise him all creatures here below

Praise him above ye heavenly host

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.   ―Thomas Ken, 1670

Christmas, Sunday, December 25, 2022

Sunday, Christmas Day, December 25, 2022

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, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a 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.

Some thoughts:

I thought I’d write something a little different today.  Re-read the story leisurely, putting yourself as one of the shepherds. Then imagine you were setting this event to music. How could you capture the beauty and wonder of the significance of the birth of the Savior of the world? George Frederich Handel attempted to do that and more!

George F. Handel wrote the entire Messiah in 24 days. In 1741 on August 22nd he began and finished by September 14th. He never left his house for three weeks, often weeping as he wrote. Upon finishing the “Hallelujah Chorus” he commented, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” Handel hoped the Messiah would be used to draw people to the gospel. He wanted it performed in theaters rather than churches in order to reach more people. He wanted the music to touch people at the heart level leading them to Christ. Take time to listen to this in its entirety. It’s one of the greatest works written by a human being.

Music: “Messiah”  Handel   Voces8   (This is the cleanest best version I’ve heard, and I’ve heard many! You hear every note. Diction is marvelous. Terrific singers! Excellent conductor. Take the time.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFjQ77ol2DI&t=2035s     1:35:19 

Bonus: “The Shepherd”       from “The Chosen”   Short film 28:00 minutes

Prayer:

As the Lord of yesterday, today, and forever, you made peace with everything in heaven and on earth. Your work is accomplished. We ask that you support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is accomplished. Lord, how we long for your return. In your mercy come again to this world and receive us unto yourself, grant us a safe lodging in our heavenly home, the home you are preparing for us. And grant us a holy rest, restored communion with you, and peace at last through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

      -John Henry Newman 1801-1890 adapted ―Daniel Sharp

Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24, 2022

Saturday, Christmas Eve, December 24, 2022

Reader: “A Savior is born!”

Response: “Who is Christ the Lord.”

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-5 

 The people who walk in darkness

      will see a great light.

   For those who live in a land of deep darkness,

      a light will shine.

 You will enlarge the nation of Israel,

      and its people will rejoice.

   They will rejoice before you

      as people rejoice at the harvest

      and like warriors dividing the plunder.

 For you will break the yoke of their slavery

      and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.

   You will break the oppressor’s rod,

      just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

 The boots of the warrior

      and the uniforms bloodstained by war

   will all be burned.

      They will be fuel for the fire.

 For a child is born to us,

      a son is given to us.

   The government will rest on his shoulders.

      And he will be called:

   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 His government and its peace

      will never end.

   He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David

      for all eternity.

   The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies

      will make this happen!

 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.

Some thoughts:

Time is a funny thing. In our world it is a linear measure, giving us a beginning, middle, and ending, a starting and stopping point. The irony is that often we wait for “time to pass” while we wait for something else to “begin.”  Several different kinds of things are happening within that time framework. (And you are thinking, “Dan, stay away from the eggnog!”) There is a point here. 

For many thousands of years God’s people had looked for a Redeemer of some sort, a Messiah who would free them from bondage and subjugation to some ruling power. There had been many hints through the years, but no action and then . . . ” At that time the Roman Emperor . . . ” God, who dwells in timelessness, entered measured time. By naming Augustus and the Roman Empire, Luke made sure we knew this entrance was not myth but history, measured time which had a beginning, middle, and end. We have names, dates, places, events all occurring in chronological time. Who would ever think that the simple words “At that time . . . ” would make it possible for linear time to find its way into eternity and make it possible for us to leave time as we know it to dwell forever with God in unending  eternity?  What we celebrate tomorrow is so much more than the birth of a baby.  The time of waiting is nearly up. We celebrate his humble entrance into our time. Glory!

Music: “And the Glory” from Messiah       Voces8    (The best version I’ve heard!)

Fabulous Bonus: “O Holy Night”  Voctave!  (Two of the best a cappella groups, 

                                                                                       One classical & one pop)

Prayer:  

O ye heights of heaven, adore him,

angel hosts, his praises sing,

powers, dominions, bow before him,

and extol our God and King:

let no tongue on earth be silent,

every voice in concert ring,

evermore and evermore!

Christ, to thee with God the Father,

and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,

hymn and chant and high thanksgiving

and unwearied praises be:

honor, glory, and dominion,

and eternal victory,

evermore and evermore!

―Of the Father’s Love Begotten, 4th century

Friday, December 23, 2022

Friday, December 23, 2022

Reader: “Jesus, the Light of the world, is coming!”

Response: “. . . he is coming soon!”

Scripture:  Matthew 1:18-25

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!

      She will give birth to a son,

   and they will call him Immanuel,

      which means ‘God is with us.’”

 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Some thoughts:

Joseph has always been a man who intrigues me. While the Scriptures do not tell us how he found out, I would guess Mary simply told him what had happened. Put yourself in his place? Your fiancée tells you she is pregnant, but no earthly man is the father. What’s more, her story is that the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her and that is how she became pregnant! It doesn’t stop there. She is having a boy who will be the Son of God! His name will be Jesus and he will rule God’s Kingdom forever. Right! This is too much to believe!

If I were Joseph, my first response would be to ask her how she was feeling. I might suggest we go see a therapist or someone to help her work through this story and try to get to the root cause. She clearly needs to deal with reality. I would ask her not to talk about it with anyone. I would try to minimize her exposure to society and maybe suggest I help her move to another town . . . far away for a while. Visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, sounds like a good idea. Maybe she can help Mary get back to reality.

From reading the Scripture passage, my guess is that several if not all of those thoughts went through Joseph’s mind. It would take something like a direct visit from an angel of the Lord to persuade me of her truthfulness and that God was really directing this whole endeavor. The angel even gave Joseph specific details regarding the baby, further confirming the truthfulness of what had happened.

After the angelic visit, in faith Joseph took Mary as his wife right away. We find in Luke’s gospel that Mary went to stay with her aunt Elizabeth for three months until John was born.  So the first three months of Mary’s pregnancy were spent away from her home. We don’t know if Joseph went with her or if he stayed in Nazareth. At any rate, he was one solid, steady man whose total trust was in the Lord. I have no doubt that he and Mary were the subject of much gossip in Nazareth. We know that he was still living when Jesus was twelve. It appears he died sometime later and was gone by the time Jesus started his public ministry at around age thirty. From what we read in Scripture, he was a thoughtful, observant Jew, and a considerate husband who took good care of his wife and eventual family of at least seven children. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have God as a son? I’m looking forward to talking with Joseph!

Music: “O Magnum Mysterium”   Morton Lauridsen  Los Angeles Master Chorale

This piece was written specifically for this choir. Paul Salamunovich, conductor

O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament,

That animals should see the new-born Lord,   (in tradition a veiled reference to Is 1:3)

        lying in a manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy  

        to bear Christ the Lord.           (reference to Elizabeth’s comment Lk 1:42-43)

Prayer:

Father in heaven, may I be as trusting and faithful to those things from your hand that seem mysterious, improbable, puzzling, or impossible. Thank you for the example of Joseph’s faith and integrity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

                                                                                                         ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, December 22, 2022

December 22, Thursday

Reader: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.”

Response: “For he has visited and redeemed his people.”

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.

Some thoughts:

In this prologue to the book of John, (many of whom believe that the first five verses were actually a hymn text of the early church), we see clearly that Jesus, the divine Logos, was the agent of creation. Everything in existence, seen and unseen, was created by and through him. He has never not existed . . . Stop a moment and spend some time trying to wrap your mind around that truth. Since he has always existed and he created everything that is in existence, the Word knows everything about everything! It  is a comfort to know that someone is puzzled by nothing. Because he knows everything, he can solve everything. Nothing is too hard or impossible. But life is not about solving problems. Eventually, because God is who he is, there will be no problems ever again!

In this passage, the material physical life and the spiritual life are melded together. Whereas people have often tried to separate these two into different realms, the Scripture unites them in God’s purpose for creation. Jesus breathes life into every creature. The physical life he gives also brings spiritual light, an inborn realization of the existence of God. (Rom 1:19-21) 

However, something happened to God’s perfect creation, a creation he called “very good.” Due to human rebellion against God (MAJOR problem!), the Son of God stepped out of eternity and entered planet Earth by taking on flesh and blood and lived in what is the country of modern day Israel. That sounds like fantasy, but it isn’t. The Father determined he would redeem this vast universe of creation through the redeeming gift of his Son. (Gen.3:15) So the eternal, creator Logos of “yesterday,” was born the human, earthly Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem. As he lives within us, we are living in the “today” part of Jesus, who returned to heaven and intercedes for us on our behalf. Experiencing the “forever” part of Jesus is yet to come. When we begin to flesh out Jesus as “the same yesterday, today, and forever” in the context of his existence prior to creation, his time on earth, and his eternal Kingdom, our minds begin to stretch in wonder at God’s great love and humility. We begin to get a glimpse of “the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” You may want to reread today’s passage reflecting on some of these thoughts.

Music:   “Behold the Lamb of God” from Messiah.  Gramophone Chorus of Ghana    

                                   DO NOT MISS THIS.

Prayer:

Holy and compassionate Father, out of your great love you brought forth the earth and world, indeed the entire vastness of the universe, all that is seen and unseen, all powers and forces and sounds and color and ideas. You invented thinking and reason and love. In our rebellion we turned away from you and severed a perfect communion. Our Savior, Jesus, your holy Son, stepped onto this planet and into this life to provide all of creation’s way back to you. Lord Jesus, how we thank and praise you for what is unimaginable for us to comprehend. When you returned to sit at the Father’s right hand, you sent the Holy Spirit to abide with us until you return. Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we praise you now and forever into the next world and throughout eternity when all is healed. Amen.                                     ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, December 23, 2022

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Reader: “His mercy is for those who fear him.”

Response: “ . . . from generation to generation.”

Scripture:   Luke 1:46-55

 Mary responded,

   “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.” 

Some thoughts:    

The Magnificat, (based on the first word of this text in Latin), is one of the great songs of Scripture. It is filled with Old Testament quotations from the Psalms, Isaiah, Job, I Samuel, among others. Like Elizabeth, there was a woman in the Old Testament who dealt with barrenness, a cultural stigma in the Jewish society of that day. The woman’s name was Hannah. After infertile years of prayer, the Lord granted Hannah’s request, and she gave birth to Samuel, the first great prophet/priest of Israel, whom she dedicated to the Lord. It was Samuel who anointed Israel’s first king Saul and the great king David. In I Samuel, chapter two, Hannah sang a song of rejoicing to which Mary’s Magnificat is strikingly similar. As a little Jewish girl growing up, Mary would certainly have been very familiar with Hannah’s song. In Mary’s day, Jews were very familiar with the entire First Testament so it is not at all surprising that Mary’s song had a similar structure and some common themes with Hannah’s song. (I Samuel 2:1-10)

Like Hannah’s, Mary’s song can be broken into four similar sections: 1) praising God for what he has done in her life; 2) she sings of God’s power and judgment; 3) God acts on behalf of the poor and humbles the rich; 4) and finally, God has helped and been merciful to Israel. 

It is interesting to me to consider that Hannah sang her song in gratitude to God and kept her vow, giving her son to God for ministry in the Temple. Elizabeth,who had been in the same situation until she conceived John, likewise gave her son to serve God as    the forerunner of the Messiah. Like Hannah, Zechariah sang a song (Lk 1:68-79) similar in theme to that of Hannah’s and Mary’s. While both Hannah and Elizabeth had most remarkable human conceptions, Mary’s was truly a miracle. God set aside each of the three boys for his specific purposes. Samuel, Israel’s first prophet and priest, would anoint both Israel’s first king, Saul, and its greatest king, David. John would announce the coming of the King of Israel. And Jesus would be the summation of the other two boys entering the world as the Son of God and Son of Man, the eternal King.  

Music: “Magnificat”   J S Bach    Nikolaus Harnoncourt

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YML7uc9sdl8    3:15 for the first movement, you can listen to more!

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach; help me chastely to flee it, and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be thine alone. 

Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in thee. 

Give me a deeper knowledge of thyself as Savior, Master, Lord, and King. 

Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth. 

Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from thee. 

I have no master but thee, 

no law by thy will, 

no delight but thyself, 

no wealth but that thou givest, 

no good but that thou blessest, 

no peace but that thou bestowest. 

I am nothing but that thou makest me, 

I have nothing but that I receive from thee, 

I can be nothing but that grace adorns me. 

Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water. In the name of Jesus, Amen.                                                               ―from Valley of Vision, p.75

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Reader: “You are blessed” 

Response: “because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Scripture: Luke 1:39-45

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Some thoughts:

Put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment. What would you do had you received the news of Gabriel? Who would you tell? Joseph? Would he believe you? It’s safe to say he would not! Did you notice how Mary learned of Elizabeth’s situation? I believe the angel gave Mary a hint that maybe she should visit her relative, Elizabeth, knowing that Elizabth had likewise received miraculous news and was already six months pregnant. This news undoubtedly bolstered Mary’s confidence that something very miraculous was happening on a larger scale. Did Mary tell Joseph? Scholars have speculated both ways. But with something this miraculous, it only makes sense that an angel (perhaps Gabriel? We are not told the angel’s name.) would also visit Joseph with news this unusual. Like Mary, Joseph believed the angel’s words. Mary’s story would be virtually impossible to believe unless confirmed by an angel!

When we have good news, we just have to tell somebody. Mary had to share the news with Elizabeth and who would better understand, perhaps the only person who would believe her. They were connected not only as relatives, but as the two key people in God’s unfolding plan. 

Elizabeth is an older woman who had been praying for years with her husband for children to no avail. There is no greater happiness than to want children, pray for children, experience infertility, and then become pregnant. Having children is one of the greatest joys in all of life. Nancy and I were married for eleven years before our first child was born. We experienced five years of praying and waiting and wanting until our prayers were answered. It was another four years of praying and waiting for our second son. The joy of finding out that we were finally pregnant was one of the greatest days of joy in our lives! Feeling the baby kick was so delightful (more for me than Nancy!) 

For Elizabeth to realize that the long awaited “Voice in the Wilderness” was in her womb and then to greet Mary who was bearing the Savior of the world . . . Can you hear Elizabeth bubbling over and imagine baby John dancing for joy in her womb? Did you notice these women’s joy focuses on God’s blessing as a result of their trust in him? (Notice physician Luke calls John a baby, not a fetus!) May the Holy Spirit who filled the baby in Elizabeth’s womb with joy, fill you with joy this Christmas season. Today, believe the word of the Lord in your own life and rejoice! Tell the miraculous good news! God has come in person!

Music:  “The Hands that First Held Mary’s Child”  Arman Ferrer with Kilyawan Consortium of Voices  

Prayer:

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Amen!

Monday, December 19, 2022

Monday, December 19, 2022

Reader: “The Word became flesh,”

Response:  “And dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

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 sa

id, “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’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

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

Some thoughts:

Stop and think about it. For thousands of years the world proceeded from day to day, sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset . . . People are born every day; people die every day. These things happen all the time, today included. Yet, one day many years ago, was different from all those that had existed since the dawn of creation, and utterly unlike all those that followed up to today. It was the day the angel, Gabriel, made a visit to a teenage girl in Israel named Mary. From all accounts Mary was minding her own business and engaged to a man by the name of Joseph who was a carpenter. Their families lived in a small, very ordinary village of Nazareth in southern Galilee. There was nothing to indicate anything unusual regarding Mary except the Lord had ‘favor’ toward her. 

“Favor” is an interesting word. Being favored by God is even more compelling. Note in Mary’s case what “favored by God” meant. Gabriel articulates “favor.” The “Lord is with you.” God’s presence surrounds you; you are not alone. God chose you specifically. God will act in your life. “You will conceive and give birth to a son” to be named Jesus. In this case, being favored by God includes being the mother of the Son of God! Your Son will have an eternal Kingdom. This is overwhelming “favor!” Mary asked a practical question, not in disbelief for she believed Gabriel, but in seeking to understand what was happening. After hearing Gabriel’s straightforward answer, Mary responded humbly, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you said about me come true.” 

So what do we know about receiving the Lord’s favor? Mary did not seek the Lord’s favor, it originated with him. The heart of bestowing favor comes from the heart of God. This kind of favor is not something people can work for, nor expect to receive. It comes from God’s grace and his loving purpose for each of his children. The root of “favor” is in charis, grace, specifically grace on the part of the giver. It is purely a gift from the heart of the giver.  

I have a very dear long-time friend, who, when talking about his life of ministry all over the world frequently says, “I feel so favored by God.” The testimony of his life is filled with affirmations of God’s favor as evidenced by the advance of the gospel in which he has been involved. Finding God’s favor is at God’s discretion. We have examples of Noah (Gen 6:8), David (Acts 7:46), and Daniel (Dan 1:9) receiving the favor of the Lord. Also, occurring frequently in Scripture, we read of God causing certain people to come into favor with someone else as part of fulfilling God’s grand plan. Esther (Es 5:2), Joseph (Gen 39:4), and Ruth (Ru 2:10) would be such examples. The bottom line regarding favor? It appears that humble people obedient to God’s voice are the ones who receive his favor. And remember, God’s favor does not always mean a life of comfort and ease! Note the lives of the people we have mentioned including the mother of Jesus. 

Music: “For Ages Women Hoped and Prayed”   Wheaton Bible Church   

     “Angels We Have Heard on High”     Home Free    (Could not leave this out!)

Prayer:

Lord God of heaven and earth, enlarge our souls with Thy divine favor, that we may hope all things, endure all things; and become messengers of Thy healing mercy to the grievances and infirmities of men. In all things attune our hearts to the holiness and harmony of Thy kingdom. And hasten the time when Thy kingdom shall come, and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.   ―James Martineau, adapted Daniel Sharp, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.356

Fourth Sunday in Advent, December18, 2022

Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 18, 2022

Reader: “Jesus Christ is,”

Response:  “the light of the world.”

Scripture:  Hebrews 13:7-17

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them.

We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.

Some thoughts:

Before narrowing in on the specifics of the nativity of Jesus, it is important to see the grandest picture. One of the themes of these first two weeks of advent has been the Second Coming of Christ in a glorified human body to bring final judgment, and establish a new creation in God’s eternal kingdom. John the Baptist has played a primary role in announcing the coming of this human Savior. Before proceeding into some of the specifics of the Nativity itself in the coming days, this pericope in Hebrews gives us one last final overview. 

Why did God take on human flesh? He became incarnate to bring restoration to the whole created order. But why a human being? Jesus is responsible for the creation of all human beings. In order to fully and completely identify with people, of necessity he became one of us in every way. If his sacrifice for our sin was to be efficacious on our behalf, God had to have true human flesh and blood, otherwise the death on the cross would have been an ethereal sacrifice, a phantom, not the real thing. A Jesus that was not completely human could not identify with us anymore than we identify with a fly. The incarnation of Christ was verifiably real because, upon the death of his Son, God the Father split the curtain in the Temple. Jesus had to be human for God’s plan to have meaning. So the blood of the sacrifice had to be human and divine and had to have no taint of sin. As a result, the blood is eternally effective, yesterday, today, and forever. All yesterdays and tomorrows are covered.

Concerning the “today” part, Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand interceding on our behalf. He is praying for you today. It’s a comfort to know Jesus prays for his children even when we are unaware. He is fully tuned to everything happening in your life today and in our world. He knows every world headline right now. He is surprised by nothing.

Finally, as regards the “forever,” he will come again to restore all, making a new creation and then rule for all eternity. Forever means Jesus will never change. The nativity is concerned with an eternal destination for his children. By implication, this epistle reminds us that “this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” Jesus’ time on earth was his pilgrimage beginning in Bethlehem going all the way to the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is thus able to relate in both earthly time and eternity in heaven at the same time. Our journey with him gives us the same opportunity during these days of advent. Don’t get caught living only on earth!

Music: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Wheaton College Choir and Symphony Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmtKlOB-0-I   Spirituals Choir  (another joyous setting!)

Prayer:  

Lord God, Father of our Messiah, the one who is the source of perfect knowledge, perfect understanding, heavenly timing, merciful patience, and compassionate judgment, forgive us Lord for our narrow, short-sighted understanding of the Nativity.  This Christmas may we grasp a bigger picture of your restoration plan than we know now. In gratitude for your mercy, we pray this through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.    ―Daniel Sharp  

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Reader: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

Response: “Who takes away the sin of the world.”

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 Scripture clearly states 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. 44 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!”

Some thoughts:

This is an interesting passage in that you can have the facts right before you and come to the wrong conclusion. Some of the people believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Others leaned toward his being the Prophet who was to come just prior to the Messiah’s appearance. The Pharisees, however, were not convinced. They had done their homework and had a couple of things dead on right. Messiah must come from the line of King David, from the tribe of Judah. Right. Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, which was also David’s birthplace. Right. 

It is a little surprising to me that they did not ask Jesus where he was born or to which Jewish tribe he belonged. Their response was that the Messiah could not possibly come from Galilee. (Had they studied the Scriptures as had Matthew (2:23), they would have discovered that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene, one from the town of Nazareth in Galilee!) Galilee was not the “best neighborhood” in which to live. Populated by a mix of people, many of whom were not Jewish, it was more of a backwoods low class territory. It clearly did not have any prestige or rank in the view of the Pharisees and more orthodox Jews who lived in Jerusalem, the site of the Temple. 

There is a dynamic here that is very much in play today. Did you notice how the Pharisees put down the Temple guards when they spoke openly and honestly about their interesting experience in listening to Jesus? Notice the Pharisee’s groupthink and attempt to intimidate and ridicule anyone who did not hold their viewpoint. They would mock the person rather than address the content and substance of what was being said. Never a question from the Pharisees like, “What about Jesus’ speaking impressed you? What was different?” Nicodemus, however, was cut of different cloth.  

It is interesting that Nicodemus, a leader among the Pharisees and the one who had come to Jesus by night and later assisted in Jesus’ burial, spoke up and asked a very thoughtful, pointed question. He was not intimidated by those in power. Rather than “telling” the Pharisees, he asked a question to encourage further thought and dialogue  regarding the real question, “Who is Jesus?” Not a bad strategy when we get into conversations regarding Jesus. Do more asking than telling. You’ll notice that was often Jesus’ method as well.

Music: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”  arr. Dan Forrest   Jamaica Youth Chorale

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, as the date of your birth celebration draws ever nearer, may we never forget that you are alive right now. As we engage people in conversation today, help us to be thoughtful to ask questions that encourage others to think of you and your impact on their life. Help us to have the boldness of Nicodemus, even if it produces awkwardness. Give us a tender, strong, and compassionate heart for all those we encounter today. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who became a child, that we might become the children of God. Amen.   ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, December 16, 2022

Friday, December 16, 2022

Reader: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. For he has visited and redeemed his people . . .”

Response:  “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Scripture:  Hebrews 1:4-14

This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names. For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus:

   “You are my Son.

      Today I have become your Father.”

   God also said,

   “I will be his Father,

      and he will be my Son.”

 And when he brought his firstborn Son into the world, God said,

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

 Regarding the angels, he says,

   “He sends his angels like the winds,

      his servants like flames of fire.”

 But to the Son he says,

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

      You rule with a scepter of justice.

 You love justice and hate evil.

      Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you,

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

 He also says to the Son,

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

      and made the heavens with your hands.

 They will perish, but you remain forever.

      They will wear out like old clothing.

 You will fold them up like a cloak

      and discard them like old clothing.

   But you are always the same;

      you will live forever.”

 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.”

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

Some thoughts:     

First-century Jews, the people to whom this letter was written, had a fascination with angels and regarded them highly as being involved in God’s messages to his people and particularly in the giving of the law to Moses. (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19) So the writer of Hebrews wants to make clear that Jesus, God’s Son, is superior to angels. Remember, the Jewish readers are trying to see how Jesus fits into what they have believed. That is why there is so much attention given to Jesus’ position in relation to angels.

In fact, angels are to worship the Son of God. While the Son is related to God the Father, the angels are not. Whenever angels appear in Scripture, it is always to deliver a message from God. The last book in the Old Testament, Malachi, is Hebrew for “messenger.” The angels were carriers of messages from God to his people. 

The angel Gabriel who spoke to Daniel in the First Testament is the same angel who hundreds of years later came to Zechariah to tell of John’s birth. He also came to Mary at the annunciation. An angel came to Joseph to tell him of Mary’s Holy Spirit pregnancy. A host of angels came to the shepherds in the fields to give them the message that a Savior had been born. The Jewish Christians were aware of all of this and now the writer was making an exclamation point, Jesus is not only the messenger of God, he is the message of God personified! To understand God’s message most clearly, focus on Jesus; God has come to earth in human flesh. Can you imagine how difficult this would be to grasp for the Jewish readers? This story did not fit into anything they were expecting or could have anticipated.  

There is no god in the history of the world who has ever communicated personally and directly to humans in human language as a human being. Can you begin to see the challenge of a radical, unimaginable shift and impact on Jewish thinking this truth of ‘God in human flesh’ had as it began to sink in? Giving up the old way of thinking about God was disturbing to many people and a great joy to others. The same is true today. As we study the Scriptures, how is our thinking about God being challenged? Or are we set with a fixed image of who God is poured in cement (with rebar!)? Remember, we are in the process of becoming Christ-like. Process in this case means change. The word for it is sanctification. We need to always be growing in our understanding of our Lord.

Music: “Lo, How A Rose”  Pacific Chorale

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, beseeching Thee to create a little pool of heavenly peace within my heart ere I lie down to sleep this evening. 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 dear Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Christ. Amen.   –John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.27

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Reader: The Son radiates God’s own glory

Response: and expresses the very character of God.”

Scripture:  Hebrews 1:1-3

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.

Some thoughts:

This passage of Scripture is one of the more profound, far-reaching pericopes in all of Scripture. We have been reading these past weeks how God spoke through the prophets as we have had readings from Malachi, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Micah. While all of the writings spoke of a coming Messiah, in some cases the advent of his birth and in others the advent of his Return, we are now in this passage directed to God’s immediate presence on earth speaking not through the prophets, but through his very own Son.  

Here we learn more specifics concerning God and his incarnate Son. Everything in existence is the Son’s inheritance. Everything was made for him. Through God’s Son all creation came into being. The Son is filled with God’s glory and is the very expression of God in human form. The word translated “radiates” is used just once in the New Testament. It includes the idea of brilliant brightness which is not a reflection of another light, but is itself the source of the brilliance. The Son is God, is the Source of the light. He is the sustainer of everything that is through his unlimited and matchless power having always existed. In these verses we are beginning to see the ramifications and the overwhelming significance of the birth of Jesus. 

Because of the Son of God, the universe has come into existence. Now the Son of God has taken on human flesh and come to planet earth. You can see that his nativity is so much more significant than the simple birth of a baby boy in a feeding trough as wonderful as that is. God, who is not subject to time, entered into earthly time at his conception. And now he enters the world as a baby that he might redeem all of Creation. This baby came to earth to give his life enabling all who place their trust in his efficacious work on the cross receiving forgiveness of sin might spend eternity in his presence when making the transition from life on earth to life in heaven. To help give you a bigger picture of Jesus’ birth, read Isaiah 53 thinking of a baby in a manger to remind yourself of God’s perspective.

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our message?

To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,

like a root in dry ground.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,

nothing to attract us to him.He was despised and rejected—

a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

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

He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,

a punishment for his own sins!

But he was pierced for our rebellion,

crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

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

Yet the Lord laid on him

the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,

yet he never said a word.

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,

he did not open his mouth.

Unjustly condemned,

he was led away.

No one cared that he died without descendants,

that his life was cut short in midstream.

But he was struck down

for the rebellion of my people.

He had done no wrong

and had never deceived anyone.

But he was buried like a criminal;

he was put in a rich man’s grave.

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

and cause him grief.

Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,

he will have many descendants.

He will enjoy a long life,

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

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,

he will be satisfied.

And because of his experience,

my righteous servant will make it possible

for many to be counted righteous,

for he will bear all their sins.

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,

because he exposed himself to death.

He was counted among the rebels.

He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

This is our God who “loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”   Jn 3:16

Music: “Joy to the World” The Spirituals Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGyYAzrctzk   traditional  Soundiva Classical Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDmIddF7DfQ Celtic Women  (A production!)

Prayer:

O Lord, our self-revealing God, we thank you for giving us the full picture of your love as the whole of Scripture unfolds. In it we see from the beginning to the end how you took care of each detail and how truly dependent we are upon you for everything. Thank you for your willingness to inhabit this planet, this speck in the universe, to make possible the restoration of our communion with you. Forgive us when we simply and flippantly take your sacrifice for granted in our prayers, songs, thoughts, and actions. Your condescension and humiliation is beyond anything we can begin to comprehend.  But we thank you for humbling yourself, even unto the point of death, death on a cross. Wherefore God has highly exalted you. That at your name every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow. For your name is above every name in heaven and on earth. And so we joyfully bow on our knees, joining in with all those who bring you glory. We pray this in the glorious name of your Son, our matchless Redeemer. Amen.       ―Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Reader: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High,”

Response: “And you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”

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.”

Some thoughts:  

You may have been wondering when we were going to begin to focus on Jesus’ birth, after all, Christmas is coming! Often in the swirl of the season we can focus too narrowly on a single day or a single event. We have sought to remind us over the past couple of weeks that God’s purpose and plan for the birth of the Redeemer is in the context of bringing restoration to everything God has created. We begin observing the Christian Year at the very end of time, the Second Coming, the final advent of Jesus, and then work backwards to his birth and then forward to his Passion, Ascension, and advent of the Holy Spirit. You see, the Nativity has a much grander scope than simply the birth of baby Jesus. It is so much more significant than a Jesus’ birthday party!

This passage from Malachi is both a warning and a joyous promise to us. There is no doubt these words will come to pass and there will be judgment for all. Though his words were strong and clear, there is no evidence that the majority of those who heard Malachi’s message changed their crooked ways. Nevertheless, those who repented were known to God and were spared a severe judgment.

All people who honor the Lord will experience an abiding joy even in awful times. For them, there is no fear in judgment. The image of “leaping calves being led out to pasture” is another vivid image to a farm boy like me! How well I remember when in late March or early April, we opened the barn doors for the first time and let the calves, which had been penned up during the cold winter months, out into the fresh spring air. They ran and jumped around like little lambs or goats, almost out of control! Their little legs were wobbly with joy!  We loved to watch the joy of those first minutes of newly discovered freedom. Malachi writes of this kind of joy along with the reminder to “remember history” and what God has done. 

The Scriptures give us the repeated reminder to keep God’s biggest story in mind. The Older Testament ends with the admonition to be on the alert for Elijah and the coming of Messiah. The Newer Testament ends with the admonition to look for the Return of the Messiah and concludes with the call, “Come, Lord Jesus,” the conclusion to the final advent!

Music: “What Child Is This” Sissel

Prayer:

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is accomplished.  Lord, how we long for your return. In your mercy come again and receive us unto yourself, grant us a safe lodging in our heavenly home, the home you are preparing for us, and grant us a holy rest, and peace at last through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

                        ―John Henry Newman 1801-1890, adapted Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Reader: “The Sun of Righteousness will rise.”

Response: “With healing in his wings.”

Scripture:  Isaiah 35:5-6

And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind

    and unplug the ears of the deaf.

The lame will leap like a deer,

    and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!

Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,

    and streams will water the wasteland.

Luke 7:18-23

The disciples of John the Baptist told John about everything Jesus was doing. So John called for two of his disciples, and he sent them to the Lord to ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

John’s two disciples found Jesus and said to him, “John the Baptist sent us to ask, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’”

At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind. Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”

Some thoughts:

Sometimes people wonder how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament. After all, aren’t people just finding “convenient connections” long after the fact? In these two passages we have perfect examples of how Jesus interprets the First Testament. His cousin, John the Baptist, had been arrested and was now in prison. I wonder how well they knew each other growing up? I would suspect that John thought Jesus had come to overthrow Roman rule. So he sent Andrew, one of his own disciples at the time, to find out if Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus answered that question by quoting the prophet Isaiah. In that exchange, Andrew discovered the Messiah and later introduced his brother, Simon, to the Lord.

Did you notice that the examples Jesus gave corresponded perfectly to the Isaiah passage? He re-tuned John’s thinking to the true mission of the Messiah. Jesus defined God’s biggest picture of restoring creation with his examples of giving sight to the blind, the lame now walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf can hear, and the dead are raised to life. The Good News is being preached to the poor. It is only through the Messiah that God is restoring his creation. This was Jesus’ answer to John. 

Jesus then turned to the crowd to affirm and verify that John was indeed the one to announce the coming of the Messiah, again quoting Isaiah. The people, knowing the Scriptures much better than most people do in our day, embraced what Jesus said. Sad to say, many of the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan of recreation, because they refused to believe John and consequently Jesus’ own words. The sad truth is that some of today’s theologians fall into the same category. 

Though writing over 700 years before the time of Jesus, Isaiah describes in detail the work of the Messiah. These two passages provide classic examples of how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies. In every case, the heart of the issue is that Jesus is God come in the flesh to bring restoration to the whole created order. In Jesus’ words, let us “preach Good News” to the poor, for our world is filled with the blind, deaf, and dead in spirit to the transforming power of the gospel. Let us follow Andrew’s model and invite others to “Come and follow the Savior.”

Music: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” The ChurchFolk

Prayer:

Father, as the day of your reappearing draws closer, create in me a deeper longing for the restoration of all of creation. Thank you for the completeness of your word. I’m amazed again and again at the detail and unity of the whole of Scripture. Thank you for the care and manner in which Jesus revealed himself and his mission to the people. I love studying and following the thought process of Jesus’ discussions in a passage like this. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who guides and teaches making your word vibrant this day. I love you Lord. Glory to you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.                                ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, December 12, 2022

Monday, December 12

Reader: “Jesus Christ is,”

Response: “the light of the world.”                                                                             

Scripture:  John 1:6-8, 19-28

 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.

This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants  from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”

 “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”

   “No,” he replied.

   “Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”

   “No.”

 “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?”

 John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah:

   “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,

      ‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’”

Then the Pharisees who had been sent asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?”

 John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.”

This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.

Some thoughts:

This is an interesting passage in that we see the ending of the 400 silent years between the First and New Testaments. John the Baptizer comes on the scene out of the desert  becoming a well known public figure thereby drawing the attention of the Jewish religious leaders, hence their questions regarding his identity. The Apostle writes with an apparent keen awareness of the book of Genesis in his reference to light. 

It is interesting to note a similarity here between the first day of creation and the coming of Christ, as the Light of the world. On the first day, God said let there be light and there was light. In this gospel, the Baptizer was sent to tell everyone that the light had come. The reference to the water of baptism draws another likeness to the second day of creation in which God separates the water from the heavens from the water of the earth. John’s baptism was an earthly baptism to repentance; the Messiah’s baptism was a heavenly baptism unto salvation. 

Where did John fit into what the Jewish leaders believed? Was he the Messiah? No. Was he Elijah? No. (Remember Elijah was transported directly to heaven without dying. It was prophesied in Jewish thought that he would return to earth prior to the coming of the Messiah, so it was a reasonable question to ask.) Was he the prophet to which Moses referred? (Deut 18:15) No. If he was none of those, who then was this curious person? Why was his identity so important to the Pharisees? It was because they were to give an answer about John to those leaders who sent them and they were getting nowhere. So, they asked John for his answer about himself. Where did he get his authority? His answer pointed to another yet to come. Remember, we have hindsight, they didn’t. 

Do you notice how easy it is to ask questions based on our own perspective of what we know or believe to be? We assume what we see or know is both accurate and truthful. As hard as it is, we must admit we have a fallible, corrupted perspective on all things! God was unfolding his story in their very midst, yet they did not recognize it. This encounter gives me pause to think how often have I missed what God was doing in my very presence because I was so convinced of my ability to see things clearly? Advent is about clarifying the biggest picture of God’s plan. 

Music: “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” Westminster Choir

Prayer:  

Lord God, Father of our Messiah, the one who has perfect knowledge, perfect understanding, heavenly timing, merciful patience, and compassionate judgment, forgive us, Lord, for our abundant confidence in our ability to know and understand your workings. In humble gratitude we ask for your grace and mercy in forgiving our self-confidence, we pray this through Jesus Christ who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.   

                                                             ―Daniel Sharp

Third Sunday in Advent, December 11, 2022

Third Sunday in Advent, December 11, 2022

Reader: “The Light of the world is coming.”

Response:  “Jesus is that Light.”

Scripture:   Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort my people,”

    says your God.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

Tell her that her sad days are gone

    and her sins are pardoned.

Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over

    for all her sins.”

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,

“Clear the way through the wilderness

    for the Lord!

Make a straight highway through the wasteland

    for our God!

Fill in the valleys,

    and level the mountains and hills.

Straighten the curves,

    and smooth out the rough places.

Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

    and all people will see it together.

    The Lord has spoken!”

A voice said, “Shout!”

    I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass.

    Their beauty fades as quickly

    as the flowers in a field.

The grass withers and the flowers fade

    beneath the breath of the Lord.

    And so it is with people.

The grass withers and the flowers fade,

    but the word of our God stands forever.”

O Zion, messenger of good news,

    shout from the mountaintops!

Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.

    Shout, and do not be afraid.

Tell the towns of Judah,

    “Your God is coming!”

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.

    He will rule with a powerful arm.

    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.

    He will carry the lambs in his arms,

holding them close to his heart.

    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

Some thoughts:

These familiar words of Isaiah are personified in John the Baptist, in proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. Various musicians have set parts of this text to music many, many times throughout the centuries. Some of the most time-honored and well-known examples are in Handel’s Messiah. Music often goes beyond what words can express, speaking directly to the language of the soul. Through the sacred music of all ages, millions of people have experienced the wonder and glory of God at a more profound level than with mere words. (Today’s devotional is a little more musically oriented. I’ve had the joy of conducting these pieces multiple times.)

As with the Messiah, you’ll note a similar impact in the second movement of the Brahms Requiem, a passage which reminds us of the temporary nature of our life on earth while the word of the Lord stands eternally. While we are used to thirty second sound bites and three minute songs, I urge you to listen to the second movement listed below for the full 15:46 without interruption, noting how the weightiness of the text builds throughout. Like life, note the relentless nature of the tempo.  I Peter is actually quoting Isaiah! Wait for the dramatic, “But the word of the Lord . . .”  (At 9:30 into the piece―don’t cheat! Let it build to that point! Patience!) It’s worth every minute. Listen and watch where you won’t be interrupted. You’ll see the English subtitles to the German text.

In the concluding portion of our pericope today, Handel reminds us of the tenderness of our great God and his care for his sheep. Handel and Brahms give us a few glorious examples of musical settings of this text this advent season.

*As a farm boy, the relationship between a lamb and its mother is very, very close. One bleat from the mother in the midst of a whole flock, her lambs discern her voice and come running. All I hear is a cacophony of sheep noise! One plaintive bleat from her lambs and she is there in an instant. When the mother sheep knows the shepherd, she will trust him with her lambs. This passage is a beautiful picture of our God both when he comes again and how he cares for us in the meantime. You can trust this Shepherd today to care for his lambs, including you. (#20 below.)  

Make some time to listen to these music settings, even if you have to spread it over several days. Listening and watching these videos makes for a wonderful Sunday afternoon with Scripture! 

Music: from “Messiah”, #2,3,4,9,20 and Brahms Requiem #2.

#2 “Comfort Ye” v.1-3     #2 & #3 together    (6:30) 

#3 “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” v.4  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Pz9BCMFoP8 

#4 “And the Glory of the Lord”  v.5  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRq9EkDTdxs  Voces 8    (2:54)  Glorious!

#9 “O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings of Zion”  v.9  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIqDNTnOCks   (5:46)   Sasha & Mormon Tabernacle Choir

#20 “He Shall Feed His Flock” v. *20  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-bAXm-A3Ls&list=RDl-bAXm-A3Ls&start_radio=1  (6:16)   Barbara Bonney

Brahms #2 “Behold All Flesh is As the Grass” v.6-8   Herbert Von Karajan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2jc13Q1wX4   (15:18) English Subtitles

SPECTACULAR!!!!!!! 

Prayer:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever. Amen!                           –from the Revelation of St. John

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Reader:  “My soul glorifies the Lord.”

Response:  “And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Scripture:   Habakkuk 3:13-19

You went out to rescue your chosen people,

      to save your anointed ones.

   You crushed the heads of the wicked

      and stripped their bones from head to toe.

 With his own weapons,

      you destroyed the chief of those

   who rushed out like a whirlwind,

      thinking Israel would be easy prey.

 You trampled the sea with your horses,

      and the mighty waters piled high.

 I trembled inside when I heard this;

      my lips quivered with fear.

   My legs gave way beneath me,

      and I shook in terror.

   I will wait quietly for the coming day

      when disaster will strike the people who invade us.

 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,

      and there are no grapes on the vines;

   even though the olive crop fails,

      and the fields lie empty and barren;

   even though the flocks die in the fields,

      and the cattle barns are empty,

 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

      I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

      He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

      able to tread upon the heights.

   (For the choir director: This prayer is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.) 

Some thoughts:

This is the final passage from Habakkuk. Like yesterday’s reading, the prophet harkens back to the history of God saving his people with his reference to the exodus. There is even the curious phrase about “crushing the heads of the wicked,” a phrase reminding  me of the curse placed by God where the Redeemer mortally crushes the head of the serpent in the Garden while absorbing a wound. (Gen 3) 

In spite of the agricultural disaster that has befallen God’s people, the prophet’s writing portrays uncommon, undeterred hope, and relentless fortitude. As one who grew up on a farm and currently oversees the farm with my sister, crop failure is the most difficult kind of disaster. Barren fields speak of prolonged hopelessness and waiting for another year to pass. Crops don’t appear in a day. Livelihood depends on a successful harvest. Failing crops, starving flocks, dying cattle, and empty, dusty, cob-webbed filled barns speak of catastrophic failure. This reality is one of the reasons farmers are so tuned to the weather and freely admit, “it’s up to the good Lord.” Prayers in churches attended by people in agriculture tend to be different from those in city churches. Livelihood is truly dependent upon the Lord in a very earthy way!

Having said this, one short, three-letter word speaks of undeniable, unquenchable faith in spite of all circumstances. That word is “yet.” It is a “Hold it! Not so fast” word. Faith in the sovereign God of truth is demonstrated so clearly in Habakkuk’s song.. “I will rejoice . . . I will be joyful . . .” My strength is in him. As we await the Lord’s return, some of us may be experiencing “crop failure” or “empty barns.” Remember that most powerful of words, “Yet!” Hold on! Not so fast.” Don’t draw hasty conclusions. The Lord is my strength; he is the source. 

Music: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”   Voctave     Go see and hear them whenever you can!

Prayer:

O Lord, help me to understand that there ain’t going to be nothing come my way that you and me together can’t handle.                         ―Anonymous

Friday, December 9, 2022

December 9, Friday

Reader: “I have heard all about you, Lord.”   

Response: “I am filled with awe by your amazing works.” 

Scripture:  Habakkuk 3:2-6

I have heard all about you, Lord.

      I am filled with awe by your amazing works.

   In this time of our deep need,

      help us again as you did in years gone by.

   And in your anger,

      remember your mercy.

 I see God moving across the deserts from Edom,

      the Holy One coming from Mount Paran,

   His brilliant splendor fills the heavens,

      and the earth is filled with his praise.

 His coming is as brilliant as the sunrise.

      Rays of light flash from his hands,

      where his awesome power is hidden.

 Pestilence marches before him;

      plague follows close behind.

 When he stops, the earth shakes.

      When he looks, the nations tremble.

   He shatters the everlasting mountains

      and levels the eternal hills.

      He is the Eternal One! 

Some thoughts:

This portion of the book of Habakkuk was apparently meant to be sung as a psalm. There are two themes in this passage on which I want to comment. First, notice Habakkuk’s comment “I have heard all about you . . . I am filled with awe by your amazing works.” Knowing the history of God’s working in people’s and nation’s lives is essential in growing in our understanding of God. Ignorance of true history is ultimate ignorance and foolishness. Sometimes we may be inclined to think erroneously that the past is over and done, dead history, who cares. Such thinking is particularly damaging when it comes to biblical history and the work of God.

Part of history’s purpose is to give us hope for the present in knowing what God has done in the past. Many times when God was at work, the people who were being helped were completely unaware. Such has certainly happened in our lives. In this case, knowing history gives Habakkuk the wisdom to ask again for God’s intervention. He reminds himself and God of past days of assistance. Then there is this interesting phrase, “in your anger, remember your mercy.” 

Ah, here we have evidence of “the angry God of the Old Testament!”  But do we? No. God’s anger is related to the theological word “propitiation.” What is that? God’s anger, his wrath is directed toward sin. Through the offering of his Son, God’s wrath is turned from the sin of humans as his own Son took our sin and that of the whole world upon himself on our behalf. Jesus is the propitiation for our sin and that of the whole world. That is “propitiation.” In that same phrase, Habakkuk appeals to the mercy of God. The verses that follow, in fact, reflect God’s mercy toward his people.

The second theme demonstrates how he shows his mercy. “His coming is as brilliant as the sunrise. Rays of light flash from his hands, where his awesome power is hidden.” Such phrases recall God’s fiery appearance to Moses and the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. The prophet writes of the coming advent of the Lord and the magnificent way in which that appearance is demonstrated. The references to plague and pestilence can refer to two agents God uses as his “army” to fulfill his will. Habakkuk concludes this passage with words of high praise and devotion based not on feelings, but on God’s character and love. 

Take some time today and think back over the “amazing works” the Lord has done and is doing to shape your life in the image of his Son, the good things as well as the “plagues” and the “pestilences!” Thank him for his mercy. He is working on you daily because of his love for you. Together let us look toward “his coming as brilliant as the sunrise!” And may we say with John the Apostle, as he closes the book of Revelation and the Scriptures of the Bible, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.”

Music: “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” Chet Valley Churches

Prayer:

O Lord, our Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Comforter, teach us the value and wisdom of remembering the history of your works in our lives and in this world. We are so consumed with the present days and have such poor memories. We live far too helter-skelter lives making little time for reflection on your work in us. Help us learn to live in the peacefulness which your presence brings. Forbid it Lord, that we should rush off day after day into our structured schedules ignoring your life in us. Rather than “fitting you into our life schedule,” may we make a conscious effort daily to conform our lives into what you are doing within us. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God eternal and everlasting. Amen.        ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Reader: “This is the word of the prophet Habakkuk.”

Response: “Thank you Lord for these words of wisdom, truth, and perspective.”

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.”

Some thoughts:

As you read, watch, or listen to the news today, notice the content of all the stories. How many of them are based on anything beyond the immediate circumstances? Virtually none. The nature of news is to tell us what is happening right now or plans for the near future from a human perspective.  With all our devices, often as an outgrowth or an appendage on our hand (!), we can almost be present as the “present” is happening! With this daily and intense bombardment of the present tense, is it any wonder we have difficulty grasping a biblical vision of the present and future? We are stuck in sound bites.

These descriptions from Habakkuk seem so remote. It is far easier to believe and spend our time thinking and planning about those things we can see and hear. The immediacy and ubiquitous nature of the present can cloud the larger truth leading people to increased fear, anxiety, discouragement, depression, and apprehension. Such traits are certainly evident in our society. 

Have you noticed the proud and crooked people are never at rest and often angry?. They are consumed with the present world and their own perspective of it. Their world and trust never move outside of themselves. Like the grave and death, they are never satisfied. The immediate is all that matters to them. Their trust is in themselves. For them, the bottom line is: “I can handle it.”

The idea of some future vision when the Lord will again enter our world bringing it to a close seems the stuff of fantasy or the product of an overactive imagination. While we may believe such thoughts intellectually or theologically, living practically with the truth of the Lord’s return and letting it shape our current fears, discouragements, and so forth is another story. It’s far too easy to live in the here and now with the “present tense” life occupying all of our attention. 

This season of advent gives us an opportunity to retool. Having said that, Habakkuk helps us: 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. It will be fulfilled . . . it will not be delayed. Timeless truth.

These words of the Lord give us the antidote to dealing with drowning in the present: “The vision is for a future time . . . if it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Relax, God is in control. Good words for today and tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the . . .  “it will surely take place.” Did you ever notice how much “waiting” there is in the Scriptures? Waiting is one of the primary building blocks of faith.  

Music: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”   Caitelen

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, help us to not get so lost in the concerns and activities of the immediate world that the eternal world we cannot see seems unreal. Teach us, O Lord, to use this transitory life as pilgrims returning to their beloved home; that we may take what our journey requires, and not think of settling in a foreign country, the country wherein we now abide. Amen.                          –adapted from John Wesley (1703-1791)

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Reader: “The Sun of Righteousness will rise.”

Response:  “With healing in his wings.”

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.”

Some thoughts:

We look today at a passage more familiar to the nativity story. God’s people had been waiting for 400 years since the prophets had last spoken. Silence. Not so much as a whisper. It reminds one of the 400 years the Israelites waited for a redeemer to come to bring deliverance from the Egyptians. You’ll recall Moses and his brother, Aaron, both of the tribe of Levi, led the people from slavery. There are some parallels between the two stories.

In the passage above, we read of God ending the silence and putting his redemption plan into motion with the coming of John the Baptist who would be the forerunner of the coming Messiah as foretold by the last First Testament prophet, Malachi. Luke mentions that the angel was on the right side of the incense altar. The “right side” is always the place of strength, of authority. It carries the voice of the center position. (Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.) 

 Zechariah did not expect anyone would be joining him at the altar. Most of the time when angels appeared to people in the Scriptures, the people were terrified. Likewise, when being confronted by God speaking from the burning bush, Moses was terrified. Such was a normal reaction. In Zechariah’s case, the angel said, “God has heard your prayer.” Similarly, when God called Moses to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, his words to Moses were, “I have heard the cries of distress . . . so I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex.3:7) 

Like the Israelites pleading with God regarding their circumstances, apparently Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are both, like Moses and Aaron of the priestly tribe of Levi, had been praying for a child for many, many years. All of those years of wondering if their prayer would ever be answered came to a glorious end, both for the Israelites and the priest and his wife! Their son would be the “Elijah” heralding the coming of the long, long awaited Messiah and Moses would be a Christ type redeemer leading God’s people from slavery to freedom. 

Given this wonderful news of the coming birth of their son, old Zechariah had his doubts as did Moses regarding his leading the exodus. We can too easily identify with them. After waiting so long for something, we often have a tendency to hold back in believing and rejoicing to our detriment. Moses never did enter the Promised Land because of disobedience and lack of faith. Zechariah had to remain silent for nine months for his lack of faith. At the birth of John, old Zack’s tongue was finally set free. My guess is that he had a lot to say! God’s plan is moving ahead. It still is . . . Don’t doubt.

Music: “Song of Zechariah: Benedictus Dominus Deus  Choirs of All Saints Church, Beverly Hills, CA.   (7:25)  The text of Lk. 1:68-79 plus Glory Be to the Father

“Benedictus Dominus Deus” Christmas Carol Service at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, London     (3:07)   same setting with English text different composer

Prayer:Father, as the day of your appearing draws ever closer, create in me a longing for your arrival. Let me not falter in faith, nor fear the unknown. Let me never trust my perspective rather than yours. Give me courage not to hedge in my faith but to trust in your word completely. May your Return not simply be a remote theological idea having little impact on my life today. It’s far too easy to treat the Second Coming as an idea rather than a reality. Let me truly believe and consciously live for your return. With Zechariah, let me not waiver in prayer, but be fervent.   ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Reader: “O come, O come Emmanuel,”

Response:  “And lead us into everlasting life.”

Scripture:   Psalm 27:7-14

 Hear me as I pray, O Lord.

      Be merciful and answer me!

 My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”

      And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Do not turn your back on me.

      Do not reject your servant in anger.

      You have always been my helper.

   Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,

      O God of my salvation!

 Even if my father and mother abandon me,

      the Lord will hold me close.

Teach me how to live, O Lord.

      Lead me along the right path,

      for my enemies are waiting for me.

 Do not let me fall into their hands.

      For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;

      with every breath they threaten me with violence.

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness

      while I am here in the land of the living.

 Wait patiently for the Lord.

      Be brave and courageous.

      Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. 

Some thoughts:

These first days of advent have been concerned, for the most part, about the Parousia (the Second Coming) of the Lord. Jesus told stories to illustrate the importance of watching and waiting for his return. (Luke 12:35-49) While the first part of this psalm deals with confidence, security, and trust in the Lord’s care (yesterday’s devotional), today we look at the last half of the psalm, where David calls for the Lord’s mercy, presence, and guidance during times of waiting.

Since it’s been about 3,000 years since David’s words were penned and another 2,000 since Jesus told us to watch and wait, we may be tempted to dismiss Jesus’ Return as more of an idea than a reality. We need to put impatience aside and get outside of our brief life of a few decades.  

Abraham was told he would be the father of millions of people. When he died, he had exactly one promised son. Isaac was it! What do you think he thought about God’s promise? He still believed. Look how long it was from the promise of a Redeemer to Adam and Eve until the birth of the Savior. Thousands of years. It was 430 years until the Israelites were delivered from the Egyptians. It seems there is a good deal of waiting, of dead time, in the Bible. We must understand that God’s time frame is not like ours.  There is no “clock” to his time, just the right time. As Habakkuk says, “it will not be late.”  (Hab.2:3) And everything God has said will happen, happens! Our job? Wait. What do we do while we wait? 

I recall taking many cross country trips with the boys and Nancy. There was always the “Dad, how long til we get there?” Then we’d see a stretch of road before us in New Mexico, Nebraska, Montana, or Texas that was straight as an arrow extending a full five or six or more miles ahead. We’d guess how far it was to the distant ridge. But you know what happened? By the time we got to the ridge ten or twelve minutes later, we’d forgotten to look at the odometer! We had gotten interested in counting antelopes in the distance, the number of cars in a train, an unusual rock formation, or a flattened armadillo in the road! In other words, the waiting involved being involved and paying attention to the present. That’s what God asks us to do as we await his second coming. Pay attention to the moment.

Music: “Wake, Awake for NIght is Flying”  Luther College Nordic Choir

Prayer:

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

Monday, December 5, 2022

Monday, December 5, 2022

Reader: “The Light of the world is coming.”

Response:  “Jesus is that Light.”

Scripture:   Psalm 27:1-6

 The Lord is my light and my salvation—

      so why should I be afraid?

   The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,

      so why should I tremble?

 When evil people come to devour me,

      when my enemies and foes attack me,

      they will stumble and fall.

 Though a mighty army surrounds me,

      my heart will not be afraid.

   Even if I am attacked,

      I will remain confident.

 The one thing I ask of the Lord—

      the thing I seek most—

   is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

      delighting in the Lord’s perfections

      and meditating in his Temple.

 For he will conceal me there when troubles come;

      he will hide me in his sanctuary.

      He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

 Then I will hold my head high

      above my enemies who surround me.

   At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,

      singing and praising the Lord with music.

Some thoughts:

We live in uncertain times. People have said that for thousands of years. The phrase  hardly registers, does it? Of course we do! When were times ever “certain?” Never. Yet we live with a hope of certainty and are knocked off center when things become uncertain. The last couple of years have featured a heightened sense of uncertainty. Though I am writing this in August, as you read today’s devotional I am fairly certain that things are not peaceful and calm around the nations of the world! 

The season of advent is about disruption, disruption of life, of set ideas, of power, and our understanding of faith. The baby from Bethlehem came knocking many things off center, actually, life itself. The certainty of Herod’s rule was in question. The rabbi’s rigid understanding of the Torah and the Law was challenged. The political structures were being redefined. The cultural value of children, women, servants, in fact, all peoples took a seismic hit. Did you notice how Jesus’ presence and words affected all the strata of society both then and now?

When people are “off center” they can become fearful and angry. We certainly see evidence of some unique and illogical behaviors and attitudes today. Yet, deep within we have a longing that things should be right, be fair, be honorable, that people should tell the truth, and should treat each other well. It is interesting that when things are off center, the old ugly sinful nature rises to the top rather quickly. The psalmist here gives much-needed words of help.

He reminds us that the Lord is the sanctuary; the Lord is the fortress. Notice that the safety, the protection comes when the psalmist is in the sanctuary. In the Lord’s presence is where we gain the true and clearest perspective. I am all too often speculating and fretting “in my own presence.” Note the verbs in v.5,6. “He will conceal me,” “he will hide me,” “he will place me out of reach,” “he will hold my head.” As we await that great day of the Lord’s return, let us abandon our own “presence” and anxieties and find our place of certainty in him who is our light and salvation. Certainty is found only in Jesus.

Music: “Come Thou Long-expected Jesus”  Meredith Andrews

Prayer:Be, Lord, within me to strengthen me . . . without me to preserve me . . . over me to shelter me . . . beneath me to support me . . . before me to direct me . . . behind me to bring me back . . . round about me to fortify me.   –Lancelot Andrewes  (1555-1626)

Second Sunday in Advent, December 4, 2022

Second Sunday in Advent, December 4, 2022

Reader: “May the house of your servant David”

Response: “continue before you forever.”

Scripture:   2 Samuel 7:25-26

“And now, O Lord God, I am your servant; do as you have promised concerning me and my family. Confirm it as a promise that will last forever. And may your name be honored forever so that everyone will say, ‘The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is God over Israel!’ And may the house of your servant David continue before you forever.

Revelation 22:12-16

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.”

Some thoughts:

At first glance these two passages may seem an odd pairing. You may wish to read this whole passage in 2 Samuel(v.18-29). A quick review: David is part of a long line of prophecies foretelling that the Messiah would come through the tribe of Judah, David’s tribe. (Matthew makes this point in his gospel.) This pericope is the passage from 2 Samuel where David learns from Nathan that his throne would continue forever! Did you notice the similarity of David’s response in hearing the news of an eternal kingship to that of Mary when she learned from Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Messiah? (“I am your servant. Do as you have promised.”) We see two pliable humble hearts in response to God’s directive.

Think about it, for a throne to exist eternally, one of David’s heirs would have to live forever. There is no end to “forever.” When an overwhelmed David prayed, “We have never heard of another God like you,” he was not overstating. He was surrounded by hundreds of pagan gods. 

John, writing roughly a thousand years later in his Revelation, picks up this idea when he quotes Jesus’ own words: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” We are familiar with the Greek letters being the first and last of the Greek alphabet. The Hebrew expression would be the aleph and the tau, used to mean the entirety of a thing. The threefold statements of Jesus here commencing with an “I am” (think Moses at Mt. Sinai) declare that he is Lord of all history from its inception to its conclusion and the whole of everything in between. Jesus is the beginning and the end, the King from the tribe of Judah, whose reign is eternal. This King defeated death, the only way a King could be eternal. He is the fulfillment of the promise to David, the promise of the restoration of God’s eternal kingdom on earth. “The bright and morning star” is another name for the Messiah.  

Sometimes we read a phrase in the Bible without thinking through its significance only to discover that a thousand or two thousand years later, God fulfilled exactly what he promised in Jesus Christ. When you read Scripture, go slowly, noticing every little phrase. God was very careful about what he said. Some of the things he said have yet to happen. It behooves us to pay attention to details. What do you notice today that is eternal in nature?

Music: “Once in Royal David’s City” Libera   DO NOT MISS THIS

Prayer:

Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? What more can I say to you? You know what your servant is really like. How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you! And now, O Lord God, I am your servant; do as you have promised concerning me and my family. And may your name be honored forever so that everyone will say, “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is God.”  This I pray in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, throughout all ages, Amen.  ―adapted from King David   

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Reader: “The Light is coming,”

Response:  “The Light of the world.”

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 heart of flesh. 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.

Some thoughts:

Have you noticed how many of the prophets say much the same message? Ezekiel (570-590 BC) gives us today’s pericope. All the prophets wrote concerning the coming of the Messiah, the restoration of Israel to its homeland, the land promised to Abraham and his descendents, and the fulfillment of God’s grand plan for his creation. As mentioned previously, advent is about the Return of the Lord and what will happen surrounding that world-ending-as-we-know-it event and the great importance of our being ready and anticipating that day. In 1948 Israel returned to its homeland. We await the rest of the fulfillment of the prophecy. 

In this passage we read of the tender and responsive heart that God so desires in us as we await that Day of completion and the Lord’s return. Did you notice the source of the new heart and new spirit? In this passage God does everything concerning us. The Holy Spirit transforms our stony, stubborn hearts. We are given the Holy Spirit to guide us. Human beings’ best efforts to improve things and make the world “a better place in which to live” just are not working out if you have noticed! Fallen humans leading other fallen humans is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, human beings with a true heart for God, led by the Holy Spirit do make a significant difference in any society.

I don’t know what kinds of things you have going on today or the pressures you face, but I do know what God wants for and from you. He is not looking for a stubborn, stony “I can do this myself, I know what I am doing” heart. He wants a heart of flesh for you with a Holy God-given Spirit. Ask him to give you that tender, responsive heart. People will notice it and the world desperately needs it. In the words of Isaiah, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”   (Is 30:29 NIV)

Music: “Change My Heart O God” African Music Experience An oldie from 40 years ago

Prayer:

O Son of God, do a miracle for me, and change my heart; thy having taken flesh to redeem me was more difficult than to transform my wickedness. It is thou who, to help me, didst go to be scourged . . . thou, dear child of Mary, art the refined molten metal of our forge.              ―a Celtic prayer,  Tadhg Og O Huiginn, d.1448

Friday, December 2, 2022

Friday, December 2, 2022

Reader: “Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

Response: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

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.”

Some Thoughts:

Jeremiah was a First Testament prophet writing around 600 BC. This book has a very interesting passage at the beginning, particularly in light of some of the issues in today’s society in the United States, but also has implications for the entire world. What stands out immediately is that God knew Jeremiah before he formed him in his mother’s womb. Likewise, God knew you and me before he formed us in our mother’s wombs, in fact, he chose us before the foundation of the world. (Eph 1:4) We get the clear idea that God knows all about us before we even were! It makes sense that the one who made us knows us best. Indeed, our life began at conception in our mother’s wombs. Indeed, she is the first one who housed, who made a home for our little life! A secular culture refuses to address this monumental truth. (Is 49:1, Ps 139:15-16, Lk 1:31-32, Lk 1:13-14)

In Jeremiah’s case, his vocation had already been determined! The psalmist likewise tells us that God has ordered each day of our life. Like Moses before him, Jeremiah complained that he couldn’t speak for God. Then Jeremiah objected to God’s call believing he was too young. He needed to hear Paul’s words to Timothy!  (I Tim.4:12)  

There are two great promises here that apply to us today as a result of what God said to Jeremiah.  One pledge is that God will give us the words to say in proclaiming his truth. Like Isaiah, God touched Jeremiah’s lips giving him words to speak. (Is  6:7) And, secondly, God vowed his presence and his protection. Jeremiah needn’t be afraid of the people. He would never be alone. Time and again God delivered Jeremiah from dangerous situations. While the Bible does not say how he eventually died, the book of Jeremiah records many of the conversations he had with his God. (Tradition says he was stoned to death by his own people when they were exiled to Egypt.)

While we may not be called to be prophets to speak to a nation in rebellion, we can speak words of truth to a culture in rebellion in various places God puts us. Like Jeremiah, God has promised to give us the words to speak and to be present with us whether we are engaged with others in sharing the truth, building people up, exposing error, or planting seeds of God’s truth in the world around us.  Let us be “present” to the Lord throughout this day. These are not days to be silent.

Music: “Long Ago, Prophets Knew”      Chet Valley Churches

Prayer:

Lord God, may you be the beginning and the end, the reason and the motive, the rule and the measure of our doing or not doing, from morning to night; then everywhere whether speaking or silent, whether inwardly or outwardly employed, we may have our life in Christ, and from him, and are united to him by that Spirit of Prayer who is the comfort, the support, the strength and security of the soul as it travels, by the help of God, through the vanity of time into the riches of eternity. Amen.  –adapted William Law (1686-1761)

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Thursday, December 1, 2022

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.

Some thoughts:

Hosea is another of the Old Testament prophets (c.750 BC) who spoke to the wayward people on behalf of God. He speaks of the loving care of God in disciplining and loving his children. There is this phrase, “he has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us.” Hosea gives us an important truth in understanding how God shows his love toward his children. The tearing you and I experience in our walk with God is an act of his love though it surely doesn’t seem like it at the time. Tearing is the evidence of his love. Does God love you? His discipline, his rending of you confirms you are his.

What does this have to do with Advent you may be wondering? In a nutshell, the Lord wants us to be prepared for his return. He wants us to be close to him, to know him well. He is helping us be prepared for his return while at the same time giving us day to day guidance of living in relationship to him. God deems this preparation most important.  Hosea has this same burden for his people. The same theme is picked up later by the Apostle Paul in his words to the Philippians “that I may know him . . .” (Phil.3:10).

There is the everpresent plea to “come, let us return to the Lord” voiced in so many ways. The prophet clarifies that the Lord “in a short time will restore us so that we may live in his presence.” The dominant message always is God’s desire for restoration and communion with his children. Some of the most beneficial times in my life were when my wife spoke “hard words of truth” to me out of love that brought healing and restoration. She was simply following God’s model.

Through Hosea God states that this closeness, this fellowship, is on his terms, not ours. “I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces— to slaughter you with my words, with judgments as inescapable as light.” God speaks piercing words that are hard to hear, but they come out of his great love. Hosea continues with God’s words, “I want you to show love,” not go through the motions of worship. “I want you to know me” more than I want your broken promises claiming how faithful you will be to me. Hosea underscores one of the main reasons for these devotionals―that of encountering God daily and knowing him better and better.

Our assignment today? Don’t go through the motions of living a Christian life, but press on living the real thing. God will respond. When we are torn by God, remember it is out of his love for us. And he heals what he has torn. Live with authenticity showing love wherever you go.   

Music: “Is Not His Word Like A Fire?” Will Liverman  from Elijah

Prayer:

Blessed Lord, who has caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant that we may wisely hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace you, Lord God, and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.                               ―Book of Common Prayer, 1928, altered Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

November 30 Wednesday   

Reader: “He does not want anyone to be destroyed,” 

Response: “but wants everyone to repent.”

Scripture:   2 Peter 3:1-18

This is my second letter to you, dear friends, and in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles.

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.

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.

And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.

And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.

 I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.

Some thoughts: This is a portion of a letter written by the Apostle Peter to Christians who were living in a society and culture that laughed at Christian faith, criticized their morality as being “judgmental,” and mocked any talk of “Christ’s return.”  They openly mocked the Christian life-style and values. Does this perspective sound unusually relevant?  (Whoever said we have to make the Bible relevant?  It seems to be quite relevant all by itself without our help.)

For many people, Christians included, this idea of the Lord’s Return seems almost like a fairy tale. If they believe in God at all, the general thought is that the world just goes on and on like always. When we die, it’s over . . . nothing more. We’re planted in the ground. That’s it.

Peter reminds his readers and us that God made the world and that he, as its Creator,  will bring it to a conclusion. Sometimes I have to admit, I selfishly wish Jesus would return and end this whole thing right now. But here we are given some insight into God’s own loving heart and his reason for not ending it right now. Embarrassingly, it appears he has much more love for people than I do.

God’s view time is completely different from ours. What we do see multiple times here is God’s patience, his desire to give all people time to repent even though some people may regard Christ’s return as a “fantasy of epic proportions.” But God’s patience is not infinite. Judgment, the Day of the Lord, does come swiftly and without warning. 

During these early days of Advent, do something a little different, ask one of your friends how they think the world will end. Then be ready when they ask you! The world needs to hear the gospel. It behooves us to always keep God’s biggest story in mind. Ask yourself, “what can I do, say, or be today that will register in eternity? Live today with the end in mind.

Music: “The King Shall Come” Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

Prayer:Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. Our Father, our Creator, your hand is the source of everything that is from the beginning and your hand will bring everything to completion at the end. We thank and praise you for your uncommon patience in giving each person time to repent and appropriate the saving grace of Jesus Christ. May there be many people in this season who turn their hearts towards you. This we pray through our Savior and Coming King, Jesus Christ. Amen.  ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Tuesday, November 29

Reader: “I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem”

Response: “as their king forever.”

Scripture: Micah 4:6-13

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,

“I will gather together those who are lame,

    those who have been exiles,

    and those whom I have filled with grief.

Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;

    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.

Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem

    as their king forever.”

As for you, Jerusalem,

    the citadel of God’s people,

your royal might and power

    will come back to you again.

The kingship will be restored

    to my precious Jerusalem.

But why are you now screaming in terror?

    Have you no king to lead you?

Have your wise people all died?

    Pain has gripped you like a woman in childbirth.

Writhe and groan like a woman in labor,

    you people of Jerusalem,

for now you must leave this city

    to live in the open country.

You will soon be sent in exile

    to distant Babylon.

But the Lord will rescue you there;

    he will redeem you from the grip of your enemies.

Now many nations have gathered against you.

    “Let her be desecrated,” they say.

    “Let us see the destruction of Jerusalem.”

But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts

    or understand his plan.

These nations don’t know

    that he is gathering them together

to be beaten and trampled

    like sheaves of grain on a threshing floor.

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”

    says the Lord.

“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,

    so you can trample many nations to pieces.

You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,

    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.”

Some thoughts:

Micah gives us some more thoughts that may seem much removed from what you are thinking about or doing today. This pericope (peh-rih-koh-pee—a passage or section of Scripture) may just seem strange and not very “Christmassy.”  Remember, the beginning of advent is all about the Lord’s Second Coming and the final judgment of the world. Micah is prophesying concerning the current fall of Jerusalem in his day and prophesying about the future overrun by the Babylonians which occurs some 150 years later! 

This particular description has a double meaning. Sometimes God’s people go through great difficulty of their own making as was the case here with both Israel and Judah.  Nevertheless, God does not forsake his people. God’s plans for his people will prevail and other people and even nations will be blessed because of his faithfulness. 

At times, God’s ways are puzzling as is the case here. He uses a wicked, godless people to discipline his children, a people as bad or worse than his own! As we look at our own world, that may be something to keep in mind. Do not be fooled. Though Satan is the “god of this world,” (II Cor. 4:4) God is in charge. Satan is a “squatter,” with apparent power which is temporary. His days are numbered at which time he will be destroyed. We do not know nor understand God’s plans. He does not consult us ahead of time but he has told us the end result. Our choice is to trust.

It may be that you or your loved ones have been or are going through very difficult times, sometimes of our own doing and other times because we live in a fallen, broken  world where there is sin and disease and unfairness. These words of Micah remind us of God’s faithfulness and the benefit we can be to others as they see God at work in us in how we respond to injustice. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, God’s promises will be fulfilled.  “ . . . the Lord will rescue you there; he will redeem you from the grip of your enemies.” As hard as today may be, the last line is very good. Remember, this world isn’t all there is. The “Squatter” is eternally squished, and Jesus rules in his kingdom of which we are adopted citizens. Be faithful in suffering, he will redeem you.   Rejoice!

Music: “Rejoice Greatly” from Messiah Jeanine De Bique  BBC Proms glorious!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHQpeGzio4k

Prayer:Lord God, our Father and Creator, we long for the day when these words will be fulfilled perfectly. May we have the courage and grace to live through each day until then. We clearly do not know nor often understand your plans. Forgive us when we try to fashion your mind and heart to work like ours. There truly is none like you. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, throughout all ages, Amen.       ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, November 28

Monday, November 28

Reader: Maranatha! Which means…” 

Response: “Come, Lord Jesus.”

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.

Some thoughts:

As you read Micah’s prophecy, notice the italicized, bold-faced words.It’s hard to believe that something like what is described would ever happen. I mean, people from all over the world streaming to Jerusalem to worship the Lord?  . . . people from Iran, Peru, Nepal, Sudan, Albania? The Lord himself teaching and mediating between peoples and nations? No conflict between China and Taiwan . . . North and South Korea at total peace.? Harmony and unity between people in the United States? Europeans worshiping God? Everyone living in peace and prosperity? Such a description does not seem feasible, realistic, or in any way possible. Is someone dreaming? 

How is this possible that something like what is pictured here would ever come to fruition? The answer is right in this passage. The Lord will mediate between peoples and nations. The mediator is not man, but God. Then we see in the last words of this pericope, the Lord God has made the promise which means it most certainly will happen. We must lay aside our doubts; it is God’s word and he does not lie. Every promise he ever made has come true.

This may seem like an unusual way to start the advent season. We must remember that advent begins turning our attention to the end of time, the era when Christ returns and sets up his kingdom on earth. Though he is living in the 8th century BC, the prophet Micah foretells what is yet to happen in our day! As we prepare for Christ’s return, his “advent,” let us always be aware, watch, and wait for the biggest picture to be fulfilled even as we go about our daily lives. We have God’s word on it! It will come to pass.

Music:  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” Joshua Aaron

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, the day is drawing ever nearer for your return. I cannot imagine what the world would be like as Micah described it. People living in peace and prosperity seems like something that will never happen. We also realize that you are the One who brings such a world into existence. And so we look forward to your return in one of the days that lies ahead. Until then, may our lives bring glory to you, our Father in heaven. In the name of Jesus, our returning Redeemer of the world, we pray. Amen.   —Daniel Sharp

First Sunday in Advent

November 27, First Sunday in Advent

Reader: “Maranatha!”

Response: “Come soon, Lord Jesus.”

Scripture:  Luke 21:25-36

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Some thoughts:

Advent is a season of preparation, of looking forward to the future. For children it is as simple as counting the days until Christmas! The passage you just read is a conversation Jesus had with his disciples about anticipation. To give us a little context, Jesus had been talking with crowds of people at the Temple. The religious leaders were as usual challenging his authority and identity. 

In this context, some of his disciples began talking about what an impressive building the Temple was. Jesus told them plainly that even the magnificent Temple would be destroyed. You see, Jesus was pointing beyond the material and physical things we can see. He was subtly telling them that God had a master plan for his creation. Naturally, they wanted to know when this would happen. The disciples were still viewing things from an earthly material perspective. Have you noticed that quite often God does not discuss with us the details of his working? He does not ask for our advice or opinion!

How often in looking at today’s world we adopt the mindset of these disciples. We look at the immediate surrounding events and physical circumstances and assume that we see the whole picture. We tense up, forgetting the Lord is in charge and is working out all things according to his will. (“. . . thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”)

Jesus’ word is certain. The birth of Jesus is not simply the end of Advent, but the  cornerstone of the much bigger picture in God’s plan to restore all of his creation. Our part? Stay alert, watch, wait, and anticipate!

Music: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”  Voces8

Prayer:

Gracious Father, as the sun rises tomorrow morning, as the beauty of the full moon appears again this month, as we look to the beginning of a new year, as we move through this decade and this century, forbid it Lord that we should forget these words of our Savior. May we be ever watchful in anticipation of your return. May we be steady in faith, repentant in heart, tender in soul, humble in spirit, and diligent in study. Though this world will most certainly pass away, your word abides eternally. Help us always to watch for the signs of your coming Kingdom and not get lost in the hype of this world. This we pray through Jesus Christ our coming King, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, world without end. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp

Advent Is Coming this Sunday

My friends,                                                                                           Thanksgiving week

You are busy with preparing turkeys, cleaning house, getting ready for guests, and football (or not!), AND Advent begins this Sunday! Just want to remind you the devotionals will begin to show up in your email box at 5 AM EST this Sunday. Have a great Thanksgiving celebration as we express gratitude to our great God for his provision during the past year. May your team win!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Dan

ADVENT DEVOTIONALS 2022

      Advent 2022

         (They begin Sunday, November 27th)

What Is the Candle of Love and the Christ Candle for Advent? Week 4

          PREFACE

As we come to the 2022 season of Advent, the world continues on an unsettling course. It was this way last year too, come to think of it! We don’t seem to be making progress! There are the relentless tensions in the United States and around the world as people continue to struggle to relate to one another in a civilized manner. In the midst of cultural and moral wars of all kinds, disease, and great division, we have the glorious truth that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever! He is the unchanging Rock of truth and reconciliation. As we read these timeless Scripture passages each day, we gain deeper and greater insights into their timely significance, seeing them through the new lens of 2022-2023. The truth is, time on earth is moving ever closer to the Return of the Lord and the final Advent.   

Christmastide, which followed the Nativity of Christ on the 25th, was celebrated not as a single day, but as twelve days with carols, festivities, and gifts being given each of the days. There are any number of theories as to the origin of Christmas Day. Not until the fourth century did December 25 become a broadly accepted date of the Nativity in the Western Church.

Epiphany, like the Nativity, is celebrated on a set day, January 6th, regardless of what day of the week it comes. It is actually older than Christmas Day and marks the revealing of Jesus Christ as Savior to all nations, not just to the Jewish people. Epiphany means “to reveal, to bring to light.”

This year Advent begins on November 27th (the earliest it could begin). We will carry the devotionals on through Epiphany, January 6th. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “One must train the habit of faith. The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Our faith must be fed.” (from A Year with C.S. Lewis, p.286. Taken from “Mere Christianity”).

Our purpose is to have a daily encounter with the Lord and to hear his voice. Begin each devotional with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you through his written Word. In addition, our hope is: 1) to help give us a better grasp of the unity of the Bible as one grand story and increase our knowledge of this Library of Books; 2) to assist us in developing a daily pattern of reading Scripture; 3) to provide us with a daily encounter with a wide variety of vocal and choral music of substance to inspire our faith; 4) and to introduce us to the prayers of some of the saints of the past and “sinners” from the present! I can think of no better way to start the day. St. Paul writes, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.”  

If you read these as a family, have different members read different parts. It is wonderful if the whole family can all sit down and eat at the same time, at least once during the week! Growing up on the farm in Illinois, we all ate together every night after the milking was done. Our Guernsey cows established suppertime! It was wonderful eating together every night praying and catching up on the day around the table.

If you find these daily excursions into the Scriptures rewarding, I would greatly appreciate your help in passing the word along. As always, subscribing is simple and free. Have the person go to: sharpdevotional.com and put in their email address to subscribe. That’s it. (You can unsubscribe at any time.) Then they will automatically receive the emails in their boxes early each morning EST.  Be sure to Whitelist our email to reduce the chance of getting caught in spam filters!

The version I have used is the NLT (The New Living Translation). 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

© Daniel Sharp 2022

Dan’s email at:    dansharp9@gmail.com 

Pentecost Sunday, June 5

Day of Pentecost, Sunday, June 5

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!”

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 large 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, the Comforter, who would come to dwell in them in Jesus’ absence. The ascension of Christ was essential for it marked the beginning of the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit through the church as the gospel spread throughout the known world.

The believers were gathered when a violent supernatural wind from heaven came blowing through the room with tongues of fire settling on each of those gathered. Wind and fire in Scripture often depict the presence of the Spirit of God. The wind hovered over the waters at creation. God breathed the breath of life into man at creation and he became a living soul and again into the dry bones of Ezekiel’s day. The wind split the Red Sea. A pillar of fire led the Israelites in the desert. Elijah went to heaven in a whirlwind of fire. Fire from heaven burned up Elijah’s sacrifice in the confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Fire came down on Mt. Sinai when God spoke with Moses. 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. 

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. For example, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, came power for the simple 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. With the Tower the language was the unifying factor resulting in the people’s great pride in themselves and their rejection of God. So he confused the languages, ending their ability to communicate, resulting in the people being scattered over the face of the earth, thus destroying their prideful, man-centered unity. At Pentecost, people from many countries several thousand years later heard the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ in their own language. He is the unifier of all peoples. If only our world grasped this truth today. It follows that the Book of Jesus, the Scriptures, is the single book able to unite all peoples.  (This is one of the reasons it is so important to study the First Testament as well as the New Testament.) The areas mentioned at Pentecost 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. Can you imagine if all of these countries were Christian today? 

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. 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! At Jesus’ departure he gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers to enable them to have the power to live the life to which they’ve been called. And that same Holy Spirit continues to convert thousands of people in our day. Let us pray to that end.

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

Text:

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

Prayer: 

Almighty, deathless God, whose will it was that the mystery of Easter should be fulfilled in that of Pentecost, grant through heaven’s grace that the nations torn asunder by difference, may be made one in the avowal of your holy name. Amen.

                                         ―Unknown

Friends,

Thank you so much for subscribing and sharing these daily moments with the Lord these past several months. I realize you may have missed a few days, but there are several of you who have opened every one! Thank you all for your support and occasional notes of encouragement. They mean a great deal. Preparing these devotionals has fed my soul. My hope is that you have also grown in your love for the Lord and have been drawn closer to him and at the same time gained in your knowledge of the Scriptures. I also hope you’ve been introduced to some new music or familiar music in new settings. In a few months I’ll most likely be working on next year’s Advent series beginning Sunday, November 27, 2022. Until then . . . 

The Lord be with you,

  Dan

PS Also, thank you for spreading the word and link. I greatly appreciate it.

dansharp9@gmail.com

©Daniel Sharp 2022

Saturday, June 4

Saturday, June 4

Reader: “Elijah’s spirit” 

Response: “rests upon Elisha!”

Scripture: II Kings 2:5-15a

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.

Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Some thoughts:

This is an interesting pericope on the day before Pentecost for it is the account of the Holy Spirit on one prophet being transferred to another prophet. Remember, in the First Testament the Holy Spirit came upon certain people for specific times often for specific tasks. It came and went on various occasions. It was in Psalm 51 that King David begged the Lord not to take his Holy Spirit from him. (Psalm 51:11) And in I Samuel 16:14 we read that the Holy Spirit departed from King Saul. 

Elisha was a protégé of Elijah. Elijah had received word from the Lord that he was about to leave this earth. It is interesting that the Lord also told Moses and Aaron when they were about to die. Other than them and Jesus, I don’t recall anyone else in Scripture being told in advance of their impending departure from this world. At any rate, Elisha was determined to be with Elijah to the last moment. The mention of the group of prophets refers to the talmidim, the group of men that attached themselves to a spiritual leader. Normally a rabbi would select twelve students. In those days, prophets had schools, hence the fifty students of Elijah or Elisha.

It is interesting that Moses struck the Red Sea with his staff and the waters parted and the Israelites went through the sea on dry land. The Israelites came to the Promised Land forty years later. When the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant set foot in the Jordan River, the river parted and the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land on dry ground. While the Israelites’ crossing was in a westerly direction, here we have Elijah and Elisha crossing the Jordan River the other way heading east out of the Promised Land and Elijah continuing on to heaven in a whirlwind of fire. Facing east was always a sign of the resurrection. Crossing the Jordan River into Canaan was a kind of symbol of entering heaven. There are several songs that make that illusion (Deep River, et al). Here we have a prophet, Elijah, no less the shadow forerunner of the Messiah, leaving the earthly symbolic heaven, crossing the Jordan River toward the east . . . think “resurrection” . . . apparently not dying and being carried to heaven in a whirlwind. While Elijah went in a whirlwind, Jesus ascended enveloped in a cloud. 

Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit and also to be his successor. As it turned out, he was his successor and he did exactly twice as many miracles. So what do we glean from this story? God picked Elisha as Elijah’s successor. 1) A call to specific ministry comes from God. 2) By the way, everyone has a general ministry either for good or ill. Elisha attached himself to God’s anointed prophet. 3) He found a godly person and learned all he could from following that person. 4) The Holy Spirit was the source of the power to do God’s bidding. 5) Elisha supplied the body; God produced the fruit. 

Music: “Then did Elijah” from Elijah Mendelssohn  New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus        (Musical setting of Elijah’s ascension in the whirlwind.)

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.   ―A. W. Tozer from The Pursuit of God, p.58

Friday, June 3

Friday, June 3

Reader: “Those who live to please the Spirit” 

Response: “will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.”

Scripture: Galatians 6:7-10 

                      (This is the conclusion of a larger section beginning at 5:13)

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Some thoughts:

Have you ever been around someone (or maybe it was you!) who had done something stupid and was then surprised that things turned out so badly? Our world is filled with people who blatantly and repeatedly ignore God’s guidance and the Judeo-Christian values as set out in the Scriptures and end up in disastrous situations. Judgment is coming for those who mock God. There is a good deal of passive aggressive mocking of God all around us. The sinful nature always produces destruction, decay and death. No good ever comes from the sinful nature. It never has and never will. It is a black sinkhole with nothing but condemnation, eternal darkness, and alienation from anything good or noble or godly―separation from God. 

In contrast, living in the Spirit is just the opposite. The Spirit produces in us eternal life and light and community and blessing. The sinful nature cannot produce this spiritual fruit through human effort. The human being’s job is to pick up the hammer everyday and not get tired of nailing the sinful human nature to the cross everyday. (See yesterday’s devotional if you missed it.) Live with a hammer in your hand. Like the Israelites in Nehemiah’s day who were rebuilding the walls, doing their work with one hand and holding a weapon in the other; we are to be ever vigilant. (Neh 4:17) The battle against the old sin nature is long, so Paul encourages the Galatians [and us] to never give up doing good to everyone―especially fellow believers. Things will turn out good. No surprise.

Music: “Veni sancte spiritus”  (“Come Holy Spirit” in the Taizé tradition)

Prayer:Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, from whom no secrets are hidden, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inpouring of the Holy Spirit, that we may love you perfectly, and worthily praise your holy name. Amen.  ―Gelasian Sacramentary, from In the Presence of My Father, p.94

Thursday, June 2

Thursday, June 2

Reader: “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.” 

Response: “Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”

Scripture: Galatians 5:16-25

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

Some thoughts:

“Good morning, good afternoon, or good night” or for whenever you read this. Paul’s words apply at any time of the day or night! He has previously called his brothers and sisters to live free of trying to keep Moses’ law perfectly. It can’t be done. At the same time, don’t cast everything aside and go morally crazy. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  With that background, we come to the above passage, “So I say . . . “

Paul describes so perfectly the way our lives are actually lived. There is a clear cause and effect relationship. “Let” the Holy Spirit guide, “then you won’t . . .” All too often our sequence is “try harder” and “then you will [fail]. . .” The difference between “let” and “try harder” is night and day, it’s the contrast between having God the Holy Spirit guiding me or me trying to guide me. Have you ever determined that you would get “control” of something that had you in its grasp? In your mind, you were determined that such and such would not happen again, you would try harder next time . . . only to have it reoccur in spite of your best determination. Such is the difference between “let” and “try.”

As long as we are alive there is a daily war going on within us. Surprise! There is no truce in this life. The lying enemy, though ultimately defeated, is fighting a last gasp. This gasping battle lasts your whole lifetime. Ironically, when you die, you win and the enemy is one step closer to its total destruction. The enemy is our sinful nature, the one with which we were born. When the “let” involves this nature, the results are absolutely predictable every time. Everyone separated from Christ is ruled by this nature and we see the abundant results of the fruit of sinful living―indifference to God, murder, infanticide, greed for power, arrogance, immorality of every possible manifistation, divisiveness, selfish ambition, anger . . . It’s quite a list and that’s only the start! 

But each day starts anew with a “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” You know the Spirit’s fruits. Now comes the daily hammer. When you open your eyes in the morning, pick up your hammer. You nail the sinful nature (it didn’t die in the night!) to the cross again to start your day. In nailing it to the cross, you are reminding your old nature that it lost again today. The Holy Spirit of God is in charge again today. (It may be worth putting a nail on your night stand by the alarm clock just to remind you.) As Paul says, “Let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” Most likely you’ll have to pick up the hammer a few times during the day! The old sin nature is a nasty creature.

Music: “I Need Thee Every Hour”  arr. Robson   Wartburg Choir  Fantastic!

Prayer:O Thou who has taught us that we are most truly free when we lose our wills in Thine, help us to gain that liberty by continual surrender unto thee, that we may walk in the way which Thou hast prepared for us, and in doing Thy will may find our life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  ―from Gelasian Sacramentary, The Quiet Corner, p.46

Wednesday, June 1

Wednesday, June 1 

Reader: “Son of man, I have appointed you” 

Response: “as a watchman for Israel.”

Scripture: Ezekiel 3:12-21

Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard a loud rumbling sound behind me. (May the glory of the Lord be praised in his place!) It was the sound of the wings of the living beings as they brushed against each other and the rumbling of their wheels beneath them.

The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I went in bitterness and turmoil, but the Lord’s hold on me was strong. Then I came to the colony of Judean exiles in Tel-abib, beside the Kebar River. I was overwhelmed and sat among them for seven days.

After seven days the Lord gave me a message. He said, “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, warn people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me.

“If righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and ignore the obstacles I put in their way, they will die. And if you do not warn them, they will die in their sins. None of their righteous acts will be remembered, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn righteous people not to sin and they listen to you and do not sin, they will live, and you will have saved yourself, too.”

Some thoughts:

As you reflect on what you have just read, think of Ezekiel living this message in today’s world. In the previous chapter, Ezekiel was given a vision as to what he was to do in challenging Israel to repent and change their ways. He was to be a watchman, a lookout for the community. He was to warn the people of God’s judgment for their behavior. In our passage he has just been brought back from his visionary experience and once again entered earthly reality. He was taken to a colony of Israelites in Babylon by the Kebar River. He was so overwhelmed he sat in silence for seven days, similar to Job’s friend’s arrival to comfort him.

The weight on Ezekiel’s head was the responsibility given to him. When God gave him a warning message for the people, he was to deliver it regardless of their response. The weight on Ezekiel was if he didn’t deliver it to the people, whether they were acting righteously or not, their blood was on him. If he delivered God’s warning message to bad people and they didn’t repent, their blood was on their own head and Ezekiel was not responsible. But if Ezekiel failed to give them God’s message and they died in their sin, then Ezekiel was held responsible for their deaths. The same principle applied with the righteous people. If they got off the track and rebelled against God and Ezekiel didn’t give them God’s message of warning, he would be held responsible for their deaths. 

The key to this whole section comes in the few sentences just prior to today’s passage.

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

Here is what is so powerful to me in this passage. We are to share the gospel and God’s word, regardless of the response of the people with whom we talk. Ezekiel could not make the people respond to God’s message. His job was to carry God’s message to them. He was not responsible for whether they accepted God’s warning or not. We are not responsible if someone accepts or rejects the gospel. That is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But it is important that we speak up for the truth. We dare not be silent in these chaotic days as God’s truth is being mocked and brazenly defied. We are not held responsible for other people’s responses, but we dare not be silent and complicit.

Music: “Once to Every Man and Nation”    Fountainview Academy 

Prayer:

Give us courage, O Lord, to stand up and be counted, to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, to stand up for ourselves when it is needful for us to do so. Let us fear nothing more than we fear you. Let us love nothing more than we love you, for thus we shall fear nothing also. Let us have no other God before you, whether nation or party or state or church. Let us seek no other peace but the peace which is yours, and make us its instruments, opening our eyes and our ears and our heart, so that we should know always what work of peace we may do for you. Amen.                               ―Alan Paton from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.94

Tuesday, May 31

Tuesday, May 31

Reader: “The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud,” 

Response: “for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of God.”

Scripture: II Chronicles 5:2-14

Solomon then summoned to Jerusalem the elders of Israel and all the heads of tribes—the leaders of the ancestral families of Israel. They were to bring the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant to the Temple from its location in the City of David, also known as Zion. So all the men of Israel assembled before the king at the annual Festival of Shelters, which is held in early autumn.

When all the elders of Israel arrived, the Levites picked up the Ark. The priests and Levites brought up the Ark along with the special tent and all the sacred items that had been in it. There, before the Ark, King Solomon and the entire community of Israel sacrificed so many sheep, goats, and cattle that no one could keep count!

Then the priests carried the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant into the inner sanctuary of the Temple—the Most Holy Place—and placed it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the Ark, forming a canopy over the Ark and its carrying poles. These poles were so long that their ends could be seen from the Holy Place, which is in front of the Most Holy Place, but not from the outside. They are still there to this day. Nothing was in the Ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Mount Sinai, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel when they left Egypt.

Then the priests left the Holy Place. All the priests who were present had purified themselves, whether or not they were on duty that day. And the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and all their sons and brothers—were dressed in fine linen robes and stood at the east side of the altar playing cymbals, lyres, and harps. They were joined by 120 priests who were playing trumpets. The trumpeters and singers performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praised the Lord with these words:

“He is good!

    His faithful love endures forever!”

At that moment a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of God.

Some thoughts:

Today we move 400 years ahead in history from the moveable Tabernacle in the desert in Moses’ day to around 1000 B.C. in the days of King Solomon. Once again God prescribed the detailed design, how, who, when, and of what materials he wanted the Temple to be built. While God gave Moses a visual picture of what the Tabernacle was to look like, this time God gave King David the description in writing. In David’s words, “Every part of this plan was given to me in writing from the hand of the Lord.” (I Chronicles 28:19) Since David was not allowed to build the Temple, he passed the architectural instructions along to Solomon! With thousands of workers, it took seven years to complete. The highest point was about twenty stories.

Prior to coming to its final resting place, the Ark of the Covenant had been to various places including Shiloh and Gibeon and even in possession of the Philistines at one point! Now it came to its permanent home in the Temple in Jerusalem. You’ll note that the Levites were specifically designated to carry the Ark on two poles put through the four rings on the corners of the Ark. No person was to touch it as God had ordered since it was holy. You’ll recall Uzzah died instantly when he touched the Ark to keep it from falling―it was being transported on a cart instead of the Levitical priests carrying it as God had told Moses. Remember all priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. After placing the Ark, which contained the two stone tablets put there by Moses centuries earlier, into the Holy of Holies, the priests left and music began. Apparently the pot of manna put there by Aaron centuries earlier had been lost by this time.

What is interesting to note is that both singers and instrumentalists performed together. I’m not sure we can understand the meaning of “unison” in this case. It may have meant simply that they were performing at the same time or that they were making music on the same pitch. Among the Levites there were twenty-four groups of twelve singers each who rotated duty at the Temple. While we know there were 120 trumpeters, we don’t know how many singers there were. Suffice it to say, the music was loud and the celebration joyous. The presence of God descended and filled the Temple with his glory, the same thing that had happened at the completion of the Tabernacle in Moses’ day.

What do we glean from this First Testament history? Meeting with his assembled people is very significant to God. And gathering in his presence is important to the gathered people. Worshiping God as a united people is an essential expression of faith. God is responsive to his people’s worship. Songs of worship are focused on God and his character. God cares about how worship is done. Every once in a while the presence of God in worship is overwhelming. If you’ve gotten out of the practice of gathering with God’s people in church, it’s time to return. God enjoys being with you and his gathered people.

Music: “Gloria”   John Rutter    21st Century setting

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to all those of good will.

We praise thee. We bless thee. We worship thee. We glorify thee.

We give thanks to thee according to thy great glory.

“Gloria in excelsis Deo”    Solimusi Vocesparalalpaz   18th Century setting

Prayer:

My dear Lord, I can but tell thee that thou knowest I long for nothing but thyself, nothing but holiness, nothing but union with thy will. Thou hast given me these desires, and thou alone canst give me the thing desired. My soul longs for communion with thee, for mortification of indwelling corruption, especially spiritual pride. But Lord, I am so full of myself. I think only of thee and me forgetting that I am part of thy body of believers. It has become so easy to gaze only within myself and my small circle of family and friends, ignoring the ordinary followers of Jesus as people unneeded, unimportant in my life with thee. Forgive my foolish, selfish, narrow and false view of my walk with thee. Grant that I may grasp the greatness of thy abundant grace extended to the greatest and least of all thy children. This I pray in the name of Jesus, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, through all worlds without end. Amen.                            ―from The Valley of Vision, p.127 adopted Daniel Sharp

Monday, May 30

Monday, May 30

Reader: “Moses proceeded to do everything just as the Lord had commanded him.”

Response: “just as the Lord had commanded him.”

Scripture: Exodus 40:16-38

Moses proceeded to do everything just as the Lord had commanded him. So the Tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month of the second year. Moses erected the Tabernacle by setting down its bases, inserting the frames, attaching the crossbars, and setting up the posts. Then he spread the coverings over the Tabernacle framework and put on the protective layers, just as the Lord had commanded him.

He took the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant and placed them inside the Ark. Then he attached the carrying poles to the Ark, and he set the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—on top of it. Then he brought the Ark of the Covenant into the Tabernacle and hung the inner curtain to shield it from view, just as the Lord had commanded him.

Next Moses placed the table in the Tabernacle, along the north side of the Holy Place, just outside the inner curtain. And he arranged the Bread of the Presence on the table before the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded him.

He set the lampstand in the Tabernacle across from the table on the south side of the Holy Place. Then he lit the lamps in the Lord’s presence, just as the Lord had commanded him. He also placed the gold incense altar in the Tabernacle, in the Holy Place in front of the inner curtain. On it he burned the fragrant incense, just as the Lord had commanded him.

He hung the curtain at the entrance of the Tabernacle, and he placed the altar of burnt offering near the Tabernacle entrance. On it he offered a burnt offering and a grain offering, just as the Lord had commanded him.

Next Moses placed the washbasin between the Tabernacle and the altar. He filled it with water so the priests could wash themselves. Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons used water from it to wash their hands and feet. Whenever they approached the altar and entered the Tabernacle, they washed themselves, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Then he hung the curtains forming the courtyard around the Tabernacle and the altar. And he set up the curtain at the entrance of the courtyard. So at last Moses finished the work.

Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.

Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys.

Some thoughts:

This passage is fascinating when we grasp the significance of what is transpiring. Previously, Moses had been with the Lord for forty days on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and getting a visual picture and specific instructions on building the Tabernacle. What was the point of the Tabernacle for these desert wanderers? The Tabernacle was to be a kind of mirror, a shadow, of God’s dwelling place in heaven which is why God was so specific in giving Moses precise instructions. Tabernacle literally means “tent of meeting.” God wanted to meet with his people.

Middle Easterners’ general belief was that the gods designed their own dwelling places, where they should be built, and who should build them. So God giving Moses specific instructions would not have been a surprise to the people.

The Tabernacle design, who should build it, the materials to be used, and the date of construction were all of God’s choosing. He sanctioned and legitimized its creation. God prescribed every detail concerning the Tabernacle and later the Temple. These were not to be ordinary structures, but the holy dwelling place of God on earth in the midst of his people patterned after heaven itself. We are reminded of God’s desire in this passage in Revelation: “I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.’” (Rev 21:3)

You have undoubtedly noticed one phrase being repeated . . . exactly eight times, the number of perfection plus one! (We have the seven days of creation plus resurrection day.) Notice the opening statement of Moses’ affirming response to God’s instructions. What follows are twenty-six actions of Moses in doing exactly what the Lord had told him in setting up the Tabernacle, God’s home on earth. Interspersed among his work is the phrase “just as the Lord commanded him.” God delights in obedience. The result of the Tabernacle’s construction was otherworldly, exactly as God had instructed! God’s approval followed. The cloud of the glory of God covered and filled the Tabernacle, the same thing happened with the Temple Solomon built. (I Kings 8:10-11) Imagine, the glory of God was so magnificent Moses could not enter the Tabernacle. What kind of impact do you think that had on the Israelites as they surrounded God’s dwelling place? 

During the day, every day for forty years, there was the Cloud that hovered over the Tabernacle. Every night for forty years there was a pillar of Fire that hung above the Tabernacle. As the people were learning more and more about Yahweh, he impressed upon them his continual presence in their midst. We may have a tendency to think, why didn’t they get it and do “just as the Lord commanded” them. My guess is the visible presence of God became so “old hat” that they took God’s presence for granted. They lost the awe and reverence that they had once known and turned inward and lost the transcendence of Emmanuel, “God with us.” We have that same challenge every day. That Tabernacle is now within you and me with the cornerstone being laid at the cost of  the blood of Christ. Has God’s presence with us become “old hat”?

Music: “Cornerstone”    Shawn Kirchner     Hour of Power Choir

Prayer:

O most merciful Lord, grant to me Thy grace that it may be with me, and labor with me, and persevere with me even to the end. Grant that I may always desire and will that which is to Thee most acceptable and most dear. Let Thy will be mine, and my will ever follow Thine, and agree perfectly with it. Grant to me, above all things that can be desired, to rest in Thee, and in Thee to have my heart at peace. Thou art the true peace of the heart, Thou its only rest; outside of Thee all things are hard and restless. In this very peace, that is in Thee, the one Chiefest Eternal Good, I will sleep and rest―Amen.     ―Thomas à Kempis, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.21

Sunday, May 29

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 29

Reader: “Look, I am coming soon,” 

Response: “bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds.”

Scripture: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.

He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.

Some thoughts:

These passages are among the last in the Bible. Jesus speaks three times. One thing is very clear; there are rewards based not just on words but also deeds done in faith. Acts that we do or don’t do have eternal significance. My guess is that we’ll be surprised at which deeds God valued important and which ones weren’t. The idea of rewards for works is apparent throughout Scripture (Jeremiah 17:10, Romans 2:6, I Peter 1:17) The deeds reflect that true belief for good or ill. What you do today can have eternal significance!

Here Jesus is again identified by three eternal names even connecting again to the lineage of King David as heir to the eternal throne as well as associating with the “bright and morning star.” The unique prophet, Balaam, made messianic reference to a “star shall come out of Jacob” in one of his oracles. (Numbers 24:17) The names in themselves indicate that Jesus is not bound by time and completely separate from the entire created order. His existence never had a beginning.

The next comment cites those believers who have resisted the beast. The action of washing their robes is a reference to “washing their robes in the blood of the lamb,” in other words those who were martyred for their faith. Those martyrs have earned the right to eternal life―”to eat the fruit from the tree of life.” 

Jesus confirms that the angel speaking to John is the one he has sent. The “you” is plural, meaning that John is to share this message with the churches. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit and the bride is the Church. Empowered by the Spirit, the Church is to proclaim the gospel to everyone. The imperative “come” occurs three times in three successive sentences indicating an urgency. 

As the Bible concludes there is one last word from Jesus, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Remember, this “soon” is God’s soon! It can be in the twinkling of an eye or a thousand years, symbolic for a long time. But, a thousand years is “soon” when it comes to eternity! The problems in this world will never be solved by man’s best efforts. Civilization is not on a gradual upward course where it will finally attain an exalted ideal position. That is not what Christianity promises. Redemption of history will be complete only when Christ completes it. John understood that truth with the words, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” Maranatha! (Aramaic) There is a final benediction which may have been added later as the prophecy was read to the various churches.

What do we learn from this passage? 1) Persist to the end through various trials. 2) What a person believes greatly affects what they do and what they value as important. 3) There are rewards for deeds done in faith. 4) Invite people to come to Christ. 5) Always be ready to leave this life because we don’t know when God’s “soon” will become a now! 

Music: “The Morning Trumpet”  Hale and Wilder

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, sacraments, show thy death until thou come again. That day is no horror to me, for thy death has redeemed me, thy Spirit fills me, thy love animates me, and thy Word governs me. O God, keep me in this faith, and ever looking for Christ’s return. This I pray in the name of Jesus my Savior. Amen.  ―from The Valley of Vision, p.27

Saturday, May 28

Saturday, May 28

Reader: “The unique One, who is himself God”

Response: “He has revealed God to us.”

Scripture: John 1:14-18

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

John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Some thoughts:

These words of John are the application of Moses’ interaction with God some 1500 years later. If you missed yesterday’s devotional, go back and read it. It will give today’s Scripture an even deeper understanding and appreciation. Moses’ desire was to have God go with him as he led the people. He wanted God to be very personally present. It’s insightful to know that God chose the name Emmanuel, “God with us,” to be one of his names. Moses wanted God to be close to him and God wanted to be close to Moses. You would think it to be natural that people made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) and for the praise of his glory (Ephesans 1:11-12), would want to be with the One who created them. Some people do and some people don’t.

This human longing to be close to God is answered by God in human terms. The truly astounding thing, which I think is far too often brushed off with little wonder, is that the only Uncreated Being in existence, God, condescended to take on human flesh in becoming a fully human being with all the human limitations. God the Son was hungry; he got tired; he got angry; he laughed; he cried; and he died. At the same time, he gave up none of his divinity. In his humanity he revealed the divine God among us in a way we could grasp. He loved, he taught, and he forgave sins. While no one has ever seen the face of God or ever will, Jesus, who is God and near the Father’s heart, shows us the Father. In his words, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9-10)

Whereas in Moses’ day, God dwelt above the Ark of the Covenant, now God dwelt in the presence of his disciples. Their concern was again like Moses’. God, are you going to leave us? Their response was much like a little child who was afraid that their daddy might leave them. And Jesus’ answer was, I won’t abandon you, God the Holy Spirit will take my place and always be with you. Further, he tells them that both the Father and the Son will make their home in the person who loves and obeys God. In other words, the believer is indwelt by the Trinity. The promise to Moses was that God would go with him and give him rest―peace. (Genesis 33:14) To the disciples Jesus gave the same, I am leaving you with a gift―peace of mind and heart. (John 14:27)

My question is simple: how aware are we in the continuous indwelling presence of the Trinity? God is aware of everything your eyes see, every thought that passes through your head, every thought you stop to dwell on, every word that comes out of your mouth, every word you write, every place your feet take you, everything your hands do.

He is aware because he lives in you. In Moses’ words, “Let me know your ways so I can understand you more fully.” God’s answer? “I’ll go one better. I’ll come and live within you and we can go from there. Let’s talk. Now about the other day you were asking about what it means to be holy . . .”

Music: “Take Time to Be Holy”  (Slane: nice tune)  Mormon Tabernacle Choir

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 to 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. In the name of Jesus, my Savior. Amen.    

         ―Thomas More  1478-1535, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.41

Friday, May 27

Friday, May 27

Reader:  “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest”

Response: “—everything will be fine for you.”

Scripture:  Exodus 33:12-17

One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”

Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

Some thoughts:

I find this conversation between Moses and God intriguing. The previous verse tells us that Moses had just met with God in the Tent of Meeting and the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face.” This phrase should not be interpreted as if Moses saw the face of God, but rather that he had direct conversation with God. In a few verses after our reading God declares, “No man can see my face and live.” You’ll also remember in all the descriptions of the throne of God in Revelation, Ezekiel, and Daniel, the face of God is never described. Man can know the energy (glory) of God, but not his essence. The Son is one in essence with the Father and makes the Father known to man which is why Jesus said, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-10)

Moses clearly wants the Lord’s presence to go with him as he leads God’s people. Moses is looking for a physical companion. He knows he’s in God’s favor so he makes the request we should all be making, “let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor.” He wanted to know more of God’s character and nature. He wanted to know the mind of God. And he also wanted the people he was leading to have this intimate relationship with God. Understand, this kind of a relationship with Yahweh was entirely new. The Lord’s response was intimate. “I will personally go with you Moses.” “The word personally usually reflects a Hebrew term literally rendered face.”2  Moses wanted to continue in the “face to face” interaction he had enjoyed in the Tent of Meeting. 

If we back up into the religious world in Moses’ day, we see immediately how different the God of Israel was from all the other gods. First, they weren’t real. They were always angry, demanding to be fed, often with infant sacrifice. There were many, many gods for crops, weather, fertility, war, plagues, and so forth. All were to be feared and appeased through sacrifice and sexual immorality. Then there was Israel’s God who interacted personally with his children individually! He was holy, loving, generous, caring, eternal, providing, protecting, forgiving, all powerful, all knowing, and present with all his people. Moses and the Israelites had to get to know Yahweh in contrast to all the gods around them. The First Testament is the story of that endeavor. Though we don’t know the details of Moses’ interaction with the Lord, the New Testament is our flesh and blood answer to Moses’ request in the person of Christ.

What can we take from this pericope? One phrase sticks with me: “Let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor.” And God’s answer? “I will personally go with you.” Be encouraged, we’re never alone in our journey.

_________________________

2 NLT Study Bible, notes  33:12-23, p.108

Music: “Behold, God the Lord Passed By”   from Elijah  Edinburgh Festival Chorus

(Elijah asked the same question as Moses!)

Prayer:Lord, support us all the day long of this troublesome life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in our mercy, grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.   ―John Henry Newman, from In the Presence of My Father, p.178

Ascension Day, May 26

Ascension Day, Thursday, May 26

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.

Some thoughts:

In driving around in the Amish country around Lancaster, PA, it would be normal to see on the door of an Amish business “Closed for Ascension Day.” Though recognized in most liturgical churches, this day is seldom acknowledged in non-liturgical churches. Yet it is an important part of the whole gospel story. We often hear phrases like “the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the heart of the gospel.” It seems to me that such is only part of the gospel story. Practically speaking, if there had been no ascension, Jesus would still be walking around on earth somewhere with his mission not yet completed. 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 Church would not have been launched. The New Testament would not have been completed! We would never have heard of Paul!

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 who believed in him. It is interesting to me that he chose not to appear to people who had rejected him. What would Caiaphas or Pilate have done had he appeared to them?

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 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. In spite of all that Jesus had taught them, a Kingdom on earth was still their perception.  

The Ascension and Christ’s return to earth at some point in the future was the last thing his followers were expecting! 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 as I once heard a preacher suggest. Jesus entered into heaven, into another dimension from the world in which we live. All of heaven rejoiced as Jesus was enthroned at this Father’s right hand, the place of honor, authority, and power to assume his kingly rule. His authority extends over the entire created order, over angels, over his Church, over nations, and all of mankind. The Ascension marks the completion of Jesus’ personal earthly work. Ten days later came the inauguration of the Holy Spirit’s work on earth until the return of Christ. The same Holy Spirit is at work in the life of each believer today. We are now the hands and feet of Jesus’ work as the Spirit empowers us. Today is a good day to look for work!

Music:  “At the Name of Jesus”   First Plymouth Church

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 25

Wednesday, May 25

Reader: “For the Lord’s great anger has been poured out on us” 

Response: “because our ancestors have not obeyed the word of the Lord.”

Scripture: 2 Chronicles 34:20-33

Then he [King Josiah] gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser:  “Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for all the remnant of Israel and Judah. Inquire about the words written in the scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger has been poured out on us because our ancestors have not obeyed the word of the Lord. We have not been doing everything this scroll says we must do.” 

So Hilkiah and the other men went to the New Quarter of Jerusalem to consult with the prophet Huldah. She was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, the keeper of the Temple wardrobe.

She said to them, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken! Go back and tell the man who sent you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city and its people. All the curses written in the scroll that was read to the king of Judah will come true. For my people have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to pagan gods, and I am very angry with them for everything they have done. My anger will be poured out on this place, and it will not be quenched.’

“But go to the king of Judah who sent you to seek the Lord and tell him: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the message you have just heard: You were sorry and humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this city and its people. You humbled yourself and tore your clothing in despair and wept before me in repentance. And I have indeed heard you, says the Lord. So I will not send the promised disaster until after you have died and been buried in peace. You yourself will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this city and its people.’” So they took her message back to the king.

Then the king summoned all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up to the Temple of the Lord with all the people of Judah and Jerusalem, along with the priests and the Levites—all the people from the greatest to the least. There the king read to them the entire Book of the Covenant that had been found in the Lord’s Temple. The king took his place of authority beside the pillar and renewed the covenant in the Lord’s presence. He pledged to obey the Lord by keeping all his commands, laws, and decrees with all his heart and soul. He promised to obey all the terms of the covenant that were written in the scroll. And he required everyone in Jerusalem and the people of Benjamin to make a similar pledge. The people of Jerusalem did so, renewing their covenant with God, the God of their ancestors.

So Josiah removed all detestable idols from the entire land of Israel and required everyone to worship the Lord their God. And throughout the rest of his lifetime, they did not turn away from the Lord, the God of their ancestors.

Some thoughts:

Josiah was a remarkable king, having come to power when he was eight years old. At the age of sixteen the Bible says he “began to seek God.” At the age of twenty he began to purify Judah and Jerusalem, destroying all the false idols. At the age of twenty-six he ordered the Temple to be repaired during which time the Book of the Law was found (probably Deuteronomy). As evidence of the wonderful grace of God, Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh was a horrible king who had introduced idol worship. Only in the last days of his life did he repent of his evil ways. His son, Amon, Josiah’s father, was even worse. He never did repent and was assassinated to bring Josiah to power at the age of eight. And Josiah turned out to be one of Judah’s most godly kings!

When Josiah heard the words of God, which had been lost in the previous monarchies, he tore his clothes in repentance. The tearing was a sign of grief. Often today in Judaism a tear of cloth is made over the heart by the parents in the case of the death of a child. Jacob tore his robe at the supposed death of Joseph and David his robe at the news of the death of Saul and Jonathan. Josiah’s grief was over all the things that had not been done according to the scroll and the judgments that would follow the disobedience and neglect of God’s law. So he sought the words of the prophetess, Huldah.

The result was delayed judgment on the people because Josiah humbled himself. He called all the people to come to the Temple. He took the position of authority beside the pillar and had the people renew their covenant with the Lord. The people responded in repentance and worshiped the Lord. During the rest of Josiah’s lifetime, the people remained faithful to the Lord. Unfortunately, his sons did not follow in his footsteps and Judah eventually was taken into exile in Babylon. 

In the case of both king Josiah and king Asa (from a couple of days ago), the Scriptures were key in bringing about revival in the land. The people heard God’s word and responded by humbling themselves and submitting to the Lord and parting from their pagan ways. They adopted God’s culture, God’s values, and worshiped him with a heart commitment to God, rejecting the culture and values with which they were surrounded. Though the child of a godless father, Josiah developed into a godly man. He rose above his heritage. The lesson is simple: let us live each day in God’s word letting it shape the rest of our lives. A people, any people, who reject the way of the Lord face eventual judgment. Pray for revival and an emergence of God’s word in our society.

Music: “Just As I Am”   Chris Rupp      A song of repentance.

Prayer:

Our kind and gracious Father in heaven, we live in a world whose ‘kings’ seem to have hardened hearts. I pray that the power and truth of your word may again be discovered in our institutions of higher education, in the halls of government, in libraries of our seminaries, in corporate headquarters, in our medical schools and hospitals, and in the hearts of men, women, and children everywhere. Lord, it seems like an impossible prayer, but you restored Judah through your word in the days of Asa and of Josiah. Good and gracious Lord, may it happen again, here and everywhere and may we be useful in the working of the Holy Spirit. Amen.      ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, May 24

Tuesday, May 24

Reader: “The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him!” 

Response: “Whenever you seek him, you will find him.”

Scripture: 2 Chronicles 15:1-15

Then the Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded, and he went out to meet King Asa as he was returning from the battle. “Listen to me, Asa!” he shouted. “Listen, all you people of Judah and Benjamin! The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach them, and without the Law to instruct them. But whenever they were in trouble and turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him out, they found him.

“During those dark times, it was not safe to travel. Problems troubled the people of every land. Nation fought against nation, and city against city, for God was troubling them with every kind of problem. But as for you, be strong and courageous, for your work will be rewarded.”

When Asa heard this message from Azariah the prophet, he took courage and removed all the detestable idols from the land of Judah and Benjamin and in the towns he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. And he repaired the altar of the Lord, which stood in front of the entry room of the Lord’s Temple. Then Asa called together all the people of Judah and Benjamin, along with the people of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon who had settled among them. For many from Israel had moved to Judah during Asa’s reign when they saw that the Lord his God was with him. The people gathered at Jerusalem in late spring, during the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign.

On that day they sacrificed to the Lord 700 cattle and 7,000 sheep and goats from the plunder they had taken in the battle. Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old, man or woman. They shouted out their oath of loyalty to the Lord with trumpets blaring and rams’ horns sounding. All in Judah were happy about this covenant, for they had entered into it with all their heart. They earnestly sought after God, and they found him. And the Lord gave them rest from their enemies on every side.

Some thoughts:

Are we reading about God’s chosen people? Repenting and seeking the Lord? Yes! This account is about a rare time when the king and the people responded to the prophet’s warning. The beginning word, “then,” tells us to look back a few verses to see what had just happened. King Asa is coming back from an astounding victory in battle having defeated an Ethiopian army of over one million with his forces of 580,000. As the two sides came together, Asa had prayed, “Help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in you alone” and God had delivered the vast horde into Judah’s hand. As King Asa returned from the conflict, he heard the words of the prophet, Azariah. Incidentally, this is the only time in all of Scripture we hear of this prophet.

The nation of Israel had earlier split into the ten northern tribes (Israel) and the two southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin). Asa was the third king of Judah since the split.

The words of the prophet were clear and direct: stay with the Lord and he will stay with you; abandon him and you are on your own path to disaster. Asa heeded the message and destroyed the Asherah pole his grandmother had set up. He even fired her as queen mother for her idolatry. He repaired the altar in front of the Temple Solomon had built and gave a great amount of gold and silver to the Temple. As a result of God’s blessing Asa and Judah for their faithfulness to God, many people from the northern tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon moved to Judah!  They all gathered to offer sacrifices to the Lord (keeping in mind the perfect number seven). They renewed a covenant to be faithful to the Lord. They earnestly sought the Lord in every situation and the Lord blessed them and gave them rest from their enemies on every side. Imagine that! Judah being faithful to God and receiving blessing and peace as a result.

But during the last five years of his forty-one years as king, Asa began to drift in his trust so that at the end of his reign, as the northern kingdom of Israel harassed him, rather than completely trusting God as he had in his early years, he made an alliance with another nation “just in case.” He took the gold and silver out of the Temple he had put in to make a payment to his allied partner. Another prophet confronted Asa and he angrily put that prophet in prison and began to oppress some of his people. The last two years he developed a serious foot disease. But instead of turning to the Lord, he trusted solely in his doctors. He died and was buried in a tomb he had carved out and a huge funeral fire was held in his honor. A sad story comes to an end.

We read the story and wonder how the people could abandon God when things were going so well. His story is a good warning to us. Faith in God must happen anew every day of your life. The memory of yesterday’s faith is important, but we need to trust all over again today. Taking on “help” for God seemed like a good idea to Asa, but it undercut his undivided trust. God doesn’t need our help. Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho with a trumpet blast and a yell. Hezekiah trusted the Lord as God wiped out 185,000 Assyrians overnight. When you are fat and happy and things are going well, keep trusting in God completely. He is the source of blessing.  When you get a “foot disease,” you can trust doctors, but don’t neglect to put your faith in the true Physician. 

Music: “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”    Alan Jackson

Bonus: This recording is from the late 1960’s! Walter Arties passed away in 2008. His breath control was astonishing. We had the opportunity to meet him when we were on Campus Crusade staff in the early 1970’s. He was a very humble servant of God. 

 “All He Wants is You”   Walter Arties        This music is from another era!!

Prayer:

Lord, if only my will and trust 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 from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.92

Monday, May 23

Monday, May 23

Reader: “Look, I am making everything new!” 

Response: “And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy

                     and true.”

Scripture: Revelation  21:5-14              

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

“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal. The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. And the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates. There were three gates on each side—east, north, south, and west. The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Some thoughts:  (Today’s devotional follows up on the May 15th passage.)

What will heaven be like? That is a question we’ve asked since we were little children. In this passage, God speaks from his throne in heaven giving us some insight. Everything gets made new. I think it is interesting that the one sitting on the throne told John to write down what he said. The Father wanted to make sure everything got accurately passed on. Then there are what I believe are the three most powerful ending words bringing to conclusion the three most powerful beginning words: “It is finished!” closes the book on “In the beginning . . .” It was on the cross that Jesus uttered those same words. In this case, what exactly is it that is finished? Certainly the redeeming work of Jesus is finished bringing eternal life to all who believe. What is also finished is the redemption of the entire fallen creation, God’s entire plan is finished. Those people who have rejected his redeeming work and have embraced the lies of the devil, are judged and enter into eternal separation from God in hell. God’s plan for the whole created order has concluded. Human history and the history of the fallen creation is finished.

John is then given a picture of what awaits those adopted children bound for heaven. John was taken by the Spirit to a high mountain to view the holy city, Jerusalem, the bride of Christ. Here we have another instance of God speaking with one of his children from a mountain top. (E.g. Noah, Moses, Elijah, Transfiguration) Note the movement is again from heaven to earth as the city descends. Many commentators interpret the twelve tribes as representing all the redeemed people of God. God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through him has come to fulfillment. 

What might we draw from these words of John? It certainly appears that heaven is a very active place. It seems to be a vigorous place of worship and activity in fulfilling God’s master plan. Speaking through creation, the law, his prophets, and ultimately his own Son, God has restored his world to a new creation, the very reason we were created, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In the words of Isaiah, “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!” (Isaiah 64:4) What God has in store for his children is glorious beyond imagination. 

Music: “Twelve Gates to the City”   Chanticleer

“Twelve Gates to the City”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veh4mwybOXc     Buddy Green

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Chrsit, who returned from this world to the Father and loved those who were here in this world, make my mind turn from worldly preoccupations to the contemplation of heaven, to despise everything transitory and to yearn only for celestial things, and to burn with the glowing fire of your love. And you, Lord, who deemed yourself worthy to wash the feet of your holy apostles with your sacred hands, cleanse also my heart by pouring in the  radiance of the Holy Spirit, so that I may be able to love you, our Lord Jesus, Christ, in all things and above all else. This I pray through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.  

           ―Latin, 11th century trans. Bernard Muir, The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.146

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 22

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 22

Reader: “Would you like to get well?”

Response: “Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Scripture: John 5: 1-9 

Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, . . .”

Some thoughts:

Have you ever asked someone a question and their answer had nothing to do with what you had asked? Sometimes that happens with little children or with adults so focused on some problem. Such is the case of Jesus’ healing of the man crippled for many years. 

From his childhood, Jesus always observed the Jewish holy days. Such is the case here. He has come back to Jerusalem from Galilee for another festival. Jesus often got into trouble with the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. This miraculous healing was no exception. This particular pool, (there were several in the area), by the name of Bethesda was alleged to have supernatural healing powers when the waters were stirred by angels. Some translations have included a few verses to this effect, but most scholars do not believe these few added verses were part of John’s original manuscript. At any rate, they help explain the situation for the man who had lain there thirty-eight years and his hopes to get healed. You know the story.

I would like to address the question Jesus asked, which I find curious, and the answer of the lame man, equally intriguing. Jesus’ simple question was, “Would you like to get well?” It’s a straight “yes” or “no” answer. Jesus is asking the lame man as to what his desire is. The answer that comes forth is about a process based on a superstition. His answer is an explanation of what he sees as necessary to get him to the pool. He doesn’t answer Jesus’ question but gives reasons and excuses as to why he hasn’t been healed. Having stayed in the same place for thirty-eight years, I have to wonder if he’s that stubborn or that hopeless. He clearly had no idea who Jesus was or claimed to be. The core of Jesus’ question didn’t even register.

Did you notice that Jesus did not respond to his answer at all, but simply told him to get up, pick up his mat, and walk? Not only did the miracle include leg strength, but the instant ability to walk. Of concern to the Jewish leadership who were present, was not the miraculous healing of a hopeless lame man, but the fact that he was now carrying his mat on the Sabbath, something strictly forbidden by the Mishnah Shabbat. To do so was considered work, (the exception was unless a man was lying on the mat!) So the leaders’ question to the miraculously healed man, “Who healed you? That man broke our Sabbath and you are breaking it by carrying your mat!” The truth is, Jesus broke their Sabbath, he did not break God’s Sabbath.

My question is: How often are we that lame man? God has confronted us about some situation in our life and we give excuses that avoid a direct answer to his question. We are good at explaining that such and such was not our fault. There were extenuating circumstances after all. We ran out of time, or we were just about to do it (not quite true). Rather than giving God a direct answer, we deflect, we dilute the response, we fudge on clarity. I’m impressed by how Jesus goes right to the man’s heart at the deepest level: “You’ve been in this pattern for thirty-eight years. Do you truly want to get out of it? Then do what I ask you to do.” Jesus asks each of us the same question. Do we truly want to get out of those patterns that trap us? If so, do what he says.

Bonus: Jesus heals the man by the pool. Clip from “The Chosen”  Don’t miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMj1ggINLe4    It is a fantastic portrayal of this pericope! If you are not familiar with “The Chosen” series. It is by far the best portrayal of Jesus I’ve ever seen in any film. Check it out, it’s free. www.thechosen.com 

It seems water is an integral part of many events in the Bible. Certainly the parting of the waters and the crossing of the Red Sea is a central story, parting of the Jordan River as the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, and the legendary “troubling of the waters” at the pool of Bethesda are notable stories in the Scriptures. Today’s song draws on those accounts in the form of an underground railroad song from the Civil War days in the States. Wading in the water did not allow the slaves to be tracked by dogs as they made their way north to freedom via the underground railroad.

Music: “Wade in the Water”   University of Pretoria Camerata

Prayer: 

Lord Jesus, may I never be so engrossed in my troubles and stuck in my ways and patterns of living that I can’t hear the questions you ask me. Help me to listen to what you actually say or ask. I spend so much time in my own thought world that sometimes it’s hard to think differently, let alone your thoughts. Help me to get to know you better and better and treat each conversation as a new endeavor. Help me to get out of the rut of “me.” In answer to your question of, “Would you like to get well?”, the answer is yes!

Make me more whole and more holy. I pray this your name Jesus, who reigns on high, with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.     ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, May 21

Saturday, May 21

Reader: “Wisdom will save you from evil people,”

Response:  “from those whose words are twisted.”

Scripture: Proverbs 2:9-15    

Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair,

    and you will find the right way to go.

For wisdom will enter your heart,

    and knowledge will fill you with joy.

Wise choices will watch over you.

    Understanding will keep you safe.

Wisdom will save you from evil people,

    from those whose words are twisted.

These men turn from the right way

    to walk down dark paths.

They take pleasure in doing wrong,

    and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil.

Their actions are crooked,

    and their ways are wrong.

Some thoughts:

One of the hard parts in dealing with a short section of Scripture is that many times it is developing what was said previously so in reading it by itself we can miss the greater significance. Today’s passage is like that. It begins with the word “then” which tells you immediately it is connected to what came before (yesterday’s passage Prov 2:6-8.) And you’ll recall yesterday’s passage was based on the verbs (of an earlier passage) associated with gaining wisdom: listen, treasure, tune, concentrate, cry out, ask, search, and seek. (Prov 2:1-4) Yesterday’s material cited the benefits of gaining God’s wisdom.

So 1) based on our searching in the Scriptures (2:1-5) and 2) God rewarding the seeking (2:6-8) we come today 3) to the second time Solomon uses this phrase, “Then you will understand. . .” In God’s wisdom we discover what is right, just, and fair which reveals the right way to go, the right path to follow. In contrast, today’s world operates where fallible human beings decide what is right, just, and fair. Not surprisingly, there is little agreement and multiple paths in many directions! How often have you heard, “It’s just not fair! It’s not my fault.” Relying on human wisdom in whatever form is deceptive, often leading to disastrous ends.

Having been given free will by our Creator, the life of a human being is filled with choices, free will in action which requires wisdom. Those choices have consequences. Exercising God’s wisdom brings great benefits. Wisdom entering your heart is another way of saying exercising God’s wisdom becomes a part of the way you live. Such a person consistently makes wise choices. Wisdom is not the same as intelligence. An ant has wisdom! Yet no one would say an ant is smart, but the little creature knows how to negotiate life very successfully. (Prov 30:24-28) 

Wisdom helps provide the ability to speak or act in different situations with skill. We’ve all met people that always seem to have a wise answer. And we like to be around them. We’ve also met people who have an answer for everything and we enjoy being elsewhere! 

Have you noticed that evil people are not interested in wisdom? Evil and wisdom are not compatible, they are going in opposite directions. Evil presents the wrong as right and what is right as wrong and even calls it evil! Again, we have only to look at our society to see the evidence all around us where something that is clearly at odds with God’s word is championed as good, noble, and right. And the people who oppose such a twisted viewpoint are viewed as evil. Wisdom from God enables one to discern the truth. It behooves us to immerse ourselves in God’s word that we may grow daily in wisdom. “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) It is a wise choice! 

Music: “Be Thou My Vision”    Sam Robson    (I thought it interesting that one of him was wearing glasses!)

Prayer:O Thou Most High, in the way of thy appointment I am waiting for thee, my desire is to thy name, my mind to remembrance of thee. I am a sinner, but not insensible of my state. My iniquities are great and numberless, but thou art adequate to my relief, for thou are rich in mercy; the blood of thy Son can cleanse from all sin; the agency of thy Spirit can subdue my most powerful lusts. Give me a tender, wakeful conscience that can smite and torment me when I sin. May I be consistent in conversation and conduct, the same alone as in company, in prosperity and adversity, accepting all thy commandments as right, and hating every false way. May I never be satisfied with my present spiritual progress, but to faith add virtue, knowledge, temperance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. May I never neglect what is necessary to constitute Christian character, and needful to complete it. May I cultivate the expedient, develop the lovely, adorn the gospel, recommend faith in Jesus, accommodate myself to thy providence. Keep me from sinking or sinning in the evil day; help me to carry into ordinary life portions of divine truth and use them on suitable occasions, so that its doctrines may inform, its warnings caution, its rules guide, and its promises comfort me. This I pray through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.   ―from The Valley of Vision, p.109

Friday, May 20

Friday, May 20

Reader: “For the Lord grants wisdom!”

Response: “He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.”

Scripture: Proverbs 2:6-8

For the Lord grants wisdom!

    From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.

    He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.

He guards the paths of the just

    and protects those who are faithful to him.

Some thoughts:

If you are like me, sometimes when you read the Bible you just read words, nice words of inspiration and move on. What is more helpful is to think about what we read! Ask yourself questions like―Why are the words in that order? How does this phrase or verse relate to the previous verse or the verse that follows? What was going on when the author wrote this? What do I know about the writer’s life? What words or phrases are repeated? What are the verbs associated with God? What are the cause and effect clauses? The book of Proverbs is an ideal place to ask these kinds of questions.

So, let’s start with this book of Solomon’s, the wisest man who ever lived according to God’s assessment! (I Kings 3:12) We are all familiar with the phrase, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” which occurs just before today’s passage. (Prov 1:7) The verbs regarding wisdom immediately preceding our section are: listen, treasure, tune, concentrate, cry out, ask, search, and seek. (Proverbs 2: 1-4) When those verbs are in operation in our lives then today’s pericope is the result.

The Lord gives wisdom to such a person in the form of knowledge and the ability to know what to do with the knowledge. What is the source of this knowledge from God? Solomon writes that it comes from God’s mouth. And how does God’s mouth speak? He speaks in the Scriptures, his words. Abandoning God and ignoring the Scriptures will never lead to wisdom and knowledge nor will it lead to common sense. It is possible to surmise that the rampant dishonesty and rejection of God we see all around may explain the great lack of common sense circulating throughout our world today. Ridiculous conclusions are all around us.

What is the most honest source which describes the reality of what is happening in our world? It is God’s word that describes the truth perfectly. (John 18:37-38, Pilate’s question to Jesus) The words of Scripture when applied make for the most honest people and the most common sense. And God is the shield for their integrity. He validates their wisdom. Furthermore, God guards and protects those who are faithful which includes their honesty and integrity. Notice what God does when his children seek wisdom in his word. He grants wisdom to his own. He grants common sense to his own. He acts as a shield to his own. He guards his own. He protects his own. Why would anyone not seek wisdom from God? Solomon has laid it all out for us. Put these verbs in operation: listen, treasure, tune, concentrate, cry out, ask, search, and seek. And godly wisdom follows close behind!

Music: “Lord of Creation”     Isle of Man Methodist Church

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

Thursday, May 19

Thursday, May 19

Reader: “Let the whole world sing for joy,”

Response: “because you govern the nations with justice 

                       and guide the people of the whole world.”

Scripture: Psalm 67     

May God be merciful and bless us.

    May his face smile with favor on us. Interlude

May your ways be known throughout the earth,

    your saving power among people everywhere.

May the nations praise you, O God.

    Yes, may all the nations praise you.

Let the whole world sing for joy,

    because you govern the nations with justice

    and guide the people of the whole world. Interlude

May the nations praise you, O God.

    Yes, may all the nations praise you.

Then the earth will yield its harvests,

    and God, our God, will richly bless us.

Yes, God will bless us,

    and people all over the world will fear him.

Some thoughts:

The first thing that strikes me is the similarity of the first sentence to the words of the Aaronic blessing. “May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. . .” (Numbers 6:24-26) This psalmic prayer is that the nations of the world may notice how God provides, blesses, and takes care of his children Israel. The “us,” which refers to Israel, is mentioned three times, once at the beginning and twice at the end of this psalm. In between there are nine mentions of nations or the whole world or people everywhere.  

The psalm is one of missionary intent with the psalmist expressing his desire that people all over the world would see how God has blessed Israel and join them in praising God praying that he becomes their God. The blessing of Israel is a mirror, a reflection, a testimony of how God governs with justice. The psalmist longs for all the nations of the world to embrace Israel’s God. For when all the world bows to the governance of Yahweh in praise and worship, then there will be a rich harvest and the people of the whole world will fear and revere their God. As a result of the theme of this prayer, Psalm 67 is commonly known as the “Missionary Psalm.”

What might we glean from these beautiful words? One of the ways people are introduced to God is through observation of how he deals with people who are committed to him. The evidence of God’s blessing and working in our lives demonstrate to others around us the compassion, care, and provision God supplies. Our lives are a reflection of God’s grace. 

May God be merciful to you today and bless you. And may you receive a “smile” from God at some point in your day today. What is a God smile? Something that happens totally unexpected which deals very specifically with something you are thinking or doing and the timing is perfect. It’s like, (which is true), God knows exactly where you are and what you are doing, and he’s given you a little blessing. For example, my wife was having trouble figuring out how to download something. She was talking with one of our sons about the frustration so he prayed for her. Five seconds later the solution “popped” into her head! A smile from God!

Music: “Psalm 67”  Charles Ives     Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir, Israel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ddwbbJrBg           composed in 1894

A word about this setting. The women sing in one key (C major)and the men in another (g minor) at the same time (on purpose!) It has some plainchant influence you’ll hear. I’ve always thought this piece kind of represented multiple nations praising God!

Prayer:

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, and no strength known but the strength of love . . . We pray thee so mightily to shed and spread abroad thy Spirit, that all peoples and ranks may be gathered under one banner, of the Prince of Peace; as children of one God and Father of all; to whom be dominion and glory now and forever. Amen.                       ―Eric Milner-White, (1884-1964) from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.70

Wednesday, May 18

Wednesday, May 18

Reader: “I am the Lord”

Response: “your God.”

Scripture: Leviticus 19:9-18

“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.

“Do not steal.

“Do not deceive or cheat one another.

“Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the  Lord.

“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

“Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.

“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the  Lord.

“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and       powerful. Always judge people fairly.

“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.

“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.

“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor  as yourself. I am the Lord.

Some thoughts:

This chapter begins with a call to holiness: “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev 19:2) Did you notice the breadth of topics the “Do not’s” address in our section? Some have to do with attitudes, fair justice―favoring neither poor nor rich, harvesting crops, business practices, neighborly responsibility, conflict resolution, honesty, employment practices, and so forth. What do you think the Lord is getting at? Holiness is not just about the heart in sacred communion with God. Holiness has flesh and blood; it concerns how a person lives. There was to be no separation between sacred and secular, all of life was to be sacred and holy. Such a holiness mindset is, for the most part, absent from our various societies today. As Daniel Block commented on this passage, “Holiness is multidimensional.” 

There is a recurring phrase in our passage: “I am the Lord your God,” after every three “Do not’s.” Why do you think God adds the “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord your God” with these commands? Could it be that he is wanting to impress upon the community of Israel that they represent not themselves, but him? They are his chosen people, his representatives on earth and need to live in such a manner that reflects him and his character. For example, notice how God instructed them to care for their own, the poor, the widows and orphans and families experiencing difficult times. Ignoring the “Do not’s” was a bad reflection on God as his representatives. To bring shame on the name of the Lord was to blaspheme. (Lev 18:21) These directives from the Lord are meant to make a strong community through making strong families with everyone assuming responsibility for themselves and also living with the responsibility for caring for their community.* It is in this passage that we come across the well-known phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself.” It was this very phrase Jesus quoted to the teacher of religious law who asked what was the most important commandment. (Mark 12:31) 

Not only do these directives point one in the direction of holy living, they provide a moral and ethical foundation for a healthy society. Where these prescriptions are ignored, society suffers as is evidenced all around us. Not surprisingly, they bring the Ten Commandments to mind. “People are what they do.”* Jesus echoed a commentary on this passage in his Sermon on the Mount. We see as these actions toward others are lived out either through obedience or disobedience (horizontally), they likewise affect for good or bad in a person’s life in worship (vertically). Notice how Jesus’ life, interactions with people, and his illustrations as recorded in the gospels, reflects each one of these “Do Not’s.” He “doed” them all! Our challenge? You’ll have a chance today to “go and do likewise.”

*Some insights into this passage gained from Daniel Block’s For the Glory of God, p.90-99. And from The NIV Worship Bible, Daniel Sharp, notes on Leviticus, p.150

Music: “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”   The A cappella Company

Bonus: “Holy, Holy, Holy”     Sam Robson    unique setting

Prayer:

Lord God, Make me to abhor that which grieves thy Holy Spirit, to suspect consolations of a worldly nature, to shun a careless way of life, to reprove evil, to instruct with meekness those who oppose me, to be gentle and patient towards all men, to be not only a professor but an example of the gospel, displaying in every relation, office, and condition its excellency, loveliness and advantages. How little have I illustrated my principles. How often I have injured and not recommended my redeemer. Pardon my iniquity for it is great. Forgive the sin of my wayward drifting. Renew and soften my heart once again that I might bring honor to Thy glorious name. In the name of Jesus, my only hope of salvation. Amen.                       ―from The Valley of Vision, p.58, adapted Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, May 17

Tuesday, May 17

Reader: “Why were you not afraid” 

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

Scripture: 2 Samuel 1:4-27

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

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

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

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

“He responded, ‘Who are you?’

“‘I am an Amalekite,’ I told him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!

Don’t announce the news in Gath,

    don’t proclaim it in the streets of Ashkelon,

or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice

    and the pagans will laugh in triumph.

O mountains of Gilboa,

    let there be no dew or rain upon you,

    nor fruitful fields producing offerings of grain.

For there the shield of the mighty heroes was defiled;

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

The bow of Jonathan was powerful,

    and the sword of Saul did its mighty work.

They shed the blood of their enemies

    and pierced the bodies of mighty heroes.

How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan!

    They were together in life and in death.

They were swifter than eagles,

    stronger than lions.

O women of Israel, weep for Saul,

for he dressed you in luxurious scarlet clothing,

    in garments decorated with gold.

Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle!

    Jonathan lies dead on the hills.

How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan!

    Oh, how much I loved you!

And your love for me was deep,

    deeper than the love of women!

Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!

    Stripped of their weapons, they lie dead.

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 16

Monday, May 16

Reader: “How wonderful and pleasant it is”

Response: “when brothers live together in harmony!

Scripture: Psalm 133    

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

How wonderful and pleasant it is

    when brothers live together in harmony!

For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil

    that was poured over Aaron’s head,

    that ran down his beard

    and onto the border of his robe.

Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon

    that falls on the mountains of Zion.

And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing,

    even life everlasting.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosanna in excelsis.

Prayer:

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

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15

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

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

Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6  

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some different expressions of praising God.

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

Prayer:

Bring us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end. Amen.―John Donne  1571-1621 from Erdmanns’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.52

Saturday, May 14

Saturday, May 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   the one who is and who always was, 

for now you have assumed your great power

    and have begun to reign.

The nations were filled with wrath,

    but now the time of your wrath has come.

It is time to judge the dead

    and reward your servants the prophets,

    as well as your holy people,

and all who fear your name,

    from the least to the greatest.

It is time to destroy

    all who have caused destruction on the earth.”

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

     ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, May 12

Thursday, May 12

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

Response: “into your own heart first.”

Scripture: Ezekiel 2:8-3:11

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 11

Wednesday, May 11

Reader: “You, a mere man,” 

Response: “claim to be God.”

Scripture: John 10:31-42

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Tuesday, May 10

Tuesday, May 10

Reader: “Enough, you princes of Israel!” 

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

Scripture: Ezekiel 45:1-9

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

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

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

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

p.1381 of NLT Study Bible

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Music: “Sanctus”  Faure     Voces8

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory,

Hosanna in the highest.

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

Monday, May 9

Monday, May 9

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

Response: “For you alone are holy.”

Scripture: Revelation 15:1-4              

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

“Great and marvelous are your works,

    O Lord God, the Almighty.

Just and true are your ways,

    O King of the nations.

Who will not fear you, Lord,

    and glorify your name?

    For you alone are holy.

All nations will come and worship before you,

    for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rex treméndae majestátis,

King of terrifying majesty,

Qui salvándos sálvas gratis,

Who freely saves the saved:

Sálva me fons pietátis.

Save me, fount of pity.

Confutatis maledictis Jesu

When the cursed are confounded, Jesus,

Flammis acribus addictis

[and] Consigned to the fierce flames

Voca me

Call me [to be with the blessed]

Prayer:

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

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8

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

Response: “and from the Lamb!”

Scripture:  Revelation 7:9-17    

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

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne

    and from the Lamb!”

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

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

    and thanksgiving and honor

and power and strength belong to our God

    forever and ever! Amen.”

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

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

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

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

    and serve him day and night in his Temple.

And he who sits on the throne

    will give them shelter.

They will never again be hungry or thirsty;

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

For the Lamb on the throne

    will be their Shepherd.

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

    And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Some thoughts:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 7

Saturday, May 7

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

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

Scripture: Luke 12:29-32

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 6

Friday, May 6

Reader: “As I watched,”

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

Scripture: Revelation 6:1-7:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rex treméndae majestátis,

King of terrifying majesty,

Qui salvándos sálvas gratis,

Who freely saves the saved:

Sálva me fons pietátis.

Save me, fount of pity.

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

May 5

Thursday, May 5

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

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

Scripture:  Revelation 5:1-10

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

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

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

“You are worthy to take the scroll

    and break its seals and open it.

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

    from every tribe and language and people and nation.

And you have caused them to become

    a Kingdom of priests for our God.

    And they will reign on the earth.”

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Thursday, May 5

Thursday, May 5

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

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

Scripture:   Rev. 5:1-10

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

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

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

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

“You are worthy to take the scroll

    and break its seals and open it.

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

    from every tribe and language and people and nation.

And you have caused them to become

    a Kingdom of priests for our God.

    And they will reign on the earth.”

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Wednesday, May 4

Wednesday, May 4

Reader: “Oh, Lord, please leave me—”

Response: “I’m such a sinful man.”

Scripture: Luke 5:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Music: “Lift High the Cross”    Chris Rupp

Prayer:

O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life except to spend them for you, with you and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do therefore what seems best to you. Give to me or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that with humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence I may receive the orders of your eternal providence, and may equally adore all that comes to me from you as I follow you the rest of my days on earth. This I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.  ―Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662 from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.56, adapted Daniel Sharp

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

Tuesday, May 3

Tuesday, May 3

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

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

Scripture: Acts 26:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

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

                                                       ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, May 2

Monday, May 2

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

Response: “My help comes from the Lord.”

Scripture: Psalm 121

I look up to the mountains—

    does my help come from there?

My help comes from the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;

    the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel

    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!

    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day,

    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm

    and watches over your life.

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

    both now and forever.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My Help”   Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir     (Psalm 121)

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

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

Third Sunday of Easter, May 1

Third Sunday of Easter, May 1

Reader: “Jesus said, “feed my sheep.”

Response: “Jesus said, “follow me.”

Scripture: John 21:1-19  

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

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

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

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

“No,” they replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:O unapproachable Light, how can I fold these guilty hands before Thee: How can I pray to Thee with lips that have spoken false and churlish words? An unruly tongue; a fretful disposition: an unwillingness to bear the burdens of others: high professions joined to low attainments: fine words hiding shabby thoughts: a friendly face masking a cold heart: I thank Thee, O loving Father, that, holy and transcendent as thou art, Thou hast through all ages shown Thyself to be accessible to the prayers of erring mortals such as I; and especially I praise Thy name that in the gospel of Jesus Christ Thou hast opened up a new and living way into Thy presence, making Thy mercy free to all who have nothing else to plead. Let despair over my miserable sins give place to joy in Thine adorable goodness. So let me lie down tonight thinking, not of myself and my own affairs, but of others who need Thy help and of the work that I can do for their sakes in the vineyard of Thy world. Amen.   ―John Baillie, from A Diary of Private Prayer, p.119

Saturday, April 30

Saturday, April 30

Reader: “The Lord appeared again to Abraham”

Response: “near the oak grove.”

Scripture:    Genesis 18:1-8 

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Friday, April 29

Friday, April 29

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

    The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

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

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

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-4  

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

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

    The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

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

Revelation 4:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,

    to receive glory and honor and power.

For you created all things,

    and they exist because you created what you pleased.”

See also: Ezekiel 1:4-28

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sanctus”        Faure        Voces8

 “Sanctus”     Durufle            Atlanta Symphony and Chorus    Robert Shaw 

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory

Hosanna in the highest!

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

Hosanna in the highest.

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

Thursday, April 28

Thursday, April 28

Reader: “The holiness of God” 

Response: “will be displayed by his righteousness.”

Scripture: Isaiah 5:11-17

What sorrow for those who get up early in the morning

    looking for a drink of alcohol

and spend long evenings drinking wine

    to make themselves flaming drunk.

They furnish wine and lovely music at their grand parties—

    lyre and harp, tambourine and flute—

but they never think about the Lord

    or notice what he is doing.

So my people will go into exile far away

    because they do not know me.

Those who are great and honored will starve,

    and the common people will die of thirst.

The grave is licking its lips in anticipation,

    opening its mouth wide.

The great and the lowly

    and all the drunken mob will be swallowed up.

Humanity will be destroyed, and people brought down;

    even the arrogant will lower their eyes in humiliation.

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

    The holiness of God will be displayed by his righteousness.

In that day lambs will find good pastures,

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Music: “Come”      Dan Forrest

Prayer:

Father in heaven, who hast brought us to this day, let the peace of Thy love descend upon us. May every stormy passion be subdued, every unquiet thought cast out, every earthly care and anxiety forgotten that in the calm of Thy loving Presence we may find a remedy for our souls’ unrest, and in Thy lovingkindness an answer to our every need; for the sake of Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    

                                      ―Source Unknown, The Quiet Corner, p.91

Wednesday, April 27

Wednesday, April 27

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

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

Scripture: Luke 12:4-12          

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Tuesday, April 26

Tuesday, April 26

Reader: “Don’t be afraid . . .”

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

Scripture: Revelation 2:8-11

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:O Lord God, thou art my protecting arm, fortress, refuge, shield, buckler. Fight for me and my foes must flee; uphold me and I cannot fall; strengthen me and I stand unmoved, unmoveable; equip me and I shall receive no wound; stand by me and Satan will depart; anoint my lips with a song of salvation and I shall shout thy victory; give me abhorrence of all evil, as a vile monster that defies thy law, casts off thy yoke, defiles my nature, spreads misery. Teach me to look to Jesus on his cross and so to know sin’s loathsomeness in thy sight. There is no pardon but through thy Son’s death, no cleansing but in his precious blood, no atonement but his to expiate evil. Show me the shame, the agony, the bruises of incarnate God, that I may read boundless guilt in the boundless price; may I discern the deadly viper in its real malignity, tear it with holy indignation from my breast, resolutely turn from its every snare, refuse to hold polluting dalliance with it. Blessed Lord Jesus, at thy cross may I be taught the awful miseries from which I am saved, ponder what the word ‘lost’ implies, see the fires of eternal destruction; then may I cling more closely to thy broken self, adhere to thee with firmer faith, be devoted to thee with total being, detest sin as strongly as thy love to me is strong, and may holiness be the atmosphere in which I live. Amen. ―from The Valley of Vision, p. 100

Monday, April 25

Monday, April 25

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

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

Scripture: Ezra 7:1-10

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 24

Second Sunday of Easter, April 24

Reader: “We must obey God” 

Response: “rather than any human authority.”

Scripture:  Acts 5:27-32 

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Saturday, April 23

Saturday, April 23

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

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

Scripture: Acts 5:17-26

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

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

Friday, April 22

Friday, April 22

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

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

Scripture: Luke 24:33-49

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Music: “O Church Arise”    Keith and Kristyn Getty

Prayer:

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

Thursday, April 21

Thursday, April 21

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

                morning”

Response: “they said his body was missing.”

Scripture: Luke 24:13-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 20

Wednesday, April 20

Reader: “Why are you looking among the dead” 

Response: “for someone who is alive?”

Scripture: Luke 24:1-12

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

Tuesday, April 19

Tuesday, April 19

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

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

Scripture: Revelation 12:1-12

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

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

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

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

Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—

    salvation and power

and the Kingdom of our God,

    and the authority of his Christ.

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters

    has been thrown down to earth—

the one who accuses them

    before our God day and night.

And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb

    and by their testimony.

And they did not love their lives so much

    that they were afraid to die.

Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!

    And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!

But terror will come on the earth and the sea,

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

    knowing that he has little time.”

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 18

              Eastertide 2022

These continue to be unusual and difficult days throughout our world. So I want to encourage you in the truth, truth that remains constant and unaffected by any event. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. We rest in him, our Sovereign Lord. The early church celebrated Easter not just one day, but rejoiced in the risen Lord over the following fifty days through Ascension to Pentecost. In keeping with that tradition, we’ll continue with the daily devotionals through Eastertide all the way to Pentecost June 5th!

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

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Dan

dansharp9@gmail.com

© Daniel Sharp 2022

Monday, April 18

Reader: “Let us celebrate the festival”

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

Scripture: I Corinthians 5:6b-8

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Sunday, April 17

Easter Sunday, April 17

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

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

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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

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

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

Holy Saturday, April 16

Holy Saturday, April 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “How frail is humanity!

    How short is life, how full of trouble!

We blossom like a flower and then wither.

    Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.

Must you keep an eye on such a frail creature

    and demand an accounting from me?

Who can bring purity out of an impure person?

    No one!

You have decided the length of our lives.

    You know how many months we will live,

    and we are not given a minute longer.

So leave us alone and let us rest!

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

“Even a tree has more hope!

    If it is cut down, it will sprout again

    and grow new branches.

Though its roots have grown old in the earth

    and its stump decays,

at the scent of water it will bud

    and sprout again like a new seedling.

“But when people die, their strength is gone.

    They breathe their last, and then where are they?

As water evaporates from a lake

    and a river disappears in drought,

people are laid to rest and do not rise again.

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

    nor be roused from their sleep.

“I wish you would hide me in the grave

    and forget me there until your anger has passed.

    But mark your calendar to think of me again!

Can the dead live again?

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

    and I would eagerly await the release of death.

Some thoughts:

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

Who can bring purity out of an impure person?

They breathe their last, and then where are they?

Can the dead live again?

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

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

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

Music: “Agnus Dei”   Ola Gjeilo    Tallgrass Chamber Choir

Agnus Dei,      qui tollis                peccata      mundi

Lamb of God  who takes away    the sins    of the world

Miserere        nobis

Have mercy  on us.     ( this text repeats)

Agnus Dei,      qui tollis                peccata      mundi

Lamb of God  who takes away    the sins    of the world

Dona nobis   pacem

Grant  us      peace

Prayer:

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son. How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred and brings peace and concord. How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God. All glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit world without end. Amen.                ―Book of Common Prayer

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

Good Friday, April 15

Good Friday, April 15

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

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

                our own,” 

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

Scripture: John 18:1-19:42   

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

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

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.

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

And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

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

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

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

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

“No,” he said, “I am not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

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

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

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

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

But many were amazed when they saw him.

    His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,

    and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. (Isaiah 52:14)

He was despised and rejected—

    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

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

    He was despised, and we did not care.   (Isaiah 53:3)

Unjustly condemned,

    he was led away.

No one cared that he died without descendants,

    that his life was cut short in midstream.

But he was struck down

    for the rebellion of my people.   (Isaiah 53:8)

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

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

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

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

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

He was oppressed and treated harshly,

    yet he never said a word.

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,

    he did not open his mouth.   (Isaiah 53:7)

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

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

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

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

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

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

Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.

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

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

But he was pierced for our rebellion,

    crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

    He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

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

Yet the Lord laid on him

    the sins of us all.     (Isaiah 53:5-6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Psalm 22:15)

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

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

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. “He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.” (Isaiah 53:9) When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

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

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

“He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word”

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

                                                                                                                        Marvelous!

Prayer:

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

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

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

Maundy Thursday, April 14

Maundy Thursday, April 14

Reader: “When I see the blood,”

Response: “I will pass over you.”

Scripture: Exodus 12:1-14

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Music: These pieces came from last year and are still the best settings I’ve found. This is a magnificent text for a broken and disunified church and world. Jesus Christ is the one who makes a family a family. He offers us himself as our sacred meal. 

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

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

Lest you think no young composers are writing beautiful music!

                                   Ubi Caritas-author unknown

                        ancient text specifically written for Maundy Thursday

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

Christ’s love has gathered us

into one.

Let us rejoice and be glad in Him.

Let us fear, and love the living God.

And may we love each other

with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

As we are gathered into one body,

Beware, lest we be divided in mind.

Let evil impulses stop,

let controversy cease,

And may Christ our God

be in our midst.

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

And may we with the saints also,

See Thy face in glory,

O Christ our God:

The joy that is immense and good,

Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Prayer:

Lord Christ our Servant and Savior, on earth you washed the feet of your disciples, and now through your cross and resurrection you always live to make intercession for us: give us grace to be your faithful disciples and servants to our lives’ end; for your name’s sake. Amen.      ―Stephen Smalley, from Guideposts Prayers for Easter, p.41

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

Wednesday, April 13

Wednesday, April 13

Reader: “I tell you the truth,”

Response: “one of you will betray me!”

Scripture: John 13:21-32

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

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

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

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

As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once.

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Music: “Ah, Holy Jesus”    Fernando Ortega

Prayer:

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

Tuesday, April 12

Tuesday, April 12

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

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

Scripture: I Corinthians 1:18-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.

Oh, who am I, that for my sake

my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from his blest throne salvation to bestow,

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

But oh, my friend, my friend indeed,

who at my need his life did spend!

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

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

Sweet injuries! Yet they at these

themselves displease and ‘gainst him rise.

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

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

This is my friend, in whose sweet praise

I all my days could gladly spend!

Prayer:

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

Monday, April 11

Monday, April 11

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

Response: “and secured our redemption forever.”

Scripture:  Hebrews 9:11-15

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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